Wedding Wednesday: Why is Wedding Photography so Expensive?

We’ve all seen the posts on our local groups: “Looking for a wedding photographer that won’t cost an arm and a leg“. I’m sure we’ve also all seen the posts that tend to follow saying, “My photographer didn’t show up/isn’t responding/took terrible images/took our money and ran”. It’s an unfortunate circumstance, and one I wouldn’t wish on anyone on their special day. That’s why today I wanted to do a little client education to let you know what exactly what it is you’re paying for when you hire a true professional photographer!

1. Hundreds of hours of experience capturing once-in-a-lifetime events.

Being a fabulous photographer is a skill, one that must be earned and learned, just like in any other industry. The efficiency and skill of an artist directly correspond to how much time and energy they’ve put into capturing events prior to yours. You want to make sure that whichever photographer you choose is far enough along in the process to be successful in capturing all the ins and outs of your day.

2. Experience with indoor lighting, outdoor lighting, and a quick shift between the two to capture all your special moments with ease.

You’ll notice the term “natural light photographer“ being thrown around a lot on photography websites. This often means that the photographer has mastered their skills during daytime hours with light that comes directly from the sun. This can also potentially mean that they don’t have a grasp on how to shoot in low light, indoor spaces, or at night time. Considering most weddings transition from midday to late night during the course of the event, it’s extremely important to find someone who can quickly adjust their settings and equipment to match the lighting of the moment. This requires additional lighting equipment ($$$) as well as experience practicing with it prior. All photographers should be willing to share full galleries with you so you can view their low light and reception work.

3. Years of practice strengthening the precision, accuracy, and intuition that allows for last-minute flexibility and success.

This is similar to number one but applies more in stressful or time-limited situations that are bound to pop up on the wedding day. Accepting timeline changes, waiting for late family members, and anticipation of the couple’s needs or next moves are imperative skills to have when shooting a wedding. A seasoned pro photographer knows where to stand, is aware of what’s happening around them in 360°, and has helpful suggestions as to how to get the day back on track if things start to go awry. You’re not just paying for photos, you’re paying for their ability to make those photos happen no matter the circumstances.

4. An ironclad contract that’s been scoured by lawyers to ensure a definition of services and safe business practice for both your photographer and you.

This is a HUGE one! You should never agree to work with any vendor without a proper contract. This leaves way too much room for error and confusion. Your photographer’s contract should be clear, and concise, and cover every aspect of the wedding that may come up, even things you might not have thought about. They should also be willing to speak with confidence about any part of the contract that you have questions about without bouncing you around or being elusive. A professional will not only have most likely paid for the contract template itself but paid for additional goings over anytime a clause is added or a dispute is made. This is the much less fun part of running a business, but it’s there for the benefit of everyone involved.

5. Proper insurance that covers you, the photographer, and the venue requirements.

This one is really important for safety reasons as well. A majority of venues require liability insurance up to a certain amount, but that’s not the only reason a vendor should have insurance. If something happens to you on a shoot or something happens to the photographer’s equipment, it should all be covered under this liability insurance. Many people who run an illegal business do not have a contract or insurance, these are big red flags when looking to hire safe and reliable vendors.

6. Top-of-the-line equipment that needs to be upgraded every few years to keep up with technological advancements.

I’m sure we’ve all seen our parents’ old film photo albums. They’re incredible (especially the fashion) but there’s a clear difference in quality between images taken in the 70s and 80s and digital images taken now. Technology makes major advancements every day. New cameras and lenses are smaller, lighter, higher megapixels, have longer battery life, etc. every time they are released. While it’s not required for a photographer to upgrade every year, many photographers do jump on updating their gear bag every couple of years. This allows for the highest quality results every time they’re shooting. As you can imagine, new equipment is damn expensive. A photographer that is willing to put their money where their mouth is in order to improve results and ensure quality should be a high priority.

7. A personality that can handle your overbearing parent, your drunk maid of honor, aggressively flirtatious groomsmen, and uncle Bob and his iPad with grace and professionalism.

Personality matters. Personality matters. Personality matters! You’re about to spend one of the biggest days of your life with someone who’s going to be directing and taking photos of anyone and everyone. You need someone who can say no when a guest is trying to pull them away as well as someone who can ask people to move when they’re ruining the perfect shot. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to step in front of someone with an iPad in order to capture the first kiss. (I wish I was kidding, but it happens more often than you think.) The confidence and ability to use your voice, position yourself correctly, and keep the ball rolling no matter the distraction is something you gain over time working these events. I used to be somewhat frightened of upsetting guests, but after doing so many events I now know how to confidently put my couples’ needs ahead of any awkward glares I may encounter.

8. An ear to listen to, a shoulder to cry on, and a stress relief buffer between you and any issues that come up on your wedding day.

Much of the time your wedding photographer becomes your planner, your problem solver, and your BFF. We are there constantly and, on a day with so much going on, we’re often running the show at multiple points. As an example of one little thing I do: I always tell the wedding party that I need to do some pics of just the bride/groom alone in the hotel room before we line up for the ceremony. Everybody leaves and, instead of taking pics, I get them water and a snack and leave them alone. People don’t often realize how busy and chaotic things are and that an alone time break is often really really necessary. I know this because I’ve seen it over and over again! I want you to vent about your MIL, tell me your honest opinion of Aunt Linda’s dress, and even have an emotional moment you possibly couldn’t have with everyone else there. I also want your planner to come to me to solve a problem before going to you. I position myself to be your first line of defense. Photographers take on the emotional burden as often as they can so you don’t have to. 😊

9. Photography-driven day of timeline suggestions that allow us to get everything done in a timely manner without stressing you out.

