A No B.S. Guide To Hiring A Wedding Photographer On Any Budget

December 01, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Hiring a wedding photographer can be daunting challenge during the age in which everyone seems to be a photographer and they all want to do weddings. If you're trying to plan your wedding you'll find literally hundreds if not thousands of photographers in your area all fighting to do your wedding with no idea on how to choose between them.

Before we get started I want to touch on 3 points real quick:

  1. Reviews- While reviews on wedding sites can be useful, they aren't the be-all, end-all of choosing a photographer. Some photographers are extemely dilligent about asking for reviews from their clients and may even throw in a little extra for a good review. Other photographers don't want to pester their clients and never ask them to leave a review. That doesn't mean they don't have happy clients. They may even have happier clients since they aren't messaging them every 5 seconds to "rate me!!!". 
  2. Photos on a website- Image theft is a very common in the industry and there are unfortunately photographers out there that take images from other photographers and use them in their own advertising as their own. There's an entire website dedicated to exposing these frauds but it's also important for you to be vigilant that the work you're seeing is an example of their own work. You may get a lot less than what you're paying for otherwise. This is how you can check for yourself if images have been stolen.  
  3. Full Wedding Albums- Photographers are like anyone else and we're going to show our best work in our ads and on our website. We all know that the entire wedding isn't going to look like the gorgeous, stylized shots that we display to get attention though. Always ask to see at least one gallery from a full wedding. If you're having a church wedding and an indoor reception, ask to see examples of similar weddings. Likewise for beach weddings, park weddings, etc. It's important to look past how attractive or unattractive you feel that the couple is. What you're looking for are things like consistency in editing style, sharpness of photos. (in most cases you should be able to count eyelashes), style (to make sure it fits yours), how does the noise look in low-light situations?  Things like that. If you can imagine that you'd be happy if your photos look like these, then that's good. If you can't then simply move on. (please send a note letting them know)

Keep in mind that when I list a price, I'm coming from the point of view of my market which is Central Florida and places like Tampa and Orlando. Prices do vary around the country and may be higher or lower depending on where you live. Also, remember that there will always be an exception or two to what I'm posting below but overall, these are what you can expect. 


Extreme Low Budget- Around $500
Low Budget- $500-1000
Mid-range- Packages prices that start between $1000-$2000 and go up from there.
High budget to No Budget- $Packages start at $5000 and go into the tens of thousands

