Sustaining yourself via wedding photography means that you also have to run a business. The biggest step you can take from being a hobbyist to a professional is making an evaluation of what you’re worth, what it will take to grow your business, and what it will take to remain competitive as a wedding photographer.
Determining your pricing is the result of thoughtfully processing your costs and your value.
I think that just about every person with the desire to get into wedding photography imagines getting paid thousands of dollars to work a few days out of the month. Who wouldn’t want that?! The reality is, there are significant costs to running a sustainable wedding photography business and a significant amount of time that must be invested.
The equation is simple:
Gross income – Costs = Profit.
I would work this equation backward to figure out pricing.
Profit + Costs = Gross income
What is profit?
Profit is the amount that you live on to pay rent, buy food, save for retirement and simply makes ends meet. If you have any sort of budget you know what this number is.
What are costs?
Add the costs of running a photography business, to your profit:
1. Studio space for keeping your equipment, editing images, and possibly meeting with clients. Let’s roughly estimate $400/month for an extra bedroom.
2. Transportation, fuel and car insurance. You need a reliable automobile to get you to client meetings and to weddings. $400/month for car payment, gas, and insurance.
3. Liability insurance. About $40/month.
4. Web presence and proofing site. About $40/month.
5. Individual health insurance. About $200/month.
6. Clothes and shoes to look presentable at a wedding. About $25/month.
7. Cell phone and high-speed internet in studio. About $100/month.
8. Marketing costs, business cards, office supplies. At least $10/month.
9. Photography equipment. My essential “can’t work without” kit of cameras and lenses is about $15,000. Let’s say we pay that off over 5 years. $250/month.
10. Computers and software. At the very least you need a computer and monitor, which we can pay off over 4 years ($25/month) plus Lightroom and Photoshop software ($10/month).
With these fairly conservative estimates, we are up to $1,500/month in costs. Let’s say it takes another $1,500/month in profit to live in an average American city, for rent, food etc. I know that is low by many standards. That means we need to make $3,000/month or $36,000 a year to break even. But wait, you still have to pay taxes! Let’s say you have to make $48,000 to break even if you want to run a legal business. These numbers are different for everyone, but you get the idea.
If your goal is to book 25 weddings a year you can charge $1,920 per wedding and break even. If you can (and even want to) book 40 weddings a year you can charge $1,200 per wedding and break even. If you want to have savings, take vacations, or buy your kids Christmas presents, you may want to charge a little bit more.
Determining the number of weddings you can realistically do a good job on in a year is different for everyone.
I will spend at least 40 hours on my most basic wedding assignment, so that limits the number of clients I can take. I certainly work more than just the day of the wedding and have to account for the time it takes to consult with potential clients over email and phone, time to plan out the schedule and shot list, time to touch base with the wedding coordinator, to visit the site (if necessary), travel time, editing time after the wedding, blogging, delivery, and follow-up with the client afterward. Many weddings take over 40 hours if there are albums to be designed and ordered or prints to be made.
If you undervalue your time and skills you run the risk of going out of business or being forced to cut corners, giving your clients poor service. If you overvalue your time and skill, you run the risk of not being competitive in the wedding industry. Crunching the numbers as they apply to your situation is the best way to grow your business into what you want it to be.