Learn the ins and out of negotiating with your wedding photographer – from a wedding photographer who’s seen it all!
Ask any wedding photographer what the biggest bane of their job is, and chances are, ‘clients asking for discounts’ is in the top three. The subject of negotiation is a little tricky to bring up.
As creatives, many wedding photographers are uncomfortable talking about money in general. As small business owners however, we need to be more vocal about the way we approach the topic of discounts and negotiation.
This article is intended to educate brides and grooms as to the difference between negotiating vs. asking for a discount and tips for negotiating if that is a path you want to go down. I’ll also address in detail some common concerns that wedding photographers face when we are asked to drop our prices, and where that leaves you.
For more background on the subject of why wedding vendors charge the prices they do, I recommend you check out the two in-depth articles linked below:
And one more seriously helpful article below on the topic of wedding photographer pricing specifically in the Bay Area:
Now we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get into the nitty gritty of whether you should negotiate with your wedding photographer – and if so, the most effective ways to do that.
Let’s dive in!
Understand the difference between ‘negotiating’ vs. ‘asking for a discount’.
If you want to negotiate, you must be ready to bring something to the table, or to accept less.
I like this definition from Investopedia:
A negotiation is a strategic discussion that resolves an issue in a way that both parties find acceptable. In a negotiation, each party tries to persuade the other to agree with his or her point of view. By negotiating, all involved parties try to avoid arguing but agree to reach some form of compromise.Investopedia, ‘Negotiation‘
Let’s get one thing out of the way once and for all. Simply asking for a discount because you’re ‘on a budget’ is 100% NOT what negotiation is. Particularly when you’re dealing with a small, service-based business. Technically, everyone is on a budget (whether that budget is $1k or $100k). How you choose to allocate that budget is your choice.
We’re not selling widgets or used cars, we’re selling our time and it has a certain value, set by the market. The idea of haggling with a wedding photographer is honestly quite distasteful – insulting even, some would say. I wouldn’t go that far personally, but it definitely can feel like being undervalued to be asked to perform our work for less.
Would you negotiate with your accountant, your plumber, your favorite neighborhood restaurant, your house cleaner or your doctor? Chances are, no. There is no reason to assume that a photographer is a great candidate to negotiate with, either.
To negotiate or not to negotiate?
As a blanket rule of thumb, my honest answer to the question of whether or not to negotiate wedding photographer pricing is a resounding ‘no’.
Let’s be clear: not all wedding couples will have much to bring to the negotiations, except that they can be prepared to expect less. This is a good starting place to get your head into when you begin negotiating your pricing.
The way that a wedding photographer makes their living is through the money you, their clients, pay them. They have worked out that price in exactly the same way that any other local service business has set their pricing.
When you ask a wedding photographer to work the same job for less money, you’re asking them to accept a pay cut. Understandably, this can rub photographers up the wrong way. If you were paid by the hour and your boss said ‘hey, I’m going to cut your pay this week, but I still want you to work the same hours’, that would not be fair either.
Why do people pick photographers as the wedding vendor to haggle with?
This is a WHOLE topic! For the life of me, I cannot figure out why photographers are deemed the most appropriate to be haggled with, of all wedding vendors. I’m assuming it’s because we have little that you can see in the way of hard costs. There is no rent for our building, no wholesale flowers or cake ingredients to purchase.
I’ve heard some funny examples from around the web, and pricing sure is a weird thing. It gets wedding industry people super fired up. Some, like this article on Every Last Detail, equates asking for a discount to:
- Your boss demanding a portion of your paycheck
- You order a steak and only eat half, so you only pay for half
- You just love the designer handbag, so you want some money off. After all, the handbag will get ‘plenty of exposure’ 😉
I’ve detailed in full in the link below, per-job hours we work for each client – and far from being ‘just 8 hours’, it can be closer to a hundred hours, sometimes spread over the course of 2 years.
