The cost of a wedding photographer is a beast of a topic to tackle! According to BRIDES magazine, the national range is as wide as $1,000 to $10,000 for a wedding photography package. This is not a helpful statistic if you’re trying to budget. The majority of wedding photographers run independent companies. Their packages vary based on business costs, what they include, their skill level and experience, business model, and even variables like local cost of living and regional demand. Virginia is a highly competitive region for wedding photography, where pricing varies drastically. This is predominantly due to the cost of living variance between northern, southern, and central Virginia, as well as the abundance of photographers in the state. In this article, we’re going to break down how much a wedding photographer costs in Virginia. To be thorough, we’ll look by region, experience, skill, and other variables like your wedding size and budget.
The average cost of a wedding photographer
National averages aren’t the most helpful when it comes to setting your budget. But, it’s great to start with context! The Knot estimates the average cost of a wedding photographer in the US is $2,400 to $3,200, while Zola suggests you can expect to spend 10-12% of your budget on wedding photography. The average price of a wedding photographer is not necessarily what you’ll end up spending. Deciding how much to spend on wedding photography is all about what you value and can afford. The biggest factors that impact your wedding photography cost are going to be what’s included in the package, and how experienced your photographer is. Next, let’s break down the wedding photography market in Virginia.
Wedding Photography Prices in Virginia by Region
Virginia is full of variety. Whether its cost of living, career opportunities, politics, population, or wedding cost, the regions of Virginia have distinct differences. For instance, we know the average household income in Northern Virginia is almost TRIPLE the average income for Southern Virginia. The difference between average wedding budgets in Northern Virginia and Southwest Virginia is nearly 40%! This is why I’m breaking down the cost of wedding photography by region.
Keep in mind, these are regional averages and generalizations. There’s always going to be people that break the mold in an industry with this much variety and independence. There’s also photographers who work in all these regions, nationally, and even internationally! The rest of the article will help put these pricing brackets into perspective, and explain why some photographers may not fit in these boxes. Let’s dig in.
Wedding Photography Prices in the Shenandoah Valley and Central Virginia
Of course, I’m starting with Central VA! If you are new here, I am based in Staunton, Virginia. Staunton is about 30 minutes equidistant from the college towns of Harrisonburg and Charlottesville, located in the central Virginia region. It’s considered a relatively rural area, though not as rural as south and southwest Virginia. This is where I learned wedding photography and have the most knowledge on the local industry.
In general, wedding photographers in Central Virginia charge just above the national average. You will find professional wedding photographers with several years of experience and a nice client experience for around $2,800 to $4,200 for a wedding package, depending on what’s included. New and inexperienced photographers may charge $1,000 to $2,000. Charlottesville, Winchester, and Lynchburg areas are likely to see higher average pricing than places like Rockingham and Augusta county. Predominantly, this is due to cost of living. Photographers with substantial experience, exceptional skill, who offer a higher level or customer experience, or who specialize in luxury weddings may charge $5,000 – $8,000.
Wedding Photography Prices in Northern Virginia
Northern Virginia is the most expensive region of VA for cost of living. Wedding photography prices in Northern VA (or NOVA) are no exception. With its proximity to DC and a plethora of luxury wedding venues, total wedding cost in NOVA is exponentially higher than the rest of Virginia. The demand in the area is higher, so photographers may increase their prices as their calendars fill up. Brand new wedding photographers may still charge in the $1,000 to $2,500 range as they build a portfolio. The average cost of a wedding photographer in Northern Virginia is around $3,200 to $5,200. Luxury and fine art wedding photographers may charge upwards of $10,000 to $14,000.
Wedding Photography Prices in Richmond and Hampton Roads Virginia
While technically separate regions, the eastern side of Virginia–Richmond, Hampton Roads, and the eastern shore–are similar for the sake of demographics and wedding photography cost. You’re going to find a range of prices and wedding photography packages that fall between the costs in Northern and Central Virginia. An established professional will be in the range of $3,000 to $5,000, while high end and in-demand photographers may cost $6,000 to $10,000. Like Central Virginia, prices may be higher in come cities. Richmond has the highest cost of living in this area.
