Wedding Photography Costs Explained

a wonderful reblog from the experts at borrowed & blue

When you start out on your journey from “yes” to “I do,” you might often find yourself daydreaming about the wedding dress you’ll wear, the reception decorations that will show off your style, and all the sweet, special moments that will give your day that magical “this must be a fairytale” quality. Does this sound about right? Well, if you think you’re captivated now, just wait until a few years down the road when you glance up at your wedding photos hanging on the wall and all the precious memories that you made with friends, family, and the love of your life on that incredible day come rushing back. Daydreams about the future are one thing, but reliving one of the most incredible days of your life has no comparison. That, our friends, is why wedding photography should be an essential part of every bride’s plans. Thankfully, most brides-to-be will agree. That is, until they experience their first bout of sticker shock, which, as we’ve been told by countless brides, usually begins with the photographer’s quote.

The moment when the wallet-squeezing realities of planning the wedding of your dreams sets in is a tough day for any bride — whether she’s a thrifty bride on a conservative budget or a luxury-loving bride who’s willing to go all out. No matter who you are, the costs of hiring wedding vendors that are just right for your style, personality, and vision often comes with a bit of stinging bite. It’s a given that the wedding venue and caterer will be a large portion of your wedding budget, but the price tag of hiring a wedding photographer to take photos of your big day seems to be less intuitive. As our brides often put it, “Why do wedding photographers charge me a small fortune for 6-10 hours of work? It can’t be that difficult to take photos.”

A destination wedding photo taken by Clay Austin PhotographyDestination wedding photography by Clay Austin Photography

Images by Clay Austin Photography

Destination wedding photography by Clay Austin Photography

That question is definitely a legitimate one. The answer comes with understanding what wedding photographers actually do when they aren’t snapping photos at your celebration. The answer has to do with the behind-the-scenes work and time that goes into your package. The answer lies in all the work that you never see. From the outsider’s perspective, wedding photography easily takes on all the characteristics of a high-dollar scam, so it’s understandable that brides often get frustrated when they have to fork out thousands of dollars for what seems like very little. We get it, really.

To make things clearer, we reached out to three of our favorite wedding photographers from around the country — Charleston’s Clay Austin of Clay Austin Photography, Virginia’s Aaron Watson of Aaron Watson Photography, and Napa’s Megan Clouse of Megan Clouse Photography — for answers about the ins-and-outs of wedding photography prices. Read on to learn exactly why wedding photography comes with the price tag it does.

 Destination wedding photography by Aaron Watson Photography

Images by Aaron Watson Photography
Destination wedding photography by Aaron Watson PhotographyA destination wedding photo taken by Aaron Watson PhotographyA destination wedding photo taken by Aaron Watson Photography


As we mentioned before, the key to wedding photography costs is easily made apparent when you take a closer look at what your photographer is doing outside of those 6-10 hours that they are physically at your wedding snapping photos. We asked Clay Austin Photography what all goes into setting the price of a photography package.

He says,

“A LOT!! It’s not just me showing up to your wedding for a few hours, grabbing some shots, and then hitting the road. There is a lot more that gets factored in, which dictates the cost. Outside of the time I am bouncing around with you at your wedding, I am spending five times that afterwards hunched over my computer like a caveman editing the thousand plus images, making sure they reach the quality and aesthetic that you hired me for.”

Like we said, you are in no way paying for just a few hours of day-of shooting. We did a little digging and it turns out that the average photographer will typically spend forty five hours or more on your wedding alone. If you consider how much your pay check would end up being if you put in that much time at work, then the sum you’re billed by your photographer makes a whole lot more sense.

 Destination wedding photography by Megan Clouse PhotographyA destination wedding photo taken by Megan Clouse PhotographyA destination wedding photo taken by Megan Clouse Photography

Images by Megan Clouse Photography

But we’re still not done. Clays goes on to further explain wedding photography costs: “Beyond that, for a lot of us, if not most of us, this is our full-time job and we have bills to pay and mouths to feed just like anyone else. Before I started my own company and became a full-time wedding photographer, I had a pretty sweet job working as a photographer for a local studio. When I went out on my own I thought ‘this will be great I will just shoot weddings and la di da di da!’ Little did I know, I was about to be thrown into Business 101! Apparently you can’t just hang a shingle and announce to the world that you are a photographer, Uncle Sam wants a cut too. Who knew?! After becoming an LLC, paying the state, federal, hiring an accountant (because Quickbooks is pretty much a foreign language), hiring a lawyer (contracts…also not taught in art school), getting business cards, advertising, and paying for continuing our photography education, it all adds up to a crazy amount of cash before you can even click your shutter. Outside of that, our equipment is super expensive — from the camera to the lenses to the editing software — and in order to get those photos of grandma dancing you gotta be willing to fork over at least $10,000 just to get started!

