According to The Knot, the average American wedding costs $31,213. Wedding photography and videography account for 10% to 12% of that total, on average: $3,121 to $3,746, give or take.
To be sure, millions of couples shell out less for quality wedding media. My own wedding wasn’t bare-bones by any stretch, but we spent less than half the national average on professional photography and videography without compromising quality. And it goes without saying that not everyone can afford a $4,000-plus wedding media bill.
Still, there’s no way around it: Professional-grade wedding memories are expensive. If you’re fretting about how you’re going to pay for them, consider these tips for getting cheap (or at least, cheaper) professional wedding photography and videography – and seriously saving money on your wedding.
How to Save on Wedding Photographers & Videographers
1. Consider a Photography/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? Some high-end photography and videography studios offer this service directly, or you can go the DIY route and launch a crowdfunding campaign on GoFundMe, Kickstarter, or another reputable platform.
DIY registries or funds offer more control over contributions. For instance, you can expand the purview to include general wedding and post-wedding expenses. This is a great option if an affordable honeymoon is a top priority. Another bonus: If guests contribute to your media registry or fund in lieu of gifts, you won’t have to devote as much energy to re-gifting, returning, or selling unwanted gifts online after the big day.
Pro Tip: Crowdfunding isn’t for lovebirds only. Increasingly, it’s a viable option for entrepreneurs looking to raise money for nascent enterprises. Our post on equity crowdfunding takes a deep dive into a unique form of crowdfunding made possible by the landmark JOBS Act.
2. Tap Your Personal Network
If you want your official wedding photos and videos to look truly amazing, you don’t want to give your job to a random guest whose top qualification is an above-average Instagram account. However, you may know – or at least have in your extended network – 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 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, be sure to check out their prior 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 cars, weighing the relative pros and cons of each, until you arrive at an informed decision that you’re reasonably confident you won’t regret.
The scale of your wedding media investment might be smaller, but your decision’s ramifications reverberate even further into the future. Spend as long as it takes thoroughly researching photographers in your area and requesting quotes (if pricing isn’t provided upfront) from all who seem in line with your general tastes and budget.
A good way to jump-start the research process is to attend a wedding fair near where you plan to get married. They’re typically held before wedding season begins and can attract hundreds of service providers (including photographers and videographers) from miles around.
Pro Tip: Couples do all sorts of things to raise money for the big day. If your two-car household is short on funds as you approach the big day, consider selling the older vehicle in a private party transaction. You’re virtually certain to net more than you would in a trade-in or outright sale to a dealership, with which your negotiating power is limited or nonexistent.
4. Check References
Once you’ve narrowed your choices to a few finalists, thoroughly check them out – just as you’d run a VIN check on a used car. Read online reviews, review their posted work, seek out people who’ve recently used their services. And don’t be afraid to ask them directly for references.
Though checking references by itself can’t reduce the final cost of your wedding photography and videography, it can increase the chances that you, your spouse, and your loved ones are satisfied with the outcome. After all, you can’t do your wedding over. Paying a bit more for wedding media that you can truly be proud of – and that you’re more likely to view, copy, and cherish for years to come – is an investment in the fond memory of what’s hopefully to be 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. However, 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 this out, don’t be afraid to ask for it to be added, and think twice about working with any provider that doesn’t go along with your request. 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 with fewer add-ons and frills. 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, and allows you to spread your investment out over a longer period of time. And remember, if you do choose to order additional prints, videos, or any other products at a later date, 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 provider quality and reputation, geography, and other factors. Louisiana’s Love Photography is a good example of the wide discrepancy between basic and deluxe packages. Its “Basics” package costs about $1,000, the next-highest package costs just over $1,300, and the most expensive package costs nearly $3,000.
7. Look for Professional (But Less Established) Independents
If your wedding media’s workmanship is even a remote concern, resist the temptation to source a non-vetted amateur from Craigslist or your wedding guest list, no matter how tight your budget. You’re more likely than not to be disappointed with the results.
