wedding photography: value and budget…
…a primer for consumers and those wanting to become professional photographers…
I’m not going to hedge; this is a lengthy post, but I feel this issue is important to put out there, especially during the economic concerns of late.
I can see some of you rolling your eyes now! But, how about this $$ shot, huh?!! Nice “tie-in” on the subject, yes?!
A question from prospective clients has been coming up somewhat frequently lately: “Why does wedding photography cost so much?” I thought the blog would be a great venue to share information on the subject openly and honestly. Please read on, take what information you think will help you and leave what you may not agree with or need. And please remember, there are a lot of variables that can be argued about or added to the mix of what I have to say here; not everything will be covered, much to many peoples sighs of relief! This post is meant solely to share my thoughts which are in turn, meant to help you, my future clients, or even you, another photographer’s future client, make an important decision. In the end, my hope is to inform, yet not offend, both couples seeking a wedding photographer and wedding photographers seeking couples to work with (…sounds like a dating post!). Let’s face it; we all should be thinking of our money right now…thinking, but not panicking.
I’ve considered staying away from this subject, but feel it’s my obligation to help people gain knowledge; knowledge is power, after all. I also thought, ‘Why should you believe anything a photographer has to say about spending money on their services,’ right?! Well, most people who do know me know that I am very humble and the space I operate from is one of care, compassion and honesty. I was raised to not to be self-serving and with tremendous ethics, so I refuse to lead you falsely down a path where I would benefit and you would not – I couldn’t live with myself if I did and I’d only have to answer for that later, to a higher Power. I’m asking you to place your trust in me just for this read, but even if you are a bit skeptical please keep an open mind and explore this as an opportunity to learn important information on making one of the biggest decisions in your life regarding one of the most important days of your life! And, if it helps my credibility at all, I have been successfully making couples happy for many, many years (14+) now, am respected in my local and national industry, I teach photography and I “lead” a monthly meeting of photographers here in Pittsburgh where both fresh and seasoned photographers meet to discuss the business and help each other and our industry move in an ethical and positive manner.
…goodness, I’m verbose!…well, I felt it’s important for you to have a frame of reference to draw from…nice photos, yes?
There are two important things I want to say to those of you seeking a photographer to photograph your wedding:
ONE: Most people have noticed that the wedding photography of today is not the wedding photography of the past. The industry has changed DRAMATICALLY from fifteen, ten, five and even as recently as one year ago; it is constantly in flux! In the past, a limited number of posed 8×10 images in an album were standard offerings from a photographer. The good news is that photography today is now remarkably beautiful, creative and artistic and can be worth every penny you spend on it, if you value photography and if you’ve found a photographer who values you (NOTE: critical word, “value” …pun intended on all accounts here!).
TWO: “Cheap” doesn’t necessarily mean “good,” and “good” doesn’t necessarily mean “cheap.” Making the decision to hire your photographer is about honestly assessing priorities because you really DO get what you pay for. So, the important question becomes are you are prepared to risk one of the most important days of your life to an inexperienced photographer, or uncle Joe, aunt Tammi, or cousin Lenny who has a digital camera, instead of cutting corners on the hors d’oeuvres? And, it’s really ok if you are prepared to take that risk, as long as you are willing to accept that the consequences might not be so good after the photographs can’t be redone.
OUCH! To make those statements seems so terse, but it truly is an honest and objective assessment and is backed up by numerous bridal resources. I’d like each of you reading this post to click on this Google search I did: “Why does wedding photography cost so much?” and see what comes up. There are lots of resources to gather information from to help you make an informed decision, and researching anything you are about to spend money on is the best thing you can do for yourself. Believe me, I don’t want you to have regrets on perhaps the second-most important decision of your wedding – choosing who you will be spending the rest of your life with is THE most important decision after all! Along with my statement on regrets, I want to tell you not to be afraid to talk to photographers who you may think are out of your budget or reach. You never know what may be possible and you never know how they can help you. Most of us in the industry are in it because of our love of photography and because we are truly willing to help clients even when budgets preclude their working with us.
