Long after the vows have been said and the reception hall has been cleaned up, your wedding photos tell the story of your big day and capture the special moments you cherish. Finding the perfect wedding photographer may seem overwhelming, but once you understand the basics of cost and contracts it's a fairly simple process. We'll break down how you can target a professional wedding photographer who has an aesthetic you love, with a personality you like, at a cost you can afford. Nationally, the average cost that couples pay for a professional wedding photographer is between $800 and $1,000, although pricing can skew lower or much higher depending on a few factors. On one end of the spectrum, wedding photography may involve simply taking amazing photos of the marriage ceremony or your elopement — in which case costs remain relatively low, from $200 to $400. Or professional wedding photography can capture everything wedding-related, including wedding showers, engagement parties, getting ready, the ceremony, the wedding reception and beyond, meaning you'll pay an national average cost of $3,000-$5,000 or more.
The cost of your professional wedding photographer will be based on how long you hire them for, the number of retouched photos you want, whether any additional photographers or assistants will be on hand, the reputation of the wedding photographer, your geographic location, the day of the week, and the season. Wedding planning pros recommend you hire your wedding photographer in early planning stages: first the planner (if you're working with one), then the venue, followed by the caterer and photographer. Popular professional wedding photographers can book up fast during high season, so once you know who you want to document your day, don't hesitate to put down a deposit to lock them in for your date. It's standard practice to pay a deposit of anywhere from 10 percent to 50 percent upfront, and the remainder on the day of the event or a few days before it.
Wedding photographers offer a wide range of photography styles, so when you start your initial search, review portfolios to find the look you're after. In cities like Chicago and New York, high-fashion editorial-style wedding photos are popular, with couples earmarking a larger part of their wedding budget to lock in well-known photographers. Aesthetic elements of the photographer's style include everything from lenses used and lighting to formality of poses and more. Popular requests among soon-to-be married couples include traditional/formal, candid, artistic, natural/outdoors, and high-fashion photos.
As you get ready to hire your wedding photographer, here are the average cost factors to consider.
The length of time that the photographer's services are required can contribute significantly to cost. Any additional activities beyond the ceremony and reception that couples want photographed can add to the time and cost, including photos of the wedding party getting ready, formal family photos, rehearsal dinners, bridal showers, engagement photos or engagement parties, day-after brunches, and so on. The average wedding photography agreement is typically for 8-10 hours or more so the photographer can capture the venue, the ceremony and the important parts of the reception.
The bulk of the photographer's work takes place in post-production, editing and fine-tuning the photos. Special touches like smoothing out splotchy skin, adding extra sparkle to the rings, or editing out shadows all take time and skill, and are what make your wedding photos really glow. This hard work on the back end is why the cost of wedding photography is based on much more than the 8-10 hours your photographer spends taking photos on the wedding day.
Equipment is another factor in wedding photography cost. To get those glorious, high-definition photos, you need your pro to have top-of-the-line equipment. High-end professional cameras can run around $6,000 or even as high as $30,000 for the premium brands. Add the cost of lenses to that (an average of $1,000-$2,000 or more each) and you'll understand why a professional photographer's rates are higher than those of a hobbyist with a mid-priced camera.
The majority of professional photographers offer wedding packages, which are typically less expensive than a la carte pricing. Flat-rate packages typically include a set number of hours, retouched photos, and other deliverables. The more services you receive, the higher the package cost. The various digital or printed components of a photo package — beyond time, locations and number of photographers — also affect the overall cost. The best wedding photographers deliver the final package as a CD or DVD, online with access to digital proofs and high-quality images or quality prints, as physical proofs and prints, as a photographer-made photo album, or some combination of these. A package can offer great cost savings while allowing you to purchase more high-quality images at a future date. The photographer can typically recommend the best wedding photography package options for your budget.
Always be sure your contract specifies how you will receive the photos and whether you have printing rights. Here are a few examples of the average cost of wedding packages nationally:
Wedding package one: $1,000: Includes up to 4 hours of coverage on the wedding day, with most formal photos taken before ceremony, car service (black Mercedes) as needed from ceremony site to the reception, photos of reception highlights (until time runs out), and high-resolution images via digital download. Add-on options: Second (junior) photographer for $200, additional hour of coverage $100 per hour, engagement photo session (one hour and 10 edited pictures) for $200.
Wedding package two: $1,400: Includes up to 6 hours of wedding day photography, arrival at venue prior to preparation, first look and formal photos prior to ceremony, car service to reception, full coverage of reception, and high-resolution images via digital download. Add-on options: Second (junior) photographer for $200 or engagement photo session (one hour and 10 edited pics) for $200.
Wedding package three: $2,600: Includes up to 8 hours of wedding photography and all the services of wedding package two; one hour of private portraits after the ceremony; up to 30 edited images for printing; and two 16x20 canvas gallery wrapped prints. Add-on options: Second (intermediate level) photographer for $300; two-hour, two-location engagement photo shoot with 15 edited pictures for $400; photo booth at reception with digital download for $300; and first family Christmas card photo shoot session for $300.