Extreme Low Budget- Around $500

  • Experience Level- This is the domain of newer, inexperienced photographers that are charging very little because they're hoping to gain experience and build a portfolio. The price point is also where it's at because they simply can't charge what experienced photographers are going to charge. They're competing on price. New Photographers typically shoot with their cameras on an automatic setting and let the camera itself decide all the important settings like shutter speed, ISO and the aperture. These settings will work fine in ideal conditions but if we're talking about anything other than being outside on a well lit day, you're going to have issues. When looking at a portfolio you'll notice things like blurry and out of focus shots in low light, photos with couples standing under trees for shade but with light coming through the leaves leaving areas of dark shadows and bright highlights on their bodies and faces, boring, bland photos, etc.  Pro Tip: "Natural Light Photographer" sounds nice and all but is really just code for "Doesn't know how to use lighting". Not knowing how to use lighting can be crippling if conditions aren't perfect. 
  • Equipment- Photographers at this price point are almost always using a consumer level DSLR with inexpensive lenses or the "kit lens" which is the lens that comes with the camera. Briefly. to the average consumer these cameras "look fancy" but they're not meant to be used professionally and they lack many of the qualities that produce high-end imagery. It should be noted that they can produce decent results in good lighting where the sensors don't have to be asked to do very much. But, if you're having a wedding indoors or in the evening then they will return images with lots of noise. Think of the look when you try to use your cell phone at night. The results will be very similar. They also rarely use any type of external lighting and often rely on the pop-up flash on the camera. This method is not pleasing to most people as it's a very harsh light and can cast large, ugly shadows behind the subjects. 
    • Bodies in this range are the Canon Rebel series which usually begin with a "T". Examples are Canon T3i, T4i, T5i, T6, etc. Canon 60D, Canon 70D. For Nikon the models are D3000, 3100, etc. Basically, Nikon bodies with 4 digits are in this range. 
    • PRO TIP: If a photographer doesn't want to tell you what they shoot with, avoid them. If they respond by telling you that "it's not the camera, it's the photographer", avoid them. The truth is that it's a combination of the two. The camera matters quite a bit and anyone who says otherwise simply hasn't learned what the limitations are for their current equipment. 
  • Crew- Crews usually want to get paid so at this price point the photographer will usually be shooting alone or with a family member who's there to assist them.
  • Insured?- A photographer at this price point is usually not insured as this is just a side job for them and not their primary business or source of income. This could end up being a big deal as more and more venues are requiring insurance from their photographers. If you've already paid a retainer to a photographer and then can't use them, they're most likely not going to return the retainer.  Also, if there's any kind of issue from corrupt storage cards all the way to incompetence you're unlikely to receive compensation. 
  • Editing Experience- Very low. This area can be especially scary when it comes to what you're going to receive. There's a likelihood that your images will lack continuity as the photographer simply browses actions (think Instagram Filters) from image to image as they try to make it look artistic in Lightroom or Photoshop. It's also not uncommon at this level for the Photographer to use less-featured editing programs. 
  • Questions to Ask- How long have you been a photographer? How many weddings have you done? What kind of camera body and lenses do you use? (get model numbers and research them independently) Are you insured? Can I see a full wedding shot at a similar type of venue to mine? How many photos can I expect? (It's common at this level to receive thousands of photos because the photographer uses a method called, "spray and pray" which is taking as many shots as possible and hoping that some of them come out. This may sound like a great idea but not too many people love looking through thousands of crappy shots to find a few that are good.)
  • Who Should Book With This Photographer- Anyone who needs photos at their wedding and simply doesn't have the budget to go any higher. Some photos are better than no photos. Someone who understands that even the best photographers had to start out somewhere and is willing to risk it. 
  • Who Should Not Book With This Photographer- Anyone who isn't willing to take the risk that their photos might suck. Anyone with an indoor venue or evening reception. Anyone who's venue requires insurance. Anyone with a friend that's similarly experienced and offers to shoot for free. Anyone who places a high value on their wedding photography and can afford a more experienced professional. 

Low Budget- $500-1000

  • Experience Level- In this price range, you'll likely be working with a photographer that's shot a few weddings and has some work in their portfolio but is still building their business or has another job but is doing this on the side for a little bit of extra income.  Most photographers at this price point are still using automatic settings and let the camera itself decide all the important settings like shutter speed, ISO and aperture. These settings will work fine in ideal conditions but if we're talking about anything other than being outside on a well lit day, you're going to have issues. Pro Tip: "Natural Light Photographer" sounds nice and all but is really just code for "Doesn't know how to use lighting". Not knowing how to use lighting can be crippling if conditions aren't perfect. 
  • Equipment- Photographers at this price point are almost always using a consumer level DSLR with inexpensive lenses or the "kit lens" which is the lens that comes with the camera. They typically have a few other lenses that will help set them above the extreme low budget photographer but the lenses are still consumer level vs. Pro level which can be in the thousands of dollars.  It should be noted that they can produce decent results in good lighting where the sensors don't have to be asked to do very much. But, if you're having a wedding indoors or in the evening then they will return images with lots of noise. Think of the look when you try to use your cell phone at night. The results will be very similar. They also rarely use any type of external lighting and often rely on the pop-up flash on the camera. Some will use an external light attached to the top of their camera. This method is not pleasing to most people as it's a very harsh light and can cast large, ugly shadows behind the subjects. The better ones will know how to aim the light and hopefully use something to soften the light. Some photographers near the higher end of this price range may use low-end full-frame bodies which are much better than their crop sensor counterparts yet still don't have the features of the pro bodies and don't resolve quite as much detail. These bodies include the Canon 6D and the Nikon D610.
    • Bodies in this range are the Canon Rebel series which usually begin with a "T". Examples are Canon T3i, T4i, T5i, T6, etc. Canon 60D, Canon 70D. For Nikon the models are D3000, 3100, etc. Basically, Nikon bodies with 4 digits are in this range. 
    • PRO TIP: If a photographer doesn't want to tell you what they shoot with, avoid them. If they respond by telling you that "it's not the camera, it's the photographer", avoid them. The truth is that it's a combination of the two. The camera matters and it matters quite a bit and anyone who says otherwise simply hasn't learned what the upward limit is for what they're using. 
  • Crew- Crews usually want to get paid so at this price point the photographer will usually be shooting alone or with a family member who's there to assist them.
  • Insured?- A photographer at this price point is usually not insured as this is just a side job for them and not their primary business or source of income. This could end up being a big deal as more and more venues are requiring insurance from their photographers. If you've already paid a retainer to a photographer and then can't use them, they're most likely not going to return the retainer.  Also, if there's any kind of issue from corrupt storage cards all the way to incompetence you're unlikely to receive compensation. 
  • Editing Experience- Low. This area can be especially scary when it comes to what you're going to receive. There's a likelihood that your images will lack continuity as the photographer simply browses actions (think Instagram Filters) from image to image as they try to make it look artistic in Lightroom or Photoshop. 
  • Questions to Ask- How long have you been a photographer? How many weddings have you done? What kind of camera body and lenses do you use? (get model numbers and research them independently) Are you insured? Can I see a full wedding shot at a similar type of venue to mine? How many photos can I expect? (It's common at this level to receive thousands of photos because the photographer uses a method called, "spray and pray" which is taking as many shots as possible and hoping that some of them come out. This may sound like a great idea but not too many people love looking through thousands of crappy shots to find a few that are good.)
  • Who Should Book With This Photographer- Anyone who needs photos at their wedding and they aren't quite willing to risk it with the extreme low budget photographers. Value can be found at this price point under the right conditions. You should expect that you will have usable images. 
  • Who Should Not Book With This Photographer- Anyone with an indoor venue or evening reception unless the photographer has upgraded their equipment. Anyone who's venue requires insurance. Anyone who needs very high-quality images and wants a very minimal risk. 

