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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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FAQ

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.

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  1. Rob Dodsworth robdodsworth.co.uk
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    Great post Phil. I was asked to “fix” some photos last year. Even if I had permission from that photographer to edit his work, I couldn’t have improved them much. They were soft, underexposed and extremely noisy. I really felt for the couple. There’s some really sound advice here for the Bride and Groom to be!

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Wedding photography is a particularly insular business, with very few talking outside of their small groups of trusted photographer friends and most working alone.

This situation doesn’t help anyone. Sometimes it’s good to know that other people are struggling with what you’re struggling with, just to make it a little easier to deal with.

With that in mind, I decided to do the first UK wedding photography business survey to understand where photographers are at the moment with their businesses. It was enlightening!

You can see the key points on the infographic above.

What are the key lessons?

What do I take from it? Here are some thoughts:

  • Photographers are more confident than they were 3 years ago. That’s great news!
  • Photographers really enjoy their jobs! (But they’d really prefer not to have to choose images, or do admin and finance).
  • The vast majority of photographers are managing to earn a living from their photography business, with some reporting they are even earning more than they need. However, I think it’s fair to say that few are getting rich.
  • Photographers still believe the market is over saturated, with too many amateurs offering cheap deals and discounts for very little cost. That is having an effect on their ability to charge a real living wage for a quality product. It encourages customers to price shop, rather than quality / style being their priority.
  • Many photographers mentioned they would like the industry to be licensed and regulated in order to reduce the occurrence of poor quality photographers.
  • Marketing is the key area that all photographers still struggle with, with many noting they can’t seem to find their customers.
  • It was very encouraging to read that 83% of photographers will do what it takes to make their business succeed. That’s a very positive statistic! Businesses that don’t welcome change generally don’t succeed.
  • It was interesting to read that a third of photographers still haven’t done any training whatsoever, but it was telling to find that only 13% of training was rated as “all fantastic” and with nearly 25% being in the poorer category. Clearly, trainers are not doing all they can.

Conclusion

I would say that wedding photography is not a broken business model, which I hear discussed at times. In fact, only 5% of people ticked that option. There is plenty to be look forward to in the future if wedding photographers are willing to develop their skills and improve all areas of their businesses.

My one question mark from all of this is that regulation of an industry can reduce the amount of amateurs, it’s true. However, improving your own business in all areas will do the same job. Regulation has never been talked about, so I wouldn’t wait on it.

I’d like to thank everyone for being involved in this project and hope it’s useful for the UK wedding photography community.

What next?

Find out more about the business of wedding photography in my article to help photographers understand how to run a business.

And if you like this… sign up for my newsletter to find out more about SEO, marketing, business, post production, photography skills and training opportunities.

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  1. Reply

    Great article, really interesting to read. 🙂 Thanks

  2. SHARON MALLINSON WWW.SYMPLYPHOTOGRAPHY.CO.UK
    Reply

    What a fascinating article – thanks for sharing!

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We’ve all got our ideas about what is right or wrong in our businesses, but as someone who has trained and mentored many photographers, I can confirm there are common mistakes that new and old businesses alike make.

So. Here we are.. it’s the countdown which could save your livelihood!

10. You’re copying others

It’s very easy to copy others. However, the rarer something (good) is, the more people want it and the more you can charge. Conversely, the more generic something is, the easier it is for customers to price shop.

Instead of doing what others are doing, offer something different in:

  • Sales
  • Marketing
  • Branding & website
  • Customer service
  • Photography style & quality
  • Products

Know your competition so you can steer clear of them and constantly re-appraise your competitive market every 6 months to see what they’re doing.

9. You’re ignoring SEO & social media

More and more brides are finding their photographers online. Wedding magazines are largely a thing of the past now, as an advertising medium, but SEO and social media are right where people are.

So, you need to put aside time to work on your online presence. Hint: pinterest is great!

8. You’re scared of change

Businesses that stand still are actually moving backwards because others are moving forwards. An example of this issue was a videographer I spoke to, whose business was failing. I pointed out most videographers had moved to DSLRs but he gave a long list of reasons that he couldn’t switch, none of which were really real.

So, every year, look to improve something in your photography business. Write down the areas of your business which are in the worst state and aim to fix 2 or 3 of them a year.

7. You’re not shooting for you

To keep yourself fresh and full of ideas and enthusiasm, you should shoot for yourself at least once a month. Have pet projects which will allow you to see photography in a slightly different way and which can feed back into your paid work.

You have a long career ahead of you, so enjoy some of it!

6. You’re wasting your advertising budget

It’s common in business to hear that advertising should cost you around 10% of what make back. If you are paying thousands in blog advertising, magazine advertising, wedding fayres, ineffective adwords campaigns and so on, and you’re not making at least a 5 fold return on your investment, you should be looking elsewhere.

Do the figures and always know where your customers have come from. Cancel those advertising streams which simply aren’t worth it.

5. You don’t have a financial plan

70% of wedding income might be over the summer. Plan to avoid cash-flow issues with ideas such as:

  • Have other winter work (training, portraits, specialise in winter weddings, go abroad and shoot in their summer).
  • Pay yourself a set monthly salary and leave the remaining money in your business.
  • Produce a budget forecast for the coming year with income and known outgoings – including tax. This helps spot months you might need more income, and help you understand what salary you can afford.
  • And finally… put some extra money into savings for a rainy day.

4. You underestimate the importance of brand

People tend to find it hard to look at what they themselves have and so often disregard the importance of a clear and strong brand in the modern market. 30 years ago customers would look in their yellow pages for the three local photographers, but these days they can easily see hundreds.

Your brand needs to stand you apart and be an honest reflection of your business ideals.

3. You don’t know your profit

“Turnover is vanity, profit is sanity” is a truism in business. Too many photographers focus on income without considering true profit – or if you’re really on it, your take home pay. Do you know how much all of your products cost?

Typical costs you should know and plan for include:

  • Albums, prints & samples
  • Travel & accommodation
  • Training
  • Equipment & repairs
  • Insurance & professional fees
  • Accountancy & bank / paypal fees
  • Telephony
  • PC & online software
  • Website, branding, & hosting
  • Advertising
  • IT (computer, storage & backup)

2. You’re fixated on kit

If you find yourself asking your favourite photographer crush “what lens they used for this shot”, you might be a kit addict.

Don’t worry.. it’s common among photographers. It’s true that equipment does matter, but it should not occupy your every waking moment, and if your business is failing, it’s the last thing you should be looking it. Instead, spend money on learning about and improving your brand, sales and marketing.

Only ever buy equipment which will provide you with a clear return on investment.

1. You have no business plan

I’m constantly surprised to find that photographers don’t have a business plan; if that’s you, you’re in good company since I’ve yet to come across a single photographer who does have one.

Decide where you want to be in 3 years time, and work back from there; work out where you need to be in 2 years to achieve your 3 year goals, then work out where you need to be in 1 year, then 6 months and 3 months. Constantly update this to give yourself quarterly goals which head you in the right direction.

If you don’t have a goal to head for, the only guarantee is that you won’t achieve it.

Any questions?

I hope this has been useful. If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments. In the meantime, you might like to sign up for my newsletter, if you’ve not already done so.

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