How Much Should You Charge to Shoot a Wedding?

(The following is excerpted from the new book The Successful Wedding Photographer, by the editors of Photopreneur.)

The problem with pricing wedding photography is that there is no single average price for a wedding shoot because there is no single average wedding shoot.

Just as there is no standard rate for a car — old wrecks cost $500; new Ferraris a lot more — so wedding photographers with lots of experience, awards and big name recognition will be able to charge above average rates, while new photographers with no reputation, an empty schedule and no marketing budget will be willing to accept lower amounts.

And that’s without factoring in the different packages that photographers can offer clients, or the effect that location has on prices. A new Ford might cost the same in New York as it costs in Miami, but wedding photographers, whose expenses are more closely linked to the real cost of living, will generally charge different amounts in each region.

From $1,000 to $20,000 and Beyond

Coming up with the right price list for a photography business is far from straightforward. According to a survey of more than 21,000 new brides by leading wedding Web site in 2009, the mean amount spent by U.S. couples on their wedding photographer was $2,444.

Another rough guide suggests that a budget wedding photography job might cost $1,000 or less, and a moderate wedding shoot from $1,000 to $3,000. Upscale photographers might be able to receive $3,000 to $5,000, and luxury wedding photographers can get away with charging anything from $5,000 upwards. Some photographers have boasted of landing jobs that pay $10,000 or even $20,000.

But these kinds of figures mask huge differences in regions and requirements. The same survey, for example, found that the average wedding budget in Arkansas is just $15,073. In New York City, couples expect to spend an impressive $56,999.

Two Approaches to Price-Setting

Photographers generally use a couple of different approaches when they try to set prices. The first is the strategy used by Conrad Erb: they start low to reflect low expenses, expectations and experience, then raise prices once it becomes clear that customers are willing to pay more and that those low fees are actually hindering business growth.

The alternative is to look at what other photographers in that location are charging, calculate an average and pitch prices in the middle of that range.

This is the approach taken by Teri Bloom who, despite experience that includes photographs on the pages of the New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone and Time Magazine, keeps her prices “middle of the road.”

In part, she says, that’s because wedding photography is competitive and even well-off clients are price conscious; money spent on a photographer is money not spent on the catering, the flowers or the honeymoon.

But a mid-range price also helps to ensure a steady flow of work rather than well-paid but sporadic shoots — and the anxiety that comes between them — and room to move up should schedules fill.

Not every photographer would agree with Bloom’s preference to shoot lots of mid-range jobs rather than wait for occasional high-end weddings — they might prefer to use that time between jobs to shoot other types of photography or work on personal projects. They ignore the mid-range prices and aim straight for the upmarket weddings in the hope of earning more for each shoot.

Going Upmarket vs. Overpricing

But the work has to be of high enough quality to match the high pricing, and according to Bloom, in practice high-end fees often reflect an aspect of the photographer that has nothing to do with the way their pictures look.

Says Bloom:

I find some photographers start to get an attitude about themselves. Very often, their pricing is more about their ego than about the quality of their work. Buyer beware, pricing doesn’t have a thing to do with talent or experience!

Overpricing is a mistake that’s as easy to understand as underpricing. It takes a certain level of confidence to believe that you can capture the most important day in a couple’s life, and it’s tempting to look at a set of attractive pictures and believe that they’re better than average.

And if they’re better than average, the photographer who took them should be able to charge higher prices than average, too.

But even Denis Reggie, the founder of wedding photojournalism and a photographer whose client list has included John Kennedy, Jr. and Carolyn Bessette, as well as Alan Greenspan, Ted Turner, Paula Abdul and a host of other celebrities, offers prices that start below $5,000.

That may be a higher price than average, but the client list, experience and Reggie’s own place in the development of wedding photography all go a long way towards justifying it.

To charge high-end prices, a wedding photographer needs to have a tangible reason. For Reggie, it’s a long celebrity client list that helps to deliver trust: if Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger were willing to hire him, then he must be good enough to justify the price.

For other photographers, it might be the market. A photographer with a studio in Beverly Hills or New York will be able to find more clients willing to pay higher fees than a photographer working in an area with low incomes.

It Takes More Than Talent

Rarely, though, can the quality of the images alone help to justify high prices — if only because clients aren’t always capable of seeing the differences between good wedding photos and the very best wedding photos.

Clients aren’t photographic connoisseurs. They just want to make sure that they hire a photographer who delivers beautiful pictures that remind them of their wedding day.

Good photography is always going to be vital for the success of a photographer’s career, but it must earn the photographer a reputation before the prices can start to rise. It’s not a good idea to rely on the wedding couple’s ability to spot a rare photographic talent as a way of persuading them to pay rare prices.

