The Price of Wedding Photography & How Much Should I Expect to Spend?

This is a subject I have wanted to address on the blog for a while, but I’ll be honest, I have been a little afraid of bringing it up. I really do hope I don’t get lynched afterwards for talking about this unspoken subject but I really do think this is something worthy of discussion.

I need to make a few things clear first…

♥ I am a HUGE advocate of helping start up businesses. I often feature the work of brand new and up and coming photographers on the blog and this article is in no way intended to discredit or slag off newbie photographers.
♥ I am a true believer that a fantastic photographer can make even the most budget wedding look kick ass – more than the dress, the decor and the extra details. Seriously, while all these aspects are important it is the photographer that will capture these memories that will last a lifetime and I think this is the one thing that shouldn’t be scrimped on or “DIY-ed”.
♥ Everyone deserves to have a truly fantastic photographer to capture their day. Whatever your budget, I can’t stress enough how much I’d urge you to spend as much money as you are able to in order to get the very best photographer that you can afford.

I don’t want the fact that I have approached the subject of money, business and all that icky stuff to in anyway ostracise any readers of my little blog. However I do think that just how much you’re going to spend on photography is something that should be addressed. It’s something that all couples will talk about when they plan their weddings and budget but it’s a subject that is never spoken about on blogs or in magazines. Why is this? Well, people don’t really like to talk about money do they?

My reasoning behind this post is not in anyway to try and encourage you to spend more than you can afford or are willing to on your wedding photography, however I do want to make you stop and think if the service you are getting for the price you’re paying really is good value.

I have lost count of the number of brides I’ve had email me asking for photographer recommendations for under ÂŁ500 and I’ve also lost count of the number friends I’ve spoken to who have recoiled at the fact that a lot of the photographers I know are charging ÂŁ2000 + for “one day’s work” (seriously? do people still think photographers only work one day a week!? I was chatting to a photographer friend of mine about this subject who told me that after everything she has to do, her hourly rate is less than ÂŁ20 an hour…and she’s not one of the cheaper ones!)

I know weddings are expensive things and that the thought of spending a couple of grand on a photographer is a lot for most people, but I can’t stress enough that I feel photography is really the one thing you should splash out on. If you can only afford ÂŁ500 for a wedding photographer then great, but just be aware that the results that you get from a photographer who is only charging that much will most certainly be inferior to someone a bit more pricey – even if the talent is there. Someone able to charge more than this, will if anything have a lot more experience than someone still charging around the ÂŁ500 mark.

If you are happy to pay under ÂŁ500 for a photographer then fantastic - rock it out, but just be aware that for that price you aren’t going to get Jose Villa/ Jasmine Star/ Jonas Peterson/ Lisa Devlin… I hate to say it, but in this industry, you really do get what you pay for.

This is a subject that us wedding industry folk chat about a lot. The preconception by some brides is that in some way photographers are trying to rip you all off. While I’ll be honest, there are certain photographers out there who I think are ludicrously expensive for what they offer (and no I’m not naming names!) in the majority, the price you pay generally covers the quality of the service you are given. After that it’s just down to personal taste.

When I mentioned on Twitter that I was going to cover this topic, the response was positive if not a little wary…

“depends on your point of view!? Could provoke a witch hunt!”
“having a heated “discussion” with a friend about this very subject.He says price things lower-I’m saying don’t be too cheap!”
“haha brave!”
“wow! You are brave!”
“that should be interesting…”
“oooh sounds controversial”
“hope the amazing pics you blog already help people realise its worth paying for good photography”
“oowww that’s a can of worms on so many levels but i am sure you will do a great job!”

After reading this I hope you will all realise that my intention was not to be controversial or to even spark a debate on this matter – I merely wished to address a subject that I feel affects us all – brides, bloggers and of course photographers.