This is not meant to be read as a “woe is me” pity party, so don’t get me wrong. I LOVE LOVE my job and if I have to spend a little extra for you to look at my images on your 40th wedding anniversary with a smile, it is all worth it! So while there may be some sticker shock involved with the price of good wedding photography, just know that we truly care about offering the best possible service to our clients, all while juggling the cost of life.”

 A destination wedding photo taken by Clay Austin Photography

 Images by Clay Austin Photography 

In addition to the things that Clay mentions above, you get more than a person who is good behind the camera when you hire a professional to document your day. Photographers are confidants, they are problem solvers, and they are wedding experts in many ways. Not sure how to pose? They’ve got you. Not sure where the best photo locations at your venue are? They’ve already scouted them out. Not sure if certain colors or styles will look good on your bridesmaids? They’ve got a magnificent eye for knowing what looks best in photos. And these are only just a few of the ways they can make your life easier.

Since we’ve gotten a better understanding of what goes into package prices, let’s see what Aaron of Aaron Watson Photography has to say about the additional benefits and overall sentimental worth of having exceptional photos taken at your wedding day:

“As wedding photographers, we consider it a great honor to provide the most complete and excellent work for our couples. We recognize that when clients choose to book us, they are entrusting us with preserving and telling the story from one of the biggest moments of their lives. We consider this one of the most priceless aspects of one’s wedding day and as a result, when it comes to budgeting for wedding photography, we highly encourage our couples to invest well. As the saying goes ‘you get what you pay for,’ and this rings true for wedding photography, especially when you will find such a range in pricing from one photographer to another.

At the start of planning with our couples we tell them to think backwards. Imagine sitting down with your children 20 years after your wedding and showing them your beautiful wedding album. A priceless heirloom that you will pass down in your family. Now think about one year after your wedding. You’re coming home from a hard day at work and you get to see the beautiful portrait from your wedding day in your living room. It brings back memories from one of the happiest days in your life, so you can’t help but smile.

When we put it this way, it makes you think about why wedding photography is so important and what you want to have long after your wedding. Our pictures take on a physical form, which gets our clients thinking about what they want in addition to having us photograph their wedding. Our studio is unique in that we provide a full service, including framing for wall portraits, handmade canvas gallery wraps, and custom designed albums. The moment the picture is taken on a wedding day is just the beginning, the real beauty is seeing the picture transform into physical artwork displayed in our couples’ homes.

When it comes to the actual wedding day, we pay close attention to every detail by making sure clients are photographed in the best light and at the most flattering angles. We create a wedding day of photography that is effortless and comfortable, always listening to our couples and their feedback. This only comes with years of experience and is important when looking for a photographer.

We advise any newly engaged couple to take the time to research their photographer; get to know them and find out how involved they will be throughout their experience. Seek referrals from other top wedding professionals. After all, when it comes to planning a wedding, they are building a team of talented individuals that will journey with them on their special day. When couples invest in an all-star team, magic happens and it’s important to capture it along the way which is why hiring a professional photographer is worth every penny.”

Destination wedding photography by Megan Clouse Photography
Images by Megan Clouse PhotographyA destination wedding photo taken by Megan Clouse Photography

Those mysteries solved, we turned to Megan Clouse Photography for some insight into what brides and grooms usually end up paying for their wedding photos and what to do when you just can seem to find a wedding photographer that you adore within your decided wedding budget.

She explains,

“Photography packages typically begin at $3,000 and can increase to the $10,000+ range, however it’s always worth a discussion if a package is just out of range. These three simple tips could help match up your ideal photographer with your set budget: 1) Let the photographer know what you truly have set aside. If the proposal is for 8 hours, ask if it’s possible to reduce the rate to 5-6 hours of coverage; 2) Be enthusiastic! Share details about your unique wedding and reaffirm why you think this chosen photographer is a perfect fit for you; 3) If there’s still a gap, ask for a quality recommendation. As a photographer, I have many, many photographer friends in all price ranges and if I’m not the best fit, I’m happy to recommend someone else.

“My last bit of advice is that budgets can quickly escalate, so sit down with your fiancé, agree on the top three priorities of the wedding (example: band, photography, flowers) and then find other areas that can be adjusted/diminished so more money can go toward the priorities.”

Doesn’t the price of hiring a wedding photographer make a lot more sense now? Although it may seem like it at first glance, the people behind the lens aren’t trying to rip you off or make it impossible for you to have the wedding of your dreams — they are making it possible for you to have mementos that you can treasure for a lifetime. You may not realize it now, but the ability to share your wedding day with your children and eventually your grandchildren will make all the money that you spend hiring a great photographer worth it in the end.