How Much Should I Spend On My Wedding Photography? | J.J. Au'Clair

How Much Should I Spend On My Wedding Photography?

Posted in: Pro Tips

Have you wondered “how much should I spend on my wedding photography?” yet? If so, you’re going to love this post.

I’m so excited to chat with you today, because if you’re reading this, chances are you’re engaged! And of course, you’re thinking about wedding planning.  Naturally budgeting is a massive question! And we don’t talk about it enough because talking about budgets and money is awkward for a lot of us.

 

SO, HOW MUCH SHOULD YOU SPEND ON YOUR WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHER? IT DEPENDS ON THESE FACTORS:

 

I’m not really a believer in % amounts for budgeting to plan your wedding. A wedding budget goes sooo much deeper than that, and the planning should be as unique as your desires and wants. No wedding is one size-fits all, and chances are, no one budget is either.

Today I’m going to offer you advice for planning your budget that is a bit more flexible, and is based on actively thinking about what the prices reflect in the photography market where you are booking.

Once you read this post about “how much do wedding photographers cost”, you’ll be equipped with the following knowledge:

  • The 10% myth
  • What are the price ranges of wedding photographers (generally)?
  • What are the factors that influence cost, and which ones are most important (to you the couple)?
  • Is the wedding photography market overpriced?
  • A more in-depth look at wedding photography prices in the state of Georgia
  • Considerations for you to decide your own custom budget, based on needs *and* future long term goals as a couple!

This post is meant to go hand in hand with my “How to Choose Your Wedding Photographer” article, so be sure to check that out after you finish this! (Link also at the bottom.)

Bride and Groom couple portraits at the Musgrove Retreat in St. Simon's Island photographed under the spanish moss in Pour Elite la Vie and blue linen suit.

 

The 10% Myth

A while back it was really popular for most wedding professionals and magazines suggest you spend about 15% of your budget on photography. They also suggested 40% should go to  the venue/catering/cake/alcohol, 10% to planning, 20% to flowers and decor, 10% to attire and beauty, and 5% to stationary/ favors(?!)/music. This is seriously a lot of math, and possibly still way off for your needs! It’s just a bit cookie cutter.

My biggest issue with the 10% rule is that, if you really value having lasting memories and photographs, you will probably invest more than only 10%. I’ve actually met many couples who choose to cut in other areas (such as the guest list) before they’ll even think about touching their photography budget!

An excellent philosophy is to choose the Atlanta wedding photographer you simply must have, along with making a prioritized list for your wedding. Then, you can build your budget around that. The easiest way to do this is for you make a list of your top priorities, figure out the pricing for each vendor, and then add up the total. We’ll talk about this more in the conclusion, but if you find this total is too high for your budget, start seeking where you can chop prices at the bottom of the list. And only work up as is absolutely necessary.

Black and White portrait of an etherial bride on film in new orleans, photographed by J.J. Au'Clair the premier atlanta wedding photographer in the Southeast!

How Much Do Wedding Photographers Cost?

Whenever I’m reading an article, I’m immediately looking for the simplest and most honest answer. So, if you and I are anything alike, you want a quick to-the-point answer to the question “how much should I spend on my wedding photos?”.

To answer this, we need to first find out how much wedding photographers cost.

The short answer is $0-$20k, or maybe more!

“But Janelle!—that’s a huge window”. I know, and I promise, I’m not playing with you. There are so many factors that affect how much demand any given photographer has, and how much you’ll need to pay for a wedding photographer within a certain bracket and skill level.

My goal is to help you find focus on what value you really want and will be happy with in the long run. After that, we can determine your price range. This way you get what you really want!

 

A few factors that affect how much wedding photographers costs are:

  • Lifestyle
  • Geographical Location
  • Level of Expertise
  • Real Experience
  • Style (Aesthetic)
  • What is included as standard in a basic package (ie. hours, album, engagement session, etc.)

 

Lavender exit getaway portraits of bride and groom leaving wedding reception on the stone steps of an old church in Savannah, photographed by wedding photographer J.J. Au'Clair.

Why Does Wedding Photography Cost So Much (or So Little!)?

I think we all know this, but you always get what you pay for. Whenever a photographer is excellent in any given area, it connects directly to their demand, which (almost) directly relates to their pricing structure and packages.

Before we continue, let’s talk about some of the basic ways that pricing structures form and present themselves within different markets around the USA. We will also touch on the influences affecting where a photographer will land in terms of their pricing.

