hi there! i'm michelle, southern california based photographer and curator of the coco gallery.

welcome to my blog where i share my life, my latest adventures, photo projects, random nuggets and the occasional stray thoughts.

for clients: to view my portfolio just click on this link - theCOCOgallery.com. to book sessions please send me a message through theCOCOgallery.com or contact me via michelle@thecocogallery.com | 949.734.0604

Monday, November 8, 2010

mila | why does it cost so much anyway

with the economy the way it is i can totally understand that budgets are tighter and brides are looking for places to save money.  TV has done an amazing job of educating us, myself included.  i'm a huge fan of the show "say yes to the dress" and their price disclosure gave me an idea of just how much dresses are. designer shoes are an obvious expense option.  the hair, makeup and underwear are must haves... though honestly, with all that hoopla i would like a great picture to commemorate a hot makeover job.  alcohol of course is a cash pit, the venue, the food, the decor, the flowers, invitations.  it all adds up.  but photography seems to be the one place where brides gasp at the cost.  perhaps it is the initial intangibleness of the product that sets the perception a kilter.  maybe it's the affordability of digital cameras set in motion by the major manufacturers that lowers the bar in our minds.  whatever it may be i think it warrants some pause and some analysis on what goes into the wedding photos.  a bride might think that i'm trying to justify the price but really i'm just presenting the facts.  

i did the math on my own biz and made a list of the cost sources.  i have chosen to disclose this because i want everyone to be aware and to appreciate what it takes to be a small business owner and particularly a photographer.  most people only account for the hours a photographer spends on the day of the wedding.  what most forget to take into consideration is that behind that day there is so much more substance and so many other things involved in making a wedding photographer a successful and reliable one.  SUCCESS AND RELIABILITY -- these are key aside from the obvious reasons for hiring a particular person.  i urge you to look beyond the obvious.  welcome to my reality...

let's have a starting number -- $2400 is the number i've decided (after doing the math) is the LEAST a basic complete wedding package should cost.


  •  a wedding is AT LEAST a 40 hour work week.  fer realz!
    • 4 hours  -- add up all meetings, phone calls, emails, follow ups, document write-ups
    • 4 hours  -- engagement session shoot
    • 4 hours  -- edit of e-sesh
    • 10 hrs    --  wedding day (add more if i have to drive to SD on a saturday)
    • 10 hrs    -- editing wedding day photos
    • 8 hours -- album design


  • a pro has pro equipment, backup pro equipment and reliable insurance.  i don't have to tell you that pro equipment is rather expensive but having 2 of the basic equipment ups the price even more.  oh and it's happened, cameras don't function, flashes die, things drop, equipment gets wet.  the day does not end and the photos have to be taken.  insuring this stuff (and we're talking tens of thousands here when you count computer stuff too, after all ... this is a business) can get expensive.  also, most venues are requiring liability insurance now.  
  • computers -- plural.  i have a desktop, a laptop, printers, storage drives and backup servers.
  • running a small business has some basic costs like electricity, phone bills, accounting costs, internet, software licenses, car expenses, gas and in some cases rent
  • the product you purchase isn't hand made by the photographer for the most part.  a good quality, good size album has a hefty cost.  that stuff is supposed to last.  shoot... the lowest price on the most basic album that i would even put my name to (for the sake of quality) is at least $400 and that's if i don't order too many pages.
  • that CD isn't just a CD of images.  it's backed up in at least 3 locations, one of which isn't my home.  if anything happened to the CD i still and will have copies for years to come.  the amount of space a single wedding consumes these days considering how large the files are now?  around 15GB per storage location.  

