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How much does a wedding photographer cost in California?

The Average Cost for Wedding Photography

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Grasi + Dani

Wedding and Elope photographers fully
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The Average Cost of Wedding Photography

If you’re wondering how much you should spend on your wedding photography, this article is here to help. 

Determining the average cost of a wedding photographer can be challenging due to the wide range of options available at a so different price points. 

Different from a physical product like a computer, or a car, comparing prices and value of wedding photography is HARD and couples can easily get overwhelmed.

“Where do I even start?”

“How do I choose?”

“What I should pay attention to?”

“Why does it even matter?” 

Well, starting with the importance of making a conscious decision:

After all the planing, all the coordinating, the dream and expectations for this crazy special day – the day you will commit to each other – what you will get to keep forever are: each other + the photos.

Starting this article by saying that without a question photography is THE MOST important contract from your wedding.

Ask someone (like my mom) that has lost everything in a house on fire, what is the one thing they wish to have it back? Mom still talks about all my photos as a baby that burned with the house – 30 years later. Fortunately, she was able to rebuild everything back but our *photo albums*.

Also, without going too deep and nerd in neuroscience, studies have shown how having family photography around the house brings confidence, reassurance and the sense of belonging on kids. So what could it be the effect of even a fast everyday glance at that frame in the wall showing the overflowing love in the eyes of a couple from the moment they committed to each other? Or maybe flipping, every now and then, through pages of an album that tells the story of the start of their family?

Then, getting back to the question: How much should you invest in your wedding photography?

Quick answer is: As much as you are willing to invest.

You can probably find someone that would photograph your wedding for free (like your uncle that has a fancy camera) and you can find photographers that would charge $5k, $10k, $20k and more…

You can try to compare getting prices of different wedding photographers packages and look at number of hours and albums BUT the RESULT will never be the same because it’s service + art combined.

How do you compare and preachify art?

How do you know the value of a service before using it?

To solve this challenge, wedding blogs will tell you to spend a specific amount or a percentage but we believe this should be an open-ended answer because the most important thing is that you make a conscious decision that will make you happy is the end. 

You are the one that is going to experience and get to keep the result of your choice. So no judging in here!

The goal is to make sure you get the RIGHT photographer, not the AVERAGE.

Since it is not a straightforward answer, instead of focusing on the average, the best or essential thing to do is finding a photographer who aligns with your specific vision and values. This approach will help you find photographers you LOVE and TRUST, rather than just comparing numbers of a service that you can’t measure before the wedding day. 

**So, how much would the RIGHT wedding photographer *FOR ME* would cost in California?**

 The cost of a wedding photographer in California in 5 distinct groups:

  1. Newcomer: $0-500 (Just starting out, may not have photographed a weddings before, not seen a professional yet.)

   – How you might feel: Taking a leap of faith because they’re fresh to the wedding world.

   – What to expect: Photos might be like a surprise cake – could be a hit, could crumble a bit.

  1. Enthusiast: $500-2000 (Have some wedding experience, not a full-time. Their style might not be intentional and in a consistence that commands a tier price tag)

   – How you might feel: Like trying out a new ice cream flavor – curious, but not sure.

   – What to expect: Pictures might be like a homemade sushi – tasty, but not quite gourmet.

  1. Progressing Pro: $2000-3000 ((Has higher demand for style, transitioning into the professional category)

   – How you might feel: Like watching a superhero origin story – seeing them get stronger and cooler.

   – What to expect: At this point, photographers usually start getting fancier gear, making sure they have a reliable backup system, and learning more to grow their business.

           4. Experienced Pro: $3000-$6000       (Considered full-time experts, known for     their style and skills.)

   – How you might feel: a cozy hammock – relaxed because they know the ropes.

   – What to expect: Photos might be like a magical spell – capturing moments so well, it’s like wizardry.

  1. Prestige and Luxury: Starting from $6000-$9000, and beyond; initial rates could be $10k, $20k, or higher (Esteemed and well-established, these photographers offer a refined style, accompanied by an extensive array of services)

   – How you might feel: Sipping a fancy unicorn latte – because they bring that extraordinary touch.

   – What to expect: Can handle events and unpredictable situation with ease. Photos might be like walking the red carpet – elevated and intencional.

