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How much your wedding photographer should cost

On what is arguably the most important day of your life, your wedding pictures are kind of a big deal — which makes choosing the right wedding photographer an even bigger deal to ensure you’ll have beautiful photos to cherish for years to come. No pressure.

Even though we’re living in the digital-Instagram-Snapchat age, most couples these days spring for a professional wedding photographer to document their big day. Sure, it would be easy to ask friends and family to snap a few cute shots, put a filter on it and post it to Instagram, but professional wedding photographers are trained to capture the most intimate (and often the most beautiful) moments leading up to the main event.

But how much is it going to cost you?

The average cost of a wedding photographer

Maybe it’s because of our digital connectivity and greater attention to visual media, but couples are willing to pay more for wedding photographers than ever before. In The Knot’s latest survey of the 2014 wedding season, released in 2015, the average cost of a wedding had reached an all-time high — including the money spent paying for a wedding photographer.

Based on those stats, the average wedding now runs over $31,000, with couples spending an average of $2,556 on a wedding photographer. Wedding photographer fees remained high on the list, coming in at number four after cash spent for the reception venue, engagement ring and the band.

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But the exact price you pay for a wedding photographer may depend on where you live, explains Anastasia Stevenson, wedding planner at Coastal Creative Events in Savannah, Georgia. “Costs can vary by state. In the south, the standard is $300 per hour and can be up to $9,000 for full-day, multi-shooter packages, including prints and a look book,” Stevenson says.

Aviva Samuels, celebrity wedding and event planner at Kiss the Planner, agrees, saying, “The cost of wedding photography varies greatly from city to city and from photographer to photographer based upon the experience level and popularity of the photographer, as well as the specifics of the services that they provide. In South Florida where I work as a wedding planner, photography packages typically run between $4,000 and $6,000 for 8-10 hours of photo coverage. There are, of course, photographers who charge far more or far less, but these numbers reflect a typical price point in the market where my wedding planning business is located.”

While the industry standard dictates spending 10 to 15 percent of a total wedding budget on photos, brides-to-be may choose to spend more or less, depending on how important they consider wedding picture quality to be.

Why there’s a big fluctuation in wedding photographer prices

If you’re wondering why a wedding photographer’s price quote can swing so widely, Samuels helps to break it down for us. Just like any other hourly service, she says, fewer hours could mean a lesser cost when it comes to wedding photography. She explains, “Not only would a photographer have less to pay their assistant or a second shooter for the additional hours, but there would be fewer photos to process, and so less time could result in greater savings for the client.”

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Of course, when it comes to a money-making industry like the wedding biz, there’s always more to the picture. Stevenson says that wedding photography packages with all the bells and whistles are likely to hike up your price point even further. “This will depend upon what the package includes, the amount of time they are shooting for you and how many photographers you use.” Stevenson estimates, “Expect ranges of $2,500-$15,000. Often, inflated pricing includes a photo album and prints.” Likewise, tacking on engagement photos could add anywhere from $100-$12,000 to your total cost.

Stevenson advises, “There are many less expensive options for printing available online. I always suggest to brides on a budget that they forgo the packages and print their own pictures.”

Save money on a wedding photographer, without compromising quality

A talented wedding photographer certainly doesn’t come cheap, as both Stevenson and Samuels can attest. But fortunately, on such an important day as your wedding where your budget may already be stretched to the max, you can have your cake and eat it too.

It’s possible to save a little money off the top on a high-quality wedding photographer, if you do your homework. “With photography, this is especially easy! The type of photos you want are not dictated by pricing, so the most expensive doesn’t always equal the best! Do your homework and look at potential photographers’ wedding galleries — ask to see images that match what you want from your wedding photos,” Stevenson says. “If you want fun, unique and edgy photos, look for a photographer who has experience and client photos to prove their style. I recommend asking about their candid photos, often this will reveal a photographer’s style and experience.”

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Based on her years spent as an industry wedding planner, Samuels provides her top tips to save on wedding photographer costs:

  1. Consider ordering your own photo album. While the quality of the album would likely vary if you ordered your own, the cost savings might be substantial. If your photographer is willing to give you the high resolution images or charge a reasonable fee to get those, ordering your own album saves a considerable amount of time on the part of the photographer, which would result in savings for you.
  2. Do your family portraits after the wedding ceremony, rather than before. Today, it is popular to do “first look” photos, and while the disadvantage is that you wouldn’t get to enjoy your cocktail reception for quite as long, it would mean fewer hours for your photographer, and that would result in a savings to you.
  3. Ask yourself, “Just how many photos of dancing do I need?” I personally think the dancing photos become redundant in the final hours, and so, it might be wise to focus your photography budget on the earlier part of the day, rather than after the reception formalities are over. If need be, you can cut the cake and/or toss the bouquet earlier so that you can send your photographer home earlier, which could save money.

One more thing — remember, we’re living in the digital age where video has become just as important as photography. Samuels considers video equally important to wedding photography since most people are bound to watch wedding footage on Facebook or in a family email thread. “Gone are the days of boring video that no one watches. Today’s video tells the story of the day and captures the important snippets that you might otherwise have missed. His face as she walks down the aisle, for example, or her tears as she opens his gift and note before they see each other at the ceremony. Or the priceless looks on your family’s faces during the first dance and speeches,” Samuels says.

In a last-ditch effort to consolidate your wedding costs and get the most out of your photographer, consider replacing some still photos with video footage instead. Samuels advises, “While video adds to your overall budget, it may mean that having the moving images cuts down on the need for as many still images that the photographer would provide.” And when all else fails, there’s always the cheap and quirky video editing website Cadaboo, where you can upload your favorite wedding pics to turn them into an animated short.

Before you go, check out this slideshow on wedding photos:

Wedding photo slideshow
Image: Sasha Reinking

Updated on 3/10/2016

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