Why It Sucks To Be A Mid-Level Wedding Photographer

Most photographers have been there at some point in their career – wedding photography.

Some of us move on to other things, like commercial photography.  Some actually enjoy wedding photography and make a career out of it.

But too many photographers are lured into wedding photography under the illusion of quick money, only to get stuck in the evil clutches of the mid-level wedding photography market forever (or until they give up and find a real job).

wedding photography business plan

Lets be honest here.  Wedding photography can be fun with the right clients  – but it is always a colossal amount of hard work.

And life as a mid-level wedding photographer sucks.

In this article I am going to share the wedding photography business plan that is followed by the overwhelming majority of wedding photographers on the planet – and why it is not a sustainable way to make a living.

Who Is A Mid-Level Wedding Photographer?

There are a few factors that define a mid-level wedding photographer:

1.  Cost

As the label would suggest, mid-level wedding photographers charge somewhere in the middle of the wedding photography spectrum.

The total amount will vary depending on the market the photographer is working in, but I would loosely define “mid-level” as billing $2,000 to $4,000 per wedding – which in the US corresponds roughly to the national average amount couples reported spending on their wedding photographer in 2013.

2. Talent

Mid-level wedding photographers are extraordinarily talented.

They are not Uncle Bob or the Mom-With-a-Camera snapping five thousand wedding photos in program auto.

Similarly, they are not “natural light” photographers.  Mid-level wedding photographers know how to light and will create stunning wedding photos for their clients in any situation.

3. Deliverables

Finally, mid-level wedding photographers have a pretty three package system that is based on the level of photography coverage a bride and groom would like.

They will also have an online gallery for their clients and offer an array of prints, photo books, canvas gallery wraps etc.   Nobody ever buys albums or canvases from them since once their clients wedding photos are shared on Facebook all interest in print products is lost, but a mid-level wedding photographer will never give up trying to sell them anyway.

Mid-level wedding photographers will also make a show about not giving their clients the RAW files, but at the first hint of questioning from a bride, they will crack and give everything away for free.

For more information on the career path that most wedding photographers take, take a look at “How To Become A Wedding Photographer in 10 Easy Steps – Photographers Hate This”.

wedding photography business plan

Mid-Level Wedding Photography Competition

If you just read through my definition of who is a mid-level wedding photographer and you’re thinking about the wedding photography market where you live – you might be saying – OK – if I scratch a few of the budget photographers off the list, and take a couple of the luxury high end wedding photographers off the list – that leaves everyone else!

Which is exactly the point – if you are a mid-level wedding photographer, practically every other wedding photographer in your area is your direct competition.

wedding photography business plan

The Mid-Level Wedding Photography Business Plan

Now that we have defined who falls into the category of a mid-level wedding photographer and who the competition is – lets take a look at a typical mid-level wedding photography business plan.

Lets say that a mid-level wedding photographer bills their clients on average a total of $1,500 for photographing their wedding day and then another $1,000 in sundry sales such as selling the RAW files and maybe a cheap photo book.

So, that is an average of $2,500 per wedding for coverage by a single photographer – the same as the US average amount spent on wedding photography in 2013.  Sounds pretty good so far right?

Now, lets break that $2,500 down into an hourly wage.

wedding photography business plan

Of course, the actual amount of time involved will vary for every photographer, but I think that this is an accurate representation of a typical mid-level wedding photography workflow:

Initial Email Correspondence: 1h.  Initial Meeting: 1h travel + 1h meeting = 2h.  Followup Email Correspondence: 0.5h.

That is 3.5h so far.  Of course I don’t book every single wedding inquiry – my personal booking rate is about 1 in 4 once I meet with a client, so for every wedding I book, I invest about 14 hours in initial consultation time.

Lets, continue now that we have a wedding booked, there are a few more preparations we have to make adding another 6.5 hours.

Wedding Checklist Correspondence: 1h.  Location Scouting: 1h travel + 1h scouting = 2h.  Final Confirmations and Wedding Day Scheduling: 0.5h.  Cleaning Gear, Checking Gear & Charging Batteries: 2h.  Packing Gear: 1h.

wedding photography business plan

Finally, on the day of the wedding, here is a detailed breakdown of a typical day of wedding photography starting at about 9:00am and ending around 12:00am the next day – or about 15 hours of straight work.