Wedding package four: $3,000: Includes 10 hours of coverage, everything included in wedding package three; a private bridal portrait session with the gown; first look before ceremony with portrait session; 20 additional edited shots ready for print (50 total); and a 26-page printed wedding album. This pro offers additional wedding packages beyond those listed.
Some wedding photographers offer their services on an hourly basis, such as $250 per hour. Hourly rates are not as common as set package pricing — especially during the peak wedding season months of spring and summer — but are typically offered by independent photographers or those just starting out. Hourly rates can vary, depending on geographic location, photographer experience, day of week and time of year. When hiring a photographer on an hourly basis, use a clearly written contract and be sure to specify what printing rights you'll have to the photos, and whether the hourly rate includes post-production editing or if that will cost extra.
Some couples want every aspect of their wedding day photographed, from early-morning gown and tux shots in the dressing rooms to the last guests snacking at the midnight food truck. If the photographer has to travel between multiple locations, such as the getting-ready location, the bridal party limo ride to the wedding site, the ceremony site and the reception hall, costs can be greater. Multiple destinations don't always mean a higher price range though, especially if you've purchased a wedding package that covers the full day.
Destination weddings will almost definitely increase wedding photographer fees. Some photographers charge their normal rates plus travel, room and board. Other photographers may have an additional fee beyond their standard rates and travel expenses to accommodate the extra effort required for them to pack up their specialized equipment and work remotely.
If your wedding is large, you might request — or your photographer may recommend — a photographer's assistant or additional photographer. If your guest list is very long, you'll want more than one camera to document those magic moments and important guests. Even for small weddings, a photographer's assistant may be needed to handle extra equipment, set up lighting, and ensure your photographer is primed to take those perfect shots. If your wedding takes place at sunset or you have requested a certain aesthetic, such as an editorial style, a wedding photographer may also need an assistant to ensure styling and proper lighting. Adding a second photographer may increase the cost based on an hourly rate, while the photographer's assistant is typically paid at an hourly rate that is lower than that of the principal photographer. In general, extra hands on deck mean a higher cost.
Photographer reputation and demand have a huge impact on rates. Professional photographers with a widely recognized brand will cost more than those just starting out. Experience will also affect costs. A new photographer looking to build their portfolio will often offer discounts to build clientele, while more established pros will have rates reflecting their experience. Most wedding photographers only work one wedding a day, so if you have your heart set on someone with a cult following, secure their services early with a deposit.
Photographers who are individual contractors or photography business owners are tipped less frequently than employees of a larger photography company or a photographer's assistant hired for the event. Of course, if you feel the person went above and beyond, coaxing a smile out of your cranky uncle and putting your camera-shy nieces at ease, a gratuity is a wonderful way to show your appreciation. Another even more helpful way to show appreciation is by writing your wedding photographer a positive review. You probably counted on customer reviews to help guide you in the selection process, so by sharing your experience you can pay forward the favor and help your photographer build an even larger clientele.
Finding the perfect wedding photographer may seem overwhelming. These are the photos you'll cherish the rest of your life, after all — no pressure or anything. Fortunately, industry experts have tips on how to find the right wedding photographer:
Previous experience: When researching photographers, find someone with wedding experience. You don't want your wedding to be their first foray into this type of work. Ask to see their portfolio and look for examples that showcase similar setting and lighting to what you're planning, such as an outdoor ceremony at sunset.
Read reviews: Testimonials from former clients will tell you a lot about what you can expect. Find someone who is professional, is great at communication, puts you at ease (important when you're taking all those posed formal shots!), and has happy former clients.
Aesthetic: In the Northeast, editorial-style wedding photos are all the rage, while in the South, traditional reigns supreme. Review online portfolios to find a wedding photographer who can deliver the photo aesthetic you want — candids and colorful, formal and stylized, or whatever your heart desires.
Talk about worst-case scenarios: Preparation is the best defense. Ask the photographer what their plan is if they're sick the day of the ceremony, or in case of rain or bad weather conditions. Ask them for some examples of weddings where things went wrong and how they resolved it.
Talk about rates: Most wedding photographers offer wedding packages; make sure you understand exactly what is included for the rate you're paying.
Written contract: A clearly written contract is crucial for stress-free wedding pics. The contract should outline how many hours the photographer will be onsite, what location(s) they will be at, photographer's assistants, etc.
Total number of photos: Your contract should also specify how many photos you will receive. Be clear on whether this includes retouched photos as well as raw (unedited) photos.
Photo delivery: You don't want to wait three months for your photos. The contract should state the general time frame for delivering your completed photos and the format you'll receive them in (print, online, USB drive, etc.)
Printing rights: Clarify in the contract whether you will have full printing rights for the photos (i.e., you can print through any photo website) or if you must purchase prints and enlargements solely through the photographer.
Make a deposit: Wedding season means high demand. The photographer isn't officially yours until you've secured their services with a deposit, so if you love someone, make it official.
You may be able to save money by securing access to printing rights rather than being contractually obliged to purchase prints and enlargements from the photographer. Alway be sure you understand whether you will have full rights to download and print pictures from any site you choose. This will help you understand the real final cost of your wedding photos.
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