How much should a wedding photographer cost? ♦ A Guide to understand UK wedding photography prices

Bride and groom advice article, An explanation of UK wedding photography prices, and how the photography pricing works.

A guide to UK wedding photography prices, based on your budget…

If I was about to get married and I was browsing the Internet without a clue of  what to look for in terms of wedding photography – I’d be sooooo confused dot com. I really can’t blame any couple in a situation like this! There are online adds screaming out All day wedding photography £500, then I go to another site and see something like Wedding photography packages starting from £1800. The UK wedding photography prices seem to be all over the shop. An acquaintance of mine charges £5’000 + for a 12 hour cover. And then there are a few top photographers that charge around…. 20 000 USD to be there for your day.

Yes I’d be confused if I was getting married.

So therefore, I think it is time that somebody made an effort in explaining to brides and grooms why the differences can be so huge. We all know the expression: “You get what you pay for”. That is true, but what are the actual components that you are paying for, when paying a wedding photographer? I mean it’s all good to say that: “He/she is such a brilliant photographer, that’s why the charge is high” – but being brilliant does not really explain anything. No, what really needs to be understood behind the wording being brilliant, is what makes it brilliant. I do apologise that I have to present you with this huge chunk of text. But if you just bare with it, there will be some really important information in here, which I am convinced will help you when browsing around for your photographer!

I just want to point our that this is a rough guide. This is a subjective article, but I am intending to be as objective and truthful as I can in giving wedding couples an understanding for what their money will buy them, built on years of researching different photographers and the wedding photography industry.

 

Firstly, what is a professional photographer?

That is a very good question. Thing is that if you train to be a dentist, you will receive a license to practice your trade. If you train to be a lawyer, you will receive a license. It doesn’t work like that in photography, very unfortunately. Your photographer is not required to have a license. For this reason, somebody who went and bought entry level equipment for about a grand, maybe took an evening course in photography and photographed a friend’s wedding – or maybe didn’t even take a course – this person can still set up a web site and claim to be a professional wedding photographer. While somebody who trained photography at University for 3 years and have been photographing weddings for the last 6 – 7 years, also will call him/herself to be a professional wedding photographer. So there you have it. There is no clear definition to what will make a photographer professional, there are no rules to it. And since the standard of photographers will fluctuate so much – so will the prices.

I would say that following 4 areas are the most essential components behind what a wedding photographer will charge – they sort of are the building blocks that make the photographer:

1: The photographer’s training and professional experience

2: A photographer’s costs and equipment investments

3: The time spent – post production is a very important factor that sets the real pros apart from the others. And if the post- processing is carried out properly, this will add significant time to the job that your photographer is doing for you – and therefore add quality to your images – and therefore affect the price a lot. And also to mention: The time your photographer will spend with you, during the preparations for your wedding and after as well as on the day – phone calls, emails, meetings, viewing sessions, creating online galleries, albums…

4: The photographer’s personal style, and the reputation that this has created for him/her

 So with these “building blocks” in mind, I will now explain what you can  roughly expect from the budget that you wish to invest in your wedding photography.

 

If Your budget is £2’500+

UK wedding photography prices

If you have set a budget starting at £2’500, you will be able to find a master from the UK wedding photography industry. However, the very top end photographers will probably start even higher for covering your whole day. ( I want to state that this is for the UK, since in some other countries the prices tend to lie a bit higher. )

