Prepare yourself. I have a lot to say on this one but it’s important. I promise to add pretty images to help out.
If you have landed on this blog there is a strong likelihood that you are planning your wedding. You are drooling over the amazing pictures of real weddings and frequenting Pinterest for an unhealthy number of hours a day. You dream of having a “pinteresting” wedding that is worthy of blog adoration. Well guess what? Those images are the work of professional photographers who really know their craft. A great photographer can make a mundane wedding look amazing. A poor photographer can make a stellar wedding look flat, boring, and overall amateurish. But worse than your flowers looking lifeless or your complexion looking poor, a bad photographer might miss the moments that make your wedding day one of the most important of your life.
I have seen way too many people who scrimped on wedding photography who truly regret it. One chose a primarily nature photographer who didn’t know how to shoot indoors and every image of the reception was a blur. Another chose a friend to “give them a chance” and it was a chance that should not have been taken with such a precious day. Yet another chose a photographer with very little equipment and when the camera malfunctioned they were S.O.L. But the worst was our friends who captured everything on an iPhone. Yes it’s cute and hipster-esque now but man are they going to regret that one. Maybe they already do!
No offense to other professionals, but I feel that photography is the single most important expense of your wedding. It cannot be recreated or replaced. The day is truly about this one perfect moment in time when your love is commemorated and capturing that is priceless. I’m not trying to say that you have to pick the most expensive photographer to get good shots, but do your research and find the best value for your money so that you get quality images at the best price. And definitely expect to spend at least $2,500 for an experienced photographer!
As part of my series on the value of wedding professionals I interviewed Jeanine Thurston of Jeanine Thurston Photography about the cost of her business. I think she did a lovely job of summing up the expenses and the work involved with being a wedding photographer. Please keep in mind when hearing values in this post that she is a very high end photographer who is exceptional at her job (see bio at the end of the post). If you want Martha Stewart worthy images, this is your lady!
Equipment: A professional photographer is a real sight to see when they are working. They look like pack mules and have to muscle their equipment around all day (no caddies here). You will see them take out multiple cameras, lenses, light meters, etc. and that is just in their packs. There is also lighting equipment (flashes, reflectors, etc.), tripods, remote equipment, computers, media cards, batteries, and editing programs. All told, Jeanine said a good photographer becomes appropriately equipped at around $25,000 and spends many thousands annually updating!
Additional Overhead: Did you know that most photographers have to carry insurance as a requirement of the wedding venue? I didn’t either. They also have to pay for travel, assistants (including second shooters which ups the cost but are absolutely worth it in my mind), studio space, advertising, and professional memberships. All said and done, Jeanine will spend upwards of $20,000 a year on these additional costs!
Expertise: When you pay for a photographer, you are paying for an artist, a mechanical expert, a scientist, and a graphic artist. Wedding photographers in particular have to adjust very quickly to changing light, movement, etc. and know exactly how their cameras will capture it. Most of the best have art degrees and decades in experience. Jeanine even spent 5 years under a master photographer before undertaking her own work.
Time Investment: Jeanine says that the average wedding is about 7 hours of work at the actual wedding. Several hours are spent before the wedding in consultations, preparing the cameras and other materials, travel, etc. Then when the wedding is shot the real fun begins. Jeanine says most professional photographers will spend 4+ hours editing for every hour of photographing at a wedding! At that time they are applying their killer Photoshop skills, sizing them for viewing, uploading them to their website for clients, preparing discs, and corresponding with the couple. If you want special prints or a book it only becomes more complex and time consuming. A busy photographer will spend well in excess of 40 hours a week working. And most weddings take place on weekends, evenings, and during prime vacation time with their children.
Why it’s Worth It:
I think Jeanine explained it so beautifully that I will let her explain:
After your wedding day is done – that’s it, it is over. There are so many things that go on during your wedding day that you never get to see or don’t notice because of the hustle and bustle of the day and greeting guests. The thing that you miss most that you can feel but you never see on your wedding day is the looks on your faces together. Each of you see the other, but you never see YOU. During the ceremony you don’t see mom and dad holding hands and looking at each other with teary eyes. You don’t see grandma with smiles from ear to ear. You don’t see the chemistry between the two of you.
A couple years from now you may have a disagreement. 5 years from now you may fight and may not talk for a couple days. Special people in your life may pass. Children may come into your life creating a family. Each year you can refer back to your album, your wedding images and remind yourself of why you were married and the chemistry that brought you together for your wedding day. It is your reference to where things started and why you were flying so high on that day. It is history to show your children of why they are such important parts of your life. It is why I do what I do. Reminiscing is the glue that makes our past and present come together.
For an experienced professional of Jeanine’s caliber, expect to pay $2,600-$8,000. Prices will vary depending on time commitment, travel, number of images, requested products (prints, books, etc.), and other factors. Jeanine suggests never compromising what you want from your wedding photography. Choose a professional who is willing to work with you and can set up payment plans if necessary. She also suggests adding it as a bridal registry item that you will appreciate long after your china is broken.
If corners have to be cut, make sure they do not affect the quality of your images. She suggests making sure that the timeline of your wedding flows along quickly so you get the most bang for your buck in terms of time. Make sure the important things (toasting, cake cutting, bouquet toss, etc.) occur earlier in the evening. The best time to cut from photography is at the end of the night. Many people will leave early (another reason to do your important things early in the evening) and the worst you will miss is some really fun shots of your party guests who are in it for the long haul.
As my own personal suggestion, never listen to a photographer who tells you to skip coverage of getting ready! They do not have to be there for hours of hair and makeup on your bridal party but they should absolutely be there for shots of getting the gown on a bride, last minute jitters, the excitement of the bride and groom, and the family blessings. I love those pictures from my wedding and the extra hour or two of coverage was completely worth it!
Also, never consider cutting a second shooter. They are invaluable for coverage of both sides getting ready, alternative angles in portraits, capturing extra shots, covering guests while the primary photographer follows the couple, and so much more.
Again, I will let Jeanine explain:
I love photographing weddings. 800+ weddings later I still tear up at almost every wedding, and I feel so honored to be a huge part of a wedding day and how my couples will see themselves and their day many years from now. Photography is a labor of love. Most photographers are not in it to get rich. We do it because we have a passion for photography and we fall in love with the fact that we can create something that is so cherished for generations to come. I can almost guarantee that if any of us could do this for free… we would. But, we still have homes, families to support, and most still need succeed in our business. It is why so few are in business for even over a decade. We work 7 days a week, we are editing until 1am in the morning and then getting up at 6am to get our kids to school. If we went to school we are still paying off our 50k in student loans. We have to be photographers, business gurus, bill collectors, and continue to love what we do. Most full-time photographers work no less than 60 hours a week, and the average take-home pay of a photographer amounts to about $5-$7 hour worked.
Jeanine Thurston is a master photographer with 25 years in the business. She has a degree in visual arts and an MBA. She has received a Fuji Masterpiece Award as well as several other professional guild awards. Her work has been featured in online and print publications and includes weddings, portraits, and commercial work.
This post is part of a series:
For What It’s Worth: Letterpress
For What It’s Worth: Photography
For What It’s Worth: Flowers
For What It’s Worth: The Dress
For What It’s Worth: Cakes