Now, I'm not going to describe myself as "Cheap Wedding Photographer, Basingstoke", because "cheap", in UK usage, is often followed by "and nasty", so I avoid the "c" word and prefer to describe myself as "affordable" - although that does rather assume that couples can afford to hire me. Let's just say that - in comparison to the market as a whole - I'm flexible, suited to the budget-conscious and driven to go above and beyond when it comes to the customer experience.
I think that's fair, with prices starting at £70 per hour, and a full day's coverage (with undefined hours) costing £500, but, taken in isolation, £70 is a lot of money (we'd all miss it if we lost it) and £500 is a small fortune. It all really depends on what you're getting in return, and it also depends on what you have to do to acquire that money in the first place. I know that £70 represents more than a full day's earnings for many people - and I'm charging that much for an hour!
Part of the problem - which makes wedding photography seem to be an extortionate rip-off - is that what we do on a wedding day is the tip of an iceberg. Obviously, we only work on a Saturday and take the rest of the week off....
Let's take a look below the surface: for the next wedding I'm booked for, I've already had two meetings with the couple. I met with them at their home, about 20 miles away. The first meeting was a go-see, when they'd already seen enough of my work and liked my pricing enough to put me on a shortlist of possible photographers. The second one was after I'd got the job, and we started to talk about specifics - timeline, locations, their outline for the day and the look and feel of the photos I'm going to take.
Next week, for the same wedding, I'm going out to visit the main venue, and to introduce myself to the event planner/manager/co-ordinator - a standard and necessary part of the job - so that I know what to expect, and to make sure I'm singing off the same hymnsheet regarding the overall flow of the day. Because the wedding's in a church, I'll also be going to the rehearsal. Nobody gets a bill for this - my prices are all-inclusive.
The bride's going to be arriving by horse and carriage, so that means a conversation with the ostler, just to check on routes and timings and any sensitivities to be observed around the horses. Horses are beautiful animals, but they can be skittish, and I don't fancy being around two tons of them should they get stressed by a thoughtlessly-directed pop from a speedlight. Not when they're attached to a Cinderella carriage.
The coverage I'll provide on this particular wedding day will be around ten hours - which means I'll probably be out of the house for twelve to thirteen hours. When I get home, there'll be some essential downloading and backing-up to be done before I get to bed. (There will also be uploading of pizza and a precautionary glass of patented Scottish damp-proofer. Can't be too careful, and it doesn't pay to mess with tradition.)
The day after the wedding, I'll start the post-production process, with the immediate objective of producing a minimum of 20 photos as a preview for the couple, so they can keep the excitement of the day alive, and join in the Facebook-sharing of photos of their wedding, rather than have to wait a month. That's just the start, though, and the whole process of producing the finished photos will take around 50 hours.
Aside from the hours spent on a wedding that I'm booked for, there's time spent on trying to attract work that I don't get booked for, and time and money spent on general marketing, insurance, personal development and admin-y things like paper and staples.
Then there's the cost of the equipment we use....not to go into too many details, but for me to replace a camera battery costs me a penny short of 65 quid (they're rechargeable). I carry six of them to a wedding. Want to hire camera and lenses like mine? Just checked - £249 a day before insurance, VAT and delivery charges. That's for one - you really want to risk covering a wedding without backup?
And to think we all took up photography because it was such a cheap hobby.....
I don't mean this to sound like a rant or a whinge. Nobody forces us to be wedding photographers. Nobody forces us to charge the prices we've settled on or to work in the market we've chosen. We're not slaves. I can't speak for anyone else, but I do it because I love doing it and I'm comfortable working with the customers I attract.
I get satisfaction from meeting the challenges that every wedding brings, I get to visit some fabulous venues, and I feel privileged to be a part of the happiest of happy days. The best bit is presenting the finished files to my customers (in person, when possible) and listening to them re-connecting to their special day as they look through the photos - in a way, that validates what I do, and re-assures me that I'm doing something valuable. The story of the day - their story - is told, and it's told with my photographs. So I haven't really got anything to rant about - I've made my bed, and I'm happy to lie in it.
To prove that I haven't lost my impish sense of humour, I'll share a true story, as recounted by high-end Australian wedding photographer, Ryan Schembri. Mr Schembri sells a package of albums - and charges A$6,000 (I'll repeat: six thousand Australian dollars) for them.
When his customers have finished saying things like "Strewth, mate! Y'serious?" and "Tie me kangaroo down, sport!", he asks them how much they paid to settle the (open) bar tab. This being Australia, where thirsts are legendary and the risk of dehydration is great, the tab is usually around A$10,000.
"Well", says Ryan, "you do realise that about seven thousand dollars worth of that didn't go home with the people who drank it. Another two thousand dollars worth parted company with the drinkers before bedtime. And the last thousand dollars woke the consumers up before sunrise and had them skipping to the dunny. By breakfast-time, all that's left is the hangover. Whereas these..", dramatic pause, while he taps the stack of albums in front of him, "these, you'll still be looking at in sixty years time. Tremendous value for money."
Have to say it, I agree with him. As I say, it's all relative.
(Meanwhile, back in the real world, I supply a range of photobooks and albums priced from £125 to £445. Just sayin'....)