Wedding photographers have a few wide-spread fears, like missing the kiss or tripping mid-ceremony. Last week, I had a nightmare that I had to shoot a wedding with my iPhone.
But many wedding photographers often have one fear that has nothing to do with photography and everything to do with turning a passion into a business: asking for money and setting those wedding photography prices.
Asking for money feels strange — after all, your parents probably taught you that whining for a toy is rude and ungrateful. Factor in something you are passionate about, and setting wedding photography prices is enough to give some photographers the hives.
But wedding photography is valuable, and as such, you need to set a value for your work. If you can’t garner up the guts to charge for your work, you can’t make a living doing what you love.
Not sure where to start? Here are 13 tips to help you to determine how much to charge for wedding photography.
1. Set Your Goals
Understanding your purpose and what you hope to achieve helps you make the best decision for your business. And it helps you measure just how well you’re doing at meeting that goal.
Start your wedding photography pricing by determining the goals for your business. Maybe you have no intention of quitting your day job but want to have a secondary source of income doing something you enjoy. Maybe you want to photograph weddings full time. Or maybe you want to photograph weddings along with portraits and other events.
The more specific you are with your goals, the easier they are to measure. There’s nothing quite like that feeling of realising you’ve met, or even exceeded, a goal.
These goals can also change over time too. For example, my first year photographing weddings, my goal was to save enough to have a robust gear kit while I still had a 9-5 job paying my bills. Setting concrete goals helps you keep the big picture in mind as you set your prices.
2. Know Your Value
Imagine you need a new smartphone. One option is $500, the other is $800. Which smartphone is better? Most will answer that the more expensive one is better. When you set wedding photography prices, you are also setting your value.
Just like you’ll assume the more expensive gadget is the better one, brides and grooms will generally assume the more expensive photographer is the better one. Yes, there are couples on a tight budget looking for good value, but setting prices too low will give you a brand identity similar to the cheap smartphone brands.
That doesn’t mean you should set your prices crazy high and be done with it, however. You need to balance out your value with your geographic location, the quality of work in your portfolio and your brand. But you do need to understand the value in your own work before you ever try to put a number on it.
The price list you set will also reflect your brand. If you set low prices, your brand will be a budget brand. High prices, a luxury brand.
3. Estimate the Time Involved
Measuring the value of a wedding photograph that will grace a family’s walls for decades and be treasured enough to pass along through the generations is tough to do. To guide your decisions, estimate how much time you’ll invest in each wedding.
Yes, you’ll spend several hours actually photographing the wedding. But what many new photographers don’t realise until they’ve actually shot a wedding is how much more time is involved than just that actual wedding day. If you charge $1,000, you’re not earning $1,000 in a single day.
When estimating the time spent, in addition to the hours spent shooting, don’t forget to include time spent:
- Meeting with the bride and groom before the wedding;
- Creating and filing contracts and other paperwork;
- Shooting engagement photos, if included in the price;
- Travelling to the location;
- Uploading and sorting images;
- Editing images;
- Creating any deliverables such as prints or digital copies along with album design.
Wedding photography doesn’t end up being a single day’s work once you put everything together. While the answer varies a bit from photographer to photographer, for me, a full wedding package is closer to 30-40 hours of work than the 10 spent on the actual wedding day.
4. Understand the Area
Photographers working in New York City don’t charge the same as photographers working in small towns. Use a wedding cost calculator to estimate the amount of money couples in your area spend on a wedding.
Working in a rural area, the average cost of weddings in my area is around $15-$20k. The average wedding photographer in my area costs about ten percent of that. But, the average cost of a wedding in a large city such as New York is twice that, which means a photographer’s price lists will vary based on where they work.
With that in mind, the photographer is often the fourth most expensive wedding item. The reception takes up a big chunk, followed by the rings, reception band and photographer, according to Value Penguin.
I’m not saying that you should set your price at the average cost. After all, average means that some pay more and some pay less. But you should understand the area average in order to factor that information in with the other aspects to setting the price, like the time spent, your experience and your brand.
5. Budget for Equipment and Marketing
Time isn’t the only thing photographers invest in a wedding. Don’t forget to leave room in your pricing for photo gear and other expenses. Even if you already own a great wedding camera and lenses, camera bodies age. In a few years that camera body won’t be so new anymore.
You may want a better lens, may break a lens or need to service your gear just for upkeep.
Along with budgeting for gear updates and repairs, consider the other costs of running a business, such as:
- Photo editing software, or hiring a photo editor;
- Other software, like for budgeting and client management;
- A computer and printer;
- Website hosting costs for an online portfolio;
- Marketing costs such as online ads and bridal shows;
- Saving for retirements and vacations;
- Paying an assistant or second shooter, if you use one;
- Covering taxes;
- Paying for an office space or studio, if you opt not to work out of your home.