Therefore I wanted to get the opinion of a photographer and so I asked someone who is greatly respected in the UK wedding industry. Julia Boggio is regarded as one of the UK’s leading wedding photographers and has won many awards for her business acumen as well as her photography. She has had her worked featured in all the major UK wedding magazines and she is a regular columnist for the same photography magazine I write for, Photo Pro – and she was the one who actually got me the job so I owe her a lot! She also openly admits to being at the higher end of the market in terms of her pricing so I thought she would be the perfect candidate to address this matter.

I’d love to hear your thoughts (from photographers AND brides please!) on this subject in the comments section below.

When Kat asked me to write this guest blog post, I accepted with a small amount of trepidation. The reason for this is two-fold: first, there is no way I can write this post without ruffling some feathers because, second, I’m going to be completely honest about this subject.

Let me start out by saying this: everybody deserves to have a photographer at their wedding. For this purpose, it’s great that there are a range of prices, skills and talents out there for them to choose from. There is no hard and fast rule about what you should budget for your wedding photography. You may have heard of the 10% rule, in which 10% of your wedding budget should be allocated to your wedding photography. In reality, what I find is that people who value photography and have the budget want to spend more on it. Period.

Like any other lifestyle market, there are a variety of brands out there for you to choose from. To put it into the context of brands you are familiar with, there are the equivalents of BHS and Asda to Debenhams and John Lewis to Harrods, Liberty and Harvey Nics. What I am going to explain to you is what you are paying for as the price increases.

At the low end of the market, the photographers are most likely 1) photography students, 2) weekend warriors, that is, wedding photography is not their full-time occupation and they do photography for a bit of cash on the side, or 3) new wedding photographers who are just starting out. It is also likely that it’s going to be a shoot and deliver package; the photographer will shoot the images and then give you a disc of images. Like I said in the beginning, it is great that there are options available in the low-budget area because everyone deserves to have a wedding photographer. But I’m not going to lie to you: it can be a gamble at this end.

In October last year, a story broke in the news about a couple that was distraught over their wedding photos and video. Out of the 400 images, they liked just 22; the videographer was heard to swear in church when he dropped his camera. People’s backsides were a common feature in the images. When I read this story, I was appalled for the couple. After all, that was it – their one chance at capturing their wedding day in a memorable way, gone. Then I read what they paid for the services: £1,450 for their photography and videography. Well, suffice it to say you’re not getting Annie Leibovitz and Steven Spielberg for that kind of money. Nor should you expect to.

I was a guest at a wedding recently, always a nice change for me. I make it a rule not to shoot friends weddings because I like to enjoy their day as a guest. However, that doesn’t stop me from scoping out the wedding photographer. I had given this friend a load of suggestions about who he should look at, but they went ahead and booked somebody else. I watched the photographer, who was wearing jeans, as he photographed the bride and groom squinting into direct sunlight; tried to photograph the group shot of all the guests with a telephoto lens (imagine holding up a toilet roll tube to your eye and trying to see a group of 100 people through it, and you’ll get the idea); and then before the first dance, he turned to me and whispered, “Help!” as he jumped in to shoot it with his non-professional camera with pop-up flash. The photos, when I saw them, were not inspiring. As I said earlier, people who value photography will pay for it; those who don’t, won’t. This couple could have afforded a better photographer. Heck, they could have afforded me. But photography was not important to them.

I’m making this point because what you choose to spend on your photography is not always down to budget. I’ve had couples with small budget weddings hire me to do their wedding photography because it was what they wanted to spend their money on. Instead, they held back on flowers and the cake or asked family members to donate their skills and make the bouquets and confections. What you want to spend your budget on is your choice.

Being a photographer is not just about owning a professional camera; it’s about knowing how to use it. I get so frustrated when people lump all photographers together, as though we all have exactly the same skill set. We don’t. So what are you paying for as the price goes up?

First and foremost, it’s experience. The more experienced a photographer is, the more he or she should cost. A wedding day is fraught with pitfalls and booby traps for the inexperienced. For example, the lighting conditions on a wedding day change from bright (outside) to dark (in the church) in seconds. And then, we’re often told we can’t use flash inside the church. A photographer needs to know how to deal with this.

