As a Photographer getting ready to start my own business, I’m constantly plagued by the non-standardization of pricing for photography services. There is no real list of costs that a photographer should adhere to. So it’s nearly impossible to figure out how much a picture is worth in addition to my time.
Many of us just starting out will take on any gig to gain experience and we most likely wouldn’t charge anything for it because we don’t feel like we’re good enough to charge a fee for our photography services. Or we may have felt timid at asking $400 or something absurd like that, which we thought no one would pay for because it was too expensive.
The first time I was asked to photograph a wedding I told them I had never shot a wedding before and if they find someone else in the meantime, they should go ahead and confirm another photographer. Nope, they didn’t want to. They wanted me to photograph their wedding. I took the gig so seriously that I signed up for a 6-week photography workshop. This workshop changed my life and I was offered a job as a wedding photographer assistant for the workshop facilitator. It was after that when I decided to take photography more seriously. The first wedding I shot was for close and dear family friends. I felt completely honoured to give them my one-time only, free service for such a special day, and still can’t believe that they thought I was good enough to capture their wedding. It was a great learning opportunity for me, and it’s almost like volunteering. Just to gain experience, I volunteered. The pressure I felt was immense to make sure I didn’t miss any important and special moments. I did ask the couple to buy me a few things that I would need in order to get the job done correctly. They had no problem in doing that.
Okay, so we’re all going to photograph a wedding for free. But how much are those pictures really worth? Anyone with a camera can take pictures, right?
** While I’m here I’m going to tell you my biggest pet peeve. Over-the-shoulder shooters. As a photographer, I have set up a portrait shot of the newlyweds and Uncle Joe is behind me taking a picture with his iPhone and then posts it to Facebook. That could technically be copyright infringement. He just stole my shot! Not only did he steal my shot, but he’s devaluing my service. The bride and groom would have paid a hefty amount for a photographer, and Uncle Joe is snapping away. Very inconsiderate and it should be noted in the contract that no over-the-shoulder shooters are allowed.**
I had a great opportunity to work for a wedding photographer as her assistant and I learned so much! First of all, she had to pay me to assist. If you want all your important moments captured and then some, you’re going to need a photographer and an assistant. The amount of gear involved making photographs is insane and for a smooth photo shoot, it’s helpful to have someone else get that gear ready as needed. For weddings, the bride and groom are so busy that they don’t need to be wasting any extra time while you’re fumbling around trying to do everything yourself. What about different angles and capturing other moments of guests and happenings while the main photographer is doing portrait sessions?
Okay, so you have to pay for an assistant.
In many cases, photographers are hired anywhere from 10:00am – 11:00pm to photograph the bride and groom getting ready, portrait sessions, ceremony, mingling, reception and cake cutting. That’s over 12 hours! Most people are paid extra for over time hours. You have 2 people working 10 + hours.
And then there’s the editing! If you’re good, you can get your editing done in fairly good time, but this too takes time to go through each photograph taken by the photographer and assistant, plus there will definitely be Photoshop work that needs to be done (if the client pays for it). I took a beautiful photograph of my family friend at the first wedding I shot with her grandson. Beautiful shot, but there was a rope growing out of the side of her head! It bothered me so much that when I learned how to use Photoshop, I fixed the image and told her to please replace it over a year later.
Then there’s compiling all the best photographs and meeting with the clients to choose which photographs they’d like and whether they’re prints, a book or digital, and if they’re digital, let me tell you that you’ll be paying a lot more.
When a photographer charges $1300+ to shoot a wedding (and that’s the very basic, folks. The photographer I assisted charged $1300 for a pre-wedding consolation, 3+ hours of consecutive wedding photo coverage, an assistant, and USB with all high resolution digital files – edited, but not retouched with Photoshop). You now understand what photography services you’re paying for. That number will easily go up based on the work of the photographer, what services the client wants, years of professional experience, etc.
