When you’re making plans for your special day, the details matter. From your wedding venue to your wedding registry, it can feel like everything should take top billing on your priority list. But one thing most couples don’t realize is that the day goes by in the blink of an eye. Between exchanging vows and ensuring your guests have a great time, there’s no doubt you might miss a thing or two. Wedding photography can help you fill in those holes. Plus, high-quality photos serve as a wonderful reminder of your big day for years to come.
It’s important to factor photography into your total wedding budget. But like everything else that comes with wedding planning, it helps to know what you’re budgeting for. Even though most pros charge by the hour, the pricing for wedding photography is never black or white. While some wedding vendors may offer a few complimentary prints, others include just an online gallery with digital files. Add-ons like engagement photos and additional hours will also affect how much a wedding photographer costs, as will years of experience. If you’re just getting started, here’s a guide to factors that may influence the average cost of a wedding photographer, as well as how much you can expect to pay.
Here’s the Average Wedding Photographer Cost
Overall, wedding photography costs can range from as low as $1,000 to upwards of $10,000. While that’s a big range, plenty of factors play into your final bill. We spoke to wedding photographers and industry experts around the country offering various service options and found two key things. Location matters, as does the size of your ceremony.
“Social media has and will continue to drive up wedding expectations and those placed on photographers,” says Sarah Klingman, CEO and founder of gthr, a wedding planning company that serves 17 U.S. cities. “We see average costs of wedding photographers as high as $15,000 in New York City and as low as $3,000 in smaller cities.”
Meanwhile, Vermont wedding photographer Anne Mientka tells us she averages $4,800 per wedding in her home state.
If you’re planning to elope, you may be excited to learn that the average price is a little less complex. Elizabeth H. Raley, owner of Elope to Savannah, operates in a niche wedding market and keeps it simple. Her elopement rates are $400 per hour and $200 for a half-hour. She notes her price range is “on par with local portrait photographer prices.” Traditional wedding photographers charge more because of the overwhelming amount of stress that comes with shooting that type of event. Elopements, however, are only a half-hour or an hour max.
What’s Included in a Typical Wedding Photography Package
When searching for high-quality wedding photographers, you’ll likely find that most have packages that cover all the basics. A typical wedding photography package includes six to 10 hours of coverage and an online gallery. More often than not, add-ons like videography, travel fees, second shooters and photo albums come with an additional cost.
If you want professional coverage for other wedding-adjacent events, such as an engagement session or a rehearsal dinner, it helps to work with the same photographer you plan to book for your big day. Of course, that coverage will be a separate line item in your wedding budget.
Factors That May Influence Your Wedding Photographer Cost
Before signing on the dotted line, it helps to understand what you’re paying for. Here’s a look at different factors that come into play when booking a wedding photographer, plus a few valuable tips for how you can save.
Location often plays a key role in wedding photography prices. And while you may not see much of a difference between major metropolitan areas like New York City and Los Angeles, you’ll likely find a big difference in pricing between Manhattan and Omaha, Nebraska.Overall, it’s safe to expect in-town prices to be lower than those requiring travel. So, if you’re planning a destination wedding, it might be wise to engage the services of a local wedding planner and photographer for your big day.
Hours of Coverage
“Most wedding photographers will charge by the hour, so the more time they spend covering your wedding day, the more money you’ll be required to pay,” says Mary Smith, founder of the wedding blog Vowness.
This is especially true for less experienced photographers, according to Kari Bjorn, owner of Kari Bjorn Photography in Fayetteville, Arkansas. “When starting out, [wedding photographers] tend to charge an hourly rate with a la carte add-ons as opposed to having a few packages clients can choose from,” he says. “Photographers who offer wedding photography packages most often do 6, 8 and 10 hours and include more add-ons (such as photo albums and wall prints) in larger packages.”
How to save: “The majority of photographers will offer 8- to 10-hour packages, but if you can only afford a few hours, then consider inquiring about half-day packages,” Smith says.
Time of Year and Day of the Week
In terms of variable pricing based on timing, we found that it’s a mixed bag. Ultimately, it depends on the photographer. Mientka, for example, doesn’t charge differently based on the day of the week, season or on holidays because it is always the same amount of (hard) work. Similarly, Bjorn keeps his rates the same on Saturdays and in the off-season, noting that discounted pricing is more common with wedding venues than photographers.
How to save: While you may not score direct savings on wedding photographer costs in the off-season, you might find that scheduling your wedding during the off-season may result in reduced pricing for your venue and other services. Consider making some phone calls to see if a March wedding may be more cost-effective than a June event. You can then funnel those venue savings into booking a high-quality wedding photographer!
“Some photographers offer a second shooter as an a la carte add-on with an hourly rate, [but] others may include it in their packages,” Bjorn explains.He takes a hybrid approach for couples who want an additional set of hands at their wedding. His 8- and 10-hour packages include a second photographer in the price, while couples who book shorter packages can choose it as an optional add-on. Bjorn says couples can expect a second shooter to add approximately “$100 to $150 per hour” to their final invoice.
Retouching and Editing
“Editing, culling and simple post-production are almost always included in the listed price,” Bjorn says. “Retouching is mostly priced on a case-by-case basis.”So, if your extensive wedding planning is causing some major under-eye circles leading up to the big day, you might want to discuss retouching with your photographer in advance.
According to Bjorn, wedding photo albums are similar to second shooters. They’re often included in larger packages and offered as an a la carte add-on with smaller packages. “Albums range from a few hundred dollars well into four digits based on paper quality, page count, cover material, embossing, debossing, slipcases, linen or leather boxes, and more,” he explains. “The sky is pretty much the limit when it comes to wedding albums.”
How to save: When discussing the details of your wedding photography package, ask your photographer if they have any “early-bird” deals. “Clients tend not to buy albums as an a la carte add-on until after the gallery has been delivered, and they often take their files to a third party,” Bjorn says. “As a result, many photographers offer a discount if couples purchase them before the wedding day.”
While tips aren’t required, they are appreciated. “Tips are absolutely welcome for all wedding day vendors, and photographers are no different,” Klingman says.
Mientka notes that tips for herself and the second shooter are excellent, but not expected. “One in four couples tip about $100,” she says. “And it’s usually a parent who slips me an envelope at the end of the night.”
Long story short: Factor a tip into the line item for your wedding photographer cost if you feel it’s deserved.
Sharon Brandwein is a Certified Sleep Science Coach and a freelance writer. She specializes in weddings, parenting, health, and of course, all things sleep. Sharon’s work has also appeared on ABC News, USAToday, InStyle, and Forbes. When she’s not busy writing, you’ll probably find her mixing in with her kids or digging through vintage books in local antique shops.