Thursday, January 26, 2012

Don't You Love Craigslist?

Yesterday morning, a colleague messaged me regarding a Craigslist ad in which the writer railed professional photographers for being ridiculously expensive and making "ridiculous amounts of money." 

I took the opportunity to respond to her and educate her on why professional photographers charge what we do.


Attn: Wedding Photographers :) (Puget Sound)

Date: 2012-01-17, 8:57AM PST
Reply to: [Errors when replying to ads?]

WHY is finding an amazing wedding photographer so difficult? :/

I am a Bride who is getting married this summer and have yet to find a decently priced, exceptional, amazingly talented, fun photographer.

WHY because the word "WEDDING" is involved photographers think they can change you $ 3,000.00 for wedding photos? Oh, because no bride is going to go without so they are going to pay it, because they HAVE to. They are ripping people off for all they have! Why when you want to get married it costs you AT LEAST 15 grand after all is said-and-done? Its such CRAP!! I love all you $ 3,000.00 photographers out there but i think your prices are WACK. All your doing is hanging out at a wedding taking tons of photos and editing them.. and thats owrth 3 GRAND!!! You're making so much money its crazy. I just wish people would be more realistic. I mean the "average" persons salary for 1 freaking month is somewhere around 3 grand. (Thats making 19$ an hour) So you're going to take someones WHOLE MONTH paycheck for one flippen day of photos? Just because you CAN!!?????? So that maybe they will not be able to feed themselves or pay any other bills they have, right? It makes me SICK!

I know im speaking for more than just myself right now. Alot of brides out there think the same thing. & I bet all you fancy photographers wont even read this. oh-well.
Maybe there are cheaper photographers that will read this and LOVE to take my photos :)


Dear "Pissed Off in Puget Sound",

A colleague shared your Craigslist ad with me a bit earlier today. I wish I could say that "hanging out at a wedding and taking tons of photos" is "easy money" as you seem to think, but it's really not. While I agree that professional photography is not inexpensive, try working with a "weekend warrior with a camera" and see the difference. Sure, you may pay less money, but the resulting images will be of such poor quality, you'll be certain to feel "ripped off."

However, rather than tell you about award-winning photography, explain my credentials and attempt to convince you why a talented photographer is worth $3000 or more, I'm going to do some basic math instead.

First, let's talk about taxes. Don't you just hate opening up your paycheck at the end of the week and finding that Uncle Sam and friends have taken about 30% of your hard-earned dollars for federal, state and other taxes? Well, photographers have to pay them, too. That's $900 straight off the top of that $3000, leaving $2100. (You may think that 30% seems like a high number, but remember that since I'm self-employed, there's nobody else kicking in a percentage; the entire tax burden is borne by me.) Since there's no withholding, it's up to me to put this amount away so that I can make my quarterly tax payments on time.

Another huge chunk of the pie is a rather surprising expense to many people. We call it "Overhead" and "Cost of Goods Sold". In this category are visible items like albums, prints, frames and those items you take home. You don't want cheap things that will fall apart or fade, so I'm willing to pay a bit more in the search for a quality product. Remember, "good things aren't usually cheap, and cheap things aren't usually good." The photography industry is a showcase for that motto; really, ask around. (The pages of that "Snapfish" album will fade and discolor before your first anniversary.)

However, there are also other things in this group as well; things that we need to deliver our best to you, but are somewhat "invisible" to people other than business owners. They include our studio rent or monthly location payment, phone, computer, website and hosting, equipment and liability insurances (because we realize that we live in a litigious society), and local business and other licenses. Add in the membership dues to professional associations where we go for new techniques and to stay current so that we can deliver those amazing images you seek, and this Overhead category takes another 30% bite out of that $3000 so that just $1200 remains.

Then there's the equipment we use. Digital has brought some awesome advantages to photographers, but it comes at a price. New cameras and lenses are not inexpensive; we don't photograph with $500 Canon Rebels from WalMart. Since it takes a while to save enough money for this, I put away 10% of each job toward new equipment, equipment repairs, cleaning and maintenance. (Yes, I carry at least 2 working professional cameras to your wedding in the event something happens. A professional will simply pick up a new camera and continue photographing as if nothing happened. Your bargain photographer may panic or worse yet, not even realize that something is wrong. Not sounding like such a bargain anymore, is it?) Subtracting that $300 brings me down to $900.

Since I realize I won't be able to do this for the rest of my life (and I haven't found a sugar momma to support me) I'd better save something for retirement. Financial planners say that should be 10%, so there goes another $300. I'm down to $600 of the original price.

Being self-employed, I have to buy my own health insurance for me and my family. For an individual who's not getting it through their employer, this is NOT cheap. (I'm not going to use the term "WACK", but I think you get where I'm heading.) Another 10%, another $300 and I'm down to $300 "profit" from your wedding.

While I'd like to say that I take the remaining $300 and spend it on me, it's only partially true. As you do, I have responsibilities such as monthly bills, gas for the car, car payment, food, clothing . . . the kind of stuff you were mentioning.

Let's say I spend 6 hours at your wedding, another 8 hours editing your images, not to mention the meetings we've had that last an hour each. When you come back to select the images for your album, we'll spend another 2 hours going through choices and then I'll invest another 4 hours (minimum) designing the perfect album for you, prepping it for printing and sending it to the manufacturer. When it comes back, I'll inspect it and make sure it's perfect, then spend another 45 mins going through it with you when you pick it up. Almost a full 24 hours . . . divided by the $300 I got to keep . . . and I've just made $12.50 an hour. (Which totally blows the "You're making so much money it's crazy" theory.)

On a side note, over the past 36 years I have been photographing weddings, I can't even begin to count the number of ball games and other events I've missed. My kids got used to it; "You know that Daddy works on Saturday", but over the years it took its toll on my relationships as well. I refuse to make those mistakes again; those who refuse to learn from the past are destined to repeat it.

I'm sure you're probably tired of reading, but I hope you understand what I'm saying. Producing a quality product at a fair price IS what professional photographers do; it's always your choice to work with us or someone else. The problem is, what will you give up when you "get what you paid for?"


David L. Grupa
Certified Professional Photographer
M.Photog.Cr., AFS-MNPPA


  1. That was very well written and oh, so true. I wish everyone I know would read it...but alas probably won't happen. Anyway, thanks for taking the time to at least clear up our pricing in at least one person's eyes.

  2. Thank you for writing this. As someone who is getting married soon I know how hard it can be to budget for a photographer, especially, as in the case if this woman, when you don't have a clear picture of what you are paying for. And as a semi-professional photographer ( who has not yet reached that caliber) it is helpful to find a new way to explain price structure to my potential clients. I have a hard time justifying my price to clients who don't understand the time and cost of doing business it takes to produce their photos.