Wedding Photography cost

Wedding photography COST

Pretty much every wedding magazine or blog will tell you not to skip out on a wedding photographer. There are multiple items that you may need to budget, but wedding photography is rarely ever one of them for obvious reasons. However, it is no secret that couples experience a sticker shock once they start inquiring about wedding photography prices.

There are numerous articles that have wrote about that topic. Some of them became viral (“Why Wedding Photography Prices Are Wack“), others were written locally (in Pittsburgh) and are pretty good, as well. With that being said, I wanted to share my own perspective on this hot topic.

1.  Skill Level

Just like in any industry, every job has different skill levels – in the industry of wedding photography, I believe that it requires a superior level of skills and massive experience. When I teach my students, who want to start their business in the world of wedding photography, I always say “do not take any wedding bookings or try to get into the market, unless you have nailed every every single session for at least 2 years of full time shooting and experienced under different lighting conditions”. The first thing I see my students excel at is the studio sessions, where lighting conditions are not changing and the space and colors are constant, as well. The second item is outdoor sessions with sunrise/sunset. However, there is a huge difference between the skill level required to nail a photo shoot that has the ideal lighting in the location that was chosen for the shoot vs. shooting a wedding.  Below are the reasons why:

 a) Lighting

As many of you may know, photography is all about the lighting.  Lighting can make or break an image. The majority of the wedding day is shot with non-ideal or difficult light.  In fact, only a small portion of the day (if you are lucky) can be shot during the sunset. For example, in most of Pittsburgh, reception venues are inside and by the time you have your ideal golden hour  (8:20 pm for summer weddings), newlyweds are already having dinner and are done with the photos.

With that being said, a  good photographer should be able to work with any lighting condition: soft or harsh, in the dark churches and dark reception halls with mixed lighting and always guarantee beautiful images. Here in Pittsburgh, we rarely have outside ceremonies and receptions with beautiful sunsets overlooking the mountains.  Normally, we have beautiful catholic churches, hotels and ballrooms, and in most cases they are pretty dark. Being able to handle difficult lighting and still get amazing images is an exceptional skill to have, especially in the northern states.

Photographs taken at noon in the most challenging lighting:

b) Space Constraints

In Pittsburgh (and a lot of other cities on the East coast) the most common scenario for bride/groom preparation is either a hotel room (filled with all the bridesmaids, flower girls, mothers of the bride and groom and hair and make-up artist) or someone else’s house (and imagine the typical household items in addition to all of the people getting ready). Even if the room is lit perfectly (which is almost never the case) – a small overcrowded space is a nightmare for a photographer who doesn’t specialize or have experience in weddings.

Many Pittsburgh venues will have their ceremony, cocktail hour and reception at the same place. With that, you are often forced to take family images on the street or even in a parking lot.  The same goes for the bride and groom photos: you definitely don’t often get beautiful spots to take photos during the wedding as you would during the portrait session. But for the skillful, experienced wedding photographer, that is not an issue.  They know how to take beautiful photographs pretty much anywhere, so it would make for a very challenging scenario for a photographer with a lower skill level.

Bride & Groom photos taken on a parking lot:

Dark reception:

c) Time

Unlike during the session, on a wedding day, you have a very limited time to get great shots.  A wedding is an event and often things do not go according to the plan.  I, as well as other well established professionals, often have situations where we only have 10 minutes to shoot a bridal party of 15- 20+ people and create masterpieces for both the bride and groom.


d) The Importance of Every Shot

This is self-explanatory: there should never be mistakes on a wedding day.  For a bride, a shot with her mother-in-law would be just as important as a shot with her best friend or with her favorite aunt and you are only going to have a few minutes to nail EVERY SINGLE ONE of them.

e) Stress Level and the Ability to Relax

Couples should look totally relaxed in their wedding photos, there are no doubts about it.  Even if the nerves are going through the roof, whether someone has forgotten something important, things are running late with hair/make-up … No matter what – it’s a photographer’s job to make photos look natural and effortless and ease some of their worries. That alone requires an enormous amount of skill.  Do you know what the most common thing is that I hear from my couples when we first meet? “This is our first time in front of the camera and we are super awkward.” Real couples are not models, not that they should be. You often hear from someone who is just starting out in the wedding photography that the couple was very tense and it was hard to relax them… But after shooting hundreds of weddings, you do not have those “easy expectations” anymore. You pretty much have seen it all and have conquered techniques to relax your couple. If you get lucky with a couple who is completely relaxed in front of the camera – it would be an exception to the rule and that is something you wouldn’t expect. There is a saying that a wedding photographer should have a quality of professional psychologist and I couldn’t agree with that more.

