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Why is Wedding Photography SO Expensive?

I’ve been a wedding photographer since 2007 and this question has been asked of me more times than I can count. Why is Wedding Photography so expensive? Or rather, why are SOME wedding photographers so expensive?

When I first started out, this was a question I could not answer. I was new. Even after five years, it was still an awkward one to tackle.

Why indeed, am I charging so much for what seems to be a hobby for so many?

Now after close to two decades, I can confidently charge what we charge, and tell you why. 

Caveat: We have levels as any other business: budget, midmarket, luxury, ultra lux. From as low as $1k to $10k and as of 2024, I know some studios get paid as much as $45k per wedding. Different strokes from different folks, as they say.

Let’s get one thing out of the way: Wedding photography is also considered a luxury service and not a necessity – as is getting married these days. Some folks do it lavishly, and some folks do it modestly. The end result is the same – folks get married. 

And secondly, this isn’t going to be an article spelling out the obvious like equipment cost or scarcity. You’ve heard it all before. There are dozens of articles probably that will explain all of that. 

What I’m going to share are my opinions of what the rarely shared reasons are behind why wedding photography costs what it costs. 

Woodinville Lavender Farm wedding venue Seattle Wedding Photographer JENN TAI

So why are some wedding photographers SO expensive, just like why are some bags and clothes and cars are so expensive? 

Is it just brand prestige? Yes.

But here are also six (long) reasons why. Buckle up (5 mins reading time):

EXPECTATIONS 

Can you think of any other (joyful) life celebration where expectations are as high as a wedding day? I can’t. A graduation, a christening, a blessing, a birthday, a mitzvah – nothing else seems to come close. How much do you think meeting those expectations costs, if one can even put a value do it? Even if it’s a celebration of a modest means? Emotions are high. Expectations even higher for everything to go as perfectly as possible – and that includes photography. This type of pressure includes showing up early, staying longer if the schedule runs late. It includes dressing appropriately and maintaining your cool even when the most stressful situations happen, like a veil catching on fire or a drunk guest trying to mess with your gear. All the while trying to make sure you capture the story of the day and keeping your equipment and most important of all, your photos safe. This alone, takes YEARS of practice and experience to get right. It’s 80% soft skills, and 20% photography.

Technical Experience

Let’s talk about the 20% that has nothing to do with what happens in camera. Every pro who’s charging to shoot a wedding should already know that like the back of their hand or they have no business invoicing anybody. 

This 20% I’m talking about, has more to do with agility, working on the go with whatever lighting conditions and weather have for you at any given time. You can have a Masters in Studio Lighting and fail as a wedding photographer because we’re not in a studio. We’re at a wedding venue, outside where weather alone will throw all kinds of wrenches into the best laid plans. You have very little control over the day, much less the light. You work with the space and you bring what you need without having the luxury of a production crew. If you’re lucky, you have a second photographer AND an assistant so that you can move around quickly and efficiently without causing too much discomfort for your couple and their guests. Your invoice will have to reflect all of that. That’s a hard cost in itself – for 8-10 hours a day, costing in labor, food, gas and time.

Privacy

This is a given. Even lower budget photographers should provide this peace of mind but here’s one difference: Lost opportunity cost.

This year (2024), more couples are asking for their photos not to be used on social media or for marketing, or at least where their faces and names are not shared. This is a valid concern today, what with AI and the Internet becoming a very scary and unsafe place.

For a vet, it’s a small matter. We have enough portfolio to forego, this for a fee. For someone lower budget because they may have fewer years of experience? This is a significant sacrifice. 

Whatever the case, just know that not being able to use our photos for marketing is going to be an extra cost for that lost opportunity.

An elegant outdoor wedding setup by the sea featuring a floral arch, white draped chairs, and meticulously arranged dining tables adorned with pink and white flowers. captured by Seattle Wedding Photographers Jenn Tai & Co

Invisible Work

“We’re your Asian mom and best friend girlie, rolled into one.”

This is the part you’ll need to pay attention reading.

Invisible work is perhaps one of the aspects of doing this job very few people talk about. These tasks seem unimportant but when done well, are invisible. They are what distinguishes a good photographer from a great one.

What’s invisible work in wedding photography? Here’s a short list:

Pre-scouting locations for engagement sessions and wedding venues. This includes driving to these places, which can sometimes take hours, to look at the light so we can prepare for what sort of gear we need to bring and just to gauge traffic and more. This incurs hard costs like gas, and soft costs like time.

Admin work, which includes any post-booking calls to plan the photography portions of an engagement session or your wedding day schedule. Things like talking through beauty plans, and which side of your face should your hair be if you want a particular style, or even seating chart advice if you want the best reaction photos.

Even when a couple has hired a planner, their wedding photographer still has to look through the timeline to make sure there’s enough photo time and to make sure transitions aren’t too “crunchy” so our couple isn’t stressed. Wedding days are already anxiety-making for our brides and grooms. We have to plan ahead to ease as much tension as possible to yield the best photos.

Wedding-day management – thoughtful and service-oriented wedding photographers are CONSTANTLY looking out for their couples. We’re your Asian moms and best friend girlies rolled into one. We’re not just taking photos. We’re looking out for wardrobe malfunctions, back fat, armpit “lips”, double chins, clutter/trash cleanup so they’re not in the photos, hair fluffing, makeup retouching, dress arranging, suit dusting, hydration/snack breaks, bouquet readjusting, morale management, running interference if family drama ensues and so on. We are a one or two-man photography, emotional coach, stylist, makeup artist, general assistance walking show for 8-10 hours.

