Collaborating With Your Photographer, 105: Stretching Your Photography Budget As Far As It Will {Possibly} Go

08 | 11 | 2009


{me, with one of my cameras, though obviously not at a wedding}

There’s (apparently!) a recession on and although I do think things are getting better in the world, we’ve been getting lots of questions behind the scenes from folks who are trying to figure out how to afford wedding photography.  So I thought it might be a good time for us to offer some hazardously honest suggestions to all our blog readers.  Firstly, I’m interpreting “stretching your photography budget as far as it can possibly go” to mean that you want the most bang for your buck, as they say—the most extraordinary photographs you can have (and lots of them) for the money you can spend.  To that end, I am also going to assume that you plan to book your top-choice photographer, someone whose eye you really trust, whose images make your heart go pitter-pat.  (That’s bang for your buck!)

I. Optimize Your Location and Itinerary.

The easiest way to get more photography for your money is to do some simple planning of your wedding day early on, perhaps even before you book a photographer.  Plan your day cleverly.  I’d rather see couples book the photographer of their dreams, and then purposely design a wedding day that can be well-covered with fewer hours of photography if necessary, than to book a photographer they don’t love for ten hours.

If at all possible, plan to have your whole wedding day (getting ready, ceremony, and reception) happen at one location you adore.  Not only will the photographs be in your preferred setting (which equals big photographic impactmore on location planning soon!), but you also won’t be wasting valuable shooting time with transportation time.  If driving is a must, try to minimize it.

I have seen strategically-planned normal-sized wedding days (at one location) that were well-covered in seven hours.  It can be done.  Your photographer may have some good ideas of how to do this.  And your caterer or coordinator may have more.  When my husband and I were married, our caterer suggested heavily weighting the “events” of the reception to the beginning of the evening.  Couples who do this could potentially shave quite a bit off the time they need to book a photographer for, and/or fit more of the reception’s must-have events into the time that they can afford to book.  (For my part, I just really enjoyed being free to enjoy the party.)

II. Optimize Your Wedding Date, if you can.

Another budget-stretching option is to consider having your wedding at an off-time—like maybe on an off-day.  Here in California that means on a Monday through Thursday, and mostly lots of lovely Thursdays.  Weekday events tend to be much smaller, since they are attended only by those who love you enough to take the day off from work (and who you love enough that you don’t mind asking them to take time off work!).  Most destination weddings require guests to take a few days off from work anyway, so why not wed on a Wednesday?!

I’m not sure if there really is an off-season here in California (maybe that’s a myth?), but keep in mind that holiday dates like Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day weekends, as well as all the fall and winter holidays, or funky dates like 08.08.08, are likely to be less-negotiable than your average sunny summer weekend date.  All your vendors (and not just your photographer) will likely have lots of leads on those dates.

III. It’s Okay to Respectfully Negotiate.

Even if your photographer’s prices are firm, their package inclusions may be flexible.  Or they may offer a la carte pricing or have other ways of helping their clients afford the photography they want them to have.  Particularly if the photographer has a good feeling that the client really “gets” their work and would be good to work with.  (What I’m really saying here, and I mean to say it as nicely as possible, is that it’s really, truly, and totally essential to be perfectly lovely—and not insulting, presumptuous, obnoxious, or otherwise patronizing or mean).  Just remember: people help people they like.¹

IV.  If Possible, Worry About The Wedding Album and Other Big Ticket Tangible Items Later.

If you are right on the bubble of being able to afford your favorite photographer and haven’t yet booked, you may want to see if it’s possible to purchase your album and other big ticket tangible items later.  We consider the wedding album the culmination of our clients’ investment (you definitely want one!) and accordingly we don’t ever let our clients walk away empty-handed.  And of course, photographers all run their studios very differently, but some kind of negotiation may be possible.  There may be a trade-off, such as not getting your negatives until after your album is complete, but it might be totally worth it just to get the images.  I always tell people that once they have the images, they can worry about what to do with them later.²  Conversely, if someone else is paying and/or if the client can afford an album from the get-go, it is almost always worth budgeting for it from the beginning.

V. See If Your Wedding Photographer Can Set Up A Gift Registry For You.

The advent of online proofing and ordering seems to have made photography gift registry possibilities much more accessible for couples and guests alike.  We made a gift registry for some clients this summer and their guests gifted them over $1600, which they used toward vintage processes and album add-ons.  I was wowed!

In the end, do what you need to do.  You have to anyway.  Ask for help if you need it.  Ask for reality checks from your friends, family, planner, and photographer if you need it.  I think photography is one of those things that you won’t ever regret investing in.  The photographs become memento, become official record, and ultimately become family heirloom.  I know I’m a photographer saying that!  But I think most of us wedding photographers have a really good idea of the wedding photography we want to give our clients.³  And we are perfectly happy to help people figure out how to get the most, best photography they can get.  That’s our job!


¹ Yep, I know: folks reading advice rarely need it themselves.

² As long as it’s not, as it is in my case, six years later, with no intention of working on the images any time soon!

³ Sigh.  In a perfect world, you’d all have buckets of money for wedding photography, no figuring required …


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