What to look for in a Wedding Photographer: Price Reflects Process - Series Part 2

March 01, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

This is the second in a series of posts dedicated to educating you on how to choose a Wedding Photographer! Missed the last post? Check out What to consider when hiring a Wedding Photographer: Personality - Series Part 1 Read this one already? Hop on over to our next post,  8 questions to ask your Wedding Photographer! 

So we've learned about the personality traits that you should look for when looking for someone who fits your personality and comfort level. But the fact still remains that weddings are expensive and its crucial to be fully educated on why its important to make investing in a good photographer a priority when setting your budget. This ones a little longer - but remember, when you invest the time into educating yourself, you're going to get exactly what you want on your wedding day! 

Over to Mike! 



Wedding photography is one of the hardest forms of photography there is. A wedding is like sports photography, fashion, portrait, product, architecture, and landscape photography all in one, happening fast, and often at the whim of situations like weather or unique lighting conditions and the rush of emotions of those involved. Nothing but experience can prepare a photographer for this, and this is before they even edit and compile your story together. So it makes sense that excellent wedding photography has a price and should be considered an investment. I feel it’s important to say this, and therefore I should talk about price and product and how they are related as it governs most people’s choice in some way. Most couples do not know how to price wedding photography as they have usually only encountered it for the first time after their engagement. Let me clarify something before I go on - when I use the term cheap in this blog, I mean this. Once you have read this, and you understand what it is your looking to invest in, cheap will mean someone who claims to provide all the things mentioned at an exceptionally lower price than you typically see as the average.


I would suspect there is something to be couscous of if their cheap in the manner I am speaking about, the chance that it is a photographer who offers everything required to create pictures with lifelong durability at a 'discounted price' seems unlikely to me. All cars are generally the same in concept, yet we all know when we sit in a luxury car it has higher value, why is that? It has seats as all others do, an engine and body, but why do we know it’s different? It’s because there is experience, time, energy, and quality going into the small details, it may have all the same things as other cars, but the small things are so much better. There are many aspects of photography that come into play in a photography package, engagement session, extra photographers, equipment, editing, albums, prints, and then intangibles like experience, creativity, and a photographers style are just a few to list. All have worth and will dictate the price. Think about the combination of these things up against price, if you saw a new BMW priced the same as a KIA I think you would stop and wonder "this is to good to be true". An experienced photographer has learned the work involved and there is both value to them and yourself in this fact. Why one will be priced the way they are will depend of these factors, so you must consider which factors have value to you and then seek after those things the best you can within your budget.


Although it may be true that you can get similar packages for a wide range of prices I do not think you can get everything wedding photography offers cheap and end up happy unless it’s an unusual circumstance. However, you can get less for cheaper, and be happy, if that’s what your budget dictates. You can have things cut out of the package to lower the price, this is a different cheaper all together -lets call it "budget savvy". Photography is not like a product from a superstore; you can’t buy it in bulk and sell it for cheap, it is an art, a collection of once in a lifetime moments, so expect to pay for it. When you do so with understanding, you will get your monies worth. Like all things quality and price are attached at the hip in some way, in wedding photography they are related intimately.


As I grew in the industry, I knew from study of good photographers that it was very involved, the more I got involved however I saw there were so many more techniques I would have to acquire than I could have imagined. By going cheap as I mean it, or bargain hunting, you are most likely making a mistake. And your wedding is not a safe place to learn how you should have hired an experienced professional. That is not to say that you won’t stumble across the next budding world famous wedding photographer, or that an inexperienced person cannot produce acceptable results. I too had to start out with no wedding experience; and those people I shot weddings for in that time knew what they were getting. My travel experience photographing new people in different cultures and countless hours with my cameras and editing software over the years prepared me well, but I still had much to learn and better equipment to buy. My warning here is about the people who claim and even possibly think they have the abilities and experience and can do all the same things much lower than the rest of us when they actually do not. You need to look out for them, that way there is no surprises or tears in the end. And there are ways for you to figure out who these people are by knowing a little about what we do as wedding photographers, which is another goal of writing this blog. Like knowing BMW is a good car by driving in one, you will know why and what to ask someone who seems cheap as I have defined it. 


But weddings are so expensive!

There are two sides to this statement, both the photographer and the engaged couple can say it and both be true. I will only spend a short time on what it means for the photographer. In my study I could find only one reliable study on the profit margins for photographers, it was done in 2004 by the PPA (Professional Photographers of America). That was around the time digital had a foot hold into the professional scene. The average profit margin for a photographer then was 19-21%, so lets assume its gotten better and now its twice as much at 40%. An established photographer has lots of overhead, camera equipment, editing software, insurance, travel, taxes etc.. Once all these expenses take a piece of the profit the photographer is left with a chunk. It is not a get rich job! Here is some math to show you. Lets do an average of 30 weddings a year at $4000.00 per wedding. You might say that's a good income! 120,000$!! In truth, if the photographer is lucky they will only see 40% of that, and that's $48,000. That was doubling the average of a reputable study. So remember the price you see quoted is not what they get to keep.

