I didn’t know wedding photography was a legitimate line of business. I didn’t even think that wedding photographers were professional photographers. This was back in 2008, when I was totally ignorant of wedding photography. Little did I know how much wedding photographers could make. I suspect you feel the same way. Well, wouldn’t you like to know?
In this article, I will try to answer the following questions:
- What does a wedding photographer do?
- Do wedding photographers make good money?
- How much do wedding photographers make per wedding?
- What expenses do wedding photographers have?
- I hate editing photos. What can I do?
- How does one become a full time wedding photographer?
- What equipment do I need to be a wedding photographer?
- Are there full time wedding photography jobs that come with a salary?
- How to build a wedding photography portfolio when you don’t have any wedding photography experience.
- How long does it take to get your first wedding photography client?
- BONUS: 5 pieces of software that revolutionized my wedding photography workflow
Using a digital and/or film camera, the task of a professional wedding photographer is to take photographs so that the moments that they capture may add value to their customer(s).
What are the moments that a wedding photographer will pay attention to? Usually, anything to do with the his/her client (the newlyweds). This includes any interactions that the newlyweds will share with each other and share with their friends and family. These interactions may be photographed in a photojournalistic way – that is, without any clear posing or directional input from the wedding photographer. Or these interactions may be posed – for example, group portraits.
Besides photographs of people, a wedding photographer will also photograph inanimate objects. Examples include:
- The wedding cake.
- The internal and external environment surrounding the ceremony location.
- The rings.
- The groom’s shoes (and yes, even socks).
- The bride’s and bridesmaids’ bouquets.
- The groomsmen’s’ matching bow ties.
- The floral setup at the reception venue.
- The bride’s shoes.
- The wedding dress.
- The bride’s veil.
- The perfume used.
- And the wedding transport.
On top of taking photographs, a wedding photographer is a time-keeper, a problem-solver, a crowd herder, an encouraging listener, and a BFF. But before a wedding photographer can do any of this, he/she must market themselves to attract paying customers. This includes:
- Sharing their photography across relevant social media channels.
- Creating and updating a website that captures booking enquiries.
- Meeting industry colleagues to network.
- Replying to booking enquiries via email, phone, text messages, and DMs.
- And meeting with prospective customers, collecting sales and signed contracts.
Ultimately, a wedding photographer is an entrepreneur – you solve a customer’s problem by providing them with a unique solution of value.
After the couple have said their vows, cut the cake, and danced, a wedding photographer’s job is to ensure that all the images that they have taken are securely stored. After the exhausting but fun 12-hour wedding day, the real work begins. What does this work consist of?
- Going through every single image to remove the duds and to select the keepers.
- Arrange the keeper images into chronological order.
- Edit the keepers (anywhere from 500 – 1,500 images within a 12-hour coverage day).
- Export the images (from raw – because you shoot in raw right) into JPEG format.
- Upload the images to an online gallery and/or copy the JPEG files across to a flash storage device.
- Backup the final JPEG files.
- Archive the original raw files.
- Contact the clients to let them know that their wedding photographs are ready.
- Ask clients for reviews/testimonials.
The most time consuming tasks for a wedding photographer have been highlighted for your convenience: namely, culling and post-processing. It is normal for a wedding photographer to spend an hour selecting keepers from a pool of a few thousand images and then another 8+ hours editing the images on top of that. I know for myself, those time estimates are rough estimates based on my own wedding photography work.
Keep these numbers (12 hours onsite, 2 hours spent traveling to the wedding and back, 1 hour culling, 8 hours editing, 3 hours on admin) in mind for a later section when I talk about profitability of running a wedding photography business.
Yes. As a professional photographer myself, it is a resounding YES from me. I once booked 20 weddings across a 60-day period, netting me $40,000! But there is a caveat. How much you can earn as a wedding photographer depends on how hard you are willing to work on yourself, work for your clients, and work on/in your business.
In general, wedding photographers in the United States charge between $1,500 to $4,000. Discounting a whole lot of factors such as city and region, the average wedding photographer charges $2,000 per 12-hour wedding photography package.
Most full time professional wedding photographers will be able to book 35 or more weddings per year, if not more. So if my maths is correct, based on an average booking of $2,000 per wedding, the potential income for a wedding photographer doing 35 weddings a year is $70,000 (before taxes).
This figure ($70,000) is significantly higher than the US median household income of $60,000.
I know many photographers who book 40+ weddings per calendar year. Do the math! I don’t know about you but to me anyway, I think wedding photographers (can) make good money.
