Wedding Wednesday – Price and Packages: How to Know What you Need from a Photographer

Weddings are expensive, and when thinking of the big-money costs, photography is often toward the top. In its latest numbers, The Knot reports the national average cost of hiring a wedding photographer to be $2,556. However, hit a bridal expo or flip through a bridal magazine and you’re bound to see prices running staggeringly higher. There went the budget, amiright? To make matters worse, when discussing where to spend and where to save, wedding articles so often remind brides-to-be to hire a great photographer and avoid using a free friend, as the photos are a lifelong reminder of the beautiful big day. (Which is true.)

Plain and simple, the entire thing can be confusing. There are add-ons, coupons, seasonal pricing, and serious printing regulations. Just from my hunt for the perfect photographer, I realized one needs to read the fine print and find out about printing rights, advertising rights, digital file licensing, cost minimums, and more. What may look like a few simple package options can be baffling… and deciding how to balance your wants and budget can make matters harder.

To help navigate the waters, I have brought in my wedding photographer! I recently talked to St. Louis-area photographer Lillian Peters of Chameleon Imagery about deciding between trendy and timeless wedding photographers; today she is back on the blog to share her professional insight on wedding photo prices and packages.

Wedding Wednesday – Price and Packages: How to Know What you Need from a Photographer - - Photo by Lillian Peters of Chameleon Imagery

Lillian says prices should reflect the demographics of the area. For example, St. Louis is not known as a particularly expensive place to get married, so photographer costs need to reflect that. She estimates most couples in Missouri spend 6 to 12% of the total wedding budget on photography. CNNMoney, using data from The Knot, states that a St. Louis wedding averages out at just under $28,000, making it a few thousand cheaper than the national average of more than $31,000.* With that kind of money on the table, brides- and grooms-to-be need to know what they are buying. Read our conversation below to get an insider look at the costs.

*It should be noted that averages (as opposed to medians) can be misleading about the actual spending habits of populations.

What would you say is the standard length of time for a wedding photographer?
I feel like important parts of most weddings can be captured in 6 to 8 hours. Church weddings that only permit morning or early afternoon ceremonies may result in a later reception or a larger gap between the ceremony and reception. This may require more time than the average wedding.

What should a bride-to-be look for to make sure the package is worth the cost?
Quality images — I cannot stress this enough. There will always be bargains out there, but when you pay a lower price you’re always guaranteed to have lower quality. If it sounds too good to be true, then it is!

If you look at a photographer’s fee like it’s just a per-hour rate, it seems very high. What happens behind the scenes that is factored into that cost?
Most photographers are self-employed, and taxes for self-employment are much higher than someone who works for an employer. There’s also monthly costs, such as equipment and business insurance. Most photographers are responsible for paying for all of their medical coverage, unlike many people whose employers help with those costs. Also, upkeep of gear and additions of new gear add costs. I spent about $12,000 before I had enough equipment to do weddings. The first year I photographed weddings I ended up paying myself less than minimum wage per hour!

How would you help an indecisive bride-to-be select a package?
If it’s about money, talk to the photographer about a payment plan. Most photographers are willing to work with people on that sort of thing. This doesn’t mean the services will be cheaper, but it does mean there might be a way to spread out payments, so you can budget for the photographer you really want to have capture your wedding.

Wedding Wednesday – Price and Packages: How to Know What you Need from a Photographer - - Photo by Lillian Peters of Chameleon Imagery

Is more time always better, or can you book more time than you’ll actually benefit from?
I always ask couples what kind of photos are important to them when I’m asked this. If just the main events are the photos you’ll want to display or print, and you’re not crazy for party photos, you probably don’t need as much reception coverage.

Also, ask your photographer what his or her policy is about adding on extra hours of coverage the day of the wedding. Sometimes things run behind or you end up deciding you’d like more photo time than you thought! If your photographer is flexible about adding on coverage time the day of, only book the amount of time you know you will use. The photographer should be able to give you an accurate quote of this by discussing your timeline with you.

Wedding Wednesday – Price and Packages: How to Know What you Need from a Photographer - - Photo by Lillian Peters of Chameleon Imagery

What services do you think are the most important for brides to budget for?
Albums and books can be made later. Purchasing digital files from your photographer is something that isn’t always an option. As long as you have the files, then printing a book or album will be an option. Digital files should be a priority.**

**Note from Julia: This was my No. 1 priority when picking a photographer!

Tell me a bit about the difference of having a second photographer on-location.
If you have a large wedding party a second photographer is extremely beneficial. This makes wedding party and large family formals go much quicker! Also, this allows for additional perspectives during the ceremony. Lastly, if the bride and groom are getting ready in two different locations, having two photographers (with one at each location) works out really well.

All photos by Lillian Peters of Chameleon Imagery

Never fear! While this post is sponsored, my written opinions are entirely my own.

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