For Kate (my wife and business partner) and I our budget was limited, so I truly understand the problem money can be in planning a wedding. I was moving from university into a career and a new home, things were tight. With both of us having a passion for photography, our pictures had high importance to us. So our primary focus while looking was the quality of work, not the extras. We decided for our wedding that everything else could suffer at the expense of food, drinks, and photographic quality. So we decided spend less on the "disposables"... Things like table toppers, we made our own invitations, had cupcakes instead of a fancy cake, and found lots of other places where we could transfer our resources to achieve our goal of high standards on our priorities. It didn't make sense to us to spend a lot of money to have a "Pinterest Worthy" wedding and have had terrible photographs of all of our pretty things and many missed moments. Our photographer was there because of his work quality and personality, and we still have a relationship with him to this day. Remember photography is one of the few things that lasts past the wedding day. What good is a ton of prints if you don't want them on your wall, or they remind you of a photographer who treated you like the next part in their production line. You simply cannot risk feeling your heart sink every time you look at your wedding pictures for the rest of your lives. You have spent countless hours, emotions, and dreams creating the perfect wedding, looking your very best, having the biggest party of your lives, make sure the memories captured reflect the beauty of your day.





If your budget is the bottom line and you cannot bend, you may be able to find someone who can give you good results for a lower price, but expect that it will have risk involved and you may just get what you pay for. If someone is inexpensive, expect for them to say that they are inexperienced, that they are looking to build a portfolio, or they don’t edit their pictures afterwards, find out why before so you don’t find out why the hard way, after. However, everyone has to start somewhere, so it’s not always a bad thing, just be aware.


However, in saying that I do not mean to take away from the value the extra's have. Most of the time the products photographers offer like albums and prints come from labs that only work with professionals. The time and energy that goes into producing these products cannot be compared to what you find online or at consumer labs. Our lab has professional bookbinders that assemble the albums by hand, and our work stations are all calibrated to their printing equipment. Each picture I put into an album is sized and sharpened properly for optimal printing, and I will even edit an image to insure it fits in with the other images on the page. Your photographer has put together countless albums and blogs, they know how to tell a story in images, they have years of experience with the programs and equipment used to make quality products. These are a few things you cannot get from consumer labs, they require time, much like the extra work in a high end car, and you can tell in the final product. Just be sure to ask your photographer about their lab, you don't want to pay boutique lab prices to a photographer who may be using a consumer lab and marking up something cheap. If you'd like to see an example of one of our wedding albums, check out our blog post 4 Reasons Why Professional Wedding Albums Are Worth It!


I mentioned that Kate and I were on a limited budget, I was in university so money was tight. After our wedding we decided to put an album together from a consumer lab online. We got what we paid for and knew that we would. The print quality is not even comparable to the lab we now use, and the pages fell out after a year because of low quality binding. I'm not upset though, I knew this was the case. Now that we have some extra money we will be building a new album with our professional lab, but if I could have, I would have had our photographer do it at the time because I know the value in allowing his art to be managed and assembled by him. When I look at the album we bought I feel like I rented a Lamborghini for a photographer and drove it on a dirt road called "My Album." 


Price reflects Process


The work that goes into a picture is extensive. The know-how begins with how to capture it, but also moves into editing and keeping your wedding in an efficient workflow. A 6 hour wedding done by a professional will not be merely 6 hours; it could easily reach 40 hours with downloading, backing up sorting, editing, ordering prints, putting your unique story together in an album, and all the other administrative work that goes on behind the scenes. My opinion on budget is blunt; inexpensive usually represents either inexperience or a sacrifice in a proper work flow.


Think about it this way, would you be able to work 40 hours a week and also pay for all the product your working on for your employer, like paper, manufacturing, equipment, programs, employees, insurance, hydro, etc and do it all for $500, or even $1000 dollars? You would go broke fast, so if someone tells you that's what they do like other pro's, either they don't do it or wont be doing it for long. So consider the process your pictures will go through, good pictures don’t end at the last call of the wedding, they begin there and started long before. You're not just paying for good pictures, but a workflow that your pictures will enter. Furthermore it is often very expensive to have a picture corrected by another professional if your photographer has not done it as part of their work flow. You could potentially have two outcomes if the photographers post-production is not considered before you book. First, when you look back at it through poor pictures that could never be fixed your memories won’t be as they should be, a happy window into the past. Second, you could spend hundreds or even thousands more paying another professional to fix something in Photoshop that should have been done properly the first time.




Feel like you're understanding it a little better? Great! Now for the next post, 8 questions to ask your wedding photographer!  Or if you missed it, part one While you Search.  


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