How much should I spend on my wedding photographer?

You have probably heard that you should spend a certain percentage of your budget on a photographer. But since no wedding is one size-fits all and no one’s budget is either, let’s walk through how much you should invest in your wedding photographer.

Once you read this post about “How much should I spend on my wedding photographer”, you’ll be equipped with the following knowledge:

  • The 10% myth
  • Average cost of wedding photographer
  • The factors that influence cost and which ones are most important 
  • If the wedding photography market overpriced
  • A comprehensive look at wedding photography prices in North Carolina
  • Considerations for you to decide your own custom budget

This post is related to my “How to choose a wedding photographer” article, so be sure to check that out after you finish this! (Link also at the bottom.)

The 10% Myth

Some wedding professionals suggest using 10% of your budget on your  wedding photographer.

My concern with that is if you really value having lifelong memories and photographs, you should invest more than only 10%. Most couples actually cut back in other areas – like guest count – in order to invest in the best photographer for their day! 

Great advice is to choose the Charlotte wedding photographer you absolutely dream of having and make a prioritized list for your wedding. Then, build your budget around that. In other words, make a list with all your priorities, most important at the top and least important at the bottom. Figure out the prices for each and if the total amount is still too high, then cut the prices at the bottom of the list! 

Average cost of wedding photographer

Long answer short, the average is $3,500 or more in the Charlotte area. 

There are so many factors that affect how much demand any given photographer has, and how much you’ll need to pay for a wedding photographer within a certain bracket and skill level.

My goal is to help you focus on the value of the photographer and ensuring you have no regrets in the long run.

Factors that influence the price of a wedding photographer:

  • Lifestyle
  • Geographical Location
  • Level of Expertise
  • Real Experience
  • Style
  • What is included in the package (hours, album, photo booth engagement session, etc.)

Why does wedding photography cost so much or so little?

You get what you pay for. Whenever a photographer is super talented in their craft, it directly connects to their demand, which directly relates to their pricing structure and packages.

Before we continue, let’s break down all the factors that affect how much a wedding photographer cost. By the end of this blog, you will gain a good idea of the pricing in your area, and what to consider as you move forward in making this crucial decision.

Photographer’s Lifestyle

  • This may not immediately recognize this as a factor in determining how much a photographer charges. Nonetheless, photography is a business and most likely a small business. Therefore, the owner has bills to pay, taxes to pay, and money to save. One thing is certain – any photographer who does not balance their lifestyle with the work, and the profit required to support their life, their business will quickly unravel. In summary, you pay for both the lifestyle and stability that your photographer exhibits.

Photographer’s Location

  • Location has a lot to do with pricing! If you live in an area where living expenses are higher, it’s likely that a wedding photographer based in that area will be priced higher. For instance, if you  live in New York City, the cost of living is at least double than somewhere like Charlotte. You might pay an average starting price of $6,000 vs. $3,500 for a similar photographer in the smaller city location.
  • Generally, the larger the city (with a higher average level income), the higher your standard starting prices will be.

Photographer’s level of Expertise

  • Expertise typically involves the following:
    • Actual photography skills (skills in handling different lighting scenarios like bright light, low-light, and everything in between.)
    • Skills for handling interpersonal situations (ability to help guide day-of communication to achieve communication between multiple parties, like during family formal portraits)
    • Emotional and communicational skills (ability to make everyone feel comfortable and at ease)
    • Business skills that create stability and service to consistently deliver 5 star results
  • Expertise typically raises a photographer’s prices. If you do not know how to measure a photographer’s expertise, check out their reviews as well as viewing their full wedding galleries. Imagine your own wedding photos with them.

Photographer’s Experience 

  • Experience should not be undervalued. The more weddings a photographer has photographed, the more experience they have. After every wedding, I learn something new which is VALUABLE. With experience comes knowledge and skills with navigating schedule changes, timeline troubles, tension between family members, etc. 

