What is the real cost of your photography workflow?

The workflow, presentation and sales methods and practices are an integral part of any photography business. However, they can also be costly.

In the last post, I raised the issue of the òreal cost‘ of photography.

As a youthful photography enthusiast, I thought professional photography was a pretty lucrative business. My contacts on photography business forums were charging anywhere between $1,000 USD to $15,000 USD for a wedding and I couldn’t believe the mark-up.

Great, I thought! So I just work for 8-12 hours one weekend, polish up the photos in Photoshop, and then sell the prints to my client at a huge profit ì maybe 70-90% higher than the price of printing. And I get paid for my weekend work!

This was all true ì but after quite a few long nights with Photoshop, I realised that my calculations had neglected one element ì I hadn’t counted the cost of my time as well as the learning curve.


Today I want to present a simple example to illustrate the costs associated with doing a single wedding. Weddings are relatively simple from a business and workflow perspective in comparison to other types of photography. They are a little more stressful because if you stuff it up… it’s not good, but generally, they’re straight forward and repetitive. Ask any seasoned professional photographer, traditionally, weddings are the bread and butter of your business, especially when you’re starting out.

Let’s consider the following example:You agree to shoot Bill and Jane’s wedding. You offer them a package which includes your time for 8 hours on the day, a set of printed proofs, 25 5×7″ prints, 8 8×12″ prints and 1 16×20″ print. You also explain that you will place the proofs online for friends and family to view and find the image numbers and email you so the prints can be ordered and shipped. You offer this package for $1,850.

You need to keep track of every hour you spend working on Bill and Jane’s wedding.

In this example, your time was used as follows:

  • Driving to wedding (0.5 hours)
  • Shooting the wedding (8.0 hours)
  • Driving home from wedding (0.5 hours)
  • Downloading images to computer (0.25 hours)
  • Making duplicates (backups) of original files (0.5 hours)
  • Post processing of photos (12.0 hours) – you took around 700 photos and are going to provide Bill and Jane with 150
  • Preparing images for web presentation (2.0 hours) – This is basically resizing images to lower resolution
  • Uploading images to website & making it look pretty (2.0 hours)
  • Sending order for 150 proofs to print house (1.0 hour)
  • Speaking with Bill & Jane, managing their order(s) as well as any orders from friends and family (approx 5.0 hours in total)
  • Managing the shipping and billing of all orders (3.0 hours)
  • Misc (5.0 hours)

Total time spent: 39.75 hours

The cost of printing and shipping the 150 proofs to Bill and Jane is $0.90 per print (you are using a reputable professional print house, printing on archival paper on commercial grade Lambda or similar printers). $0.90 x 150 + $12.00 (shipping) = $147.00.

Once the entire package is delivered printing and shipping costs are:

Proofs as above = $147.00
$1.35 x 25 (5×7″ prints) = $33.75
$3.50 x 8 (8×12″ prints) = $28.00
$7.00 x 1 (16×20″ print) = $7.00
Shipping = $12.00
Total for prints: $218.25

You can’t forget the costs of your equipment, fuel for the car, paying an assistant, and general business operating costs:

Fuel = $15.00
Wear and Tear on equipment (depreciation) = $50.00
Assistant = $120 ($15/hr)
Business Insurance = $35 – this is based on a $2000/yr cost
Equipment Insurance = $20 – this is based on a $1040/yr cost
Marketing material = $5 – this is a very small marketing budget approx $260/yr
Misc = $35 – there’s lots of expenses we haven’t covered here
Total operating costs: $280.00

Now we take the package price of $1,850, subtract the print and materials cost of $218.25 and the operating cost of $280.00 and then divide the result by the number of hours worked (39.75):

1,850 – 218.25 – 280.00 / 39.75 = $34.00 per hour. This equates approximately $70,720.00 per annum. Now this isn’t really your salary, you have to put some money back into the business. Let’s say you put $10,000 per annum back into the business. your hourly rate drops to $29.20 and your take home salary would be $60,720.00 per annum. It gets worse. From the salary you need to deduct tax and money for your retirement plan. That will leave you with much less in reality.

The above example is just that. An example. All calculations are based on doing 1 wedding such as the one above each week for 52 weeks. A photographer just starting out isn’t going to have this much business and an established photographer is likely to have much more business than this but also higher expenses.


