If you are searching to hire a wedding photographer, and have put in a few inquiries, you have no doubt discovered that pricing is extremely subjective and ALL OVER the place! The ranges can vary greatly by market and region, leaving engaged couples incredibly confused by what they should be paying and why. And photographers grapple with these same questions: what do I need to charge, what are my peers charging, how do I price my talent?
We spent many years figuring out our pricing structure while trying to cover our expenses, grow our business, appropriately value the market, and provide couples with the amazing service they deserve!
The reality is that anyone can be a photographer. There is no degree required, nor should there be. Some of the best photographers are self taught (though never completely, as great artists are influenced by others and mentored along the way). However it’s also easy to offer your services without any accountability. Build a website, choose those 30 images you lucked out on creating in the optimum circumstances when all the stars aligned, and say all the right things – and you’re set to go. But talking the talking and walking the walk are VERY different, and sadly many photographers advertising their services just can’t deliver on what they hope to. The mass of aspiring photographers, hobbyists, and up and coming greats is quite challenging to sort through. Sometimes an amazing photographer gets lost in a sea of less qualified, but well branded photographers that they just can’t compete with. This is an issue for photographers that we hope to address in another series soon. We will post the link here once it is written.
Over the years we have observed three tiers to pricing in most markets. Before sharing about them though, we want to clarify the following points.
- Both solo and duo photographer teams can fall within any of these tiers. But just because you are getting two photographers does not mean the quality or quantity will be any more. Often the second photographer is equally or less experienced, which might mean some of their images don’t turn out. If you want to hire two photographers it is important to inquire about the experience of each. Plus you must also recognize that their is a big difference between TWO LEAD photographer studios and a Lead Photographer with a Second Shooter. Two lead photographers should always cost more.
- The bottom end of any given range usually gets you much less hours of coverage, and the top end will get you full day photography coverage.
- The price ranges given below are only for reference, each market will differ based off the location and/or cost of living. For example, a photographer in coastal California might not afford to eat if their prices are below $4000, but a photographer in small town northern BC, Canada might live a lavish life averaging just $2000 a wedding (these are random guesstimates, but you get the idea).
- Ideally, price should never be your determining factor. Paying lots of money does not guarantee you amazing photographs, and paying very little might give you beautiful photos. It’s all the other things, such as personality, experience, professionalism, customer service, organization, equipment, business legitimacy and insurance, editing and product/photo delivery, etc that matter most. There are so many ways to stretch a photography budget, and we couldn’t overemphasize how important this investment is. Your pictures will last forever! So invest wisely.
- Lastly, what is included in a photographer’s package will greatly affect the total price. You may pay $7000 for your photography and receive only the digital images, or $6000 for your photography including an amazing wedding album. Some photographers do not include retouching of all your images, or there is an up charge for digital files. So pay attention to these little details when looking at quotes.
WHAT CAN I EXPECT TO PAY – 3 Tiers
The bulk of photographers in any given area are priced in a lower tier, say $500-$3000. This is the range in which hobbyists who do weddings for some extra cash flow, and new photographers with little wedding experience, will price themselves. In our area there are easily over 100 photographers in this tier. If you hire a photographer in this price range it is reasonable to expect that they will be well intentioned and very passionate about taking pictures, but that their photography results will be unreliable and/or the experience unprofessional or lacking in some essential qualities. However, the reality also is that some couples are getting married on a very restricted budget. If this is you, there is a chance that a photographer in this range is all you can afford. So if you hire somebody priced in a lower tier you must also adjust your expectations of that photographer. Find someone who is honest about their inexperience, has worked for other photographers, and that you hear good things about from others. Accept the risk you are taking. Weddings often don’t go as anticipated, and even seasoned veterans under-deliver sometimes. So when your wedding images come back, appreciate the hard work your photographer put into documenting your day and give grace for any mistakes or missed photographs. Hopefully you will be pleasantly surprised!
A much smaller majority of photographers are priced in a middle tier, say $3000-5500. They are almost always quite experienced, may have a photography degree, or have studied under another photographer to build their skill set. Usually these photographers have worked hard to get where they are at, and have built legitimate companies with a focus on great customer service and quality artistry. Within this tier you might find a confusing array of options, packages, add on services, and what is included. Every photographer packages their services and products a bit differently, it’s part of what makes them unique! So make a list of what you are expecting to receive, such as digital images, an album, fast image turn around time, professional retouching of every photo, prints, etc and find a photographer who can deliver. Our greatest recommendation here again is to not let price be your determining factor, rather their portfolio, personality and approach. If you can afford to spend within this range for photography, there are always ways you can increase your budget that little bit extra to hire the photographer who best suits you. Many professional photographers offer financing or can help you find creative ways to generate a bit more cash flow towards their services. And if you have a planner, ask them about ways you can rework your budget to create some flex room. In 50 years you will be so glad you paid $2000 more for the photographer, or in our case the Two Lead Photographers called Jess and Andy, who made all your dreams come true!
A minority of photographers are priced in the highest tier, let’s say $5500 and up. Usually this is for one of three reasons, possibly multiple. Either 1) They are located in an area with high end weddings and a high cost of living. Doing business well will simply cost much more, 2) They are exceptionally talented and/or internationally recognized or 3) they include a lot of extras, possibly higher end products. In this price range you can expect to invest the most money, yet possibly reap the greatest reward. Be forewarned though…Annie who just started photography 2 years ago and has a portfolio of work gathered from assisting other photographers could hypothetically charge high end prices for promises that she can not, possibly does not even intend to, deliver on. A high price does not equal a safe investment. The best of the best usually will, and should, charge higher prices though. So look in that higher price bracket if you want creme de la creme service with the most amazing photographs of your life.
WRAPPING IT UP
In the end, pricing will be a big consideration for some and less for others. But the biggest consideration of all should be everything else. Before getting quotes, or even reaching out to photographers, we recommend asking yourself the following questions:
- What do I want from my wedding photographs, and how important should this decision be to me?
- What do I want to receive from my photographer (ie digital files, prints, album, wall art)
- In 10 years what will matter most to me about these pictures?
- Is there a specific style of photography that captures me most, and will that style stand the test of time with its constantly changing trends?
- Is there a way I can increase my budget to get what I really want (if this is of concern to you)
When you do reach out to photographers whose photographs, personality, reviews, etc hook your interest use price simply as your starting reference point to find photographers you can likely afford. Don’t waste the time of an amazingly experienced photographer if you want to pay basement prices. And then when you contact photographers who might be a match, don’t make it about prices. Find someone you love, trust your gut, and make it work!