The answer to this question really depends on so many variables. If we assume that the average wedding photographer charges $2,000 per 12-hour wedding photography package, then this will serve as a baseline for calculating profitability. That is, after expenses are subtracted from income, you are left with profit.
In a previous section of this blog post, I calculated that I work on average, 26 hours per wedding. This figure is broken down into the following areas:
- 3 hours on customer communication and administration.
- 12 hours onsite on the wedding day.
- 2 hours on getting to the wedding and back.
- 1 hour selecting keeping images.
- 8 hours editing.
To be honest, these numbers are very conservative. I have deliberately chosen to exclude the following tasks:
- Calibrating each of my Nikon D750 bodies with each individual lens using FoCal Pro (1.5 hours).
- Charging batteries (takes a few minutes, charges overnight).
- Checking that my each of my Nikon D750 bodies have two memory cards (takes a few seconds).
- Formatting memory cards (takes less than 5 minutes).
- Cleaning lenses (a few minutes each lens).
- Giving my Nikon D750 bodies a quick sensor clean (less than a minute).
- Ingesting the memory cards and waiting for all files to copy across safely to my desktop (1 hour).
- Ensuring that all files have coped securely to my Drobo (done overnight).
- Uploading JPEG files to Pixieset (10 minutes because I have a great fast internet connection).
As you can see, there is quite a bit of work involved in being a wedding photographer that I did not mention in the earlier section. As a wedding photographer, the time that you spend on these tasks are non-billable. But luckily, they don’t amount to too much time because the bulk of your time spent working is actually on the post-processing of the images.
The quicker you can turn these around, the more profitable you will be as a business. That is, the faster you can cull and edit, the more you will earn as a wedding photographer per wedding.
For example, I know from personal experience that it’ll take me at least 2 days to edit an entire set of wedding images from a 12-hour coverage day. The slower I work, the more I get distracted by YouTube and Facebook, the longer it will take me to finish the job. The longer I spend on this job, the less time I have to do other things and activities. These other things and activities could bring in potentially more work and income. But because I’m dragging my feet, I miss out on these opportunities.
But for argument’s sake, let’s assume that I’m working efficiently and that for this particular wedding, I was paid $2,000 all up for 12 hours of photography coverage.
This is how much I made per hour from this wedding: $2,000/(3+12+2+1+8) = $76.92.
And if I had halved my editing time to 4 hours, this is how much I would have earned per hour from the same wedding: $90.91.
But wait … we haven’t even discussed expenses yet.
Your business expenses as a wedding photographer will depend on you. Here are just a few expenses to consider before you go down the rabbit hole of being a wedding photographer:
- Materials including packaging and office supplies
- Consultation expenses
- Software purchases and ongoing licenses
- Internet and website expenses
- Accountant and/or bookkeeping
- Automobile expenses
- Marketing and advertising
- Business fees including credit card merchant fees
To give you an idea how much it costs for me to run my wedding photography business, here is the breakdown:
- Photography equipment (sunk cost): $15,000
- Dropbox: $10 per month
- One-off software purchases (e.g., JPEGmini pro, Photo Mechanic, Final Cut Pro X, Blogstomp): $1,000
- Google suite: $5 per email account per month
- 6×4” photo printing: $10 per wedding
- Credit card merchant fees: 2.3% per transaction
- Webhosting: $13 per month
- Adobe CC subscription (Lightroom + Photoshop): $25 per month
- Facebook advertising: $200-300 per month
- Online wedding album proofing: $7 per new album,
- Cloud image gallery: $8 per month
- Associate photographer: $400 per wedding
- Consultation expenses: $600 annually (I like champagne)
- Packaging materials: $300 annually
- Parking: $2,000 annually
- Sample wedding albums: $550 every 2-3 years
I feel as though this is a two-part question. First of all:
- How do you become a wedding photographer? And secondly;
- How do you make it a full time income earning career?
Being a wedding photographer is the easy part. You simply tell people that you are a wedding photographer.
I’m not joking. It is that simple. And when you do so, the other person will usually ask you for funny/crazy stories. Everyone has a crazy wedding story to tell.
There is no need to go to college as no formal education is required to be a wedding photographer. In all honesty, being a wedding photographer is telling others that you offer wedding photography as a professional service. This includes using the appropriate social media channels to promote your photography work and what makes you different to the competition. It involves creating a website to showcase your portfolio, provide information, and to capture email leads. It also includes making friends with industry peers so that you may help each other out.