The article linked above also goes into a very interesting topic which I encourage to read about so you can truly understand. And that is the minimums that we’re working with here. I have pricing minimums, which I cannot drop for many Friday, Saturday and Sunday dates during wedding season of May 1 – November 30. Why not? Because I’ll easily fill them with full-price clients!
And if not, then a day spent marketing to future prospects – or sitting on the couch with my husband and my cat – is more valuable to me than a cut-price booking.
If you’re getting married on a random Tuesday in January, then there is some wiggle-room because I will likely not be able to book that date with another couple, given it’s not a popular one.
The ‘knowing which screw to turn’ analogy
The way some people view wedding photography is like it has no value in and of itself, and that’s why it should be easy to discount. After all, it’s just snapping a few pics, right? Looks kinda easy. I do it all the time on my phone.
Instead, what you are mostly paying for is the time the photographer has spent becoming what they are today. I like the analogy of ‘knowing which screw to turn’.
The huge printing presses of a major Chicago newspaper began malfunctioning on the Saturday before Christmas, putting all the revenue for advertising that was to appear in the Sunday paper in jeopardy. None of the technicians could track down the problem. Finally, a frantic call was made to the retired printer who had worked with these presses for over 40 years. “We’ll pay anything; just come in and fix them,” he was told.
When he arrived, he walked around for a few minutes, surveying the presses; then he approached one of the control panels and opened it. He removed a dime from his pocket, turned a screw 1/4 of a turn, and said, “The presses will now work correctly.” After being profusely thanked, he was told to submit a bill for his work.
The bill arrived a few days later, for $10,000.00! Not wanting to pay such a huge amount for so little work, the printer was told to please itemize his charges, with the hope that he would reduce the amount once he had to identify his services. The revised bill arrived: $1.00 for turning the screw; $9,999.00 for knowing which screw to turn.Calvin Correli
Sure, this looks like an effortless job when you see us in our element on the wedding day, creating magic which surely must be because ‘she has a really good camera’.
Tell that to 2016 me, new in business and struggling in every sense.
I didn’t spend 40 years honing my craft, but I spent a lifetime observing, honing my artistic eye, trying and failing to create beautiful images with a camera, interface effectively with customers, and create art on command in front of hundreds of strangers in a high-stress environment while making it look I’m having the time of my life – week after week after week with zero bad days.
Why wedding photographers do not appreciate being asked for a discount
It devalues what we do
First off, I will concede that we photographers are quite a strange breed. There is a great deal of ‘oh daaahling, I’m an artiste’-type of thinking that honestly makes me cringe.
That said, it is true that photographers are creative sorts of people. No wedding photographer ever went into business to become wealthy. (Ha! Ha!) They did it to share their passion and create lasting imagery that will be treasured by their clients.
We want that work to be highly valued by our target clients. All those hours and months and years we spent honing our craft, then working for free, refining a style, training ourselves and hustling so hard to become expert business owners – we want that to land with the right person.
We want clients who see the art – and appreciate the blood, sweat and tears that we have put ourselves through to achieve it.
To be asked to work for less insulting to many. It leaves a bad taste in our mouths, hearing that our work is up to par but not worth what we’re charging. If you believe that photographers provide something valuable, you should be prepared to put your money where your mouth is.
Want more tips to love on your wedding photographer? Check out this guide!
We can find clients who will pay full price
When you’re working for yourself, you have to take care of your own bottom line. This is the reality of being a financially-savvy small business owner. Especially one that wants to be in it for the long haul. There is so much that goes into it, but ultimately we must protect our own interests, otherwise there will be no business left to protect.
Unfortunately, it’s not feasible to give our time away for nothing, or constantly make exceptions to our set pricing. Our impetus at the end of the day is to sell to whomever will give us the highest bid for a very limited resource – our time.