Mid-range- Packages prices that start between $1000-$2000 and go up from there.

  • This is where my business currently sits. For more information about my weddings and packages please follow this link. 
  • Experience Level- You should expect an experienced, professional photographer at this price point. A photographer at this price should have shot many weddings in many types of venues and conditions. They should be also be adept with off-camera lighting.
  • Equipment- Photographers at this price point should be using professional camera bodies and lenses and also carry a backup. Professional bodies should have 2 card memory slots being used as a redundancy so that if one card fails or is corrupt there's a backup so that nothing is lost. Professional bodies with high-end glass are able to handle low light conditions with clearer results. Keep in mind that all cameras produce noise at higher ISO settings, professional bodies are able to be used in much darker ambient light before the noise begins to become apparent. They also produce a higher quality of grain that doesn't always look bad. A camera that's able to be used in ambient light is best for receptions that have beautiful lighting at the venue and capturing light from windows and candles as well. Using a flash will drown out the ambient light and render it obsolete for the photo. Photographers in this price range should also have external lighting that's not on-camera. As an example, I will typically set up multiple studio lights at the reception that are triggered wirelessly and can be turned on and off from the camera itself. This allows a photographer to get a good mix of ambient light photos and also well-lit photos with less noise. When a photographer needs to be more mobile they may have an assistant or part of their crew holding flashes at better angles than one that's directly on the camera. Photographers in this range should understand how lighting works and be able to see the light before they take the photo. Some will have degrees in photography, film or a related medium. 
    • Some bodies in this range include Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 5Dsr (more of a studio camera) Nikon D750, Nikon D810, Sony A7RII (only one SD card slot), Sony A99 II and Pentax K-1
    • PRO TIP: If a photographer doesn't want to tell you what they shoot with, avoid them. If they respond by telling you that "it's not the camera, it's the photographer", avoid them. The truth is that it's a combination of the two. The camera matters and it matters quite a bit and anyone who says otherwise simply hasn't learned what the limitations are for their current gear..
  • Crew- Will rarely work alone and will usually have at the very least an assistant with them. Depending on your package there may also be a second shooter as well as multiple assistants, video camera operators and people holding lights. 
  • Insured?- A photographer at this price point should absolutely be insured. The Professional Photographers Association offers policies that cover up to $1,000,000 in damages and up to $2,000,000 per year. Not only do they carry the insurance but a photographer at this price should "insure" their self by carrying multiple cameras, multiple cards, tons of batteries and a backup for just about everything that they have. That way if a piece of equipment does malfunction they can simply pick up a new one and continue. Do not hire an uninsured photographer at this price point. 
  • Editing Experience- Varies. I know that this sounds like a cop-out answer but it's the truth. I've seen a large variance of editing experience from photographers at almost every price point. Some photographers in this range have been editing for 20 years or more and others just started recently. It's important to talk about this during your interview and once again, as your reviewing work pay attention to the skin (on work that they did skin retouching). The skin should look natural and not like Tupperware just blurred out to hide wrinkles. Ideally, the viewer should not know that editing was done and should just be amazed and, "OMG! I want her skin!". When viewing full weddings, the editing style should be consistent throughout all of the photos. If they use a lot of different styles and effects then most likely the editing process is just "pick a filter and see how it looks" and not many people will be happy with that when viewed as a whole. 
  • Questions to Ask- How long have you been a photographer? What are your specialties? (Many photographers specialize in just a few areas when they break out of Noobdom) How many weddings have you done? What kind of camera body and lenses do you use? (get model numbers and research them independently) Are you insured? Can I see a full wedding shot at a similar type of venue to mine? How many photos can I expect? (Photographers at this level should not be using the "spray and pray" method for your photos so you shouldn't get thousands of images. Additionally, a photographer at this price point should be collating your images before they do the editing so that you don't get 10 of the exact same photo. Bad photos should already be weeded out)
  • Who Should Book With This Photographer- Anyone who cares a great deal about the quality of their wedding photography and is willing to tilt their budget in favor of it. Anyone who isn't willing to take the risk with the less experienced photographers at the lower price points. Anyone who prefers a professional who has dealt with most situations that can happen during a wedding. Anyone who has an indoor venue with low or pretty ambient lighting. Even people with very small, short and intimate weddings may want to contact them. I know that if someone needs me for just a few hours, I often will quote an event price if I'm available which is significantly less expensive than a full wedding package. It doesn't offer the same frills and extras but it will still guarantee that you have high-quality images from your event. 
  • Who Should Not Book With This Photographer- Anyone who cannot afford it or anyone who's looking for the absolute best of the best photographers and also has a nearly unlimited budget. 

