“Why are wedding photographers in Toronto so expensive?”
“Photographers in Toronto just exploit the fact that it’s a wedding and overcharge to make a profit!”
“They’re only there for a few hours! It’s a rip off to charge that much for a few photos!”
“How hard can it be to be a wedding photographer?!”
“It’s not as if they have to develop the wedding photos in a darkroom like the old days!”
These are just some of the questions and comments you might hear from people who have just had the shock of their lives after receiving a quote from a toronto wedding photographer. When a wedding photographer quotes $2,800 for an 8-hour wedding shoot, the immediate assumption is that he/she is earning $350 per hour. But if you take a closer look behind the scenes and see what really goes on then you will realize that wedding photographers make nowhere near that kind of money.
Contrary to what people believe, the disheartening fact is that most wedding photographers actually undercharge.
“You are kidding me right?” I hear you say.
Well, instead of asking why the expensive photographer is so expensive, ask yourself this,
“Why is the cheap wedding photographer so cheap?”
What corners are they cutting?
Are they insured?
Are they using the right equipment?
How much experience do they have?
You know you’re going to want wonderful pictures of your big day. But a cursory glance at wedding photographers and their prices can be an exercise in sticker shock. Photography without a doubt is expensive. But why? They’re just pictures for pete’s sake!
Here are nine reasons good wedding photographers are so expensive:
• They are qualified – When considering wedding photographers and their fees it helps to remember you are not paying for merely a photographer’s time on your wedding day. You are paying for the 5, 10 or 15 years of commitment which is required to create wonderful images in the handful of hours they will shoot pictures during your wedding day. By paying more than you might have expected for a qualified, experienced photographer you are granting yourselves the extra reassurance you will enjoy your wedding memories for years to come. Like most professions, becoming a consistent quality professional photographer requires years of hard work. Many photographers attended college in photography, cut their teeth working for years as assistants or as newspaper staff photographers. They also spent countless nights surfing online forums talking about the latest and newest ways to improve their work. They are always networking and reading countless books just to keep up to date. They have shot many millions of pictures of a myriad of subjects. Your wedding shouldn’t be a long slog up a steep learning curve for your photographer. Your wedding pictures and overall experience ultimately will suffer.
• Important one-time events require serious responsibility – This is a once-in-a-lifetime event that is a culmination of months or years of work. There is no chance for a reshoot, not with so many important people in your lives coming from so many far away places to be with you and your future spouse for this one day. What happens if your photographer drops their camera? What happens if one of their camera disks is corrupted? What happens if your photographer breaks their ankle two days before your wedding? At each wedding, a truly professional wedding photographer has to be prepared for the risks of covering a one-chance event. That means keeping multiple disks on hand, image recovery software, multiple good quality cameras and a list of contacts that can fill in for them in the event they can’t shoot. The contingencies are numerous. Such preparedness can be costly and time consuming to maintain, hence the higher fees for clients.
• Seasonal nature of work – Photographers can only reasonably expect to have one wedding per week. These almost always take place on a Saturday. For many markets, including the market my business serves here in Toronto, the winter months are not a popular time to hold a wedding. Weather can be very unpleasant and make travel downright hazardous. Hence photographers outside of the Sun Belt can expect to be busy only seven to eight months of the year. A photographer is having a very solid year if they have 20 to 25 weddings. In order to provide you and future clients an excellent service, photographers have to protect their business’ margins for the entire year with those 20 to 25 weddings.
• A single wedding represents a major time commitment – Your wedding is more than a commitment by your photographer for working the day of the wedding. They will pour many hours into the planning, editing, processing, presentation and shipping of the pictures, not to mention albums and other photography products included in their quoted packages. Most people are unaware that a photographer’s job does not end when the wedding does. It is not uncommon for people to think that it’s a simple case of downloading the images from the memory card and putting them on a disk or uploading them onto a website. The fact is, while the newlywed’s are jetting off on honeymoon to enjoy their first moments of marital bliss, the photographer is still working on producing a timeless memento of their special day. Depending on how many photos were taken, they will spend anything from 6-14 days processing all the images of the day, getting rid of any blemishes, cropping, applying creative effects if need be and adjusting colour and contrast.
• Tools are expensive – A qualified photographer will be carrying $10,000 or more in equipment on their person during your wedding. The digital camera gear will usually have to be replaced every few years. That’s expensive, considering professional caliber camera bodies cost more than $2,500 to replace. The photographer must also upgrade computers and software just as frequently. Add to that burden the normal wear and tear on all equipment and the costs become eye popping.
• Commitment to you – As a wedding photographer I can tell you it is much more pleasant to explain prices to clients once rather than apologize for the quality of their pictures forever. Ten years from now when viewing your wedding album, you will not be concerned with how much the photographer cost but you will be concerned with the quality of their work. Good is almost never cheap and cheap is seldom good. A good photographer understands this and builds their business with a priority placed on a commitment to your pictures and experience first and foremost.
• Growing the business is costly – A wedding photographer does not receive much repeat business from our clients. If we did that would mean a lot of failed marriages! Referrals to family and friends are not uncommon but there are only so many friends and family about to be married. Word-of-mouth business from happy clients is important, but it rarely is sufficient to fill a photographer’s calendar. Photographers, more so than other businesses, have to invest more into marketing plans that introduce their businesses to new potential clients. Many of these advertising efforts are expensive. A page 1 placement on The Knot’s photographers website listing costs more than $5,000 annually. That’s not cheap.
• Insurance – With equipment of that value in a crowded environment like a wedding, photographers (smart ones anyway) have all their gear insured in case of damage or theft. In addition, liability insurance is essential for any freelance photographer, especially those who shoot weddings. Each of these insurance types can add up to several hundred dollars a year.
• Integrity – Imagine trying to decide between two photographers for your wedding, one photographer plays by the rules and doesn’t cut corners to save a few extra bucks but they have a higher price. Another photographer has a lower price but cheats the rules and cuts corners so they can low ball the competition. Which one is more likely to have your back when you need it? For some photographers integrity is sacred. They understand the long-term success of their business is impossible without it. Integrity requires them to deliver on their promises on time and exceed expectations. Their internal business affairs are conducted with integrity also. They pay their fair share of income taxes like you do and carry adequate liability insurance. Integrity requires them to collect sales taxes and pay them to the government in their entirety on time. Such ethical practices are not always easy to maintain and often require us to pass on some of those costs to clients. Unfortunately for some integrity is seen as an inconvenience or an impediment. While these issues may not seem relevant to your decision in photographers, a person or a business which honors all of their obligations is much more likely to honor their obligations to you. A more expensive photographer doesn’t guarantee such integrity but it makes it far more likely.
Wedding photography is expensive. No one can disagree. There are a myriad of reasons a photographer has to charge such rates to ensure their survival over the long haul. As you ponder your options and choices don’t lose sight of how important your memories from this day will be to you. They shouldn’t be trusted with just anyone. I wrote this article in the hope that it will make it easier for you to make an informed decision about your choice of wedding photographer. And if you are an aspiring photographer intending to start shooting weddings, then I hope this article helps you understand that there is a lot involved in wedding photography and it’s not easy.
Photographers may cost more than you originally expected but ask yourself a question: Is it better to pay more than you expected or less than you should?