Weddings are expensive and everyone wants to save money wherever possible. I’ve seen a lot of wedding photographer opinion pieces in which they argue that you should definitely spend a lot of money on your wedding photographer if you want even halfway decent pictures.
But let’s take a moment to pause and look at both sides. Yes, I am just another photographer with a blog and an opinion, but I do want to take a good look at both sides of the debate, not just my own.
Sure, I can fully justify why I charge why I do, but I can also see the other side – that sometimes, even with the best will in the world, budgets will just not stretch that far.
You see, as I write this, the whole world is in lockdown. I’ve had this idea for this blog post on my content calendar for a long time. I was looking forward to laying into cheap people that don’t see the incredible value we bring.
What about our incredible talent! The 5 figure value of our equipment! And the huge amount of time we spend editing the photos to perfection!
But today, as I sit down at my desk (let’s be real, I’m laying on my office couch), I realized that the wedding world that will emerge after the global pandemic will be a different one from the one we knew before.
One of my recent articles dealt with the topic of why wedding vendors charge more. This is good reading as background about the bigger picture concerning how professional wedding vendors actually stay in business (or at least, used to).
What is a ‘cheap wedding photographer’ anyway?
Of course, when you look at your budget, you’ll notice that the photography budget is not small. In fact, some wedding experts say to allocate 12% of your total wedding budget to photography (Wedding Wire) or 15% of your budget (Brides Magazine).
Looking at the area that I serve, the San Francisco Bay Area, let’s use our figure of $3,750 as our ballpark average wedding photographer price that we hit upon in the article linked below.
Of course, in your area, you’ll be working with different numbers as regards what a ‘cheap’ wedding photographer is. So let’s say anything ‘cheap’ is anything below half of the average price in any given area. So, using the Bay Area as an example, anything lower than $1,875 I will class as ‘cheap’.
Remember, San Francisco is a bubble and happens to be the most expensive place to live in the United States. In your city, state or country, that same figure might be what you’d pay for a rather expensive wedding photographer.
The important thing is that you’re looking at the real data, the true numbers. You’re not just thinking ‘hey that seems like a lot of money to me!’, but you’re looking at what professionals are charing. and working out what dollar amounts constitute low-budget, average, and high-end.
And just to be clear, with these figures, we’re talking about the cost for a full wedding day on a Saturday during wedding season – i.e. peak pricing. You can almost always get lower prices for anything kind of wedding that isn’t this. To find out more about minimums for premium dates, check out my detailed article below.
As I write this, we don’t really know what will emerge on the other side of this global lockdown. I’m assuming (and hoping) that everything returns to normal by 2021. Of course, no-one is working weddings at the current time, so much of this advice and sentiment will not even be relevant until things are ‘back to normal’ – whatever that means and however long it takes!
Who are cheap wedding photographers?
Cheap wedding photographers are usually one of these:
- New to the business (which I have presupposed in this article)
- Side hustlers – people that use their wedding photography income as pocket money
- Volume photographers who make up the low prices with a larger volume of clients served
- Larger photography firms that dispatch independent contractors to shoot weddings
I don’t have the bandwidth to go into each and every one of these, but the most common reason for being cheap is the first one – since everyone starts somewhere! I’ve put them in descending order of reasons for their cheapness in the list above.
NB: You will never see the words ‘I’m a cheap wedding tog!’ on anyone’s website. Sometimes the word ‘affordable’ is used, if they want to draw attention to that aspect of their service. This more palatable term is used because ‘cheap’ obviously has negative connotations. But: same thing. : )
Owen Matthias dives into what different price categories will get you on this blog post here.
The argument against hiring a cheap wedding photographer
This side of the debate is going to come easy to me – I write about it quite a bit. I am all about convincing potential clients and people searching this stuff online, that a wedding photographer is so much more than a human with opposable thumbs and a couple of cameras. So here are my reasons why you should not hire a cheap wedding photographer.
Oh and before we kick off, are you wondering what wedding photographers actually do with themselves? How do they run businesses, what sorts of tasks are involved? The answers may surprise you!
And if you’re an aspiring wedding photographer yourself, and you want to get started the right way, I have a complete guide to becoming a second shooter – the first step in wedding photographer training. This is also pretty eye-opening to anyone who is unsure about the wedding photography industry.
A cheap wedding photographer may not have experience shooting weddings
This will sound unbelievable to some people reading this! Surely all wedding photographers have shot weddings before?! Actually… no. This is essentially an unregulated industry: there are no exams or certifications or licenses beyond a regular business license. You don’t have to go to school or pay dues to a governing body.
Really, anyone can set themselves up as a wedding photographer. You can get a second-hand, entry-level camera and lens for a few hundred bucks, throw up a website for next to nothing, and ask for friends to pose for photos. Or go to an exquisitely-styled wedding photography workshop and take some pics for your portfolio.
If yours is the first wedding they’ll be shooting, do you think they would tell you? No! They would hope that their portfolio will sell you on the work, and the rest is a wing and a prayer.
Once they have a few real weddings they can blog and share online, they’ll hope to raise their prices bit by bit. But someone has to be first. Will it be you?