To those “photographers” out there who are cheap because you are just starting out and need to develop both a portfolio and a style and need to improve your technical skills (we’ve all been there), I would say to you: ‘A digital camera does not instantly make you a professional photographer.’ And, ‘Don’t be afraid to learn from those who came before you.’ And, ‘Tread lightly with what you are doing; these are the memories from one of the most important days of your client’s lives and they are precious and irreplaceable.’ And, I would also say to you: ‘Be patient; keep your egos in check. This work is not about you, it’s about your clients.’ And still, ‘Believe in yourselves enough to continue to progress in your chosen field. And remember, your goal should be to do good primarily for your clients but for you AND for our industry as well!’ I don’t think consumers or new shooters coming in to the field have any idea how many wedding “photographers” come and go on an annual basis because they are so unaware of the amount of hours and work they will be charged to do with each wedding, or because they have no business experience and typically get overwhelmed then literally drop off the face of the earth. It really is sad, but that’s fodder for another post…
There is a delicate balance we need to strike as professional photographers for ourselves and for our clients – how do we set our prices fairly and honestly in order to sustain our businesses while not scaring clients away? There are very few photographers who make an annual income above the mid-$20k range (source: Professional Photographers of America / PPA) or who become famous, unless it is in their own minds of course, but it can and does happen if you are in this work for the love of it and your clients! This is the reality of our field of work, and it’s good for both consumers and “photographers” to know this fact! If you want to work as a photographer it’s good to know this info because if you are in it “for the money” you will learn quickly that is the wrong reason to be in the field. And then those of us who are in the field because we love it and love our clients can keep on perfecting our shooting and business skills so we can continue to do good work for our clients long after you have moved on to another job. Photography is not a job, it’s a passion; a love for every aspect of the craft and the business even when it is overwhelming. It’s good for clients to know this too, so you understand that professionals in the business invest a lot of time and money into their business and equipment in order to make you happy through the beautiful and memorable photographs we create.
Photographers who truly care about their clients spend an average of 40 to 60+ hours AFTER the wedding working on EACH wedding, carefully editing and color-correcting images and creating spectacular wedding story designs and all this is done in-between phone calls, other assignments, and taking off/putting on the myriad of proverbial “hats” we need to wear to run our business. There is photographic and computer equipment we need to purchase/update/repair, overhead (business/equipment insurance, etc., lab fees, utilities), marketing, etc., etc. And if photographers aren’t spending time doing this work themselves, they are hiring others to do it for them, but the hours of time invested in each wedding is the same regardless who is doing the work. It is an absolute curse to be highly responsible and intensely creative so much so that we have become perfectionists for the sole purpose of making our clients happy. And the hours I’ve mentioned don’t even account for the consultations and equipment preparation prior to the wedding.
There are many important factors involved in being a professional wedding photographer that are not even considered by those not in our field, and rightly so. After all, how would clients seeking a photographer for the first time, or shooters new to the field possibly have the experience necessary to understand the undertaking and responsibilities involved in our business? It’s not possible that they could! But a professional photographer with experience can and often will be happy to help both client and new photographer understand the “why’s” of what we ask you to invest in. So, if you are a consumer or a photographer new to the field, don’t be afraid to reach out to the professionals to ask for information and guidance. We really are here to help.
I can’t tell you how many “photographers” I’ve seen come and go over the years since I’ve been working as a professional myself. It is sad and scary all at the same time for both the client seeking to hire an honest and reputable photographer and the individual who thinks that they can pick up a camera and instantly become a photographer. And it is even more scary with the advent of the digital camera revolution and the skillful marketing of Nikon cameras with what myself and many other pro-shooters consider to be dangerously irresponsible advertising where Ashton Kutcher magically becomes a “photographer” and photographs a wedding because he has a Nikon camera in his hands (no; I’m not going to link to that nonsense with Ashton Kutcher even if I do think he’s cute!)! If that character in that commercial knew anything, he’d have a Canon camera in his hands instead, so right there you can’t trust the commercial! Mad props to Canon!! …sorry about that Nikon and your peeps; we Canon shooters have a fierce loyalty to our equipment!
