Why Does Wedding Photography Cost So Much (And What Do I Get For My Money)?
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Here’s a question we get all the time: “Why is wedding photography so expensive?” Once, a groom actually put the question to us like this: “Why does taking some blank wedding pictures cost so blankety-blank much — my blankety-blank 9-year-old niece can press a button too!”
It’s a good question, but one not easily answered because of the way that the general public perceives photography. Photographers are asked to justify their prices more than any other contractor because to most people, the equipment and the skills needed to produce images are deemed to be widely available.
If your car breaks down, you’re not likely to ask a mechanic why his labor charges are the way they are. Or if your sink won’t drain, you don’t ask the plumber to justify the amount he’ll charge to clear it. The mechanic will disappear into the garage with your car and your plumber will disappear under the sink, and you’ll never know exactly what tools or knowledge they will use to get the job done. And you won’t care either because you need your stuff operational and you can’t do it yourself.
Since wedding photography — like other forms of art — is not exactly a need, the mind is more willing to question what it is you’ll be paying for. If you’re in the market for an oil painting of your family, or a marble bust of yourself, you know it’s going to be expensive because these kinds of artists usually come with years of experience and special training. Photographers though … anybody can walk into a Target and purchase a DSLR, and smartphones can take pretty good pictures too. So in your mind you’re pretty much paying someone to press a button, otherwise, you’ll look strange carrying a selfie-stick during your first dance.
Not quite. Especially not if you’re dreaming about the sort of wedding photography that you see featured on many blogs, or if you have your heart set on an heirloom album. This work figures into the prices photographers charge and, depending on their business models, not all photographers offer the same services.
Types of Photographers
Wedding photographers generally fall into one of two categories: Shoot-and-Burn or Full-Service.
Shoot-and-Burners get their name from the practice of burning their wedding coverage to a DVD and delivering just that. Although photos are more and more delivered via download or by USB keys these days, the term still sticks. Usually, these photographers are viewed as more affordable because they charge less upfront, but couples are responsible for their own image editing and processing.
The Full-Service Studio Photographer is one who will handle all aspects of your photography, including curation, album and artwork production, and digital file delivery. As the name implies, there are more services provided and generally, the cost is higher.
While we at Duetimage Photography are a full-service studio, we always stress that there is no “correct” business model. Each has its pros and cons, and ultimately couples must choose the photographer with the business model that is right for them.
Within the shoot-and-burn model, there are varying levels of service which will affect your pricing.
Some shoot-and-burners will come home from your wedding and transfer all of your photos directly to disk without even looking at them. You’ll get everything fast, including lens caps and shots of your photographer’s shoes. There will be no color correction or tweaking of exposure: the images are yours to sort out and manipulate as you wish, and the photographer’s job is done.
Other shoot-and-burners will lightly curate the coverage selecting only the best shots, and maybe even adjust for basic exposure. These photographers will charge more for the time it takes to do this.
Before choosing the rock bottom shoot-and-burn photographer who returns images straight out of the camera, ask yourself if you have the time and the talent to edit your own images. If not, then spending a little more on a photographer who will provide a light edit is worth its weight in gold.
The Full-Service Studio
Photographers functioning on the full-service model will not only provide a basic proofing of your images. They will also curate your coverage, engage in artistic editing that reflects their unique style, and produce your wedding albums, canvases, metal prints, and other forms of artwork.
In addition to their image capturing skills, full-service photographers are also graphic designers and digital technicians. They understand how shapes, colors, and tones interact harmoniously on an album spread. They also know how to process an image for optimum print output. Full-service photographers know their labs and have good working relationships with the people there to ensure that your artwork is produced to the highest standard.
Post-production work can require many hours of the photographer’s time long after your wedding, which leads us to a paradox: the full-service photographer who charges more can actually earn less per hour than the shoot-and-burn photographer who provides fewer services.
Now you might be asking, why is this important to me as someone about to get married? The answer is passion. Many full-service photographers are exclusively photographers. They live to create imagery and they fuss over every detail in ways that can sometimes be comical (it’s no surprise that the fictional photographer Felix Unger on the sitcom The Odd Couple was a fussbudget). I once asked a colleague why he chose to shoot and burn instead of providing full-service, and his response was: “I need to preserve my sanity”. If you’re curious about the backend value of a full-service photographer, there you have it.
Added Value On Your Wedding Day
Finally, speaking of sanity, another hidden value of your photographer is his or her ability to play psychologist on your wedding day.
As we’re all aware when we’re planning an event, things can and will go wrong. With so much money being spent, there’s a lot of stress on the part of couples and their families. All too often, stress can manifest itself in unforeseen ways. The bride might have an argument with her mother-in-law. The groom might be vexed over tying his bowtie. Dad could have an argument with a vendor. At one of our weddings, the groomsmen were involved in a fender bender at the entrance to the venue.
All this can show in your wedding photos if the photographer doesn’t have his finger on the pulse of the moment. A good photographer/psychologist knows how to calm things down. Even when the bride wants to clonk her new husband over the head because he’s disappeared right before family formals, the photographer/psychologist can get everyone laughing again.
The photographer who knows how to make you laugh and feel comfortable is bringing a skill to the table that cannot be valued on a price sheet because it is truly priceless. So consider your photographer’s personality along with his or her business model when choosing who gets to shoot your big day.
Editor’s Note: The Ultimate Wedding Photo & Video Summit is a weekly series (through December) where the some of the Hudson Valley’s top wedding photographers and videographers share their insights on the most commonly asked questions about wedding photography and videography. This is not a sponsored post. Join us next week as our Ultimate Wedding Photo & Video Summit continues with more great advice from Hudson Valley wedding photographers as they answer the most commonly asked photography questions.
Featured Photo Credit: Duetimage Photography – Hudson Valley Wedding Photographers