$5500 Wedding budget: Photography (What to do when you have $850 or less for photos)

Enough already with the tales of my own wedding, let’s get back to general wedding theorising. I think it’s more fun. Onward with my favourite wedding topic: figuring out what a average wedding would be like if people only had weddings they could afford.

If your wedding budget is $5500, you have about $850 to spend on photography. But $5500 is just the estimate for the (New Zealand) median, which means half of all people would be working with less than that. If your wedding budget was $2500, you’d have about $380 to spend on photography.

A freaking joke, right? Check this out: the price quote for A Practical “fighting the system yet sponsored by Proctor and Gamble” Wedding’s* most recent photography advertorial. The starting rate given is $2950 for 8 hours of photography. Which translates to a total wedding budget of about 19k. Which to comfortably afford means an annual post-tax income of $190k. (APW is always looking out for the little guy!)

It all seems pretty hopeless, especially when you read blog after blog talking about how photography is the most important thing. Skimp on everything else, but for the love of cake, splurge on the photography! But I offer you salvation:

1. Stellar photos aren’t actually that important. Seriously, how often are you really going to look at these photos in the future? Daily at first, then once a year? After the first decade will you stop looking at them once a year? And will your affection for them really be dependent on the quality of the photos, or will it be dependent on the happiness of your memories from that day? Do you have any old, crappy quality pictures, from say your childhood, that you love and treasure?

2. Covering every minute of the day isn’t that important. The photographers’ unaffordable ‘basic package’ starting prices have a bad habit of including 6 or 8 hours of coverage.

I submit to you that you do not need that much time. I submit to you that endless pictures of the wedding party in different poses are redundant, not to mention a waste of everyone’s time especially if it happens during the reception, by Jove. Also, who gives a crap about immortalising the moment the bride applied her eyeliner. I submit to you that there is such a thing as enough photography, and it involves a full length shot of the couple, a face shot of the couple, some family group shots, and a picture of each partner with their wedding party. The stuff after that is gravy.

3. A lot of your guests have cameras. Just because there is no professional present, doesn’t mean moments aren’t being captured. In fact, your guests might be so busy acting like a crowd of paparazzi that you’ll need to actually tell them to stop it. You know how when you have a night out with your friends, a few photos always end up getting taken?  And, you know how you never find yourself wishing, Oh, If only there had been a professional photojournalist with us to take photos of us all at Beerfest? (Bad example?)My point is, there WILL be photos of your wedding day, and they will be good enough.

So here’s what I reckon people should do: hire a professional for the length of time your budget allows for, and get your portraits taken during that time. Get the group shots that are necessary, and then spend the rest of the time you have on couple portraits, and then some photojournalism of the ceremony and  the beginning of the reception if time allows. At the reception let your guests do what people do anyway at parties, which is take photos. Ask everyone to upload their pics to a photo sharing site somewhere, or to just send them to you. Choose your favourites to collect into your own album.

The thing about all those unaffordable photography packages is that if you break it down to an hourly rate, it suddenly becomes an option to get them for an hour or two. For the photographer listed above at 8 hours for $2950, that works out at arout $370 per hour. Not that that’s what that person would charge, but it illustrates the range you’re working with. Even on a legitimately low budget, you could still have someone relatively high end do your portraits for an hour before the ceremony.

I recommend figuring out the hourly rates of various photographers, finding ones you like, and then approaching them with your numbers and asking what they can for you. The Wedding Photojournalist Association is a good place to start – it’s international, and list prices (sometimes by the hour!) of photographers with links to their websites.

That is what I did. I found a handful of photographers that charge around $200 per hour, told them I have $450 to work with, and said, What have you got? The one I chose in the end offered me 2.5 hours photography with the ferry transport to the resort included. He’s offering me something less than his normal hourly rate because, get this, the fact that my wedding is so low budget and quirky (read: short casual dress) makes it valuable to him as a photographer! It’s a sweet sweet feeling when the industry works in your favour.

*I did manage to stay off APW for quite some time after I wrote this post, and it was awesome. And then I started hate-reading it.


22 responses to “$5500 Wedding budget: Photography (What to do when you have $850 or less for photos)

  1. We got our photographers for 700€ instead of their usual 1000€ because of how our wedding is, too. The 700€ includes an engagement shoot (which they insist on because they’ve had people freak out in front of the camera during the wedding day, which I can see happening to me since I’m extremely camera shy) and two photographers for the whole day of the wedding. I think it’s an *awesome* deal.
    Having great pictures was pretty important to me because 1) I’m really into photography 2) We’re pouring our heart and souls into planning the wedding and I really want awesome pictures of everything 3) My mom and I wish to, eventually, maybe, start an event planning business. Having pictures of this event will be great publicity in that case.

    Oh and I love posts like this one! You’re the only one that talks about stuff like this 🙂

    • That’s pretty cool you get an engagement shoot with it. I can see the appeal of wanting a shoot of the two of you that’s not on your wedding day, in your wedding clothes. The thing is, not many people can finance that in the midst of paying for their wedding. Maybe sometime in the next year or two M and I will get a few professional shots taken.

      And I LOOOOVE getting comments like that one 🙂

      • Ainhoa Vega

        Yeah, having pictures of us in normal clothes will be great, although I wouldn’t have done an engagement shoot if it didn’t come in the package (and since they had already lowered their prices 30% for us I didn’t want to ask them to do a special package for even lower). Coincidentally we’re having the shoot today and we’re both pretty nervous about it! We’ll see how it goes.
        Also, I always think the photography prices APW advertise are completely crazy! I’m not saying they’re not worth it, but they don’t seem affordable for the average couple.

