2023: How do I find the best wedding photographers?

Good, Better, Best in the World of Wedding Photography – Understanding How to Book and Buy Wedding Photography Services From a Pro to choose the best wedding photographers.

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Bride and Groom on their Wedding Day

In the world of wedding photography, it can be best associated with the concept of good, better, and best. As they begin booking a photographer, most clients aren’t always sure what they are looking for. Often enough, it is first a matter of window shopping websites. In today’s world of social media, it’s far too often that research and knowledge get thrown to the wayside as a client sees a particular image and has set their mind to allow a single image to cloud their judgment on the experience, knowledge, and know-how of their potential photographer. This is where I hope to help in understanding how to book and secure wedding photography services that best meet your style and needs. Let me state before I begin that this is an informative document to educate the buyer; this is not a document designed to offend, put down or lessen what any of us as photographers bring to the market as we understand everyone must start somewhere, even we did. And because we know, we know to inform and share because we genuinely care.

2005 is when we started our journey in the world of wedding photography and the business of making it our career. Quite intrigued by what it had to offer, most photographers dabble in photography because it’s a hobby, and there is much interest in learning the ins and outs. Once they realize that they can capture a few decent images, most will quickly find a peer group that they can help to explore their interests and, often enough, within a short period, will be placed within a grouping among them, judged as good, better, and best. In this group, they can fuel their passion and build a network of peers that, throughout their career, short-term or long-term, will not only keep stoking their fire but be brutally honest, and some potentially life-long friends and support systems for their small business will be formed. 

I often find that our inquiries fall into these very similar categories in terms of what level of importance they deem their photography needs, their desire to want their photos taken versus the need of having to have their memories captured, and of course, the importance to each as to the quality and technical aspect of their end products—creating a client that desires good, better, or the best. As photographers, we need to know where we fall within the market because understanding that plays a massive part in where our pricing point begins. As you look around shopping rates for photography, you will quickly learn it is not “apples to apples.” For each photographer, there is a learning curve, and most often, the clientele drives their pricing structure as to hourly or package pricing being presented. After 17 years in the business, we have learned that the less confusing pricing is, the easier it is for all parties to process. It keeps relationships strong throughout the process because it gives clarity.

On average, and I am almost willing to say that we can speak on a national average as to pricing, I used to think that pricing was regional and should be looked at as such, but I can promise you that given the demand, the amount of travel and the access to the internet the market pricing for photography is working its way to being of the global scale of what going rates have become. Talented photographers worldwide are now at the client’s fingertips, and travel is more common based on need and want.

And entry-level photographers (*not the same as a start-up shooter) to the wedding market for an average of 8-10 hours of coverage often begin around $1500 – $3000, placing them into the “good” category, most often they may be still figuring some things out not entirely consistent with their product or processing, finding their way through the legalities of running a small business and its nuances such as insurance, COI’s, not justifying the spend for back up equipment, often also getting by on what they can till they can afford to go a little bigger. There is nothing wrong with that, but it is essential that, as a client, it is understood that you pay for what you get; there’s a gamble here as processes are still being fine-tuned. How they use their gear because they are limited, how they use their memory cards and store your images throughout the day, along with the storage, processes, and software used after they are shot to be downloaded, stored, backed up, worked on, and professionally delivered to you in a protected and safe environment online. And don’t get me wrong, this write-up is not to bash or say I’m afraid that’s not right in any way, as we have all started here; it is why I know and can share such a post. I am commonly asked why there is such a difference in all the quotes I receive, which is why this post was born. It is not something as a new photographer anyone wants to share, but it is the facts, and it’s what I feel my entire life as a photographer has been built on selling to my clients. I am hoping, in some way, I can help educate and allow each client to make an informed buying decision once they are ready and comfortable doing so.  

It’s quick enough that the entry-level photographer can realize whether this is for them or not and either jump ship or better understands their self-worth as an artist, which is then verified by their peer group and those they’ve networked themselves with if they are ready to start moving up that pricing ladder. Most photographers confidently have their most significant and riskiest price increase within 24-36 months of taking their first client. This quickly places them into the “better” category at around $3000 – $4500 again for an average booking of 8-10 hours of coverage. There is still learning taking place, but there is now confidence in their processes, the evolution of their style, and their ability to execute the tasks required to complete each project/job with a certain level of consistency. Whether they climbed slowly to their new rate or made the leap, a photographer in this particle price range can be expected to have anywhere from 3-5 years of working experience on their wedding bookings as the lead photographer. It’s often at this stage that most wedding photographers learn the importance of the need for an assistant shooter and will usually never shoot alone. As photographers, we quickly discover our strengths and weaknesses and quickly assess risks that could be missed. And there can be some sense of reassurance that they have passed the threshold of having to worry whether they will be in business when it comes time to shoot your wedding events. The hardest part about the middle-range photographer is that there are so many in this group that filtering through them can become very time-consuming. Often enough, price determines a client’s final decision most frequently in this grouping. Again, nothing wrong with this, but as a photographer, it becomes challenging to stand out in the crowd.

By the 5th year in business as a photographer, if all goes well, they have passed the stage of guessing, camera tilting, and inconsistent photo processing and have indeed found their style, who they are, and why they are doing what it is that they do. As wedding photographers, most have figured out that dabbling in all the other photography trades, such as family portraiture, pet portraits, sports photography, and commercial photography, isn’t something that excites them as much as weddings. Their calendar soon enough fills with weddings, and time itself no longer allows them the dabble as much. Photographers in this stage of their career are well poised, their wedding days planned out, and their ability to shoot in any lighting condition and on the fly has almost become second nature. You’ll find that with such confidence that their pricing tends to begin above $5200 for coverage starting around 8-10 hours and will vary in the pricing structure, allowing the client to choose between hourly packaging or a day rate. Based on the client’s needs and wants, allowing them to make a decision that best suits their priorities. 

For a long time, planners and advertising earners such as magazines and social media outlets would state that a certain percentage of one wedding budget should be designated to photography. However, as a photographer, it is easy to say that is only sometimes the case and, most times, an inappropriate way to determine your monetary spending on services. 

When booking photography services, there will be lots to consider regarding your end products, including prints, albums, and enlargements. But when you have hit the category of “best,” most often, you do not have to worry about the print quality of your imagery as the gear that is typically used among this grouping is usually that of the elite offering. You should always receive all your wedding files with printing rights, and they will most often be hand-held through the entire album build process as they are well-versed. Often in this group of photographers, it is one of their favorite parts of the process because it is when everything they have worked so hard to document comes together full circle allowing the client to truly appreciate all that has been put into the efforts in planning through the grand finale which typically can be found in the most emotional way turning through every page of your family heirloom.

Author: Amy R. Regeti

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