In this article, I will address some thoughts about budget wedding photographers, that can hopefully help aspiring wedding photographers and potential clients. Let me preface by saying I don’t have animosity towards newer photographers starting out. Nor are they attracting the same clients as me.
How do wedding photography prices vary so much?
There are no entry barriers. The $500 wedding photographer is likely trying to dip their toes in the sand, for whatever reason. Though, if they think wedding photography is the money gravy train, they’re in for a rude awakening. Of course couples will not pay as much for those without much field experience, hence the lower price. Hopefully that eager provider will do a good job and develop as they go. It can work out that way, or the complete opposite. Because there are no barriers, it’s buyer beware. Of course a newer provider will charge less than an established pro because of of varying knowledge of their craft, business operations, experience, and resources.
What’s the best way to start?
I’m not super active in social groups, but it doesn’t take me long to figure out who has the right attitude and who will crash and burn. Those eager to learn by assisting, doing grunt work, and second shooting for established pros are doing it right. Develop your skills and craft with street photography, portraits, whatever, first. Weddings are no do-over events with decisive moments. Other moments that require patience and watching before doing.
As you develop your skills and confidence and have respect for someone else’s wedding day before venturing out on your own, you’re laying a solid foundation. By having at least a starter portfolio with what you’ve shot for someone else, and you decide to go out on your own as well, be honest about your experience and your aspirations as a wedding photographer. Avoid using styled shoot photos as an actual wedding portfolio. Of course anyone even somewhat competent with a camera can take lovely photos of perfectly arranged styled elements or a fake couple at the golden hour, in a controlled environment. What you do with the beating heart is what tells the tale.
Making budget rates temporary-
This is one reason I advocate having some professional photography experience, and basic business knowledge before entering weddings. I see nothing wrong with doing 3 or 4 weddings at a lower price point, with the caveat that you won’t offer it again after you develop your portfolio. And it’s ok to be semi-picky about who you offer these special rates to.
Many think, oh, I can make $500 a day, that’s far more than I make at my job. To run a wedding photography business, you should have at least one backup body, and different lenses, spare batteries, memory cards, and sometimes flashes. When you calculate the cost of doing business, the time invested with the clients, marketing, website and branding, post-production, the math doesn’t add up. Budget wedding photographers with no goal to be more profitable are likely to burn out and be a hamster in the wheel.
If budget wedding photographers keep operating at a loss, they will get tired, and their referrals will be primarily based on their lower prices. Hence getting more problematic clients, rather than being hired for excellence in craft and business. It can become a corner you paint yourself into. If you think having low prices wins you loyalty, watch what happens when you set boundaries in your business and raise your prices. Even if you do 50 weddings per year (a full time job that will be physically taxing, and with lots of post work) you grossed $25,000. PLUS have expensive gear and time involved. That’s a hobby. not a business. Rate increases I know are gradual, but you have to ask yourself what you’re trying to accomplish and have a clear goal besides having to tell others it’s a passion.
Dangers dealing with budget wedding photographers-
I’ve heard brides on Facebook saying their wedding photographer backed out. No, they never hired a wedding photographer to begin with. A pro requires a retainer and has a wedding photography contract to not only cover themselves, but also consumers.
I’m not saying that all budget wedding photographers would do this. But it’s unlikely that someone new in the business will have those accountability tools, or even a licensed business, which increases risk. If your pipes leak, are you hiring a guy in the Home Depot parking lot with Roy the plumber signs spray painted on his truck, or calling a licensed plumber? Their rates will of course vary.
My best advice for couples, don’t be impulsive. Research, and do responsible, thoughtful budgeting so you can establish your splurge and priority items and what you can skip or save on. A higher price alone does not guarantee you success, but lower price usually has a reason. Know them.