Experience shows up in other areas, too, like in ability to pose a couple. The majority of you will read that and think, “Posing?! I don’t want to be posed.” And I’m telling you: trust me, you do. Posing is not the opposite of having natural-looking photographs; it just makes you look better and more natural in that natural-looking photograph. Or at least, good posing does. Perhaps posing is the wrong word for it. “Directed” may be a better word. I look at my couples as two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that I have to fit together appealingly in flattering light. This is not easy and it takes years to get truly good at it. In a lot of trendy or young wedding photography today, I can easily see where a photographer has no idea what he or she is doing regarding posing or directing a couple. The bride’s waist isn’t visible or looks thick; arms look huge; men look like they have beer bellies; hands look like talons; faces look chubby because they’re in the wrong light. No, it is not dieting that can fix all this, but good posing.

Some people will have read the above and think that it doesn’t apply to them because they want entirely reportage photography. Well, here is news for you. Good reportage ain’t easy either. I can probably count the number of great reportage wedding photographers on one hand (and they charge appropriately). There is a fine line between snapshots and reportage. In the past ten years or so, reportage is a word that brides seemed to have latched on to. They would come into a meeting with me and say they wanted reportage photography and then look through my portfolio and gush over images that are so not reportage, completely posed, but natural-looking. One of the most famous reportage photographs in the world of a couple kissing outside of a Parisian café by Robert Doisneau was found to be a fake in 1993. In fact, he had hired two actors and set the whole thing up. It came to light when two people claiming to be the subject of the famous photograph tried to sue the photographer and he came clean. Reportage, by definition, is documentary photography (also known as photojournalism). That means the photographer stands back and doesn’t get involved; he or she just photographs the day as it happens. As I said earlier, there is a fine line between snapshots and reportage. This is due to two factors: lighting and expression. A really good pure reportage photographer is going to cost you money.

Another thing that you pay for as prices go up is the ability to see light and knowledge of different lighting techniques. Using purely natural light is great, but what if you’re in a dark church and need flash? If you’re a wedding photographer, flash is your friend. If someone says they are purely a natural light photographer, their skill-set may not be suited to shooting a winter wedding. Winter weddings is a topic that seems to strike fear into the hearts of many wedding photographers. There are entire issues of photography magazines dedicated to the subject. Why? Because they are dark and you have to be confident with light. Ironic, since photography is literally “painting with light.”

I shot a wedding in March at a castle up north. The ceremony started at 5:00. Every photo I took, I had to light. That means I had to bring lots of expensive equipment with me, like flashes and video lights. Because I also run a family portrait studio, I work with that kind of lighting on a regular basis. But many photographers don’t. Experience with lighting increases their value and, therefore, their price. And getting good training and experience is an investment and can be expensive for the photographer, too.

At a recent wedding, one of the guests turned to me and said that I must have the best job in the world because I only had to work one day a week. If I could have mustered the patience, I would have explained to her that each wedding we shoot takes a lot of work. There’s pre-production (planning the wedding, doing pre-wedding shoots, and not to mention booking the wedding in the first place), then there’s the hard work of shooting the wedding (physically and mentally demanding, but the part of the process that takes the least time), and finally post-production (downloading the images, backing them up, sorting through them, Photoshopping them, presenting them to the client, designing an album, getting the album ready for press, etc.). It takes a lot of time and time is money.

And regarding time, more experienced photographers will charge more for their time. It’s like when you go to the hair dresser; you can pay top dollar (or pound) for the senior stylist who has been practicing the art of hair-cutting for a long time or you can save money and get the junior stylist who has had a few lessons in hair-cutting, but more than makes up for the lack of expertise with enthusiasm.

