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Feature: Why are Wedding Photographer’s Prices so Unreasonable?

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I am a member of a few Facebook groups that are aimed at people getting married. They are a great resource and some of them are fantastic at connecting great couples with their perfect vendors. We use some of them to find some of our best customers. The internet as a whole is a wonderful resource for shopping in general – whether you are looking for a photographer… or even a new toaster. Perhaps it is even better for finding a photographer, as you can see in detail the level of quality someone delivers through the images on their website.

But as much as the internet is a positive thing when looking to find your perfect wedding suppliers, it can also be a terrible place. Anyone can set-up shop and sell their services. The services don’t have to be good or quality.

One thing though that is apparant in the industry, through the use of the internet (and in particular on forums or even Facebook pages) is proof that goods and services aimed towards the wedding market can be purchased at a great range of prices. For example, to mention my own industry, one photographer might be charging £500 and another £2000.

Now, imagine you are going to buy a new sofa (oh and some chairs to go with it… afterall, that is why they call it a three piece suite, isnt it?). So… I know what I want… I want one of those lovely leather ones… you know the ones – the type you find at a lovely posh hotel. I have always wanted one of them. Now, when I start to shop around I take myself off to various shops. One such shop might be Ikea, as I know they do sofas. Another such shop might be DFS… or Sofaland, or even Next. They all sell sofas. Okay, so I know what I want – and I want it at a reasonable price. If I go in to Ikea I can see maybe they are charging £200 for a sofa. That is very reasonable and a price I like. But hey, they don’t sell that type of sofa that I want. No worries, I can try another shop. So, I do and I find that maybe Next sell it. Great! It is such a gorgeous sofa and I know what it should cost because I have already been and looked at sofa in Ikea. Woohoo. So I get the old checkbook out and hand two hundred of the finest printed notes over to the manager in the shop. He looks at me, coughs and says, “I’m sorry, that sofa is £1200”. HOLD ON THERE! I think he is ripping me off. Surely that is unreasonable. That Ikea sofa only cost £200, so why does he want more?

Well. It all comes down to, “What is reasonable?”. That word was used by someone who had noticed a crazy price hike in the price of wedding videographers in Ireland over the last 12 months. It got me thinking. What is reasonable?

Reasonable, affordable, expensive, cheap.

They are all words you see again and again on wedding forums. Words that I think need a little explaining.

Let’s start with cheap.

There is a saying, “You get what you pay for”, and for the most part that is very true. Now price doesn’t always reflect how good something is – but usually a more expensive price reflects a better end product.

Let’s look at why a photographer might be cheap:

  • Lack of experience and therefore can’t charge the higher prices associated with someone with more experience
  • The photographer might not work at photography full-time – they may have another job and therefore not need to charge higher prices
  • The photographer might not be doing this properly and might not for example have insurance
  • They might not have the same business overheads that a more established photographer has (for example, a studio premises that needs to be paid for)
  • They don’t use the most modern equipment or do not invest in the newer equipment/software/computers
  • They need to gain experience quickly and the price reflects this
  • The products (albums) they offer are low value or low quality. i.e. they purchase cost to the photographer is low
  • They don’t have a good business accumen and know how to price things accordingly
  • People just won’t pay them any more as either the quality of their work is low or the expectations of their customers are low

Now, expensive.

Now let’s look at why a photographer may be more expensive:

  • More experienced photographer
  • They do photography as a full-time job and don’t rely on another source of income
    The products they offer are more expensive to purchase – e.g. a leather bound album with your name on it, printed on the finest fine art paper (like the ones we do) cost me a lot to purchase (before I make any profit on them). But that is because I know they are the best and that is why I sell them. Yes I could make more money selling cheaper products with a higher mark-up, but I don’t think that would be “reasonable”
  • The photographer knows that they can only do so many weddings a year (therefore has to charge accordingly to make up for that). e.g. 80 weddings at £500 are the same as 20 weddings £2000 (If I did 80 weddings a year, I would have no time to edit them, design albums, run my business or sleep!). I can therefore spend more time on the weddings I do, by doing less of them. Thus giving a better service and increasing the quality of my work.
  • Albums cost money, suppliers don’t give them to us for free!
  • Time costs money, we have to pay ourselves a sensible wage – just like working in a shop
  • The photographer will have a business to run. Even before taking a single photograph of your wedding, your wedding will already have cost the photographer money. This needs to be covered. For example, we run a studio. We pay rent, heating, rates, insurance, broadband, telephone, advertising, marketing, website, the dude who takes care of the website, biscuits for you to eat when we meet, the brochure we give you at your consultation, the time it takes for me to reply to messages etc. etc. That all costs money. Therefore, my pricing needs to cover this also.

