Wedding Rates

How to Calculate the Cost of Wedding Photography

By Hunter McRae Published: September 5, 2014 Updated: February 15, 2016

Anyone who has planned a wedding knows that costs add up overwhelmingly fast. From flowers to food to venue rentals, it’s easy to blow through your budget before you’ve even considered photography.

As a professional wedding photographer and a married woman, I understand the budgetary plight of the brides and families who inquire about my services. It’s especially difficult when friends and acquaintances ask me to shoot their weddings and express surprise at the cost of hiring me, even with a steep discount.

Most people just don’t realize the time and financial expenditure behind taking eight hours of photos at a wedding. Evaluating your own expenses will help you set a fair rate and give you the background needed to explain why you charge what you do to your clients.

Here’s a simple (and certainly adjustable) formula for creating your rates:

1. Time

Calculate the Time You Will Spend Working Per Wedding

There is no exact science for this, but let’s say that you spend roughly ten hours meeting with a potential bride, drawing up a contract, answering questions and coordinating with the wedding planner.

On the wedding day, you might spend another ten hours preparing and then actually shooting. After the wedding, even if you contract out the tasks mentioned in step one, you may still easily spend another 30 hours fine-tuning toning, creating an album, and packaging everything to be sent. Let’s use this example and say you spend about 50 hours of actual work, per wedding (and believe me, it’s often much, much more!).

Finally, you might add in the time you spend marketing yourself. That’s blog and website upkeep, handling social media, etc. For me, that’s about five hours a week. If I shoot 25 weddings each year, that’s roughly ten hours per wedding, for a total of 60 hours working per wedding. You don’t have to add this, but because the majority of my ’marketing’ involves submitting and preparing weddings to be published online and in magazines, I include it in my calculations.

Your Time, per Wedding
(meetings and contract)
10 hours
(preparing and shooting)
10 hours
(editing and presentation)
30 hours
(work to get you the gig)
10 hours
(just in case)
4 hours
Total time:64 hours

Notice how that is a week-and-a-half of work, just for one special day.

2. Hourly Rate

Decide on an Hourly Rate that You Want to Pay Yourself, Before Taxes

Only you and the free market can put a price on your hourly value, Let’s pick a reasonable number for a fresh but talented photographer with a degree or suitable experience and use $25/hour as a starting wage. Remember that after taxes, that may look a lot more like $17 or $18/hour, but that’s a factor every person deals with.

Hourly Rate
Your gross income:$25 per hour

3. Wages

How Much for Just You

Now multiply your time by your hourly rate, to see how much you will earn for this wedding.

Your income per wedding:
64 hours × $25 per hour

4. Gear

Consider Your Material Expenses

How much did your gear cost? Are you renting extra lights or lenses? Tally up your gear cost and try to estimate an annual expense. At risk of oversimplifying, consider dividing this total by the number of weddings you plan to shoot in a year.

Let’s say that with software, computers, camera bodies, lenses, lights and repair, you average about $10,000 per year in gear expenses. If you shoot 25 weddings in a year, that’s $400 per wedding. Of course, if you shoot other events, portraits, etc., you can factor that in and reduce this cost, per wedding.

Equipment per wedding:
Cameras, lenses, lighting, rentals, computers, etc.:

5. Personnel

Add Up Your Expenses for Additional People

Do you hire a second photographer to shoot with you? Do you pay an employee or contractor to cut and/or tone your raw files before fine-tuning? Add up these expenses that you pay per wedding.

Here’s an example.

Second shooter:$350–$600
Contractor who cuts 5,000 images to the best 1,200$100–$200
Employee who tones 1,200 images for contrast and exposure before you fine tune:$300–$500
Total personnel expenses per wedding:$750–$1,300
(avg. $1,000)

Second shooter

6. Calculate

Now it’s time to figure out what you should charge. Let’s break out the calculator and add steps three, four and five.

Charge per Basic Wedding
Gear:  $400
Total charge:$3,000

7. Total

Now we can see how much to charge for a basic wedding:

$3,000 for a basic wedding package

8. A Final Word

Of course, it’s never that simple. One wedding might occur on a dark, rainy day, or in full sunlight, where heavy toning and editing is required (and thus, more hours of post–processing labor). A bride might follow up with countless requests for tweaks. It’s easy for the hours and expenses to add up quickly, so it may be smart to give yourself a cushion.

With more experience and booking higher–pressure weddings, your cost of doing business will certainly go up. For example, you may decide to hire top–notch or multiple second shooters and editors/toners whose talent comes at a premium. And you will most likely invest in higher–end gear and light systems. Also, you will probably want to invest in more professional packaging materials, logo, and possibly advertising or SEO work. As your talent and demand increase, and your expenses expand, so should your hourly wage.

The bottom line is that your profit from shooting a wedding is always going to be significantly less than the figure you charge! Most people don’t realize the work and expenses that go into shooting a wedding, but understanding them will help you set prices and to stick to them.

Now go and find a wedding and start making some money!

Hunter McRae is an award-winning photojournalist and wedding photographer based in Charleston, S.C. Her work has been featured in The New York Times, Style Me Pretty, and Weddings Unveiled. Hunter shares her tips and photography as a blogger for .

Photos and text © 2014 Hunter McRae. Written for PhotoSecrets. Please do not reproduce.

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