Virginia Wedding Planning Series Part 2: Cost | Charlottesville Wedding Photographer

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Talking about money is not the fun part of wedding planning, but it is inevitable. Almost all of us – except for perhaps the lucky few – have to live within a budget for the day.

When I meet with clients for their initial consult, I advise them to sit down and, without attaching a monetary amount to each item, list in order what is most important to them.

  1. Photography

  2. Food

  3. Flowers

  4. Dress

  5. Venue (both ceremony and reception)

  6. Decorations

  7. Open bar

  8. DJ/live band

  9. Videography

  10. Wedding planner

  11. Day of coordinator

  12. Gifts for bridal party/spouse and/or guests

  13. Custom invitations/menu or paper items for wedding

  14. Professional hair and makeup

  15. Cake/desserts

  16. Transportation

  17. Wedding rings

  18. Honeymoon

Your list is going to look very different from another couple’s. Some of these things, you may drop entirely. But the exercise does give you an idea about where you want to allocate the bulk of your budget.

When I was crowdsourcing ideas for this series, one of the things that came up repeatedly was “If you have a limited budget, invest the biggest portion in photography.” Now, to be fair, I was crowdsourcing ideas from a bunch of wedding photographers, but I stand by the advice.

Here’s the thing, YES, wedding photography is an incredibly expensive investment, BUT you are paying for documentation of one of the most important days of your life. When the cake is cut and the DJ has left, photographs are what you will have to remember your wedding by. And, to be honest, photography is really one of those “you get what you pay for” things.

So why is photography so expensive?

Number one, a professional wedding photographer has the experience necessary to document your day – no matter the weather, no matter the venue, no matter what goes wrong – and to do it beautifully. It’s a skill developed over time. So if you choose an inexperienced photographer, they may be able to produce beautiful images when it’s 70 degrees and the perfect light shines through and everyone is feeling relaxed and easy going. But ask yourself very seriously if the “cheap” photographer can handle it when conditions are not ideal. Ask to see full wedding galleries. Ask to see a wedding or session when it rained. Ask to see photos from receptions (often not included in online portfolios).

Then ask if they carry backup gear, insurance, how your photos will be delivered to you, if you have the option to get prints or albums (and please, please print your photos – but more about that later), and if they work solo or with a second shooter.

A professional wedding photographer also pays about a third (sometimes more) of what they earn in taxes and another third in overhead expenses (gear, education, marketing, software, etc.). The remaining third has to cover their time answering emails, putting together proposals and contracts and invoices, traveling to shoots, shooting and the many hours of editing afterwards.

When I got married, picking my wedding photographer was the single most important choice I made about the day. As I’ve said elsewhere, I’m not the right photographer for everyone. But as you sift through your options, do pick a professional, do allocate enough money to cover all the things you want documented, and if you are on a SUPER tight budget, consider spending all your money to elope and spend the available funds on the best possible photographer to capture the excitement (and low stress) of that elopement.