Photoshopping is another skill that holds a lot of value in photography. These days, many brides ask if they will be retouched. Back when I was in advertising, it was rare to find a photographer who was also good at retouching, but today, it’s a necessary skill.  At the low end of the market, it’s probable that wedding coverage and the disc of images you paid £750 for will not be retouched. Retouching takes time, which means it costs money. Always beware of deals that are too good to be true! The thing to be careful of with Photoshop is over-Photoshopping. It shouldn’t be used to make a bad photo good. The photo should be good when it’s taken in camera. At a party of photographers recently, a girl came up to me and talked about how she used photo shop effects to turn bad photos into good photos in Photoshop. Adding artistic effects to photographs is fine, as long as the basic photograph is good – well posed, well lit and well composed.

What the package includes is another thing that can drive up price. Generally, the better the album and the better the album design, the more it should cost. Like photography, good design isn’t easy. The problem is that, like with photography, a lot of people can’t tell the difference between good and bad design. Those who are hot on design will pay more for a higher standard.

When you go into BHS, do you expect the same service that you get at Harrods?  Customer service is another thing you pay for as the price goes up. Customer service includes everything from the way the phone is answered when you call to every contact you have with the photographer’s company leading up to the day you receive your final printed album. While being a small business should be no excuse for bad customer service, it can easily get overlooked when your photographer is stressed because they have 15 weddings waiting to be processed in the month of June because they have taken on too much work. I’m lucky because I have built up a remarkable team of people around me.

Do I even need to mention that photography equipment is expensive? When I’m at a wedding, I have thousands of pounds worth of equipment with me. And that equipment needs to be insured, too, which again costs money. Recently, I read about a scam on a wedding photography forum where thieves would turn up at weddings pretending to be guests and make off with the photographer’s equipment. That’s a scary prospect for a photographer, whose entire livelihood rests on that equipment and the images that are in their camera bag.

The wedding industry is made up of small businesses, mostly run by people who made the brave decision to leave comfortable, full-time employment to take on the joys and stresses of working for themselves. For this reason, you have to take into account the costs of running a business and the cost of living. Running a business means you need to pay a lot of bills: rent, gas, electricity, computer equipment, data back up, software, marketing costs like advertising, and travel. The list could go on for paragraphs. And what about the cost of living? Mortgages, food, entertainment (photographers need a life, too), pensions, clothing, etc. And believe it or not, photographers need to train not just in taking better photographs, but also in how to run a solid, successful and profitable business.

And before you start bargaining with your photographer because your budget is tight, realise that a wedding photographer will work hard at your wedding. I feel like I’ve been through a war at the end of every wedding I shoot. He or she charges what s/he charges because that’s what their experience, artistry and costs demand them to charge. The recession, the day of the week your wedding is on, the size of your guest list (e.g. “I’m having a small wedding”), and the fact that you chose to spend a large sum on your cake, doesn’t affect how much it costs your photographer to shoot your wedding. For a fun insight into the life a wedding photographer, have a quick look at this film on You Tube.

Well, I’ve exceeded Kat’s original word count request by over 2000, so I think it’s time to sign off now. And I haven’t even touched on the value of a photographer with ideas (not an easy skill in high-pressure situations, like weddings). But before I leave you, I’ll answer the question that I’m sure is on all your lips: what do you charge, Julia? For an 8-hour wedding with me and a second photographer, including a pre-wedding shoot in London or at my studio, an album designed by our professional designer, all images on a password-protected site, retouching of all the images in the album or images that are ordered from our website, and bespoke thank you cards, we charge £4600 including VAT. And that does not include a disc of images. This year, I shot 20 weddings. Next year, I’m only planning to shoot ten.  My associate photographer who also shoots weddings for us (£2950) will shoot 20 next year. On a wedding forum this week, I read a post by someone who said they had called up for our packages because they loved our work and she stated our prices. Another poster exclaimed that £4600 was even out of her range. However, looking back through the posts, this same person thought £1500+ was high-end wedding photography. It’s not. High end in the UK is £4000+. And we completely understand that we are out of most people’s budgets.

When I started out, I charged £600 and then £800 for my first two weddings. After that, I went up to £1750 and it’s gone up from there, as the quality of my product, cost of doing business, and experience have increased. One bride who booked me when I was starting out told me last year that she considered herself to be the luckiest bride in the world to have caught me early. Now we’re regarded as one of the top wedding photography companies in the UK and have just won the You &Your Wedding Bride’s Choice award for 2010.

