Have you asked the questions “how much should I spend on my wedding photography?” yet? If so, you’re in the right place!
I’m so excited you found this article, because if you’re reading this, chances are you’re engaged!! Woohoo! That is something to celebrate! Naturally you’re thinking about wedding planning, and trying to tackle the massive questions around budgeting! Talking about money can be awkward, but this article is here to lay out all the facts to help you understand how much you should spend on your wedding photography!
SO, HOW MUCH SHOULD YOU SPEND ON YOUR WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHER? IT DEPENDS ON THESE FACTORS:
It can be over whelming when you’re trying to find a wedding photographer but everyone charges something different, and then there are articles saying you should spend this much or even a specific percentage. Wedding are not a one size fits all. That’s why I’ve created this article to help you make an educated decision when it comes to how much you should spend on your wedding photographer.
In this article I’m going to offer you advice that’s a little more open minded and focused on getting a photographer that can deliver quality results.
Once you read this post about “how much do wedding photographers cost”, you’ll be equipped with the following knowledge:
- Why the 10% is myth
- What are the price ranges of wedding photographers (generally)?
- What factors influence cost, and which ones are most important (to you the couple)?
- Is the wedding photography market overpriced?
- A more in-depth look at wedding photography prices in the state of Colorado (where I do most of my business)
- Considerations for you to decide your own custom budget, based on needs *and* future long term goals as a couple!
This post is meant to go hand in hand with my “How to Choose Your Wedding Photographer” article, so be sure to check that out after you finish this! (Link also at the bottom.)
THE 10% MYTH
Back in the day, it was common for most wedding professionals and even bridal magazines to suggest you spend about 10%-15% of your budget on photography. While this might seam like a reasonable way to divide your budget up, its typically not realistic to spend just 10% of your wedding budget on photography, especially if you truly value having those lasting memories captured in a beautiful way!
After your wedding day you’ll have your new spouse and your wedding photos. You’re photographer is the one responsible for capturing each sweet moment. The laughs shared while getting ready with your closest friends and family, the first time you get into your dress and your loved ones shed tears because of how stunning you look, the first time you see your spouse down the aisle right before you say I do! These moments and many more your photographer is responsible for capturing.
If you really value having lasting memories and photographs, you will probably invest more than just 10%. I’ve actually met many couples who choose to cut in other areas (such as the guest list) before they’ll even think about touching their photography budget!
I recommend finding a photographer whose work you love and you simply must have for your wedding day! Then, you can build your budget around that. The easiest way to do this is for you make a list of the most important things to you on your wedding day, figure out the pricing for each vendor, and then add up the total. We’ll talk about this more in the conclusion, but if you find this total is too high for your budget, start seeking where you can chop prices at the bottom of the list. And only work up as is absolutely necessary. When I got married my top three priorities were the photographer, my venue, and my wedding dress.
HOW MUCH DO WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHERS COST?
If you’re like me, when reading an article you want it to be honest and to the point! You want a quick to-the-point answer to the question “how much should I spend on my wedding photos?”.
So how much do wedding photographers cost?
The short answer is $0-$20k, or maybe more!
“Kari—that’s a huge window. And not helpful!” I know, and I promise, I’m not trying to tease you. There are so many factors that affect how how much you’ll need to pay for a wedding photographer in demand within a certain bracket and skill level.
I’m here to help you identify what it is you value most so you can be truly happy with your wedding photos. After that, we can determine your price range. This way you get what you really want!
A FEW FACTORS THAT AFFECT HOW MUCH WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHERS COSTS ARE:
- Level of Expertise
- What is included as standard in a basic package (ie. hours, album, engagement session, etc.)
WHY DOES WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY COST SO MUCH (OR SO LITTLE!)?
Have you ever heard the saying “you get what you pay for”? Well it holds true in the world of choosing your wedding photographer. Whenever a photographer is excellent in any given area, it connects directly to their demand, which (usually) directly relates to their pricing structure and packages.
Before we continue, let’s talk about some of the basic factors that contribute to a photographers cost within different markets around the USA. We will also touch on the influences affecting where a photographer will land in terms of their pricing.
