As a professional wedding photographer, let me explain a little bit of the details.
First – You say that “Equipment costs can be written off at tax time so I don’t count those expenditures….”
Well, I’m not sure how a write off at tax time magically makes us earn more money. The write off ONLY means we don’t have to pay additional taxes on that amount of income, but it is still spent. Most photographers take advantage of these ‘write offs’ by purchasing new camera bodies (at least) or multiple new lenses every single year. Upwards of $20,000 is very possible, I spent well over that last year on new gear. Idealy we’ll only spend around 10k on our gear matainence and upgrades every year.
Now, if we manage to book 3 weddings every single month you are probably assuming we work 36 days (360 hours) a year and make 100k+, right? A wedding rarely takes less than 2 weeks to edit, dedicating a minimum of 4 hours a day to it. Downloading the cards, touchups, editing, resizing, recropping and preparing 800+ images for web AND print and then accepting orders, creating prints, designing albums and ordering them, shipping and presentation of final product, and FINALLY keeping up with the bookkeeping and records while trying to keep an up to date web presence and emailing and meeting with other potential clients!
Now, having a professional website, blogsite, or other web presence can easily cost thousands per year. If you expect us to somehow shoot 3 weddings a month and still have time to code and update our own website, you must think we’re non-human, we have to sleep too and sometimes we get a break to eat. So, we purchase templates, webhosting, and design services.
Advertising is the single most exhausting and expensive part of our business. We have an image to keep up. Most wedding fairs cost over $5000 and we can’t do only one. Most bridal magazines and online ads cost around $500 a quarter, and we can’t have just one!
Not to mention studio/office rentals. A couple thousand a month, plus utilities.
What about the product our clients receive in that $3k wedding package? Most will get some prints and an album, that costs us money too! We don’t get amazing deals on your amazing albums. If you think Walmart’s pricing is what we actually pay on our prints, you are also wrong. We pay a premium for your professional prints, and if we print them ourselves we have to purchase and maintain the equipment and well as continual purchase of the ink and paper!
So if your final thought is we work about 360 hours in a year and make 100k you’ll be shocked to realize we are the hardest working vendor at your wedding, physically and mentally, we work around 10 hours a day/7 days a week (about 10x as many hours as you assume we do, 3640 hours) and if we’re so lucky to book 36 weddings a year (more like 10-20 for the average wedding photographer) we’re only making around the average salary for the US. And we still have to cover our personal expenses with that as well as pay federal/state income tax on it.
So basically, we work really hard and don’t really get paid that much, but we do it because we LOVE IT!