Wedding Photography – Part 1

Posted in Ask A Pro on by .

One of the most common stressors of planning a wedding is budgeting to pay for it all. As a wedding photographer and a vendor who is typically hired very early on in the planning process, I often engage in conversations with brides about this topic, specifically regarding wedding photography. Brides want to know: What makes good wedding photography so expensive?

When I got married, I was a broke college student with a very tight budget. I remember lamenting the cost of good photography and being upset that it was such a costly investment! Several years later, I am a small business owner of a wedding photography and videography company and I understand the costs that go on behind the scenes. I don’t think business and money should be a hush-hush topic. I firmly believe in educating people when they are curious and I think it’s valid to wonder what exactly you’re paying for when you hire a wedding photographer. There are no dumb questions, right?

First, I want to point out that it’s natural to want a high-quality item at a bargain price. Generally, the more you spend, the better the product is, and the less you spend, the less valuable the product is. But it’s normal to want the best of both worlds- it’s just not usually possible unless you win a giveaway or have a very generous friend.


I’ve heard stories from hundreds of brides who hired the cheapest photographer then later warned their friends about the rule of thumb “don’t go budget.” If someone offers “good prices” as their main selling point, that’s a red flag. Being a good deal doesn’t mean it’s a good purchase or investment. It just means it costs less than other things, which cost more because they are better. Unfortunately, so many photography horror stories come from when “great prices” are offered.

Why is wedding photography “so expensive?” What are you spending your money on when you hire someone to photograph your once-in-a-lifetime event? I know I wondered when I hired my wedding photographer, way back before I was in this industry. I wanted to know why someone had the right to make $3000 in an 8 hour period, because I didn’t know anything about business at the time. I now know a photographer isn’t billing based on an 8 hour wedding day, but instead for an 80-hour time commitment, as well as their knowledge and experience.

Let’s break the question down into two questions and answer them individually:

  1. What are you buying when you hire a photographer to photograph a wedding?
  2. What are some of the background costs in a photography business that add up? (We’ll focus on this one next week)

Question: What are you buying when you hire a photographer to photograph a wedding?


Picture this: I photograph your wedding and a few weeks later I deliver your gallery. You and your new spouse look through it and relive your wedding day. You see yourself crying and laughing throughout the happiest day of your life. All the photos of you are flattering. You see your spouse filled with excitement and anxiety right before the big moment at the aisle. You see the crazy party on the dance floor. You see a lot of things for the first time, things you didn’t see happening on your wedding day at all because you were nervous and trying to get everything done on time. But I was watching it all. So even though you didn’t get to see your mom’s teary face when she zipped your dress up, now you do. You didn’t know your parents cried and held hands through the whole ceremony because you were focused on your spouse. But I saw, and now you can see it too because I made that moment last forever for you. At the end of your album, you look at each other and feel nostalgia, joy, and excitement! What did you purchase?

You didn’t just purchase photos. You purchased an experience. Reliving a wedding day is an experience you want to have for the rest of your life. You also purchased emotion. You now have a hard copy of the emotions of your wedding day in a tangible form, and you can view it as a story from the perspective of a person who sees all the best parts at once. You purchased your story. All the dreams and planning and investment you poured into your wedding day is now a piece of history that you can hold in your hand. You’ll never forget the details or emotion of your wedding day if you have pictures that portray your emotion and the celebration of your love in a beautiful and timeless way. You make a lifelong investment when you hire a wedding photographer.

Fern-Fountain-UmbrellaNot every photographer wants to work in the same way I like to work, so I speak for myself when I say this: When you hire me to be your wedding photographer, you aren’t just purchasing someone to follow you around and “document your day.” It’s a popular catchphrase but I don’t use it a lot because that’s only a little piece of what I’m doing when I’m working at a wedding. I spend most of my time engaging with and supporting the couple and their closest people. I set up a comfortable environment so genuine emotion shines through because I want to capture the intangible things for your wedding gallery: a story of emotions, reactions, in-between moments and unscripted joy.

It’s the intangible emotions that the photos remind you of; you’re purchasing feelings and memories. You’re purchasing an expert to look for the little things that say the big things, so you can hold on to your wedding day joys for generations.

Products become more expensive as they become more valuable. I am a very frugal person and I thrift obsessively or head to the sale rack because I love deals and think living modestly is good stewardship of my money. But it’s important to be aware that the shirt I get at my local consignment store for $3.99 isn’t anywhere near the same quality shirt I’m going to get from a high end brand for $99.00! One shirt will last longer than the other, be made ethically, be a better fit, have better seams, not deform in the wash, and so on.

Fern-Fountain-BernerWhen a couple is looking for someone to photograph a wedding it’s not saving money to choose to go to the lowest bidder- it’s actually wasting that money and losing lifetime memories. Consider this: you hire someone with little experience and a very competitive price. They have a small but attractive portfolio with a few pretty shots in it and you feel comfortable taking the risk with this person because their portfolio has some good moments and their camera is nice. Then you get the gallery back and though you looked stunning on the day of the wedding, you find that this photographer had a knack for finding your worst angles very consistently. Your posing looks a little awkward, the coloring of your skin is a bit strange, your dress has a blue tone to it, and the images just aren’t as beautiful as you remember the wedding to be. You ask the photographer to touch up and recolor a few images that you think you’ll actually use, and he/she does, and they’re a little better, but you’re still probably not going to print them or share them on social media because they don’t do the bride or the beauty of the wedding celebration much justice. Is that the experience you want?

An old adage familiar to the wedding industry is this: “Hire a $500 photographer and they will make your $50,000 wedding look like a $5,000 one. Hire a $5,000 photographer and they will make your $5,000 wedding look like a $50,000 one.” Good photography is essentially the one stop ticket to make the wedding day look fantastic without adding all the extra tens of thousands of dollars it takes to transform a wedding from “nice” to “lovely, emotional, and memorable.”


Side note: Photography isn’t even close to the most expensive part of wedding expenditure. PetaPixel says that “…relative to the price of a wedding, [photography is] quite affordable. The major [wedding] expenses are… the venue(s), liquor and multi-course meals for guests, a multi-tiered cake, flowers, decorations, entertainment, your wardrobe, makeup and hair, accommodations…”

In this article, we’ve talked a little bit about the distinguishing features of what you’re getting -and not getting- when you invest in quality photography, but there’s a whole other side of this conversation based on the actual business costs that it takes to run a business, which will be coming out in a whole new article next month. Be looking for that second informational article!


Make sure to check out the conclusion of the blog at Wedding Photography – Part 2

*Blog submitted from Emily at Fern & Fountain


Fern & Fountain Photography

Lancaster, PA
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