We get many inquiries a week. Some lead to bookings and some lead nowhere.
We used to have a set fee; two packages to choose from. All the nitty gritty details and pricing were sent off in a response to an inquiry. Some couples budget a specific amount for their photography, some couples don’t know what to expect at all, and others are so overwhelmed by the financial aspect of planning their wedding that they wonder how they can even make it all happen.
I’m a wedding photographer and have been for six years now. I have spoken to hundreds of couples about budgets and packages and pricing. I hold virtual hands throughout the process, give them my expertise on the subject, try to work with them on pricing, and become their friend in the process. And after six years, the whole pricing thing does not get easier.
I know what I’m worth, I know how much time and effort and energy and artistry I bring to my work, I know that I (and my team) deliver outstanding and unique images that really capture the love between two people, and I know how much daily work and upkeep running a small business solo takes.
But I’m a human being. Weddings are expensive. Not everyone has thousands of dollars laying around to devote to a single day. I understand a couple’s plight when it comes to what they can afford and what they can not. So I’m here to talk to you a little bit about the work we do and how we deal with pricing…
First off, everyone’s aunt/uncle/brother/sister/friend/cousin/parent has a digital camera. Many even have kick ass DSLRs with lenses that make me drool and they’ll show up at your wedding and start snapping away. You may think, well I don’t want to spend too much money on photography because all of these other guests can take pictures too. But guess what? There’s a big difference in the quality of photos that you will end up with, regardless of how fancy their camera is. (Maria wrote a great post about that here!) My style, my knowledge of photography, and my photographic eye have been developing for the last 26 years when I first picked up a camera. It is part of who I am. You’ve likely noticed that the photographs on my website are not your average wedding photos. They are so far from snapshots and portraits even. I want my photos to embody love, emotion, a story, and something that is so far from just visual that you can almost place yourself in that time and moment and feel it all.
That’s just my artistic eye we’re talking about. Not only do I need to have a defined style, but I also need to be incredibly aware, amazingly resourceful, flexible and physically fit to shoot an 8-10 hour wedding without once sitting down, and I need to be well acquainted with the ins and outs of weddings and what happens when, what the general flow is, and be able to anticipate the intimate moments before they happen. It’s a LOT. And you really can only exhibit all of this after years of shooting weddings. It is learned knowledge and it just keeps on building. With so many weddings under my belt, I often wonder how I shot the weddings of my first season. There is just SO much to know.
So there’s all of that, but then there’s running a business. Even during the slowest time of the season with weddings coming to a halt, when the photo editing and retouching is all caught up with, I still spend about 5-6 hours a day just with business upkeep, client e-mails, answering inquiries, paying bills, etc. And during the peak of the wedding season, you can increase that time to 14-16 hours a day. That’s right folks. Who else do you know that works a 14-16 hour job sometimes 7 days a week during the summer and fall? It’s intense, but luckily I love what I do.
But that brings me to pricing. I would say that a typical wedding, from the first inquiry to the final mailing of the disc or prints takes, on average, 75 hours. It’s a lot of time and it’s probably more than even the couple getting married is aware of. When you receive a quote, you receive it for a certain amount of coverage (hours) on your wedding day and a certain number of photographers, and usually a disc of final, edited images. But we don’t tell you exactly how much time it takes us per wedding. It’s a lot more than showing up, snapping away, and burning the images to a disc.
I understand budgets, I really do. I am getting married myself and finding a photographer we truly love was our top priority. It is the only lasting thing you will have from your wedding day. It’s what you will have to look back on to remember the day. It’s the only thing that will capture the love and energy and friends and relatives and fun of your wedding day. The food will be gone, the decorations will be taken down, the drinks will be consumed, the flowers will eventually wilt, the dress can be packed away or sold, but your photos will remain forever. The money that you spent on your photographs was spent on something that will be around for generations. Yet so many couples want to skimp on photography. They budget $800 for photography, yet spend $5,000 on flowers. Yes, I understand that everyone’s priorities are different, but photography should be up there on any list. Why? Because people want those memories captured. And that’s when you need to decide just how well you want those memories captured, because you really, honestly get what you pay for.
How do we price? Well, I found that even after having “set” package prices, people always tried to talk me down in price. Now, I understand budgets. I am on one myself. I really get it. But my pricing was carefully configured to compensate me for my time, talents, business expenses, and taxes (a huge chunk, by the way). My pricing was configured so that I could actually support my child and myself on this income. So that I could have some type of a comfortable life right above the poverty level. But I was continually being talked down in price.
So now? Now I don’t give a price. I ask questions, I get to know the couple and their wedding. I get a sense of what their needs are and ask UPFRONT what their budget is (nobody is ever going to say, “Yes, we were looking to spend $10,000 on a photographer”…or at least not here in Maine), and from there I draft up a custom quote. Everyone is on a budget.
Instead, I work with budgets; to an extent. Clients need to know just what is involved in this industry. Clients need to know that I have nobody behind the scenes supporting me so I can just shoot weddings for “fun.” Nope, this is my full-time gig. This is how I feed my daughter and myself, provide shelter, heat our house, pay for gas and electricity. You all know how it goes. This is my living. And I’m damn good at it. I will shoot your wedding like nobody else could. I will give you images that nobody else could capture.
So when I quote you a price, please know that it is based on my time, my expertise, and everything that goes into the process. I never charge more than what I feel is fair. And after going through the same process myself with finding a photographer for my own wedding, I can honestly say that my prices make it possible for couple’s to get amazing, creative, and quality shots of their wedding day. I make myself accessible to many, but please don’t ask me to give away my work. Trust that my only intent is to do what I love, work hard, and be fair.