Photographer’s Style

  • Style is highly subjective and it also affects the way a photographer takes photos and edits. Photographers who charge a premium have usually crafted a style that is in demand.
  • Some of us, like myself, like things to be natural and as true to color as possible because we want to avoid trends. All the while, others may prefer something different like “bright and airy” or “dark and moody”. 
  • The style that you choose, as well as the demand for a wedding photographer with that style in your area, will affect the pricing of your wedding photographer.

Photographer’s Standard Package

  • Some photographers will create packages with certain elements and begin at a higher price point. Other photographers may start at a super low price point and allow you to  up the price by adding onto it. 
  • Some examples of what to look for as being included or not are:
    • Do they offer a second photographer?
    • Does this photographer include a keepsake quality album?
    • Do they include an engagement session, bridal session or boudoir session?
    • Do they include a photo booth service?
    • Will they help you with your timeline?

 Do wedding photographer’s over-charge?

Short answer, not at all. As a wedding photographer, I put in 60 + hours of work per wedding. In some cases, I do not charge enough.

A single wedding day can easily account for the following hours of work:

  • 2 – 3 hours of emails/meetings/calls
  • 2 – 3 hours of engagement session (travel+shooting time)
  • 1 – 4 hours of upload, edit, export delivery
  • 2 – 3 hours of timeline prep and pre-wedding planning
  • 10 – 15 hours of day of work (set up,travel, coverage during day, tear down, photo transfer/backup)
  • 7 – 30 hours of editing time
  • 1 hour backup/miscellaneous activities

That’s 60+ hours per wedding of actual labor! And that is not even counting expenses and taxes!!!! Additionally, this doesn’t include the time and money that goes into paying a second photographer, gas money, gear, education, business insurance, editing software etc.

It is safe to say that any professional photographer potentially spends approximately 75 hours per wedding. 

As a simple example, if a photographer needs to make $60k per year and their estimated expenses and taxes is $25k, and they’re willing to shoot 25 weddings a year, they need to charge $1,400 per wedding on average.

That comes out to about $18-20 per hour or less. And don’t forget, we wedding photographers still have federal and state taxes after all that (self employment tax is 15.3% alone).

So, if you’re only paying $1,500 – 2,000 for a main and second shooter (for a FULL wedding day), I’d say you either have a photographer who is investing very little in their business or someone who is working really hard for $18-ish per hour (before taxes) which will probably not be sustainable long term. Now, if you are having a micro wedding, then this doesn’t really apply. We are talking 6 + hour wedding days!!

Honestly, $18 per hour seems pretty cheap for being a specialist documenting one of the most important days of your life that can never be recreated, doesn’t it?

In Conclusion 

A wedding photographer is worth whatever you’re willing to invest! If they have a solid reputation, you adore their photos, their personality, and they make you feel comfortable – then book them! 

As a rule of thumb, your higher priced photographers have more demand for multiple reasons (skill, style, etc.) You can find cheaper photographers that are “worth” above their current price range, but that’s a gamble.

My final answer is there is no set amount that you should or should not spend on a wedding photographer. However, if you value your epic memories, I really recommend that you invest a solid portion of your wedding budget to wedding photography.

A wedding photographer cannot be undervalued since they literally preserve your wedding memories for you, your kids, grandkids and beyond.  Your wedding photography is one of the ONLY expenses you will ever make that lasts a lifetime. It is worth the longtime and meaningful investment in timeless memories and family heirlooms.

I think I can speak on behalf of most photographers and say that we work incredibly hard and under so much pressure, so please love and cherish them dearly. They should do the same for you! 

Listen to the podcast- What to invest in your wedding photographer with ACE Wedding & Events!

Be sure to check out my “How To Choose You Wedding Photographer” article to know how to find your ideal photographer!  

As always, please let me know your thoughts in the comments below. I hope this discussion has helped you brainstorm your wedding budget and how to best make it fit your needs.

Have questions?! I am here to help . . . Charlotte Wedding Photographer, Stephanie Bailey Photography

Want to know more what it is like to work with me?! Find out what to expect here!!!

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