Weddings are expensive, and the cost of a good wedding photographer is nothing to sneeze at! We all start off having these dreams of our perfect wedding day and then we start getting quotes back on what that dream is going to cost us and suddenly eloping is starting to look really good. Most of us end up compromising on our perfect dream wedding and finding a more cost-effective way to get what we want, but there are some money-saving tips out there regarding budget wedding photography that are just bad advice and I want to address them.
Worst Tips for Budget Wedding Photography
1. “Don’t use the ‘W’ word”
This piece of advice is quickly becoming a thorn in the wedding industry’s side. I don’t know who thought of it first but it’s bad wedding budget advice and I’m going to tell you why when it comes to hiring your wedding photographer.
Professional wedding photographers take their jobs really seriously because what we do is hella stressful on the mind and body and can be emotionally invigorating and exhausting simultaneously. To be a wedding photographer takes a special kind of human who loves self-abuse, frankly, but who is also always on point for you. We do not charge more for weddings “just because.” In fact, my non-wedding party rate is higher because I don’t like doing them.
When you approach someone about being your photographer but purposely avoid using the word “wedding” and book them for some other kind of session or party, it’s a huge betrayal of trust. Someone who was previously 100% on your team now has a reason to doubt your integrity and the value you place on them and their work, which is not a good feeling and could affect the outcome or performance of their work for the rest of the event (if they stay, more on that in a sec.)
Another reason to not lie about the fact that it’s a wedding is that photographers have different gear set-ups for different sessions and events. If you book me for a wedding, I am making sure that my long-range zoom lens (and the back-up version in case of malfunction), are in my bag because that is my go-to ceremony lens so that I’m not being intrusive. If you book me for a cocktail party with no formal speeches or ceremonies I’m leaving both those lenses at home because I don’t anticipate needing them for anything in a crowded party room.
Many photographers who this has happened to are making a stand when they show up to events that were booked as “family sessions” or “reunion parties” and surprise! there’s a wedding ceremony. They are refusing to continue photographing until they are paid their wedding rates on the spot in cash or are just leaving the event altogether. And the photographers who choose to leave are contractually within their rights to with no obligation to return the money paid to them since the client breached the contract by hosting an event for coverage that was not disclosed to the photographer.
Bottom Line: Your wedding photographer is in charge of some of the most precious memories you’ll make, so you should be honest and build that relationship with trust.
2. “Hire a Student or a Newbie.”
This one always makes me cringe when I see it written in wedding advice forums, mostly for the data safety reasons I talk about in this post. In my opinion, nobody should be taking paying clients until they’re completely educated on a safe data strategy and are able to enact one. But the other reason I get a little squirrely when this advice is given is because I remember what I was like my first few weddings as an assistant to a more experienced photographer. I had no idea what was going on, I wasn’t confident enough to run the day the way it needed to be run, and I hadn’t fully invested in the gear required to adequately photograph a wedding flying solo. The images I returned on some of those weddings were HORRIBLE.
And you’ll see that time and time again in groups where someone posts about how they hired someone for a really great deal because they were new and now they have awful photos that they hate, or that they’re upset because the photographer missed photos they had asked for because they were so disorganized or flustered. It takes a while to learn how to manage a wedding day with confidence and be able to adapt as an artist in all the varying situations we get thrown into.
Bottom Line: Because your wedding photos are the tangible memories of the day, you should budget to have them in the care of a true professional.
3. “Hire them for less time.”
Okay, so this isn’t necessarily bad advice but lately I have seen a lot of couples in forums and direct inquiries stating that they only need 1-2 hours of wedding day coverage. I’ve got enough experience to be able to say that no wedding photographer is ever on site for just 1 hour, and very few elopements can even be accomplished in 2 hours of coverage. I personally have a base packages for up to 3 hours and someone can use all three or not, it’s up to them. There’s a difference between booking more coverage than you need and booking too few hours for all you want covered.
As part of my consultation process, I talk with all my couples about what their photography priorities are and what kind of timeline those priorities require. If they want all aspects of their day covered that’s likely not going to happen in 3 or 4 hours of coverage, either. Your day only happens once and you should definitely enjoy it in as stress-free a way as possible.
Bottom Line: I’ve never had a couple say they regret booking too much time with me, but I have had couples say they wish they had booked more time before their wedding instead of altering the timeline ad hoc on the day.
Good Tips for Budget Wedding Photography
1. Hire them for less time
I know, I know, I know! I just said this was kind of bad advice and now I’m saying it’s good advice – it is hypocritical. But, here’s the deal:
You just need to be realistic with your timeline and thoughtful about the coverage you’re asking for. You do not need your photographer to capture every moment of your reception. I generally advise that I stay for 30 minutes after the last reception formality to capture some dance floor pictures. The only reason I will stay until the end is if there’s a special send off that the couple REALLY wants captured.
The same kind of rule goes for getting ready photos. Your photographer does not need to arrive when the hair and makeup team does. My general rule of thumb is that I’ll arrive about an hour and thirty minutes before leaving for the First Look or ceremony.
And, to cap this all off – prioritize what you are actually going to care about and the kinds of photos you will share/print. Maybe you don’t really care at all about photos of you getting ready and that’s okay! Your photographer can start with a First Look or the ceremony.
2. Book a photographer with a package that meets your needs, not one that’s over the top
When trying to shop for budget wedding photography, it really is a quest for the diamond in the rough. Many photographers don’t like to take on small weddings or lower budget weddings because it means they could be missing out on a bigger paycheck. Lots of photographers will try to push you toward their package with all the bells and whistles: full day coverage, two photographers, engagement session, album, etc.
Look for photographers who have more “essential” coverage options. For example, my most popular intimate wedding package is 6 hours of coverage with just myself, the gallery of downloadable images, and a piece of wall art. This makes it so that couples who don’t need a whole ton of things have an option to go to that still captures the majority of their day without moving up to my package that breaks the bank. And if they decide they want a second photographer or an engagement session, they can have it for an additional fee.
I will say that wedding vendors are generally loathe to remove things from packages to make them fit a client’s budget, so when searching for photographers, find ones who allow you to kind of build a package a la carte.
3. Prioritize your photography budget over things that aren’t as important to you
Yeah, this sounds a little self serving. But hear me out. A good photographer can make the most out of any situation. Our entire job is aesthetics so we know how to take something that might look a little plain and make it look fabulous! Plus, there are things that you can forego spending money on for your wedding day to open up your wedding budget a bit more. Maybe you decide to forego favors to save money and reduce your wedding waste. Maybe you can rent silk flowers for the day instead of having a massive floral budget.
Essentially, you should be hiring the BEST photographer you can for the budget you have. There are multitudes of people who regret spending less on their photographer, but I have yet to find a person who regrets having spent a little more for a photographer that provides a great experience and beautiful images.