Expensive Weddings Are Beautiful
When I first started photographing weddings I was like any other beginning photographer; I could only book budget weddings. This is the conundrum all wedding photographers face when attempting to start on their own. They want to maintain an ‘exclusive’ image but they don’t have the portfolio to book the people who have elegant weddings. It’s a catch-22. So I, like other photographers, captured the less expensive weddings. These were often full of love and life but they lacked the decor that an expensive wedding is sure to have. These weddings were at less than ideal wedding venues – a hotel conference room, a community hall; places that don’t really photograph that well. So although I found lots of love and life in these early weddings it was much more difficult to capture a beautiful image than it is for me today.
How I ended up only shooting expensive weddings
Every wedding photographer wants to end up shooting for the moon. We all dream of the $10,000+ wedding. For some of us, it is a reality. How do these photographers get to be so exclusive? Surely it can’t be their skill alone – any google search will show you an abundance of wedding photographers in an major city. What then?
It’s all about how you position yourself in the market.
Wedding photography is like any other service based business. You want to be exclusive you must behave as if you already are exclusive. It’s a ‘fake it til you make it’ kind of situation. This is hard for some people, it promotes a feeling of deceit and that you aren’t really worth what you are asking for. I disagree – I believe you are worth exactly whatever someone will pay you. What someone will pay you is entirely up to you. If you have marketed yourself well enough and if you are a good enough photographer you can set the price very high. How high? Let’s take a look at some of the worlds most expensive weddings to find out.
William & Kate; The Royal (Expensive) Wedding
William and Kate’s royal wedding is reported to have cost 34 million dollars. That’s a lot of money. The wedding photographer Hugo Bernand would have received between 250-500 thousand for his work. Well, that’s a little out of this world for the ordinary wedding photographer it does show you that sky is the limit when you are setting your prices. A lot of the photographers at this high of a level also don’t strictly focus on weddings. This is interesting to note. When you are starting out in wedding photography you should absolutely show on your website and your portfolio that you only do weddings. There is reason for this – the average couple want to know that the photographer they hire exclusively does weddings. The rational behind this is such that if you are spending your time taking photos of families and babies and commercial stuff then you must not spend much time on weddings. Of course, this is crazy, and most of us will have a separate website for our non-wedding stuff, it is the industry standard. Why then can these elite photographers showcase themselves as portrait, fashion, commercial, and wedding photographers? It’s simple.
When you’re good, you’re good.
Any city is going to have about 2-3 highest paid wedding photographers. These companies will be able to charge significantly higher rates then anyone who is not perceived to be as good as them. How do they get away with this? In commerce there is something that is known as a ‘Giffen good.’ A Giffen good is a type of good or service that is perceived to be of higher quality the higher the price is. Also, as the price rises so does the amount of the good or service purchased. This goes against typical supply and demand traditions and is clearly evident within the wedding photography industry. Have a look at this sample and you’ll understand what I mean.
Expensive wedding = expensive photographer = high status couple
We talked about William and Kate’s wedding. Do you think it was 34 million dollars because the couple wanted to throw around that much money for fun? Do you think it was so expensive because everything they bought and paid for was of such great quality you or I could only dream of it? If you do, you’re wrong. The reason their wedding and other world famous expensive weddings were so costly was because these people have a certain look to uphold. We wouldn’t think William and Kate were that special if they only spend $30,000 on their wedding, would we? This doesn’t speak to the goods or services that were found at the wedding – of course many of them were superior quality. What this does speak to is the exclusivity as well as the ‘Giffen good’ principal. Do you think Hugo Bernand had ever shot a wedding for $500,000 before? Definitely not, nor is that his going rate. It’s the rate the royal couple paid because they felt he was the best photographer in the world and they wanted to show the rest of us that they believed his services were worth that much. Would you be surprised to learn that Mr Bernand is not the highest grossing wedding photographer of all time? In fact, his prices are similar to other top end wedding photographers in the world.
Celebrity weddings can be expensive weddings too
Kanye and Kim spent over 11 million dollars on their wedding. Kim’s dress cost over $500,000. Wedding dresses are another great example of a Giffen good. There is no material or designer on this planet that can make a dress worth half a million dollars but like I said before – if someone will pay for it then the product is worth every penny. Economics can be crazy sometimes.