There is a popular trend right now for new photographers to attend live workshop and “build” their porfolio while shooting over the shoulder of the more experienced master. As a client, you want to make sure you hire a professional who has massive experience on a actual wedding day, not a styled shoot. It’s crucial to hire a professional who endure the actual stress of a wedding day, shot in various lighting situations and able to make a smart creative decision in short period of time. Anyone can build a perfect porfolio on styled shoot, unfortunately it has nothing to do with shooting a real wedding.

2. Risk

Wedding photography carries a different level of risk and cost associated with it. If things happen to go terribly wrong during any other sessions, you have an opportunity to redo (family, newborn, senior photos, commercial/product photography).  It would definitely be difficult to arrange, but it’s possible. However, when it comes to a wedding, you don’t get a do-over. I was shooting non-stop throughout both of my pregnancies and having terrible morning sickness and other symptoms but they couldn’t stop me (or any other professional wedding photographer) to perform any less during the wedding day.

3. Equipment, Insurance and Other Fixed Costs

Powerful cameras with 2 card spots, an equivalent back-up for that camera as well as the back-up for lighting and lenses together with various business insurances comes at a cost.  I was a newbie once, and even though I had the equipment to shoot weddings – I certainly wasn’t in the financial position to have the appropriate back-up a wedding photographer needs. Nothing happened (Thank God) but as soon as I got my paychecks from my first weddings – I began upgrading my cameras on full frame duel-memory cards, as well as, purchasing back-ups for my other equipment.

It’s normal for newbies or non-wedding photographers to not have back-up equipment, but I always recommend to my students to invest in back-up equipment as soon as they can and increase their prices to get reimbursed for that cost.  Newlyweds will be thankful, if something goes wrong, that they paid extra for that higher level of security.

In addition, there are other fixed costs (editing and accounting softwares, website maintenance, equipment wear, and multiple insurances) that you don’t need to have when you are only doing sessions.

4. “Invisible Work”

You found your wedding photographer somehow, right?  Whether it’s through a search on Google, social media, wedding blogs, wedding magazines, bridal shows… all of that marketing not only requires a photographer’s time, but in most cases, significant finances.  A typical wedding photographer spends anywhere from $5,000-$10,000 annually, just on marketing.

Therefore, a wedding photographer is not only a photographer, but also a business owner.   Most wedding photographers employ professionals, such as web designers and accouters and/or outsource part of their work to other people: editors, lawyers, web designers, business assistance, brand or social media manager, logo designers…

5. Education.

Wedding photography is a very dynamic field and the standards are always changing. A good wedding photography workshop comes at the price of  $2,000-$6,000 plus a flight/hotel. I’m a big advocate of education, and just like in any other profession it takes time and practice to build skill which comes at a cost. In wedding photography, the trends and level of technology is constantly changing at and it’s crucial to continue to educate yourself and stay up to date with the latest.  Additional factors, such as a formal art education, can provide you with a quick start and will only help to further enhance oneself and have better quality work.

6. Certain life adjustments.

Typically, wedding photographers work office hours Monday – Friday, have engagement session + consultation during some evenings and then shoot wedding on Saturday.  Being a business owner pushes you to work far beyond 40 hours a week and without a good balance weddings could easily take over your life.   Yes, working on weekends means you are missing a lot of important life events. In fact, after several years in wedding business, you start to cherish your free weekends so much – you are tying to enjoy them to the fullest no matter if you are tired or sick.  In northern cities like Pittsburgh, with wedding season that only lasts May – October, that means you are the busiest while it’s warm and nice outside. Yes, Summer goes by 3 times as fast!
I remember one of my students once asked “Kristi, do you always feel like you were beaten up when you wake up on Sunday because that’s how I feel after yesterday’s wedding?” Jokes aside, photographing a wedding can take a toll on your body and if you are a full time wedding photographer most likely you will start having problems with your back, neck, arms or wrist.  There are quite a few successful wedding photographers I know who had back surgery after spending several years in the business and some even transitioned into family or boudoir photography because of it. I always suggest to my colleagues to schedule some time off to let your body recover and avoid serious health problems. Experienced wedding photographers often set a limit of how many weddings they take in a row or set their rules about double/triple wedding weekends, but at the same time photographers in the northern states have to balance the seasonality of the wedding season.
Commitment to a certain day a year or 2 in advance. Yes, you are legally obligated to show up no matter where the life takes you!
That being said, I do not see myself doing anything else and I absolutely passionately love what I do!  There are tons of wonderful things about this job: being your own boss, creating art for a living, meeting new wonderful people, eating cakes late at night and never gain a pound after such a great cardio 😉 but hopefully I was able to summarize the main price drivers of this unique profession.


  1. Wedding photography is a hard job and you’re so amazing at it!

  2. I like your pictures so much! Style, how you work with light, editing…

  3. Great article! Not everyone knows how much work does photographer puts into actual ceremony and after process!

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