It’s difficult to give you a one-size-fits-all answer to the “how much should I spend on my wedding photography” question! But through reading my break down, you’ll gain a good idea of the pricing in your area, and what to consider as you move forward in making this huge decision.

 

 

Your Photographer’s Lifestyle

This may not be something you immediately recognize as a factor determining how much a photographer charges. However, I believe it is safe to say this is one of the most basic factors for determining how much a photographer can (and should) charge.

For example, imagine a wedding photographer who is single, owns their home, and is in a place in life where (comparatively speaking) they don’t have many additional expenses. Now compare that to another photographer who has multiple kids (with future educational expenses) and a fair-sized mortgage.Each of these photographers’ priorities will be drastically different!

While you may or may not relate to one of these example lifestyles, I can almost guarantee that you will probably find yourself drawn to someone who you want to be like. And/or to someone with whom you relate. That human may or may not need to charge a premium (and provide a matching standard of service) that will allow them to live the life that they are living.

However, one thing is certain. Any photographer who does not balance their lifestyle with the work they produce, and the profit required to support their life, their business will quickly unravel. In the end, you pay for both the lifestyle and stability that your photographer exhibits.

Their Location

Pricing is very much location specific! If you live in an area where living expenses are higher, it’s likely that the standard pricing for a wedding photographer based in that area will be higher. As you can imagine, if you live in New York City where the cost of living is double (or more than!) that of somewhere like Atlanta. You might pay an average starting price of $6,000 vs. $3,000 for a similar photographer in the smaller city location.

Generally speaking, the larger the city (with a higher median level income), the higher your standard starting prices will be.

 

How much you should spend on your wedding photography is closely tied to your atlanta wedding photographer's asthetic, as pictured in this portrait of a groom under decatur's autumn leaves and some jimmy choo wedding shoes.

 

Level of Expertise

First let’s define expertise. In regards to wedding photography, I see it as how capable any photographer is to photograph a given wedding well. While expertise and experience often go hand in hand, it is still possible for a more “experienced” photographer to not have as much technical skill as another photographer who has not been around as long.

This is why I chose to segment expertise and experience into their own distinguishable sections.

Expertise typically involves the following:

  • Actual photography skills (e.g., skills in handling different lighting scenarios like bright light, low-light, and everything in between.)
  • Skills for handling interpersonal situations (e.g., ability to help guide day-of communication to achieve communication between multiple parties, like during family formal portraits)
  • Emotional and communicational skills to put you and others in a comfortable frame of mind
  • Business skills that create stability and service to consistently deliver excellent results

Expertise typically raises a photographer’s premium.Not sure how to gauge a photographer’s expertise? I believe their reviews speak volumes, as well as viewing full galleries.

Always be sure to check their reviews on multiple sources (TheKnot, WeddingWire, Google, etc.) and look at their photographs from various parts of the day, in various lighting conditions. Imagine your own wedding photos with them.

 

 

Experience Time

Experience shouldn’t be undervalued. Though experience and expertise aren’t the same, as I previously mentioned, it is generally a rule that a photographer who has shot hundreds of weddings will have had more “trial and error” to work out various tough situations. This includes navigating schedule changes, timeline troubles, tension between family members, etc.. And if she/he has shot at your venue multiple times, they will probably be more prepared to quickly and smoothly direct your photographs at that venue!

Pro tip: An experienced photographer preparing to shoot at a new-to-them venue will likely know the value of visiting the venue before hand! This way they can make a plan to quickly adapt to the new environment. You should be able to trust that the photographer understands your venue and has a plan to pick specific locations for things like your first-look, couple portraits, and formals.

It’s also safe to know that a photographer who does this will likely be above the average wedding photography cost.

 

J.J. Au'Clair shares all about planning your wedding with advice, tips, and planning guides.

Style or Aesthetic

Style is highly subjective, but is also often tied to very real philosophies that affect the manner in which a photographer takes and edits photographs. Photographers who charge a premium have usually crafted a style that is in demand.

Style corresponds to demand by satisfying a personal desire for artistic addition and a philosophy which affects the emotional need for originality. Each of us experiences this from one degree to another.

More simply put: some of us like things to be natural and clean (because we want to avoid trends and see how things how they really are, for the most part). All the while, others may prefer something that is more “original” because it is different and creates a sense of something beyond reality. Think “bright and airy” vs “dark and moody”, or “film” vs “digital” for example.