With a budget that starts around £2’500 you can expect following…

  • With this kind of budget you are able to find a photographer who have built their style and skills for several years, and therefore could almost be called A brand. When I say that the top photographers have “a brand”, I mean that they are widely known for a top quality body of work – perhaps they have several other photographers and professionals in the industry admiring them, perhaps they have been published in several magazines and won several important photographic awards, and they have a very clear style and sets of skills – whatever style of wedding, you can trust that they know what they’re doing.
  • When you go through the portfolio from a photographer at this level, you should be able to see that this photographer stands out from the crowd.
  • For this budget, your photographer have probably shot hundreds of weddings – maybe thousands. They know exactly what to do in all situations on your day. They already did all their mistakes years ago.
  • Your photographer might include a very high quality album custom designed with your wedding images
  • You can expect a full day cover from morning to evening for this investment. (You could possibly be getting this photographer’s service at a lower price, but that would probably be with a shorter cover, and most likely no album/book)
  • This photographer will be very well trained. He/she may well even have a Professional Degree in photography – or if not, they have put so much time and energy in to learning and getting better during the years, so you wouldn’t notice that they haven’t got the actual formal training behind them.
  • These photographers should have the best professional, digital equipment available on the market – with top digital SLR cameras – minimum two + all lenses and accessories required.
  •  A photographer above this price range might even be using the digital range of Medium Format cameras (eg Hasselblad, Mamiya) Now, just to give you an idea, both the two photographers that charge a minimum of £5’000 and $20’000 which I mentioned in the introduction, do use these cameras for a part of the wedding day. I say part, since for obvious reasons these are not the cameras to run around with at a reception – they are too expensive for that. The digital medium format range are mainly suitable to take up the quality a notch for portraits and the ceremony. Now, what the heck is a digital Medium format you might ask your self. It’s a quite bulky and big top of the range camera which due to its size and its price, mainly will be found in commercial studios where they will be used when shooting high end fashion and billboard advertising. A camera like this together with a couple of lenses could very well add up to £50’000. So do not worry if your £4’000 photographer doesn’t use this kind of equipment. Only a very small percentage of the world’s top wedding photographers will offer the use of these cameras for their clients – to the right price. And to be honest, since the next range of cameras that most photographers will use – Top end professional, digital S LRs have very good sensors to record outstanding quality and nice details in your wedding photographs, you will not see a big difference in the result. ( Other than for huge, blown up pictures – so if you want billboards in the tube from your wedding day, then of course you should go with a Medium format photographer;))
  • The post processing will be top notch at this price level – with professional retoucher or individual image editing made by the photographer with their signature style. Post production from a full day wedding could take your photographer 50 hrs. I know top end photographers that spend so much time on each individual client to get the very best for them, so when you add up the preparation time, shooting time and post production time it adds up to well over 100 hrs.

If Your budget is £1’200-£2’500

UK wedding photography prices

  • With this kind of budget you will find an excellent and professional photographer. The photographer will either have professional training in the background, or be so good that you wouldn’t notice otherwise. The photographer probably has been photographing weddings for at least three years.
  • You might be able to get a renowned photographer from the price bracket above, for a shorter coverage – perhaps 5 or 6 hrs on a weekday or during the quiet season.
  • A full day photographer in this price bracket should be a highly professional, who knows where to be throughout the day, can recognize and understand the light and see compositions quickly, and who can show you a portfolio of images from several weddings which convey impact, quality and style.
  • What equipment to expect:
  1. Most photographers on this level will be capturing your wedding with a top end flagship digital SLR from one of the big brands.
  2. Even more important than the actual price tag on the camera – as long as the camera is a high end digital SLR with a minimum of 12 mega pixel and a professional sensor – is the actual standard of the lenses. There are lenses that for an amateur might seem to be doing exactly the same thing – because they zoom exactly the same distance and they look the same. But there might be miles between them in image quality. For example there is a 70-200 zoom lens, very good for weddings, which can be bought for either £300 or for about £1800! There is no way that a photographer at this price level should be using the £300 – option. The sharpness and detail in the final images will differ too much. I mean, if you as a client aren’t bothered about the best image quality, you could go for a cheaper wedding photographer and be photographed by the cheaper lenses and pay a lot less:).
  3. On the day, a photographer at this price range should have two camera bodies and about four lenses as a minimum. Two camera bodies is a must – it would be very unfortunate if your photographer only had one camera and it malfunctioned in the middle of your day! The different lenses are required since they give different looks and are suitable on different occasions – some shots look better wide, and some shots look better zoomed in. Even if the photographer has a favorite which is being used all the time, a couple of back up lenses are necessary, in case something happens.
  4. In addition to this, your photographer will have at least one flash unit that can be used on the top of the camera or wireless. (And perhaps extra flash or led – lights if this is required for his/her style)
  5. Your photographer should also have a certain level of equipment in his/her office. Such as: Professional computer (£800-£2500), professional image editing soft wares (from £600), back up for your images – at the minimum a double back up drive or an online cloud system. Your photographer should also have a professional screen for editing the images (£500 – 1700), together with a colour calibrator tool (from £200). As you can see, there is a lot of equipment investments to take in to account. I would say that photographers at this price range would easily have spent £10’000 – 15’000 on their equipment, or as a minimum their equipment investment probably lies around £8000.
  • The level and time spent on post production. If you don’t know about post production (image editing) yourself, I don’t think that I could ever make you begin to understand how incredibly intricate it is.:)It is just one of those things that nobody can ever fully learn to master, there are just so many different ways of doing things – I for example started using Adobe Photoshop editing programs in early 2000 and I still learn new things… – and there are constantly new softwares developing to learn new skills from. For this reason, the skills on Photoshop, Lightroom and other editing programs will vary a lot between different photographers. Some photographers at entry level might not even put your images through much post production at all – and that will definitely affect what they charge their clients. To give you an idea: A photographer at this price level will practice individual image editing, knowing how to achieve things and work with several different tools. Your photographer will probably do one of the four following things to make sure that all your images arrive at an outstanding quality: A/ Spend 30 – 50 hrs on individual image editing. B/ Hire a retoucher to do the post processing. C/ – Having practiced for so long and having worked out a personal editing system, that he/she can apply personal editing actions to speed up the process – but without loosing any end result in terms of quality. D/ Use actions and standard corrections for majority of images. But spend maybe 20 hours on perhaps just the 30 most amazing shots, to make them look like fine art prints. Bottom line is, that even though your photographer might only spend 10 hrs with you on your actual wedding day, there might be another 40 hrs spent on the computer – on top of the time for pre wedding meetings and venue checking. So bare that in mind: That a photographer of this level might be giving you 50 hrs + of his/her time, while an entry level photographer who hasn’t yet grasped post production, might just give you a total of 12 – 15hrs…