I count my blessings every day that I can call myself a ‘professional photographer.’ I respectfully possess this title because of the professional standards that I adhere to both from my own work ethic, and because I am bound to adhere to ethical standards through the professional organizations I belong to, some exclusively representing only select photographers. Along with that, I have an education and a degree in photography and have close to fifteen years of experience working in the field consistently dedicated to both improving my style photographing, my technological understandings of my equipment and making my clients happy through the images I create and the wedding stories I design that memorialize one of the biggest days in a couple’s lives. I’m fortunate too, that my relationships with my clients continue long after the wedding (well, sometimes not too long after!) when I photograph the children that come into their lives. It is an absolute privilege to photograph successive family members’ weddings and then remain in my couple’s lives, both as their friend and photographer many years after we’ve first met! I truly understand how important your photos are to you, because they are just as important to me.
I’ll be wrapping this novella up soon, but before I do, I want to leave anyone reading this with a few more thoughts and a few more resource suggestions…
For those couples thinking that you just want a “shoot + burn” photographer – you know, one who will photograph and burn the images onto disc for you so you can print from it later – I would like you to consider the following questions: 1. When you go to print/frame/display an image from the disc your photographer gave you, how will you know what a good print looks like so that it can be proudly and beautifully displayed in your home? …and… 2. When will you have time to make these prints that you are really not sure how to produce nicely any way? 99% of my clients who have purchased an Archived DVD of their wedding files NEVER print from the disc! And I can tell you that more than a few of them have misplaced their discs altogether! And THAT is a waste of dinero!! To quote one of my favorite characters from one of my favorite movies: “It costs money because it saves you money!” Remember, when you hire a professional photographer, you don’t have to worry about color-correcting or printing images yourselves! The time and money you are going to save by having a photographer produce beautiful imagery from start to finish is PRICELESS. And, the first BRIDE that has worked with me or will be working with me that guesses correctly the name of the character I’m quoting and what movie that quote is from, I’ll give you a $50.00 GIFT CERTIFICATE through my professional lab, Pictage for custom enlargements!
I’ll encourage those of you seeking a photographer and those of you seeking to become a photographer to click on the Google search I linked to above, then explore the PPA link (above) and other resources from bridal magazines for information on hiring a professional photographer who will take care of you on and long after your wedding day. One of the other professional organizations I belong to, the Wedding and Photo-Journalist Association ( WPJA ) has a lot of useful articles for couples seeking information too; there are answers to your questions out there, believe me. Where you can spend your time well is by doing a little research on this topic; your time researching will surely be a great investment in your future and one you’ll be less likely to have regrets over after your wedding. And, one last thing…consider thinking of your investment in the following way: divide the number of years you will be married (50 to 75 years) into the cost of the photographer whose services you’ve purchased and I’ll bet it’ll come out to about $150 +/- a year. Now, that’s a great ROI (return on investment) for the value you receive in the end!
I wish you ALL, couple seeking photographer and photographer seeking couple:
And since I know I haven’t covered all the information on this subject, feel free to leave a comment here on the blog or e-mail me with any comments/questions. I hope I’ve helped one couple make an informed decision and one new photographer understand fully the undertaking and the responsibility of being a professional photographer by sharing my thoughts on this rather delicate subject in an open and honest way. After all is said and done, budgets are really nothing to be shy about. And remember, it’s my goal to help potential and actual clients get exactly what they want when it comes to photography. THANKS for “listening!”
BIG LOVE, Joanne Bartone Photographer | www.joannebartone.com | email@example.com