With our ongoing look at the wedding photography industry, so far we have looked at “How to Become a Wedding Photographer in 10 Easy Steps” and “Why It Sucks To Be a Mid-Level Wedding Photographer”.
In this article, we are going to look at a wedding photography business model that is actually profitable and a viable career path for photographers – the high end wedding photography market.
What a Girl Wants, What a Girl Needs
The problem with the traditional mid-level wedding photography business plan is that photographers are way too preoccupied with offering wedding photography services.
Do you want an engagement session? How many hours of coverage do you want? Do you want one photographer or two? How many photos do you need? What style do you like? Do you like this type of processing or this type? Do you want an album? How may photos do you want in your album? Which photos? Do you want prints? How many? Do you want the original RAW files?
And on and on and on…
This might be a little bit of a shock to the “treasured moments” wedding photographers out there – but once brides are looking at the mid to upper level wedding photography price points the actual photography becomes less and less important.
Instead, the experience that you can offer a couple on their wedding day becomes what you are hired for at the top end of the market.
In other words, to succeed as a high end wedding photographer, you have to offer a bride and groom what they really want – which has almost nothing to do with all those wedding photography package details mid-level wedding photographers obsess about offering.
In very simple terms – here is what brides that hire top end wedding photographer want:
1. Totally amazing, kick ass wedding photos that make them look gorgeous.
2. Every single photography related detail taken care of for them.
3. An emotional connection with you – a trusted professional and friend.
If that’s not perfectly clear, here is an example of a typical conversation between two photographers and their clients:
Mid-Level Wedding Photographer
Photog: “Would you like color or black and white?”
Bride: “I don’t know.”
Photog: “Well just go through your proofs and let me know if you would like any of them in black and white.”
Bride: “OK” (while thinking “I still don’t know, and that sounds like a lot of work”.)
Luxury Wedding Photographer
Photog: “I processed a set of photos in quad-toned black and white that I think you will love. Here is the spread I put together for your album.”
Bride: “Oh my god! I love it!”
See the difference there?
Natural Selection – When to Move Up To A High End Wedding Photography Business Model
It might seem like an obvious career progression to eventually move up from a mid level wedding photographer to a high end wedding photographer – but that is not necessarily the case.
For some reason, there is something that seems to hold mid level wedding photographers back.
Whether it is fear about getting work if you triple your rates or self doubt about if you are really talented enough to make it at the top of the spectrum, wedding photographers tend to come up with all kinds of excuses not to charge a premium fee.
(While at the same time grumbling about those no talent hacks that do charge a premium fee has become somewhat of an internet blood sport).
But in most cases, experienced, talented and established mid-level wedding photographers are already offering a premium product – they just need to make a quantum leap to charge a premium rate.
Where The High End Wedding Photographer Business Model Won’t Work
Of course, selling high end wedding photography does not work in every market.
You obviously have to be operating your wedding photography business in a market with a fair number of high end brides.
More importantly, you have to be operating in a market with high end brides that value a premium product.
But, you might also be surprised – there is much less competition at the top of the wedding photography market compared to the middle, and you don’t need to photograph nearly as many weddings to be profitable, so even in relatively small markets there are still enough potential top end clients to be successful.
Remember, premium products are based on an emotional connection to your brand and a perception of quality.
The All Inclusive Wedding Photography Package
To give you an example of a high end wedding photography business model that is profitable, I though I would share what I call “All Inclusive Wedding Photography”.
Luxury brides want the exact same thing as luxury travelers – and most importantly, they are willing to splurge to pay for it too.
Essentially for one lump sum price, everything is included (as the name suggests).
Engagement Session? Yes.
Original RAW files? Yes.
Travel? Yes (We even pay for our own parking).
Canvas gallery wraps? Included.
Does is cost extra for…? Nope – its included.
Can you photograph the entire ceremony while riding a pony? Sure – no problem.
Now, obviously, an all inclusive wedding photography package can’t be completely open ended. Your clients should have a firm idea of exactly what is included – but the point is to take away as many stress points as you can. Nobody wants to sort through 1000 photos and pick out 50 for a photo book and worry that if they pick 60, there will be an extra fee.
Remember, luxury clients want to rely on you to make their decisions for them – so if you give them what they think they want – they will be happy, and so will you!
High End Wedding Photography Business Plan
If you remember from the mid-level wedding photography business plan, we estimated that a mid-level wedding photographer that charges around $2,500 per wedding will invest just over 60 hours of their time and will end up taking home about $14 per hour (or less) after overhead, business expenses and the cost of benefits are discounted.
In this example, we will look at how that business model breakdown changes for a luxury wedding.
First, lets take our original time estimate of 66 hours and add a few tasks that are specific to the all inclusive wedding photography package example.
High end clients demand a little extra personal attention, so lets add 4 hours for additional meetings and correspondence. Next, if everything is included, we are going to end up doing a little more editing, so add another 5 hours. Finally, putting together a luxury flush mount album and printing a set of canvas gallery wraps is a bit more work than slapping together a press-print photo book and sending a few 8×10 prints to Walmart – so add another 5 hours for pre-press editing.
That brings our total time commitment up to about 80 hours per wedding. Or, in other words – the equivalent of a full time job for two weeks straight.
Next, lets revisit our expenses.
First of all, you are going to have a second shooter and/or an assistant for a luxury wedding. If they are with you for the entire wedding day, you’re looking at about $400 for 16 hours of work at $25 per hour.
Next, luxury albums and canvas gallery wraps are expensive to print. Lets budget $1,000 in straight printing costs for a high end wedding package. $1,000 roughly corresponds to $500 for the album and $500 for four or five canvas gallery wrap prints.
That adds up to at least $1,400 in direct expenses for a high end wedding.
Finally, lets look at our overhead.
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.
A high end wedding photographer will have to spend more on the best photography gear and even clothing (you better wear a designer suit or dress to a luxury wedding or you will have a short career) than the average home based photography business – so when we include the cost of savings and benefits lets use the upper level of the take home to billable rate that we calculated here: 3 to 1.
That means if we want to personally earn $30 per hour, our business has to bill our clients $90 per hour.
How Much Should I Charge For High End Wedding Photography?
As a high end wedding photographer, say you want to bring home $30 per hour (roughly $60,000 per year as a sustainable annual income), so you bill at $90 per hour. You budget to photograph one wedding every two weeks, which allows you an average of 80 hours for each wedding. You also have around $1,400 in direct expenses per wedding.
Lets add it all up.
80 hours x $90 per hour = $7,200
$1,400 expenses + 15% markup = $1,610
Total Fee Per High End Wedding = Approximately $9,000
Are You Nuts!? I Can’t Charge $9,000 Per Wedding!
Why not? Seriously – why not?
Creative professionals traditionally have a very hard time charging what they are really worth. But the reality is that in most markets there are clients out there who want to pay $9,000 (or more) for a talented, trusted, professional wedding photographer.
It may seem a little counter intuitive, but if you are billing $2,500 per wedding right now, clients who are looking for an emotional connection to a luxury product, a trusted professional and top quality photography are not even going to look at you – no matter how good your photos look.
If you are still shaking your head, take a look at this video for a little inspiration.
Can You Make The Jump To High End Wedding Photography?
What do you think – do you still think that its crazy to charge upwards of $10k for wedding photography?
Are you inspired to raise your rates and joint the high end wedding photography market?
How much do you think you have to charge to make a sustainable living as a wedding photographer?
Leave a comment and let us know!