I’ve been a professional photographer for over 3 years now. By professional, I mean, the kind who will charge you for services because of the quality and time and effort put into it.
Most often, I’m asked why I charge so much for just holding a camera and shooting. Of course, there are plenty of jokes artists post that talk about why we charge. You wouldn’t expect a chef to cook for free, a mason to build for free, or driver to drive you anywhere for free.
Why then are artists expected to do things for free? For the love of it?
Photography is an expensive business. Not to mention the amount of effort that goes into each shoot.
Every wedding I shoot, I run into at least two people with cameras almost as ‘fancy’ as mine if not more. They have several lenses and tell me that they too are ‘photographers’ and ask me why I’m carrying so little equipment.
I have to hold myself back from sarcastic responses that might get me thrown out of the wedding. What comes to mind is something along the lines of “I’m a professional and I do not need more than two decent lenses to capture this event. Not to mention the fact that I don’t have the liberty of stepping out when wanted to put away a lens or change it. And of course, since this is my full time job and I don’t have a job as a techie to be blow money on unnecessary equipment…”
So what does really go into a wedding shoot, for instance?
1. The equipment – Yes, photography is still expensive. You do get lower end cameras for a month’s salary but the quality equipment that helps you have better control over what you shoot still has a hefty price tag.
Lights, lenses, speedlites, camera bodies and whatever else you can think of. And of course, maintaining all that equipment.
You need to run, you need to get up, close and personal. You either juggle with two cameras – one with a telephoto lens and the other a fixed or a wide lens, or you choose a lens that offers you enough of a wide range and a zoom. Personally, I prefer shooting with one camera and a lens with a decent enough range.
2. Research – Yep, there is a fair amount of research that goes into each wedding. It could be about the culture of the wedding, so you have an idea of what you expect and when to duck. And about the couple themselves. Knowing the personality of the couple always helps with better pictures. So you could sit down for a long chat with the bridal couple about their expectations from the wedding photographer, or if you want to be the snoopy kind, take a look at their social profiles. If you have common friends, have a chat with them.
I prefer doing it the direct way. Have a talk on the phone, meet, get a sense of them as individuals and as couples.
3. Paperwork – Any good business generates tons of paperwork. In this case, it would be wedding contracts, stipulating conditions for every little thing, making sure both parties understand what they are getting into.
A wedding dossier, where you have your little notes about what the bride (and yes, groom) want on the day. Generally, a wedding enquiry comes anywhere from four to 26 weeks early. Details tend to get a little blurry in that time period. So you make notes about what you talked about, and refresh yourself before the shoot.
4. Shoot Time – Wedding photographers should get combat pay. Weddings, particularly in India, run all around the clock. They begin at unearthly hours and move on till late evenings. Other than the bride and groom, the photographers are the only constants at this wedding. The priest gets a break as well. The family take their breaks for food and entertainment.
This takes a toll on your energy, thereby your photographs. Which is why most photographers work in teams. Of course, this also means man hours, which translates to money.
5. After The Wedding – If you are an intelligent photographer, you shoot carefully, so there is minimal culling to be done.
Yet, any 3-4 hour wedding means at least 400 photographs. From which you do the first rush of selection – removing the ones with photobombs, bad lighting, blurring. Then you select the ones to be cleaned and edited. That’s about 3 to 4 hours.
Then you sit down again to edit the selected photographs. You crop, remove blemishes, brighten, lighten, do whatever the client has requested. This takes anywhere between 4 to 6 hours easily. Then you take a break and come back to it with a fresh perspective, making further changes.
You save the photos according to the various sizes promised to the client, make CDs/DVDs of them and go across town to deliver the photos. Or if you are lucky, put it in the mailbag. And then of course, the uploading of the images to clients who want to see them instantly.
Then you begin to design the album or the coffee table book, according to what the client wishes. If you are lucky and your design juices are flowing, this is perhaps a 4-hour job.
Of course, the client has changes. Add another couple of hours.
Print, pack and done.
Roughly, a photographer spends about 24 hours (one whole day, or 3 working days of 8 hours each), excluding the shoot time on planning and executing the wedding. Bigger weddings take more time.
So when a photographer charges you 50 grand, it means they would be spending that much of time on your day, taking every effort to make it special.
Of course, I left out a lot of little things here. But this gives you the general picture. A photographer who charges less might or might not really invest this much of time and energy. The word ‘professional’ means this amount of time.
So next time you get a huge bill, ask why the bill is so high and perhaps you’ll know a little better about the sweat that went into the art.