The Average Cost for Wedding Photography
Finding a photographer that fits your style and personality is one of the most important decisions you’ll make when planning your wedding. If you’re just starting your search, you’re probably wondering “how much should I spend on my wedding photography?”
With an abundance of different options and price ranges, it’s a challenge to even know where to start without first learning what the average cost of a wedding photographer is. Luckily, I’ve done all the research for you! If you search online to find out what the average cost for wedding photography is you’ll find a ton of information that discusses how much a wedding photographer should cost. But most of those articles only offer a shallow understanding of the cost, or share one number that they deem to be the average for all photographers. This can be misleading because the cost differs greatly for a number of reasons. So I wanted to share some information and advice to ensure you get the quality and professionalism you’re looking for along with a deeper understanding of why wedding photographers charge what we do.
The goal is to provide you with information on the cost of hiring a wedding photographer and the factors that can affect it. By reading this article, you should gain some insight into the average cost of hiring a wedding photographer in 2023, the factors that can impact the cost of hiring a wedding photographer, and which of those factors may be most significant to you. I’ll also share some advice about industry myths, when to book a wedding photographer, and how to choose a photography style that aligns with your preferences.
I’ll also take a more in-depth look at wedding photography prices in the Carolinas (my local market). Read on to learn everything you should know about wedding photographer costs!
How Much Does A Wedding Photographer Cost (The Short Version)
If you ask ten wedding professionals how much does a wedding photographer cost, you’ll likely get ten different answers. That’s because the “average cost” of a wedding photographer doesn’t really exist. There is a staggeringly large range of pricing when you view weddings photographers as a whole. That’s why it’s best when choosing a photographer to find someone who is the right fit for your style and focuses on what you value most. When you shift your mindset to finding the right photographer, you’ll find photographers that you love instead of ones that check the just financial boxes. Then, you’re guaranteed to have a great experience!
To simplify all the data and help you make sense of what your average wedding photographer should cost, I’ve broken it into five distinct groups –
- Beginner: $0-1000 (They’re just starting out and this may be their first wedding or their first solo wedding)
- What to expect: This is risky to put it mildly. You have no concrete idea of what the final photos will look like, they most likely can’t make you feel confident that you’ll receive the photographs you want.
- Amateur or Hobbyist: $1000-2000 (May photograph weddings regularly or work for another photographer consistently. May not be full time)
- What to expect: You may have seen some examples that give you a sense of comfort that you will have good images. It is unlikely they will have the ability to provide natural posing direction, or capture quality candid photographs yet. They are still building their body of work and buying pro level gear.
- Semi-Pro or Growing Amateur: $2000-3000 (Probably has a higher demand for style. Still refining their client experience and learning to be consistent with the final images.)
- What to expect: These photographers have already begun investing in quality gear, backups, education, and developing systems. They are beginning to develop a personal style that is more consistent but not all the time.
- Professional: $3000-5000 (Considered full-time pros, they have a high demand due to their expertise and style.)
- What to expect: This photograph has many years of experience and has a very established style. They have a solid business structure that makes you feel well cared for and emphasizes incredibly high quality unique photographs.
- Luxury: $5000-7000 and beyond starting prices, for example they may start at $10k, $20k, or higher (Typically more established, extremely consistent refined style, and luxury offerings)
- What to expect: These photographers select a handful of weddings to photograph each year and are capable of handling high profile events with ease. Their style influences the industry standards and has a refined client experience that is custom tailored to each couple.
10% or 10 Years
The advice that became popular a few years ago was that you should only spend about 10-15% of your budget on your wedding photography. The issue with that is if you really value having photographs that stand the test of time, you may end up needing to break the 10% rule. I’ve noticed that many couples would rather trim their guest list or wedding party favors before they even think about touching their photography budget.
An alternative way of thinking is this: Would you rather stick to spending 10% now and hope that you can find a photographer that captures meaningful images for you, or finding a photographer you absolutely MUST HAVE, building your budget around that, and in 10 years still knowing you made the right choice because the images you have captured the real story of your wedding day?
Is It Important To Book Early?
The short answer is YES! Professional wedding photographers are often booked a year or more in advance, so once you find someone who is a good fit you should lock in your date right away!
Another benefit of booking early is providing yourself more time to plan, think of what is most important that you’d like captured, and of course it allows you more time to save up funds for your wedding budget.
