Producer’s note: Someone on Quora asked: Why is wedding photography so expensive? Here is one of the best answers that’s been pulled from the thread.
First, the wedding business is a luxury business. Another wedding photographer I know said, “You can get a hotel room at a Motel 6 or the Ritz Carlton. Both will offer you a bed.”
Experience, customer service and quality will vary dramatically between a $2,000 and $8,000 photographer. The lower-end photographer might shoot your weddings and hand your photos to you on a thumb drive, while the high-end might send you cards and champagne along with an album and other branded products.
Second, wedding photography is a full-time gig. I tried doing it on the side while I had a job as an editor for a tech publication in the Bay Area. It stressed me out and I couldn’t sleep. On top of having a 40-hour-a-week job, I was having to shoot weddings on Saturdays (not an easy task on its own), then edit photos during my lunch breaks and nights and weekends.
As others have said, it takes hundreds of hours to edit a wedding. For me, it takes about 8 weeks to complete a wedding. That includes downloading my memory cards, backing them up to four locations, editing down thousands of photos, then post processing the 700-1,200 photos that I’m actually going to deliver to the client.
If I’m doing this full time, I’m going to need to charge enough money to survive–not get rich, but just survive. This means covering my basic cost of living (rent, food, utilities, car, gas, health insurance, etc.), the cost of my equipment (cameras, lenses, batteries, memory cards, hard drives, lighting equipment) and the cost of everything else associated with running the business (taxes and accounting, marketing and advertising, website, business and equipment insurance, professional association memberships).
In short, you might be thinking, “Why does it cost $5,000 for someone to take pictures for ONE DAY at my wedding?” The truth is, shooting photos at your wedding is the easy part, and it’s just a small chunk of ice on the tip of the iceberg in terms of making sure you get a good product at the end of the day. And remember, your wedding photos and memories are what you’re going to have for the rest of your life and pass on to future generations (assuming you don’t get divorced).
Lastly, I’ll address your more specific concerns now.
“These days, every other guy has a DSLR.”
That’s true! But I have three of them! That sounds like a joke, I know. But this is important. If you gave your cousin or uncle $500 to shoot your wedding because he or she has a fancy camera, that’s a risky gamble. What if the camera fails? What if the battery dies? What if your cousin/uncle/friend gets sick or hurt or drunk at your wedding? I have backups of everything I need to make sure the job gets done, and that includes additional cameras, flashes, lenses, and even another photographer!
“Lightroom costs like $200 and there’s a free version.”
I don’t think there’s a free version, but anyway… That’s like telling me you can give your grandma a Lamborghini and expect her to make the same lap times around the track as a professional race car driver. On that same note, giving someone a photography tool isn’t going to automatically give them the vision or skill they need to make photos look good. Hell, I know professional photographers who outsource post processing because it’s time consuming and, quite frankly, they aren’t very good at it themselves!
“Some phones take better pictures than I’ve seen in portfolio galleries.”
Guns don’t kill. People do.
I’m kidding, sorta, but phones don’t take pictures, people do. Give me an iPhone to shoot a wedding and I can probably take better photos than every other guest at the wedding. I understand light and composition. I’ve been to hundreds of weddings and I have a pretty good handle on anticipating moments that need to be photographed at a wedding.
In the end, asking why wedding photography is so expensive when cameras and photo software is cheap is the same as asking why a Hermès handbag is expensive when the leather and metal that goes into making it costs nothing compared to its selling price.