Why do photographers charge so much?

Many people ask the question, “Why do photographers charge so much for just pushing the button on a camera??” I will attempt to address that question.

People who complain about being charged $5000-6000 to shoot a wedding, event or to do a commercial shoot would do well to bear two facts in mind: 1.) Every hour the photographer spends creating photographs results in another 1.5–2 hours of behind the scenes work he/she must do or pay someone else to do, and 2.) out of that $5000-6000 he/she charges to photograph a wedding, event or commercial shoot, the first thing that happens is this: Federal, state and local taxes will eat up 50% of it.

Now the photographer is down to $2500-3000 for that shoot, and that’s BEFORE he/she subtracts out the multitude of costs involved in keeping the doors open in a photography business.

One example is the $1000+ per year for equipment and liability insurance that photographers must have. Then there’s rent and utilities for the studio space. Then there’s advertising and promotion costs. Then there’s equipment rental for the gear that they need to do their job but do not own outright.

Then there’s the cost of paying a photographer’s assistant and a second shooter - and a third and possibly fourth shooter for a very large wedding - and an accountant and an office administrator. Those people don’t work for free.

One photographer can create good coverage for a wedding that has somewhere around 125–150 guests. A huge wedding with 600–700 (or more) guests is going to require at minimum two more photographers to provide adequate photographic coverage. There is only so much that one photographer can do on his/her own.

Guess what - those photographers have to get paid, too. Turns out they don’t get free groceries, utilities, gasoline, auto maintenance and camera gear, either.

Then there’s the replacement cost of lost/stolen/damaged or destroyed equipment that does not rise to the level of filing an insurance claim - that is an out of pocket cost. If the lost/stolen/damaged or destroyed equipment does reach the cost threshold that justifies filing an insurance claim, there’s the $500 deductible that has to be paid on the claim. After that, the photographer can look forward to his/her equipment insurance premium going up anywhere from 50% to 100% or maybe even more.

We haven’t even taken a look at the investment the photographer has made in photography equipment, or the years they have spent honing their craft. It’s a given that a wedding photographer - the primary shooter, at least - will show up to photograph a wedding with easily $10,000–20,000 or more worth of camera gear. This is equipment that they have paid for out of their own pocket just to be able to shoot your wedding or event.

There’s also probably another $20,000–30,000 worth of equipment back at the studio that they have had to invest in just to be properly equipped to do professional level work. Computer systems with multiple terabytes of image storage, backup systems, lighting and large format inkjet printers are all very costly - and are also must have items for a professional photographer who runs their own photography studio.

For all the uninformed and nonthinking people who think wedding, event and commercial photographers are “stealing them blind” by charging $5000-6000 to photograph a wedding, commercial shoot or event, the truth is that if 15–17% of that $5000-6000 fee actually goes into the photographer’s own personal checking account, he/she considers themselves to have had a good day.

I would encourage people to stop and think about this: Photographers are not billionaire robber barons who are chauffeured around in $450,000 Rolls-Royce Phantom VIII motorcars which are paid for by children who toil away for 16 hours a day in hot, filthy factories for twenty cents an hour.

At the end of the day, photographers are working men and women who struggle to make it like the vast majority of middle class people in America do.

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