Decoding and Evaluating a Wedding Photographer’s Fee, Part 2: What’s in the Package That’s NOT Stated

03 | 09 | 2011

Nevermind talent (we’re assuming that you’re looking at hiring someone talented! With passion! And artistry!). And nevermind the staggering cost of gear (cameras, computers, etc), insurance, work space, self-employment taxes, education, and all the other things that go into running a legitimate business, here’s what is implied in a wedding photography fee (though you’ll never see it on the contract or invoice):

I. Your Wedding Photographer’s Time (and lots of it!)

Before the wedding, your photographer will probably have spent a considerable amount of time getting to know you and your fiance and learning the ins-and-outs of your wedding as it takes shape.  There will be phone calls and planning meetings (or phone dates if planning from afar).  Your photographer may drive to the locations to do some location scouting, in hopes of finding the best spots and the good light.  There will likely be a flurry of thoughtful emails composed, and more phone calls, and some sketching-out of your day, as far as it relates to photography.  If you have a wedding planner, some of this collaboration will be done with the planner instead of with you. Before the wedding, your photographer will do everything she can do to set herself up to give you the best photographs possible. And that includes getting to know you and what’s important to you.

Right before the wedding, your photographer will order film and supplies, check and prep gear and film for the wedding, charge batteries, clean lenses, dust sensors, and definitely double- and triple-checking packing lists!

On the day of the wedding, even if faraway travel is not involved, your photographer might have already put in twelve hours or so on your wedding before even picking up a camera.  She will arrive early to the event (we often double or triple driving time … just in case!).  There will be more scouting, setup, then the shooting that’s stated in the package (see Part I), tear down of all the gear, and travel home … in time to put on some really comfortable shoes and start post-production.

Post-production usually begins just after the wedding, with downloading and backing-up digital cards.  Then there are trips to the film lab, an organizing of images, editing and color-correcting digital images and film scans, posting images online, archiving the images to multiple locations and media, telling you and your spouse all about it, then printing the proofs, and—finally!— working on the album.  Most of our clients also have some custom handmade prints or vintage photographic processes as part of their package, so we’re usually busy working on those, too.  Many of those sorts of prints require studied work over a course of days or even weeks to complete.

The total amount of time your photographer invests in working on a wedding will vary from couple to couple, depending on the parameters and complexity of the shooting and what kind of album the client gets.  But it’s safe to say that a regular wedding, without any travel involved, is no less than a forty hour project.  Some weddings, and destination weddings for sure, often add up to much, much more than the forty-hour figure.  I think this is important to keep in mind when you’re looking at a wedding photography package or fee.  It’s anything but a day rate.

II. Your Wedding Photographer’s Experience (Which Equals Your Peace of Mind)

Your wedding photographer’s experience includes, but is not limited to, those weddings—and some of us have shot hundreds—where we’ve refined our eyes, our skills, our empathy; our performances, our shutter-fingers, our hearts, our blisters, and our minds so that you know and don’t just think you know that what we did for those other couples we can do for you.

Experience, and certainly not just what we learn “on the job,”¹ helps us as artists to make—to yearn to make—the images we know you’ll want to see in six weeks from now and in sixty years.  By our experience, we not only use really good product (like prints and albums!) that will last a lifetime,² we set ourselves about making images that are going to last a lifetime.

Just because someone is good with a camera, doesn’t make them good in the high-pressure, once-in-a-lifetime, action-packed, emotionally-wired, pressure-cooking, performance-driven, moment-after-moment-after-moment situation that a wedding is.  (Of course, we wedding photographers love that about our work! Weddings are an exhilarating challenge.).

You want to find a photographer with longevity—a long-standing, savvy business.  The longer someone’s been at this, the better they’ll be.  They’ll have learned from their experiences.  They’ll be smarter and better for you.  I wish I had known what I know now about making wedding photographs for people when I first stumbled into this, eleven years ago, snap-happy and indignant that nobody was planning to document my friend’s wedding, to show it for its hugeness.  For the momentous occasion that it was.  I wish I’d known these things at any of the zillion weddings between that one and the one I shot in December on the fair island of Anguilla.  And I wish I already knew what I’m going to learn this year and in five years so I could be that much better for my clients right now.

Longevity is also important because someone who’s been around—and done good business!— is likely going to be around and keep doing good business.  The ubiquitous starving artist is perhaps not quite what you want – rather, find someone who knows how to make a living making their art.   That kind of savvy and know-how speaks volumes without saying anything.

The consumer adage “you get what you pay for” is wholly applicable when it comes to wedding photography, but if your taste and budget don’t align, there are a few options at the expense of peace of mind.  There’s always a fresh crop of up-and-comers on the wedding photography scene (probably partially fueled by their misguided assessment of the lofty so-called “day rates”).  You can get someone with lots of talent but not a lot of experience for a relative bargain rate. But, as I said, you do get what you pay for.  So as you search for a wedding photographer and begin sizing up packages and photographer’s fees, try to look at the information holistically.  Remember that saying? “Cheap isn’t good. Good is good.”

*If you missed Part I yesterday, find it {here}.

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¹ Truly, I think our wedding-day shooting experience is only the beginning of what shapes our artwork.  We photographers spend countless untold hours shooting on our own, roaming around with cameras, tinkering, learning to coax from them the sorts of images we want to make.  We bury ourselves in piles of photo books and prints, art books.  We wander museums.  We travel.  We take things in, sometimes with a camera.  We try things with the cameras, with the films, with printing, and editing.  We try them again.

² Really good photographers also invest time to cultivate a good working relationship with their album-makers, their labs—with all their collaborators.

photos: Gia Canali (the photographer and subject pictured are these guys!)

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