Welcome friends! It’s hard to pin down exactly what the average professional wedding photographer charges in San Francisco. The statistics are not that easy to come by, so I’m here to give some hard facts and then some anecdotal information.
I also have some helpful points to consider when mulling over the numbers.
So in this article I’m going to throw a little light on what the average prices are for wedding photography in San Francisco. I’m using sources such as my own experience working in the wedding industry as a photographer in San Francisco, online searching and published research.
Wedding photographer average price in the San Francisco Bay Area
In 2014, an Infographic came out on Snapknot which threw some light on the matter. This seems to be one of the only ‘authoritative’ sources of official information on this topic. It has its problems, which I’ll get to, but first of all, here is the data:
According to that Snapknot study, the average price for a wedding photographer in San Francisco in 2014 was found to be just over $3,900 ($3,931).
Snappr also has some figures on this page. The results are interesting, to say the least.
The Knot found something similar in their 2018 study. Though San Francisco wasn’t mentioned specifically, here are how some other US cities and states fare in The Knot’s study:
|US city / state||Average price of a wedding photographer|
|New York City||$5,120|
Source: The Knot
What bothers me about the figures
The Snapknot study is based on “2014 Snapknot photographer profiles”. There have been no updates to the figures in 5 full years that have passed.
In 2014, I doubt the average was actually as high as this. Considering most photographers put their prices up between 5 – 10% year on year, I would be extremely surprised if $3,900 were the true average back then.
If it had been, imagine what the 2020 average would be. Assuming prices are only going up 5% per year, we would see:
As a wedding photographer, I can tell you that $5,225 is not an average wedding photography price – it’s rather high end.
So here’s the thing, the reason for the inflation. Snapknot, along with the similar service Snappr which also its own vastly inflated take on average wedding photography prices, has an agenda.
These services target budget brides who are looking for ‘affordable’ (aka cheap) wedding photography. By inflating what the average cost is, they can more effectively promote their low-priced services. The bargains that the budget bride is looking for seem even more appealing!
This theory seems validated by the fact that there has been no indication that the company has revisited and revamped its statistics for 6 years now. The figures seem to be a means of self-promotion than a serious study on the state of the industry.
Nevertheless, I do think the study has some value. But it is rather accidental.
At the current time, it’s 2020 and I truly believe the market has caught up with the inflated averages that the Snapknot study outlined.
Which photographers are included in the statistics?
When you’re looking up figures and stats, we have established that they are compiled exclusively by directory websites. Those organizations have skin in the game.
They are selling photography as a commodity, pitching one listing against another with little differentiation rather than speaking to the value that an individual photographer could sell you on if you sit down and speak to them. More on that later.
The information that I’m going to outline for you is more anecdotal and from the perspective of a wedding photographer who talks to other wedding photographers.
A caveat here. I can’t possibly include as a ‘wedding photographer’ anyone that snaps a picture at a wedding. If I did, the averages would be deeply skewed and much lower. All those uncle Bobs and cousins-with-Nikons would be included.
I also can’t speak about the Craigslist guy that charges $500 to shoot a wedding for a bit of side-income, or the newbie starting out who’ll do it for $1k but hopes to raise their prices.
I’m talking more about what is charged by professional wedding photography business owners. What do they have to charge to make a full-time living doing wedding photography?
What kind of wedding are we referring to?
I am referring to a full Saturday wedding taking place during peak wedding season. We are talking about peak pricing for the most popular dates when discounts cannot usually be given.
Lower prices can sometimes be obtained on different days of the week, seasons of the year and types of weddings (for example, weekday elopements and courthouse weddings).
This is often a bespoke arrangement that you’ll have to inquire about with each photographer. There is plenty more leeway for them to give you a more favorable price.
Anecdotally then, what’s the average price for a Bay Area wedding photographer?
Speaking as a Bay Area wedding photographer myself who’s browsed a lot of my competitors’ websites and knows a few people… here’s what I can tell you.
The ballpark range for a professional wedding photographer in the Bay Area starts at $3,000 at the lowest and goes up to around $4,700.
Sure, there are photographers that sit outside of those parameters but that’s where the bell curve begins and ends.
Most of the photographers I consider my peers start at around $3,500 – $4,000, so let’s say $3.75k. These photographers would no doubt consider themselves mid-market.
Each photographer chooses a business model that works for them with their own unique pricing structure and packages.
Some choose to bundle a bunch of items together and offer essentially a discount vs. if you’d purchased each item separately. That’s a package.
Other photographers do not have any packages but favor an a la carte model which includes basic coverage, then extras can be added on.
While we’re on the subject, here are some examples of the ‘extras’ I’m referring to. No client would realistically choose all of them:
- An engagement shoot in the Bay Area is usually between $400 – $750.
- Rehearsal dinner coverage could easily add a further $1,000 – $1,500.
- The second shooter could run from $800-$1,000 depending on the hours.
- A wedding album could start anywhere between $500 – $1,000.
- Thank you cards, wall art and prints could run another $500.
