bride and groom walking along the beach holding hands

Why does a wedding photographer cost so much?

This is a question I get a lot and it’s a valid question. I once wondered the same thing. There isn’t one single, simple answer to this, but I will do my best to break it down in a simple, understandable way. Between the equipment, the editing, massive amounts of training, practice and education, advertising and general business expenses, wedding photographers don’t actually make much money, even though you are paying them a good chunk of you wedding budget. Let’s see where your wedding photography budget actually goes and why your wedding photographer cost seems high.

You might be thinking that if your photographer charges you $3,000 for an 8 hour wedding, they are making $375 per hour. That’s a ridiculously high hourly rate, right? Why on Earth would a wedding photographer need to make so much money? It’s insane! Well, they don’t actually make nearly that much. Here’s why….

coffee on a table with a laptop, scissors and a camera lens


The first thing to consider in wedding photography is the hours spent on the wedding. Let’s stick with that same 8 hour wedding for $3,000. There was likely a second shooter to help for the day (I know there is one in the weddings I photograph), so that alone doubles the hours you are paying for.

So now we are down to $187.50 per hour for 16 hours. That’s still a very high hourly rate. I would love to make that much per hour, wouldn’t you?

How about an engagement session? My wedding packages include a complimentary 1 hour engagement session. That means I’m doing it for free. I’m not charging extra for this.

Now, we’re at $176 per hour. Hmmm…getting a little lower

Next, we need to consider the time it takes to get to the engagement shoot and wedding and get home. On average, I spend an hour driving for the engagement session and about 2 hours for the wedding, if the bride is getting ready at the same location as the ceremony.

So, let’s see, that adds another 3 hours, bringing the rate to $150 per hour. Getting a little closer.


Next, we come to the pictures themselves. This is what you really want. This is what you are paying for, right? I average 100 delivered images per hour of shooting for weddings and engagement sessions. Sometimes it’s a little less, sometimes a little more, but that’s my average. To get those 100 images per hour, I generally take about 400 – 500 pictures to account for blinking, wind, a stray hair, a quick word or two, a sneeze or whatever else might make the image not what you would want to frame on your wall. It takes quite a bit of time to go through all those images.

The average engagement session will take about an hour to go through and narrow down the images and the average wedding will take about 5 hours. This is just to narrow it down to the images that will be edited. Up to this point, no images have been edited or adjusted in any way.

Now, we’re at $115 per hour.


Next, comes the most time consuming part. Each image must be manually edited. This process includes cropping, straightening, color correcting and tone adjustments at the very least. To make it simple, let’s just say that between the wedding and engagement, you receive 1,000 image. Let’s also say that the photographer spends just 60 seconds per image to adjust it (it’s likely much more time than this, but let’s keep the math easy). That’s another 16 hours of editing time at a minimum.

That brings us down to $71 per hour. Not too shabby for an hourly wage, right? But we’re not done just yet.


Those cameras cost a lot of money and the better your photographer’s gear, the more it cost. In my camera bag, I have 2 camera bodies, 4 lenses, 14 memory cards, a flash, 6 camera batteries, 24 flash batteries and 4 lens filters. Other wedding photographers have similar items in their bags, all totaling well into the tens of thousands of dollars.

Good photographers are also experienced photographers, meaning they have put a lot of their own (unpaid) time and energy into learning their craft. Experienced photographers have the experience to know how to handle a wedding and all the things that can change without a moment’s notice. They know how to deal with Uncle Bob trying to photo bomb your portrait session and Little Timmy having a breakdown when it’s time for the family pictures. Importantly, they can talk you down from a full panic before the ceremony and make sure all the details that you spent months planning out are now documented every step of the way. They know how to communicate with the DJ so you don’t miss your big introduction. Also, they take the time to learn the rules of the venue so you don’t get kicked out of your own wedding.

They spend all day with you and aside from a moment to eat at dinner, they don’t take breaks, they don’t stop to eat a snack and they rarely even use the restroom. A good photographer spent years researching and trying poses and techniques to make sure you get the images you expect. They spent thousands of dollars before anyone even started paying them in an effort to get the education they needed to learn how to get the most out of their camera and lenses. Their experience and talent are worth a lot and should be! Wedding photography is a lot more complicated than I thought it would be!

Additional Expenses

Finally, they must pay numerous business expenses. Taxes alone on a $3000 wedding would be close to $600. Every year, a photographer must pay for business insurance, accounting, client management software, image gallery software, website hosting, domain name hosting, editing software, health insurance, car insurance, advertising and every once in a while a new computer that can keep up with the extremely high graphics demands of professional images.

After all is said and done, a photographer who is charging you $3,000 for a wedding is likely making less than $20 per hour and is relying on that to help support a family. Since weddings almost always fall on a weekend, that limits the number of events that they can book. It also means that they are sacrificing weekend time with their families to spend the day with you. Don’t get me wrong, most wedding photographers love what they do and happily make the sacrifice, but it is a sacrifice nonetheless.

I hope this helps you understand why wedding photography is so expensive. It’s really not that we think you will pay anything because it’s a wedding or because we are money-hungry thieves. It’s because we love what we do and we are doing everything we can to provide you with the lasting memories you deserve while still putting food on our table. I promise, we aren’t trying to price gouge or rip anyone off. We honestly love what we do…I know I do!

Looking for a wedding venue? See my favorite San Luis Obispo County venues here.

Here is a real wedding at Higuera Ranch.

See my top 5 Tips for Amazing Wedding Photos.

If you are planning your own wedding, you’ll want some organizational tools. The Knot has some great tools!

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