Photography as a business – dream vs reality part 4

wedding photographer for colchester
The Happy Couple in the grounds of Five Lakes Resort Hotel, Colchester.

This is part 4 in my series of blogs about wedding photography as a business  – dream vs reality. So it all makes sense I recommend you start at part 1.

I will share what I have learned about the reality of being self employed for the first time in my life and the practicalities of earning a living from wedding photography.

So, how did I decide how much to charge ?

This was something I really struggled with. When you start out, you have the “chicken and egg” scenario. What came first ? You need wedding images to attract clients, you need clients so you can get wedding images.


Off on a tangent again, there is a “training option” you can explore. They call them “portfolio building days”. A ( hopefully ) good photographer will run a course for a day or two, teach candidates a few basics on taking good wedding images, hire a couple of models who “pretend’ to be “happy couples” and you use the images you capture for advertising.

Though not ideal ( I think a lot of potential clients can tell the difference between “models” and real couples ) I think it’s one way to get started, providing you are honest with your potential clients and tell them that you were under “instruction” photographing “models” at the time.


What I did, having done some “classroom” training and having gone to quite a few weddings as an “assistant” and as a “second shooter” ( both of which I did unpaid for experience ), was only charge £350 per wedding in order to build my portfolio and gain “real world” experience. You can only learn so much in a classroom.

Most of the wedding photographers I have met over the years started off at this lower end but you must realise that when you feel the time is right to increase your prices, you will effectively be starting all over again.

Why do I say that? Think about it. A lot of my work comes from personal recommendation. If you are building a client base who want to spend no more than £350 on their wedding photography, how much are their friends likely to spend on their wedding photography? Yep, £350. Move to a higher price bracket and that client base that were recommending you no longer do so because you have become “too expensive”.

Personally, I found that when charging £350 per wedding over a period of a year, I didn’t earn enough to make a living from it. If you are new to being self employed you will be surprised at just how much it actually costs to run a business. If I wanted to stay in business, I had to increase my prices. Simple as that.


So, finally getting to the point, how did I decide how much to charge ?

Note: Disclaimer. I am not an accountant or financial advisor. Everyone’s circumstances are different and the amount of income they need to generate to make photography provide the lifestyle they want varies from person to person. This is only a rough guide to give you some ideas and something to think about.

At the end of my first year I added together ALL the costs involved in running my business. I included the small costs from paper to telephone right up to the larger costs like computers  and so on. ( See the list below, you may be surprised at how much is involved ).

With the larger cost items which are business assets, I divided the costs by the number of years use I expected to get from them.

I divided that total by the number of weddings I thought I could expect to book per year and that gave me a figure representing what it actually “costs” me to photograph each wedding.

I then looked at how much I wanted to earn per hour, ( I didn’t think £10 was excessive ) and the number of hours I spent on a wedding (including all the consultations, travelling, photographing the day itself and the most time consuming thing of all, the editing ). I multiplied the number of hours by £10 per hour.

Finally I added the two together and that gave me a figure I needed to charge to be able to make a reasonable profit from my business.

The most important thing to me is you really need to identify the costs of running your business. Without them, you will not know what you need to charge to make a profit.

Whilst the way you set up and run your business will dictate exactly what your costs are, here is a list of some of mine just to give you an idea of where to start. This list is not exhaustible.

Office costs, including paper, ink for your printer, telephone costs, postage stamps, box files, storage for all your records (you’ll need to store them for 6 years) and even paper clips!

Your computer for managing everything and editing your photos. Don’t forget the software needed to run your business as well.

External hard dives, several of them for back up copies of your images.

“Off site” storage for all your image files, just in case of theft or  a fire!

Photographic equipment from camera bodies and lenses down to replacement memory cards and rechargeable batteries. Make sure you’re sitting down when you add this lot up.

Transport, including servicing, wear and tear, insurance, tax and fuel. (Tip. I lease a van and I have found it much more “tax efficient” than running a car ).