When I was a beginner photographer, I would discount or even work for free. After all, no-one wants to entrust a newbie with capturing the best day of their life. There is no way of faking experience, so you have to be honest until you find enough clients to trust you and pay you. This takes a few years. For many photographers, it never comes. Which is why this market is so filled with amateurs, semi-pros, wannabes and fly-by-nights.
Being an experienced and well-established wedding photographer as I am now, I can easily find enough clients to fill my schedule to the degree that I am comfortable. And if I don’t, I don’t sweat it. A well-earned day off is more valuable to me than working for lower rates.
Asking for discounts puts out a serious red flag to your photographer
There is a definite correlation between the customers that ask for discounts and those who are difficult to work with. Those that ask for discounts then tend to ask for more, more, more – and have the highest expectations. Every time a client asks for money off, I end up working harder for them as – guess what – they’re always high-maintenance.
The people that want to pay less are generally very fixated on price. Although I don’t want to speak out of turn here, it may be true that in many cases they see the photographer as a commodity that is quite interchangeable. Just another ‘thing’ on the wedding to-do list, if you will. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that per se – but these are just not the clients I’d choose to work with personally.
And being a small business owner has that perk – photographers can unapologetically pick and choose who they work with.
There is too great a risk of problems down the pike when the prospective client asks for money off my services at the outset. For me, this is generally not ever worth it – I’ve been on the receiving end too many times, and seen much worse things happen to other photographers.
Working with bad clients contributes to burnout and disillusionment with this profession, so I choose to protect myself and my energy.
Getting referrals who also expect a discount is a counterproductive
Now, you may be thinking, it’s ‘just a one-off exception’. How can giving a discount to one marrier really be that bad? But in the wedding world, referrals are a huge part of our business.
We do not want to be known as ‘the photographer who gives discounts’, because that’s what you’ll be telling your friends that you refer to us. The first thing that your friends, cousins and bridesmaids will ask you when they get engaged is ‘how much did your photographer charge?’
I don’t fault them for it; it’s human nature. But suffice it to say, they will expect the same, discounted rate. They would even feel hard done by to learn that they would have to pay full price. Discounting pricing becomes a slippery slope for us the business owner, to say the least.
Weddings are a luxury good, priced accordingly
Weddings are expensive, but there is a reason for that, too. A wedding is one of life’s luxuries. No-one needs one, or should have any expectation that they should be ‘affordable for all’, like a public service. Weddings average out at $40k in the Bay Area because that’s simply what it costs to pull the event together.
All you really need in order to get legally wed is a license, an officiant to conduct the ceremony, and a witness. This was the route I personally went down. The whole shebang costing less than $200, yet I am just as married with absolutely zero regrets. A wedding is an entirely different prospect. So be prepared to pay for the dream you have envisioned for yourself.
When you book an established wedding vendor, you’re working with a luxury service provider. So, rather than comparing it to your regular, non-wedding goods and services, enjoy it for what it is. A wedding is a bit of a dream that you’ll look back on in the years to come like it was surreal. It’s OK to live into the fairytale. Share those memories and photographs with your children and grandchildren, because they are all you will have to take away from it.
So how do you negotiate with a wedding photographer?
So, what does this mean for you, their prospective client? I’ve gone through all the reasons why photographers do not care for ‘asking for a discount’, but what about genuine negotiating?
If you do decide to go ahead and enter into a pricing negotiation with your wedding photographer, here are some tips that can help you approach discussions effectively and come to an arrangement that suits both sides.
Show that you understand that negotiating means expecting less
As we’ve discussed already, negotiating does not mean haggling, it does not mean threatening to walk away or price-matching the guy down the street. These tactics will get you ghosted very quickly. We simply don’t have the time or energy to enter into conversations with clients we know will not be a good fit.
Instead, frame the conversation with kindness and understanding. Do not be demanding or bring any expectations to the table. State that you have a certain budget and you would like to know if they would consider shooting for fewer hours or removing something from the package.
Leave it up to the professional to offer what they consider appropriate, or come back with a counteroffer, and then you can decide if that’s reasonable for you or not. Avoid putting them on the spot, and instead put your proposal to them with the ball in their court.
