Life of a Wedding Photographer | Business Expenses

One of my goals for the blog in 2017 is to be more transparent about the behind the scenes of CWP. As a finance major in college, I find the business side of being a wedding photographer to be one of the most fun parts. (Yes, I realize how nerdy that just sounded.) I love reading about how other people run their businesses (communication wiz, Jessica Lawlor, just did a similar post!) so hopefully you might find this interesting as well!

Since we are in the heat of tax season (Ugh.), I thought it would be appropriate to talk about Business Expenses! Running a wedding photography business is not cheap. There are so many expenses to running a business that I don’t think many people are aware of when they see me and my smiling face on a wedding day and envy my job.

Below is a breakdown of my business expenses in 2016. This is a rough sketch, mainly to show you: (1) where my money goes and (2) what percentage goes to what category.

One thing to mention right off the bat: 2016 looked VERY different than in years passed. I am a much more established wedding photographer than I was in pre-2016 so my Equipment & Education sections are MUCH, MUCH lower than they used to be. In the first couple years while building my business, I’d say 90% of my expenses were buying new camera equipment and investing in education.

Website & Marketing

We’ll start with the smallest category : ) To be honest, I don’t do a ton of paid marketing. Most of my clients come from referrals from past clients/vendors and I LOVE that. I find that these bride and grooms are more likely than not my “ideal client,” rather than a couple who might find me elsewhere. I use blogging and social media to attract dream clients and help current clients get to know me better. So, this category mostly includes: domain names, web hosting, design templates, and MailChimp.

Computer Software

This includes: Adobe Creative Cloud (think: Lightroom & Photoshop), 17Hats (a client management software I use for sending contracts, questionnaires, invoices, etc.), and Pixieset (client photo delivery and cloud storage). All just necessary parts of being a photographer.

Client Gifts

One of my favorite categories and money invested! I love gifting my clients. Over 5% of their wedding package is invested right back into them! I know how big of an investment I am to my clients and that is something I don’t take lightly. I want to give back, surprise them and make them feel special at every chance I get!

Contract Labor

As in, my second photographers/assistants on a wedding day. So thankful for everything they do!

Education

I really believe in investing in education and have been so fortunate to learn from other photographer’s and small business owners. In 2016, though, I was really working to find my own voice and my own style so I backed away from what everyone around me was doing. Going forward in 2017 and 2018, I think I’m going to set a budget for this category because I am so tempted by education resources!

Meals & Travel

I drive sooooo muchhhhhhh haha. So yeah. This is basically just gas mileage, tolls, parking for shoots, Ubers if I don’t feel like driving, and the money I spend stocking up on water and snacks for the wedding day.

Equipment & Repair

As mentioned above, I didn’t really buy too much equipment this year. I’m really focused on mastering the equipment I have and trying not to get sucked into buying the “latest and greatest” on the market. In 2016, I did spend money on a new camera bag, a couple hard drives for photo storage, and on building a “wedding day emergency kit,” complete with: fabrics for styling details, nice coat hangers for the wedding dress, hair ties, bobby pins, hair spray, sewing kit, Advil, etc. You just never know what you’re going to need on the big day! Cue: most prepared photographer.

Oh, and I get my equipment cleaned/repaired once a year in the spring : )

Office

I *FINALLY* got myself a new desk chair this Fall. Believe it or not, I had the most uncomfortable tiny chair that I was sitting on for hours and years of editing. What was I thinking? Best money ever spent. I also finally got a little box to organize & store receipts by month. Few! Working from home, I’m allowed to write off a portion of my rent, electricity, internet, cell phone bills as part of my home office expenses.

Health Insurance

One of the major downsides about working for yourself: paying for your own health insurance. That giant chunk you see only includes: the health insurance premiums I pay every month and then the Equipment & Liability insurance I have in case anyone gets hurt while on a photo shoot (hopefully this never ever happens but most wedding venues require me to have it).

Note: this does not include all the money I have to spend on doctors/dentist appointments and prescriptions because my insurance basically covers nothing haha. Thumbs up to being your own boss in the USA…

Taxes

Oh the joy. Basically 25-35% of everything I make goes straight to the government. I now set aside money for taxes monthly so I don’t get surprised at the end of each quarter/year (oops. I’ve made that mistake before.). It’s really eye opening to see in a visual way just HOW MUCH of my income goes to taxes.

So there you go! That’s basically where my money went in 2016. I expect 2017 to look pretty similar except Contract Labor will be a much bigger category as more of my couples have added on a second photographer this year and I’ll also be bringing on someone to help me edit! Wahoo!

What surprised you most about this post? Any ideas for future “life of a wedding photographer” posts? I’d love any feedback you have!

4 comments
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  • I love reading about finances so loved this post!  It’s interesting to see what your expenses are and how big of a piece of the pie they are. I hear you on taxes taking such a HUGE chunk!  One question I have is whether you utilize a SEP retirement plan?ReplyCancel

    • Caroline

      Just looked into this briefly and it looks like I should definitely be doing this!! Thanks! I’m going to look into this more now and keep you updated.ReplyCancel

  • This is so fascinating! Thanks for giving us a glimpse into your biz expenses!
    Taxes, man. They are so rough!
    Lisa brings up a great point! My accountant just recommended me opening a SEP IRA, which I recently did. Feels good to be putting some money aside for the future.ReplyCancel

    • Caroline

      I may pick your brain on the SEP IRA! I’ve been looking into it and I definitely think that’s where I need to be. If you have any tips for setting one up or how much to contribute, etc. please let me know!! Thanks Jess!ReplyCancel

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