If Your budget is £700-£1’100

UK wedding photography prices

  • If this is your budget, you can still get a professional photographer. If your photographer only charges about £700 to cover your whole day, he/she might be within their first couple of years of photographing weddings, and so the photographer might still be finding their feet and therefore not have a thorough style. With other words the quality might be shifting a bit. But if you pay at least £700, your photographer should have had adequate training and a good few weddings to show you in their portfolio.
  • You could get an established professional photographer for around £1000, but perhaps the cover of your day will be shorter. (For example,if you want a  top wedding photographer, this person might photograph a couple of hrs of your day for about £1000, or other adequate professionals might cover half your day at this rate)

If Your budget is about £500

UK wedding photography prices

  • If this is your budget and you want to have the best you can get for your money, I would suggest that you find a photographer that can photograph perhaps 2, or 3 hrs for this price. That is if you want to hire somebody that has professional equipment, insurance, post production skills, a good portfolio and training behind them. Some professionals will cover small weekday weddings at this price – but their Saturdays will most likely be booked up already.
  • If you are rather looking for somebody that can cover your whole day, there is another solution for you! At this price range, you would be able to find a student photographer who is in their final year or who has recently graduated, or a person just starting up their business. Then at least the person you’re hiring will have some experience with photographing. Although you have got to understand that there could be some hit or miss involved:
  1. The person might not have photographed any weddings or perhaps just a couple of weddings before and might miss important moments.
  2. For obvious reasons, this person will probably not have been able to invest in proper equipment yet, so they might be using an under-performing camera and not the best lenses – perhaps the images won’t be backed up, and perhaps the person photographing will only have one camera and one – two lenses on your day, and something could go wrong. So there might be some risk involved.

If Your budget is about £200 – 300

UK wedding photography prices

With all the information above explaining that professional photographers invest between £5000 – £50’000 (depending on their level) on their equipment alone – and perhaps 40 hrs on post processing of your images + lots of time for preparations and research, it is not very likely that a photographer charging £200 – 300 will have professional equipment, training behind them or insurance. If this is your budget I will suggest one of the following:

  • A/ Research different photographers and see if you can find a photographer to cover just a portrait session with you and your partner and/or ceremony shots. (1 – 2 hrs of photography)
  • B/ Pay a keen amateur friend or an amateur uncle who has a half decent camera the couple of hundred pounds, to be responsible for the photographs on your day. This could be an option if it isn’t that important to you what the photographs will actually look like, but you just want to make sure that somebody brought a camera and took on the responsibility to operate it.
As a rule of thumb…..
When budgeting for a wedding photographer, a good measurement to have is to allocate roughly 10% of your whole budget on your photography. Then of course, if you really loooove photography, you can increase the percentage here, and perhaps save on something else if your budget isn’t that big. It works equally the other way as well – if the photography isn’t the top priority for your day, then there probably isn’t enough reason for you to spend a higher percentage of your budget for it.
A LAST WORD…
Louise Bjorling wedding photographer
I hope that this little article has been to some kind of help in regards of your search for a wedding photographer. I got the idea for the theme in this article when I recently met with a couple and one of their questions was: “So what would you say would be the most important thing for a client to look for in a wedding photographer?” My first thought was that the question was too difficult – there are just so many things to look for in a wedding photographer. Then I realised what a vulnerable situation many clients are in. While us photographers can look at one and other’s work and know exactly what it is that we’re looking at – it can be very difficult for non – photographers to know what to look for; how to see if quality is good or bad and to see what something should be worth.
My suggestion is to spend a good amount of time looking at different styles of photography, try to understand the quality of the images and start making opinions on what it is you like/dislike about certain images – in order to start to understand what you yourself, want for your wedding day. When comparing prices, look at the images as well – and in many cases it probably will become evident why one photographer charges a lot more than another.
And if you have any questions or anything to add at all, please drop me a line or leave a comment!

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