Newlywed couples who hired a photographer to capture the beautiful moments of their big day spent between $2,095 and $2,556 on average for their wedding photography (not including videography). Technology has evolved towards digital cameras, though some photographers still use film. Most couples choose to get their images as digital files that they can peruse, print and share. Wedding photographers may also offer options such as canvas prints or a wedding album as part of the package, or as an a la carte option.
What’s Included in a Wedding Photography Package?
Wedding photographers put packages together in different ways. Some offer standardized elements and post their prices online. Others like to meet and chat with couples, to create a customized plan. Most include similar elements in different combinations depending on the couple’s preferences. This table shows what one photographer offers wedding couples in Nashville, TN, where cost-of-living is about average for the U.S.
Number of Photographers
Hours of Photography
Retouched Digital Files, with printing rights
16X20 Canvas Print
The minimum package for $2,000 includes one photographer for six hours on your wedding day, retouching, access to all the digital files and the right to reprint them. For just $500 more, an extra photographer would take photos, potentially doubling the number of images you’ll ultimately get. They stay for two additional hours, and the couple gets one add-on, like an engagement session. For even more money, you can have more time with the photographers on your wedding day, and other extras like albums or a canvas print.
The most expensive package includes a bonus item, which could be a photo booth for your wedding (a $750 value); rehearsal dinner coverage, or another album or canvas print.
Why Wedding Photography Costs So Much
Many jaws drop when the ears attached to them hear wedding photographer prices. Brides or grooms might take the package fee, and divide it by the number of hours the photographer will be at the wedding, and think to themselves that the result—maybe $300 per hour—sounds like an amazing, and perhaps excessive, hourly rate.
That calculation can be misleading. First, the photographer brings thousands of dollars of equipment. These days, that typically means a high-quality digital camera which costs about $3,000; a few lenses which might cost about $2,000 apiece, and then their software and hardware to handle the images, including memory cards and computers. The photographer might also bring lights, tripods and other incidental gear. With the rapid changes in technology, the camera and computer-related items (at least) need to be upgraded every three to five years. Film shooters have the additional costs of film and development.
The equipment will all be amortized over its use at many weddings, so it’s actually not the most expensive component of wedding photography—that would be the photographer’s time. What you and every other client pay the photographer adds up to his or her annual revenue, from which s/he pays for all business expenses and all living expenses.
It’s also important to note that your photographer spends a few days before and after your wedding on all the pieces that go into final product—from marketing to find you, communicating with you about your needs, preparing and testing the gear, then editing, retouching and uploading all your photos. Designing and printing albums or individual photos are other time-consuming tasks.
And don’t forget that weddings are largely seasonal, which may leave photographers and other vendors out of work during down months. The average photographer employed full-time earns about $30,000 per year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Since so much of a photographer’s fee goes into his or her living costs, you can see why package prices often vary by geographic location, reflecting local cost of living.
Within each location, you’ll also find photographers of varying experience levels. A person just getting started in the business will likely charge less than someone with many years of experience.
How Photography Fits Into Your Wedding Budget
The average wedding couple spends about 7% of their wedding budget on a photographer (compare that to about 45% for the wedding venue, including food and drink for the guests). And while there are many ways to save on the venue, the dress, the flowers, and the favors, it’s not as easy to get a better price on photography. While you might be able to knock off a few hours of shooting time to get a lower price, or choose to make an album yourself, additional discounts are simply cutting into your photographer’s income and output for you.
Photographers who are offering far lower prices compared to others in the same area might also be revealing the lack of demand for their services. Talented, proven wedding photographers typically will command higher rates, with word-of-mouth recommendations from newlywed couples driving new ones to their business. If you hire a photographer with the lowest prices, you’re likely to get someone who is just starting out (i.e. lacks experience, which matters both in photography overall and in dealing with weddings) or someone who isn’t as good as his or her local competitors. You could take a chance, and you might find a diamond in the rough, but you might also end up with someone who is ultimately better suited for something else. It’s telling that in bridal forums, many brides report that they wish they had spent more on a good photographer, because they were unhappy with their wedding photos. About 1 in 5 overall say they should have spent more on a different photographer.
One way to justify the high cost of the best photographer you can afford: it’s still a fairly small fraction of what you’ll spend on your wedding. And it wouldn’t be too hard to cut $1,000 or more from another budget line item to put towards the photographer. Here are some ideas to find some more room in your wedding budget.
|Off-Peak Saturday Night||$6,400||$5,400||$1,000|
|DIY the Arrangements||$1,860||$800||$1,060|
|Fewer Buffet Options||$9,100||$7,560||$1,540|
It might help to think about the trade-offs you'd be willing to make in order to get the elements of the wedding that are most important to you. Some will be all but imperceptible, such as buying a used dress instead of brand new. Others will be quickly forgotten, like the food. But your photos will last a lifetime.
How to Choose a Photographer
Start your research online, where most photographers maintain websites that showcase their work. A site like WeddingWire.com can help you find options in your area. You could always bring in a photographer from out of town, which might make sense if you’re getting married in a high-priced city, although it could get very expensive very quickly, since you’ll typically need to pay their travel expenses.
Also, ask for word-of-mouth references from friends who were married in or near the same town where you’ll be wed.
Once you have some options, check their pricing—it might be indicated on WeddingWire or posted on their website or you may need to call to ask about it. If you love their photographic style and can swing their fee, set up an in-person meeting, if possible, to make sure there’s a personality fit.
The best photographers book up early—often a year to 18 months in advance for in-demand weekends. Most will require a deposit or retainer fee at the time of your booking, with the remainder due shortly before the wedding.
Of course, these days, almost everyone has a camera in their hand, thanks to smartphones. You can use this to your advantage by collecting all the pictures your friends and family take at your ceremony and reception. However, if you want a high-quality portrait to blow up and frame in your home, you should hire a pro.