Whether or not you have an interest in wedding photography, as a photographer it’s inevitable that at some point in time, you will be presented with an opportunity to photograph a wedding. It could be a request from a friend who is well aware of your abilities. It could be from a recently engaged bride who came across your online portfolio, and after not seeing any wedding photos, contacted you to ask if you shot weddings. One of the most difficult aspects of venturing into the dark side that is wedding photography is deciding on your fee. There are several popular schools of thought on how much to charge for your first wedding.
Option 1: Don’t Charge Anything
Many photographers who are considering photographing their first wedding will elect to shoot the wedding free of charge. This takes off some of the pressure, since the client isn’t paying for anything, and their expectations on the finished product may be lower. One of the downsides of not charging anything for a wedding is that you could get quickly labeled as the free/cheap photographer, which probably isn’t an ideal descriptor for your brand. And even if you take spectacular photos during that first wedding, your clients likely won’t fully appreciate them since they didn’t have to pay anything.
Option 2: Charge Your Full Wedding Fee
The other extreme of offering to do a wedding for free is to charge the full amount of what you plan on charging for a wedding. One problem with this strategy is that you might find it difficult to find clients who will pay thousands of dollars to hire someone who has never photographed a wedding before. But if you have extensive portrait or event photography experience, have a mastery of your camera settings, and an ability to think on your feet, you might come upon clients who are already fans of your work and who are pleading with you to photograph their wedding. This might be one case where charging your full amount would be sensible.
Option 3: Offer a Discounted Rate
Offering to photograph a wedding at a discounted rate is a popular idea for several reasons. You aren’t cheapening your brand by giving away your services for free. Your fee also won’t be as high as it will be once you have a few weddings tucked under your belt. For many aspects of wedding photography, there is no substitute for real experience, and experience adds value to all of your photography services. You can make it clear to your client that your rate is being discounted because of your lack of experience specifically with weddings, so they can appreciate that your fee will be higher for subsequent weddings in the event that they refer you to others.
No matter how much you choose to charge for your first wedding, it’s imperative that you be completely up front with your first wedding clients. You need to make sure that they know that you have never photographed a wedding before, at least not as a lead photographer, so that their expectations can be clearly set. If you have photographed a wedding before, how did it go the first time? Was it also the last time, or did it motivate you to do more?