How Much Do Wedding Photographers Cost? (The Deep Dive)
I’d love to be able to tell you a straight-forward answer to a question like “how much should I spend on wedding photos?” But honestly there is a giant range of prices that makes it impossible to give a cookie cutter answer. Seriously, anywhere from $0-30K, or more in some cases!
I understand that it’s absolutely zero help to be given an answer like that but there are so many factors that come together to determine how in-demand any photographer is which directly links to how much you’ll need to pay for a wedding photographer. That’s why it’s so important to focus on the value the photographer provides that you will be happy with long-term and then determining your price point. That way you are sure to get what you really wanted in the first place!
So, Why Do Wedding Photographers Cost What They Do?
My father had a saying as I was growing up, “buy nice, or buy twice.” I took that to heart and have always done research to find not just the most expensive product, but one that fit exactly my needs and would last through the years. The concept is no different when choosing a wedding photographer other than the fact that you don’t have an option to “buy twice” since weddings are a once in a lifetime event.
If a photographer excels in wedding photography (or any genre of photography for that matter), demand for their services typically increases. That almost always directly translates to their pricing structure. There are definitely some factors other than supply and demand that affect the prices of wedding photographers though, such as location, lifestyle, experience and expertise, and style.
This one may seem pretty obvious, but if you live in an area where living expenses are higher photographers will likely have higher starting prices. A photographer working in a major metropolitan area will likely charge more than one working in a rural area. If you live in Charleston or Charlotte for example, the cost of living can be almost double the cost of more rural areas in the Carolinas.
This is often the most fundamental factor that influences a wedding photographer’s pricing. For instance, a photographer’s financial responsibilities will greatly vary depending on their marital status, number of children, mortgage, and other expenses.
While you may or may not directly relate to their lifestyle, you may be drawn to a wedding photographer who resonates with you or someone you aspire to be.
However, whether a photographer needs to charge a premium to maintain their lifestyle or not, they must strike a balance between the work they produce and the profits needed to support their professional and personal life. Failure to do so can lead to a downward spiral and eventual burnout for the photographer.
Because of this, when you hire a photographer, you’re also paying for their lifestyle and the stability they bring to the table.
An experienced photographer who has shot hundreds of weddings is likely to have encountered a wide range of challenges and honed their skills to overcome them. They are better equipped to handle difficult situations like schedule changes, timeline issues, and family tension. If they have shot at your venue before, they may be more familiar with it and able to direct photographs more efficiently.
Even when working at a new venue, an experienced photographer will likely understand the importance of scouting the location beforehand and adapting to the environment on the day of the wedding. It’s crucial to ensure that your photographer has a clear plan for key moments, such as the first look, portraits, and formals, and that they understand the unique aspects of your venue.
However, keep in mind that photographers who provide this level of service typically command higher fees than average. So while experience is essential, it’s essential to balance it with other factors, such as expertise, style and budget, when selecting a wedding photographer.
While experience is a significant factor in evaluating a wedding photographer, expertise is absolutely critical.
At the heart of a wedding photographer’s expertise is their ability to capture any given wedding. While experience often accompanies expertise, it’s entirely possible that a photographer who has been in the industry for over a decade may not have the same level of technical skill as someone who has been around for only five years. That’s why I have separated expertise and experience into their own distinct sections.
Expertise comprises a variety of skills that enable a photographer to deliver exceptional results. These skills include proficiency in handling different lighting scenarios, such as bright light and low-light situations, as well as navigating interpersonal situations with ease, like coordinating family portraits and naturally directing couples for poses that look genuine. Emotional and communication skills play a vital role in making couples and their guests feel comfortable in front of the camera.
A photographer’s business skills, including their ability to create stability and provide consistently exceptional service, also contribute to their expertise. As a result, expertise is a valuable asset that often translates to higher prices due to its direct correlation with demand and desirability.
To evaluate a photographer’s expertise, be sure to read reviews and view full galleries of their work. By doing so, you can get a better sense of their technical abilities and overall quality of work.
Different photographers have different styles, and some styles are simply more expensive than others. For example, a photojournalistic style that captures candid moments as they happen may be more expensive than a traditional style that focuses on posed shots. Photographers who shoot partially or exclusively on film will also have a higher cost.
Style is a significant factor in a photographer’s work and is often connected to their personal philosophy, which affects their approach to taking and editing photographs. Typically, photographers who charge a premium have crafted a distinct style that is in demand among their clients.