If it’s any consolation, I couldn’t have afforded me when I got married. The good news is there’s a wedding photographer out there for everyone; you just have to find the one that’s right for you and your budget.

Supporting Cast

241 comments

  1. Great article that I have shared on my Facebook site for all my brides to be to read. I used to try and match my prices to a couples budget but those weddings always ended up being more stressful then the more expensive weddings.

    Now my prices are set and I charge what I feel my work and time is worth. If a couple want a cheap photographer they can go and book elsewhere. If they want a photographer who is passionate about their work, will always and try and create the best images from their day (The key word create – as Julia said is not posed we create a direct people so the photos look natural) and most importantly the couple enjoy their day including the photography then there are a lot of fantastic photographers out there like Julia and myself :-) who won’t rip you off but will provide you with exquisite albums and a high end service.

  2. Irma-Jane

    Thank you SOOOOOO very much for this – it has come at a time when I was feeling rather glum about what I do. A couple who had already ‘chosen’ me changed their mind at the weekend because they felt my cost was the higher end (ÂŁ1000 for the day, the editing and large photo quality photobook?). I completely understand that people have budgets, but when I work out the actual cost per hour it is more around ÂŁ15 – possibly less – and that’s not including the cost of petrol, equipment, the time taken up with correspondence and initial meetings, years of creative/artistic experience and photography experience – and yes, the feeling the next day when you can’t move for the ninja like way in which you work in order to capture someones special day.

    It is an honour to be chosen to photograph the most amazing day of a couples life – and I always tell the bride and groom this as I do feel humble, but in return a little understanding that I genuinely care and work on every single photo and every wedding/event I photograph to the very best of my ability, and that that I truly believe that they are getting a bargain! I was appalled yesterday when my husband told me that his work colleague had found a photographer who will photograph the day, put images on a disc, photoboothing and a wedding book for ÂŁ350. I am sorry but I would rather give up all together than charge those prices. Do you know how often people have said to me ‘I wish I hard picked someone else – like you to do my wedding photography’ – why? because ‘there was no creativity’, ‘the photographer wasn’t very nice’, or the ‘photos are of poor quality’…and I have to bite my tongue because as you say, you pay for what you get.

    I am truly at a cross road about whether to give up, or give the business a final show stopping push (my youngest starts school this year and this was always my plan to take business as it comes up until then). If I do decide to keep going, I will start by renaming the business and not using my name but something independent…not sure why but it feels right to do this.

    Thank you for very timely (for me) article, and for what it’s worth, I think your photography is amazing – and if I were to get married again I would choose you! I haven’t met you but can tell just from your work that you care!

    Thnaks again.

  3. Ali

    I’m extremely lucky to have an incredible photographer friend shooting our wedding for free. We both studied photography at uni together, graduating 7 years ago and he’s the only person in the world I’d trust to shoot my wedding. He’s built some incredible large format wet plate pin hole cameras to shoot as well as other film and digital. I’m really excited to have some really magical and unique wedding photography!
    I absolutely HATE photographing people but I also shot my sisters wedding for free 7 years ago. They may not have been the most incredible photos in my opinion but she absolutely loved them and was totally happy so that’s all I cared about.
    Great article, thoroughly enjoyed the honesty.

  4. I think with photography being so accessible now, the tendency is to think it’s easy to be a photographer, which devalues the service slightly.
    It’s really not easy being a photographer.
    Every single photographer I know works really hard – every day.

    Thanks for highlighting some of the backstage process..
    …and that video is hilarious!

  5. martin

    I liked the article and agree with most of it. Although I do have to say that at times you come across a little bit egomaniacal. My partner is a Wedding Photographer, she’s very good although well aware she isn’t great. She delivers a high quality product at a very affordable price for people who can’t afford to spend thousands. She is aware that she isn’t as good as you are and that the market she works within is something different entirely. She is however extremely passionate and dedicated to her profession.