**Breaking the Mold: Beyond the 10% Rule – Personalized Approaches to Wedding Photography Budgets**

A while ago, “wedding specialists” started saying that you should spend around 10-15% of your budget on your wedding photographers. Not that is a bad advice but it’s a bit too simplified and might not suit everyone.

We often photograph luxury elevated weddings followed by intentional elopements – Couples that spends hundreds of thousands of dollars in their wedding and couples that the only wedding cost is us. 

The problem with the 10% rule is that when you put all in a box you don’t consider the individuality of couples in their priorities. If you really value and care about having long-lasting memories and photos, you might want to spend more than 10% on that. For elopement couples photography is almost 100% of their budget.  Some couples prefer to cut expenses in other areas, like the guest list, before they even think about adjusting their photography budget.

A different way to approach this is to first decide on the photographer(s) you really love and want to have, and then plan your budget around that choice. 

First make a list of what matters most to you, find out how much each thing costs, and then add up the total. If the total goes beyond your budget, start looking at the lower priority items to see where you can save money, only moving up the list if absolutely necessary.

So, for the question “what would affect the cost of a wedding photographer?”

Why does a wedding photographer cost so much (or so little)?

 

How much cash should you splash on Wedding Photography?

f you’re anything like me, you don’t want a long-winded explanation, so how about we break it down in plain language?

Quick answer: It could be anywhere from zilch to 20K or even more! Yeah, I know, quite a range, right? But don’t worry, I’m not trying to keep you guessing. There are a lot of things that affect what you’ll pay for a wedding photographer. Let’s figure out what really matters to you first, and then we’ll tackle the budget. That way, you get exactly what you want!

So, what’s behind the price tag? Well, how much photographers charge isn’t some random number taken out of a hat.

A few things to consider by a photographer that are actually very basic when setting prices:

  • Where You Live (Location, location, location!)
  • How Good the Photographer Is (They’re not all created equal)
  • How Much Experience They Have (Wisdom comes with time)
  • Their Style (Is it your cup of tea?)
  • What’s in Their Photography Package (What goodies are included)

Why do wedding photographers charge differently?

In most cases, you get what you pay for. When a photographer is top-notch in their game, they tend to be in high demand, and that often shows in their prices.

Now, I can’t give you a one-size-fits-all answer, but I can help you figure out what’s what in your neck of the woods, so you can make a conscious choice.

Cost of doing business:

Beyond self investments like education, and business investments like equipments and back up of equipments. 

The cost of running the business in a legit and safe way.

Taxes, licenses, insurances, pro and legit softwares, backup security, maintenance, marketing…

Location, location, location!

Location is a big deal, my friend. If you’re in a pricey spot, like LA, you can expect photographers to charge more. 

The living expenses truly dictate the standard pricing for a wedding photographer! A higher living expense = a higher starting price. As you can imagine, if you live in Los Angeles where the cost of living is double (or more!) than somewhere like Ohio. 

You might pay an average starting price of $6,000 vs. $4,000 for a similar photographer in the smaller city location.

Generally speaking, the larger the city (with a higher median level income), the higher your standard starting prices will be.

Expertise counts

Expertise refers to a photographer’s ability to excel at capturing any wedding. While expertise and experience often go hand in hand, a more “experienced” photographer who has been shooting weddings for a decade may not necessarily have more technical skill than a photographer with five years of experience.

Expertise includes:

  • Proficiency in handling various lighting conditions
  • Skill in managing interpersonal dynamics on the wedding day
  • Emotional intelligence and communication abilities to create a comfortable atmosphere
  • Business acumen for consistent, excellent results

Photographers with high expertise levels often command a premium price. To assess a photographer’s expertise, read online reviews and explore their wedding portfolios.

Experience matters

Experience is invaluable. 

Although it doesn’t always directly correlate with expertise, an experienced photographer who has covered numerous weddings has likely encountered and successfully navigated various challenges, such as schedule changes, timeline hiccups, and family tensions.

Pro tip: An experienced photographer visiting a new venue often takes the time to scout it beforehand, ensuring smooth execution on your wedding day. This level of preparation typically comes at a higher cost.

Style and aesthetic

Photography style is highly subjective but plays a crucial role in pricing. Photographers who have developed a unique and in-demand style often command premium rates. 

Your choice of style and the demand for that style in your area will impact the photographer’s pricing.

Consider whether you prefer a natural and clean look or something more original and trendy. Your style preference will influence your budget.

What's included in their package?

