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How much your wedding photographer should cost

Corie Russell is a Midwest-born writer living in New York City. After dabbling in the office life as an editor, she joined the ranks of full-time freelancers and writes about everything from home decor to the recession.

What you should know

When the cake is cut and the dress has been worn, one thing remains forever after the wedding (besides love, of course): the photos.
Wedding photo costs...

Choosing a wedding photographer is one of the most important decisions a couple will make for their big day, but hiring an appropriately priced photographer can be confusing.

What's too high or too low? What percent of your budget should you spend? Here, professional photographers and wedding experts weigh in.

Generally speaking, you can expect to spend 10 to 15 percent of your budget on wedding photography coverage, and another 10 percent on any accessories you want to purchase, whether before or after your wedding, says Lia Moore, wedding designer and planner at Full Circle Eventi. Your package should include the digital negatives of your event, but be sure to clarify the specifics with the photographer. Many photographers will only enhance 10 to 15 photos, while the rest of the 700 images are only negatives, she warns.

"You'll hear a lot of people say 10 to 15 percent, but if photography is important to you, don't be afraid to make it a larger portion of your budget," says Christine Lee Smith, of Christine Lee Smith Photography. "Every person is different, but 10 to 15 percent is a good baseline average. Remember, in photography just like everything else, you get what you pay for."

The actual cost of the engagement and wedding photos varies greatly by city and what is included in the package, but a general estimate is $300 to $500 for engagement photo shoots, and $2,500 to $10,000 for wedding shoots, according to Steve Lesnick, photographer at Toastphoto. The bride and groom should read the contract carefully to see how many photos the price includes, whether an album is included, etc.

Talent doesn't come cheap

Experience also determines how much a photographer should cost. "A new photographer (less than two years pro) would be high-minded to charge $5,000," Smith says. "Years of experience add to the value, so make sure to look at plenty of samples. And don't be afraid to ask to see an ‘entire event,' not just the best of."

Wedding packages can be as sparse as shooting only, to as deluxe as including e-sessions and albums, she says. "In wedding photography, remember more is not always better," Smith explains. "Compare two hypothetical photographers, both charging $3,000: Photographer A is also including an e-session, eight hours on the wedding day, and an album; photographer B is only providing eight hours on the wedding day. Which is the better deal? It depends — the better question is whose photographs do you like more? It may be worth it to get less now, and have photographs that are worth saving later."

It's imperative to read the contract carefully to determine what kind of deal you're getting for your money, says Chris Mader, with Timothy Whaley & Associates Photographic Artists. "Do you have an out if you don't like the photographer?" He says. "When do you get to meet them? If it's two weeks or two months before your wedding, it won't matter if you don't like them; who on earth are you going to hire at that point?"

Lastly, Mader says be cautious of the lowest cost photographer. "Experience, professionalism, service and quality simply aren't cheap," he says.

Bonus

Wedding videos are a hot trend and are often shown at the rehearsal dinner, bachelor(ette) parties or at the reception. But a professionally done video can be super costly, so rather than hiring an overpriced cameraman, try Cadaboo, a quirky video editing website that offers a team of professional animators that help to spice up your big day. Simply upload your favorite pictures and create a video that combines the personal and professional aspects you crave.

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