So we have cheap vs. expensive. These are always relative. In order to define these you need to know, what is the lowest price a photographer charges for a similar product and what is the most expensive? For the most part, when people compare cheap vs. expensive, they don’t compare like for like. If one photographer is £500 and another £2000 and all the others are in between, then the £500 photographer is the cheapest, and the £2000 photographer is the most expensive. Therefore, cheap is £500 and expensive is £2000. Generally speaking in this case, a cheap photographer will provide a lower quality of product and a more expensive photographer will provide a better quality of product. However, it isn’t really as simple as that, especially when talking wedding photography.

Comparing like for like – a £500 photographer isn’t a £2000 one

The problem arises because, a photographer isn’t just a photographer. In the same way that a sofa isn’t just a sofa. You need to then compare like for like:

  • Do the photographers all have similar experience (same number of years shooting or same number of weddings under their belt)
  • Do they all use the same level of high quality equipment (professional equipment and have backups)
  • Do they deliver a similar product (a cheap photo album is not the same as a handcrafted leather bound one for example)
  • Do their pictures reflect the same quality as the other photographers of a similar level?

Once you have compared like for like, you can then figure out a price range of cheap vs. expensive.

For example, you may then find that in order to get the same quality of photographers that a £1200 photographer takes the cheapest photographer may be charging £900 and the most expensive might be charging £1500. This now gets rid of the £500 photographer from the competition as they are infact not providing a similar service. So when someone asks “Why is that guy £500 and that one £1200”, you can say “Because they aren’t doing the same thing”. The £900 photographer is now the cheap photographer.

So what is reasonable?

Well, unlike “cheap vs. expensive”, “reasonable” isn’t relative. It is an absolute. Something (i.e. a price) is either reasonable or unreasonable. It is one or the other – independent of what budget a customer may have. It doesn’t change whether you have a budget of £500 or £5,000,000 for your wedding. A reasonable price however isn’t decided by a customer though. It is decided by a set of circumstances that affect a business. Every photographers circumstances will be different, as we have discussed above. If we think about it like running a bakery. Including the cost of flour, electric, yeast, packaging, milk etc. if we say a loaf of bread costs 80p to make. If we know that we can only make so many loaves of bread in a night, and charge 82p for the loaf, then this would be “unreasonable” – because you the baker wouldn’t be able to afford to live when making just 2p profit. Now let’s say you charge £1.50 for your loaf. That is 72p profit. People will still buy your loaf, because they appreciate it is handmade and was done by a skilled crafts person. But if you were to charge 82p you would need to make an awful lot of loaves to keep yourself in a job. Therefore a loaf charged at 82p would be an unreasonable price to charge and one charged at £1.50 would be more reasonable. Still with me?

Wedding photography is similar (apart from the flour, yeast and water!). If I am charging £400 for a wedding and it is costing me £200, then I am like that baker. It will take a lot more work to turn a profit. If I charge £1000 and turn a profit of £500 then it makes my job more worthwhile.

A “Reasonable” price is one that keeps the photographer employed. It may not seem reasonable to some potential customers because they have seen the cheaper photographers online and are comparing it agains that, but it isn’t the price that isn’t reasonable – it is their expectations. There will of course be people who want photography for next to no money. That is a given. I know that not everyone can afford me, in the same way I also know I can’t afford a cruise around the world for 6 months. A price may not seem reasonable to everyone, but I do though know, that my prices (like many other quality photographers) are reasonable. You can’t get a Porsche for the price of a bicycle.

I’m a photographer, not an accountant…

I’m not an accountant (I’m a full-time working photographer with a mortgage and a dog), but here are some maths:

So to figure out this resonable level and calculate a sensible price for their services, a photographer will ask themself: How much do I need to earn as a wage? If you work in a shop for example, your wages. You will also be taxed at source and national insurance deducted. The money left after that is your earnings. Most self-employed people (like me) pay these deductions afterwards (twice a year). Then we also need to deduct what it costs to actually run a business.

Tax can be big – at 20%. NI isn’t cheap either. The cost of running a business is about 30%. Take all that off and it looks like this:

Cheap photographer £500: Take home £250 per wedding (so you would need to do about 104 weddings a year to earn a “comfortable” living)
Moderate photographer £1200: Take home £600 per wedding (so you would need to do 40 weddings a year)
Expensive photographer £2000: Take home £1000 per wedding (so you would need to do 26 weddings a year)

As you can see, a lot of that money vanishes very quickly before ever seeing the pocket of the photographer.

So when planning your own wedding, set a budget and then look around for photographers. When you see something you like ask yourself “Are the photographers I am looking at being unreasonable, or do I have false expectations for the level and quality of service I want comapred to how much I want to spend?”. Then again, maybe they are being unreasonable or is it that they are just charging what they are worth?

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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