Wedding Photography Prices in Southern and Southwest Virginia
The southern parts of Virginia have the lowest cost of living and lowest population. In general, the venues there are more rustic, with lots of barn-style venues, vineyards, breweries, and churches. Photographers who live there tend to charge less than the rest of the state. Professional wedding photography in southern Virginia averages $2,000 to $3,200, while highly experienced photographers in this area may charge $4,000 to $7,000.
What does a wedding photographer cost in Staunton Virginia?
Finally, I’m glad you asked! Wedding photography prices in Staunton vary just like anywhere else. Your average wedding photography package for moderately experienced professional photographers runs about $2,600 to $4,200. Personally, my packages for elopements start at $1,800 and weddings average about $3,800 with engagement session included. After we talk about wedding plans, I typically make each couple a custom proposal based on their specific needs. However, my standard packages are available to the public! I believe in transparency. I don’t want to rope you into a call, just for you to feel frustrated later if I’m not in budget. Check out my Virginia wedding photography packages and prices.
Summary: Virginia Wedding Photographer Cost by Region Chart
Looking for the basics? This chart summarizes wedding photographer cost by the regions of Virginia. It represents a range of amateur pricing, averages, and luxury wedding experiences. Check for your region in the map above, and cross reference this chart to find out what wedding photographers are charging in your area.
What percent of a wedding budget should be spent on wedding photography?
According to a 2017 Zola survey of over 750 engaged and newlywed couples, both groups ranked wedding photographer as the second most important element of their wedding. These couples spent an average of 10-12% of their wedding budget on their photographer. The Knot estimates photography makes up 10-15% of most wedding budgets. This doesn’t mean you can’t spend over or under 10% of your budget on wedding photography. Remember, your wedding budget decisions are your own. Whether you spend 5% or 50% on wedding photography, it’s perfectly fine!
Each wedding is unique. Decide what to prioritize in your wedding planning, book those vendors, and then make the rest work, possibly by making some concessions on items of lower importance to you two. If you’re having an intimate wedding with few guests, your rentals, catering, centerpieces, and other costs are going to be much smaller, while photography and videography could easily make up 40% of your budget there. All these numbers are flexible and circumstantial. When you see “average” on big wedding planning sites, think national average for a traditional, 150-person, $40,000 wedding. It doesn’t mean that’s the most common situation. It’s just what you get when you total all the year’s weddings together divided over the number of weddings.
What’s included in a wedding photography package?
Okay, are you tired of me saying it depends? It depends! Wedding photographers have the independence to craft their own packages and client experience. Some photographers offer luxury albums and wall art, some shoot film in addition to digital, some specialize in elopements, and others may provide digital files only. This variety of products and services adds to the vast pricing range that can make it overwhelming to select a package. It’s important to read the details of each package option to ensure you’re comparing photographers and prices accurately. When evaluating a wedding photography package, you’ll want to consider the services they offer, the products they include, and the client experience they provide.
Photography Services Vary
For most wedding photographers, this is going to boil down to hours. Many wedding photography packages are based on continuous hours of coverage. For example, if the photographer is on site from 12 PM to 8 PM, you’ll need to book an eight hour package. In addition, you’ll want to know how many photographers will be shooting your wedding. Some photographers offer a second shooter as a default, some have a second photographer as an available add-on. Lastly, your wedding photographer may offer more services than just the wedding day coverage. Ask if they include an engagement session, bridal portrait session, rehearsal dinner coverage, or any other service in their packages.
There’s no perfect wedding package, or universal “must-have” for wedding photography packages. I start every wedding consultation with an open-ended conversation about how they envision their wedding and what’s most important to them. This way, I can help them build the wedding photography package that’s right for them.
Photographers Offer Different Products
Photography products can include both digital and print options. Some photographers offer a digital gallery and release you to print your photos wherever you please. Your contract will specify the details of how those photos are delivered, you can use them and how, and whether they will be high resolution or just for digital sharing. Most photographers who provide digitals allow for social sharing, downloading, printing, etc for personal use, but restrict commercial or business use and do not allow you to edit or alter final photographs. This is a pretty standard agreement.
Print products is where it starts to get a bit hairy, when it comes to pricing. Products you buy from a professional print lab and your neighborhood Walmart photo service are very different. The photographer annually calibrates their computer screen to match the print lab’s presses, so that their color correction and editing is as close to perfect as possible. Photos look different on each digital display, and when printed at different machines. When you print through someone else, you run the risk of discoloration. Professional print labs offer warranty and quality assurance on their products, and will typically correct a problem if the coloring comes out wrong.
