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Feature: The True Cost of the £200 Wedding Photographer

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Something a bit different for this post. This month Graham takes to the blog and talks about the true cost of professional photography, and even discusses that dirty little three letter word ending in “X”… I know… filthy!

True Cost of the £200 Wedding Photographer

“Special Offer: Professional Wedding Photographs for £200”

Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Usually because it is! Whether you are having a large 300 person wedding with a gigantic budget or a smaller affair of just 20 people with a tiny budget, every wedding has some kind of budget. A wedding without a budget, is like a wedding without a… well… wedding!

First off, this blog post will probably ruffle some feathers in the photography community – especially those new “professionals” out there who will photograph your wedding for £200. Let me say, I am not trying to ruffle feathers and I have no problems with other people taking photographs – but what I do have a problem with, is people trying to pass themselves off as “professionals” when in fact they are not – Those people have destroyed the meaning of the title “professional photographer” (a once respected profession) and sullied it for many reasons. They have lowered the value of the work to ridiculous levels where now photographers are finding themselves making it harder and harder to earn a living, because the “professionals” have made people believe that they can get a quality product for £200 – and then more often than not, realise that isn’t the case… after it is too late.

Wedding photography is said to be one of the most expensive costs of any wedding day with brides typically spending around 10% of their budget (here in the UK) on hiring someone with the experience and expertise to capture their once in a lifetime memories.

So it begs the question, why would you pay someone around a thousand pounds plus when you can hire a “professional photographer” for around £200?

You just have to look at the pages of Gumtree for Belfast photographers to find a sea of “professional” photographers who are giving you a great deal with prices ranging from free (yes that is right, I did say free!) to around £400. But surely those prices can’t be right, can they? Of course they can!

Well the truth is, you generally get what you pay for. Contrary to the belief of some (usually those who call themselves “professional” and charge £200 to immortalise your special day) good wedding photographers cost money, and not because we make a fortune and like to fleece people! You will never find a true professional wedding photographer who will photograph your wedding for as low amount as that quoted on Grumtree – the reason being, that these people are not “professional” in any sense of the word. Try giving them a call during the day (at their office number of course) to see if you can have an hour long chat with them to find out how professional they really are… or write to them at their studio address on their website… oh wait, no address!

Even in the days of film, the photography profession has been full of “weekend-warriors” (or people with a keen interest in photography who want to turn their hobby in to a profession). With the recession and economic collapse many people lost their jobs and overnight the number of professional photographers doubled and trippled. It has never been easier to set yourself up as a photographer (all you need is a camera – which most enthusiasts already have – and a cheap website to make you look the part). Never has there been so many professional photographers! Never has it been so easy to take a photograph. Anyone can take a photo, but not everyone can take a great photo. That number has started to dwindle again as unemployment rates decrease and the new “professionals” go back to their day jobs (realising that the world of photography isn’t as glamorous when you do it for money!)

“We’re on a tight budget”

So Hannah and I are on a “tight budget” (like so many other brides and grooms in the UK) and we are looking a good deal for our day too… after all, how difficult can it be? It is just pressing a button and taking that perfect shot, isn’t it? It is all about having a good camera with a big lens, isn’t it?

So, as I am always one for a bargain let’s have a look at some of these Gumtree photographers and see how “professional” they really are. One “professional” on Gumtree was offering to shoot our wedding for an amazing price of £200 a wedding! A bargain at that! After all, with what my clients are paying me I must be minted! I could book five or six “professional” photographers at those rates…

To put that in perspective: Last year, the average salary in the UK was around £26,500. We shall assume for a moment that our “professional” earns just that (after all, he wouldn’t be doing it unless it paid him for a comfortable living now, would he?). Let’s dust off the calculator and see how hard our hard working, passionate “professional” is doing.

If we assume he is hitting the average wage (which would be good) then he would need to photograph… 132 WEDDINGS IN A YEAR! That is about 1 wedding EVERY three days. I do a lot of weddings, but you wouldn’t find me doing anywhere near that number – for one, I would spend ALL my time working and wouldn’t have the time to process all that work! Now bear in mind there are only 52 Friday’s and 52 Saturday’s (the most popular wedding days) in a year – and Christmas even lands on some of those days! Nice… a Christmas wedding for our “professional” tog. If he wanted to earn more money and beat the UK average he would need to photograph MORE than 132 weddings a year! But he is a consumate professional and I am sure has a passion for photography.

For every wedding I photograph I invest a lot of time. This doesn’t just include the time it takes to photograph the wedding, but also the time it takes to process the wedding, meet the clients, make discs, design albums, do marketing, do my accounts, promote myself and a ton of other jobs too numerous to mention.

‘But since everything is digital, you just take the pictures and put them in the computer… right?’

