Why "Wedding" Is A Bad Word when Hiring a Photographer.
Original story (and more) here:
A professional photographer I know told me a story over a couple of beers. He said the studio he once worked for looked for one single magic word during a conversation that would instantly triple the price of any package they sold – the word “wedding.”
I asked if photographing a wedding was any different that photographing, say, a birthday party, or any other event. Other than a few extra hours (and the potential of thousands of dollars in upsells), there wasn’t much of a difference in procedure or materials. You still needed a camera, you still need a backup system in case you dropped your camera, and you need at least one finger to press a button to actually take the picture.
But for some unknown and undocumented reason, society had issued a free pass to charge a premium on anything that is even remotely affiliated with the word “wedding.”
As a former wedding DJ, I’ve found that most of the wedding photographers I’ve had the pleasure of dealing with are largely a group of spoiled little douchebags. Wedding photography is one of those ridiculously easy businesses that anyone can start with no education, no mandated license, and with the advent of digital technology, comparatively very little investment in equipment. You take an ad out on Craigslist (for free), and voila – you’re in business. And since that magical word “wedding” is in his or her newly created job description, he’s got the power to charge you an inordinate and often undeserved amount of money.
So let’s talk about my buddy, a former wedding photographer who ran into a little trouble a few years ago, who’s generously decided to spill his story about being one of those wedding robber barons, and what really happens in the wedding world.
The telephone rings in the photography studio (or, in most cases, the cell phone inconveniently rings in a back pocket while in the McDonald’s drive through line). “Thanks for calling Billy Bob’s Photography. How can I help you today?” The McDonald’s drive through speaker crackles in the background asking him to repeat his order as he rolls up his window and drives away. Billy Bob chats with the prospective client, most of the time a woman, and turns on his charm. He asks her what kind of event she’s planning. Here’s where it gets interesting. There’s a fork in the road at this question, and he’s hoping with every available neuron that she’s going to pop that magic word… and she does. The sound of a cash register rings and tickles his internal tympanic membrane. Billy Bob is now thinking he’s just got a fish on the hook that’s going to pay his car payment, rent, and back-due child support for three months. He expresses sincere joy for her and her happy Disney Channel moment as he schedules an appointment as soon as possible at her home where he’ll bring some sample wedding albums to show her his handywork. She won’t be able to resist his sales prowess as taught to him by his mentor, and he’ll leave with a check for half of the amount due for the entire wedding.
That album that he’ll bring over to her home may or may not contain photographs that he took. There might have been a stock photograph or two that fell in there, or maybe some clipping from some wedding magazine, or even a photograph from a buddy of his who sold it to Billy Bob for twenty bucks and also shown in four or five other competing albums. But who’s going to know, right?
He’ll justify why photographing a wedding is so much more complicated than shooting any plain old party. He’ll elaborate about his “years of experience” in the wedding industry, and how he’s “trained with ‘master’ level photographers” and attended every photography seminar on the western hemisphere. Billy Bob will remind her that she’ll probably only get married once, and this is the most important day of her life. And when it’s gone, it’s gone. There are no do-overs. By the time he’s done his shpiel, she’ll be scared to death to talk with anyone else.
Wedding photographers charge from $895 on the low end (no printed pictures) to as much as $10,000 to shoot a wedding – and that’s often with a very minimal package of photographs delivered to you. Anything on top of that, like parent albums, enlargements, wallets are all extra. I asked Billy Bob to detail the expenses of a typical wedding for which he’d charge $4,000.
Eight to ten hours the day of the wedding at $40/hour, $400. Includes an assistant, carrying lights and bags, and time driving to different locations.
One tank of gas (high economy imported car) for meetings with bride and the wedding day, $50. Digital camera equipment amortization, maybe $200 for one wedding. My accountant thought that’s kind of high for his equipment, but we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. We’ll include allowances for office expenses, cell phone, web hosting, software, and snacks. Up to 20 hours processing digital photographs. Billy Bob would shoot up to 1,000 digital images during the day. Processing in the comfort of his own home while watching Family Guy on TV at $25/hour, $500. Two hours hour to assemble, resize and then upload about two hundred low-quality digital proofs to a website on the internet via an automated Photoshop script: $25. One twenty-seven page library-bound album, $300 wholesale. One hundred assorted prints from a studio, $200. Time to physically assemble the album, four hours at $25/hour. One framed 20x20 enlargement, $100.
His total cost: roughly $1,875. I asked Billy Bob if he thought a 100% profit on a job he was already being paid hourly for was outlandish. He didn’t seem to think so.
I digested that fact for a moment, and then gathered the balls to ask him what he would have charged if it was a retirement party on the same day at the same location. He said it would probably be “half the hours” and he “wouldn’t need half the equipment” (I suppose he didn’t use backup equipment for retirement parties – apparently you’d get to retire again if something went wrong), so a comparable package would be in the neighborhood of $600 - $800, depending on how many prints the customer wanted.
What Billy Bob was telling me essentially, was that the word “Wedding” will cost you an extra $3,200.
Billy Bob’s wedding approach apparently worked very well. After having the opportunity to peruse some of his digital images, I found he had good three or four years of producing overpriced yet sub-standard wedding photographs delivered months after the date he promised them before anyone caught on to his hooey trail.
Apparently, he pissed off the wrong person, his veil disappeared and his walls came crumbling down. Billy Bob is now out of business. Many of those other knuckleheads are probably still running the same game, probably more effectively and profitably now that Billy Bob is out of the picture.
In all fairness, there are some photographers who did go to school and study the science of light, and did actually train with ‘masters’, and do attend photography seminars religiously. And they’re probably better photographers than the average Billy Bob. But only a subset of those “real” photographers have the artistic eye AND the business skills necessary to be an excellent wedding photographer AND businessperson. He or she might take great photographs, but you might never get to see them. In any area, I’d guess you can count on one hand the photographers with both skillsets who offer to photograph weddings. Most of the truly gifted photographers are busy doing other more important things. You’ll need to do some heavy research to find the stars in your area.
So what’s a blushing bride to do? Billy Bob offers these suggestions when choosing a wedding photographer.
Solicit referrals. Look at your family, friends, and co-workers’ real wedding albums.
Ask what training he or she has had in photography. Ask if they have any certificates they can show you.
Negotiate a fair price. Don’t spend too little, but don’t overspend either.
Make sure your contract specifically states the due dates of all deliverables.
Never pay more than a small installment up front, and only remit the balance due upon delivery of the final album. Skip mentioning the “W” word.
Tell your photographer you want to hire him for a retirement party, but you want him to bring backup equipment just in case.