Are Cheap Craigslist Weddings Killing the Wedding Photography Business?

Photo by foilman

I have a friend who came over to talk to me the other day about his wedding photography business. He is trying to find new ways to get his services in front of new customers so he was investigating different options, like social media. I have been giving him some tips about Facebook and Twitter and website design to help broaden his market footprint. Somewhere along the line, he got the idea that he should look into advertising on Craigslist.

Well yesterday he called me and I could tell he was kind of upset. I asked what was wrong and he said “Jeff, do you know what they are charging for weddings on Craigslist? How can I compete with a $300 wedding?” I told him flat out that he can’t, nor should he. It took me a few minutes to get through to him but when I did, he finally saw the light. I asked him if he thought that the people that were hiring a $300 wedding photographer would pay $2500 for the same service. Probably not. That’s means that he isn’t really competing for those customers. His customer is the one that recognizes the value of a true professional that will deliver professional results. Get that? The key word here is professional.

My friend has been shooting weddings for years and he does fantastic work. He is all about service and quality and it is reflected in the price he charges. His customers are the ones that are A – looking for that type of high-quality service, and B – able to afford it. Those customers are out there, even if they aren’t falling out of the trees at the moment.

I also told him not to be too upset with the people that are only charging low-low rates for their service because A – not everyone can afford a $2500+ wedding photographer but that doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve wedding photos, and B – the people that are shooting at those prices are probably not going to last too long in the business.

So here’s what I told him to do. If he wants to advertise on Craigslist, put his lowest package on there like Wedding prices starting from $2500 and then put a link to his website so they can see the quality of his work. Once they do some comparison shopping, the ones that can afford his services will respond. And don’t hate on Uncle Bob and his new camera. He too serves a purpose.

Of course these are just my opinions and you might have some that are very different. If so, please feel free to share them, but don’t be a hater.

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    • fred navagato

      as a professional wedding photographer I will say that non-professional photographesr have hurt the industry of the working professional photographer. anyone can buy a 21 megapixel camera and a MacBook Pro Computer and “get into the photography business” but just remember “you pay for what you get”

  • http://www.bycostello.com/contact.html bycostello

    some people will shop on price and some on quality… market to which segment you want to focus on…

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  • http://www.symplyphotography.co.uk sharon mallinson

    The situation is not helped by the price drop of professional grade equipment and the software etc that is out there these days. The supply pool is extremely saturated.

    • http://www.revellphotography.com jeff

      That’s true Sharon but we also know that buying a Ferrari doesn’t make us better drivers. That’s why I think it is so important for people to market themselves well and really show off what they are capable of delivering. What is it they say, the proof is in the pudding.

    • http://www.canonblogger.com Jason

      I disagree – the supply or availability of gear is not the problem, because it’s not the camera that takes the picture. Without meaning to cast dispersions on CL, but people that shop Craigslist are more often than not ones that do not understand the fundamental principle that:

      It’s not the gear, it’s who’s behind it!

      If a pro who normally charges $2500 for a wedding feels threatened by a newcomer charging $300, it’s simply one of two things: A.) He’s over-charging for the quality of his work, or B)he is feeling threatened due to shortsidedness.

      It sounds like in Jeff’s case, his friend is on the B side of that equation. Thankfully, Jeff helped him understand this.

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  • hasi

    It’s about time prices got into line. I mean, really, $2500 to take pictures of a guy being enslaved for life? Let’s get real here.

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  • http://www.flowingcolor.com Al

    “people that are shooting at those prices are probably not going to last too long in the business.”

    I’m a “CL warrior”…. I have a full-time job and I’m sure a high percentage of CL people have full-time jobs too. I think we work for people type of clients with different budgets. Clients that come from CL are usually on a very tight budget so they will look at price closely.

    Now even DJ companies provide a “photographer” for a few extra bucks…. so we’re all screwed =)

  • http://lightavenue.smugmug.com Michael Rose

    I agree with Jeff’s statements but some photographers just want to remind the fly by night photographers that there is this “thing” called “cost of doing business”. :0)
    Some of the established photographers in California are reporting the $300 wedding photographers to the state board of equalization and IRS. Secondly, the IRS has figured out that they can simply Google “Wedding Photographers Sacramento”(example) and find tons of photographers (websites) not reporting income to the IRS. On top of that, your tax burden will be assessed by using the average income of a licensed wedding photographer in your area. Ouch!