How we booked our first expensive wedding
We didn’t simply storm onto the photography scene charging 3-5K per wedding. If we did that I really don’t think we would have stayed in business long. People need to feel attached to your brand to justify the price you charge. Our timeline looked a lot like many other wedding photographers timeline. Let’s face it, when you tell people you are going to be a wedding photographer they will usually look at you and roll their eyes. They will say something like, “let me guess, you got a digital camera and now you are a professional?” It can be quite intimidating to tell your friends and family it’s a business you are going to embark upon. My wife did in home childcare before wedding photography. I was working full time for the government and at the time we had two children. It didn’t make any financial sense for her to return to work – we’d have to give the daycare her entire salary – so she took in extra children. This was our first foray into business. It gave us some tough lessons to learn.
Chasing money is not fun
We’d explain to parent that we expected payment every other Friday. We also had bills to pay. For some reason, people thought that we could be brushed off and paid at a later date. This was frustrating but it did give us an opportunity to learn how to manage clients. We’ve since carried over our firm stance on payment being due 30 days before the wedding as a matter of principal – no one should ever be expected to work for free!
Crying in the bathroom
I came home from work today to find the usual six children roaming around my house. My wife looked like she was having a particularly hectic day. She escaped to the bathroom as I got settled. A few minutes went by and I felt something was off. I knocked on the bathroom door and asked how she was doing. She was crying. The stress of taking care of so many children was too much for her. We vowed to work together to get her out of childcare.
Expensive engagement session? Nope. Not even close.
The first engagement session we did only cost a luck couple $25. It was on the Halifax waterfront and the couple was nice enough to give us a 5$ tip. It was from this engagement session we were able to book our first wedding. We only charged $250 for that wedding and it was just as long as some that we shoot today. Looking back, it’s crazy we charged so little but we were starving for material. A portfolio is one of the most important things a photographer can have, without one no one will ever hire you. We spend that summer shooting low cost weddings but some of them were actually pretty cute. We did a backyard wedding and a wedding on a golf course. I think these two weddings were what really took us to the next level. That fall we increased our prices to $1600. We were in the real money now.
What if that’s too expensive?
We worried that we might have increased the price too much. What if it cost too much or we didn’t book any because we were overpriced? We could end up making less money than we did this year, charging an average of $400 per wedding. We stuck to our guns. We had a decent little portfolio and we knew how much work photographing a wedding really was. Soon we had an inquire and we set up a time to meet the couple. We talked over coffee and they told us they would be in touch with us. We shook hands and left. When we got back to the car we both thought they weren’t interested in booking us. “That’s ok” we told each other, there will be other clients. By the time we got home the couple had texted my wife and told her they wanted to book us for $1600. We were stunned.
Can we be more expensive? Can we get an expensive wedding?
Every year we have increased our prices. As the prices went up the quality of wedding went up as well. We eventually only had beautiful venues with amazing decor to photograph – quite an accomplishment coming from hotel conference rooms! It still seems surreal when someone writes a check for thousands of dollars to have us capture that wedding. We want to be paid $10,000 before we give up wedding photography. That’s our goal. One wedding, 10K. I’m sure we’ll do it too. There is a real value in hiring an expensive wedding photographer. We’ve been around five years now and it’s only recently we’ve started to feel very comfortable at a wedding. We feel that sometimes we aren’t being paid enough for what we do. Photographing a wedding is an art as well as a profession. It sure isn’t easy. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either lying or not doing a good enough job.
I love checking out lists. I’ve found a really great one that shows the most expensive weddings in history.
If you like lists as much as I do then you absolutely must check out this amazing website. Imarriages.com has the most inclusive list of all the most expensive weddings in history. I really love how you can go through the list and see in order whose were the most expensive. I never knew that there was a wedding that cost 1 billion dollars. Can you imagine?! My favourite feature of the site is how you can click on each individual wedding and see details about it. I’ve never been asked to photograph a billion dollar wedding but if I was I like to imagine I would do a pretty good job at it!
Don’t feel like you need to have an expensive wedding
One of the things I hate the most about being a wedding photographer is that occasionally I meet a couple who don’t have that much money to spend but want to have an expensive wedding anyways. Of course, I don’t find this out until the wedding day. It’s easy for me to tell the difference – the decor usually is what the corners get cut on. I can see why everyone would want to indulge in their wedding – after all it’s something we only get to experience once in our lifetime – but to see someone get themselves into financial hot water is something that breaks my heart. You don’t need an expensive wedding to show your friends and family how much you love each other. Some of the best weddings I’ve been to have been in backyards.