Personality can be as important an element in choosing a photographer as talent. Clients want photographers who are easy to work with and who won’t get in the way of the day’s proceedings. If they’re also fun and bring energy to the wedding, so much the better.

None of these caveats mean that you shouldn’t aspire to charge a premium for your wedding photography. But you’ll need to offer more than just great photos to justify your prices and win the jobs.

Tomorrow: Creating wedding photography packages

29 Responses to “How Much Should You Charge to Shoot a Wedding?”

  1. Surprised the mean in the US is only $2,444 - after Album costs, insurance, rent, equipment, marketing etc one need a wedding a week to earn a decent rate.

  2. Surprised that the mean in the US is $2,444! In Europe, people wouldn't pay more than 700€ AFAIK. In the last 4 weddings where I went, couples even refused to get a photographer because of the poor common price/quality ratio and asked the assistance to take pictures. The quality was of course not the same of a good photographer, but it seems that good photographers are not always easy to find.

  3. Hi Alex,
    I know plenty of photographers in Ireland (i'm Irish) and none would shoot a wedding for 700 euro. If you add it up, its not viable for a professional.
    But there are lots of part time people tinkering with photography who do shoot weddings for this kind of money. I think this is why the averages are low.
    I think people are under a misconception that wedding photographers are very expensive and overcharge.
    I used to think the same until I went into it myself. For the amount of work, stress, planning, costs etc its not very well paid - I can make more working in a bar, but I prefer to do something creative.
    It frustrates me that the same clients who wont pay for photography have no problem forking out similar amounts on cakes and even car hire for a couple of hours. Not to mention far more on a dress they will wear once. But Ive come to realise that there are only a percentage of couples who really appreciate the value of good photography, and its these that are worth targeting. For many people, I guess its just not important.

  4. Sean, I agree 100%..#1 if the quality is there and the photographer has put forth a strong presentation..then the reality of getting more for your money will take place of let's get the cheapest price and go with it...I hear all the complaints from when Aunt Jane shot my get what you pay for. I price a paskage and show clients what I have to offer...I also do some specialty shots to bring in more profit.. as I explain during my presentation.. always remember it doesn't cost you more to shoot an 16X20 as it does an 8X10 but the profit is increased... if you give in to price alone..then find another business

  5. I live in a Southern State on the East Coast of the US. I shoot most Weddings for 1600. USD. I recently lost a potential contract that I offered for $800.00, half of my base fee. I cut the fee beause it will be a small backyard Wedding. The couple are friends of my sister and said they only wanted about "20- 25 snapshots" and "might" be willing to pay $200.00. They are not my personal friends and I've only met them twice previously.
    It had nothing to do with being able to afford my fee, the Bride to be is a Medical Doctor!
    They just wanted cheap. I don't do snapshots at Weddings and I don't do Cheap. I am experienced (10 years shooting Weddings..)with a degree in Photography. Was I being high minded and selfish to reject this contract?
    I've never rejected because of my fee, nor have I ever refused to be someone's photographer..

  6. No Deborah, I don't think you were selfish to reject the contract. Clients like that sometimes cause bigger problems in the long run, and none of us needs a client that is ready to cause problems from the get-go.

    There are plenty of "tinker-photographers" out there that would love to make up to $200 for 25 snapshots, but the poor photographer might find out in the end that it was more trouble than it was worth. Even though the clients are only willing to purchase 20-25 snapshots, they will still expect full coverage and want to choose the best of the whole works. Its still a full day of your time.

    I think you did the right thing turning them down.

  7. Thanks for the post, really inspiring.

    BTW, here in Italy the average price for a medium-level shoot is around 2000€; low-budget sits around 1000. Overall service quality is almost indipendent from price, as usual.

  8. @Deborah: did you ask her if she could give you a kidney transplant for $200? Including the hospital room, operating room, nurses fees, anaesthesiologist, etc.?

    One thing I say to potential clients is: Why be cheap on the one thing that you'll have for years to come?

  9. I am very cautious when I hear that someone is doing work for a celebrity or a high end client. The reason I say this is that it’s not always their talent that gets the job it’s all about connections at that level. Let’s take Dennis Reggie if I am not mistaken he is married to someone in the Kennedy clan. Do you think that doesn’t open any doors!!! Don’t get me wrong Dennis Reggie is a fantastic photographer but the connection definitely helps.
    Also I have heard that a lot of these celebrities expect their work for free or at a reduced price because you can then advertise that you have done their wedding and again it opens more doors for you.
    I have been a professional photographer for the past 30 years and the greatest and worst achievement in photography was the digital format. Why? Well when we shot a wedding with a medium format camera and film years ago the amateur was never viewed as an equal talent. But today everybody shoots digital and it is not perceived in the same manner. Unless you’re at a wedding and your camera has a 400mm f2.8 lens on it they may look at you differently. Some guests have a better DSLR than the photographer himself.
    As far as the pricing goes if you are not charging at least 150-200 per hour for yourself plus all other fees you’re not making any money. The PPOC did a survey a few years ago and came up with an average time a photographer works with a client on a wedding this encompasses meetings, shooting, editing, preparation and delivery the average was about 36 hours. So for the photographer who charges 1500 for a wedding and let’s say clears 900 that works out to $25 per hour at that rate I better just get a job in the government and at least have benefits.

