Letter from the CEO, BrideBox
A question we at BrideBox are asked most often is, “How much should I pay for my wedding photography?”
The simple answer should be: the lowest price you can get for the quality you are after. Simple, but not a lot of help.
Once upon a time, the only photography products available were prints and albums made of prints, and the bride bought those prints and albums, paying whatever it took to make them: the photographer (i.e. his time and skill as well as equipment), the pro lab production cost and so on.
Today after the digital revolution, things are significantly different. For starters, you don’t really need to print anything to view the pictures, and digitally printed products are affordable and widespread. Furthermore, owning and receiving the digital files has become the standard.
The dramatic changes in the past five to seven years in the photography business have significantly impacted the wedding photography ecosystem, including the way the service is packaged, the product offerings and the pricing structure. The way professional wedding photographers price and structure their fees depends on several variables, including the market they are in, their expenses and costs of living and more.
One photographer explains: “Our prices are all over the place, ranging from $200 per hour to the elite package of $10,000. One needs to be flexible and offer a variety of pricing structures. …Our goal is to not turn down weddings. As a result, we’ve photographed a wide range of weddings: from the stars to the Harley-biker-beer-drinker weddings.”
“All over the place” is also what happened to “packages” and like it or not, market demand has been pushing more and more photographers to charge separately for their time and products. And though some may resist this model, more and more photographers succumb, and many even see the value in this new emerging model. In my opinion, this type of pricing model will eventually become the gold standard.
Other photographers from the above discussion stated:
“I usually include around 6 hours of my time, a gallery of about 300 or more corrected images (every image is tweaked – I never post images straight out of camera), a set of prints from the gallery, and the corrected images on DVD. I charge additionally for albums, extensive retouching work, extra hours, etc.”
“I don’t like to spend my time selling albums or print packages, so I price myself according to what my time is worth to capture the wedding. I can then hand the clients a CD with images. If they want to buy some prints from me, that’s fine, and I’m happy to sell them. But rather than holding their hand through an album design process, I can spend my free time fishing or camping.”
I participated in a bridal show in California not long ago, and I noticed a photographer studio’s price cards stated:
$2750, 4 hours, 300 online proofs, 24 side album with up to 40 photos
$3500, 8 hours, 400 online proofs, 30 side album with up to 60 photos
$4300, 10 hours, 600 online proofs, 42 side album with up to 70 photos.
Digital files are an option for an extra $400.
The real question here, from the perspective of the bride and the photographer alike, (even though the photographer may not always realize it) is: “Why does it have to be a package?”
When you eat at a restaurant, are you forced you to buy a “combo-meal” or can you actually buy the one item you want? Do retailers force you to buy a “basket” of product? Of course not. It would sound strange if they did, and they would receive resentment from customers.
But in the “traditional” wedding photography world it somehow sounds reasonable; it really isn’t. It’s just an idea left over from a disappearing world. It’s not that buying products from a photographer is necessarily a bad idea – not at all. The forced bundle is the issue I am resenting.
The most logical format for paying for photography services is developing to be based on:
Time and skill:
Paying the photographer for his or her time and skill (and use of professional equipment) with rates purely a matter of supply-and-demand.
Image correction/enhancement: Some photographers make this a mandatory part of the base package, to ensure they hand over only quality images, which makes a lot of sense.
Individual products based on value (type, quality, etc.). These incorporate the lab production cost and creative services rendered by the photographer. Having the photographer hand-holding through the creation process is not necessarily the most efficient solution for the bride and photographer alike.
A photographer quoted by a leading bridal blog, stated that “60 to 80 percent of the cost of the album is the designer’s work, to lay it out and retouch it.” Considering the fact that an album typically costs $400-$1200, are these 60 to 80 percent of the album cost really needed?
Or, as the photographer who stated, “But rather than holding their hand through an album design process, I can spend my free time fishing or camping….I charge extra for a particularly long wedding, if the clients somehow twist my arm to get me to do an album…” Some interesting market information reflects this sentiment, in per average wedding costs:
|Wedding Expense||Average Cost||Spending for Well-experienced Professional|
|Engagement Session||$317 – $528||$633 – $844+|
|Traditional Leather Bound Album||$357 – $595||$714 – $952+|
|Wedding Photographer||$1,251 – $2,085||$2,502 – $3,336+|
|Prints and/or Enlargements||$173 – $288||$345 – $460+|
The full report can be read in “The Wedding Report”
So answering the question as stated, “How much should I pay for my wedding photography?”, my recommendation to all brides is simple: Don’t let yourself be confused by the haze of the product. All photographers have access to the same products, and today with companies like BrideBox that are selling professional and color-corrected photo products directly to brides, you have it as well. Thus, make the benchmark of your comparison the core (i.e. What I pay v. What I get in time, skill and quality of the images)
Obviously, photographers are not created equal and neither will their rates be for time and skill, but also customer tastes vary. Here’s what you can do before you hunt for photographers:
- Get a really good idea of how much of the photographer’s time you’ll require. How many sessions and what duration? (For example, 3-4 hours at ceremony and 5-7 hours at reception.)
- How many photographers will you need? (A second shooter, or assistant, is always recommended.)
- Most importantly, are you comfortable with your photographer’s style and confident he/she can produce the type of pictures you like? There will be no second chance to make these lasting impressions.
Once you have a good idea of what you need and you have found a few photographers whose work you like, try and get a base price for their time/skill, with the minimum add-ons possible. Perhaps only web galleries for sharing and family buying; or image correction with the images delivered on a DVD (high-resolution of course).
Once you establish the baseline cost, get pricing for ‘a-la-carte products’ or whichever photo products you most have your heart set on. Try not committing to them, just get an idea of what you want, then review similar alternatives.
Make products a later add-on, to be determined by your need, budget and alternatives. For instance, perhaps you do not need the “design services” directly from the photographer at a cost of “60 to 80 percent of the cost of the wedding album” because you can defray some of the cost with DIY with suppliers like BrideBox. You will also reduce the time you’re waiting to receive your album and have control over your album design.
Finding the essential value in your wedding suppliers will save you time and effort. More importantly, this approach will simplify your ability to evaluate your different options. Considering buying albums and other print products from suppliers like BrideBox also has the potential of saving you lots of money in the process, without sacrificing quality.