In the past few years, the growing number of wedding photographers and their vast range of prices have made finding your value as a photographer challenging. This series of articles will help you to navigate your prices to meet your goals and earn your worth as a wedding photographer.
From a business perspective, wedding photographers are an unusual group. In my neck of the woods, I have seen photographers price themselves as low as $200 and as high as $8,000 for a full day of wedding coverage. In what other industry will you find such a wide gap in pricing? Additionally, potential clients usually prefer having packages to choose from that include a handful of products, as well as a certain amount of coverage time. So not only do you need to find your value, but you also need to put together packages that will sell. With such a mess of data to go off of, it can be tough to set your prices appropriately.
Before we dive into pricing, the first thing you need to keep in mind is that if you decide to become a wedding photographer, you’ve got to accept that this isn’t about you. For most people, this is the most important day of their life. If you are the lead shooter, it isn’t your time to give weddings a shot or to build your portfolio. You don’t want to be the photographer that leaves couples cringing when they look back at their day. On the other hand, because of the importance of the day, a great wedding photographer has significant value and is likely to get paid accordingly.
Let me give you a little of my history. I am a full-time wedding photographer who is currently in the higher price range of my market. When I started out, I shadowed photographers for free and second shot a large number of weddings before I took on the first one of my own. Following this path is one of the best things that I’ve done. I went into my first wedding prepared with proper equipment, necessary planning, and having the right attitude to serve my couple on their big day. Because of this, I was able to very quickly enter the high end of my market and develop my business around that clientele without needing to start low and work my way up the pricing ladder.
I only say this because I want you to understand that it’s not the usual path that people follow. Most photographers start doing weddings to see if they like them and use their low prices to pick up clients. After realizing how much work is involved, they begin raising their prices and every six months or so they need to build up a new clientele because they’ve left their old one behind. The problem with this is they never build up any momentum in their business, and they aren’t likely to get any word of mouth referrals because they have left that price range too soon. Most photographers never make it to a livable wage before they give up because their time isn’t worth the money they are making. This is why it is important to price yourself well early on. When determining how to price yourself, the first step is to set clear goals for your business.
What Are Your Goals?
There are a couple of questions that you need to spend quite a bit of time considering. First of all, what do you want out of your photography business? Do you love your current job, but want to pick up a couple of weddings as a side job? Or do you dream of the day when you can quit and spend all of your time focused on photography? How valuable is your time? Some of you are so busy already that any extra time you give to something is costly, while others have a lot of extra time at this stage in life and need to get some money coming in. You also need to think about your brand. Do you want to be a luxury photographer, delivering stunning work to couples who value photography? Or maybe you desire to have a business with multiple shooters where you are photographing as many weddings as possible at a reasonable rate.
The point in this is that you need to lay out a path where your pricing can line up with your business goals. You will never become a full-time wedding photographer charging $500 per wedding, just like you won’t book high-end clients with bargain prices. When your quality of work, pricing, brand, and marketing align towards the same goal, you have a business that is ready to take off.
What Are Your Needs?
When you know what direction you want your business to go, the next step is to develop a path to take. To do this, you have to understand how much you need to make. When I consult with photographers, I like to give them three numbers to consider. We determine the first number by finding how much they need to make. This is the bare bones amount that you need to earn to survive. The second number is what a reasonable wage would be. This number is one that is doable but would still provide a decent income. The last number would be a dream scenario. Here you want to think about how much you could make if everything went perfectly. What this does is it gives you a range to shoot for as you develop your pricing structure. If your pricing doesn’t allow you to earn an amount in this range, then you are likely on the path to burning out.
What is Your Capacity?
Next, you need to do some market research to consider how scaleable your wedding business is. In some areas, you might have the potential for three weddings a week year round. Other places have very few weddings that occur on days besides Saturday. Some businesses are husband and wife teams or partnerships that can handle multiple weddings on the same day. Some of you are on your own and can only handle one wedding per day. Lastly, you need to consider how much of an editing load you can handle. If you already have an established portrait business, you might not be able to hand more than a handful of weddings and be able to keep up. But, if you outsource your editing, the sky is the limit.
For example, in my area weddings are almost exclusively on Saturdays. December to February is very slow because of the weather. Since I am on my own, my potential for booking is only one wedding per week, for roughly 40 weeks of the year. This is the maximum number of weddings I can plan on booking in my area, and the number I should expect to book is going to be even smaller than that.
Putting Your Numbers Together
If you have answered the three questions above, then you can put together an estimate of what you are going to charge. Let me show you how this plays out. For convenience, let’s say you need to make $100,000 per year gross to meet your reasonable income goal. If you lived in my area, then the most you could handle would be 40 weddings at an average of $2,500. From there you need to find the path that has the least resistance but still lines up with the goals you’ve listed above. Would it be easier to book 25 weddings at $4,000 each, or 10 weddings at $10,000? Doing some market research might help you answer this question. As far as I know, no one in my area has ever booked a $10,000 wedding package so that path is unrealistic. Booking 100 weddings at a $1,000 average sounds like a nightmare. However, based on what I know about my market and other photographer’s pricing, 30 weddings at $3,333 is very doable.
This example is merely the starting point in finding what you need to charge. There are still lots of questions to answer before we nail down your pricing, including determining if your quality is good enough to justify your price, if there is enough work available in your area, and what products you need to include in your packages. In Part 2, we will take this information and use it to put together packages from this base price and learn how to add value to your business to earn the amount you need.