If you've ever thought about shooting a wedding, you have probably wondered: "How much should I charge to shoot a wedding?" In this free excerpt from the wedding photography tutorial, "How to Become a Professional Commercial Wedding Photographer," we are going to talk about pricing your wedding photography. In addition to this free lesson, we are offering a limited time discount if you'd like to purchase the full tutorial. Simply use code WED75 at checkout before April 30th, 2017.
In this post, I am going to touch on only a few things that are in the video. Please watch the video above if you want to learn as much as possible about how wedding photography rates work.
1. Honestly Critique Your Work and Compare It to Other Photographers in Your Area and Around the World
Before you do anything else, you need to know how good you actually are and how your work is perceived within your market. You might be very knowledgeable about business and pricing, but if your photography isn't good enough, you won't win over any brides. The wedding photography industry is filled with people who think that because they own a "professional" camera, they are now professional wedding photographers, and obviously, this is very far from the truth. Maybe you are a great photographer, but your portfolio isn't complete, because you haven't shot enough weddings yet, or maybe you've shot a lot of weddings, but none of them are fancy enough and your portfolio is making your work look cheap.
Critiquing your photography is only the first step. You also need to compare your entire image with other photographers in your area. Does your logo look professional? Does your website make you look high end? Does your blog or about page make you look exclusive? If you can be honest with yourself, you should be able to look at your work from the perspective of a prospective bride. What would make them hire you over your competition or vice versa without throwing money into the mix?
2. Determine Your Current Business Goals
If you're just starting your wedding photography business, your goal may be to book as many weddings as possible as quickly as possible simply to build a portfolio. If you're established already, you may want to make as much money as possible by either booking as many weddings as possible or by booking the highest-paying weddings available.
Some established photographers (like me) are more interested in maximizing free time and therefore are not interested in booking as many weddings as possible, but instead want to book a smaller number of high-paying weddings. Setting your prices will significantly change the way your business runs, and therefore, it's important that you know exactly what you want before setting your rates.
3. Figure Out Average Wedding Photography Rates in Your Area
Visit as many wedding photographers' websites in the area as you can. Most wedding photographers do not publish their complete price lists, but they may have a starting price available on their website. Use these numbers to determine what your starting price should be based on the quality of your work. Visit Cost of Wedding and type in your current zip code to determine the average wedding costs in your area.
In Charleston, SC, where I live, the average wedding according to this website costs between $21,000 and $35,000. It is customary for brides to spend 15% of their wedding budget on their photography. This means that the average cost of wedding photography in my area should be around $3000 to $5000. This happens to be right around where my average price for weddings naturally fell.
4. Create a Price List That Can Cater to Multiple Budgets
My wedding photography starts at $2800 for 4 hours of coverage and goes all the way up to $12,500 for my "complete package." I shoot weddings consistently that span that entire gap. Booking a "cheap" wedding for $2800 can be a treat, because it's such a short and relaxing day and shooting multiple days with my "complete package" is certainly hard work, but I'm excited for the paycheck. It's important to remember that every client has totally different photography requirements and budgets, and therefore, you do not want to exclude the majority of your clients because your prices are too specific.
5. Don't Set Your Prices Too Low
If you're just getting started, your rates are going to have to be low, and they should be. Couples pay the big bucks for experience and consistency, and if you haven't been doing this for years, you won't have either. For my first wedding ever, I charged $250, and I honestly think that was a fair price. The entire wedding budget was probably less than $1500, and I had absolutely no experience. For my next wedding, I charged $1000, and for my third wedding, I charged $1500. If I had tried to charge $250 for my second and third weddings (which had higher overall budgets), I'm quite sure they would have hired someone else. Just like a groom looking at a pretty engagement ring that only cost $99, by charging too little, you run the risk of lowering your perceived value so far that a client will start to think something is wrong with you.
In the beginning, it may be tempting to put up an ad on Craigslist for wedding photography for a couple hundred bucks, but usually, the only couples who would trust this sort of thing aren't throwing weddings worth putting in any portfolio. If your only goal is to get experience, feel free to try this only for the first one or two weddings and then quickly raise your rates from there. This should only be done as a last resort, because a far better way to get experience would be to assist other photographers who are shooting legitimate weddings, even if you have to do it totally for free.
6. Don't Set Your Prices Too High
If you set your prices too low, you may never book a wedding, because nobody will respect your work, but you can always raise your prices. If you set your prices too high, you may not book jobs, because you've outpriced your market, and once you've set your rates, you should never lower them.
Imagine if a groom purchased a designer wedding ring only to have it go on sale after he purchased it. The ring hasn't changed, but the perceived value of that ring certainly has. He would never recommend that store to a friend. If you book a wedding at a certain price point, and then you find that you aren't booking enough work, you can't easily lower your prices, especially if you publicize your rates. Imagine how cheated your last client would feel if they found out. High-end boutique stores don't have sales or discounts for a reason. They want to attract high-end clients and they want to set a value for their products.
Don't jump into wedding photography with extremely high rates. Instead, start low and raise your rates quickly as you book work. If you're trying to establish a business, my suggestion would be to find five other photographers in town who are at your level. Price your work slightly below all of them so you are the most reasonably priced photographer in that segment. This almost guarantees that you aren't totally undercutting the market and that you will book jobs quickly. As you book weddings, raise your rates as the jobs come in.
7. Understand Who Your Client Is
Sometimes, the groom or the mother of the bride or groom will hire me, but most of the time, my job is to win over the bride. Brides are not educated art buyers. In most cases, this is the first time they have ever hired a photographer. They don't necessarily know what "good" or "technical" photography is, and instead, they will make decisions based on emotions. If your work and your website can win them over, money probably won't be an issue.
It is customary, at least in America, for the bride's family to pay for the wedding. This certainly isn't guaranteed, but most of the time, my clients (the bride and groom) are not writing the checks. Therefore, you must remember that the bride who is hiring you isn't spending her own money. If you're meeting with a potential client who has seen your rates, chances are that the budget has already been determined and the money has already been allotted for the photography.
If you want to know how much money they have for photography, I wouldn't suggest directly asking them. Instead, if you can get a bit of information about the wedding location and number of guests, it's pretty easy to estimate the cost of the entire event and then determine how much money they have budgeted for wedding photography based on the 15% estimation we talked about above.
I hope this article will help you determine the correct pricing for your wedding photography. If you'd like to learn more about how we started and run our wedding photography businesses, please check out our 14-hour-long tutorial on all things wedding photography. To save $75, use the code WED75 at checkout before April 30th, 2017.