Travel to Photograph Bride Preparing: 0.5h.  Arrive, Introductions, Drink Mimosas with Bridesmaids, Unpack Gear: 0.5h.  Photograph Flowers, Dress, Shoes, Details: 0.5h.  Photograph Bride: 1h.  Photograph Bridesmaids & Bride: 0.5h.  Photograph Bride With Parents, Family Dog etc.: 0.5h.  Travel to Church: 0.5h.  Photograph Groom & Groomsmen: 0.5h.  Photograph Wedding Ceremony: 1h.  Wait Around For Post-Ceremony Chaos to End: 0.5h.  Photograph Old People With Bride & Groom: 0.5h.  Photograph Family With Bride & Groom: 0.5h.  Photograph Wedding Party with Bride & Groom: 0.5h.  Photograph Bride & Groom: 0.5h.  Photograph Empty Reception Hall: 0.25h.  Photograph Entrance: 0.25h.  Photograph Speeches During Dinner: 2h.  Photograph First Dances: 0.25h.  Photograph Reception Party: 0.25h.  Photograph Rings 0.25h.  Wait Around for Bouquet Toss and Garter: 2h.  Photograph Bouquet Toss and Garter: 0.25h.  Say Good Bye to Drunk Guests and Leave: 0.25h.  Travel Home: 0.5h.  Download Memory Cards: 0.75h.

Sleep….. (No charge)

Culling Bad Photos: 2h.  Edit 10 Picks and Export for Sharing With Bride & Groom on Facebook: 2h.  Unpack and Put Away Gear: 1h.  Invoicing and Accounting: 1h.  Follow Up Correspondence: 0.5h.  Social Media: 1.5h.  Editing Proofs: 500 deliverable photos x 1 minute average / proof = 8h.

wedding photography business plan

At this point, we just spend another 16 hours after the wedding proofing and finishing up the work from our day of wedding photography.  The client has their proofs and its time to sell them an album, prints, canvases or some other sundry sales.

For the sake of an example, I’m going to assume that we sell them a very low cost photo album with 40 images and the RAW files, adding another 14.5 hours to our wedding photography workflow.

Sales Correspondence: 1h.  Sales Meeting: 1h.  Save RAW Photo Files to Shared Folder 0.5h.  Edit Photobook Images: 40 photos x 12 minutes average / photo = 8h.  Photobook Layout: 3h.  Ordering Photobook: 0.5h.  Invoicing & Accounting: 0.5h

So if you’ve been keeping track, that is a total of around 66 hours of work to earn $2,500 – or roughly $40 per hour.

Depending on your social outlook and where you live, $40 per hour may or may not be a decent wage – but unfortunately, its only half of the story.

Where The Mid-Level Wedding Photography Business Plan Fails

If you were a salaried employee earning $40 per hour, you’d be bringing in about 80k per year.  But as an independent business, just because you are billing an average of $40 per hour for a wedding doesn’t actually mean that you are earning $40 per hour.

In reality, you are only earning a fraction of that $40 per hour.

First of all, you will never book a wedding every single Saturday of the year.  Plus, if you are spending somewhere around 60 hours plus, per wedding – there is no way you could keep up that pace on a weekly basis anyway.

Lets say that you book 24 weddings per year – or roughly 2 per month.  For most full time wedding photographers I know, 24 weddings in a year is a pretty successful year.

That will leave you with a gross income of $60,000 from wedding photography per year.

But again, that is the gross income for your business – not your individual take-home net income.

wedding photography business plan

To get your take-home net income, we have to subtract the business overhead required to run a wedding photography business.

In my previous article “How Much Should Photographers Charge Per Hour”, we took a look at overhead, retirement savings and the cost of benefits for a typical home based photography business.

Using the example from that article, we can expect to put aside about $1,150 per month in overhead costs, $750 per month in retirement savings and $1,200 per month for benefits (health insurance, disability insurance etc.).

So, that all ads up to $3,100 per month or $37,200 per year that it costs to operate a wedding photography business.

Leaving us with a net take-home pay of just $22,800.

If you will remember, to earn that $22,800 we had to photograph 24 weddings working an average of 66h per wedding – which leaves us with a net hourly rate of about $14 per hour for our wedding photography.

wedding photography business plan

The Mid-Level Wedding Photography Bottom Line

The point that I wanted to make in this article is not that you cannot make money or a decent living as a mid-level wedding photographer.