6. Packages, or A la Carte?
Along with determining how much to charge, wedding photographers will also have to determine how to charge it. The two most popular options are to offer full, all-inclusive packages or to have clients pick and choose what they want a la carte.
Packages are simpler for both the photographer and the bride and groom. Couples just pick the option that suits them and the process of choosing only involves one choice, not several.
For the photographer, it’s easier to mark a single package on the wedding contract and other paperwork. It’s also easier to remember package prices and options without looking at a price sheet.
While packages are simpler, a la carte has its perks too. If there’s something in your packages a couple doesn’t want, that could leave them feeling like they are paying for something they don’t even want. A la carte wedding photography prices help couples pick exactly what they want.
I use a sort of hybrid mix between the two. I offer three wedding photography packages, but I do have a list of add-ons that allow couples to expand their packages.
7. Detail Exactly What’s Included
Do your clients know exactly what they are getting and what they will pay for it? One couple recently ruined a photographer’s business by claiming she was holding the photos “hostage” until they paid a $150 fee for the album. The photographer won the ensuing defamation lawsuit because the fee was in her contract.
The lesson here? Include absolutely every fee in the contract. But, you should also be sure to go over each fee, if there’s more than one package fee, verbally in case the couple skimmed through the legalese of the wedding contract.
List everything that’s included in the contract, even if it’s something small. Be sure to state whether or not digital files and reprint rights are included as well.
8. Set a Deposit Amount
When you set your prices, you should also set a deposit amount and a due date for the payments. Failing to set a deposit means a couple may back out at the last minute, leaving you missing out on a date that you could have filled with another wedding. A deposit is usually a percentage of the total due, or a fixed dollar amount.
Set a deposit amount that covers any time you’ve invested already in meeting with the client and setting up the paperwork. Find a balance between a deposit that’s high enough to discourage cancellations and one that you’re comfortable with keeping if a couple calls off the wedding.
Every wedding is different — so why should wedding packages all be identical? Offering multiple options helps couples find the option that fits their needs best. And it keeps things fair for the photographer.
Offering different packages allows the couple with the 20-minute backyard wedding that doesn’t want reception shots to choose a different option than the couple with the Catholic ceremony and big reception.
Price the different options based both on the time involved and the products delivered at the end. For example, I have a budget ceremony-only package, a full wedding package, and a full wedding with an album and large canvas for the wall.
10. Keep It Simple
Engaged couples have roughly a zillion (to be mathematically correct) decisions to make while planning a wedding. Don’t make choosing a wedding photographer one of the overwhelming ones.
When setting your prices, keep things as simple as possible. Find a balance between offering choices to fit different couples and overwhelming couples with too many decisions.
11. Consider Including the Engagements
Engagement photos aren’t part of the wedding day but they can be a big help in the process. Shooting the engagement photos allows you to not only meet the couple ahead of time, but learn more about how they interact with each other and how to best pose that unique couple.
For the couple, the engagement session helps them feel more comfortable in front of the camera and get to know you and your style.
Because engagement sessions are so helpful, some photographers (myself included) choose to include them in some of their packages (or as an a la carte option). By including the engagements in the price, more couples will take advantage of the chance to work with you before the actual wedding day.
While the experience of working with the same couple is beneficial for most photographers, the extra shooting is a huge boost to new wedding photographers that may need more practice working with posing or lighting.
12. Choose Your Words Carefully
Included engagements and free engagements mean the same thing, but the words evoke very different feelings in potential clients. What do you think of when you think of the word free? Bargain, yes, but also cheap. Using words like “free” degrades the value potential clients associate with your work.
Avoid free and other similar words when you write out your price sheet. In fact, keep the language minimal. By the time potential clients see your price sheet, they’ve probably already seen your portfolio and gotten an idea of what you offer.
Adding too many adjectives to the price sheet actually takes away from the perceived value rather than adding to it.
13. Continue to Revisit Pricing
Pricing isn’t a once-and-done kind of deal. As your business grows, revisit your pricing. What’s working — and what’s not? What packages do most of your bride and groom select? Do couples often ask for an option that you currently don’t have?
As your business grows, wedding photography prices shouldn’t stay stagnant. As you gain more experience, hone your style and offer more value, revisit that price list and make adjustments accordingly.
Don’t keep beginning photographer prices when you are no longer a beginner. Try revisiting your prices annually during the slow season, or decide to adjust prices every time you book a certain number of weddings.
Setting wedding photography pricing is a daunting task. Photographers need to find a balance between going so low the perceived value is jeopardised and so high that there are no bookings in the calendar.
Incorporate these wedding photography pricing tips as you find that balance, from setting goals to revisiting pricing on a regular basis.