No one likes to feel nickel-and-dimed. If anything, a little extra care and consideration of the photographer’s perspective can go a long, long way to making us feel comfortable about offering you a good deal. I’ve dealt with a bride or two who was so darn understanding, sweet and down-to-earth, I’ve offered a discount without even being asked!
Be honest about why you are asking for a break
Honest, open communication can be your best friend when it comes to negotiating with your wedding photographer. You may think that we don’t have time to hear your life story, but if there is a genuine reason why you’d love to book me, and need a deal, I’m all ears.
I will say that I’ve been taken for a ride by clients before who have totally abused this. I’ve had clients that have claimed to be in financial dire straits, only to find them taking multiple honeymoons immediately after the wedding. Or to Google them and find their LinkedIn page which reveals they have a super highly-paid job. That’s not cool.
So I don’t judge it on a case-by-case basis anymore, I simply say no when I start to hear the tiny violins.
But if there is a genuine reason, and you want to enter into an honest, human conversation about it, we are certainly not going to turn a blind eye to tough personal circumstances. Especially if it would make a good story to write about and even get published on a wedding blog.
Leverage something that may be of value to the photographer
Speaking of which – there is more than one kind of currency in the world today. You can pitch something that you already have that the photographer may actually be interested in.
Social currency is a big one. Do you have a YouTube channel with 500k subscribers? Are you an Instagram influencer with a >100k) following? Or do you have an enormous family, 20 bridesmaids who just got engaged and a huge social network?
Another currency could be in the form of a trade of services. For example, you’re a graphic designer and you’ve noticed your photographer’s website could use some work Could you pitch a trade for graphic design services that could offset the cost of the photography, being as specific as you can about what you can actually offer?
Or maybe you own a vacation home that you could allow the photographer and their family to use for a couple of weeks because you have been Insta-snooping her and you know she loves to travel?
Is your wedding one-of-a-kind? Do you think the vendor would love to have it in their portfolio as something truly special?
Is your wedding something that would fit right in on Martha Stewart Weddings, where the photographer has always dreamed of getting published?
Be creative! There’s no end to what you can leverage if you think about negotiation as finding a solution in which both parties are happy with the value they’re deriving from the transaction. This won’t work for everyone, because ultimately we are all concerned with the bottom line. So take the initiative – who knows what mutually beneficial solution could be reached.
Appeal to your photographer’s creative side
Put yourself in the photographer’s shoes and ask what they would value from a client. For example, photographers are always talking about creative freedom and being allowed to work exactly how they want, minus overbearing input.
Saying that you truly trust their vision and will let them do their thing without interference is good. Perhaps they want to try out a different style, or really perfect a technique they’re working on.
Communicate openly and fully, and make sure you understand what the style is and what artistic freedom means in terms of the process and finished result. And as ever, don’t be afraid to ask!
Do your homework to find out what makes you an attractive prospect to them
Stalk their social media and blog posts! A lot of photographers put out a good deal of educational client material (exactly like this post, and many others you can find in the ‘wedding planning’ section).
Did the photographer just post on Instagram that they’re dying to get more LGBTQ+ destination weddings in their portfolio… and that’s exactly your wedding to a T?
If you aren’t sure, ask them, ‘what can we do to make things easier for you – we want to be great clients!’
Also, to show that you’re serious about your photographer, take the time to go through the information they send you. Get clarity on it. One of my pet peeves is when someone tries to negotiate with me, but completely fails to understand what is and isn’t included, despite my very succinct, clear and informative pricing guide.
At this point, I know they were just price shoppers – the cheapest photographer in town would probably suffice.
Be excited to work with them and genuinely complimentary
It would be lovely (and probably better for business) if we weren’t so darn happy every time an inquiry comes in that says ‘oh my gosh, I love your work so much! The way you capture emotion is so incredible!’. But the truth is, a bit of genuine praise, charm and courtesy go a very long way to achieving favor with your desired photographer.
