Thursday, June 19, 2014

Price Check In The Photo Department

After the tears and squeals there’s a certain joyful wonder that comes the moment you become engaged.  You get to become a family with this amazing person that you admire, respect and love.  The rush of happiness leaves you so elated that you feel amazing.

Until you start planning your wedding.  And your mother-in-law wants to invite her bridge club and knitting circle friends.  And your dad says it’s insane to spend $2,500 on a dress you wear once.  And your mom neatly resolves it by insisting that you wear her ruffled lace concoction that she wore when she married your father and they've been married for 25 years so it should be good luck.

The expense and stress of planning such a large scale event while trying to keep your family happy is enough to make any sane bride and groom elope.

I had a bride recently tell me that her cake cost $800.  Eight. Hundred. Dollars.  My head nearly exploded.  Granted, my most elaborate birthday party as a child involved Betty Crocker cupcakes with rainbow sprinkles and five cousins at the McDonald’s Play Land so my perspective on cake and fancy parties is a little un-fancy.  I wondered, “will doves fly out of that cake?... is it decorated with Swarovski crystals?”  But then I thought, well how much would I pay for cake at a restaurant?  And suddenly $2.67 per slice to serve 300 guests a decorated and delivered cake didn’t seem so unreasonable.

Which brings me to wedding photography.

I routinely hear from people who are dismayed by the cost of professional photography.  Why?  Because they have no concept of what professional custom photography costs.  If they are like me, they grew up thinking good photos were taken by the school photographer (I will never forgive my mother for making me wear that awful hunter green/maroon/navy blue plaid, Victorian style blouse in the 5th grade and still displaying that photo in the foyer to this day!)  Maybe they were fortunate enough to have custom senior photos.  Me: I went to… wait for it… Olan Mills and spent about $60 (This was in the days of 99 cent gas. Does that admission make me seem old?)  Until there’s a Say Yes To The Photographer show, the average consumer will be blindsided by the cost of professional photography.

Get to the point, Val, why is it so darn expensive?

First, I invest 15 hours of labor before I even take a photo or edit.  I may only be covering 8 hours of your wedding day, but it takes a whopping 45-65 hours of work for every wedding depending on the length of your wedding and the items included in your package.  Let’s assume for arguments sake that the photographer makes $15 per hour (you wouldn’t want the minimum wage photographer covering a once in a lifetime event, would you?)  An average wedding is 55 hours of work so their paycheck is $825.  But don’t forget that the business has to also be paid for expenses.    Travel expenses, batteries, rented equipment and the cost of delivered products are easy to calculate, but the Business also has to set aside money to cover operating expenses.  Insurance, camera and computer gear, editing software, internet, phone, website, office supplies, advertising, accounting, lawyers for contract preparation… it’s expensive to operate a photography business.  A professional camera body alone can cost $4,000-6,000.

What’s that? You found someone to cover 8 hours of your wedding, provide a disc of images for printing and they’ll charge you less than $1,000?

Danger!  Buyer Beware!  I hear the “AhOOOOHHH-Gah” of a submarine dive alarm when people say that.  Folks, you better vet them like a political party nominee.  Are they insured and licensed?  Do they use professional camera equipment?  Do they bring back up gear?  Can they show you three complete wedding galleries of their work?  Can they show you numerous examples of their indoor, no flash and flash photography?  Do they have a professional website?  Do they collect sales tax?  How many weddings have they photographed?  Do they use a contract?  If the answers are NO, then it’s kinda like buying meat off a guy selling steaks from his van.  Could be one damn fine filet mignon or you could get salmonella poisoning.  Either way, it’s probably not a legitimately operating business.  Hire someone who isn’t insured, and you’re on the hook if they cause damage to the limo or hotel.  In fact, most venues require that your vendors carry insurance.  Now you may get lucky and score a professional portrait photographer who is trying to branch out into wedding work.  Still, do your homework because portrait skills are very different from the skills and equipment needed for indoor ceremonies and receptions.  If they check out, lock them into a contract immediately.   Because once a good photographer gets a few solo weddings under their belt, they will raise their prices.

And if you hire the family member or friend who likes to take pictures and has a nice camera, then hold your tongue and don’t you dare complain if the photos suck.  They probably tried their best and the $300 you gave them to shoot your wedding wouldn’t even cover the business expenses of most professional photographers.

But, Val, I really cherish photography.  It’s the only possession I want to save if my house burns.  What’s a bride on a budget to do?

The first thing to do is critically analyze where you spend your wedding budget.  Wedding favors… who needs them?  Save-the-date cards… who saves them?  Embossed invitations on luxurious linen papers… who remembers them?  Maybe there’s a smarter way to spend your money.  Consider hiring a professional photographer for a few hours only and skipping the digital image cd.  Register for gift cards instead of toasters.  Cut down your guest list.  Eliminating just one 10 person table can save you $650-1,500 in food, alcohol, cake, linens and centerpieces, invitations and programs.   And it’s a reasonable excuse for not inviting your mother-in-law’s knitting circle if I ever heard one.

If you’re still reading this article, this would be the appropriate time for a shameless plug for my photography services ( ) .  I’ll just let my portfolio speak for itself.  If you sell meat from your van, belong to a knitting circle or sell luxury stationary/invitations for a living, you probably hate me and self-serving endorsements won’t endear me to you.  But even if my artistic style isn’t your cup of tea, please don’t undervalue your wedding photography.  Go find someone whose artistic style and photography speaks to you.  Make the investment.  You are worth it.

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