The answer to the second part of the two-part question is significantly more complicated.
You just have to do the work, pull the long hours, take on the feedback, learn, repeat.
Show up. Do the work. Eat shit. Show up. Do the work. Eat shit. Repeat a thousand times. Show up. Do the work. Eat shit.
I was paid $300 for my first wedding. The second wasn’t a whole lot more. I jumped for joy when I finally charged over $1,000 for a wedding. Each step took time, it took lots of blogging, lots of understanding what people want and trying to replicate it in my work etc.
You too can earn $70,000 per year from being a wedding photographer. You can earn even more. How much you make per year as a wedding photographer is up to you.
Finally! I can talk about camera equipment! This is after all a website called ‘What Lens Should I Get’. Ironically, the equipment is the most unimportant part of being a wedding photographer.
I’m not saying that equipment isn’t important. It is! Having a f/4 lens and having a f/2.8 lens can make a huge difference in image quality. Similarly, having a camera that produces clean images at ISO6400 versus one that doesn’t can make a significant difference in image quality. However, being a successful wedding photographer has little to do with image quality.
The gear doesn’t matter in getting clients. The gear has no impact on how much you can charge per wedding. But the gear does matter in determining how easy or how hard it is for you to get the shot 100% of the time.
As a Sony photographer, I recommend this kit:
- 2x A7 III bodies
- 4x 64GB UHS-II memory cards
- 4x FZ-100 batteries
- Sony FE 24-105mm f/4 G OSS
- Sony Sonnar T* FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA
- Sony FE 85mm f/1.8
- Sony FE 28mm f/2 with 21mm Ultra-Wide Conversion Lens
As a Canon photographer, I recommend this kit:
- 2x 5D Mark III/IV bodies
- 2x 64GB CF memory cards
- 2x 64GB UHS-II memory cards
- 4x LP-E6N batteries
- Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II
- Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art
- Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L
- Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art
- Canon EF 135mm f/2L
- 2x 600EX II RT
As a Nikon photographer, I recommend this kit:
- 2x D750 bodies
- 4x 64GB UHS-II memory cards
- 4x EN-EL15 batteries
- AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8 ED
- Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art
- Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art
- Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art
- Sigma 135mm f/1.8 Art
- 1x SB-5000, 1x SB-700
As a Fujifilm photographer, I recommend this kit:
- 2x X-T2 bodies
- 4x 64GB UHS-II memory cards
- 4x NP-W126S
- XF16mmF1.4 R WR
- XF23mmF1.4 R
- XF35mmF2 R WR
- XF56mmF1.2 R
- XF90mmF2 R LM WR
- XF10-24mmF4 R OIS
- 2x EF-X500
Can you tell that I am very much a prime lens photographer? By all means, substitute what ever lens combination you wish. However, from my experience, always have two professional level camera bodies with you at all times.
Being among the action on a wedding day is very different to sitting in front of a computer screen and making tiny adjustments to every single image. Trust me, I’ve photographed over 253 weddings and probably 100+ engagement sessions. I have edited my fair share of images.
I know quite a few wedding photographers who prefer the action versus the post processing. So if you’re in a similar camp, this section is for you.
In my earlier example, I worked out my hourly rate based on a few assumptions:
- I spent 2 hours traveling to and back from the wedding.
- I spent 12 hours with the couple on their wedding day.
- I spent an hour selecting keeping images.
- I spent a total of 3 hours on customer communications and admin.
- I spent 8 hours photo editing.
This came to a grand total of 26 hours spent on the work, whilst getting paid $2,000.
What if I had outsourced the photo editing, thus reducing my photo editing time to ZERO?
Let’s have a look.
Income stays the same: $2,000.
Outsourcing expense: $300.
Time spent: 18 hours
Hourly rate: ($2000-300)/(3+12+2+1) = $94.44
Hang on a minute there!
You’re telling me that by paying someone else to edit the photos, and despite it costing me $300 (that I can claim as a legitimate business expense), I am earning a higher hourly wage? How is that even possible?
Yes I am saying exactly that.
Not only are you saving time (8 hours based on my example) but you are making more money per wedding.
If editing a thousand images across 2-3 days feels like putting teeth, outsource it!
Where do you find an image editor for a thousand images for $300? Try Plus Minus Collective. They work with photographers from around the world in creating beautiful edits for them and their clients. In essence, they are a digital editing service that saves you time.