Style meets the demand by fulfilling a personal or public desire for artistic expression, which could involve adding or removing elements or having a specific philosophy that affects the emotion or need for originality. In essence, some people prefer a clean look that avoids trends and shows things as they are. Some want all the good, the bad, and the strange documented, as long as the story is there. While others prefer something more edgy, creating something that is more fine art than emotional storytelling. You’ll often find wedding photographers blend these philosophies to create their own style. An example of this would be the contrast between “bright and airy” and “dark and moody” styles.
Your choice of photography style and the demand for photographers with that style in your region will play a role in the pricing of that photographer.
All of these things greatly affect the cost of why wedding photographers charge what they do – and the truth is that very few photographers will have the same experience, expertise, lifestyle, location, or style.
Are Wedding Photographers Actually Overcharging?
When you compare a wedding to other events, it’s easy to see that weddings require a lot more mental and physical effort.
For instance, a wedding is often a once-in-a-lifetime event that may require several hours of preparation and post-production work, multi-location coverage, and a full day’s work from vendors, which could last up to 16+ hours. Although similar efforts are needed for other events, the workload for weddings is clearly heavier.
For a photographer, a single wedding day could involve well over 60 hours of actual hands on labor, including initial meetings, engagement sessions, editing, planning, coverage during the day, backup, and post-production work. Furthermore, this doesn’t take into account the cost of business expenses, such as hiring a second shooter, gear, software updates, insurance, advertising rates, etc.
I also believe it’s safe to say that any truly professional photographer is spending upwards of 70-100 hours per wedding once you consider all of the above.
Suppose a photographer wants to earn $40k annually after spending approximately $20k on business expenses. In that case, they would need to photograph an average of 35 weddings per year and charge around $1,850 per wedding. This translates to an hourly rate of approximately $14, or potentially less after taxes.
Not to seem critical, but does it seem fair to pay $14 an hour for the services of an artistic professional, a specialist no less, as their responsible for capturing such an irreplaceable and significant day in your life?
Average Wedding Photography Costs in Greenville SC and the Carolinas
For the South Carolina and much of Western North Carolina, most photographers seem to be grouped into the following starting price ranges:
• $0-500 (Beginners who may not have shot a wedding yet)
• $500-1200 (Photographers who may have some wedding experience)
• $1000-2000 (Probably photograph weddings regularly, but don’t have much demand due to consistency in the final product or lack of client support)
• $2000-3000 (Have a bit higher demand for their style, and probably shoot fewer weddings while focusing on providing each client more support.)
• $3000-5000+ (Typically considered full-time professionals, and have a high demand because of their style, expertise, etc.)
•$6000+ and beyond starting prices (Photographers who are typically much more established, have a refined style, and offer luxury services.) These photographers regularly work across the world and are simply based in the Carolinas.
Again, these are general starting price ranges – You can spend $10k with many of the photographers that begin in the $3-5k range. These price ranges are not set in stone, and sometimes you can get a “good deal” at a lower price range. However, in such cases, you may be sacrificing peace of mind and taking on more risk. It’s important to keep in mind that pricing can vary depending on all of the factors we discussed above.
Determining the cost of wedding photography ultimately comes down to how much you are willing and able to spend, and finding a photographer that is the right fit for you. Your overall wedding aesthetic may come into play as well. If you’re getting married in South Carolina, be sure to check out my Ultimate Guide to Getting Married in Greenville SC.
A wedding photographer’s worth is based on what you are willing to invest and what they can provide for you. It’s important to consider factors such as their reputation, the quality of their work, their personality, and whether they make you feel at ease. Then book them at whatever the price is (as long as it makes sense for the budget right?).
For some people it’s $500, while others may be able to spend $5k, $10k, or even $20k+. Typically, higher priced photographers have more demand due to their skill and style. While you may come across cheaper photographers who are “worth” more than they are currently charging, that’s definitely a risk.
Regardless of the price, what cannot be underestimated is the value of a wedding photographer who can capture and preserve your memories for future generations. They will work tirelessly and under immense pressure, so it’s important to appreciate and cherish them and they should do the same for you.
Have something to add? I welcome any feedback, tips, or experiences from both couples and photographers in the comments below.
Article written and updated for 2023 by Greenville SC Wedding Photographer, Zack Bradley.