Because you can.

If you can fine tune your workflow to be more efficient, or find ways to charge just a little more money here and there, or augment your income with lifestyle and family portraiture – you can certainly make a living as a wedding photographer.

But what I wanted to highlight is that it is an extremely tough and competitive career path to follow on a daily basis – which is why so many mid-level wedding photographers burn out after just a few years of struggling to make ends meet with their wedding photography business.

It should also be obvious that wedding photography is not the cash cow that it may seem like at first – and a bride and groom that spend an average amount on wedding photography are actually getting a pretty amazing deal.

It might be tough love, but unless your wedding photography business is generating enough income to sustain your lifestyle, there is no point being in business.

wedding photography business plan

How To Make Money As A Wedding Photographer

We will look at two alternate wedding photography business plans in future articles, but for now I’d like to leave you with three keys to making money as a wedding photographer:

1.  Produce amazing wedding photography.

You’re already in direct competition with almost every other wedding photographer in your town – your work better be outstanding.

2.  Streamline your wedding photography workflow. 

The less time you spend per wedding, the more money you make per hour and the more time you have to make more money doing something else.  Do everything possible to minimize your time per wedding.

3.  Charge more money.

You can charge more money by either raising your rates, or you can eliminate items that cost you time or money from your wedding packages.

wedding photography business plan

Do You Have A Successful Wedding Photography Business Plan?

Let us know what you think about our wedding photography business plan.

How is my estimation of the time it takes to photograph an average wedding?

Does life as a mid-level wedding photographer suck?

Leave a comment below and let us know!

  • https://www.facebook.com/andrew.sible Andrew Sible

    too many pissing photos and dude asses. :/

  • nulla_da_dichiarare

    but the photo are real or a joke?

  • http://tahoeshooter.com Jon Peckham

    This is exactly why i only do hi end weddings with the hi end gear and hi end people. . .

  • Rightside

    This is still the easiest unskilled job in the world “15 hours of straight work”. Standing around taking pictures for 15 hours doesn’t exactly qualify as a hard days work

    • Joshua Richardson

      So you’ve done this before? If not, I’ll tell you that you are sorely mistaken in thinking it’s not a hard days work. On top of the stress involved (which I cannot express in words), you are physically exerting yourself all day. Doing squats to get at the right angle or stay out of sight. Moving your 100lbs of equipment around all day. You’d be surprised at the strength required to simply hold a 5-10lb camera up to your face for hours upon end. I hope I’ve convinced you to be a little more empathetic next time.

    • Throndson

      Do you even realize how stressful it is to do something like this? You are not only capturing moments for the clients, but you are also doing your own advertising. So you must capture the right scene with the right lighting, settings, etc. You are constantly second guessing yourself and always looking for the right moment. Speaking of moments, if you miss just one, then it could determine if that album is a make or break. And as Josh just pointed out, it requires quite a bit of strength to carry all of your gear around for the day.

    • Jim Johnson

      I smell a troll.

    • Nexus

      Unskilled! I guess that’s just the ‘internet’ talking. I was always taught that as a professional photographer I was in fact a craftsman, it’s too bad that a marketing genius of today can bullshit their way into fame & fortune!

    • John C

      beyond the other responses, you are doing marketing, bookkeeping etc. But i guess you’d know that if you read the article.

    • Rob Krueger

      Who do you think you are. My guess is that you haven’t spent 8-12 hours thinking about each exposure for 1100 pictures and setting up, breaking down, swapping lenses, driving to multiple locations, directing 100′s of people, no or very few breaks, and coming out with 1100 great images that tell the story of two individuals biggest day in their lives. btw if you spend 15 hours standing around taking pictures – you are doing it wrong. I will continue to love photographing weddings despite your poor outlook on the craft.

  • http://www.pvhproduction.com Adrew Miller

    Very awesome, Nice photography & planning, i love the way of work, keep it continue.
    Thank you for sharing
    wedding photography melbourne

  • Scott

    What’s hilarious about this is that just below your article, there’s a pop up on for me from George Street photo & video with packages starting at $1495.00

    • http://www.blurmediaphotography.com/ JP Danko

      That is funny – guess he’s right on the mid-range mark!

  • Morgan Glassco

    I definitely fit into this category but want to note it is a side thing for me. 7 – 8 weddings a year is some nice side income and great way to sharpen the saw so to say. But it would be scary to need to work so much for that income and depressing when someone decided not to go with you.

