August 19, 2020

How much should you spend on your wedding photographer?

If you’re starting to plan and budget for your wedding, you may be wondering “how much should I spend on wedding photography?”. This post is to help you figure that out!

Many blogs and magazines will try to point you to a specific range or percentage of your overall budget. Every market is different, so I’d like to shed a little light on what you can realistically expect to spend. I’m in the Dallas market, so that’s my area of expertise!

The 10% Myth

Many blogs will tell you to budget 10% of your overall budget on photography. When I was getting married, this is what I was told, too!

However, I think it’s important to understand what you value before putting a number on it. If you value candid moments, a guided experience, and stress-free photography, you may want to adjust the 10% rule. When I got married, I chose to spend 25% on photography and cut back in other areas because I knew that these memories could not be replaced and would be the catalyst for storytelling in the future.

So how much do photographers cost?

This varies drastically due to location, style, experience, and packages.

Being a Dallas wedding photographer, I see photographers priced $2000-$15,000. That’s a pretty wide range! But let’s discuss why that is.

Location

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that Dallas is a relatively expensive place to live compared to smaller towns in Texas. That being said, Dallas is still much more reasonable as far as living expenses compared to a larger city like New York City. This cost of living doesn’t just impact the housing, food, and gas markets. It affects the wedding market, as well.

Style

This can be fairly subjective, but a photographer whose style is sought after will generally charge a premium.

Style doesn’t just have to correlate with “light and airy” vs. “dark and moody”. It can also include shooting style. Does the photographer capture moments in a way that seems effortless. Do they make you feel comfortable in front of the camera? Your experience is just as much a part of their style as their photos are.

Experience

These days, the cost of entry to the professional photography world is fair inexpensive. Anyone with basic knowledge of a camera can market themself as a photographer.

However, what happens when the reception space is dark? Can they handle tricky lighting?

What if the timeline runs long? How do they handle reduced portrait time?

Have they worked at your venue? Do they know all the right spots for portraits, and have back-up plans?

What if it rains? How will they handle that?

These are all questions that can only be answered with experience. And with that experience comes an increase in rate. An experienced photographer will know how to light a reception space. They’ll know how to move through portraits quickly so the wedding can move forward on schedule. They seek out touring the venue beforehand to ensure proper portrait locations if they haven’t worked at that venue before. And they always have a Plan B in case of rain. Simply put, an experienced photographer will provide peace of mind.

Packages

When comparing photography packages, take note of what’s included. Some photographers will offer certain numbers of wedding day coverage, engagement sessions, albums, print credits, second photographers. Some only offer base coverage with options to add on other services/products.

It’s important to note that the more a photographer includes, the higher the package will cost.

Some things you’ll want to look for:

  • Do they include an engagement session?
  • Is a second photographer included?
  • Do they include an album or album credit?
  • Do they provide timeline creation and meetings throughout the process?

If it says “wedding” you must charge more, right?

Wrong! Photographers generally do not up-charge just because it’s a wedding.

Weddings are not the same as a party, so they must be priced differently. Weddings are a once in a lifetime event that requires hours of work beforehand, hours of work in post-processing, and plenty of physical and mental work.

In general, a single wedding can include the following hours of work:

  • 1-3 hours of booking emails and consultations
  • 1-2 for photographing the engagement session
  • 1-2 hours for editing, exporting, uploading, and delivering the engagement session
  • 2-3 hours of timeline creation, emails, planning and other prep
  • 8-12 hours on the wedding day, including travel, setup, tear down, photo backups
  • 10-20 hours of editing time and gallery delivery
  • 1-4 hours of album design, edits, and ordering

So that has the potential to account for 46+ hours of labor. This isn’t even counting additional photographers, gas, gear, software, taxes, education, marketing, etc.

Average Wedding Photography Costs in the Dallas Area

I typically see photographers grouped into the following starting ranges:

  • -$500-1500 – Brand new, may have shot one or two weddings as a second photographer
  • -$1800-3000 – Has probably photographed quite a few weddings as a second photographer, maybe a handful as a lead, is probably doing this as a side-hustle
  • -$2800-$3200 – Standard starting range for professionals that have been photographing weddings pretty regularly for 1-2 years as a lead photographer
  • $4000+ Many years of experience and expertise, has a top-notch client experience, likely offers luxury, heirloom quality products, and has a style that is sought after. Knows how to capture emotion, and will provide the best overall experience.

I think it should be worth noting that these are starting ranges, and it’s entirely possible to spend $15k on a photographer that starts at $4k.I think it should be worth noting that these are starting ranges, and it’s entirely possible to spend $15k on a photographer that starts at $4k.

Conclusion

How much you decide to spend on your photographer is a totally personal choice. When you prioritize what’s most important on your wedding day, it should be fairly straightforward to see where photography lies.

I think a good rule of thumb is to decide what quality, style, and experience you want, and then find the photographer that meshes well with YOU!

These starting ranges are generalizations. You may find an amazing photographer that’s priced well below what they should be. Conversely, you may overpay for someone who’s not as experienced as they should be.

Understanding your values is key to knowing where photography ranks on your list of priorities. Should your images last forever? Yes, absolutely. Should you feel great about knowing they were captured beautifully and intentionally? I think so!

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