Wrong. Professional photographers spend very little time in front of the camera and spend more time on other things, like running their business. An average wedding could be broken down like this (roughly, or there abouts):

  • Meeting with clients before they book: 1-2 hours
  • Preparing paperwork and contracts: 30 mins
  • Meeting the couple for an engagement session: 2 hours
  • Processing the engagement photographs: 2 hours
  • Meeting the couple to discuss their final needs before the big day: 1 hour
  • Preparing kit and paperwork JUST for this one wedding: 1 hour
  • Shooting the wedding itself: 8 hours
  • Backing up files after the wedding: 30 minutes
  • Culling, processing a wedding, outputting files, ordering prints: 20 hours
  • Packing albums etc. ready to give to clients: 30 minutes
  • Meeting after the wedding for the big hand over: 1 hour
  • … and other stuff!
  • (Oh and this doesn’t include time travelling to places!)

So in total, just for one wedding… (or there abouts)… that is 38.5 hours of work. Let’s say 40 to stretch things out and allow our tog a cup of tea or two in between all the hard work they are doing. If we do some quick maths, that is £5 per hour. But wait, we forgot to take off the actual costs of running a business!), and hold on a minute… wouldn’t that mean he would be working about 100 hours week? It doesn’t seem so good now does it?!

What? It actually costs money to make money?! No way!
Business is expensive! - One of the many things that costs money, the car to get to weddings in!

Business is expensive! – One of the many things that costs money, the car to get to weddings in!

To make matters worse, that £26,500 we talk about doesn’t take in to account any business expenses. Our tog would need to take these out before he starts making any money. For example, if your photographer has to travel to your engagement session or travel to your wedding then the cost of running a car and the cost of fuel need to come out of that. So too do the following things: (be warned… there are a lot of them!)

  • The cost of running a car and the petrol needed to go in it
  • The cost of maintaining and purchasing new equipment
  • The cost of training and learning the latest techniques and trends
  • The cost of advertising (e.g. brochures, web ads, wedding fayres etc)
  • The cost of running a website (they aren’t free… someone has to host it!)
  • The cost of running a phone line
  • The cost of proper business insurance (not not home insurance covering their kit, proper insurance incase they have an accident or God forbid lose all your photographs)
  • The cost of insuring equipment
  • The cost of running a studio (or even a home office… it costs money!)
  • The cost of being a member of a recognisded and respected trade association (not all are respected, for example the UKs largest “trade body for photographers” will take anyone – professional and amateur – someone who is an expert with a camera or even my mother who has never held a camera)
  • The cost of goods (albums cost money to purchase… so do discs, okay discs cost pence, but they still cost)
  • The cost of batteries and other single-use items required for a shoot
  • The cost of power (to charge your rechargable betteries!)
  • The general cost of running a business (printing all those contracts, paying for postage to get them to your clients)
  • The cost of PAYING THE PHOTOGRAPHER A SALARY
  • The cost of TAX (which MUST be declared and paid)
  • and lots of other things!

I don’t have to tell you that all these things come at a cost – we are not talking a few pounds here – the cost of running a business is expensive. An average figure for running a photography business in the UK is about a third (before we pay the photographer anything or before the photographer pays any tax).

Not cheap albums - High quality products like these stunning storybooks and prints cost a lot, but it is worth it!

Not cheap albums – High quality products like these stunning storybooks and prints cost a lot, but it is worth it!

‘Maths Time!’

Now let us recap with some maths…

  • Number of Weddings a Year needed to earn the AVERAGE wage in the UK: 132 weddings
  • Total income from 132 weddings: £26,400
  • Total income per wedding (BEFORE EXPENSES AND TAX): £200
  • Work hours required for just one wedding: 40 hours
  • Income per hour BEFORE ANY business expenses: £5 per hour
  • Income per hour AFTER BUSINESSES EXPENSES have been paid: £3.30
  • Money in our tog’s pocket after these expenses: £???

So, lets talk about something dirty… That three letter word… TAX. In the UK the personal tax allowance is around £10,000 for the forthcoming financial year. Remember, I am not an accountant (I am a professional photographer), so to ROUGHLY figure out what tax would be owed, we can take our £18,480 that the photographer makes (less the £10,000 personal allowance) and then the photographer will have to pay tax to HMRC on just £7,490. So the total tax payable would be about £1,498. Remember, this is rough. That means for our 132 weddings and our 5,280 hours of work the photographer has earned a well deserved £15,992 or rather, £121.15 per wedding or £3.02 per hour. Remember, these figures are all rough, but should generally give you an idea. It also doesn’t take in to account any tax deductions…

That is a lot of work for just £3.02 per hour isn’t it? An hour of work wouldn’t even buy that poor tog a well deserved pint at the end of their very long wedding day. But it is a good thing he works all by himself – think what it would cost if he employed someone to help him with all that work!