Advertising costs including not just any magazine advertising costs, but the cost of your website, your fliers and the cost of attending any wedding fairs (including a table and banners!). Don’t forget the “recommendation fees” but you know my feelings on that one!

Public liability insurance, equipment insurance and professional indemnity insurance.

Membership fees for belonging to professional organisations like the SWPP.

Training and qualification costs (not all are tax deductible, but they are still a cost to your business).

Wedding albums, if you provide them, including any sample albums and materials you purchase to show clients.

USBs that you provide images on.

Accountancy fees.

You’ll be surprised at just how many things there are to pay out for when you run your business professionally and legally. With my overheads, there’s no way I can make a living charging £350 per wedding.


Another question you might ask is:

How many weddings can I expect to book in any one year?

I can’t answer that. It depends on so many different factors, including your own personal level of motivation to succeed. All I will point out is you are entering a very mature market place. There is a lot of competition, both new start ups and established photographers.

If you desperately want a “starting point” to work from, I would go for 20 weddings. In my experience, if you’re managed to get 20 good weddings in your first year, you’ve done alright.

If you do the maths, your costs divided by 20 plus how much you want to earn, you should get an idea of what you need to charge. It might surprise you.

Hopefully, at this point whilst you are building your photography business, you haven’t yet given up “the day job” and the photography is part time “additional” income.


Earlier in this blog I explained why I had to raise my prices and the danger of losing your current client base. Well, thankfully, when I did raise my prices, my photography had improved as had the overall service I provided and I found enough clients who thought I was worth what I needed to charge.

No photographer can appeal to everyone. At the lower end you have the market that only has a budget of £350 – £400. At the top end you can have clients with budgets starting around £3000 and even more. Then there will be budgets anywhere and everywhere in between. You can’t expect to appeal to everyone, so you have to target your advertising/marketing/website/pricing structure at the people you want to work with to generate the income you are looking for.

So, what actually happened when I moved from charging £350 for all day coverage to charging £1,000 for all day? Firstly, my number of bookings actually increased !

Secondly, now I am in no way a snob and really not concerned about where couples decide to get married, but the simple fact is I got bookings at “nicer” venues ( horrible word but I can’t think of a better one at the moment ). Clearly, having a bigger budget for their wedding allowed a bigger budget for their photography. I guess it’s pretty obvious really, but thought it worth mentioning.

Most of my clients have £1,000 (digital only package) to £2,500 ( bells and whistles with quality album) to spend on their wedding photography, so most of what I say I believe is applicable to that “market place”. Those working in other “market” areas with larger or smaller  budgets probably do things very differently and will offer an alternative point of view.


I have seen photographers successfully offer just one all inclusive “take it or leave it” package. That’s great if you can make it work for you. So simple, easy to administer. However, the general consensus of opinion as far as I can tell is to have 3 packages. It’s along the GOOD, BETTER, BEST theory. The “experts”, which I make no claim to be, say that, when listing your GOOD, BETTER, BEST package prices, you should list the most expensive first.

Apparently, a lot of people will simply go to the second most expensive package because it makes them feel less guilty. Like they are not being greedy and spoilt! Whatever the reasons, I have broken the rules by having 5. Why?

Well, I split the day into three sections. Getting ready, ceremony and evening celebrations. People can hire me for ceremony only, ceremony and evening or all day. My 4th package is to include a wedding album. My 5th is all the bells and whistles from “Thank You’ cards to wall art and signing book and so on.

My most popular is my all day package. I have found about 50% book the package including a wedding album right at the start. Of those that don’t, almost all my digital only customers this year have ordered a wedding album after they have seen their photos.

Both my cheapest and my most expensive packages are very rarely asked for. Almost always, it’s the packages priced in the middle.


Now the old word count is over 1780, so I will leave it here and move on to talking about wedding albums in part 5.

wedding photographer for ipswich suffolk
The Wedding Rings at the start of a ceremony at Smeetham Hall Barn in Suffolk.

Part 5

Back to part 3

 

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