  • i know i know... she only got the 6-8 hour package.  i stayed up the night before getting all the equipment cleaned, formatted and readied.  and i'm there to cheer on the crew as the hair and makeup gets done and way before the dress is on.  i don't leave until all the major events have happened and sometimes...it goes past 8 hours.  the longest i've had to stay for a wedding?  15 hours.  that was ridiculous but i'll tell you what, they paid for someone that could hang WITH ENERGY and enough creative juice for that long and that's what they got despite having barely 1.5 hurried meals (more like gobbles) that day.  even burger flippers are required 2.5 breaks in that kind of day.
  • if the bride didn't hire a coordinator, the photographer pretty much keeps time and plays director for the day.  heck i've been to weddings where there was a coordinator and they were worthless.  but since they don't have product to be accountable for it's still my ass on the line so i step in.  
  • the bride has to look perfect for the photos so i play stylist as well.  i check makeup, tuck hair, cut dress strings, fluff dresses, do bra checks, position the girls,  etc. 
  • the extra photographer (who i always bring) is just as good if not better than me.  i need to make sure that if anything happens to me or my equipment that not a moment is missed.  hiring the right people to accompany me for the day guarantees that.  that person spends the same amount of time that day as i do.  
  • if i'm at the wedding someone has to watch my daughter.  that person starts their charge from the time i leave the house to the time i get home.

TAXES -- sales tax and mine.  do i need to explain????  


  • i shop at target.  i love target!  they are a reliable source of goods for me.  i've bought shoes there!  they have some cute styles.  but if i want some super hot, great quality leather boots.... i start the search at my fave shoe store ALDO.  i'm not saying that i'm some hot to trot photographer but i'm quite a few steps above the person that just bought their camera at costco a few months ago.  no offense to costco.
  • did i mention what roles i play on the wedding day?  stylist, coordinator, cheerleader, art director, counselor, psychiatrist oh and ... photographer.
  • girls that hire me like my photography style and my personality.  the personality part is probably more important than the style.  there's a lot of photographers with similar styles out there but finding the person that clicks, that can relax the most stressed out person on the wedding day, that can hang with the crazies and crazify the quiet ones.  that's me.
  • so looking at the previous sections i've spent $1000 this far, now we have to pay me.  40 hours for a wedding and the starting number was $2400 (for a basic package) which leaves $1400 for me (which doesn't account for taxes).  don't bother with the calculator, it's $35/hour.  i think i'm worth at least that.  in-n-out starts their employees at $11, i'm a skilled, trained professional that holds life memories in my possession.  this is my only job and since i have rent, basic needs, a daughter and insurance that needs to be paid for i think it's a fair amount.  oh and i need to look good at the wedding so i need shoes.

so seriously, anyone that does this for less than 1k is PAYING THE BRIDE with time/services to shoot the wedding or is more of a hobbyist.  some photographers might disagree but this is MY reality as i see it.

here's some of my fave wedding photos i shot as a second for my buddy kevin hall at the mission san juan.

i loved that the bride couldn't reach the ground


  1. Nicely put Michelle....and great images as always!

  2. Michelle what a great post, made me keep reading more and more....
    love it

  3. Your work is gorgeous! Congratulations on building this precious business. And you're worth every penny.

  4. I think you need to include your continuing education on a regular basis. You keep up with current looks and you are continue to strive for better...honing your craft! You haven't just climbed to a level and then called it good. You continue learning and practicing to new heights.


  5. NICE articulation friend. Totally a good way of showing how much this job really takes, and costs!

  6. You ARE worth every penny and then some. And I'm really glad you posted this...I want to repost on my blog :)

  7. I will FINALLY agree with Hanssie on this one... you ARE SO worth every penny & more!

  8. Thank you thank you thank you for being honest and forthright with your personal breakdown of the effort it takes you to cover a couple's big day. People have no idea the amount of work behind the day. Their skewed perception of the work and the pay needs to be shifted for sure. I however think this post is essential to any photog out there who does undercut the market whether they don't think they are worth it or they are simply trying to find the answer to getting more work. They need to understand why that hurts their business as well as everyone elses...because it adds to the public's skewed vision of what we are worth. I will be sharing this with many on Facebook and Twitter to open up the eyes of the brides as well as the photogs.
    Thank you again.

    Wish you all the best in your photography adventure!

    Sincerely a fellow photog,
    Danielle Vennard

  9. your work is worth every penny babes! if I ever get married again, you'll be my photog!


  10. I love you Michelle. I was just thinking of doing a post like this. You should make this a permanent page on your site. It's a good reminder after clients have sticker shock.

  11. Just like Amber, when I read this when u posted it...I totally could relate to what your saying b/c this is something I have been thinking about ALOT this year....pricing, pricing, pricing. It's not just the x amount of hours of photographing the wedding they are paying you for....it's EVERTHING else involved. And the only way to convey that....is to educate our clients. WELL PUT MICHELLE! =)