Ah yes, the perennial question I get asked by potential clients, family members and friends. Why do photos cost so much? Anyone can pick up a camera and take a picture, right? Why should we pay you money that we could be using for other things? Over a grand for wedding coverage? That's crazy! Everyone there will be taking pictures!
Here's a bit of hard truth though: a picture is not a professional photo, and you're paying for more than just someone to press a shutter.
Consider these two photos. They were taken within the same hour of one another, and in the same lighting and location, with similar cameras. If the hypothesis of anyone being able to take a good photo if given the chance was correct, they would look almost identical in lighting and style. They do not. One was taken by a random guest at my good friend Lindz's wedding, whilst the other one was taken by me, the person she hired to take photos of her wedding day. When you're paying a photographer to shoot your wedding, or your portrait, you are paying for more than just the operation of a camera, but that is part of it.
1- Time: Photographers (and other creative professionals) have the same amount of time in a day that you do. At your job, you might be salaried, but many people are paid an hourly rate for what is generally an 8 hour day. Depending on where you are, the minimum wage (or rate for unskilled labour) varies. In Nova Scotia, where I live, it's 10.10$. Not as bad as in a lot of places in the states, but certainly not a fantastic rate. However, there is a key word related to the minimum wage: Unskilled labour. Skills and schooling are supposed to be rewarded in the business system by higher rates of compensation to offset their experience and skill.
I, and most other reputable photographers, have experience, skill, and education behind us. There are many photographers who do not have these, and still charge for their services, however their lack of skill is usually evidenced in their less than stellar portfolios, and deserve to have our experience and skill compensated.
In addition, the time we spend actually shooting the day of your wedding (or your portrait session) is not reflective of all the time we will actually spend on your wedding. In addition to the day of shooting, there is pre-day prep, consultation time, communication, transportation, and post-day work, such as editing, uploading, and organizing. Editing especially takes a huge chunk of time. For each 8 hour day of shooting I probably spend close to 48-60 hours or more editing the photos. (That is a conservative estimate of how much time editing takes.)
2- Equipment: Photography is not a cheap business to be in. Everything costs a tonne of money, cameras least of all. Lighting, lighting modifiers, batteries, memory cards, straps and bags are the physical things, but there are also lots of non-physical costs. Website hosting, editing software, storage, backup systems, these all cost money, which comes directly out of our fees, and thus reduces our overall takehome from a job.
3- Assistants: Most wedding photographers I know, myself included, work with a second shooter/assistant at a wedding. I could write a whole post about the importance of assistants and second shooters (and probably will in the future) but they're indispensable.
If you've shot a wedding with me, you've probably met the girl in this picture, obscured by the camera Amanda. She's awesome, and makes the wedding day go so smoothy.
Amanda does double duty for me as both a second shooter for weddings, and a lighting assistant on portrait shoots. She also suggests poses, helps direct the subject, and helps me with all of my bookkeeping and clerical tasks for the business. She's pretty much awesome.
But she also deserves to be paid for her time, work, and expertise. So that comes out of it as well.
4- Quality: The final thing that you're paying for is quality. You could go hire any budget
photographer or ask a family friend with a camera to do it, but you will be missing out on the quality that a professional photographer provides. All of the time, experience, and skills that were mentioned above combine into images that are much higher in quality than what someone can produce with their point and shoot or take on automatic mode on their DSLR.
So is a professional photographer worth the money that you spend on them? If they're reputable and skilled, definitely. I like to apply the same situation to other elements outside of the creative professional sphere. Would you want someone to hire a professor at a university purely because they're the cheapest out there, or do you want them to be the most knowledgeable about the subject? Do you want a doctor because they're cheap, or do you want them to be competent at medicine?
Why would you want to go with the cheapest creative option instead of securing the best quality of product that you can? At the end of the day, much of the cost of your wedding photographer gets eaten up by the costs of being a photographer, leaving our hourly rate much smaller than what our fees would suggest. We need to eat too! :)