As I type this, I’m dumping cards from this past weekend as an online photography workshop plays in the background. It is dull but necessary work – plugging in a card and copying it over, eject, lather, rinse, repeat. Between each card I send an email or two, slowly getting caught up on my inbox. I check Twitter and Google Reader for news; respond to Facebook comments. The little things that build up over the weekend; the little things I try to treat like the big things. The little things are the big things.
There is an oft-repeated statistic in photography: that a photographer spends an average of 40-50 hours on each wedding. This is a statistic I’ve accepted to be true, as it seems to be true. Then I wondered if it was factually true, and the answer turns out to be — pretty much!
For a recent wedding I photographed and edited, I kept a document open and recorded how long I spent on each component. Here’s the breakdown.
MEETINGS = 1 hour 45 minutes
I met with the couple twice prior to their wedding; the first meeting for an hour and the second for 45 minutes.
EMAILS = 2 hours 30 minutes
I counted up the emails and found that I’d sent them 36 over the course of planning and executing their wedding photography. Obviously some emails take longer to write than others, but if I estimate a 4 minute response time per email, that works out to 2.5 hours.
PREPPING FOR THE WEDDING = 1 hour 30 minutes
The nitty gritty day-before details. Cleaning my cameras and lenses, charging camera batteries, formatting cards, and packing my camera bags. Printing out timelines. The little things, like prepping outfits and shining shoes. Added up, that’s about 1.5 hours (though note, I only counted 15 minutes of time *changing* batteries in the charger… it definitely takes longer for the batteries to charge!)
WEDDING DAY = 9 hours 30 minutes
I spent 9.5 hours with the couple on their wedding day. That’s pretty average for me, though the pendulum has swung wildly in either direction: I’ve spent everywhere from 2 hours to 13 hours with couples on their wedding days.
PRE-PROCESSING = 4 hours 50 minutes
Downloading the cards alone takes about a half hour. Then I run through the images quickly to find a teaser image to post on Facebook (usually the same day as the wedding), then I back up the images to two different harddrives, which takes 30-40 minutes. One of the hardest/most time consuming elements of editing photos for me is culling – the part where I sort through the images, deciding what to keep and what to discard. I want to provide my clients with only the best photos from their day, but at the same time I’m a sucker for a big laugh or great expression, and I often keep what is widely considered to be too many. This wedding I made three passes through the images to make my selections, which took me over 2.5 hours. (Some photographers claim to be able to do this part in 15 minutes. I don’t understand how, but I envy them.) Finally, I back-up the images again, this time to my cloud back-up. You can never be too safe!
POST-PROCESSING / EDITING = 8 hours 45 minutes
The editing process is two-fold: first I take images into LightRoom to do basic adjustments such as colour, contrast, and cropping. LightRoom has a great “sync” feature, which helps me as I can make the same adjustments across a number of images that are lit the same way. That takes about 2.5 hours, and then exporting the high-resolution JPG files takes another full hour. From there I go to PhotoShop, where I (being kind of old-school or possibly stupid this way), hand-edit every image. Whether I’m blasting under-eye circles, making my black & white images, or giving the colours a little bit of an added pop, I want every image to be great. I use a great script called Batch+ to speed along the process, but right now it averages out to about 3 minutes per image. (I’m trying to whittle that down, honestly!) Add in creating the web-use images I provide to my clients, and all told I almost as much time processing the images as photographing them: nearly 9 hours.
BLOGGING = 3 hours
The task that seems like it should be the easiest… isn’t. Even using the great Storyboard script, it took me over an hour to compile the (too many) images that populate my blog posts. I made a few GIFs for my post, which took another 10 minutes, and then I used Adobe Bridge to write metadata to the images. 20 minutes of uploading later (and that’s on Fibre Op!), the images were in my blog software, ready to post. It took 40 minutes to write a post that I was satisfied with, and then just a quick couple of minutes to broadcast the post to Facebook and Twitter.
PROCESSING = 2 hr 30 min
By now I should be done right? Wrong. I upload the couple’s images to their private web gallery, which takes an hour (again, on Fibre Op!). I back up the images again to each of my two external harddrives, and then I burn and package the couples’s discs, which takes around 45 minutes. From there, all that’s left is delivery!
GRAND TOTAL = 34 hours 30 minutes
34 hours you say… that’s a week’s work, so I should have all of my images back within the week, right? Wrong. See here’s the thing. You (I) photograph a wedding on Saturday. On Sunday you feel like you were hit by a truck, plus it’s Sunday. Take the day off. On Monday just about everyone else is back at work, so they expect you to be, too. Catch up on emails, etc (basically what I’m doing today, at the beginning of this post), and start the pre-processing part of your workflow. By Wednesday you’re remembering that most people take *two* days off each week, so maybe you take half a day to catch up on your laundry, vacuum, and feed your cats. Thursday you’re back at it, Friday you’re prepping for Saturday’s wedding, and then BOOM, all of a sudden you have TWO weddings to juggle… multiply by anywhere from 10 to 50 weddings, and you have, roughly, the life of a wedding photographer.
What else? For the purposes of this experiment, I only counted the time I spent working with or for this particular client. This accounting of time doesn’t include things like: ordering products; emailing and meeting with other clients; prepping for and executing other photo shoots; writing other blog posts (my 2012 goal was to write at least 3 each week, and this one alone has taken over an hour so far!); keeping on top of my receipts for taxes; and other things I can’t even think of right now!
So that’s it! This particular wedding took me nearly 35 hours to see to completion, and depending on how long I spend with the couple, I agree that anywhere from 20 – 50 hours could be accurate. Fortunately for me, added experience and investment in quality equipment and software means that this is a huge improvement over where I started out 2 years ago! My first clients (bless them!) waited 4 – 6 months for their wedding photographs. These days my goal is to deliver a final product within 8 weeks. With every new wedding; with every year of experience under my belt, I get better, faster, (stronger?).
Hopefully you enjoyed this peek inside my oh-so-glamorous life! Photographers: if you have any tips and tricks to do things even better, I’m all ears! And now… back to the photos!