  10. @Jean
    I hear you with the gear thing. The last wedding I shot there were a couple of guest with the same camera and lenses I had - I guess I just had to try to look more like a pro:) I would still believe my shots will be a lot better - or else im in trouble!
    Do you have a link to that PPOC survey by any chance?
    Good fodder for those tire kickers looking for a bargain.
    @Paul love the kidney analogy!
    Its actually a good idea - find something they can relate to (preferably their work) to show how their pricing idea is ridiculous.

  11. Bloom's way of deriving her prices is a very poor business model. Pricing your services in the middle of a pack does not take into account the cost of goods sold for your business. It's flying blind with no instruments.

    I hear clients and, sadly, other photographers talk about hourly rates too when they hear a price - "Why, you'd be making $XX.xx per hour at that rate!" Really? Then I won't download your images to the computer or make prints or design an album because those activities are unpaid. When you price your services you have to price them to cover your costs of doing business. Do your clients have insurance? Do they drive cars? Do they live in houses? You have to price your services so that you can do all of those things too...... but more than that, you also have to cover the cost of equipment purchases, upgrades and repair, including your computers and software. You have to cover the expenses of insuring your gear as well as purchasing Errors and Omissions insurance and keeping a million dollar liability insurance policy (many venues require it). You have to cover the cost of marketing your services.

    There's much more, but you get the idea. Just pitching your prices into the middle of the pack is lazy at best and dangerous at worst. If I open a restaurant that offers gourmet meals in an elegant setting I can't stay open if I've priced my meals in the middle of a pack of fast food burger joints and local squat and gobble cafe's. What I'm offering is different and I can charge a premium for my filets and yes, even the ambience. It's not just the goods, but the services that require compensation.

    @Jean - I agree.... and disagree. I shoot Canon gear and have had guests show up who were better dressed and sporting a Hassy with digital back (yes, guests. plural). A lot has to do with your attitude, how you carry yourself, how you interact with clients and guests.... there are a lot of variables that can set you apart as the pro in the mix. Most Arizona weddings are outdoors, so I am all over the place once the ceremony starts, even to the point of climbing trees to get a particular angle.

  12. If you don't have confidence of using your present equipment to shoot better photos than those hobbyist guests with better camera and lenses... please don't call yourself a professional. If you think digital era is a bad thing (vs Film era), it means you need to educate yourself seriously with the camera manual or spend some time to adjust your past 20 years' experience. Digital camera is still camera with Aperture, Shutter speed, ISO, etc. You have a lot more competition now is all because people are better now. Easier to learn from results by digital.

    In conclusion, your photos stay at 30 years ago. Who can sell the same old thing for 30 years and people actually buy? Cola changed their packages and contents for a few times already!

  13. @Daisy
    You totally misunderstood what I was saying. I never said I was worried that a guest would take better photos than me far from it. I have an extensive education in photography; I have won many provincial and national awards and have attained my Craftsman of Photographic Arts and am presently working on my masters. My main income comes from photography as a fulltime employment and I certainly can call myself a professional photographer here is my website judge for yourself. My style has certainly changed over the past 30 years otherwise I would not still be in business.
    As for my confidence regarding my equipment I know my equipment very well and know how to use it. You seem to have missed that I said the greatest and worst. So let me expand on that, the greatest because you can see a result immediately, you can change ISO for each different environment, you can take hundreds of photos without having to change the card, today’s lens are faster and technologically superior etc etc.
    The reason I said the worst is because that every person who owns a DSLR and is able to take a few shots with it and maybe do a few scripts on their images thinks they are a professional photographer. These shooters would not know the first thing on lighting ratio, using a light meter, shooting in manual mode, rules of composition and how to properly charge the market rate for an assignment.
    These weekend & mamarazzi shooters have definitely screwed up the wedding photography business by under charging if not giving it for free. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard from potential clients saying that they saw someone would do it for $1000 for something I would charge $3000. I had a client tell me this so I told them if you are confident that there work is better than mine then book with them but go see him again and look for this in his work (I tell them a few technical things to look for as well as a few questions to ask) they came back and booked with me.
    The unfortunate thing for our business is that anybody with a camera can call themselves a photographer and start in business. I can change my oil in my car, change my spark plugs and change my tires but I certainly would not try to pass myself off as a mechanic.