How much do wedding albums and prints cost?
Even among professional labs, there’s such a wide variety in quality, pricing, and customer service. There are labs that mass produce albums at $200 a piece, and labs that offer concierge album design and hand stitch leather covers for $1,200 — cost to the photographer before their markup, commission, or compensation for their time.
Lastly, prints and wedding albums tend to be less expensive when bundled together with your wedding photography package. If you plan on purchasing print products after your wedding, make sure to ask your photographer about this up front. You may be able to save by committing to a larger total package in advance.
Is it worth it to get a wedding album with your photography package?
The only way to decide if it’s worth it to you, is to see a sample and ask yourself if you want to hold the physical copies of your wedding images. Albums tell a story, and are a tangible piece of family history you can pass around the living room at holidays and re-experience the memories together. So many couples intend to make their own wedding album, and end up putting it off for years while their photos are sitting on a hard drive. Ordering through your photographer streamlines the process, so you only have to pick out some photos, and then the album arrives at your door. The combination of the album and the easy process are worth it to some, while others would rather make their own. Whatever you do, print your photos! They should be doing more than eating up storage on your phone.
Wedding Photographers Offer Different Client Experiences
Here is the ultimate differentiator. Each wedding photographer offers a completely unique experience. Wedding photographers spend so much time with you on your wedding day–even more than your future spouse. You have to like how they connect with you, talk to you, and interact with your friends and family.
Some photographers get involved in pre-wedding planning, meet you for venue walk-throughs, and want to get coffee before you decide to work together. Others are more reserved, observant, fly-on-the-wall and photojournalistic. Some are outgoing and energetic, while others are sentimental and appreciate preserving the emotion of the day. Each one will offer you a completely different experience.
How do you compare client experiences?
In addition to how your photographer interacts with you as a person, they may offer some more concrete elements in their client experience to help you make your decision. Maybe your potential wedding photographer has a client closet or style guide for engagement sessions. Maybe they have a champagne viewing party for your wedding photo reveal. For me, I provide professional hair and makeup for engagement sessions so that the couple feels special, spoiled, and confident before we go into what is likely their first professional photoshoot in years, if not ever.
What factors into the cost of wedding photography?
Okay, so how do photographers come up with their pricing? There are lots of business models for this. But at a basic level, photographers have to cover their cost of doing business plus pay themselves for their time in order to turn a profit after taxes. Then, factors like skill and the client experience they provide have additional value. There’s no one calculation to come up with pricing as a wedding photographer. As photographers grow in their skill and receive more inquiries, they increase their pricing. There are only 52 weekends in a year, which limits their ability to grow their business without inching up the pricing over time.
Your Wedding Photographer’s Time
Of course you’re going to pay more for a wedding photography package that includes more hours. But hours of coverage barely scratches the surface on the time photographers spend working on each wedding. $300, $400, $500 per hour seems like a ton, until you look at the total work before and after, and take out business expenses. This breakdown will vary based on business model and working style, but below is a breakdown of the time I spend working on each wedding:
- Consultation, booking, and contract: 2-3 hours
- Engagement session: 2-4 hours
- Editing engagement session: 2-3 hours
- Wedding preparation, planning, timeline creation: 2 hours
- Travel on a wedding day: 1-3 hours
- Wedding photography coverage: 7-10 hours
- Backing up data: 1-2 hours
- Culling, editing, exporting, and uploading: 7-10 hours
- Product and album design and delivery: 2-3 hours
- Total time spent per couple: 26 to 40 hours for a 6 to 10 hour package
Travel fees for wedding photographers
If you’re hiring a photographer outside of their standard service area, you might have to pay a travel fee. For short trips, this may be $1-$2 per mile plus potential parking cost. If photographing your wedding requires a long day plus a few hours on the road, you may need to cover hotel expenses, mileage, meals, and opportunity cost. Each photographer has their own travel pricing structure. Be sure to ask whether travel fees are included or extra for your venue, as well as to wherever you plan to take engagement portraits.
