How much should I spend on wedding photography overlay

Has the “how much should I spend on my wedding photography?” question arisen? If so, this post is for you!

With so many options at all different price ranges, it can be tough to get a good idea of how much to spend. On top of that, blogs will tell you to spend either a specific amount, or even a certain percentage. We, on the other hand, have advice that is a little more open-ended and based on actively thinking about what the prices reflect in the photography market where you’ll be booking.

Once you read this post about “how much do wedding photographers cost”, you’ll be equipped with the following knowledge:

  • The 10% myth

  • What are the price ranges of wedding photographers (generally)?

  • What are the factors that influence cost, and which ones are most important (to you the reader)?

  • Is the wedding photography market overpriced?

  • A more in-depth look at wedding photography prices in the Kentuckiana area

This post is meant to go hand in hand with our “How To Choose a Wedding Photographer” article, so be sure to check that out after you finish this! (Link at the bottom.)

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The 10% Myth

Awhile back it became a trend to say you should spend about 10-15% of your budget on your wedding photographers. Now, that’s not necessarily bad advice, but it is a bit cookie cutter.

The issue with the 10% rule is that, if you really value having lasting memories and photographs, maybe you want to invest more than only 10%. We’ve personally noticed that some couples choose to cut in many areas such as the guest list before they’ll even think about touching their photography budget.

One alternate philosophy is to determine which photographer(s) you simply must have, and then building your budget around that. In this line of thinking, you make a list of your top priorities, figure out the pricing for each, and then add up the total. If you go too high for your budget, start seeking to chop prices at the bottom of the list, only working up as is absolutely necessary.

If you’d like some more info on prioritizing your wedding investments to get what you most, be sure to visit our article on the best ways to Customize Your Wedding Budget!

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How Much Do Wedding Photographers Cost?

If you and I are anything alike, you would love a quick and to-the-point answer to the question “how much should I spend on wedding photos?”. So, how much do wedding photographers cost?

The short answer is $0-$20k, or maybe more!

Now, I get it—that’s a huge window. But I promise, I’m not trying to be cute. There are just so many factors that play into how much demand any given photographer has, and correspondingly how much you’ll need to pay for a wedding photographer.

What I 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, determining your price range. That way, you get what you really want!

A few of the factors that affect how much wedding photographers costs are:

  • Lifestyle

  • Location

  • Expertise

  • Experience

  • Style

  • What they included standard in basic packages (album, engagement session, etc.)

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Why Do Wedding Photographers Cost So Much (or So Little!)?

Generally speaking, you will get what you pay for. When a photographer is excellent in any given area, it typically relates to their demand which almost directly relates to their pricing structure and packages.

In this article, we’ll talk about some of the basic ways that pricing structures form and present themselves within different markets around the USA, while also touching on what influences where any given photographer lands in terms of their pricing.

It’s difficult to give a one size fits all answer, but you’ll gain a good idea of the pricing in your area as you move forward in making this huge decision.

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Lifestyle

This may not be something you immediately recognize as a factor determining how much a photographer charges, but it is probably the most basic factor determining how much a photograph can and should charge.

Example, if the photographer is single and in a place in life where, comparatively speaking, they don’t have many expenses, this photographers priorities will be very different than the photographer with multiple kids (with future educational expenses) and a fair-sized mortgage.

You may or may not relate to one of these (or any other given lifestyle), but you will probably find yourself drawn to someone who you want to be like and/or to someone with whom you relate. That person may or may not need to charge a premium and provide a standard of service that will allow them to live the life that they are living.

But one thing is for sure, any photographer who does not balance their lifestyle with the work they produce and the profit which is required to support that life, will quickly unravel. So, you’ll pay for both the lifestyle and stability that your photographer exhibits.

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Location

Pricing is very much location specific. If you live in an area where living expenses are higher, it’s likely that the standard pricing for the photographer in that area will be higher. For example, if you live in New York City where the cost of living is double (or more!) than that of somewhere like rural Kentucky, you might pay an average starting price of $6,000 vs $3,000 for a similarity priced photographer in the more rural location.

Generally speaking, the larger the city and higher medium level income, the higher your standard prices will be.

Expertise

We define expertise as how able a photographer is to photograph any given wedding. Expertise and experience often go hand in hand, though a more “experienced” photographer who has photographed weddings for 10+ years may not have as much technical skill as another photographer who has only been around for 5 years.

So, we’ve given expertise and experience their own distinguishable sections in this post.

Expertise typically involves the following:

  • Actual photography skills (e.g., skills in handling different lighting scenarios like bright light and low-light and everything in between. Be sure to read our article on how to know if a wedding photographer can shoot in low-light!)

  • Skills in handling interpersonal situations (e.g., ability to help guide day-of communication so that cooperation between multiple people in achieved, such as getting family organized to do family formals)

  • Emotional and communication skills to put you and others in a comfortable frame of mind

  • Business skills that create stability and service to consistently deliver results

Expertise typically raises the premium because it directly correlates to their desirability and demand.