  6. Will

    A bit late in on the discussion here! A well considered, well written article, although it does bother me a bit. I will explain why:

    I got married 15 years ago (still very happy, still going strong!), and we hired a photographer to cover the event. He was pretty pricey, and was very good. He sold me and my mother in law 2 albums afterwards as well. All in all it came to about ÂŁ1.5K (remember this was 15 years ago). Since then, I can count on one hand the amount of times we have looked through the album. Strangely the only photo from our wedding that sees the light of day (framed, on a wall) regularly is one which one of the other guests took, which was captured a brilliant moment/angle. Don’t get me wrong, the ‘official’ photos were great.

    Weddings in my opinion are hugely overpriced affairs. We spent ÂŁ10K (15 years ago, remember) on our wedding (150 guests). It was a massive investment for us. There is was too much marketing/media pressure on couples nowadays to spend huge amounts of money on weddings which they often can’t afford, beginning right at the stag/hen nights (or weekends now).

    So I suppose what really bugs me about this article I is the 3 assumptions in makes:

    1. The assumption that everyone wants to spend an insane amount of money on their wedding
    2. The implication that everyone has ÂŁ2K+ to spend on a photographer, otherwise they may as well not bother, as they are going to get something sub standard. You can put as many caveats in there as you want, but that’s the implication. ;)
    3. The overblown emphasis on the importance of wedding photographers. Everyone is different. Some people may only want a couple of really great shots which capture the day. There’s probably a whole market out there for exactly that. Maybe the ‘ÂŁ500 photographers’ you are talking about?

    You’re a great photographer, but don’t put the people down who cater to the less well-heeled. And, contrary to what you say, there are some great photographers out there who do not charge anywhere near what you are talking about.

  7. Dave Jensen

    A helpful article. I had a very well known scottish photographer do my wedding and I have to say although one if the most creative people out there the photos were nothing special.

    I am looking at moving into weddings and my reason is not to make huge amounts of money but to express my art. I am a frustrated artist who has no free time to paint anymore and I lie to express this in photography. Every photo I take is a piece of my art and everyone is different. I personally hate modern art some people love it. It’s the sane with photography styles. Certainly some high end stuff snacks from the pretentious to ridiculous. The key us to give the customer what they want if at all possible.

  8. Tom

    Greeting married in June and I’ve been briefed with one job for the whole wedding the photographer!!
    This article and webpage is great.
    Help needed still though….if I was going to look for a up and coming wedding photographer other than scrolling through all the blogs…are there any other tips?
    Thanks in advance…

  9. Stina

    Hello,

    Thank you for this. I have shared it on my business page here in the U.S. While the currency is not the same, the frustrations and truths are.

  10. K

    Interesting read, I am a “photographer” myself (I dislike that word) so I’m more of a camera geek. Anyway, I never knew why photographers charges so much for pictures especially if it’s their hobby, to me making someone happy when they see my shots is priceless. I want everyone to be able to have decent pictures for their weddings even those who are less well off. It is time consuming and it is tiring especially the endless nights editing but it’s really satisfying and they really appreciate it. In the end I had fun and I got a little money out of doing what I like with my time!

    Although everyone’s prices are different and I completely understand. You get what you pay for. What I don’t understand is how amateur “photographers” can charge pro prices for their work?! How do you judge wether your shots are good enough and price accordingly? I’ve seen so many horrendous wedding shots with built in flash, red eyes, tacky editing, bad posing and non creative composition. When I find out the amount they charge, I can’t believe it. So I think this is the problem that’s not being addressed properly. How much should one charge for a wedding as everyone has different skills? I’d like to think my work is fairly good but I know I undercharge because I like to make people happy and I enjoy my work dearly, money is not the main reason I work. I rather get no money that not being able to shoot.
    There are more and more amateur starting out, owning a “top” end slr with some nifty fifty and they’re a pro charging premium prices! It’s ridiculous. There’s too many wannabe in this industry now. I prefer it back when analog was in use. Most actually had skills, now everyone’s a pro!

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