It’s impossible to give you a one-size-fits-all answer to the “how much should I spend on my wedding photography” question! But through reading this break down, you’ll gain a really good idea of the pricing in your area, and what to consider as you move forward in making this huge decision.
Pricing is very much location specific! The living expenses truly dictate the standard pricing for a wedding photographer! A higher living expense = a higher starting price. As you can imagine, if you live in New York City where the cost of living is double (or more!) than somewhere like Colorado. You might pay an average starting price of $6,000 vs. $4,000 for a similar photographer in the smaller city location.
Generally speaking, the larger the city (with a higher median level income), the higher your standard starting prices will be.
LEVEL OF EXPERTISE
First let’s define expertise as it relates to wedding photography. I see it as how capable any given photographer is to photograph any wedding well and with excellence. While you’ll usually find that expertise and experience often go hand in hand, it is still possible for a more “experienced” photographer to not have as much technical skill as another photographer who has not been around as long.
This is why I chose to segment expertise and experience into their own separate sections.
Expertise typically involves the following:
- Actual photography skills (e.g., skills in handling different lighting scenarios like bright light, low-light, and everything in between.)
- Skills for handling interpersonal situations (e.g., ability to help guide day-of communication to achieve fluid communication between multiple parties, like during family formal portraits!)
- Emotional and communicational skills to put you and others at ease and relaxed
- Business skills to consistently deliver excellent results
Expertise typically raises a photographer’s premium. Not sure how to gauge a photographer’s expertise? Read their reviews posted online and look through their wedding day galleries or blog posts from their website.
Experience shouldn’t be undervalued. Though experience and expertise aren’t the same, as I previously mentioned, it is generally a rule that a photographer who has shot hundreds of weddings will have had more “trial and error” to work out various tough situations. This includes navigating schedule changes, timeline troubles, tension between family members, etc..
**Pro tip: An experienced photographer preparing to shoot at a new-to-them venue will likely know the value of visiting the venue before hand! This way they can make a plan to quickly adapt to the new environment. You should be able to trust that the photographer understands your venue and has a plan to pick specific locations for things like your first-look, couple portraits, and formals.
It’s also safe to say that a photographer who does this will likely be above the average wedding photography cost.
STYLE OR AESTHETIC
Style is highly subjective.
Some of us like things to be natural and clean (because we want to avoid trends and see how things how they really are, for the most part). All the while, others may prefer something that is more “original” and “trendy” because it is different and creates a sense of something beyond reality. Think “bright and airy” vs “dark and moody”, or “film” vs “digital” for example.
The aesthetic style that you choose, as well as the demand for a wedding photographer with that style in your area, will affect the pricing of your wedding photographer.
WHAT COMES STANDARD IN A PACKAGE?
Some photographers will create packages that include certain things and begin at a higher price point, while others may include almost nothing, and allow you to up the price by adding more onto the basic package.
In this way the latter photographer may begin at a lower price point, but quickly becomes as expensive (or more-so) than the former. This is all because of the manner in which they craft their packages.
Some examples of what to look for as being included or not are:
- Do they include one shooter only or two shooters
- Does this photographer include a heirloom quality album?
- Do they include an engagement session?
- Will they include any timeline review meeting and/or venue walk-throughs?
IS IT TRUE THAT WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHERS OVER-CHARGE?
I remember when I was planning my own wedding I thought…am I getting over-charged for things just because it’s for a wedding?
This got me thinking….a wedding is SO different than any other event! Here are some basic things that set a wedding apart from other events:
•it’s a once in a lifetime event
•it’s an event that requires hours and hours of pre and post labor
•it’s an often multi-location event
•it’s a full day event for all the vendors involved, sometimes lasting up to 20 hours of labor in a day!
Much of what we’re talking about here can be applied to literally any vendor. Weddings are NOT the same as just any other event.