Demand and Experience
As photographers gain experience, their prices increase. The wedding photographer with 50 weddings under their belt charges more than the wedding photographer who has shot 5 weddings. Typically, with more experience comes greater demand. While photographers could technically take a wedding every weekend, working weddings means saying no to lots of family events, school events, friends’ weddings, and other fun weekend activities. Some photographers will limit themselves to a certain number of weddings per year in order to avoid being overworked and burned out. Limited availability and high demand result in premium pricing. The same is typically true in reserve. New photographers with open availability and limited inquiries are likely to be more affordable.
Privacy and Exclusivity
Wedding photographers book new clients based on their portfolio and exposure. If you’d rather your wedding photographer keep your images private and offline, you might have to pay a privacy fee. This is because it restricts the photographer’s ability to market themselves and their past work. Not all photographers charge a fee for this, but it’s definitely something to ask about.
Don’t forget the hefty cost of professional wedding photography gear
This topic pains me to write about, but it’s necessary. This year, I switched brands from Nikon to Sony camera systems and had to buy all new cameras and lenses, as brands are not cross-compatible. Wedding photography requires a system with a variety of lens focal lengths, and great dynamic range with low light capability for receptions. Wedding receptions require flash systems or other lighting equipment as well. The camera bodies run about $2,000 to $4,000 each depending on the brand, sensor size, and feature preference; while quality lenses run about $600 to $2,400 each.
Cost of upkeep
There are maintenance costs as well. These need to be cleaned, calibrated, and maintained each year. Photographers are also spending money on high speed reliable memory cards, batteries, chargers, backup equipment (either rented or owned), computers, hard drives, safe gear bags, flash stands, and more. This is the biggest expense in a photography business, and unfortunately it’s not a one-time investment. Each camera has a limited shutter count (number of pictures it can take) before it exceeds its life, similar to a car and mileage.
The cost of doing business as a wedding photographer
Self employment taxes eat about 30% of your profit as a wedding photographer. Business expenses include liability insurance, website hosting, data storage and backup software, gallery delivery software, editing software, gear and gear cleaning, materials for print, batteries, as well as more discretional and fluctuating expenses like education, travel expenses, and marketing tools. You can see how quickly variables start to complicate things! Don’t worry, we’re still going to go over price ranges and how to select a wedding photographer in your budget. This background will help you understand what you’re receiving and whether it is worth the cost.
Professional Photography costs more, but comes with assurance
New, budding, and part time photographers often have lower operating costs. They prioritize essential costs, and may not have invested in certain aspects of their business yet. For example, the proper storage, backup, and long term protection of data–IE, your one and only wedding photographs–is expensive. And important! It took losing one part of one client’s wedding back in 2016 to realize that backups and failsafes are a crucial, non-negotiable expense.
Now, I shoot on dual memory cards, where each photo is getting recorded on BOTH cards in case one corrupts. When I get home, the images get backed up on my computer and on an external hard drive. Once the wedding is complete and the gallery is delivered, the images also get stored on my archive hard drive, and removed from my active computer hard drive. The archive hard drive is backed up daily to the cloud, and I pay for forever storage by the gigabyte. This is not cheap, but it is worth every penny to protect my clients’ images!
Professional vs. Amateur Wedding Photographer
Other examples like this are having a solid contract in place, having backup camera equipment, business liability insurance, business license, and other areas where photographers can technically operate without incurring the cost, but may not be prepared for emergencies and fallout. Professionalism does cost money. The trade off is the assurance that comes from hiring an experienced professional. There are very few wedding investments that last, but your photographs and videos are hopefully going to be around for generations. For me, I wanted to ensure they were done right, saved right, and reflected our day well.
Should I hire a new wedding photographer to save money?
That’s up to you! There are pros and cons to this, and the decision is highly personal. A big part of wedding photography prices is experience. In addition to having a lower cost of running a business, new photographers tend to charge less for their time. If your budget is limited, then hiring a new or inexperienced wedding photographer could benefit you. They might even be crazy talented! The best of wedding photographers all have to start somewhere. You just have to be comfortable knowing that they might not be prepared for everything.