I just jumped onto ZipRecruiter and typed in ‘Wedding Photographer’. The search results indicate that full time wedding photography jobs do exist, albeit are very rare.<m/ark> Salaries range depending on the size of the studio and where they are located within the US. New York, Los Angeles, and Denver were the top cities with wedding photography jobs.
I spent an hour pouring over each job listing on ZipRecruiter. My findings are as follows:
- Only studios were capable of offering a full time wedding photography job. If you don’t know what a photography studio business model is, it is basically one focused on volume.
- Experience is a must. No studio specified how many weddings you need to have photographed to meet this criterion but based on my own experience from hiring others, I need to see at least 15 full weddings to demonstrate that you can work with almost any lighting environment.
- A minimum contractual commitment to 30 weddings per year.
- The role overlaps into other areas of photography that the studio provides: engagement sessions, family sessions, maternity sessions.
- BYO professional level photography equipment.
In most cases, the majority of wedding photographers seeking another wedding photographer did so on a freelancing basis where a set number of hours per wedding were specified with an agreed upon hourly rate.
Experience matters. It always has and it always will. Customers want to feel reassured that their wedding photographer will know what to do and how to make them look and feel great.
Showing experience in something you are new to is difficult but not impossible. In fact, every single wedding photographer had to start from scratch so you know that it is highly achievable.
This was how I built my wedding photography portfolio from ground zero:
- I took photographs every week, of people, of landscapes during sunrise/sunset, of people during sunset.
- I shared these images on my blog, on my personal Facebook page, on Instagram.
- Repeat step #1.
- Repeat step #2.
- Repeat steps #1-4.
You will notice that I didn’t photograph any weddings in the beginning.
I didn’t know anyone getting married and nobody was willing to take on a complete newbie. Instead, I demonstrated that I knew how to compose, I demonstrated that I knew how to use different lighting, I demonstrated that I was competent at editing images. And I did this by consistently going out to photograph people and things and then showing the work to who ever wanted to see.
It took me a year to build up a portfolio of non-wedding related images. At the time, I still had a regular 9-5 so photography was still a hobby. It was the perfect side-hustle.
How did I eventually get wedding photography images to show to my first wedding photography client?
I did this by second shooting for other wedding photographers and this was only possibly by the portfolio of random images that I had built.
Show up. Do the work. Eat shit. Show up. Do the work. Eat shit. Repeat a thousand times. Show up. Do the work. Eat all the shit.
From the first time I second shot my first wedding, I booked my first wedding photography client within 3 months. A groom-to-be was looking for a wedding photographer within a Flickr group and I took the initiative to send him a private message. I showed him my portfolio, asked what he wanted, and asked what his budget was. He offered me $300 and I accepted. I was over the moon! I had just booked my first ever wedding photography client.
Now your mileage may vary depending on where you are. If you living in a small town, there may be less opportunities within a 60-mile radius. If you’re in a large metropolitan city, you will find more people looking for a wedding photographer.
With localized Facebook groups, you can go directly where potential customers are.
If my memory serves me correctly, the first wedding where I charged more than $1,000 took quite some time. Once again, I used the Internet to my advantage by contributing regularly to a particular niche forum. One day, I came across a post where one of the members were asking for recommendations for a wedding photographer. Naturally, I sent this member a DM. It took some convincing and back-and-forth, but within a few weeks of initiating contact, she had confirmed me as her wedding photographer.
If you are willing to charge less, you will find that you can book your first wedding photography client sooner than later.
- JPEGmini pro
- Photo Mechanic
- FoCal Pro
- Pixellu SmartAlbums 2
JPEGmini pro compresses JPEG files to a third of its usual file size. But not just that – it does so in a way that doesn’t reduce the image quality of your image. I run all my final JPEG files through JPEGmini pro prior to uploading them to Pixieset. It not only saves me time when uploading them but also my client’s time when they download them.
Photo Mechanic makes the ingestion process and culling process a breeze.
I use Blogstomp for just one purpose – to prepare images for blogging. I use it to batch resize, create diptychs, and most importantly, rename each image for SEO purposes.
FoCal Pro ensures that my images that come out of my DSLR and lenses are perfect. Almost every single lens will require micro adjustment across time. If you don’t take the proper time and care to micro adjust each lens with each camera body, it will show in your photography (especially if you like to shoot with wide apertures).
If you offer wedding albums, SmartAlbums is the go-to software to quickly put together a design for your clients to review. Pay for the cloud proofing solution for an even more streamlined process.