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$500 Wedding Photographers Won't be Around in 3-5 Years

You see them all over the marketplace, cheap, "professional" wedding photographers. It might sound like a great idea to hire a wedding photographer that is on the low end of the wedding market, the sub-par $1,000 spectrum, but truth be told, they will not be around in a few years.

It's true, form a business standpoint they simply won't be able to make money making a living charing these super low rates. Two things will happen, either they will wake up and learn about their failing business model or they'll simply get burnt out.

Today, I'm going to share with you how little a wedding photographer makes on that low spectrum and why you should look for professionals in a higher tier than the low end.

The Cost of Business

Most people in the wedding business that offer services need a business model to start from. That being said one of the things that you should be doing is creating a wage calculator. From the initial investment of buying a high-end camera, the glass that goes with all that (camera lens), to the computer system, the editing software, plus the overall cost of doing business, what might seem like you're making good money can actually put you in the hole.

Let me explain.

Your Initial Investment 

Let's say that you're looking to get into photography and you're pretty good at it. You first need a good camera. Let's say that you're looking at a Canon D5 Mark IV, it's a great system and new at B&H they run about $3,000.

Then you have to buy some camera lenses with that system, you'll need a good prime lens and a couple of standard zooms and lenses, GOOD lenses are not cheap. For a decent set of three, you're looking at about $2,500.

Already you're $5,500 in plus there's more to buy.

Then you have batteries and you'll need several for a given wedding, after all, most likely you'll be at a wedding 12 hours average. So you're looking at about $300 for spares.

Oh, you'll need a nice case to protect all that stuff and a kit bag or cheap bag at Best Buy isn't going to cut it. $300 is a fair cost for a pro bag that can help carry and protect your stuff (I use Pelican hard cases for my wedding video gear).

Then you'll need some lighting. A pro light on the rig plus some light stands for those rare occasions you'll need to set them up, in all you're looking at $1200 with the wireless triggers, etc.

Oh and finally, the media, memory cards and lots of them too. You'll need some pro series cards and they can run $60-70 each for some smaller sizes, so plan on about $300 for those to carry with you at all times.

Then you have to finish out with a higher-end computer. Maybe not as high end as something that processes a wedding video but you'll need something that can chomp through large images, let's say a decent Apple Mac since most togs like using them, that's easy $3,000 for one that will last a long time.

Add in some extra portable hard drives for backing up your media ($300), plus the editing software like Adobe Photoshop CC ($400), plug-ins that you might use ($200) and some furniture to set it all on so you can work.

Without touching a single wedding, if you want to do it right, you're looking at $11,600!
Yes, you can do it much cheaper and sometimes people do, but would you rather someone shoot your wedding right or cheap? You can't really have it both.

Service Income

Let's move on to your service income, it's the part where you're out filming weddings, yay! Let's say that you're rocking weddings on the cheap just to get some business, $600 a wedding, with each wedding running about 12 hours worth of work. You're going to work 10 weddings the first year at $600 each on average, so, $6,000. 

Cost of Sales

The cost of sales is where most people don't really think about running their photography (or video in my case) as a business. When you bought all that gear you basically gave yourself a loan to buy all the equipment and you have to basically pay yourself back for it, after all, that's what businesses, successful businesses do, they have ROI or Return on Investment.

That means for each wedding you do, you have to take a portion of that money and give it back to yourself to break even over a period of time, the first year you pay yourself back $1,160 or 10% of what you spent on gear, taking you ten years to pay back what you invested in. Most gear, by the way, will last about 4-5 years.

Because you are new, there is no second shooter, you can't afford one yet and you can't give yourself post-production labor of touching up the images and you're not shipping the couple anything so you save yourself there. Travel, give yourself $20 a gig to help cover fuel back and forth.

The cost of sales is pretty low, a cool $1,160 a year. 

The Cost of Business

Finally, without even taking out for taxes you have the cost of doing business. Yes, you have business overhead. Internet, power bill, marketing, trade shows and the like. This being your first year, let's keep things slim and run with just the basics here.

As a profesisonal, you need liability insurance in case something happens to you if the client decides to sue you or to cover you in E&O. That runs typically about $700 but let's say $650.

Then you have a google drive, g suite so you can have your email match your domain name, that's about $11 a month, plus any service that you use to share your finished product with the client like Mediazilla, in total you'll spend $200 there and another $300 on web hosting.

Oh, advertising on Facebook and marketing materials, that'll reach upwards of $500 a year, pretty cheap compared to many high-end photographers. Then you have other smaller stuff like gear replacement, $100 a year (that's really conservative by the way) local membership dues to wedding groups ($100 a year), general office supplies ($50) and then you do a bridal show at the Roanoke Civic Center which is another $1,000 when all said and done)

The cost of doing business for your first year is $2900. 

Total It Up and Get Your Hourly Wage

So, you spent $11,600 on equipment that you'll break even over ten years IF your gear lasts that long.

You'll make $6,000 form doing 10 weddings on average 12 hours each wedding, which includes the editing too (I'm being really conservative here)

The cost of sales will run you $1160 a year.

The cost of running your business is $2900 a year.

Take the number of hours spent at a wedding PLUS the number of hours you're meeting with clients, emailing, marketing, blogging and just running the business to get the number of hours worked per year. In this case, it's 640.

Then you take your net income, whats let after it's all said and done and divide by the number of hours worked.

That gives you a grand total of $3.03 per hour. 

That's what a low-end wedding photographer will make doing it part-time and offering full wedding days at $600 a pop.

Now, you can change up everything and get different results for sure, but with the low numbers in the hourly wage, most wedding photographers offering cheap photography simply don't last that long. Once they realize they're not making much money, they stop and get out altogether or they adjust their strategies to make a living, like raise their rates, take on other projects, etc.

It's not impossible to make a good living within the wedding industry, you just have to know what you're worth is and offer services that allow you to make money.

Yes, the couple getting married might be getting a good deal on wedding photos, but after a few years when they need additional services or they want more images from the photographer, they won't be around.

My advice to couples getting married is simple, hire a professional at a professional rate so they will do the job right the first time and you won't be disappointed. Many low budget wedding photographers buy a cheap photography kit and think they are suddenly "pros" at what they do because they have a $500 or $600 camera.

In this industry, you truly get what you pay for so think smart about it.

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