Photographing a wedding is extremely different from family and portrait photography. It combines skills of portrait and event photography, still life, styling, natural and artificial light. Preparing an organized timeline, wardrobe malfunctions, rounding up family members, knowing what to do if it rains, handling terrible lighting, or running into technology issues is all part of the gig. Lots of this is learned only through experience. If your photographer is just starting out, know that these elements might be part of the learning curve. You have to personally weigh the pros and cons to decide if this is the right choice for your wedding.
How do I choose a wedding photographer?
There are thousands of wedding photographers in Virginia. Seriously! I asked the Knot when they called me about advertising with them, and it’s crazy. There’s so many of us! It’s hard to weed through all the websites to figure out who is available, what they offer, where they serve, prices, and so on. Search sites like Google, the Knot, Wedding Wire, and Zola can be good starting places, but will surface a ton of results. A Google search will serve photographers closest to you on the business profile side of things. In the search results, you’ll see photographers who either have hired great SEO strategists or copywriters, or who have been in business a long time and have great content out there.
Google has an algorithm to what they show you and won’t necessarily show you all the photographers in your area. I suggest you also ask your friends and family, ask your venue, talk with a planner, and get some good word of mouth recommendations. Sometimes the best photographers don’t have the best online presence. There’s nothing better than the personal testimony of someone who’s worked with them!
What to look for in a wedding photographer
In addition to understanding what they offer, there’s a few key things to look for in a wedding photographer. Not all these items are obvious, so this section is important!
Photographic styles and editing styles
First, you need to think practically. Do you like the editing style and work of the photographer? Can you see yourself in those photographs? Do you like how the couples are posed or interacting? If you can’t imagine yourself in those photos when you look through their portfolio, you might not love their style.
Photography within your Budget
Everyone has a budget or range of feasibility. Your dream photographer might not be able to work within what you can afford. It’s okay to interview photographers who are a little outside your budget, or consider reevaluating your vendor priorities if you find someone you absolutely have to book. But in general, try to book consultation calls with those in your price range. You don’t want to waste your time and get your hopes up, just to be frustrated in the end.
Competence in various settings
If their portfolio is entirely outdoor portraits, photos taken by large windows, and only posed moments, that’s a red flag! Wedding photography is about documenting the event. You want to ask to see some reception photos, dances, and images from a variety of settings to ensure they’re capable of photographing the entire event.
Personality and connection with your wedding photographer
This is THE most important part. Yep, even more important than the pictures! So important I wrote a whole article on it a few weeks ago. You will spend SO much time together. If they make you feel awkward or you don’t feel at ease in casual conversation, that minor tension is going to start showing up in your photographs. I’m saying you have to have some level of chemistry with your photographer. You don’t have to become best friends. But, you want to be able to be your whole self around them! Read more on that here.
Questions to ask your wedding photographer
There are SO many articles out there telling you what to ask your wedding photographer. So many terrible articles with useless questions, if I’m honest. If you don’t feel like you need to know the answer, don’t bother with the question. The spirit of these articles is to educate you about topics you might not have thought about yet. You’re not in the wedding photography industry, so there’s some differences between photographers you might not know to ask about. I get it! But, not all the questions will be essential or important to everyone. Here are some of my favorite questions to discuss on a consultation call. Remember, if the answer doesn’t matter to you, you can skip it!
- How would you describe your approach to wedding photography?
- Can we review a full client gallery?
- What happens in the case you’re not available due to an emergency?
- Do you have a rain/weather plan for wedding days?
- What does your contract say about print release, copyright, etc?
- How long is your pricing or quote good for? (Or, how long do we have to decide?)
- Do you charge travel fees to my area?
- What is your payment plan?
- What retainer do you require?
- When and how will I receive my images?
- Can I see a sample contract?
What should be included in the wedding photography contract?
This is a long and complicated topic, but I’m just going to hit the essentials here. You want to make sure you read and understand your contract. If you have questions, definitely ask your wedding photographer! Your contract should outline expectations from both parties. It should specify what you need to pay and when, how you need to help the photographer prepare, and what the photographer will deliver. Essentially, it should be a manual for all the expectation and what to do in sticky situations. This includes things like whether you’re required to participate in pre-wedding planning calls, what happens in the case of cancellation, how long it’ll take to get your photos back, any important studio policies, and how you are or aren’t able to use the images you receive. It should also specify what to do in the case you need to modify the contract or go to mediation and/or arbitration.
