Have you looked at three photographers one charging £50 for a photoshoot, another £150, and another £500 and wondered the difference? Let me try to explain to you, and more importantly how and why that is not their ‘hourly’ rate.
To break it down I’m going to let you know a little bit more about my workflow and how my business runs. It is important to know before I set my pricing personally I had to calculate my cost of business. This is how much I spend on overheads before I even take a photo, and then also my costs associated with each photo.
Every year I have costs such as insurance both public liability and equipment coverage and also car insurance which is often 2-3 times that of an office worker because of parking in an unknown different location most days. I then have phone, broadband (which needs to be super fast to upload photos) and other similar costs. Obviously I can’t forget my equipment which needs servicing, replacing and repairing as appropriate which can easily be thousands a year. I haven’t even mentioned yet such costs as stationary, packaging, postage and then of course as I’m always striving to improve I try and attend a few training courses every year which again cost money.
So to calculate what I then charge I have to work out how many photoshoots, weddings or events I can realistically fit in to my working week, taking note that certain times of the year are naturally quieter and so I will have to balance my busier times (where I could see myself working 7 day weeks for months at a time!) with my quieter months where I might even try take a holiday! A wedding easily takes up over a week of my life, as for every 1 hour of shooting I have 5-6 hours of editing. The average wedding is 10+ hours so that’s 60 hours minimum before even considering time prior to the wedding with a pre shoot (6 hours), pre wedding consultations, email writing and similar. A standard wedding in total easily takes 80 hours, and often more after including travelling time, so equivalent to 2 standard working weeks for an office worker. By that calculation IF I only worked a standard 40 hour I could only cover 2 weddings a month maximum. Because like most self employed people I work many more than 40 hours a week I can fit in 3 weddings or equivalent a month. I can then potentially have a couple extras at the busiest times of year but never so many that I will exceed my quoted 4-6 weeks for the delivery of images. For photoshoots they take approximately 4 hours editing for every hour photographed for natural light or 6 for studio lit hence my studio lit sessions are more per hour in terms of photography time. I also need to include the time taken organising in advance, and delivering images after.
Once I worked out how much work I could fit in a month, including time for doing my paperwork (tax returns and similar), marketing, print orders and several other non chargeable work jobs. I then work out how much I need to earn when including all costs and taxes in order to have a living wage and cover childcare! Many would be surprised by how little is left from a seemingly large photoshoot fee to actually pay a ‘wage’.
So how can other photographers charge so much less? The answer is they either offer a different service or have a full time job to support them. When I say they offer a different service the cheaper photographers generally (but not always) spend a lot less time editing (if any at all!). Whereas I edit each image individually as required, some this may need minimal work others may need background objects removing (flies on horse photos and fire exits in wedding venues are particular favourites!). These are things other photographers will probably leave. But then I ‘could’ do even more in terms of the service I offer which then leads you on to the even more expensive photographers who will also have in person meetings both before and after photoshoots (never mind weddings) which increases the hours involved again, they will often have a team working for them as well, be that assistants, marketing, admin or similar so that’s more wages to pay out of that photoshoot fee.
Photography is somewhat like food and restaurants, and I believe this is especially relevant to wedding photographers. Some are the equivalent of your fast food chain, the basics are covered but its a conveyor belt and impersonal service and the end images can be a bit bland. Next you have your high street chain, produce decent results but lacking that sparkle and attention to detail at times. Your independent decent restaurant enters next which offers a more personal service and more creativity. Finally your top end restaurant with a Michelin star, nothing is too much trouble and the level of detail is second to none. All those restaurants will hire a chef who cooks with basic ingredients. The lower end do not yet have the skills to create the outstanding service of the Michelin end, that doesn’t mean they can’t get there with time and training.
I personally have no issues with wedding photographers offering a full day’s coverage for £400 as they are not offering the same service as I am. If they have similar overheads to myself they would need to do 8 weddings or equivalent a month in order to make a liveable wage (if not supporting job), which if they do minimal editing is totally achievable. Also not everyone can afford or even wants the Michelin star service (which I am not at but do aspire to!) and everyone deserves to have photos of their wedding. As long as everyone (other photographers and clients) can respect each other’s limitations and budgets then the photography industry will be a far happier and agreeable place. There is too much negativity from both sides around pricing and standards which needs to be cleared up. I won’t deny I receive a lot of enquiries where I am out of a client’s budget, but hopefully they will understand why. I do try and offer more affordable alternatives especially with weddings, be it shorter coverage of the day, or the option of a cherish the dress session soon after to spend an hour taking portraits on a different day.
Ultimately you get what you pay for with photography with a few exceptions, namely those who under value their work, those that have another job to support them, those starting out building a portfolio, or finally a discount may be offered if your editing jumps to the back of queue priority wise meaning an extended delivery date.
To finish there is a great phrase
“You can have great work cheap but not fast, You can have great work fast but not cheap, BUT you cannot have great work fast and cheap!”