Today I wanted to talk about cheap, budget, affordable and free wedding photography. Over 350 people a month search for these terms in Google, not counting those that include their location, and I see many photographers on facebook offering budget prices, so it’s out there.
It’s time for a little honesty.
If you’re looking at this article, it may be that you’re considering booking a photographer at the budget end of the market. I don’t want to put you off this, especially if the budget is all you can afford, but I did want to dispel some myths around what you will and won’t receive.
How much is cheap? How much is budget?
The average amount of money a couple spends on photography is around £1000-£1200. So, what amount of money should be defined as “cheap” or “budget”, when looking at wedding photography?
If we could go back in time we’d have spent more money on a more experienced photographer
Average prices can be quite different depending on where you are in the UK, but as an average across England, photographers offering a full day of wedding photography for less than £750 would be “budget” photographers and less than £500 would be “cheap”.
These prices might reduce to half that in some areas UK and double in others.
Free is obviously no money at all (so we can’t disagree on that) but “affordable” is usually just a more dressed up word for “cheap”.
So now we know what we’re all talking about.
What might go wrong then?
In my experience, I’d say the experience from free, cheap and budget photographer is more likely to suffer from some or all of these problems:
- Poor quality photography; I’ve seen photographs that are out of focus, severely cropped in, extremely dark or bright, consisting of incorrect colours, badly straightened, lit ineffectively and generally not very well thought out. At best they might be quite uninteresting and not really capture any of the feel of your day. I’ll talk about this a bit more below since it’s the key point.
- Poor quality albums; There are some very cheap album manufacturers on the market. The print quality is usually OK-ish, but the album can be put together poorly and may break apart or become dog-eared quite quickly. The design might also be old fashioned and dull.
- Poor customer service; Photographers may not listen to your desires, answer your emails or, in extreme cases, might even miss your booking from their calendar or not turn up. I’ve seen all of these cases.
- Disinterested photographers; Your photographer might really just be in it for the money and do the very least they can get away with in order to deliver what’s been paid for.
- Not a real business; Your photographer may not be paying tax (which you might not care about) but they also might not be insured, not have backup equipment, not be taking backup copies of the photographs and so on.
You might be lucky though, but you might not … so this is my key point:
As price increases, overall risk of a poor experience and poor photography decreases
That doesn’t mean that a cheap photographer can’t produce some better work than a more expensive photographer, but on the whole you get what you pay for. More on this later.
Tell me more about photography quality?
I mentioned I would discuss possibly issues with photography quality in a little more detail since you may be willing to accept the other elements of an offering, like poor customer service, as long as the photos are OK.
I’d like to start with a discussion I had with a groom a few years back. He contacted me about fixing photographs taken by his wedding photographer which they were not happy with.
I’ll not include his name, but the words are directly copied from my email communication with him.
I’d like to highlight a very important parts of this exchange:
- The couple themselves realised the photography wasn’t up to standard. Considering they are not photographers, the photos were bad enough that anyone would spot the problems.
- Having a look through some of them, I could see that the photographer didn’t have even a basic command of their camera. Focus was completely off in some photos and the brightness (exposure) was significantly off too. I corrected them as much as I could, but once the shutter is pressed, there’s only so much you can do to improve the quality. If the focus is off, it will always be off. If the shot is too bright, you can’t darken it much. If the shot if too dark, brightening it will introduce grain. I would say that, of the 100, only maybe 20 were “acceptable”.
- The groom highlighted they wished they had spent more money on a more exprienced photographer.
On this particular wedding, there were also two photographers and they were using completely different cameras with different amounts of flash. This created a completely different look to the photos and colours were nearly impossible to match.
A few good photos on a website isn’t enough to determine the quality of a photographer because everyone gets lucky occasionally and you can build a portfolio out of those lucky shots
The groom was clearly sad that the photographers hadn’t managed to produce much which was usable from their wedding day and I was seriously concerned that I might not be able to do much, but I did what I could and gave them some extra work for free since I felt sad for them.
Poor quality post production
However, there are two parts to photography; taking the photo, and post production. It may be though that the photography isn’t too bad, but there is little or no work done on the photographs after. Professional photographers in the £1000+ a day bracket will usually spent 1 to 3 days finishing the photographs to ensure they are all they can be. I spend more time than anyone else I know because I realise the tiny details can really make a photograph.