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  • http://mikemeyerphotopro.wordpress.com Mike Meyer

    One thing that is also in play here is location. In rural America $300 is a lot of money for the wedding photos. In New York City you probably couldn’t get the Photographers 3rd string assistant to show up for $300. Different market, different prices. Also I am sure that you will get more finished product for $2500 because at $300 you can barely make a cd and proof prints for that much unless you are taking you images to Wal-Mart (read that as Rural America).
    Remember folks; you get what you pay for, hopefully.

    Mike Meyer

  • Mo

    I’ve heard this argument before. My question is if i were to shoot my first wedding as a main photographer for the first time, how much should i charge? Everyone seems to have an opinion about these photographers who charge low but what is a reasonable price to started with? Certainly i can’t start out charging $2500+ if i’m just starting my business.

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  • http://www.casherhaggertyphotography.com Cash H

    I totally concur with Jeff on this one! No different then any other part of someone making a decision about what and how much money to spend on a thing or a service. We all operate with a budget, folks that cannot spend even $300 on a wedding photographer get a friend to take the photos for free! So, there is room for everyone, the folks that charge little or even do it for free continue to reinforce the notion that you most certainly get what you pay for in the end. The biggest expense in my wedding was the photographer, and he screwed all the photos up! I would have rather had a 2 year old running around with a Polaroid. But I think that more times than not, the free or cheap wedding photographer help prove our point wrt you get what you pay for. In the end they really prove that it is not the camera that makes great wedding photos, but he photographer.

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  • Bryan

    It has been said here before and it’s one of the first lessons my sales manager offered me when I started in sales, and that is never compete on price you will end up working for free. Pick up one of the many books on sales and it will go a long way to help you in any career you choose. There has been many times in my life where I was looking for someone to provide a service and figured it’s all the same so I will pay he cheapest but then I was shown by somebody who charged more the difference between him and the cheap guy and it was huge once he showed me.. Show your potential clients the difference between you and the other guy. It’s a wedding for god sake, girls dream of this day from the time they start dreaming are you going to let them trust a once in a lifetime moment to a 300$ photographer? Their new life starts that day and they are going to trust it to craigslst? The same site that has spawned murders rapes and fraud? Make a list of what you can do for them and what makes a pro differnet from a craigslist photog. Find ways to justify the higher price. You would be surprised how many people who can’t afford more than 300$ can afford 2000 grand once they see the light. Contrary to what some may say there is a difference between a BMW and a Chevy that goes beyond price and emblem. Be the BMW.

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  • Jane

    Everyone has to start somewhere, as someone said earlier. If you are just starting out in the business, craigslist is a great place to start get some work and charge people fairly for what they recieve. And just because you’re advertising on CL doesn’t mean you’re not paying taxes, I did! CL has been a great stepping stone for me to build my portfolio, and at the same time my clients recieved pictures at a reasonable rate. I think the right to charge more comes with experience.
    My personal wedding was extremely small, I paid a friends dad to take pictures on his dlsr, and we were happy with that as we didn’t have much money to spend at the time. I think it’s true you pay for what you get, but if you don’t want much then you can go to craigslist, and you may find a diamond in the rough! (i.e. someone with great talent but not much experience!)

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  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/thewinfields/ Dave W.

    This is a great article because it looks evenly at both sides. You do get what you pay but as a starting shooter you need to charge something. You may get great equipment, you may get great service, and you may get really lucky and get great photos from the CL shooter. But you are, as the bride, taking a chance. As one person said, it’s better to have something than nothing and if all you can afford is $300 and a DVD full of JPGs this is the expectation you need to set or expect.

    If your pictures are in demand then prices automatically goes up because of the demand.

    Thanks for putting this into perspective.

  • amanda

    yes I no how much will he pay for my wedding plez help

  • Michael G. Yanko

    we’ve thrown some ads on our local Craigslist with absolutely stupid low prices just to gauge the traffic… not a single call! I don’t think your friend has anything to worry about with CL, nobody is shopping for wedding photographers there :D

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