Wedding Photographer Cost: How Much Should You Expect to Pay?

How to get the best value for your money.
Wedding Photographer Cost

One of the biggest, but also most important costs of your wedding is hiring a wedding photographer to document your special day.

Don’t be surprised by the high prices photographers quote you when you start your wedding planning. Wedding photography lasts a lifetime and those photographers know brides are willing to pay top-dollar for a collection of memories — or even that one incredible photo — that helps tell the story of their fairytale wedding day.

And if these photographers are super talented, they know if you don’t snap them up, some other couple will, especially during peak wedding season.

If you’re not sure where to start and are still wondering how much a wedding photographer costs, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve researched average costs for wedding photographers and have plenty of tips and tricks to help you not only land the best possible photographer for your big day, but at the best possible price.

What’s the Hourly Rate for a Wedding Photographer?

Wedding photographer prices by the hour can range anywhere from $150 per hour all the way to nearly $500 per hour. At 10 hours, that could cost couples anywhere from $1,500 to $5,000.

The average wedding photographer cost is ultimately going to be dictated by the person’s prestige and talent, in addition to the market where your wedding will be located. A popular wedding photographer shooting a ceremony in Aspen, Colorado, for example, will be on the higher end of that hourly rate and, potentially, may charge more than those average rates. Meanwhile, a talented photographer in Detroit may charge you closer to the $150 per hour rate. Both photographers could very well produce the same quality of wedding photography.

The hourly rate is also dictated by the types of services your photographer is charging:

  • Is the photographer contracting a second shooter or will it just be one photographer?
  • Is your photographer also shooting video?
  • Does the package you selected include engagement photos or some other kind of photo session?

In addition to those services, a wedding photographer could charge you more if they need to travel a significant distance to your ceremony from their homebase. As you can see, there are several different elements that can impact wedding photographer prices.

Should I hire wedding photographers by the hour?

Hiring a photographer by the hour is quite rare today. Most wedding photographers prefer to sign clients to package deals. These deals come at a set price for a predetermined amount of services for the wedding day.

The all-in-one packages typically help wedding photographers better forecast their business for the year and prevents any confusion about when your photographer can take off for the night.

Of course, hiring a photographer by the hour can save you money if you’re strategic about it. But if you choose that route, it’s critically important you sign a contract explaining your expectations for the wedding day.

Here are some questions every couple should ask about and include in that contract:

  • Does the hourly rate include post-production editing? Or will you also be billed by the hour for that work?
  • If you want the photographer to stay longer than your predetermined time, will he or she oblige? And will the hourly rate stay the same?
  • Will you be charged at the hourly rate (or for mileage) for the travel time it takes to get to your ceremony and reception hall?
  • Does the hourly rate include the services of a second photographer? (An additional shooter can capture more special moments than one photographer.)
  • If you commit to a certain amount of hours, will it also include an engagement session?
  • Are albums or prints included in your packages? If so, how many images are included per package? If I want additional images, do we order directly from you?

These are only a few questions to consider as you employ a wedding photographer by the hour. Most professional photographers who have worked weddings for awhile tend to have well-written contracts that will help guide your experience and give you a clear idea on cost.

How much are average wedding photography packages?

You’ll likely choose a photographer based on a predetermined package — not by the hour. So, what should be included in a wedding photo package and what’s the average price?

This amount, which varies by number of services and location of the wedding, is the total cost of photography services for your big day. You may have extra costs if you opt to order prints from your photographer, or if it includes engagement photos.

Expect to pay at least $1,000 in most markets. Higher-end photographers can charge as much as $10,000, especially if you tack on a number of services, including video.

It’s important to make sure a photographer’s packages include a link to an online gallery showcasing your photos. Some photographers may only give you a thumb drive or a Dropbox link. You need a link to share on social media with friends and family.

Contracts for wedding photography packages tend to be more straightforward and typically include post-production editing services. Many photographers who you contract for packaged services are also typically more prone to stay later in the night to capture those special moments.

Again, it’s critical to review the contract and ask your photographer any questions you may have to make sure everyone is on the same page.

Why Is the Wedding Photographer Cost So Expensive?

If you just wondered, “Wait, how much does a wedding photographer cost?” let us explain. Your wedding day photography cost is tied to three primary factors:

Artistic Creativity

While some brides may think having their cousin or a friend shoot their wedding on the cheap or as a gift because they recently purchased a “nice camera” is a good idea, you can guarantee that the quality of the photos — from the poses to the editing — will be nowhere close to a seasoned veteran wedding photographer.

The best wedding photographers understand the art and science of photographing weddings and have a unique style. They know the most flattering poses. They can quickly organize family for post-ceremony shots. And they can capture those unique, unbelievable moments in a photograph that you will hang on to forever.

