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Question

Have you (wedding photographers) ever gotten this question from a friend, family, or a potential client?  At first it’s just something you brush off, because any full-time wedding photographer knows just how much hard work they put into a wedding, and usually their annual household income turns out to be pretty modest.

However for those who are curious, there are a handful of photographers out there who have actually taken the time to break down a typical wedding photography package so that you can see exactly where all the money goes.  A friend of mine, wedding and portrait photographer Megan Kuethen, wrote an article recently that caught my eye.  You can read Megan’s Article HERE.

Answer

However, it got me thinking.  This pricing structure is only mission-critical if you shoot FULL-TIME, for-profit, and you’re using wedding photography to pay your bills, save for retirement, etc….

Unfortunately, the laws of supply and demand don’t care if you have to put your kids through college with your wedding photo career. Not if there are a few hundred other hobbyist photographers nearby who shoot part time for dirt cheap, and deliver comparable results.

This is how industries shift and wax / wane over time. Yes, depending on where you live the ~$4K example listed above might be barely enough to live off even if you shoot 30-50 weddings per year. But customers will only understand and agree to pay a higher price as long as they believe that hiring a full-time, career-oriented photographer is their best choice.

Which, seemingly these days, is at risk of no longer being true. I know quite a few people who have awesome, well-paying white collar / blue collar careers, but they like shooting weddings on the side because it’s a creative challenge. They don’t need to turn a huge profit, other than to pay for their next lens etc.. (And many probably don’t pay taxes on that income, either) I also know a few pros who were extremely talented and profitable, but they simply gave up and returned to a “9-5″ job because it just made better financial sense in the long run.

So, how do you compete with all this, as a full-time photographer?

Fear not, fellow pros, there are certainly some great answers to this seemingly loaded question. However at this point, we’re basically answering a very different question: “Why should you hire a full-time photographer, with years of experience, instead of a part-time photog who has less overhead?”

1.) A part-time photographer is usually far less experienced, and regardless of their artistic eye or technical understanding, the consistency of the final delivery might be all across the board. Sure, their portfolio might have 20-30 stunning photos in it, but you have no idea where those pictures were taken; they could have been made at workshops, or over the shoulder of an experienced wedding pro they were 2nd shooting for. Bottom line- view a photographers’ blog and peruse the most recent 50-100 weddings they’ve shot. If they don’t consistently blow your mind, that’s a red flag.

2.) A full-time photographer with years of experience shooting hundreds of weddings is going to know how to handle ANYTHING, and how to keep you calm even if things run a little behind or get slightly chaotic.  They know how to get great photos even if the lighting or location changes, etc. etc. Also, their portfolio is probably entirely made up of real-world clients, not models, and galleries of entire weddings, not just their best 1-2 photos per wedding for the ONLY 10-20 weddings they ever photographed.  That, and I don’t know any other part-time / beginner wedding photographers who can nail focus on a bride’s eyelashes like I can.  ;-)

3.) Any part-time photographer who has experienced enough “tough days” to qualify for #2, well, they’re probably going to start charging about as much as you do as a full-time photog anyways, so you’re back to square one!

4.) A full-time photographer will always have more time to dedicate to correspondence, getting your photos delivered in a timely manner, and simply being more established and reputable overall.

[Rewind: Click here to read our complete guides to wedding photography equipment!]

So, there you have it. Make no mistake, professional photographers need to be careful, because the industry is changing dramatically this decade, and a chunk of the business is going to transition to part-time, side-job types.  This includes both the highly skilled, talented bunch who deliver stunning results and charge as much as (or more than) a full-time photog, AND the “good enough” crowd who deliver results that “barely qualify for” their price tag… Either way, in my opinion a working pro needs to be ready to answer questions about their pricing, their value, and understand how much hard work it is going to take to continue to bring in enough work to support themselves full-time.

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