The aesthetic style that you choose, as well as the demand for a wedding photographer with that style in your area, will affect the pricing of your wedding photographer.

 

 

 

Wedding couple embraces overlooking ceremony in the asheville mountains as photographed by film wedding photographer J.J. Au'Clair at the Ridge Asheville.

What comes standard in a package?

Some photographers will create packages that include certain things and begin at a higher price point, while others may include almost nothing, and allow you to up the price by adding more onto the basic package.

In this way the latter photographer may begin at a lower price point, but quickly becomes as expensive (or more-so) than the former. This is all because of the manner in which they craft their packages.

Some examples of what to look for as being included or not are:

  • Do they include one shooter only, one shooter + second shooter, or two professional shooters?
  • Does this photographer include a heirloom quality album?
  • Do they include an engagement session?
  • Will they include any timeline review sessions and/or venue walk-throughs?

 

 

 

Is it True That Wedding Photographers Over-Charge?

Years ago I had a couple contact me regarding how I, as a wedding vendor, obviously charge a lot more for my photography “simply” because it’s a wedding. And that, if it was another event or portrait session I wouldn’t be able to charge such exorbitant prices.

This made me think…. is a birthday party or corporate event really the same as a wedding? All all events:

•a once in a lifetime event?

•an event that requires hours of pre and post labor?

•an often multi-location event?

•a full day event for all the vendors involved, sometimes lasting up to 20 hours of labor in a day?

Much of what we’re talking about here can be applied to literally any vendor. Weddings are NOT the same as a birthday party or another event that doesn’t carry nearly as heavy of a mental and physical workload.

Bride and Groom embrace, smile, and laugh while gazing into each other's eyes during their Serenbe Inn wedding near Atlanta, as photographed by J.J. Au'Clair.

While every wedding photographer is different, a single wedding day can easily account for the following hours of work directly:

•1-3 hours of initial emails/meetings

•2-3 hours of engagement session (local travel and shooting time)

•1-3 hours engagement session upload, edit, export, delivery

•2-3 hours of timeline prep and pre-wedding planning

•10-15 hours of day of work (set up, local travel, coverage during day, tear down, photo transfer/backup)

•7-35 hours of editing time

•1 hour backup/miscellaneous activities

 

That’s potentially 60+ hours per wedding of actual labor! And that is not even counting expenses.

Keep in mind that doesn’t include the time and $$$ that goes into paying a second shooter, gas money, gear, education/improvements, business insurance, keeping editing software and everything up to date, the cost of film and development, etc.

I think it’s safe to say that any given professional photographer possibly spends at least 75 hours per wedding, counting all above mentioned activities.

 

Atlanta's Cake Envy wedding cakes photographed flat on a table by J.J. Au'Clair during a wedding reception at the Inn at Serenbe lawn.

 

As a simple example, if a photographer needs to make $50k per year after business expenses and before taxes (let’s estimate a simple $20k worth of expenses per year), and they’re willing to shoot 40 weddings a year, they need to charge $1,750 per wedding on average.

That comes out to about $15-23 per hour (probably less). And don’t forget, we wedding photographers still have federal and state taxes after all that (self employment tax is 15.3% alone).

So, if you’re only paying $2,000 for a main and second shooter, I’d wager to say you either have a photographer who is investing very little in their business, someone that’s working really hard for $15-ish per hour (before taxes), and will probably not be sustainable long term.

 

Let’s be honest friends, $15 per hour seems pretty cheap for being a specialist and an artist for one of the most important days of your life that can never be recreated, doesn’t it?

 

Average Wedding Photography Costs In Atlanta and Savannah Georgia Area

For the Atlanta and Savannah areas in Georgia, I’ve found that most local photographers get grouped in the following starting price ranges:

•$0-500 (Dollar General pricing— just starting, probably have not shot a wedding before. Are not considered professional)

•$500-1200 (Walmart pricing— may have shot a couple weddings but are working in the budget bracket. May not have a high demand or may not have a style that demands a higher price tag)

•$1000-2000 (Macy’s pricing— probably photographs weddings somewhat regularly. May not have a high demand due to style, may not be full-time in the business)

•$2000-3000 (BHLDN, Madewell, or Toyota pricing—usually has a higher demand for style. May shoot a few less weddings to focus on providing each client more support, and is just beginning to get into the “professional” category)

•$4000+ (Vera Wang, Vince, or Tesla pricing— typically considered full-time professionals. These wedding photographers have a demand based on style, expertise, etc.)

