choosing a wedding photographer–price levels

When shopping for wedding photographers in the Chicago area, there are several price levels from which to choose.  The key is to find the happy medium between price and value.

Advanced amateur or part-time professional

This type of photographer has a day job and shoots events to pick up a little extra cash. They are generally “shoot and burn” photographers (see the post “Shoot and Burn vs. Full service” in a future post) and provide little or no service beyond the actual photographing of the event.  At best they maybe will edit the job to remove the most obvious errors.   They might charge anywhere from $300 to $500 for the day. If you have a good aspiring photographer in your family, you might as well use them and save the money.

Be wary of these part-timers.  Why, for example, budget $5,000-$25,000 or more for dinner but only a few hundred for the photography? After the day is done, the only tangible things left are the rings, the dress, and the photos (only about 37% of all couples hire video according to The  images are the only way to relive the memories of your wedding.  Hiring a full-time professional to capture these family heirlooms is essential.  Remember the old adage—you get what you pay for.

High volume studio

They shoot all kinds of events and portraits and may have as few as two or three,  or as many as 50 shooters on staff or available freelancers. You rarely will get the chance to meet your photographer before the event, and if you request any particular photographer, you will most certainly have to pay a hefty request fee.  Furthermore, for the sake of consistency,  they generally train all their photographers to shoot in a particular style. Very little personal style is encouraged or permitted because they generally want their shooters to be interchangeable parts. These studios generally start at about $1500 for a full day with one shooter and a simple album. Their sweet spot is usually around $2500. By that I mean if you are expressing an interest in a lower package they will try to up sell you to a “better” deal.  (one of my pet peeves with many service providers is the adversarial relationship that many ascribe to. I cannot tell you how many marketing and trade shows I have been to where the theme of the seminar is how to persuade a client to purchase more than what they originally expressed a desire for. I’ve never understood pressure selling. I figure people know what they want and what they can afford,  so who am I to suggest anything different?)

Internet based photographers

A relatively new phenomenon in the industry is the national studio. These internet-based operations may have a stable of hundreds of freelancers nationwide. These “studios” will have a salesman meet with potential clients to book the job. The client will definitely not get to meet their photographer until after the job is booked. They will have a wide price range but again will aim for the $2000-$3000 price range. In some cases,  they go as high as $5000. I have talked to many fellow photographers and we have yet to figure out why a bride would hire a carpetbagger studio when there are so many local alternatives. They seem to offer the worst of all worlds—little or no service and high prices!

High-end studio

These offer an impressive address and very good photography. You will pay for their high overhead, however. These shooters can range from around $5000 for a minimal package to more than $10,000 per event (hey, they gotta pay the rent). The principal photographer commands the high prices while the assistant or associate photographers can be had for the lower prices.  But by hiring an assistant/associate you are paying as much, if not more, than you would for an independent  studio/photographer with lower overhead and more experience.


The final category for all practical purposes (and there is definitely some overlap between these categories) is the boutique-style independent. They may have a brick and mortar commercial address off the beaten path or they may work from home. They shoot a relatively small number of jobs per year but offer a level of personal service the others cannot. They generally fall into the $3000-$6000 range. Many in this category are the photographic equal of the high-end studio but can charge a fraction of their price due simply to lower overhead.

This is the category to which I belong, and have since I quit the studio scene. Years ago, almost all the higher end photographers worked from their residences. The trend over the past few years has been for these low volume photographers to open a storefront in a trendy area. I have stubbornly kept my home studio, happy to run a low volume business and avoid the headaches of having a staff and high overhead. So, the lesson is, don’t ignore the home-based photographer! We work from home because we want to, not because we have to!


2 Responses to “choosing a wedding photographer–price levels”

  1. Great over view of the options available to the public. Will they get it? I tired of brides who wait till the end to book there photographer like its not important. It’s probably one of the top most important decisions they make….more later

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