Post production cleanup – This is not the curating and editing we are expected to do. This is over and above. We’re cleaning up exit signs, zits, nip slips, wrinkles on linens, water bottles, smeared mascara, water stains, food stains, porta-potties (and all of the missed back fat, nip slips, double chins we overlooked while shooting). This is over thousands of images sometimes because unlike studio work, we’re not in control of a wedding 100%. We can’t tell a venue to take down their exit signs or reposition a ceremony because there are cars from one angle. 

I recently had to Photoshop a gigantic cruise ship off for about 50 photos. During the wedding, the couple had expressed to their friends and family how worried they were that the vessel wouldn’t leave on time because of the low tide. They never mentioned it to me directly, it was just something I picked up over the course of the day and filed it away mentally. In post, I’d proactively removed the vessel in photos where it was very obvious. Even with Generative Fill (AI), it took A LOT of time. 

This was just what the fee I was paid covered, for the level of service that I felt was expected of my studio. 
They did not express it nor do I think they will remember from looking at the photos that the ship was ever there.

Gray Bridge Venue wedding Seattle Wedding Photographer JENN TAI

VENDOR RELATIONSHIPS

This is a big one that at first glance, but may not factor much to a couple. When one is paying for quality, your vendor team working seamlessly with one another is the sauce that makes your wedding experience go from wonderful to magical.

Like a well-orchestrated symphony, a photographer with whom the vendor team has complete trust elevates the entire production because they know they have someone who will take care and pay tribute to their work and to shout it out from the rooftops after.

Everyone wants a little love for their labor, and a team-player wedding photographer is your key cheerleader of this collaboration.

MENTAL AND CREATIVE BURNOUT 

Time is THE most precious resource we humans have. Time and as a creative, our mental and emotional wellbeing. We are humans after all and wedding photography isn’t something one can do everyday, 40 hours a week. It’s a resource that requires recharging, down time, family time, alone time. TIME.

So if we math this out, one wedding a weekend from May to Oct is perhaps 20 weddings. If we charge $5k per wedding, that’s $100k gross. This is NOT a salary. This is just gross sales per year, for a salary on payroll of perhaps $3k a month of $36k a year, the rest being spent on insurance, rent, taxes, equipment, website maintenance – hard costs. Can one survive on 36k a year in Seattle?

Double that and it’s $10k a wedding, $200k a year, for a $72k a year salary. That’s perhaps more realistic. This also means maybe shooting 40 weddings a year instead. This is where that burnout comes in.

Do you really want to spend $5k on a burnt out wedding photographer? How about $10k?

Phew. You’ve made it to the end of this article (thank you!). Now what?

You know what wedding photographers can potentially offer,
what does it mean to you as a bride, groom or marrier?

BUDGETS & EXPECTATIONS

To conclude this article with something more helpful, here’s our budgets and expectations chart. My objective? To guide your questions during potential photographer interviews.

This is by NO means exhaustive and one built from my own journey as a wedding photographer over 17 years of shooting weddings. Where do we fall? Somewhere between Medium and Lux!

Modest budgets

✓ Minimal pre-wedding prep

✓ Professional Photography

✓ Professional Curation

✓ Professional Editing

✓ Secure online delivery and storage 

✓ Automated album, print and art sales

✓ Studio may not allow you to choose your actual day photographer

✓ Photographers may not be licensed or insured

✓ Photographers may lack experience working real weddings

✓ Photographers may book upwards of 50+ weddings a year (per photographer or photography team). High chance of burnout.

Medium Budgets

✓ Some pre-wedding prep

✓ Some wedding-day hand-holding

✓ Some wedding-day styling

✓ Professional Photography

✓ Professional Curation

✓ Professional Editing

✓ Some Specialized Editing

✓ Good vendor collaboration

✓ Secure online delivery and storage 

✓ Automated album, print and art sales. On-demand in-person sales.

✓ Photographers are most likely licensed and insured

✓ Photographers are more likely full-time

✓ Photographers may book 30-40 weddings per year (per photographer or photography team). Medium chance of burnout.

Lux Budgets

✓ Brand prestige

✓ Lots of pre-wedding prep with high planner collaboration

✓ Some wedding-day hand-holding 

✓ Able to shoot editorial style portraits with very little time

✓ Some wedding-day styling

✓ Professional Photography

✓ Professional Curation

✓ Professional Editing

✓ Lots of Specialized Editing

✓ High vendor collaboration

✓ Secure online delivery and storage 

✓ Client privacy 

✓ Automated print and art sales. On-demand in-person album sales.

✓ Photographers are licensed and insured

✓ Photographers are full-time

✓ Good chances of getting published

✓ Photographers may book 15-20 weddings per year (per photographer or photography team). Low chance of burnout.

I hope this article helps to demystify this age-old question. Wedding photography as a job sounds fun and glamorous, but the amount that goes into is beyond a camera, a good eye and some software. What you’re investing in is an ally who will make you LOOK and FEEL your best. All that you have to do is make sure your budget lines up with your priorities. 

Still stuck? Jenn offers no obligation photography consults! This is not just to possibly hire Jenn as a photographer, but to hone in on all the things you should consider to make sure you hire a photographer that meets all your expectations. There is no obligation to hire us. Just bring a list of questions, of who you’ve shortlisted and we’ll help you pick your dream photographer in no time.

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