  2. Oooh, good luck!

    Re APW: the funny thing is, they almost always talk about the prices as if they’re really cheap. Another reminder to never trust sponsored content!

  3. One of the UK wedding blogs (I forget which one) did a survey asking how much everyone was spending on photography. The lowest option was under £1000, with the top option being more than £3000! Seriously?! We’re paying £775 and didn’t even have to try to find an awesome photographer for that price. What on earth does £3000+ get you?

  4. This was an interesting post. I feel that your outlook is very common amongst some couples. I am a wedding photographer, and part of my inner conflict with the business is that I have an undying love for people and feel that everyone deserves quality photos on their wedding day. You’re absolutely right about hiring a photographer within the timeframe and services you need. Running a photography business is however a business and photographers like myself who have life expenses, business expenses and children have to make a living somehow. All this to say that I make sure I’m affordable and offer packages that vary in timeframe and size of weddings. Yet people are often afraid to ask for what they can afford. I’ve lost a couple of clients who I would have been happy to work with around their price but didn’t want to compromise on how many hours of service. I’m all about quality over quantity, more isn’t always best. But for those who can afford $3000 and want to spend that plus more there’s value to that too. For prints, there’s a printer and printing business to be paid, for albums, there’s an bookmaker and album business to be paid, etc…Also, The time spent on wedding photography goes beyond the actual day, there’s hours of prep, equipment insurance, consolations, phone calls, emails, then editing, processing, more consolations, taxes, etc. These are all basic parts of the job that no one who worked in an office in their downtown area wouldn’t expect to get paid for. I hope this gives a little more insight. It all boils down to what really matters to the couple, but no one can dictate what that preference or priority can and should look like.

    • Thanks for chiming in. I don’t dispute that your effective hourly wage, as a photographer, is fair. It’s just that no matter how fair it is, from the consumer’s perspective, if you can’t afford it, you can’t afford it. We already have a LOT of places telling us how valuable and important photography is, and I thought it was important to point out that everything is going to be ok if you don’t have the big package.

      Since photographers can’t charge less and stay viable, and the majority of people can’t afford the big packages, we’re left with having to face the fact that the big packages are a luxury good. Like a lot of things that are constantly on wedding blogs, I would personally like it to be made explicit that the many-hours photography packages are something for a small, wealthier subset of the wedding population.

  5. Best advice: Borrow, rent, or buy a decent camera and assign a close, responsible friend or couple to be unofficial photographers. That way you have some pictures that you physically posses of your own wedding in case your photographer gets drunk and records over your ceremony pictures. You also have some in case your guests don’t give you their pictures because they are busy and it is honestly hard to remember once the wedding is over. Just tell them to take pictures as if it was their own camera, and to capture people having fun and enjoying themselves, and to put it in a safe place when they are ready to party.

    Also, we purchased an instamax wide and film (like a polaroid but less “cool”) and asked our other friends to get people to pose and sign the photo. I love them so much (almost all our guests being silly and adorable) that I seriously want to sleep with them under my pillow and snuggle them. Not bad for <$150 and I have quite a bit of leftover film.

    Honestly, I don't need 100s of photos of me in a wedding dress because I prefer photos where I am covered in mud studying crabs, seals, and the like. I do cherish the photos of those we have lost since the wedding with big smiles on their faces and seeing my aunt with his aunt and all the children making all the WTF expressions because welcome to the wedding world.

    • Dude, are you a MARINE BIOLIGIST? ❤ I do cognitive neuro. I know heaps of scientists in meatspace but I'm still geeking out a little about having a scientist comment. Because science is just cool.

      But yeah, you give good advice.

      • ❤ back at you, scientist! I am aspiring to be a professional studier of brackish and marine ecosystems, and beginning grad school to give myself more street cred and to work on my own projects. Have you found that you almost have to be embarrassed to be planning a wedding in your professional life as it is treated like the least worthy of your time thing possible? I actually think there are a surprising number of science skills that can be learned or improved by wedding planning, particularly things that scientists tend to be bad at. Graphic design (figures and presentations), data organizing (yes I made wedding pivot charts), computer programming and web development, public speaking, negotiation, engineering and creating, and, of course, dealing with stressed out and strongly opinionated people who have been drinking way too much coffee on tight deadline!

        Maybe once you are "Mission Accomplished" on the wedding you might be interested in talking about your experiences planning a wedding while being a scientist? I found it to be a very interesting duality, but maybe that's not the case for everyone. I also married a scientist, too, so I have a lot of thoughts on this:)

  6. Oh, I didn’t even complain that the awesome site I used to groupshare my wedding photos is being discontinued at the end of the month. The site, Zangzing, let multiple different people add photos to the same album with different accounts and also let everyone download hi-res versions of the pictures while being a private link. If anyone has a good suggestion of a website truly designed for photo event sharing, please let me know!

    • That’s a shame, it does sound like it does everything you need. After I researched the different options a bit, I read on some forums that there is often a really low compliance rate if you ask guests to upload their photos somewhere. Especially if that involves them having to register their own account or something. And then given that a lot of people I know like to put pics on facebook, I figured it was the path of least resistance to just ask everyone to either send us their photos directly, or to put them on facebook for us to see, and then I can request the full-res versions of the ones I like.

  7. I love this post so much I don’t know where to start. I had a “friendor” volunteer to take pictures of us getting ready, and I am so glad I didn’t waste money on getting a pro to do those (not that I was ever tempted to). We economized by asking our photographer to do less hours. Basically, from the start of the ceremony to the father-daughter dance and done.

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