  • Jeff Royer

    I think the author has some good general advice.

    Producing amazing wedding photography is really nothing more than a hefty amount of practice and preparation meeting with opportunity.

    Streamlining workflow should be near the top of the list though. If you are not in the top 5% of wedding photographers you need to understand what your clients “perceive” as value. Some will gauge value on the shear quantity of images you supply, or lots of candid’s or whatever else. Clients that are buying photography at the mid levels (sub $3500) are not interested in your “artistic vision”, how the images are going to look in a high-end album, or the hours you’ve spent fine tuning each image. Frankly, if the composition of the image is decent, shows some emotion, is properly exposed, color balanced and straightened (most of which should be ready to go straight out of camera); they will generally be thrilled. I have seen many photographers get utterly swamped in post production, correcting sub-par technique and attempting to make a masterpiece out of each image.

    And for heavens sake, please stop showing up for a wedding shoot at 9 am. Let the bridesmaids take candid’s with their cell-phones of them all getting their hair and makeup done. On that note, it is generally unnecessary to stay until midnight at the reception either. Once the party winds down it’s time to ask the B&G if they would like anything special additional, and if not, hit the road.

    As for charging more money, I feel sorry for any mid-level full time wedding only photographer. The clients you are pursuing have an upper range that they will not exceed. In my opinion, at this upper range it is still not nearly enough to even be in business once you factor in all the real costs. You can make more flipping burgers, with a boatload less stress. There are two ways around this conundrum though. The first is by offering a host of other services, especially ones that are not as seasonal. The second and arguably the best if you plan to succeed at this level, is to have another full time career, or Monday through Friday job, and use wedding photography to supplement your income. Contrary to popular opinion, working another job does no preclude you from being the best photographer in your particular market, providing you are willing to put in the time and effort.

  • http://www.runningonrealfood.com/20-inspiring-vegan-food-blogs-to-follow/ Howard Hope

    Sorry dude but you come off as a bit of a whiner IMHO. First of all the money you attribute to meeting with people is unrealistic – do you really do all your meetings in person and I really hope you are booking more than 1 in 4 people you meet with (otherwise you need to work on your people skills) ? Also if you are not capable of multi-tasking to save time (i.e. doing a sales call while waiting for photos to upload) – I am sorry for you. If you hate photography so much all you want to do is take photos of people pissing on things, maybe there is another problem with your business model and it’s a sign you are burned out. Also if it takes you 1 hour or even .5 hours to pack and unpack your gear each time, I have to say – wtf are you doing ? You should have a gear bag and be more used to dealing with your gear than that and have a place for everything. It should take you 5-10 minutes to do that. Your “sundry” time involved in your calculations is definitely padded, and you are forgetting about a big other thing. Quality of life. Be thankful you are working doing this, and not sitting at a desk slaving away all day for some corporate a hole. If you don’t love it, then maybe it’s not for you.

  • FJ1200

    I refuse to do weddings personally. For a start, the market is pretty saturated, secondly I’m not patient with people and have a really low frustration threshold, thirdly – I’m just not very good at it, and finally have a friend who is an professional photographer and outstanding with weddings whom I pass all requests over to, and yet he’s struggling because people want pro results at amateur rates and he can’t get enough weddings to warrant doing them any more. They have “Uncle Fred who has a decent camera and can do them for us.” My boss had a mate’s mate do his wedding photos and had to get them re-shot a few weeks later – by my above-mentioned friend, at my recommendation. And they are really pleased with them.

    I look at it from the point of view that it’s probably the most important day of a couple’s life – certainly the bride’s – and I want them to have good memories of it in 20 years time. So don’t get me to do them! It’s our 24th Anniversary today, and our photos still hang on the wall in pride of place. The albums will be out tonight. We still love the phortos. Our friends did the candids, and we have them in a separate album. And love them too.

  • Rob Krueger

    Didn’t feel too good reading this, but I think that is because it is kind of true. The numbers both in time and money will vary for each photographer – like you said, but there were a lot of great points and things to think about. Thanks for the article I will share/scare my students with this so they can make an informed decision about what type of photography they would like to compete in.

  • Kandi Klover

    Actually stunning photos can be made with natural light. Don’t be a stupid dumb fuck.