How can you increase your photography income?

You should always be endeavoring to improve your photography and editing skills. This boosts the “quality” of your product which as was discussed in my last post, will generate more business and therefore more income.

Streamline your workflow. In the example above you spent 12 hours on post processing. More experienced digital photographers might spend less time as well as achieve better results. This comes with learning and experience as well as trial and error.

Raise your prices. This is always an option. Especially if your work is good.

It’s my belief however, that skill alone will not solve these problems entirely.

I believe that in this era of digital photography, we need to rethink the way we deal with photographs. We’re still struggling because we’re still working from the mindset of traditional photography. My feeling is that we need to start using digital technology not only to shoot and edit ì we need to start using digital technology along the whole workflow.

Sure, in the end, customers are always going to want a picture they can hang on their wall. But there’s a lot more we can do with digital technology from shooting to printing that will help us take better photos and produce more efficient, valuable images.

I have much more to say on the topic of streamlining your workflow and the use of digital technology, especially when it comes to using the Internet to your advantage. Stay tuned over the coming weeks.

So let’s hear it ¶ how can we start using digital technology more to improve our efficiency? Any ideas? Anything you’ve tried?

Leave me a comment ì I’m looking forward to hearing your ideas.

Written by

Derek is Engineering Czar and Co-founder of Fotomerchant. He once picked up a camera and started shooting but everyone screamed so he stopped.

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  • Kel

    Great Post – I’ve got a friend who’s a budding photographer…I’ll send her this link.



  • Kel,

    Thanks. There’s plenty more to come.


  • Hi Derek,

    Great start to a blog – and I’m looking forward to hearing more on your ideas.

    One way that professional photographers can both speed up their workflow and therefore either shoot more, or have more free time is to outsource their post-processing. Trusting someone to process the digital files is a big leap, but once done the free time empowers photographers to be just that – photographers. At Times Two Studios we can handle all the post-production from camera to print ready files including all the cool art images that photographers love – then all they have to do is upload to a service like the one you are proposing and they are done!



  • Mike,

    Thanks for your comments. Your post-production service looks interesting. I think I’ll look into it some more.


  • Sunshine8

    After working in the photographic industry for more than 17 years I think you have too many processes and do not charge nearly enough for your work..
    If you have a portfolio to show your clients then they would be aware of the quality that you can produce. My advise to you is to print off contact sheets for them to pick which images they want, or download them to the web as is without any work being done on them. This will drastically reduce the amount of work you have created for yourself. I am in the U.K and would not even consider using a photographer that charges as little as you have for your prints. If you are indeed a great photographer I would at least treble your prices for a start.. and find a regular printer who will give you at least 20% off the cost of printing.

  • Sunshine,

    Thanks for your comments. I agree, if you’re photos are good, they will speak for themselves.

    I have edited to the post to include “raising your prices” as a possible solution, however, in giving the example above, I was also trying to illustrate (maybe not clearly enough) the true cost of shooting a wedding. Many photographers charge much less than this for a wedding. Some charge more.


  • elmo

    I have worked with video and Photography and the best thing you can do is shoot manually and not automatic. Anyone taking automatic pictures at a wide frame and say they can zoom in afterwards to get the framing they want is screwing the client over on quality. A Digital Photographer took Pictures at my buddies wedding and I was standing up. He did just that and Luckily I took pictures at the same time. He shot digital and I shot film, less room for error since I can’t go back and look at the photos. He took pictures without back-focusing and when they compared his to my outdated camera with a cheaper lens they preferred mine. In fact most of the pictures they have up in their house from their wedding are the ones I took. I focused set my F-stop and properly framed and I got pictures that were that much better. His Camera was probably 4k more expensive than mine. Whats the point of having a sports car if your not going to race it.

    With that said, It’s about taking quality shots so there is little need for post. Working with video it’s so often that people say “You can just fix it in Post.” Having worked as an editor and worked with graphics the more you do in post is where you need to Charge more. Post can not ever be overlooked.

    The sad thing for video and photography is too many charge too little. A lot of college students get out and say hey I can undercut everyone else and make quick cash. This will not Change. Market yourself as a professional and Charge like one and your targeted audience will come to you but you better be able to back it up.