Photographers vary in what they include in their packages. Some offer comprehensive packages at a higher price point, while others provide minimal inclusions, allowing you to customize your package with add-ons.

A photographer may start with a lower base price but become more expensive than another due to their package structure. 

Be sure to examine what’s included, such as the number of photographers, album quality, engagement sessions, and additional services like timeline reviews and venue walk-throughs.

In conclusion, determining your wedding photography budget involves considering your priorities and understanding the factors that influence pricing in your area. Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be better prepared to make an informed decision that aligns with your vision for your special day.

Price isn’t just a number: it’s value

Remember, you’re not just paying for photos. You’re investing in a photographer’s life, skill, experience, and artistry. 

Each factor plays a role in the price, and what you pay for is the culmination of all these aspects. 

Choose the combination that aligns with your vision and captures your story beautifully.

Do wedding photographers really overcharge?

“…simply because it’s a wedding.”

Yes, because it’s a wedding!

A wedding is SO different from other events. Here are some key things that make weddings unique:

  • Once-in-a-Lifetime: Weddings are rare, usually happening only once in a lifetime.
  • Extensive Work: They demand a lot of work before and after the big day.
  • Multiple Locations: Often, they involve different locations.
  • Long Hours: Weddings can last up to 20 hours for the vendors.

These factors apply to many vendors, not just photographers. Weddings are not your typical events.

WHILE EACH WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHER VARIES, A SINGLE WEDDING CAN EASILY ACCOUNT FOR THESE HOURS OF WORK:

  • 1-3 hours for initial emails/meetings
  • 2-4 hours for an engagement session, including travel and shooting
  • 1-3 hours for editing and delivery of engagement photos, blog writing, and social media sharing
  • 2-3 hours for planning and timeline preparation
  • 10-18 hours for day-of work, including setup, travel, coverage, tear-down, and photo transfer/backup
  • 7-35 hours for editing, delivery, and blog writing
  • 1 hour for backup and other tasks

That’s potentially more than 60 hours per wedding, not including expenses. Remember, this doesn’t cover second shooters, gear, education, insurance, and taxes. A photographer may easily spend at least 75 hours per wedding, considering all these activities.

For example, if a photographer needs to earn $50,000 per year after $20,000 in expenses and is willing to shoot 30 weddings annually, they need to charge an average of $1,700 per wedding. This translates to roughly $15-23 per hour (before taxes). Keep in mind that photographers also pay federal and state taxes, as well as self-employment taxes.

So, if you’re paying only $2,000 for both a main and second shooter, you might have a photographer who isn’t investing much in their business or working hard for a relatively low hourly rate.

Isn’t $15 per hour seem quite reasonable for a specialist and professional artist capturing one of the most important days of your life, considering it can never be recreated?

AVERAGE WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY COSTS IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA:

In Southern California, photographers generally fall into these starting price ranges:

  • Beginner: $0-1000 (just starting, not considered professional)
  • Amateur: $1000-2000 (may have some wedding experience, budget-friendly)
  • Growing Amateur: $2000-3000 (beginning to enter the professional category)
  • Professional: $4000+ (higher demand for style, more support for clients)
  • Luxury: $6000+ (full-time professionals with unique expertise)

Again, these are very generalized starting price ranges. You can spend $10k with many of the photographers that begin at the $4k range!Remember that these pricing categories are not set in stone. Sometimes, lower prices may involve risks and less peace of mind.

In conclusion:

How much should you spend on wedding photography? Invest what you can within your budget to find the right photographer for you. 

A wedding photographer’s worth depends on factors like reputation, style, and how they make you feel.

For some, $500 is enough, while others may spend $5,000, $10,000, or even $20,000+. Generally, higher-priced photographers are in demand for their skill and style. You might also find cheaper photographers who offer more value than their price suggests, but it’s a gamble.

THERE’S NO FIXED AMOUNT YOU SHOULD SPEND ON WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY.

However, if you value your photos and memories, consider allocating a significant portion of your wedding budget to it.

 Remember, a wedding photographer preserves your memories for generations.

They work hard under pressure, so cherish them as they do for you.

SO, HOW MUCH SHOULD YOU SPEND ON WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY? WELL, IT’S AN INVESTMENT IN TIMELESS MEMORIES AND FAMILY HEIRLOOMS THAT WILL LAST A LIFETIME AND BEYOND!

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