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The Worth of a Good Wedding Photographer

Special Feature by Krista Guenin of Krista Photography Every once in a while, a bride will contact me about photographing her wedding and will find that I'm out of her price range. It always stinks to miss out on a potentially great wedding, but I've done my homework and know what I need to charge to make a living, and so I usually pass along the names of some other great photographers who might be a better fit for her budget (and who I know will do a great job).

Not long ago, one of these brides asked me what the difference was between the less expensive and more expensive photographers. It occurred to me that many brides out there must be wondering the same thing. If you do a Google search for wedding photographers you'll find people charging anywhere from $500 - $15,000 to photograph your wedding! What's the difference between these photographers - and why is there such a huge difference in their prices? To some extent, the answer is as easy as "you get what you pay for," but it’s also a lot more complicated. There are many factors that come into play when a photographer is setting his or her prices. Here is a snapshot of some of the biggest factors, in no particular order… Experience The longer a photographer has been shooting weddings, the more training he or she has had, and the more weddings he or she has photographed, the more the price will increase. Generally, you’ll find that a photographer who has only shot his cousin’s best friend’s sister’s wedding and is trying to get started in the business is going to charge a LOT less than a photographer who went to art school, has worked professionally for 20 years, and has photographed over 1,000 weddings! This is an important factor for you to consider when looking for a photographer, because experience is critically important at weddings. It takes a lot of practice to be able to handle any lighting situation that comes up at any given location, to be able to use a flash properly, to know what to expect at any time during a wedding, to understand who and what is truly important to a couple, and how to get the desired shots. I heard a great story recently of an artist who was doing portraits in a park. A woman walked up and said, “that's amazing! I'll pay you whatever it's worth to have a portrait like that of me.” She sat down and the artist painted her portrait in 5 minutes. She was blown away and asked how much it cost. He told her it cost $5,000. She exclaimed, "but it only took you 5 minutes!" Picasso replied, "Madam, it took me a lifetime." And it's true: The more experience you have perfecting your craft, the better you will be at it, and the more it is worth. It’s also true that many photographers who are less experienced with running a business will have a tendency to charge less because they don’t fully understand how much it costs to operate a business. Value Part of the price involves the value the photographer places on her time, skill, and art. You may find a really phenomenal photographer at a lower price simply because they undervalue their work, or are not as confident as some others. And you may also find a mediocre photographer charging $10,000 for a wedding because he believes that's what his images are worth. Photographers who sacrifice a lot to shoot weddings on the weekends may charge more because they value that time away so much. This is a completely subjective piece of the equation. Cost Prices are also set based on the cost of the photographer doing business. Photographers who use the best equipment, the best labs, and the most wonderful albums will usually charge more because those things are so much more expensive. You will also find that photographers who are "weekend warriors" and have other full-time jobs where they earn a good income with benefits may price themselves lower than those of us who do this full-time because they don’t need to make as much to survive. Whether or not a photographer has a spouse or children, where she is located, whether or not he has a studio space, what she includes in her packages, whether or not he shoots film or has employees, and how much time she spends working on each wedding can all effect the price a photographer charges. Supply & Demand Just as with any business, demand for the product will influence the price. If a photographer is wildly popular and hundreds of brides are seeking him out for their weddings, he will raise his prices. Supply is a big factor here as well. One photographer can only shoot so many weddings in a year. Some photographers are happy to shoot more than 60 weddings in a year. Other photographers would rather not shoot more than one in a weekend, and may further limit their bookings to improve their ability to meet the needs of their clients and provide excellent customer service. A photographer who will only shoot 20 weddings in a year needs to charge more than a photographer who shoots 60, because each wedding is more critical to his or her overall income. When you add increased demand to the equation, the price will likely increase even more. So then how do you choose your photographer? The first thing you have to do is figure out what you are looking for! Are you looking for someone to show up at the wedding, take pictures, give you a disc of images and be done? Would you rather have a photographer who takes the time to get to know you and helps you through the whole process from booking to receiving your album? Do you want multiple photographers at your wedding, an engagement session, or a big album when it’s all said and done? Do you want a few portraits and some shots of the ceremony, or are you looking for someone to document the entire day in an artistic way? Look around and get a sense of what you would really like to have so you know what your needs are and can find a photographer who will meet (or better yet, exceed) them. Another important factor is what can you afford? Set an estimated budget for photography, and then look for a photographer in your price range who can give you what you’re looking for. As you set your budget though, consider what is most important to you. If photography is what really matters to you, it may be worth getting less expensive flowers, a slightly smaller cake, or finding other ways to reduce your costs in order to hire the right photographer. It pains me to hear stories of brides who booked a cheap photographer and ended up hating their wedding photos. Think about how upset you’d be if that happened to you – the more upset you’d be, the more important the photos really are to you. The photographs are all that remain after the wedding except the marriage, so if you're going to cut costs anywhere, don't cut them in photography! The last, and perhaps most important factor is to find a photographer whose work you love. You should be able to connect with the images on his or her site and albums, even if you can’t explain why. If you don’t love his or her photos, you probably aren’t going to love YOUR photos! Just as important as finding a photographer who takes photos that you love is finding a photographer who you like as a person. Hire the photographer who you connect with, who you TRUST, and you'll enjoy hanging out with at your wedding! Connecting with your photographer can make as much difference in the photographs as anything else. I take the best photographs when I really love the people I'm shooting, and when we really get along well. When you find what you’re looking for, at a price you can afford, from a photographer who you connect with and whose work you love – you’ve found the right photographer!
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