Do you want an amateur behind the lens and risk missing your favorite moments to save money? Or do you want your wedding photography to stand out and be memorable?

While there can be exceptions, the best wedding photographers tend to be on the expensive side because they’re in such high demand. So, if you want great photos, be prepared to pay for it.

Supply and Demand

All vendors in the wedding industry, including caterers, planners and florists, understand you want a magical day that you and your guests will remember for a long time.

But they also know you’re not the only person getting married this season. If a photographer’s talented, he or she can pretty much anticipate getting business elsewhere if you decide their services are too expensive.

Expensive Tools

The professional equipment in a wedding photographer’s bag allows them to capture the best possible photo. Because of that, it isn’t cheap.

A wedding photographer’s kit includes multiple camera bodies, which can each run a few thousand dollars. And then there’s high-quality zoom lenses that allow photographers to capture a photo with a shallow depth of field that can cost just as much, if not more. If the photographer you choose has a second shooter on staff, you can multiply those costs by two.

A computer for editing, protective cases for the equipment, and a car to travel to and from the wedding are additional expenses.

How to Save Money On Your Photographer Cost

Wedding photography prices can be high. So, here are some tips and tricks to bring down the cost of a wedding photographer’s overall cost so you have more money to spend on other areas of your wedding:

Pick the Budget Package

The cost of wedding photos can fluctuate based on the package you pick. Wedding photographers understand not everyone can afford their top-of-the-line services, which is why they offer lower cost packages. Maybe it doesn’t include an engagement photo session and a guarantee of sticking around all night, but as long as it captures the ceremony and key moments from the reception, like cutting the cake, that might be good enough for you.

Get Married in the Off Season

Everyone wants to get married in the summer and photographers certainly feel that demand. Schedule your wedding for January, though, and you have more room to lower your budget as there likely isn’t as much competition to hire a photographer. The offseason tends to be from November through April with the exception of December and February.

Don’t Buy Prints

Photographers typically offer to sell you prints from your big day and they do it at a nice markup. As long as you get full printing rights to your digital photos, there are several great websites where you can print high quality photos for affordable prices. Make sure you get access to a shareable online gallery or digital wedding album and then you can buy prints a la carte.

Shop Locally

Wedding photography prices increase if the photographer needs to travel a long distance to get to the ceremony. Find someone locally if you want to keep costs down. Better yet, if you know the photographer, he or she may be inclined to give you a better rate.

Keep Ceremony and Reception in the Same Location

Adding more travel to your photographers day also adds to the average cost of a wedding photographer. Do your best to keep the ceremony and reception in the same place. It’s also quite convenient for your guests. 

Don’t Hire for Entire Reception

After the best man speech and the cake is cut, there are only so many dancing photos that need to be shot. Tell your photographer to take off 20 minutes or so after the first dance. It’ll help lower your budget.

What Should You Expect From Your Wedding Photographer

The No. 1 thing couples should expect from their photographer is high-quality wedding images delivered in a timely manner.

But there are other things to look for when you’re researching options for wedding photography.

Professionalism

If you have to give up a little bit of creativity for a wedding photographer who is a true professional, it will be totally worth it.

A photographer’s professionalism goes beyond framing and snapping photos. They should know how to pin a boutonniere if it comes off. They shouldn’t be afraid to keep the show moving and shuffling family members in and out of photos.

And most importantly, they should arrive on time. And that includes your initial meeting with them. If your photographer can’t show up on time for a consultation meeting, how will you know if they can show up on time for your wedding?

Creativity

We live in an Instagram world, which means wedding day images have become a dime a dozen. Find someone who is going to take your wedding photos to the next level by not being afraid to get creative.

When interviewing photographers, it’s important to ask about their creative approach to each job. If they can’t answer you quickly, then they’re probably not very creative.

Of course, creativity can be taken too far. No one wants to see an ultra-high contrast candid shot of Grandma sipping some wine with a blurred bride in the background.

Creative wedding photos tell the story of your special day in an easy to understand and beautiful way. 

Experience

To hire a photographer who checks the first two boxes on this list, you need someone who has years of experience shooting wedding photos.

If you have a friend who’s trying to get into the wedding photography business, your wedding is probably not the best event for them to get started.

An experienced photographer has a strong understanding of how a wedding works. They’re also problem solvers because they’ve been there before.

An experienced photographer not only delivers steller wedding photography, but also has the skill to hide in the background because they’re an experienced professional.

Backup Plans

Good wedding photographers know the importance of backing up everything. If a lens drops and breaks, they have a backup in their bag. When a memory card fills up, they dump it into a laptop to ensure there’s no file corruption. They are so good that if they get in a car accident on their way to your wedding, they’re going to call in a backup shooter to get the job done.

Experienced professionals know the importance of a backup because they also understand the pressures of losing critical shots that can ruin the final portfolio of wedding images.

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