The real problem is when a “photographer” is charging less than $1000-1300 to shoot a wedding. When breaking down costs above, is this person making any money at all? Nope. Probably losing. This type of pricing really burns my a$$ because it’s devaluing photography services. If people who don’t understand pricing or what their services are worth keep charging lowballing amounts, it brings down the value of photography. And what will happen is that people will now have iPhone images of their wedding because photographers will disappear because they would be losing money. Try making beautiful prints with those iPhone images. Go ahead.
Now what if you’re someone who has been lucky enough to get that one-time only free wedding photographer? Well, I hope that you did your very best to promote that photographer so that she/he can potentially get more clients. After all, they gave you a free service in the ball park of about $500-800+ to shoot your wedding for free.
Even first timers should consider charging at least $600-800 without an assistant. Think of all the time, resources, hours spent editing, the cost of your gear, etc.
What if you’re the client and you don’t have $1000+ to spend on a wedding photographer? I know how much weddings can cost, and there are definitely areas where some of us aren’t able to spend as much. If you only have a budget of $400 for a wedding photographer that’s completely fine. Just don’t expect them to give you a full photography package for that price. Maybe for that budget you can pay a wedding photographer to take amazing wedding portraits of the bride and groom and family. Or maybe you just want them to shoot the ceremony. The thing is, as photographers, we’re willing (and totally want to) work with you with the budget you have.
What about the actual cost of photography gear? I photographed a low-key portrait session using 5 speed lights. The cost of the speed lights alone when purchased would have been over $5,000. Then there’s the seamless background, your computer and monitor, monthly software fees, umbrellas, soft boxes, light stands, extension cords, file storage costs, studio space and the cost of your camera and lenses. We’re talking about thousands of dollars worth of gear.
What about portraits? What if you just want to have your family portraits done? Well, you’re paying for the professional services of a photographer, their mileage to the location, wear and tear/admin fees for their gear and editing images. Does the client want prints, a photo book or digital files? If they want digital files, they’re going to be paying a lot more.
If they want prints, I’m not sending the files to Walmart to have them printed. No way! I’ve spent far too much of my time and money buying a monitor calibrator and working with a printing business specializing in photography to make sure that what I see on my screen is what comes out of their printer (until I can purchase my own). Printing and then comparing to my screen and making adjustments, printing and then comparing.. it never ends. I’m constantly calibrating my monitor to ensure that what is printed is exactly what I’ve edited. Making a print just became much more important than sending them off to the local Kodak printer.
When a photographer charges $150+ for a 1-hour portrait session, you know now what services you’re paying for. That fee wouldn’t even include the cost of each digital image. A professional photographer will probably be using a speed light that costs at least $1000. Think of the cost of gear.
I have mentioned a couple of times about paying more for digital images. You have to understand that these are now the photograph negatives and we shouldn’t be giving them away lightly. In the past before digital cameras came out, people were paying for prints. Now that we have digital, the same value should be charged for digital files. So please photographers, stop giving away your digital images for free. That is devaluing photography services.
I know of some professional photographers who charge a base fee of $200 + for a consultation, low-res images posted for viewing for 3 months on a private web gallery, post-shoot creative editing in the studio and $50 credit toward printed art or digital files. On top of that you’ll pay $10/digital file (no Photoshop), $20 per image for Level 2 Photoshop (Small blemishes removed, wrinkles softened, teeth whitened), or $35 per image for Level 3 Photoshop (All blemishes removed, “crinkles” diminished, lines softened, hair de-frizzed, glass glare removed, head swaps).
What about education costs? I’m paying thousands of dollars for a 2-year photography program that needs to be considered when I’m pricing out my worth to clients.
So there you have it. I’ve given you a few scenarios of how much your picture could be worth. If you’re a photographer and aren’t charging enough, please understand our value as photographers and start charging what you/we’re worth. It is us that can maintain a meaningful standardized fee for our creative and professional services. If you’re a potential client, please understand that there’s more to making your picture than just hitting a shutter button. Not only do we love to make you look your best, but we also have a lot of time and resources to cover that goes into making your picture.