Reviews and viewing full galleries are good ways to peruse a photographer’s expertise. So when determining their value, be sure to check their reviews on multiple sources (TheKnot, WeddingWire, Google, etc.) and look at their photographs from various parts of the day and in various lighting conditions.

Experience

Experience shouldn’t be undervalued. Though experience and expertise aren’t always correlated as we 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 (schedule changes, timeline troubles, tension between family members, etc.) and if she/he has shot at your venue multiple times, they will probably be more prepared to quickly and smoothly direct photographs at that venue.

An experienced photographer preparing to shoot at a new-to-them venue would likely know the value of visiting the venue before hand and quickly adapting to the new environment. You should have a clear understanding that the photographer understands your venue and/or has a plan to pick specific locations for things like first-look, portraits, and formals beforehand.

But, know that a photographer who does this is likely going to be above your average cost.

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Style

Style, though often highly subjective, is often tied to very real philosophies which affect the manner in which a photographer takes and edits photographs. Photographers who charge a premium have typically found/crafted a style that is in demand.

Style corresponds to demand by satisfying a personal and/or public desire for artistic addition/subtraction of various elements and/or a philosophy which affects either the emotion or need for originality that each of us experiences from one degree to another.

More simply put: 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) while others prefer something that is more “original” because it is different and creates a sense of something beyond reality. Think “bright and airy” vs “dark and moody” for example.

The general style that you choose and the demand for photographers with that style in your area will affect the pricing of that photographer. For more info on which style is right for you, be sure to check out our post Which Photography Style Is Best For My Wedding?

What Comes Standard In Their Package?

Some photographers will include certain things and begin at a higher price point, offering more value, while others may include almost nothing, allowing you to up the price by adding more onto the basic package.

One photographer may begin at a lower price point, but quickly becomes as expensive or moreso than another 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, one shooter + second shooter, or two professional shooters (like a husband wife wedding photography team)

  • Do they include a heirloom quality album?

  • Do they include an engagement session?

  • Do they include any timeline review sessions and/or venue walk-thoughs?

Do Wedding Photographers Sneakily Over-Charge?

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A couple years ago Adam Ruins Everything posted a video about how wedding vendors charge a lot more “simply” because it’s a wedding.

But, is a birthday party really the same as a wedding? Is it:

•a once in a lifetime event?

•an event that requires hours of pre and post labor?

•an often multi-location event?

•a full day event for your vendors, lasting up to 20 hours of labor?

Lots of what we’re talking about here can be applied to any vendor. Weddings are NOT the same as a birthday party or some other event that doesn’t carry as heavy as a mental and physical workload.

Every photographer is different, but a single wedding day can account for the following direct hours of work:

•1-3 hours of initial emails/meetings
•2-3 hours of engagement session (local travel, shooting time)
•1-3 hours engagement session upload, edit, export, delivery
•2-3 hours of timeline prep/pre-wedding planning
•10-20 hours of day of work (set up, local travel, coverage during day, tear down, photo transfer/backup)
•7-30 hours of editing time
•1 hour backup/miscellaneous activities

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 software and everything up to date, advertising rates, etc.

I think it’s safe to say that any given professional photographer possibly spends at least 75-100 hours per wedding, counting all 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, I’d wager to say you either have a photographer that’s 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 judgy, but $15 per hour seems pretty cheap 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?

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Average Wedding Photography Costs In the Louisville and Lexington Kentucky Area

For the Louisville and Lexington areas in Kentucky, it seems most photographers in this area get grouped in the following starting price ranges:

•$0-500 (Just starting, may have not shot a wedding, not considered professional)
•$500-1200 (May have shot some weddings, may not have a high demand and/or may not have a style that demands a higher price tag)
•$1000-2000 (Probably photographs weddings fairly regularly, may not have a high demand due to style, may not be considered full-time)
•$2000-3000 (Probably has a bit higher demand for style, probably shoots a few less weddings while focusing on providing each client more support, beginning to get into the “professional” category)
•$4000+ (typically considered full-time professionals, have the demand based on style, expertise, etc.)

Again, these are general starting price ranges. You can spend $10k with many of the photographers that begin at the $4k range. And please remember, these categories of pricing are not fixed; sometimes you can truly get a “good deal” at a lower price range. However, in those instances you are paying to forfeit the piece of mind and assume the risk.

Conclusion

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So how much does wedding photography cost? In the end, you’ll need to spend what you can and then among the budget you can afford, you’ll want to find out who fits most with YOU.

Mostly, a wedding photographer is worth whatever you’re willing to invest. If they have a solid reputation, you love their photos (from throughout the day!), their personality, and they make you feel comfortable, then 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 gamble.

Regardless, what cannot be undervalued is a wedding photographer that helps preserve your wedding memories for your kids and Grand-kids. Any photographer you choose is likely going to be working incredibly hard and under lots of pressure, so love and cherish them dearly. They should do the same for you.

Be sure to check out our “How To Choose a Wedding Photographer” article next to get more honed-in on finding your ideal photographer!

Please let us know your thoughts in the comments below We’d love to hear any other thoughts, tips, and experiences from couples and photographers!


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