Do payment plans exist for wedding photography?
Almost all wedding photographers require a retainer fee. This may get applied to the balance of your wedding photography package. But, the intention is to reserve your wedding date and protect the photographer’s time. Couples book their photographers on average 8-14 months in advance. This means that if you cancel your wedding 4 months prior, they are likely going to lose income. The retainer commits you to that wedding date and provides the photographer with payment for damages if you cancel close to your wedding date. The retainers vary in amount. Some require a small amount down, while others require as much as 50%. A 25% to 30% retainer fee is average for the wedding photography industry.
Most photographers accept multiple partial payments. It is an industry standard to require the final balance to be paid 2-6 weeks prior to the wedding day. In some cases, photographers may offer a payment plan extending up to or after the wedding date. However, it is unlikely a photographer will deliver any photographs until the balance of your wedding photography package is paid in full.
In short, it depends on your photographer. Ask them!
Should I tip my wedding photographer?
When it comes to tipping wedding vendors, it’s totally up to you! In general, the etiquette is that vendors who do not own the company should get tipped, and owners or solopreneurs do not expect tips. That said, it’s always a welcome surprise! If you had an excellent experience or want to show your photographer some love, a tip and a review are awesome ways to make them feel appreciated. Most wedding photography tips are about $50 to $200 per photographer.
How to get a discount on wedding photography
Wedding photographers work hard and balance the difficult task of creating art while capturing important moments before they quickly pass. They hold the moments of your wedding day in their hands. Maybe the last hugs you have with some people. The only time your spouse will see you walk down the aisle towards them. In no way should their value be discounted. However, if you are struggling with your budget and need to save money, there are some ways you might be able to go about getting a discount on wedding photography service.
Book an off-season wedding date
Flexible with your wedding date? Ask the photographer if they have different rates for Fridays or Sundays, or off seasons like winter weddings. This is not something everyone offers, but is a fairly common practice in the wedding industry. Remember that their cost of doing business, taxes, and compensation for their time will still need to be sufficient, so the difference might not be very much.
Go with fewer hours
I promise you do not need four hours of wedding reception coverage. The dancing to every song looks exactly the same in photographs. Prioritize the moments that are most unique, important in telling the story of your wedding day, and where the people closest to you are spending time with you. If photos of your exit are really important to you, we can grab your parents, siblings, and wedding party for a quick faux sparkler exit during your reception.
Go to bridal shows and enter giveaways
Bridal shows are a great way to meet local vendors and get ideas for your wedding. Often, vendors will have bonuses or giveaways at these events. Showcases are paid events, and not all photographers like this style of marketing. Just because someone isn’t at your town’s big bridal showcase, doesn’t mean they aren’t worth working with.
Ask about military and first responder discounts
You never know what a photographer’s company values might be! If they offer discounts for your profession or military service, you may find yourself a good deal.
Hire someone new in business
Like we talked about above, you can hire newer and inexperienced photographers at a lower rate. This comes with the tradeoff of knowing they don’t have the industry knowledge, preparation, and skills of a seasoned photographer. This decision all depends on your values and budget.
Take advantage of the occasional offer, sale, or promotion
Got engaged before Black Friday or Christmas? Photographers in your area might be running a special! This is not common among more seasoned or high end photographers, but there’s likely a few people in your area that run seasonal discounts, sales, and promotions.
What does a wedding photographer cost in Staunton Virginia?
Well I’m glad you asked! Wedding photography prices in Staunton vary just like anywhere else. Your average wedding photography package for moderately experienced professional photographers runs about $2,600 to $4,200. Personally, my packages for elopements start at $1,800 and weddings average about $3,800 with engagement session included. I typically make each couple a custom proposal based on their specific needs after we talk about their wedding plans. If you’d like to learn more about the wedding packages I offer, please inquire directly. I’d love to hear about your wedding plans! Or, you can email me at email@example.com.
Want to connect with Photography by Jo?
Thanks for stopping by! I love educating people on wedding photography and planning. I am an Augusta County and Staunton wedding photographer dedicated to creating images that showcase the connection between each couple I get the joy of serving. Connect with me on social! I’d love to follow back and see how your wedding plans are coming along. Vendors welcome too! Comment, question, DM me. I’m an open book, and love conversation and connection.