I just saw a debate online about wedding pricing, and wanted to do a very honest and maybe brutal blog post about the subject, because it’s a complex issue and causes confusion, amongst photographers and the general public. Why do we charge what we do? Why do we have to be more competitive? What do you get for your money?
Okay I have been shooting weddings for twenty years. This year I will hit that milestone. I have done (approx) 650 weddings in that time, from two people on a beach to hundreds of guests in an exclusive Castle. I’ve photographed weddings in just about every town and city in Scotland, many in England, and several around the world. They are varied in so many ways.
This experience means I have a pretty good idea of the ever-changing marketplace.
When I started, I was very much at the low end of the scale. I was new, shooting small weddings, and just looking to get established. My average wedding fee increased by about 800% in the first ten years. That peaked about 2009/2010 when I was shooting more weddings, and charging more than at any other time in those twenty years. Even then I felt I should be charging more compared to people of a similar standard in the big cities, but living in the Highlands, the demographic is slightly different. In that time I invested a lot of money in training and equipment, as I tried to constantly improve. I am still doing that, never happy with where I am at.
So what has changed? Why am I not charging more now than eight years ago? Simple. Supply and demand has changed, and social media has changed the public perception on photography. There are, as a rough guess, ten times (probably more) as many photographers or “photographers” in some cases, than back then, and more or less the same number of weddings. That maths just means we are working in a different market than we were back then. It is inevitable that numbers per photographer will drop slightly, whatever their standard or price. That’s to be expected.
“But people will pay for quality” I hear people cry. “Your work stands out John” I am told daily by people. Yes, it is a fact that people know the difference between quality and average or worse. BUT, and this is the problem…. the percentage of people who do actually know shit from shinola is becoming less and less all the time, as social media is awash with so many images of every level, with people gushing praise on images which are, quite frankly, awful. So, yes, people WILL pay for quality. The problem is, people are losing the ability to recognise quality. If only one in ten potential clients know quality, and really look into what they are booking, we have a slim chance of getting that booking. People need to visit WEBSITES and not Facebook pages. Meet the photographer. Look at complete weddings, not just 3 gimmicky instagram photos out of 100,000 taken on the day. I really don’t know how we get to that point though.
What I see a lot of around here, is people recommending/booking wedding photographers based on two or three of those gimmicky images on social media, and not actual wedding photography. I always say “look at an entire wedding, in fact several, by xyz photographer”, and see what the overall consistency and standard is. Because that is where the difference comes in. I get a notification saying someone has tagged me in a post. I click on it and see someone looking for a wedding photographer. Lovely, I think, that’s nice of said person to recommend me. I then scroll down and see that my name is actually lost in 4000 other recommendations, ranging from competitors to “my best pal who just bought a new camera innit”. You have zero chance of anyone taking a look at all of these profiles and websites, so the chances are next to nil of a booking materialising.
Last year, as part of my ‘making changes’ (see last months blog post) in my life phase, I made the decision to change my pricing. I offered a more affordable (not cheap) basic level package, with options to ugrade. It resulted in my enquiries, and more importantly, bookings getting back to the level they were at a few years ago. Why did I do this? Because, I bloody love shooting weddings. It is my favourite genre of photography, and I realised that as a result of all of the above factors, I needed to be more competitive, and just keep the quality of my work at the same level. It worked. I want that buzz of spending a day making memories which people will have for generations, and treasure.
Why is wedding photography ‘expensive’, albeit not as expensive as it used to be? What people have to remember, is that professional photographers, and I mean professional in the respect that they do this for a living, and not to pay for the new car or next holiday, have to make a living. Generally we pay for equipment, training, insurance (to cover clients as well as ourselves),subscriptions to photographic bodies, we pay taxes, and in many cases VAT, we have vehicle and travel costs. Software. Accountants. The list could really go on forever, but you get the idea. Also professional photographers will be supplying high quality albums/books, which cost a large sum to get made, before any profit is made. We also have the stress and anxiety of getting it right on the day, which is priceless. The people who have a full time job don’t care as much. They can walk away at any time. We depend on it so you will get much more. Yes that is a generalisation, and won’t cover everyone in either camp, but generally is where I am with this at the moment. I have bills to pay. Look at my house for feck sakes:
Next up is the other myth. “You charge a lot for a day’s work”. Okay. The average wedding for me, varies from 25-35 hours work. So if you work out the profits on that, it doesn’t quite work out as lucrative as it does when you think of it as one day. I have email/phone dialogue over a period of time. Pre wedding meetings, the wedding day itself can be more than 12 hours and sometimes long journeys as well. Editing a wedding is generally another 6-8 hours, and then I have more dialogue, possibly another meeting, and if the couple have chosen to have an album package, I have to sort out the images they have chosen, design an album layout, possibly make changes to that, order the album, receive it, check it, package it and mail it out or deliver it. Quite a lot for ‘one day’s work’ I think you will agree. That is why when someone is offering wedding photography for £250-500 you have to question their motives and what sort of quality you may get, and I use the word quality very loosely.
There are a lot of photographers making up figures, usually when talking to other photographers, or in forums, to try to sound more professional, but there are very few out there making the same money as ten years ago, and certainly not as busy as they were. Like every market, we must diversify, or move with the times, whatever it takes. Times change, markets change, people change. Businesses also must change. To all the photographers who are saying “John isn’t charging enough”. John is making a living and is busier than most of you. I heard of more than one photographer questioning my pricing recently.
It really is quite simple. If you don’t make yourself competitive, you choose a different career path. You charge what you think you are worth, but get no work, well, that is unsustainable. I would like to be charging a bit more than I am, but reality says I have found the right balance. I won’t go any lower than I am currently, and if the time comes where I have to take my own advice and get out of the industry, then I will do so. Until then I will carry on making a living from what I love. I have put together a pricing structure for all my work, which I feel is fair. Be it a portfolio shoot, or a big commercial shoot, I have set my fees, and I am happy with where they are. The right compromise
People may have noticed something about me this year. Brutal honesty. I feel it is the best way to be. I would rather my clients and friends know what makes me tick, and in this case, how the business works.
Open to comments and discussion…go…..