So how does he do it? The real reason your “professional photographer” can afford to charge those prices is… THEY ARE NOT A PROFESSIONAL AT ALL. The definition of the word professional is:

  • Relating to or belonging to a profession
  • Engaged in a specified activity as one’s MAIN PAID OCCUPATION rather than as an amateur

There are now more photographers in the UK calling themselves “professional” than ever. MOST are not professional at all. If you run a business as a sideline or shoot weddings for extra money at a weekend and that money does not compare or exceed your “day job” income, then simply put you are not a professional. I am sure there will be a number of “professional” photographers (who probably earn £3 an hour) that will argue with me. However, that said, I know several excellent photographers, who have full-time jobs outside of photography AND make as much from photography as their day job – these people ARE professionals. Another way of putting it is, that if you couldn’t afford to give up your day job and live off your earnings from photography, then it is not your profession. Just because you own a camera and like taking pictures does not make you a professional photographer. The word “professional” has become so sullied as a result of all of these people claiming they are professionals, that it is often embarrasing to admit it when asked! What is wrong with just being “a photographer”? Maybe we should add the word professional to the following jobs too.

Other Professionals (who don’t feel the need to put the word professional infront of their job!)
  • Professional doctor
  • Professional butcher
  • Professional lawer
  • Professional window cleaner
  • Professional dentist
  • Professional baker
  • Professional candlestickmaker (actually to be correct… a professional tallow chandler!)

Would you employ a doctor or dentist WHO WASN’T A PROFESSIONAL? Think about it! Then why employ a non-professional photographer to butcher… sorry, I mean photograph your wedding!

Enough ranting and getting off the point… Now back to our poor overworked, but passionate, “professional photographer” – So to make his living he is working 5,280 hours a year (or rather 101 hours a week) for just over £3 an hour? Would you do it? I don’t think so.

So the next time someone says to you “I am a professional photographer who doesn’t believe photography has to be expensive” – you may want to give them a tip as they are probably working themselves in to the ground and earning next to no money at all – or if you hear somene says “That is very expensive for just photographs”, think about the true cost and educate them.

Proper professional photography costs money – that is why we true professionals charge the fees that we do. You are paying, not only for photographs that most amateurs cannot produce, but paying for all the other aspects of running a proper business too – which in the long run gives you better photographs (as your photographer will have the experience needed to shoot your wedding as well as the business acumen required to stay in business) – this protects you as the customer.

So if you are still looking to get a great deal on your wedding photography, here are some of my favourite Gumtree wedding photographer ads… You are bound to get a true professional, and a bargain of a price!

  • “GREAT OFFER! Wedding photographer from £159!!!” – So I will leave this one for you to figure out the maths…
  • “WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY – 2 Photographers – £450” – that is two people to pay wages for!
  • “EXPERIENCED WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHER – £300” – really??
Gumtree Game!

GUMTREE GAME: I LOVE Gumtree, but Gumtree is NOT the place to look for a photographer. If you love Gumtree too, here is a little game for you… Search for “Gumtree Belfast Photogaphers” and take a look at all those ads for “professional” photographers. Take a moment to try and spot the “fake brides” featured in some of the pictures in some of the ads. They are easy to spot, as they usually look like a model (Clue?!) and the photos featuring them don’t look ANYTHING like the other images the photographer is advertising! Go on, make a game of it and let me know how many you find! More often than not, a lot of Gumtree professionals use either pictures they didn’t take themselves, pictures they stole off someone elses website or pictures they took of models at a staged wedding (these ones are great, because you see the same pictures pop up on loads of different “professionals” sites. While you are looking at the websites of these photographers, compare the work they take to mine or some of my well respected peers (who are members of the PPANI). It is true, you DO get what you pay for.

See for yourself: Click here to find a “professional” photographer…

If you enjoyed that little game, why not also check out these websites (for hours of fun too!)

Don’t fancy any of them? Why not try a real professional…

Hopefully now you can see why we “proper professionals” charge the money we do and hopefully you can see the difference between a £200 “professional” and one like myself. If you would like to book “this” professional for your wedding then please give me a call and come to the studio for a chat over a cup of tea.

About GRAHAM

Graham Crichton is an award winning professional wedding & portrait photographer based in Belfast, Northern Ireland. With 10 years of experience and having photographed hundreds of weddings he has photographed weddings all over Ireland, the UK and abroad.

About HANNAH

Hannah Crichton is the principal photographic assistant, blogger and studio manager (and other half of Graham Crichton Photography). Hannah and Graham recently married themselves in Ynysybwl, Wales, where Hannah is originally from. Hannah loves “everything wedding"!

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