California Sales Tax Explained (as it pertains to photography).
What the f*** does sales tax have to do with wedding photos? Well, it is complicated… kind of. So here’s the deal. If you and the photographer you hire live in California, that photographer needs to collect sales tax for the State if they deliver anything tangible associated with their photo work. If you spend $5k on photography for your wedding, and your photographer sends you a thank you print of a wedding image they need to collect sales tax. If you buy a few 8X10 prints to send to family, or if something tangible is included in your wedding package, tax should be collected. In these situations, tax is due on all $5k of services and goods. CA sales tax is about 7.25%- about 9.25% depending on where you are located and where your photographer is. If you are paying 9.25% on $5k, you are looking at an additional $462. It might not be a big deal, but it is something to consider.
Photography is not the same as going to get your car repaired.
You might think that this sounds weird. When you go to get your car fixed, you pay tax on the parts, but not on the service. So why can’t you just pay sales tax on the prints or albums and not on the photography service? Photography is not like auto mechanics. You can buy a new radiator without having a shop install it. You can not buy a print of your grandma dancing at your wedding without the photographer making that image. Because the goods can not be separated from the service, it is all taxable.
My friend hired a photographer who gave them prints and didn't charge sales tax.
If your photographer is delivering tangible goods to you, you both live in CA, and they are not charging you sales tax, they are either paying it out of their own pocket, or more likely, not paying the State and rolling the dice that they won’t get caught. Also, if you live outside of CA, and the prints/ album/ tangibles are shipped to you at your out of state address, your photographer does not need to collect sales tax.
Situations when sales tax is not collected / exceptions.
If you do not receive anything tangible from your photographer, and there is not expectation that you will be receiving anything, no sales tax is due. Meaning that if I send you digital files, I don’t need to collect tax for the State. If after a year, you decide that you actually would like an album, you would just pay tax on the album. Also, if you did not purchase prints or albums, but a friend or family member did, you would not have to pay tax. If you made your own prints from digital files your photographer sent you, you would still be in the clear.
If you want to read further (but why would you?), here is the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration guide for photographers.