  14. It's interesting that so many people do not factor in overhead, taxes and utilities. Unfortunately the industry sees a lot of great photographers going bankrupt or failing not due to their photography but due to their business practices. Great article, I simply hope more photographers read this.

  15. Jean,
    I am in the reverse. I was at a wedding a few weeks ago as a guest and noticed i had more gear in the trunk of my car, just because than the official photographer. I volunteered to help out by being a light stand. I think the biggest thing to remember is not be intimidated. While some guest might have more expensive equipment, it's your talent that will shine.

  16. @Zarli
    I will reiterate again as in my earlier post that I was never intimidated by a guest having a better camera body then mine at a wedding because it usually stops there. They would not have the lenses and lighting equipment that I have to do the job properly (unless they are also a pro) and I am not concerned that they would take better pictures than me.
    But what I do find interesting in your post is that you were better equipped than the official photographer??? And that you volunteered to be his light stand didn’t he have an assistant?? Was this photographer a full time photographer or a weekend photographer?? It seems to me if I read between the lines that the bride and groom went with a cheaper shooter for their one in a lifetime event which is their choice as long as they are happy with what they get and are not unhappy with what they did not get.

  17. Both the Bride and Groom were photographers and in this case it was a very rushed wedding. He's military and deployed. They had a very quick wedding while he was on a short leave, so they could be legally married. I believe they are going to have a more additional ceremony once he's home for good.

    I don't know much about the photographer so i really can't answer most of your questions. It did seem like she had experience with weddings. I mostly do fashion and portraits, so i'm used to having more lighting gear than most photographers i meet.

  18. @ Zarli
    Thanks for the reply it sounds that they would have made a sound decision considering the time restriction of his leave.
    God bless this young man and may god watch over him while he is deployed so he can come home to his new bride safe and sound.

  19. Cheers insightful post

  20. 3 years ago most of the weddings we worked had 120-160 guests with an overall budget of £15,000-£30,000 and a lot of that going to venues.

    This year average wedding sizes 40-70 and venues are offering cut price packages of £1500-£2000 for ceremony, 3 course meal for 50 people, glass wine and glass bubbly for toasts plus evening buffet for 75 people. This has hit photography BIG TIME and I can understand it, unfortunately. If a couple see they are getting all that for £1500-£2000 then why would they spend anything over £500 for photography? (They don't realise that the venues aim to make money from the alcohol consumed by guests plus overnight accommodation.)

    Added to the amateurs buying cameras with their redundancy money, the recession is hitting us hard in UK Midlands.

  21. Many of the requests I get for information show their TOTAL budget at $5000 (that's for everything). They expect the photography to be around $500 because that's what many (amateur) photogs are charging. It's really hard to educate the younger couples when they read blogs from other uneducated brides.

  22. Fiquei impressionado com os valores da America do Norte .Sempre achei que o valor minimo de um casamento seria o dobro dos que acabei de ler .No Brasil o casamento por mais simples que seja , fica em media 600 dolares e quem tem mais poder aquisitivo chegam a pagar 10.000 dolares .Pensando bem , melhor fotografar aqui no meu querido Brasil mesmo ...
    Abraços a todos e visitem meu blog

  23. The entire section of this article about overpricing is totally misguided. The ability to charge a high fee is directly tied to the photographers ability to market and sell themselves and their studio.

    The artistic quality of the photography does not determine the fee or your overall success. In terms of quality of images, the average person does not see much difference between Dennis Reggie and the newbie with the kit camera. They just don't.

    The author seems to believe the persistent myth a lot of phtogoraphers believe: your work should be able to sell itself. It never will.

  24. i don't completely disagree with you, but i thnk the average person can tell the difference, but fail to understandhe added work and cost invlved in taking a better picture. Sure they want a Mercedes, but a toyota is eaiser to justify.

  25. I'm a "tinker-photographer" and would do 25 shots for 200.00 (2 hours) any day!
    We gotta start some where right??

  26. The Weddings and photography has changed in the past
    30 years. Not as many people getting married. I have always said a great photographer has to be good at everything in the business. everything from pricing to customer relations. Not only does a photographer need to collect the big checks that come on the weekends but also the smaller one that come thru the week. And you will be blessed if you can find a good partner to work with. Its fun because its our passion. But I dont think its going to get any easier. Study the masters. Good luck!

  27. I sort of found your blog post accidentally, but your web site captured my eye i thought that I would post to show you that I like it.

  28. this is a fantastic article and discussion. Im going to have to rethink my pricing.

  29. There are so many ways to price Wedding Photography. There is also a lot of variance in the type of service Wedding Photographers offer. Some throw in everything including the kitchen sink and will spend hours and hours in consultation and phonecalls, some are simply your Wedding Photographer. I always say, "There is a photographer for everyone."

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