As the 2022 season forges ahead I am excited to be sharing one of many educational topics with you guys today. I pride myself on being very transparent, open, and pretty helpful with my clients and I seek to provide an experience to inquiring minds that are useful whether they choose to book their wedding with us or not. That being said, the elephant in the room this year appears to be pricing among photographers. It has come to my attention that when you google “average price of wedding photographer” it will spit out a number right around $2000. Now, I won’t say that you won't find someone willing to shoot your wedding for $2000. Frankly, you’ll be able to find someone for much less than that. Many moons ago, I personally paid a friend exactly $0 to photograph my own wedding with a Best Buy point-and-shoot camera. That is a story for another day, but suffice to say that experience was actually one of the major turning points toward me starting this business myself. I absolutely regret not having professional quality images done of the one day in my life that I will never do over again. That being said, let’s dive into the details of who, why, and how photography comes up with its pricing model.
You can think of wedding photographers in tiers based on experience. The first tier, your $0-$1000 range, is your family friend group. These are folks who love you, who don’t do this for a living, and who know you aren’t expecting much from them. In this area you might also find local students or people who have done photography before but have never shot a wedding. I would like to gently remind you that there is a lot more to a wedding than there is a regular photoshoot under controlled conditions. Weddings are one of the only types of photography that will undoubtedly involve multiple artistic decisions on the fly, require varied lighting and need lots of extra equipment. We will get more into this later on in this article but just know that if you’re in the sub $1500 range, you can’t expect a whole lot from their work, as they are usually just starting out in photography.
The second tier runs up to around the $3000 mark. These photographers have likely second shot a wedding or have some experience in other types of photography. They should have some sort of portfolio to show you, although this portfolio may not be 100% consistent throughout. This level of photographer is amateur and they just need a little more time to refine their style and hone in on exactly what it is that makes them unique within their field. This level likely still has a couple of things to learn surrounding the world of posing, off-camera lighting and making quick decisions on their feet. My caution with this group comes down to what you expect from your photographer. It is unlikely that someone in this tier is going to have an in-depth knowledge of specific color grading, photoshop, or lighting technique that elevates photography to an art form. Some shots may be posed well and others not so much. It’s a hit-or-miss group that usually makes up for what they lack in refinement by enticing customers with discounted pricing.
The next level runs from around $3500-$1000. Big category, I know. This tier is where you will find established wedding photographers who do this work full-time. It’s the sweet spot for photography for most people. You can expect your final images to be consistent, well handled and stylistically desirable. The composition of each image will be done with the knowledge of cropping and various elements of art applied. Photoshop and tweaking of individual parts of the image are a norm and you can be assured that your photographer knows how to pose, relationship build and guide the experience for couples. This also happens to be the first tier where you start to see an actual ‘business’ rather than ‘some guy’.
There is one more level that you may not be aware of but is actually quite fascinating. The $10,000 and up crowd. There are actually far more wedding photographers in this tier than you probably realize. The difference at this level is likely publication and branding. While someone in the third tier might be published regionally or locally, or have a few blogs written about them, they would easily transition into this tier with a few shoots being accepted to a major publication like Vogue Weddings or Bridal Magazine. Name recognition begins at this level and it becomes a lot about being able to say “I worked with so and such for my wedding, the same woman who shot *A-list Celebrity’s* wedding!”
Why Photographers Charge Their Prices
Now, you may be wondering what the difference is between each tier beyond just their experience in the industry- and that’s an entirely new topic. Wedding photography costs what it does for several reasons, not the least of which is the business side of things. When I shoot a typical wedding you’ll see me arrive with the most up-to-date gear on the market currently, including a mirrorless camera body and a full suite of pro-grade lenses. These two things alone have a major impact on the quality of the final product for lots of technical reasons. Speed of response, ability to shoot in low light, varied focal lengths. All of these things help ensure that moments are not missed during your big day. Further, things like insurance (required by most venues), backup lenses in different focal lengths, mentorship with industry professionals, furthering education, subscriptions to proper editing programs (not just apps!) and even proper storage of your files after the wedding day all cost quite a bit of money. You can bet that someone who is doing a wedding here and there at $2000 isn’t shelling out to cover the costs of those things because they simply are not making enough money to do so.
When couples come to me I know I have not only the technical professionalism but relational professionalism as well. When it comes time for your engagement shoot, I have been shooting for 10 years in the Pacific Northwest as well as various locations throughout the entire western half of the United States, I know where we can go to get the vibe you want! I send over a styling guide for that shoot as well that helps take the stress away from trying to pick out what each of you needs to wear. I have handwritten planning guides to help you along toward your dream wedding. I can pose you through a wedding day in such a way that even the most camera-shy feel at home and relaxed. Those intricacies come through experiencing the wedding industry and shooting at hundreds of weddings across a very long time.
So if you’re still struggling with sticker shock on your wedding photography, it’s ok. Stay true to your goals and values and if you are someone who truly values wedding photography and wants to be able to relive those memories, then go for a tier 3 at the least. Even if that tier 3 isn’t me. Find someone who is going to provide you with an experience rather than a half-done service and treat yourself a little!
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