A cheap wedding photographer may not be insured
Ouch! This one rarely crosses the minds of marriers, but as a business owner, I am shocked that uninsured people are allowed to shoot weddings.
Some venues will ask all vendors that’ll be present on the day, for proof of insurance. That just means that if a guest trips over a photographer’s lightstand and breaks their leg, it’ll be covered by the photographer’s insurance.
But I’ve only ever been asked for my certificate of insurance by a handful of wedding venues. Many of them just don’t really ask. That’s a real problem, as you won’t know that your photographer doesn’t have liability insurance until it’s too late.
It’s a move that not only protects them, but provides peace of mind all-round. It shows that they place value on themselves, their assets and their business. My annual insurance premium is currently $710. Yes, I have a very comprehensive policy with numerous add-ons for complete peace of mind. I know for sure that affordable photographers just wouldn’t pay for something that isn’t strictly necessary. Often, they don’t even know. In fact, reinvestment into the business is just not a priority if your margins are tight.
A cheap wedding photographer be overwhelmed by post-processing
Ah, editing! The
bain – I mean, the pleasure of photographers’ lives! I have a whole article devoted exclusively to how I edit wedding photos because there’s honestly so much that goes on, and couples want to know!
I have a friend who recently took on a commercial photography job, though he isn’t a professional photographer, more of a dabbler. After the day-long shoot, he had to edit. He was completely overwhelmed. He asked me how the heck he would even go through the thousands of images he shot and select the keepers. And how then would he painstakingly go through each one of those and tweak it to a professional level? He still wasn’t too sure how he’d actually get the huge files to his client, either.
So what does that mean for you? It means that when the cheap photographer realizes how much work is involved, they may not be able to turn them over as fast as they thought. Or worse, they may give up on the editing, as for a beginner it can honestly be 50+ hours of work, that may not be worth their while once they look at the time costs.
If they are that first-time wedding photographer, it can be a huge shock going from the 100 images from your styled shoot, to the 10,000 you can get from an all-day wedding with 2 shooters.
Professional editing is a huge part of what you’re paying for when it comes to your wedding photographs. Make sure your wedding photographer knows their stuff, and can deliver.
A cheap wedding photographer may make promises they won’t be able to keep
As a beginner photographer, I was definitely guilty of this one. Honestly, it was hard getting my start in wedding photography. I opened my doors one day (read: made my website live) and expected a flood of clients beating down my door (read: contact page). Especially with my low prices, what’s not to love?!
As time went on, I grew desperate to succeed. Though I never lied to anyone, I was always very optimistic about what I could do for them. I wanted to please, to exceed expectations, to offer the moon to anyone that chose me out of all the other photographers out there.
I think this is common enough for new photographers looking to get their start. A cheap wedding photographer may not know the ins and outs of lighting, the limitations of their equipment, and most importantly, how to manage their clients’ expectations. But you hope that everything will work out fine.
‘No’ is a very scary word to utter to someone that wants to pay you money. However, if it means being honest about someone’s unrealistic expectations, demands, or Pinterest board, then I’m very happy to use it. Be careful with someone that says ‘yes’ to everything. It may be they are too inexperienced to have a real conversation, which can sometimes be difficult.
A cheap wedding photographer may not care about their online reputation
When you’re cheap, you don’t need to worry about having a credible social media presence or a horde of raving fans singing your praises on review sites. All you need are low prices.
Every time someone leaves a bad review, it’s easy enough to close that profile down and start again under a different name. It worries me how easy it is to do this, especially as so many photographers don’t use their real name or full name online. Essentially, they are anonymous within whichever iteration of their website or social media or Yelp page.
A reputable and more established photographer will do all they can to build trust. That’s done in so many ways that you should be able to see when you look them up online. For more about how to choose a photographer, check out this article below.
I have noticed a trend among cheap photographers to be very minimal about what they share and who they really are. Websites are often just a quickly knocked-together portfolio, with no blog, no Instagram (shock, horror) or any way of keeping in touch with fans.
A cheap wedding photographer may not have the people skills or stay calm under stress
When people decide they want to be wedding photographers, they often overlook the amount of work they’ll do simply managing people. And the arena in which they’ll be scrutinized the most harshly is on the wedding day itself.
A wedding photographer has to be a master of their equipment to avoid fumbling and missing the shot. Once they are fully in control of that, they are free to be in the moment with those around them. If a photographer is either new to photography, doesn’t take their camera out very often, or never really learned the right way to use their equipment, it’s going to show on the day with preoccupation and stress.
When I first started out, my biggest regrets was that I wished I was better with people, with the hundreds of people I was sometimes surrounded by. It’s only through shooting so many dozens of weddings per year that I’m able to fully give of myself. This is always noted by my clients and usually their parents, wedding party, and other guests.
A wedding photographer’s comportment and attitude on the day are so much what’s remembered on the day when a couple looks back on their day. A rookie mistake is to think ‘all that matters are the photos’ It doesn’t matter what I do to get them. Wrong. People remember how you made them feel.
Circumstances when cheap wedding photographers are a good idea!
