After months of planning and years of dreaming, the wedding day flies by in an instant. That’s why photographers are one of the most important vendors—they capture every moment so you can hold onto the memories for a lifetime.
“Wedding photographs are the one thing you walk away with from your big day,” says photographer Emily Millay. “Brides and grooms are going through the motions of the day, but think of all the candid moments they miss. Those are the moments that make up their wedding, and that’s why wedding photography is such an important investment.”
Meet the Expert
Emily Millay is a Cleveland-based wedding and lifestyle photographer with over seven years of experience capturing moments between couples and families.
But reliable and talented wedding photographers don’t come cheap. According to Millay, a seasoned wedding photographer in Cleveland, the cost of a wedding photographer is influenced by experience, demand, and location. While wedding photography prices vary, there are some commonalities.
Here’s everything you need to know about budgeting for a wedding photographer.
How Much Does a Wedding Photographer Cost?
Wedding photography prices vary from $1,000 to $10,000 or higher in the U.S., but Millay says the average for a Midwest photographer is between $3,000 to $4,000. In New York, Brooklyn photographer Susan Stripling says prices range between $2,500 and $5,000. California isn’t much different; West Coast photographer Zoe Larkin says Bay Area prices are between $3,000 to $4,700 on average.
While wedding photography styles vary—some photographers lean toward bright and airy images while others prefer dramatic or documentary-style images—styles don’t usually affect prices. Costs are based more so on experience and demand, but a higher figure doesn’t necessarily mean better photos. “The price point doesn’t always dictate how good a photographer is,” Millay says. “A lot of times the price is based on experience, as most photographers raise their prices annually.” So what does a photographer with, say, eight years of experience cost? For Millay, who started shooting professionally in 2012, the starting price is $4,250.
What's Included in a Wedding Photographer’s Pricing?
Under this $4,250 investment, Millay offers 10 to 12 hours of wedding day coverage with a second shooter, an online gallery with digital downloads, and an engagement photo session. It also includes travel within about four hours and photo editing. Millay’s $4,250 is just the base level for coverage. She charges $200 per additional hour of wedding day coverage. Add-ons like albums and prints, which Millay offers a la carte, vary from $300 to $1,200 depending on the couple’s selection. She caps her pricing for prints because she doesn’t want to price clients out of the products that matter most.
“When you pull out old photos, you’re not looking at the quality. You’re looking at the memory,” she said. “Sadly, if prints are $75 or more per photo, people just aren’t going to print them. That’s why I try to keep them reasonable.” Another extra her clients have been interested in recently is rehearsal dinner coverage. This is priced at $400. “I encourage this as much as I can,” she said. “It’s great to meet the family beforehand so everyone’s comfortable with me and knows me on the wedding day.”
Videography is not included in most wedding photographers’ packages. Typically photographers and videographers are separate vendors from different companies, although some husband-and-wife teams offer both. A wedding videographer is slightly less than a photographer; for 10 hours of coverage and a five-minute highlight film, you’ll likely pay between $1,000 to $5,000, and in some cases more.
Wedding Photographer FAQs
When should you hire your photographer?
Sooner is always better when it comes to booking your wedding photographer, especially when you have a specific vendor in mind. If you’re planning to use your engagement photos for your save the dates, book your photographer at least 10 months or more in advance. (Save-the-dates go out four to eight months before your wedding.) The longer you wait, the more likely your favorite photographers are to be booked up, Millay says.
How can you find the right photographer?
Wedding photography is a significant investment. That’s why it’s important to thoroughly vet photographers before signing on the dotted line. But how do you find trustworthy wedding vendor reviews? For starters, ask around. “I find most of my work is referral based, either from past couples or fellow vendors,” Millay said. “Don’t be afraid to ask your vendors for their recommendations. They won’t recommend someone they don’t know, trust, and like working with.”
Another option is to ask for past work. Most photographers can make a sunset photo session on the beach look beautiful, but what about a dimly lit church or reception venue? Peeking at a full gallery from past weddings will help you feel confident in your investment. If it’s not up to par, you can always find another photographer.
Should you negotiate?
You can try to negotiate with your wedding photographer, but most prices are set in stone. Photographers offer scaled packages at different price points to meet clients where they are and to take the negotiation out of it. Packages factor in fees like editing software, gear, licenses, insurance, and other business items brides and grooms don’t see. For photographers, negotiating could lead to hardly breaking even, or even losing money. Some photographers are willing to work with couples’ budgets on rare occasions, though. Millay says if the bride or groom has been dreaming of working with her but can’t afford her, she’s willing to hear them out. Just know this is the exception, not the norm.
How much should you tip?
Not all brides and grooms tip their wedding photographers, but if you decide to, $50 to $150 is a good range says Stephanie Anter, a wedding planner for Kirkbrides Wedding Planning and Design. “I would say around 50 percent of people tip their vendors,” Anter said. “Of course, tips aren’t required, but they’re always appreciated.”
What is the typical payment schedule?
Payment schedules vary, but most photographers choose a two or three-payment system. The first payment is the deposit, which is typically due along with the signed contract. This deposit secures your date. With a two-payment schedule, the second payment — the rest of the agreed-upon fee — is due before the wedding. In a three-payment schedule, photographers split that last payment and require clients to pay after the wedding when all images are finished and ready for delivery.