I really dislike ranting and I never do it on my blog, but there seems to be a rash of people who are very angry with photographers as a profession lately, and I’m here to address them.
For those of you who follow me on Facebook, you probably know about my recent encounter with a man in the RDU airport. If you already know this story, skip the next two paragraphs.
For those of you who don’t know this story, gather ’round the fireplace and let me spin you a tail. ;) I was taking my mom to Chicago in January as a Christmas present because she had always wanted to go. Of course (because it was January), our flights were cancelled and we could not go. Before we actually took off to fly all the way to Chicago, circle around, and get stranded in different airports in the midwest, I was at the RDU airport when Southwest started making announcements about the Chicago weather. My fellow passengers struck up a conversation, and a man asked me why I was going to Chicago in January. I told him I’m a wedding photographer, so the winter is the only time of year I have off.
He proceeded to become really (actually visibly) angry. He told me that I’m a criminal, a thief, “as bad as a lawyer” [my apologies to you lawyers out there], and that I should be flying my own private jet to Chicago. He informed me that his daughter is getting married in Raleigh in April and her wedding photographer cost $4,000. “It’s an absolute racket. You people don’t do anything but charge us an arm and a leg because you can because it’s for a wedding.” He said a bunch of other things that I don’t really remember because at one point his phone rang and I used this as my opportunity to get up and leave in tears. I wasn’t able to justify out cost because he wouldn’t let me get a word in edgewise, but also because I was too choked up and flustered to explain to him the super complex reason for wedding photographer costs.
There are a million reasons why wedding photographers (and wedding vendors) charge what they do. Trust me: Geoff and I were married in 2010. It’s not a cheap thing to do and I recognize that. But being an “insider” in the industry, I also know the person I am and the people I work with, and I can honestly tell you from the bottom of my heart – we are NOT ripping off people because we can. Most of us are struggling to pay our bills ourselves. Now, I know that doesn’t immediately make sense. Lots of people see my website, see that I charge $x a wedding, calculate that by the number of weekends in a month, and seemingly I’m a millionaire. But that’s not how it works.
I thought and thought and thought about writing a response, but honestly, the list of reasons why we charge what we do is so expansive that it’s hard to even cover. Then someone posted an article in a forum where another photographer had done it already. :) So at the risk of completely plagiarizing this one photographer’s blog post, I’m simply going to link to it. She breaks down, cost by cost, the trust expense of being a wedding photographer… and why charging $3500/wedding doesn’t equate to my own private jet.
Now – one thing she doesn’t cover in her post is cost of talent. With wedding photography, you typically get what you pay for. If you want an experienced professional with a full time gig as a wedding photographer, it’s going to cost you because of the aforementioned expenses but also that person’s specific talent (which is why they’re charging what they do – if their pictures were as good as your friend’s Uncle, we couldn’t charge for talent). This, in essence, also spells out why there’s a huge difference in wedding photography costs: Professionals have a lot of overhead, but they are also charging fairly for their time (Editing may seem free, but how it is different than anyone else having a 9-5 job at a computer?). They’re also charging for their talent. Amateurs don’t have overhead because they aren’t paying the appropriate business expenses (generally – not as a rule), but they’re probably also not charging fairly for their time, or they may be less because they haven’t reached a competitive level of talent yet.
Another thing – I have the utmost respect for those of you who don’t understand what we charge and ask us. Politely. I love to have conversations with people who are curious and polite. But to blatantly act as this man did in the airport (and as the bride on Craigslist said in her Craigslist ad mentioned in the link above) is completely ridiculous. Contrary to what you believe, we’re not criminals. We’re not thieves. Please do not treat us as such. We’re humans too.
So dear guy in the RDU airport… I hope you read this. And dear photographer who’s shooting the wedding of that guy’s daughter… I wish you the best of luck. Too bad there isn’t a charge listed in that expense list for emotional abuse you’ll take from people like him. :)
And dear all of my clients: I love you. You know I love you. I love that you support us and understand us and think that we are worth what we are charging. You are the reason why I put up with people like that guy in the airport. Because you get it. And I’m sending you all sorts of virtual hugs and high-fives right now.
**NEW EDIT: This is not, absolutely not, a place to complain about or bash certain types of people or clients or weddings or whatever. This is simply a piece written to explain to the people out there that there are reasons behind what we cost and the actual math involved. It’s about how we are actually honest people who run small businesses and aren’t out to “get” the average Joe. I will be deleting all comments that are viewed as off-topic or negative in nature.