- And don’t forget to add tax.
It may well be that after you’ve chosen the package you want, or added the extras you are interested in, the price is now much higher.
However, it’s the ‘in the door’ price may be what’s reflected in the statistics or when you check out a few photographers’ websites.
Why do some wedding photographers choose not to reveal any pricing information?
There can be very little to go on when you start searching around the web for wedding photographers. Some photographers choose not to reveal a starting price or average spend figure.
You’re blinded by all this photography and information about them, but often lacking the vital piece that will ultimately be the determining factor as to whether there’s any point reaching out to them or not.
It makes it incredibly difficult to pare down your shortlist when the first obstacle is chasing down basic pricing information. So why do photographers do this? Why do you have to meet some in person or have a phone call before dollar amounts are revealed?
As wedding photography is so custom – so much about relationship – photographers want to make you feel comfortable around them as well as making sure it’s a mutual good fit. They want you to know how much they care about you and will be more like a friend than a vendor.
Not placing pricing on the site – or minimal pricing – is a way for them to get you to connect with them on a personal level.
The idea is that once you’re in that photographer’s ecosystem, it’s possible for that photographer to sell you on the uniqueness of their offering.
That is, rather than focusing on price they are better able to convey their value.
Understanding the difference between price and value
Be sure to look at the value that each photographer is providing when you’re shopping around. It’s hard to perceive – which is exactly why many photographers don’t provide any dollar amounts at all.
It’s too tempting to think you, as the consumer, are comparing apples to apples.
In truth, each photographer will have something different that they are able to provide as part of the experience of working with them. They should be able to describe exactly what this is.
Value is different from pricing.
I love this quote from Ben Hartley, an Ohio-based high end wedding photographer. He spoke at Showit United in 2019. I may be paraphrasing a bit:
“I charge $10k to shoot a wedding. What my clients don’t yet know is that the guy down the street who charges $1k to shoot the wedding is more expensive than me”.
What Ben means is that for what he is providing in his price, he is delivering goods, services, expertise, understanding and an experience that is worth even more than the hefty $10k price tag.
The guy down the street, in contrast, may be worth much less than his $1k which is still a lot of money.
The point is not to simply gravitate towards the lowest figure. And even when you have a few quotes that are similar in price, there are likely significant differences in value. It’s important to take the time to understand exactly what kind of experience, service and deliverables you are receiving.
And there’s that other thing – brand. Imagine you’re buying into a brand that is desirable, aspirational and elevated. That is part of the value you’re receiving and paying for, vs. someone with a camera who will turn up and then a while later turn over some digital files.
A few factors that affect the price of wedding photography
- What’s actually included. When items are bundled, you should ask yourself if you really need it all. Otherwise, you might be paying over the odds.
- Whether the photographer is in demand or is just starting out, building their portfolio.
- If they already include a second-shooter, are a team of two shooters as standard, or a solo photographer.
- Whether photography is their sole source of income or not. (In the Bay Area, everyone needs a side-hustle!)
- The experience, confidence level and skill set of the photographer specifically pertaining to weddings.
- Equipment used and whether they have professional kit or a basic set-up.
- Some photographers want to shoot only 10 weddings a year, or are very selective about whom they work with. Naturally, they charge more per client, and there is a market for this in the Bay Area.
- Other business models may favor volume over quality, utilizing associate photographers who are trained to produce work in the house style on a contract basis. This often means lower prices.
- If the photographer values herself, her time and skills! I see this a lot with female creatives, especially newer ones. They are often uncomfortable charging their worth.
Consider this when talking about ‘averages’
Averages are curious indeed.
This Nerd Wallet article considers what happens when just ONE very expensive wedding pops into the study. The entire average goes up hugely.
Jessica Bishop, the founder of The Budget Savvy Bride says,
One $1 million wedding [total budget] can bring up the average of thousands of $10,000 weddings.
So true! Take any study that talks about ‘averages’ with a grain of salt. There are many ways of creating averages depending on what you include in the study and what you leave out.
Should we include all those wedding photographers who are not professional business owners if they are indeed taking photos at weddings?
And how would we get figures for the ultra-high-end weddings of celebrities, socialites and San Francisco’s tech billionaires?
To wrap up
It’s a funny old world. The truth is wedding photography in the Bay Area and everywhere else is an unregulated market. Basically anyone can walk into Costco, buy a camera, put up a Craiglist ad and Bob’s your uncle. (In fact that probably was uncle Bob.)
There is no certification or qualification required to call oneself a wedding photographer. For this reason, there are many different price levels and the average figures – inasmuch as we even have such statistics – can only tell you so much.
TL; DR we don’t really know, but around $3.75k as a starting price.
I hope that was helpful in understanding understand the average prices of wedding photography in the Bay Area. I have an article coming out soon about what to cut from your wedding to afford the photographer of your dreams.
If you are looking for a wedding photographer for your upcoming wedding, my #1 priority is to connect you with a photographer who is a great fit for you. My pricing info & services info if you’re curious.