According to The Knot, the average cost of an American wedding was about $28,000 in 2019. Wedding photography and videography account for $2,400 and $1,800, respectively, or about 15% of the total.
Professional-grade wedding memories are expensive. If you’re fretting about how you’re going to pay for them, use these tips for getting cheap (or at least cheaper) professional wedding photography and videography to help save money on your wedding.
How to Save on Wedding Photographers and Videographers
Use these tips and tricks to reduce the cost of a professional wedding photographer or videographer without sacrificing the quality of the finished product.
1. Set Up a Photography and Videography Registry or Fund
You’ve heard of a wedding gift registry. Why not open a separate wedding media registry through which guests and apologetic no-shows can chip in toward your photography and videography costs?
DIY registries or funds offer more control over contributions. For instance, you can expand them to include general wedding and post-wedding expenses. They’re a straightforward option if an affordable honeymoon is a top priority.
Plus, if guests contribute to your media registry or fund in lieu of gifts, you don’t have to devote as much energy to regifting, returning, or selling unwanted gifts online after the big day.
2. Tap Your Personal Network
If you want your official wedding photos and videos to look truly amazing, you don’t want to give the job to a random guest whose top qualification is an above-average Instagram account.
But you may know or know someone who knows professional or qualified amateur photographers and videographers capable of producing professional-grade material.
Depending on the strength of your connection, you may be able to secure a friend or family discount for those services, even if they’re already established as professionals in your area. The depth of this discount is sure to vary, but in my experience, 5% or even 10% off full price isn’t unreasonable.
For instance, we worked with my wife’s former classmate, who’d recently established a professional photography business with her husband. They gave us a small discount and didn’t charge for travel to and from the reception site, as was apparently customary for other jobs in their rural hometown.
Qualified nonprofessionals or rising professionals, such as recent film or visual arts school graduates without practices of their own, may be willing to work for even less, especially if they’re able to build their profile or meet new prospects as a result.
Just make sure they have adequate equipment, enough help, and enough prior experience to pull off a big job. As with anyone you hire, check out their previous work first.
3. Get Multiple Quotes to Compare Pricing and Service
When buying a car, you don’t jump at the first offer you see. You compare multiple offers for comparable vehicles, weighing the relative pros and cons until you arrive at an informed decision you’re reasonably confident you won’t regret.
The scale of your wedding media investment might be smaller, but your decision’s consequences echo even further into the future. Spend as long as it takes thoroughly researching photographers in your area and requesting quotes (if they don’t provide pricing upfront) from all who seem in line with your general tastes and budget.
You can jump-start the research process by attending a wedding fair near the area you plan to get married. They typically occur before the wedding season begins and can attract hundreds of service providers (including photographers and videographers) from miles around.
4. Check References
Once you’ve narrowed your choices to a few finalists, thoroughly check them out, just as you’d run a Carfax report on a used car before buying it from a random person (or a sketchy dealership, for that matter).
Read online reviews, evaluate their posted work, and connect with people who’ve recently used their services. And don’t be afraid to ask them directly for references.
Though checking references can’t reduce the final cost of your wedding photography and videography, it can increase the chances of satisfaction.
You can’t do your wedding over. Paying a bit more for wedding media you love is an investment in the fond memory of what’s hopefully one of the happiest days of your life.
5. Get a Personal Use Release
Your wedding photographer and videographer is almost certain to keep the copyright to your media, meaning you can’t use your wedding photos or videos for your own commercial purposes.
But most photographers and videographers readily agree to personal use releases that allow clients to reproduce photos and videos for personal use, sharing among friends, and posting on social media.
If your provider’s contract doesn’t explicitly spell that out, ask them to add it. And think twice about working with any provider who says no.
A personal use release removes any doubt about your ability to order reprints or copies in the future, ideally from a discount merchant (such as a drugstore) that charges much less than your photography or videography studio.
6. Stick to a Lower-Priced Package
Most wedding photographers and videographers offer basic packages like ceremony coverage plus pre-reception wedding party shots.
These packages include fewer add-ons and frills, such as gratuitous shots of the bride in their wedding dress and personal shoots for bridesmaids. In some cases, their standard arrangement covers just the shoot itself plus an online gallery or image DVD.
By providing just the bare essentials and giving you the flexibility to choose how (and whether) to order additional products, such as bound albums or wall prints, the basic package gives you greater control over your total photography and videography costs. It also allows you to spread your investment over a longer period.
And if you choose to order additional products later, you can likely do so at a lower cost online or at a brick-and-mortar photo shop provided you have a personal use release.
