How Much Should You Charge to Photograph Your First Wedding?

How Much Should You Charge to Photograph Your First Wedding?

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.

four groomsmen standing in field

Photographing your first wedding can be an intimidating but rewarding experience.

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?

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24 Comments

Assist, Second, and then think about charging for wedding photography services at a discounted price. Most of the time (not all) it is not benefiting the couple or the photographer for inexperience on a monumental day, no matter what the price.

Jordan Pinder's picture

I wholeheartedly agree Jason. Getting real experience as an assistant and second shooter is an important first step before taking on a wedding of your own for the first time.

Dennis McConnaughhay's picture

I believe that in some cases this may be the truth but in my case I did not second shoot nor assist before I booked my first wedding. I charged 1500 and fully disclosed to the bride and groom that they were my first wedding. Now I am in my second year and have doubled my prices as well as over doubled my bookings compared to last year. If you take a true honest assessment of your skill set and abilities and are still confident that its something you can do then I say go for it. Don't wait to get X amount of assistant jobs.

Robert Nurse's picture

I think I'll stay with second shooter for a while. I'm a wuss when it comes to weddings.

Anonymous's picture

I've been asked to shoot weddings before but always decline. Having never done one, I would be afraid they would always regret the choice and could never go back and change it. When I see mediocre wedding photographs, I think the photographers have no conscience or appreciation for the gravity of the day. I have a lot of respect for good wedding photographers.

Jordan Pinder's picture

This is very true. Most couples don't fully grasp the importance of having quality wedding photos until after the wedding is over. I think that investing in the long-term value of wedding photos is one thing that professional wedding photographers need to communicate to prospective wedding clients.

Ngaere Woodford's picture

I always say to clients when all is said and done you have your rings and photos, invest in the things you get to keep.

Robert Nurse's picture

Hahaha, same here. When I've been asked, my first thought was, "If I screw this up ...". Then, I instruct them on how to find a good wedding photographer. Then, I think, "If you just advised them on what to look for, why don't you do it?". Then, it's back to, "If I screw up...". I supposed one day I'll give it a whirl. But, damn, the pressure!

Jonathan Brady's picture

About a year ago, I was volun-told that I was shooting my first wedding (for free) - an event which is coming up in about 3 weeks. It's the sister of my wife's best friend... For my wife's entire life! I couldn't bear the thought (or the pressure) of possibly ruining the pictures, despite being told that the bride is VERY laid back and will be happy with anything. So I contacted a handful of local wedding photographers and second shot half a dozen weddings for them and learned SO much. I feel MUCH more confident for my first wedding in the first shooting position.
All that said, even with my experience as a second shooter, I wouldn't feel confident charging for this first wedding. But, I have ALWAYS been an under-promise-and-over-deliver kind of guy.
Looking forward to it :-)

Jordan Pinder's picture

Good luck Jonathan! Many (actually most) brides I've worked with have been very laid back, and there are definitely couples who don't have a budget for high-end wedding photography. Your experience as a second shooter will help a ton.

Jeff Bellantine's picture

I did pretty much the same thing as Jonathan, for a friend. But, I didn't second shoot or contact any photogs before shooting. Bride and Groom were very laid back, but the venue was not what you'd call photo friendly. An old cork factory, brick walls and dark wood ceilings and wood everywhere ... and candles, lots of candles. Did I mention the wedding started at 5:30pm? haha Nerves were a bit on edge, yes. Probably not the safest call but I shot the whole thing without a flash. ;) Go big or go home ... the bride, groom and I all decided we weren't crazy about on camera or having light stands set up. So with a rented 6d, a 70-200 2.8IS, a Tamron 85mm SP, and a Tamron 35mm SP I went for it. I have shot a lot of equestrian events, but that's about it. I think it went pretty well, and the couple as well as the guests were happy. Obviously I doubt I'd try that again, but I'm comfortable with average rates. I know I was lucky, but I'm pretty confident about coverage as long as the couple knows my styles and are ok with that.

Jordan Pinder's picture

I think you were smart to not over-complicate your first wedding by adding in flashes, etc. It's good to start off with minimal gear so that you can focus on taking photos and not on toying with camera and flash settings the whole time.

Tom Lew's picture

One BILLION dollars!

Jordan Pinder's picture

Ugh of course! Now I'll have to go back and re-submit the article.

Rob Mynard's picture

An excellent plan for those planning on shooting for "free" is to invoice the couple for your full amount and then discount it down to free. I know it sounds like splitting hairs but the couple then get an idea of what the work they are getting is worth and if anyone ever asks them what their photographer cost they can say that you normally charge $x but that they got a good discount.

Jordan Pinder's picture

I love this tip Rob. It's also something I do when trading services with local businesses - invoicing them with the full price and discounting to "free" so that they appreciate the typical cost they would incur if they were not providing anything for trade.

enem odeh's picture

I'm not a big fan of photographing events because i feel as if people underestimate me because of my gender and size. I had a woman (guest) come up to me once after an event say, "good job! you do it just like a man!"

The first wedding i photographed was in 2013 for my aunt in Lagos, Nigeria 2013. I used it as a learning experience and realized i didn't like event photography. The second one i shot was a traditional Yoruba wedding in Toronto, Canada. I went with my uncle and his team and it was amazing! i didn't expect to be payed anything because of my inexperience and quite frankly i just tagged along but everything turned out well :)
Here are some of the pictures from the trad wedding:

Jordan Pinder's picture

I also find events to be rather unrewarding, for different reasons. But with weddings it's a little different, since you are serving two clients, rather than a business. I find that wedding clients are far more appreciative and respectful of photographers than patrons at events.

enem odeh's picture

thanks of the reply!
very very true!

I will be doing exactly this in a few weeks. A friend asked me to shoot his wedding. I was very clear that I'm in no way good enough to replace a professional and I won't do it for free but he replied "It's either you or a relative with an iPhone". Challenge accepted.

Jordan Pinder's picture

Good luck Philipp!

Bethany Sell's picture

I would suggest bringing your camera along to a few friends/family weddings NOT as the hired person or the assistant, just to get familiar with the ambient lighting that often goes along with indoor weddings. Once you feel like you've mastered indoor lighting with fast-moving subjects, then you can feel a lot more confident in taking on something as big as your first wedding.
Then, if you really want to get into wedding photography, I've made a whole video series about how to break into the industry and shoot your first wedding that you can find on my blog. :) https://howtostartphotography.com/pages/our-program

Randall James's picture

I have a wedding to do in October, but I have done a few in the past as well. The problem with weddings is getting everyone together after the vows. I don't particularly like weddings because they are too long and people react to your price if they think it is too high. They don't quite understand the cost to and time required to edit and print.

Rodrigo Diniz's picture

Hello, my name is Rodrigo Diniz, I'm Brazilian. I work as lighting assistant for a wedding photographer, gained experience. A good start for photographers