“Shoot & Burn” photographers capture your wedding, get home, put them all on a disk and send them off. You are then left to choose the more flattering ones without blinks and literally no work is done to improve the photos. It’s not a great service.
It starts with incorrect assumptions
People believe they know more about photography and the photography market than they really do and they don’t see how this allows cheaper photographers to thrive.
Here are the most common assumptions.
The market must be regulated?
People believe that anyone who says they are a professional photographer can in fact do their job, but there is no regulation in this industry so anyone can say they are a professional.
“You must have a good camera as your photos are fantastic”
This is like saying “You must have a good set of knives and pans as that meal was amazing”.
The general public is convinced that a good camera makes a good photographer. This is totally incorrect. Good quality wedding photographers could produce fantastic work on a camera phone (although they might not print that large before showing artifacts). Just believe me on this.
I can judge quality from their website
A few good photos on a website isn’t enough to determine the quality of a photographer because everyone gets lucky occasionally and you can build a portfolio out of those lucky shots and I know some photographers do.
“You get what you pay for” is an incorrect statement
We’d all like to think that “you get what you pay for” isn’t really the case when we don’t want to spend on something, but on average it is true. More expensive hotels are nicer. More expensive TV’s produce a better picture. More expensive cars are more luxurious, faster and safer. The examples are everywhere.
However, as humans we convince ourselves that people charging more are not more effective. Instinctively we know it’s true, but try to convince ourselves “it’ll be OK” because, at heart, most of us are optimists about our lives.
So what to do then?
Well, firstly, I would strongly advise against going cheaper than you need to with your wedding photography. Typically, 10-20% of your budget should be for photography and ideally I wouldn’t go with less than £500 for the day. It’s at that price level I hear the most stories about.
If you can’t increase your budget, you can still choose how to spend it…
So, another option is to find a more experienced photographer who will cover a smaller part of your day since at least your ceremony and reception will be correctly captured.
… but most important is making sure you check your photographer out properly.
How to check your photographer
I’ve already mentioned that a website (or facebook page) with a few photos on is not an indicator of quality or consistency. So what do you need to be asking?
- Your photographer should have Professional Indemnity and Personal Liability insurance.
- Your photographer should have a full set of backup equipment – camera, lenses and flash guns.
- Your photographer should backup the photos to other drives or computers when they’re at home. Ideally they’ll have two card in their camera at a wedding too, to backup while they’re photographing.
- Ask how long the photographer been in business for themselves, not as assistants. After 2-3 years, they likely have enough experience to avoid the common errors.
- Ask to see several full weddings. “Full” should be defined as “at least 100 photographs from each wedding which shows all sections of the day”. I’d also ensure you see them printed or zoomed on a large monitor so you can check for grain and accuracy of focus (that the photos are sharp on the subject).
- Throughout a meeting, your photographer should be talking about other weddings they’ve done and experienced.
- Do your own research on the company on Google and look through as many weddings as possible on their facebook or website.
- Ensure you have a valid address (home or business) and active phone number, ideally a land line.
- I would also see at least 3 photographers. One should be above your budget, so you can see what quality could be like if you spent more or took a smaller part of the day.
Most importantly, if something feels wrong, don’t book.
However, it’s very hard to check out someones work and business if you’re not in the industry and know what to check for. If you have a friend who is a photographer, ask them what they think maybe?
Before you go, read my in depth article about wedding photography prices.
Isn’t every photographer cheap at some point?
Yes. It’s a good observation. Pretty much everyone starts cheap and works their way up. However, most truly professional wedding photographers tend to assist while they are learning so they start at a certain level of market, where they know they’re capable of producing results.
What’s the risk of an issue with our cheaper photographer?
It’s impossible to say without me literally assessing them for you. However, the more you spend, the lower the overall risk.
I’m not that bothered about photography so why should I care?
A good question. I can’t promise you it’ll matter to you in time; only you know that. However, please be honest with yourself and whether you’d be disappointed if you didn’t get what you expect.
What’s the worst that can happen, realistically?
You literally could receive no usable photographs. That is unlikely, but it’s been known to happen.