Photography and videography package costs vary tremendously by factors such as provider quality and reputation and geography.
Louisiana’s Love Photography is an excellent example of the often vast discrepancy between basic and deluxe photography packages. Its basic package costs $999. The next-highest package costs $1,320, and the most expensive package costs $2,945.
7. Look for Professional (but Less Established) Independents
If your wedding media’s quality is even a remote concern, resist the temptation to source an unvetted amateur from Craigslist or your wedding guest list, no matter how tight your budget. You’re more likely to be disappointed with the results.
But it is possible to find professional-grade work at nonprofessional prices.
Up-and-coming photography and videography professionals are often willing to work for less than what more established professionals charge. They’re frequently just out of school or ready to move up from assistant roles and launch their own independent businesses.
8. Book Early
Not all wedding photographers and videographers offer early-bird discounts, but it never hurts to ask. Just be realistic about what early means in the world of wedding planning, which is probably no later than six months before the big day.
Make a point to reserve your wedding photography and videography around the same time you book your wedding venue if you’re not arranging them through the same vendor.
9 Ask for an Off-Peak Discount
Many people get married on Saturdays. If you’re willing to buck the crowd and organize a weekday (Monday through Thursday) wedding, ask photographer and videographer candidates for an off-peak discount.
Depending on local customs and the providers’ whims, it’s not unreasonable to expect a 10% or 15% discount off the final bill for a midweek shindig. For example, our engagement photographer, who also did weddings, cut 15% off her bill for Monday-through-Thursday weddings.
The same principle applies to off-season weddings in regions with sharply defined wedding seasons. If you’re scheduling a February wedding in Boston or Chicago, it never hurts to ask for a discount. But winter weddings are increasingly popular, so don’t be surprised by a refusal.
There are other potential financial benefits to weekday and off-season weddings too, such as venue and catering discounts.
10. Ask for Referral Discounts or Credits
Don’t be shy about asking your photographer or videographer for referral discounts or credits. Many professionals readily offer kickbacks, either as a discount to the final service bill or credits for future orders, to current or prior customers who refer new business.
You don’t have to shill for them at your wedding, but if you know anyone who’s planning their wedding, you can suggest your photographer or videographer.
It works in the other direction too. If friends refer you to their wedding media provider, you may qualify for a discount.
Discounts and credits vary by factors such as vendor and location, but $25, $50, or even $100 isn’t outside the realm of possibility. For example, our engagement photographer offered $50 off for referrals who purchased photography packages.
11. Look for Custom Packages
In the rush to get ready for the big day, it’s easy to surrender to the simplicity of preset photo or video packages, which tell you precisely what you’re getting and how much it’s going to cost. However, preset packages often include unnecessary services or add-ons, and providers aren’t always willing to customize on the spot.
To avoid paying more than you should, look for providers that offer custom packages. These packages typically have minimal conditions.
For example, you can choose how many hours the provider works on your wedding day, and you get all your images in electronic format. But beyond that, the services rendered and deliverables (such as albums) are up to you.
Larger custom packages sometimes qualify for discounts. For instance, Atlanta-based Amanda Summerlin Photography, a high-end photography studio, knocks 5% off custom packages of $3,900 or more, 10% off custom packages of $4,600 or more, and 15% off custom packages of $5,700 or more.
12. Book Photography and Videography With the Same Provider
Not all photography studios offer videography services, nor vice versa. But if you choose a provider capable of shooting professional-grade photo and video, look into combined photography and videography packages, which can cost hundreds of dollars less than separate photography and videography jobs.
13. Avoid Nonlocal Photographers and Videographers
Unless you’re having a destination wedding in a remote area, avoid working with nonlocal providers. Out-of-area photographers and videographers often add mileage or airfare to the cost of their services, potentially raising the final bill by hundreds of dollars.
Even if your provider doesn’t explicitly add travel costs to your final bill, they’re likely built into its margins, and your total cost is therefore likely to be higher than what a comparable local provider would charge.
14. Work With Venue-Preferred and Recommended Providers
If you’re planning your nuptials at a wedding venue that’s accustomed to hosting weddings, inquire about preferred or recommended photographers and videographers.
Some venues have a de facto referral system. The venue drives business to favored vendors, who then offer discounted services or special packages.
Some larger venues even have staff photographers and videographers that work closely with onsite wedding planners and build their fees into the total cost of the event.
Further, such providers are likely familiar with the specific venue and already know the best sites for shots.
15. Limit Your Photographer’s and Videographer’s Hours
Some photographer and videographer packages include a specific number of hours of coverage, usually four to seven. Before hiring your provider and choosing your package, determine how long you need them to be present.