Most people don’t have any idea where to begin when creating their day of timeline. If you have a venue that does not provide a planner and you’re not sure where to start, ask your photographer! If you’re looking for photos at the perfect times then taking the photographer’s lead is the best route. We know how much time it takes to get things done. This allows us to build a timeline that’s helpful for you and structured in a way that makes our job easier too!

10. Physical stamina that allows us to be on our feet and moving with our equipment in tow for 8 to 12 hours at a time.

Guys, I’ve never claimed to be in good shape but when I tell you it takes a special kind of person to carry their gear around and shoot a wedding I’m not messing around. Along with my heavy expensive gear, I’ve invested in a leather harness that allows me to carry two cameras at once. I’ve invested in some pretty nice shoes that both look professional and provide great arch support. When we show up at your wedding we are usually holding all this gear as well as gently positioning dresses, carrying flowers, staging flat lay setups, moving all around to capture exciting angles, and rarely sitting down. (Usually, the first time I have a moment to sit and take a breath after beginning is at dinner.) It’s imperative that your photographer have experience enough to know how to take care of their bodies before, during, and after your wedding in order to provide exceptional service on your day AND stay healthy.

11. A curated post processing technique that allows your gallery to go from thousands of images to a select number of perfect photos that reflect the feeling in the mood of your day for ease of access.

This is a really big one in my opinion! A lot of people think prices are exorbitant because we’re doing “one day of work“, but that’s simply not the case. A wedding that runs eight or nine hours usually results in between 5,000 and 10,000 images depending on guest count and activities. We then need to save all those images on a physical drive as well as online, upload them into an editing program like Lightroom, sort through them to pick out the absolute best storytelling moments from your day, and then color correct and edit to fit our style. To say it’s time consuming to look through all these images and make sure everybody’s eyes are open and is looking your best would be an understatement. We spend time honing our craft to provide you with the best options possible and we spend even MORE time on the backend making sure we deliver every memory exactly the way you imagined it.

12. Color correction and hand editing techniques that not only fit the current style but will allow you to relive your memories in their truest form for years to come.

As a photographer, finding your style takes quite a bit of time. Figuring out the way we prefer to shoot as well as how we edit contributes to the overall feel of our entire brand. It’s important to most photographers to strike a balance between modern and timeless styles. Most photographers spend hours viewing others’ work, exploring different editing color palettes, practicing their lighting techniques, and educating themselves on ways to improve the quality of their work. As the industry is constantly evolving, keeping up and keeping things fresh could be a full-time job in of itself. (PS – If you still think that a photographer is simply clicking a button and providing those gorgeous photos, I’m gonna ask you to go back and restart this blog. lol)

13. Failsafe delivery options that may include keeping your RAW files secure in multiple locations, hosting your gallery online for as long as possible, as well as delivering via USB for physical storage purposes.

Have you ever read those horror stories about photographers losing someone’s wedding images? I imagine you don’t want that to be you. Professionals know that backing up on a single hard drive is simply not enough protection. Most of us shoot on cameras with two slots for memory cards and then pay for online storage options such as Google Drive or Dropbox in order to make sure that your RAW Images are safe and secure throughout the editing process and beyond. I know that not everybody functions this way, but I personally have the RAW files for every wedding that I’ve shot from 2015 forward. If someone were to ask me for their gallery link or potentially some of their raw files, it’s more than likely I’d be able to provide them for them even years later. Knowing that your photographer takes great care of your photos should relieve a lot of stress and help you enjoy your day all the more.

14. Energy, effort, and appreciation for your needs throughout every step of the process.

Pro photographers know that your wedding is not about them! We take every step possible to ensure that your vision of your day is brought to light and captured accordingly. Creating thoughtful questionnaires, gathering details about your relationship, asking you to tell us about the special parts of your day that you put so much time and effort into our all part of the job. I’ve been to over 300 weddings and I still walk into every event with excitement and brand-new eyes. Every wedding and every couple is unique. It’s not just something we say, it’s in the way we get to know you. Your photographer should make you feel at ease and very taken care of throughout the entire process.

15. Last but not least, LOVE. You’re paying for a photographer that absolutely falls in love with you, your story, and however, you decide to tell it on your day.

I know it may sound silly, but I fall head over heels for every couple that I work with. I often find myself crying and events during toasts or first dances. Maybe I’m a bit too emotional, but I really do love love and I see every event as an opportunity to engage in something magical and unique. I’m so lucky to do what I do and I never forget it. I certainly hope it shows in my work and I hope all my couples can feel how much I appreciate them. 😊

About Kate

Kate Cohen (she/her) is an International LGBTQIA+ wedding photographer based in Northern California who is focused on storytelling, candid captures, and iconic portraits of couples all over the globe.

  1. SJ says:

    Thank you for this!!!!!!!!! As a wedding photographer, all these hit the nail and are spot on. Thank you putting them into words.

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