I said I would give a balanced view, and I will! So, I do have some reasons and circumstances in which a cheap wedding photographer would probably be exactly what you need.
Mike Yost wrote more about this topic on his blog here.
You really only want a few photos
As professional wedding photographers, we’ve all had those emails that inadvertently belittle what we do for a living, we only want “a few pictures”, because it’s a “very small wedding” that’s only “an hour or two long” and of course, you’re “very relaxed”.
Those kinds of inquires are HUGE red flags. Either they are under a delusion about what they are asking for, or they are simply a bit ignorant. Usually these kinds of couples actually want rather a lot, when it comes down to it.
If you are sure that you really, genuinely would be happy with just a small handful of great photos, then go for it. It’s a bit of a roll of the dice with someone offering super cheap prices. Sure, they may be excellent or you could end up with someone very inexperienced who can’t deliver on their promises.
And do ask yourself if you can let go of that idea of flawless beginning-to-end coverage of the big day. Because that, my friends, is what really costs the big bucks.
You are OK with something potentially very basic
If you are very sure that you just want something basic, and are totally OK with that, then there’s nothing wrong with hiring an affordable wedding photographer.
Remember, a cheaper photographer maybe isn’t going to meet you in person. Some don’t actually do phone calls with their clients, because they aren’t being compensated enough to take this kind of time out of their day.
If you had in mind timeline planning, someone to hold your hand through it all, help you find other vendors, plan and strategize all the photos that you want, meet up to discuss every aspect of the day and answer all your questions – then an affordable photographer probably isn’t going to be the person that can do this.
And I’m not knocking this approach. Some people are planners by nature, others are more free-flowing. A newbie wedding photographer is probably going to be more comfortable going with the flow and be less able to offer high-level planning assistance anyway. That makes it a perfect fit in many ways.
You can edit them yourself
Photographers will generally have clauses in their contracts that state you cannot edit them beyond the photographer’s own editing. However, it depends what you do with the photos. If you just want one beautiful canvas hanging in your home, the photographer is not going to see that. So, don’t put them online and the photographer will never know.
OK, so I am grasping at straws a little here, and undermining the industry at large here, but I’m trying to help you out, boo. Doing your own edits to select unedited photos obviously isn’t optimal – hiring a great photographer that charges market rates is. But as you know, a compromise is necessary. This is one of those compromises.
You were just going to get a friend to snap pics, so this is an upgrade
If you were considering crowdsourcing your photography or using a cousin-with-camera, a cheaper photographer will represent a step up, for sure! They’ll be using better equipment most likely, plus the fact that money changes hands is something of a guarantee they will show up and take their job seriously. Side note: these days, phone photography has almost caught up with DSLRs – the big cameras that professionals use to snap photos at weddings. (Some use mirrorless cameras, which are also pretty awesome).
I wouldn’t pay too much attention to the scaremongering used by some of the other articles out there. They suggest that every photo that was taken by a guest is blurry, wonky, and taken at a resolution of 10dpi using a flip-phone that was released in 2005. That’s not the case. I’ve seen some beautiful photos taken by guests with the latest phones.
You’re just on a very low budget which is non-negotiable
I really do feel you. When the pandemic is over, a lot of people will be unemployed. Priorities will have changed. At the end of the day, it is possible to find a photographer that does good work, offers a level of service you’re comfortable with, and does it for a price that fits into your lower budget.
Yes, you can find an affordable wedding photographer that’s also talented, friendly, professional, and all that good stuff. You just have to do a little more homework than usual. Rather than spending the money, you’ll have to spend the time.
So search photographers’ online presence, follow their Insta for a while, check out their reviews and of course, meet them! When you do meet them or chat on the phone, you’ll want to maximize this time by asking the questions that really matter to you. This will vary from couple to couple, but you might find my guide below useful as a starting point.
Wedding photographers will often just want to chit-chat and get you to open up to them, but don’t miss the opportunity to grill them on the important stuff, too! They’ll want you to warm up and get wrapped up filling them in on your love story. Don’t be afraid to ask them why their prices are considerably lower than average. If anything, the photographer will be impressed that you did your research, and likely feel valued that you know their prices are so good.
And if you’re thinking that your budget is tight but you don’t want the potential risks of a low-budget photographer, consider trimming the fat off other areas of your wedding. The small things can seriously add up. I’ve more of this in the post below!
You could also look at hiring an associate photographer (someone that shoots for the main photographer but is a separate, independent contractor) to save costs. My detailed article takes you through it:
To wrap up!
So there you have it! A somewhat balanced view of whether to hire a cheap photographer or not. Sure, when a wedding photographer write an article like this and puts it on their blog, they want to bring light to what they do. They want to encourage consumers to be discerning and pick me, pick me! But I also write to educate, not just to self-promote.
I want couples to make the choice that’s right for them, but with their eyes open. There are trade-offs associated with a lower-than-average-priced professional in any field, but with careful research it’s possible to find something you can trust. Want to know how to be a great photography client?
Looking for a Bay Area wedding photographer? Find out more about my services by hitting the button below.