You probably want to capture high points like the walk down the aisle, exchange of vows, post-ceremony procession, and cake cutting, but do you really need professional shots of the rehearsal dinner, the bride getting ready, distant family members, or the later stages of your reception party?
Choose your package accordingly, and don’t be afraid to ask for modifications. For example, if you don’t need reception photos or videos at all, your provider may be willing to bail right after the customary post-ceremony wedding party shots.
16. Limit Your Photography and Videography Staff Size at Smaller Weddings
It isn’t always possible with larger or logistically complex weddings with multiple shooting sites or challenging conditions.
But if you expect fewer than 75 guests at your wedding and plan a relatively traditional ceremony and reception, your provider may be willing to send only a lead photographer or videographer, forgoing the assistants and interns who often help with setup, shooting, and equipment-ferrying at larger events.
Depending on the provider, that could reduce your service bill by a few hundred dollars.
17. Order Fewer, Smaller Finished Photos
Because they’re easier to frame and look better on display, larger wedding pictures typically cost a lot more than wallet-size or small frame-size (4-inch-by-6-inch or 5-inch-by-7-inch).
If you place a finished photo order with your photography studio, stick to the smaller sizes or purchase only a few larger photos for display in your home. Resist the temptation to send a large framed photo to every member of your wedding party or aunt and uncle who made it to the ceremony.
If you do want larger photos down the line, you can use your online proofs to place an order with a discounted service or buy from your provider when your budget has recovered from the trauma of the wedding.
18. Lose the Leather Binding and Hard Pages
Wedding photo albums are pricey — really pricey. When purchased a la carte, high-end wedding albums (think bound leather albums with rigid pages) can cost up to $1,000, according to Zola. Larger sizes are especially pricey.
While it’s nice to have a weighty tome of wedding memories to pull out for your houseguests and future kids, it’s possible to achieve similar results at a lower cost.
Opt for a simpler magazine-style album with glossy, flexible pages. The quality of the quality is similar, as is the durability of the paper, which is critical if you plan to share your wedding memories with your children and grandchildren.
19. Don’t Order a Proof Book
Many photographers offer proof books, which allow you to review the photos they’ve taken and select your favorites before ordering your final prints.
The catch is that you often pay for the proof book too. Our wedding photographer advised us we’d pay an extra $100 if we wanted a proof book. We told her to skip it and send us a selection of digital files to review (for free).
Unless you wish to keep the book in lieu of a bound album, you can do the same.
20. Crowdsource Photos and Videos From Your Guests to Create an Album or Folio
If you want a professional-grade memento of your big day, cutting out the photographer or videographer altogether isn’t a viable option. But you can still pair a less extravagant professional wedding package and fewer pro photos with a free or low-cost crowdsourced photo campaign.
Before the ceremony, either on your invitations or in your wedding program, invite your guests to snap photos or take videos with their smartphones and post them to social media or an online space.
Brides magazine has a comprehensive list of useful wedding photo-sharing apps, some more expensive than others. If you tell your guests to post photos to social media, give them a unique wedding hashtag to make it easy to find the photos. It’s usually some variation on the wedding couple’s names plus the year.
Make it clear they can be as creative as they please as long as they don’t disrupt the service. Or let the pros handle the wedding and invite the guests to get artistic at the reception.
If you worry about phones or photos getting lost in the shuffle, place disposable cameras on each table and ask patrons to place them in a designated box or bowl when the festivities are over. The results won’t win any awards, but they’re sure to be entertaining — and as time goes on, even poignant.
21. Pay With a Cash-Back or Rewards Credit Card
No matter what your final wedding media bill comes to, you can marginally reduce the sticker shock (and budgetary carnage) by paying with a cash-back credit card.
Though wedding photography and videography rarely fall into favored spending categories, such as grocery store or gas purchases, they’re still good for the baseline earning rate.
For example, by paying your photographer and videographer with Chase Freedom Unlimited (unlimited 1.5% cash back on most purchases, including wedding photography and videography) or Citi Double Cash (unlimited 2% cash back) card, you can knock the final cost of a $2,000 bill down to $1,970 and $1,960, respectively.
Professional photo and video services aren’t cheap. The Knot’s survey showed the average American couple spends more than $4,000 to document their special day when they opt for both.
Fortunately, your wedding day is probably going to be the high point of your professional media-buying career. Even if you and your spouse spring for newborn baby photos, periodic family portraits, and high school graduation photos for your kids, you won’t ever spend as much on photo and video as you do on your wedding day.