HOW TO INVEST IN YOUR WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY
It's about more than hiring someone to hold a camera and snap a few pics. Wedding photography is about carefully crafting and capturing the moments of your big day in a way that beautifully tells the story of your love.
If you are asking, “how much does wedding photography cost?” or “how much should I spend on my wedding photographer?” You are in the right place!
So, where to start? Everyone has a different perspective on how to approach the average cost of a wedding photographer. While magazines and blogs will tell you to spend either a specific amount or even a certain percentage, we have a different approach.
Our advice is that a little more based on your values and on making sure you get the quality you’ll be happy with.
Once you read this post about “how much do wedding photographers cost”, you’ll be equipped with the knowledge for your wedding photography.
HOW MUCH DOES WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY COST?
To start, the average cost of a wedding photographer is going to vary based on three things: experience, location, and values of the photographer. The problem with “average” is that it takes into account people who didn’t care and found off of some craigslist ad and those who tell you to use a random percentage. Average does not take your needs into account. You actually don’t want an average wedding photographer, you want the RIGHT wedding photographer(s) for YOU specifically!
Instead, you should be asking “How much does a wedding photographer cost, that also focuses on what we value as a couple?” If you approach it from this mindset, you start to find photographers that you love instead of just seeing what everyone else spent on their photographer. You know you’ll be getting those irreplaceable moments back to you and the details of the day.
Let’s break down the cost of a wedding photographer by experience & what to expect:
At this stage, the photographer might just be starting off. They probably have never photographed a wedding.
What to expect: This is honestly risky, it’s kind of a gamble. You may luck out and find someone who was born to do it, or you’ll feel incredibly awkward in front of the camera and miss a ton of things you will want to see years from now. Gear is entry-level – they most likely do not have a flash.
At this stage, the photographer may have photographed a wedding however they might be still trying to develop their style and as well as consistency.
What to expect: Hopefully you can look at one of their past weddings, so you can get at least some ease of mind. They likely are still developing their posing techniques and may be very inexperienced with lighting and other problem-solving skills.
At this stage, the photographer is photographing weddings fairly regularly, they may have a specific style but have not honed in on their niche.
What to expect: This photographer has probably started investing in good gear, backups, and furthering education. They should have some sort of portfolio, but it will likely not be focused on weddings and will give you some insight as to what to expect.
At this stage, the photographer has refined their style, is photographing full time, and has a demand based on style/expertise.
What to expect: They are known for what they do and have an established style. They will learn about your needs; make you feel cared for and will deliver incredibly high-quality photographs.
HOW MUCH SHOULD I SPEND ON WEDDING PORTRAITS?
So, what’s the quick answer to “how much should I spend on wedding portraits?”
The short answer is that a wedding photographer can cost between $0 and all the way up to $20k+!
Honestly, that’s a massive span. But stay with me here, it depends on several factors that play into how much demand any given photographer has, and correspondingly how much you’ll need to pay for a wedding photographer.
For a while, the popular advice was that you should spend between 10-15% of your wedding budget on photography but that’s a little too one size fits…some. You should focus on the value that you really want and will be happy with decades from now. That way you get the comfort and stress-free coverage you actually want.
What we want most for you is to focus on the value that you really want and will be happy with in the long run, and then after that, determine your price range. That way, you get what you really want!
So, what influences affect how much wedding photographers' costs are?
WHY DOES WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY COST SO MUCH?
Honestly – you get what you pay for. When a photographer is especially talented, the demand goes up for them, which raises their price because it is impossible for them to be everyone’s wedding photographer. At a certain point, they have to raise the prices or dilute the experience they offer, and if they dilute the experience, they are no longer offering the same service.
Let’s take a look at the determining factors in wedding photography costs:
Like with real estate, location is incredibly important in relation to price. If you live in an area like Washington D.C., it’s not unheard of to pay $20,000 for a wedding photographer because the cost of living is so incredibly high. If you compare that to California you can likely get a luxury photographer for half that. Typically, the larger the city and the higher the medium level of income, the higher the average price for a photographer will be.
Think of expertise as a measure of adaptability for a photographer. They should be able to produce high-quality photographs at any given wedding, not just the ones at super fancy wedding venues. Expertise and experience typically go hand in hand, but that’s not always the case. An experienced wedding photographer for 15+ years may not have as many technical skills as a photographer who has only been around for 4-5 years.
For that reason, expertise includes the following:
Experience is important – though not always directly related to the expertise of the photographer. A photographer with a decent history of weddings has had the ability to test out solutions to tough situations like timeline troubles, tense situations, or inclement weather. An experienced photographer will understand your plan, review your venue, and has likely chosen places for sections of the day like the first look beforehand. This photographer will likely be above the average cost though – peace of mind for you is going to be at that photographer's top of mind always!
Style is a particular manner or technique by which something is created. Photography style is highly subjective and is produced through various methods which affect how a photographer takes and edits photographs.
See as an experienced photographer I like to cater to different styles I don't just do one particular look. Every bride and groom have a certain look in mind and based on what they like, I like to cater to that need. My particular style really depends on different situations such as weather, location, time of day we are shooting etc. Bright and airy, dark and moody, and dramatic signature looks are what I love best. Just be aware that the general style you choose and the demand for photographers with that style in your area will affect the pricing of that photographer.
WHAT'S INCLUDED IN THE WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHER'S COLLECTION?
Some photographers offer base packages offering more value but beginning at a higher price point, while others may include almost nothing and start low. Luxury photographers may have a base collection that includes the level of time, experience, and customer care to deliver something consistent with their brand values. Here are some things you can look for in a wedding package:
Do they include one or two photographers? Or is the second photographer an additional charge?
Do they include high-quality albums?
Do they offer engagement sessions?
Are timeline reviews or venue walk-throughs possible add-ons or standards?
How do they deliver photographs?
What is the turnaround time?
DOES WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY COST TOO MUCH?
Honestly no, because the value of what you sell can only be set by those willing to pay for it. Without demand, they will have to lower their prices. If a photographer limits the days, they are available the days they have become more valuable over time – again provided people actually want to hire this photographer. Let’s also take into account the unique quality weddings have over other events:
Every photographer runs things differently, but here is roughly included in a wedding booking, not including the backend parts of the business (taxes, website stuff, writing blogs like this, etc.):
So that’s potentially 60+ hours PER wedding of actual labor, not counting expenses.
Keep in mind that doesn’t include the time and $$$ that goes into paying a second shooter, gas money, gear, education/improvements, business insurance, keeping the software and everything up to date, etc.
I think it’s safe to say that any given professional photographer possibly spends at least 75-100 hours per wedding, counting all the above-mentioned activities.
As a simple example, if a photographer needs to make $50k per year after business expenses (say maybe $20k worth of expenses per year), and they’re willing to shoot 40 weddings a year, they need to charge $1,750 per wedding on average.
That comes out to about $15 per hour (possibly less). And don’t forget, we still have taxes after all that (self-employment tax is 15.3%).
So, if you’re paying $1,750 for a main and second shooter, it would be very unlikely the photographer is investing very little in their business or someone that’s working really hard for $15ish per hour (before taxes).
I’m not trying to be rude, but $15 per hour seems pretty low for being a specialist and an artist for one of the most important days of your life that you can’t recreate, doesn’t it?
These are general starting price ranges; you can definitely spend $10k with photographers starting at $4k. These categories are also not fixed, sometimes you can get lucky and find a deal from a lower-priced photographer. In those cases, you will be trading peace of mind and assuming risk but may luck out!