Sure, some especially jaded photographers might be totally immune to compliments. But for most people, kind words are very well received.
There is nothing a wedding photographer likes less than someone who is simply ‘going through the motions’ of booking any old photographer in a box-ticking fashion. I know that is the reality for some brides and grooms, but a truly a few genuine compliments are important for a few reasons.
First of all, of course it feeds our ego 😉 well, I did say we are human too. Secondly, it eliminates that icky feeling that you may be a difficult client or someone that just wants a fungible good for the cheapest price. And lastly, it means that you have actually looked at our portfolio – and want wedding photos that look like that!
Ask about payment plans instead of discounts
If the issue is getting a certain chunk of money together, ask about payment plans. In my business I have a standard payment plan. But if a client wanted to stagger the payments over a longer period or pay slightly less as their reservation fee (30% would be the minimum), that would be generally fine with me! As long as funds are received when agreed upon, many photographers would be happy to customize a payment plan.
The key issue is that all balances must be received before the wedding. If you put a small amount down to book, plus payments every month for a number of months, that sounds A-OK to me. I would imagine many other photographers would agree.
Just ask your photographer directly whether they would be amenable, and what you have in mind. Cashflow is one of the biggest challenges of being self-employed, so I am sure having a regular bit of cash coming in will be welcomed by many small business owners.
Ask if they work with an associate that can shoot your wedding
An associate photographer works under the lead photographer’s brand as an independent contractor. If the lead photographer/business owner runs an associate program, they’ll typically have several photographers they’ve personally trained to work in the house style.
These photographers can then be dispatched out to shoot weddings at a lower price tag than the lead photographer. It’ll be someone you’ve never met shooting your wedding, but the good news is that the consultations, and post-wedding workflow will be dealt with by the business owner or others on the team.
Using an associate can be a very cost-effective solution, depending on how much of a discount you’ll receive with the associate pricing vs. the owner of the business. Ask for samples of work produced by associates, in case there is something strikingly different or unexpected about the work.
I have a separate post about understanding what an associate photographer is in wedding photography linked below:
Use a student or someone looking to break into weddings
This isn’t so much a negotiation tactic as something else to consider if budgets are tight. It’s completely normal you want to save money on your wedding photographer – and this is one way to do it.
You’ll see professionals in any market all priced similarly. However, if you’re prepared to do a little more due diligence you may find a beginner who doesn’t depend on his wedding photography income to make his living. He may charge just a fraction of what an established professional charges.
Wedding photography is a very competitive market – and one in which there is no barrier to entry. Anyone can buy a second-hand camera and throw up a website and boom, you’re a wedding photographer.
This creates a perfect storm of a constant abundance of new photographers on the market. These are sometimes very talented individuals who are good with a camera but lack experience with weddings. Many students will work for less-than-market rates if they can benefit from experience, portfolio pieces and word-of-mouth referrals.
There are many price points of different vendors. Can’t afford one photographer’s pricing? Find a cheaper provider. You probably won’t get the same level of service, but that’s business.
As a professional wedding vendor myself, I don’t love the idea of suggesting non-professionals. There is a higher risk of disappointment. However, I do understand that budgets are real and something might have to give. It’s not impossible to find someone who produces great photography and gives fabulous service yet charges lower prices.
In the end it boils down to honest communication, working out where you can leverage and letting the professional do what they can. Even with the best approach in the world, your negotiations still may not be effective.
With wedding photography, margins are very tight. It may simply not be possible for the photographer to budge an inch from their set pricing. In the same way, there are many other vendors, products and luxury services that will not discount or negotiate pricing, even if they really wanted to help you.
And that really sums up all the advice I have on the topic of negotiating effectively with your wedding photographer! I hope this equips you for successful negotiations with your photographer and other wedding vendors. This should give you plenty to think about before you ask your wedding photographer for a discount.