I’m so happy that your search for a wedding photographer has led you here. There’s so much time spent researching the eight bazillion different aspects of a wedding, and I’m hoping that the information I provide here will help save you some time.
I’ve often been asked about pricing – why do photographers cost so much? what’s a realistic amount that I should be expected to pay? I thought I’d provide you with some info as to what contributes to a full-time photographer’s fees.
I feel like this is an obvious, and possibly overrated inclusion in this list, but facts are facts. Professional camera gear is expensive, and a portion of my income is set aside for maintenance, upgrades, and insurance on all of my gear. The same should go for any professional photographer using quality gear and carrying backups in case of problems.
I don’t believe your photographer has to have the absolute latest gear and the trendiest accessories, but they need to have high-quality, reliable gear and backup equipment. That often means a photographer’s kit bag could easily contain upwards of $10,000 worth of gear. (How can this person be expected to charge $1000?)
Knowledge & Professionalism
My write-up used to include comments about knowing how to use a camera, but I’m going to now go ahead and hope (and pray) that you’ve already managed to find competent camera users because the last thing you want to do is hire someone who isn’t quick on the shutter because they’re still adjusting their settings. Complete camera knowledge is, perhaps obviously, a necessary (but sometime overlooked) prerequisite.
I’ll let you in on a little-known secret: weddings almost never go exactly according to plan. Often, that turns into changes in the timetable, and those changes then become the photographer’s job to manage. Your photographer should be able to adjust to these changes seamlessly, while keeping you informed of what the changes will mean ONLY in cases where it really matters. Do you need to know that the cake was late arriving? No. But it’ll be good for you to know that a 15-minute delay leading into the ceremony will mean that your best man will be helping to shepherd all family members straight over for portraits so that you don’t lose sunlight before your bride and groom portraits.
“Being professional” isn’t always synonymous with “being a professional,” but I’d like to think that this is where experience comes in. The more weddings you photograph, the more you get used to rolling with the unexpected and turning those changes into opportunities. Talk to your photographer about how they’ve dealt with unexpected changes in the past and see what the end result looked like so that you can get a feel for whether or not they’re comfortable with the unpredictable nature of weddings. Experience matters.
Education does, too. Is your photographer investing money in updating their knowledge? Are they taking the time to attend courses, seminars, conferences, or workshops? A portion of my income is earmarked for education so that I can go and learn from the industry’s best each year. It’s also a chance for me to network and be inspired by people creating great work; I can’t tell you how valuable it is for me to surround myself with creative people a couple times a year. The growth that translates into my work is noticeable.
You’re not just hiring a photographer – you’re hiring a person. Make sure you like this person. They’re going to be with you allllllll day on one of the biggest days of your life. It’s great to find a photographer whose work you enjoy, but find a photographer whose personality you enjoy and around whom you feel comfortable because they’re going to feed off of whatever energy you give them. If you give them good vibes, they’re going to want to create something extra special for you, I promise.
The primary expense I tried to cover when pricing my wedding packages was my own time – and that was more difficult that you might expect. My wedding coverage often exceeds 10 hours, so I charge enough to cover 10 hours of my time, right? It’s easy to forget that a photographer needs to get paid not only for the time spent at the wedding, camera in hand; there is also editing time and the time spent producing those show-stopping wedding albums that showcase your beautiful images, not to mention the time spent uploading galleries, posting your photos to a blog for your friends and family to enjoy, replying to emails, site visits, communicating with suppliers…. See where this is going?
One of the advantages to hiring a professional is that, on your big day when there are dozens of things happening all at once, the hired photographer isn’t there as a guest; they are working. My job at a wedding is to be the ultimate people-watcher and to figure out who might be about to have a camera-worthy moment so that I can be there with that person as the action happens. A professional is worth her weight in gold because she will spend all that time at your wedding and then also take the time to pore over your photographs and make sure that each one is as good as she can make it. How much time will $1500 get you?
I’ve already hinted in this direction, but insurance is a big deal and comes in many forms. Your photographer should have at least three kinds of insurance:
1) Insurance on their actual gear and studio space/contents
2) Liability insurance (in case someone gets hurt; in case of accidental damage to property).
3) Insurance on your photos. This one doesn’t come in policy form. It comes in the form of Cloud storage and multiple forms of physical backups in (at least) two different locations. If your photographer’s computer crashes, you don’t want that to become your problem.
Many photographers offer their time and a disc of images. Awesome. I can print the photos myself. Except what’s going to be on that CD? How do I know that my photographer was willing to take the time to edit my photos correctly so that they will look as good as possible when I take them to some basic photo lab like Wal-Mart? I don’t know that. I also don’t know that Wal-Mart’s going to be able to produce quality prints. Actually, yes I do know that answer – they won’t. If you want to print your most priceless images somewhere that will give you close-to-professional-quality prints, get in touch and ask for some recommendations. What happens if the CD is full of mediocre (or worse) shots? Do you go to Cousin Al/Uncle Fred/your best friend/that photographer you found on Kijiji and say you want your money back? Probably not going to happen. Once again, it goes back to paying the photographer to take responsibility for producing a complete, high-quality product from prints to album. Paying someone and signing a contract means they answer to you; if my clients are ever unhappy with a print for ANY reason, they don’t pay until I get it right – no questions asked. If the person you’ve invested in to take your photos doesn’t produce to the standard you were expecting, you should be able to go back to them and request the changes required without feeling guilty.
I’ve seen a wedding photographer shoot a wedding with what appeared to be an Olympus 35mm ‘point-and-shoot’. I’ve heard of a bride who hired a cheap photographer who promised a CD of photos and an album ready in two weeks—four months later, a CD was tossed at her, no mention was made of the album and the photographer disappeared. Choosing a photographer, particularly one who will document your wedding, is an important decision. Have a discussion with your partner and decide whether or not photographs are a priority for you. If they are, I would recommend planning your budget accordingly and being willing to pay the price for quality results and the peace of mind that comes with knowing you’ll get those awesome shots.
To give you an idea of what you should expect to spend, most full-time, professional photographers in Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec are charging $3000-$4500, with a select few coming in more in the $4000-7000 range. The general advice is to plan to set aside 15-20% of your wedding budget for your photographer, if photos are one of your more valued items.
I hope this article shared some useful info! To read more about what it really means when you get digital files, click here.
I’m Ang – a Cornwall, Ontario-based photographer with a passion for finding light and documenting real life for couples and families in Cornwall, Ottawa, Montreal, and around the world.