I ran across an old article from 2003 (read the article here) where wedding photography is listed as one of the most overpaid jobs in the US. While the article is dated, I can tell you that same attitude still exists. We hear fairly frequently at weddings a conversation that goes like this:
Random guy – “You make $2500 a wedding?”
Me – “Not really. We don’t get to keep all that money.” (Statement ignored, dollar signs still in random guy’s eyes).
Random guy – “And you do a wedding a weekend?”
Me – “Yea, on average it’s about a wedding a weekend. There’s slow season where we don’t shoot a lot of weddings though.” (Statement ignored. He hears a wedding every weekend).
Random guy – “You guys have got the hookup.” (Meaning he’s considering buying a camera and seeing if he can “rake in the cash” like we do).
Rose Colored Glasses
I’ll have to admit that when we were first getting into wedding photography, I thought this same way, so I’m not blaming the people who are coming up with overly-optimistic numbers. The truth is though, the numbers don’t add up like they do in the best-case scenario. Best case scenario:
$5000 per wedding * 52 weddings a year = $260K
There are quite a few problems with this approach though. First off, how many photographers do you know that have started out charging $5000 per wedding? 0 for me, and I’ve known a lot of photographers. Then there’s the reality that each weekend won’t be booked. There may be enough people who like your work, but the dates brides get married on all tend to get crammed into those nice-weather months. Then there’s the sad reality that even if you did manage to book every weekend with a $5000 wedding, there are all kinds of crazy expenses involved. Retail space, wedding shows, websites, albums, prints, lawyers, accountants, TAXES (don’t get me started).
Back To Reality
When it comes down to the real numbers, it’s not nearly as exciting as the potential. Take a look at payscale.com’s report on average photographer earnings here. What is painfully obvious is that starting out, photographers make as little as $11K their first year. If you’re on the high end of salaries at 5-9 years, you’ll be making a little over $47K. And after 20 years, the high end average is just above $60K.
From what I’ve seen, this is probably pretty close to right on the money. Photography is not a gold-mine field, regardless of how much it may appear to be profitable from looking at how much comes in from a single wedding.
How Much Per Hour?
PPA did some pretty extensive research into how much the average wedding photographer makes per hour. The average ended up being pretty close to $15 an hour if I remember right. How could that be? There are a few major contributing factors. First, employees. Second shooters, secretaries, and digital editing guys all will require a paycheck to put in time for the studio. Plus, albums can cost $500 or $1000 easy. Plus, it’s easy to miss how much time goes into scheduling appointments (then rescheduling when someone gets sick), the initial consultation, contract signing, the final consultation, drive time, wedding time, editing time, ordering time, album design time – I think you get the point. In the original article, the time was estimated at 20+ hours. If you’re looking at a main and second shooter on the day of a 10 hour wedding, that’s 20 hours right there. I must not have caught the bold font on the “+” side of the “20+”.
So, Are Photographers Overpaid Or Not?
I can’t say across the board whether photographers are overpaid or not. I can tell you that in my estimation, most photographers probably bring home less than what they should for the time, effort, and skill involved. Before adding photography to a list of top overpaid jobs, the writer probably should have done some more research. What may have seemed at first glance like a rip-off to photography customers may more than likely have been closer to short-changing professional photographers.