The lack of pride is not in their pricing, it is in the fact that they don’t ensure the quality of the prints. You know as well as I do that where you get your prints done greatly affects the look of the image. I consider it a matter of personal pride that I prep all of my images for print, choose a supplier with a color managed workflow and who uses archival materials, I UV coat any image larger than a 5×7 to maximize their longevity and when the prints come in, I inspect them, and if, for any reason, I’m not happy, they get reprinted. I provide a CD of web images that they can use for Facebook and blogs, but if it gets printed, I want to make sure that it will be up to my standards and that my work will outlast the client. This is why I would never hand a client a CD, but I do at least understand why they do.
To better explain the cost issue, here is a cost breakdown of a $2500 wedding:
$375 social security tax (including medicare and fica)
$475 federal income tax
$210 state income tax
$250 assistant pay
$150 proof set
$295 album cost
Making my grand total after everything is said and done $695 for 20 hours of work at the reception and 20 hours of work between prep and post. Making my grand total pay per hour $17.38. And I have to pay my business expenses out of that. I don’t make a profit on the wedding itself, I only start to make money when they buy prints.
Things have changed a lot since I was starting out, no one in their right mind would have charged $500 for a wedding back in the days I was starting out. It cost you $1 every time you pushed the shutter release. If I brought 15 rolls of film for the whole wedding it would cost me $540. You did weddings at cost to get going, which meant usually charging $750 to $1000.
Yes, in an ideal world where one could hire a competent photographer for 15 hours for $500 bucks, there is nothing wrong with that. But if you do that, you’re self employed, and they’ll tax you for 40% of that, or more. After expenses you’re looking at making around $150 for your 40 hours of work. That is what most photographers do to get the word of mouth going, but once you start down that road you are going to be going along it for a long time, because people not only talk about quality, they talk about price. Everyone they talk to will be expecting a $500 wedding as well.
Faced with this reality, most photographers who consistently charge $500 for a wedding cut corners, they don’t pay taxes, they deliver unsorted and unedited images on a DVD. If they don’t, they quickly realize just why it costs thousands of dollars for a wedding.
You keep bringing up how it is “the content of the photo that is important,” so allow me to address that, if the quality of the photo was of no concern, why not just ask everyone in the audience to bring their point and shoot cameras and fire away during the wedding. It is because the quality of the photo really greatly affects how that memory is remembered. As I have stated, when I shoot a wedding or an event, I am a lot more lax in some of my technical requirements in lieu of the content of the shot. I am much more likely to pull or push a shot a stop or more to keep it because of its emotional impact. But as a photographer, if you are any kind of photographer at all, you should be at least as invested in the quality of the shot as your client is in the content. This is what you do, and they are paying you to do it. No one is perfect, you’re gonna have to deliver a few shots that are less than perfect. I usually recommend that a photographer shoot professionally for 5 years or more before attempting a wedding. They are full of moments that happen only once and last few seconds or less. If you endeavor to shoot that day for someone you should be solid and consistent enough that you can get a good shot on a moment’s notice without having to consciously think about it. The important thing in a car is that it runs, but if you’re a mechanic, it is your job to make sure it not only runs, but runs well.
As a computer programmer, you already know that file management is as personal as a fingerprint. When I deliver files I usually change the prefix and keep the four digit extension. Because almost all of my shooting is for other people, the system you describe would make it impossible for me to find anything. I can’t remember what month of what year I shot Jane Smith, let alone the day and which shoot of that day it was. I’ve worked out a system that allows me to put my fingers on any raw or processed file, with or without watermark, I’ve shot in the eight years since I started doing work with digital. I can find it by file name if they have it, date if they have that, or just by the type of shoot and the client’s name, all in a minute or less. Sounds like you’d hate my system, hundreds and hundreds of folders nested inside one another. (type of shoots(senior, family, wedding, fashion, tests, editorial, etc.), alphabetic breakdown by last name (a-e, f-j, etc.), last name of client, year and month of shoot (if more than one), folders for raw, catalogs, final export, and mastered images for both print and web, and more subfolders inside them for long shoots like weddings. Everything more than two years old are arrived with a searchable database that lets me find what disc the files are located on. I have a similar system for keeping track of negatives and prints from my film days as well.
A good system, in my option, is one that works extremely well for you, but is intuitive enough that someone else who needed to find something on your computer could. Mine are rigidly defined studio wide because I need any assistants or associate photographers that work with me to conform to those standards, but this also lets them find images if they need them.