That said, it is possible to find professional-grade work at nonprofessional prices. Ascendant 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. The best place to find these types, and verify their credentials, is on reputable job boards (such as Indeed or Monster) and freelance job websites (such as Upwork).
8. Ask for an Off-Peak Discount
Most 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.
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. That said, winter weddings are increasingly popular, so don’t be surprised by a refusal. Keep in mind that there are other potential financial benefits to weekday and off-season weddings too, such as venue and catering discounts.
9. 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 own wedding, why not tacitly suggest your photographer or videographer?
This 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 vendor, location, and other factors, but $25, $50, or even $100 isn’t outside the realm of possibility.
10. 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 exactly 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 – 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 10% off custom packages of $3,500 or more, and 20% off custom packages of $4,900 or more.
11. Book Photography and Videography With the Same Provider
Not all photography studios offer videography services, nor vice versa. However, if you do end up choosing 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 separately ordered photography and videography jobs. Philadelphia-based Bella Pictures knocks $300 off its videography services (normally $1,995) when you add a photography package.
12. Avoid Non-local Photographers and Videographers
Unless you’re having a destination wedding in a remote area, avoid working with non-local providers if at all possible. Out-of-area photographers and videographers often add mileage or airfare onto 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.
13. Work With Venue-Preferred/Recommended Providers
If you’re planning your nuptials at a 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, 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.
14. Limit Your Photographer’s and Videographer’s Hours
Some photographer and videographer packages include a specific number of hours, usually four to seven. Before hiring your provider and choosing your package, determine exactly how long they need to be present. You probably want to capture high points such as the walk down the aisle, the exchange of vows, the post-ceremony procession, and the cake cutting, but do you really need professional shots of the rehearsal dinner, the bride getting ready, 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.
15. Limit Your Photography and Videography Staff Size at Smaller Weddings
This isn’t always possible with larger or logistically complex weddings with multiple shooting sites or challenging conditions. However, if you expect fewer than 75 attendees 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 typically help with setup, shooting, and equipment ferrying at larger events. Depending on the provider, this could reduce your service bill by a few hundred dollars.
16. Order Smaller, Fewer Finished Photos
Because they’re easier to frame and look better on display, larger photos typically cost a lot more than wallet-size or small-frame size (4″ x 6″ or 5″ x 7″). If you place a finished photo order with your photography studio, stick to the smaller sizes, or purchase just a very small number of larger photos for display in your home. Resist the temptation to send a large framed photo to every member of your wedding party, or even 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 discounter, or buy from your provider when your budget has recovered from the trauma of the wedding.
17. Lose the Leather Binding and Hard Pages
Wedding photo albums are pricey – really pricey. When purchased à la carte, bound leather albums with rigid pages can easily cost $500, and larger sizes are often even pricier.
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 workmanship is similar, as is the durability of the paper – which is critical if you plan on sharing your wedding memories with your children and grandchildren.
18. 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. You can then order finished photos in the style and configuration of your choosing.
The catch is that the proof book itself often isn’t free. Expect it to cost $100 or more, depending on the photographer and the total number of proofs. Unless you wish to keep the book in lieu of a bound album, skip it and review your proofs online (for free) instead.
19. Crowdsource Photos & 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. However, what you can do is pair a less extravagant professional package and fewer post-wedding photo orders with a free or low-cost crowdsourced-photo campaign.
Prior to 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 to social media or an online space (such as a Dropbox folder or Flickr group) you’ve carved out for the purpose. Make it clear that they can be as creative as they please, as long as they don’t disrupt the service.
At your reception, extend the same invitation – or, if you worry about phones getting lost in the shuffle, place disposable cameras on each table and ask patrons to place them in a designated receptacle 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.
20. Pay With a Cash Back (or Other 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 cards’ favored spending categories, such as grocery store or gas purchases, they’re still good for the baseline earning rate.
Look at it this way: By paying your photographer and videographer with Chase Freedom Unlimited (unlimited 1.5% cash back) or Citi Double Cash Card (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. If you believe The Knot, the average American couple spends more than $4,000 to document their special day.
The good news is that 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.
What other ideas can you suggest to control the costs of wedding photography?