WHILE EVERY WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHER IS DIFFERENT, A SINGLE WEDDING DAY CAN EASILY ACCOUNT FOR THE FOLLOWING HOURS OF WORK DIRECTLY:
•1-3 hours of initial emails/meetings
•2-4 hours of engagement session (local travel and shooting time)
•1-3 hours engagement session upload, edit, export, delivery, blog writing, social media sharing
•2-3 hours of timeline prep and pre-wedding planning
•10-18 hours of day of work (set up, local travel, coverage during day, tear down, photo transfer/backup)
•7-35 hours of editing time, delivery, blog writing
•1 hour backup/miscellaneous activities
That’s potentially 60+ hours per wedding of actual labor! And that is not even 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 editing software and everything up to date, replacing/upgrading gear every few years, etc.
I think it’s safe to say that any given professional photographer possibly spends at least 75 hours per wedding, counting all above mentioned activities.
As a simple example, if a photographer needs to make $50k per year after business expenses and before taxes (let’s estimate a simple $20k worth of expenses per year), and they’re willing to shoot 30 weddings a year, they need to charge $1,700 per wedding on average.
That comes out to about $15-23 per hour (probably less). And don’t forget, we wedding photographers still have federal and state taxes after all that (small business pay a 15% federal and state taxes on any income. ON TOP of that anything a small business owner pays themselves is taxed an additional 15.3% in self-employment taxes).
So, if you’re only paying $2,000 for a main and second shooter, I’d wager to say you either have a photographer who is investing very little in their business, someone that’s working really hard for $15-ish per hour (before taxes), and will probably not be sustainable long term.
Honest friends, $15 per hour seems pretty cheap for being a specialist and an pro artist for one of the most important days of your life that can never be recreated, doesn’t it?
AVERAGE WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY COSTS IN THE DENVER AND COLORADO SPRINGS AREA IN COLORADO
For the Denver and Colorado Springs areas in Colorado, I’ve found that most local photographers get grouped in the following starting price ranges:
•BEGINNER $0-1000 ( just starting, probably have not shot a wedding before. Are not considered professional)
•AMATEUR $1000-2000 ( may have shot a couple weddings but are working in the budget bracket. May not have a high may not be full time in the business)
•GROWING AMATEUR $2000-3000 (probably photographs weddings somewhat regularly. Just beginning to get into the “professional” category)
•PROFESSIONAL $4000+ (usually has a higher demand for style. May shoot a few less weddings to focus on providing each client more support)
•LUXURY $6000+ (typically considered full-time professionals. These wedding photographers have a demand based on style, expertise, etc.)
Again, these are very generalized starting price ranges. You can spend $10k with many of the photographers that begin at the $4k range! And finally, please remember that these categories of pricing are not fixed. I’m sure there are some times that you can truly get a “good deal” at a lower price range; however, in those instances you are being risky and forfeit the peace of mind.
So how much does wedding photography cost? Spend what you can and within your budget find the right photographer for YOU.
A wedding photographer is worth whatever you’re willing to invest! If they have a solid reputation (again read the reviews), you love their photos, their personality, and they make you feel comfortable— then book them! And book them whatever their price is (as long as it’s in budget, right?).
For some, this is $500. For others is $5k, $10k, or even $20K+. As a rule, your higher priced photographers have more demand for various reasons, usually associated with skill, style, etc. You can find cheaper photographers that are “worth” above their current price range, but that’s the gamble.
FINAL ANSWER: THERE IS NO SET DOLLAR AMOUNT THAT YOU SHOULD YOU SPEND ON A WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY.
But if you value your photography and memories, I really recommend that you invest a solid portion of your wedding budget to it.
Regardless, what cannot be undervalued is a wedding photographer that helps preserve your wedding memories for your kids and grandkids. Any photographer you choose is likely going to work incredibly hard and under lots of pressure. So please, love and cherish them dearly. They should do the same for you.
SO, HOW MUCH SHOULD I SPEND ON MY WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY? WELL, YOUR WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY IS ONE OF THE ONLY EXPENSES THAT WILL LAST A LIFETIME AND BEYOND! IT’S AN INVESTMENT IN TIMELESS MEMORIES AND FAMILY HEIRLOOMS.
Be sure to check out my “How To Choose You Wedding Photographer” article next to get more honed-in on finding your ideal photographer!
As always, please let me know your thoughts in the comments below. I’d love to hear any other thoughts, tips, and experiences from couples and photographers alike! I hope this discussion has helped you brainstorm your wedding budget and how to best make it fit your needs.