It seems like everyday we are reading a new post on Facebook group’s looking for a “cheap but amazing photographer”, or “photographers that don’t charge an arm or a leg”. It might seem like photographers charge thousands of dollars for just “rocking up and taking some photos”. Let me tell you that is certainly not the case.
Professional photographers are hugely misunderstood. Anyone running any kind of business needs to ensure they make a living wage to feed their families and pay their bills, they need to cover their costs of doing business/outgoings, and they need to run a sustainable business in order to continue to do all of these things and have an income for the foreseeable future. It seems that this is understood in a majority of industries, except for the businesses that fall under the creative category. We are the ones that are asked to work for “exposure”, we are the ones that are asked to not charge an “arm or a leg” for our services. It doesn’t happen to Doctors, Lawyers, Plumbers, Electricians, Builders, Retail workers, Receptionists, or even Educators.
So why is this happening to those of us who run a business in a creative field? Why are we less deserving of a fair wage than everyone else?
If you are unfamiliar with what a wedding photographers job actually entails, this will give you some clarity.
So, before the wedding day, we meet with couples, (often several times in the lead up to the wedding date), and sometimes even prior to a booking being taken. This means we would be having 2-3 meetings with each couple for their wedding, and several others where we are not getting paid for it if it’s prior to booking. So I would be spending about 200 hours per year in meetings with couples.
We also spend a few days a week doing admin work, which is usually social media posts on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube etc, we also reply to emails and Facebook messages, Instagram DM’s, text messages, phone calls. We also have to manage our websites and update them whenever we need to. We have to write up invoices and send them off, and even order/pickup products. This usually takes up about 4-6 hours per day for me. Sometimes more depending on exactly what I need to do and how busy I am. So this is approximately 1200 hours per year doing admin work.
We have ongoing costs for our subscription programs such as Lightroom, Photoshop, image retouching software plugins, studio management software, gallery hosting websites, storage/backup cloud systems, invoicing programs, our websites and domains, and much more. Mine are around $1800.00 per year.
We also have our equipment costs that are constantly recurring. Professional wedding photographers will have several camera bodies, several lenses, harnesses, camera straps, several flash systems, several batteries, several CF/SD cards, equipment backpacks/roller cases. All of these cost THOUSANDS of dollars per year themselves. For a rough idea, I spent $15,000 (YES that is correct) on my equipment purchases and maintenance (camera servicing, lens servicing) last year.
On the day of the wedding, we are usually with couples from start to finish (on average for me, most couples book me for 10 – 12 hours of coverage). We are there living and breathing every moment with them and are trying to capture every single moment perfectly, as we know this only happens once. We sometimes have to work in horrendous weather conditions, we work when we are feeling under the weather (because there are no sick days here!) We are constantly on the go, we usually only get 1 very short break later in the evening during the meal time. It is EXTREMELY physically, emotionally, and mentally intense work (But super rewarding for those like me if you also love what you do). So with driving time, this normally means we are working for around 13 hours per wedding day on average. I normally have 38 or more per year, so this would be 481 hours per year at the actual wedding.
After the wedding, we are transferring over and backing up photos to our storage systems, which usually include copying images to multiple hard drives, and cloud storage systems. This can take up to 4 – 6 hours, so usually this means not getting to bed until super late at night. (I am usually up until 3:00am or 4:00am most nights after a wedding). So this is usually another 152 hours per year.
The next part of our workflow is commencing the culling and editing process, this includes getting some sneak peek images to couples within about 48 hours. Once this part has been completed, we upload these into a gallery, share on Facebook and send to our couples. After this we are getting straight back onto the editing and this can take anywhere from weeks to months depending on what needs to be done.. For me personally, I am usually spending around 3 weeks to edit a full wedding gallery. So this takes us to 1440 hours of editing per year.
Have I lost you yet?
After we finish a wedding gallery, we spend time exporting and uploading around 600 – 800 photos on average into an online gallery. This usually takes about a week but I do this in the background while I am editing another gallery. Once that has been completed, we are ordering products for our couples, this includes albums, keepsake boxes, UBS’s etc. Once these have been completed and delivered to us, we are sending these off to our couples with their online galleries. After this I also back up the finished gallery to my storage systems. It really is a HUGE process.
So in total, we are working around 3473 hours on average per year, this works out to roughly 72 hours per week. Once 30% of tax is taken out, and all of our outgoings are taken out, this usually leaves us with a whopping $18.00 – $24.00 an hour on average for all of our work undertaken. (Although this will vary from photographer to photographer as we are all suuuuuper different). For a rough idea, my full day packages are around the $3000.00 mark. Therefore, if someone is charging less than this, chances are they may not be paying themselves a fair wage, they may not have an ABN, and may not have any insurance, or any backup equipment or contingency plans incase of any emergencies.
What does it mean if someone does not have an ABN or insurance or backup equipment? They are probably a hobby or beginner photographer. That might not sound like anything to be wary of, (and yes, we all do start somewhere!) however, should anything go wrong, you will have NO leg to stand on both with the ACCC, and through a court of law should anything escalate to that level. Why? They have not registered their business, so the issue/s may only be deemed a private/civil matter. They may not have a contract at all, and if they haven’t registered their business and you have signed something, it may not hold up legally. If they have not got an ABN, they would not be paying tax on their income. (Hence why we see so many “too good to be true” offers).
In my own personal opinion, if a business has not done the bare minimum of getting an ABN, insurance, professional equipment/backup equipment and image storage equipment, it is a HUGE red flag, and 95% of the time, comes with a huge string of problems both in the leadup, on the day, and after the wedding. If you do a simple search on any facebook wedding group for photographers, you will see for yourself the amount of posts asking for help. The most common problems are the photographer has “run off with their money and disappeared before the wedding has even happened”, “their photos were terrible”, “the photographer did not show up on the wedding day”, “the photographer cancelled a few weeks out and they need another one that can match the budget they paid”, “the photographer lost all of their photos”.
You have to ask yourself, are your memories truly worth the risk? Your photos are the ONLY thing that will remain once the day is done. They are an investment that will pay off for the rest of your life, they will be passed down through generations, they will be cherished, this is how your story will be remembered forever.
Everyone has a budget to stick to, yes that is totally correct, and as a fellow bride to be, I really do understand that! (Believe me when I say my photographer is over half of my wedding budget, because I will not compromise on quality and the memories I am left with). If you do have a lower budget, maybe look at going for less coverage, or ask for a payment plan, most professional photographers are usually fine with arranging these for you.
In conclusion, professional photographers are not just trying to money grab, our cost of doing business is extremely high, and our workload is huge.
We don’t want your limbs. We don’t want your organs. We don’t want your first born child. We just want a fair wage like everyone else. So the next time you see someone asking for a “cheap photographer who does amazing work” or someone who “does not cost an arm or a leg”, please, share this blog post. And let’s all start respecting professional photographers.