High budget to No Budget- $Packages start at $5000 and go into the tens of thousands

  • Experience Level- Photographers at this price point are typically famous, or at least locally famous. They can charge high amounts of money because they're in such high demand. They frequently travel the world for weddings and also spend their time as educators. Some of the more known names are people like Jerry Ghionis, Ben Chrisman, Sal Cincotta and Chris plus Lynn
  • Equipment- Photographers in this price range should be using professional bodies and lenses. Most of the photographers in this range are sponsored by different equipment manufacturers as ambassadors in varying degrees. They will usually have any lighting equipment on hand that's needed and know exactly how to use it. 
    • Some of the bodies in this range are Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 1DX, Canon 5Dsr (more of a studio camera), Nikon D810, Nikon D4 and Nikon D5. There are more expensive cameras out there but these tend to be the best all-around performers for all situations.
    • PRO TIP: If a photographer doesn't want to tell you what they shoot with, avoid them. If they respond by telling you that "it's not the camera, it's the photographer", avoid them. The truth is that it's a combination of the two. The camera matters and it matters quite a bit and anyone who says otherwise simply hasn't learned what the upward limit is for what they're using. 
  • Crew- Will usually have one or two assistants, a second shooter and one or two people handling lights. 
  • Insured?- Uhhh...yes!
  • Editing Experience- A photographer at this price point will typically have a professional editor or two on their staff. 
  • Questions to Ask- How long have you been a photographer? How many weddings have you done? What kind of camera body and lenses do you use? (get model numbers and research them independently) Are you insured? Can I see a full wedding shot at a similar type of venue to mine? How many photos can I expect? (It's common at this level to receive thousands of photos because the photographer uses a method called, "spray and pray" which is taking as many shots as possible and hoping that some of them come out. This may sound like a great idea but not too many people love looking through thousands of crappy shots to find a few that are good.)
  • Who Should Book With This Photographer- Anyone who can afford it and wants that insanely incredible experience. Also, there's a certain amount of bragging rights that come with booking a photographer that's famous. 
  • Who Should Not Book With This Photographer- Anyone who can't afford it. 

Hi, I'm Kristian Colasacco. I'm an experienced wedding photographer in Tampa that covers the central Florida area. I specialize in working with women through weddings, modeling portfolios, boudoir experiences and modern women's portraiture. I have a masters degree in film and you'll never hear me say, "photography is my passion" because I think people who say that are lame. You will hear me say, "I don't do lame". 

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