 

 

Moody film bridal portraits with living flower installation by Selva floral in Oregon and a Sarah Seven wedding gown, photographed by J.J. Au'Clair.

 

Again, these are very generalized starting price ranges. You can spend $10k with many of the photographers that begin at the $4k range! And finally, please remember that these categories of pricing are not fixed. I’m sure there are some times that you can truly get a “good deal” at a lower price range; however, in those instances you are going to forfeit the peace of mind and assume the risk associated.

 

In Conclusion:

 

Mostly, a wedding photographer is worth whatever you’re willing to invest! If they have a solid reputation, you love their photos, their personality, and they make you feel comfortable— then book them! And book them whatever their price is (as long as it’s in budget, right?).

 

For some, this is $500. For others is $5k, $10k, or even $20K+. As a rule, your higher priced photographers have more demand for various reasons, usually associated with skill, style, etc. You can find cheaper photographers that are “worth” above their current price range, but that’s gamble.

 

Summer Bride and Groom at the Blackberry Farm wedding venue in Tennessee, wearing Vera Wang and florals by floressence flowers, photographed by J.J. Au'Clair fine art film.

 

As promised earlier, here is a simple formula you can follow to discover your perfect wedding budget! I suggest you do this together, though you don’t have to.

 

Homework for couples to create a custom wedding budget. Discover how much to spend on wedding photography:

 

  1. Think about how much money you have available. Obviously, this is an extremely personal question. But it’s also super obvious to consider. If you don’t have a lot of cash in the bank, you may need to compromise more (or have a longer engagement… or at least get creative).  And if you DO have a stack of cash in the bank, then you’re probably feeling pretty good right now:) So, let’s move on to step #2!
  2. Look at what you value for your wedding. Answer, what are the most important things for your wedding day? First, put down all the things you want. Then put a number by each of them in order of importance. Very quickly, you will be able to realize how your budget should be allotted! If your #1 goal is to have an incredible experience in a gorgeous location with your closest friends and family, then make that the most important part of your budget (ie. venue and  planner, because the planner will save so so much headache). If your #2 is to have your day authentically documented and gorgeously preserved, then photography is going to need a good portion of your budget. That way you can relive and share it with family and friends again and again! Opt for an outdoor wedding venue, and maybe choose a lighter catering option.
  3. Its been simple so far, but we’re not quite done yet! It’s time to talk with your fiancé about your goals in life. I know it’s hard, but what do you want in the next couple years? Do you want to take an epic honeymoon, or travel a bunch? Would you want to buy a house? Do you want to simply want to keep setting money aside for your savings? If you’re anything like me, chances are you want all of these things! 100%.  Instead of spending all your money on your wedding day, consider taking some of that money you have and put it towards the other things you really want as well. Now you finally have a better idea about your financial plans for the next 12-24 months! And where you want your money to go for the wedding day.Planning your wedding should be about both the day itself, and your future as a couple!
  4. After you’ve figured this all out, go ahead and book the venue and your photographer ASAP (Like me!). Trust me, you’ll want to lock that in. Usually, you want to book your photographer and even the venue about 12 months in advance.

 

Rolls Royce getaway car for bride and groom during sparkler exit in North Georgia for a luxury wedding photographed by J.J. Au'Clair.

 

FINAL ANSWER: THERE IS NO SET DOLLAR AMOUNT THAT YOU SHOULD YOU SPEND ON A WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY.

But if you value your photography and memories, I really recommend that you invest a solid portion of your wedding budget to it.

Regardless, what cannot be undervalued is a wedding photographer that helps preserve your wedding memories for your kids and grandkids. Any photographer you choose is likely going to work incredibly hard and under lots of pressure. So please, love and cherish them dearly. They should do the same for you.

 

 

So, how much should I spend on my wedding photography? Well, your wedding photography is one of the only expenses that will last a lifetime and beyond! It’s an investment in timeless memories and family heirlooms.

 

Be sure to check out my “How To Choose You Wedding Photographer” article next to get more honed-in on finding your ideal photographer!

 

As always, please let me know your thoughts in the comments below. I’d love to hear any other thoughts, tips, and experiences from couples and photographers alike! I hope this discussion has helped you brainstorm your wedding budget and how to best make it fit your needs.

 

While I still have you here, feel free to check out these resources! I’ve put them together for you to help plan your Georgia wedding:

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