Everyone wants those perfect magical wedding pictures. Not only do they make for a beautiful wedding album, social media posts and wall art, they allow you to relive that day every time you look at them. In most cases it’s a once in a lifetime event so the pictures better be good! So, you’re probably wondering the average cost of wedding photographer in California. Of course, there is not one simple answer to that question. In our experience, it can vary greatly anywhere from $500-$8000+ for a full day coverage of a wedding.
Pricing in California can be on the higher end. According to a recent article in The Knot, California is the fourth most expensive state to get married in, with weddings costing an average of $32,900 in this state. Many online blogs and wedding planning books recommend spending between 10-15% of your wedding budget on photography. However, keep in mind that also according to The Knot, wedding photographers are the most popular wedding vendor. And was the most common area of a wedding where couples were willing to spend more than initially intending to. Some couples really wanted their photos to be epic and were willing to spend a little extra to make that happen.
Below is a discussion of the key elements that most commonly determine the price of wedding photography.
Professional level of photographer and company structure
Where the photographer is in their career will be a big determinant of their pricing. Typically, photographers just starting out will charge less. While a full time wedding photographer with years of experience behind them will charge considerably more. This is most often a case of you get what you pay for. Less experienced photographers may beat out others on their price point. But whether or not they will deliver good quality images and a pleasurable experience is a risk. You may get lucky with an exceptionally talented and well-rounded individual, but you never know. It’s like going to choose a TV. Do you pay more for the Samsung or LG brand names? Or do you risk it for a cheaper price for one of those random off-brand manufacturers? It’s obviously best to go with someone with experience. But if your budget doesn’t allow for it make sure to look up the photographer’s reviews. Also, take a peak at a gallery of a full wedding (not just the best 1-2 images that typically appears on their website) they have produced to make sure you will be happy with the end result.
It’s also worth mentioning the large national wedding photography companies here as well. We have seen them a lot lately advertising on Google and Facebook. These are companies such as American Wedding Group (aka Wedding Bug, and The Pros), George Street Photography and Video and Lilly & Lime. And there seems to be more popping up every day! These are multi-state companies that hire local freelance photographers to shoot weddings.
They often have almost too good to be true pricing, and showcase stunning work. Because their pricing is often low, the pay they offer to their photographers is also extremely low. As a result, you won’t find many full-time experienced photographers working for these companies. In our experience, its often beginner photographers or those pursuing wedding photography part time for some extra cash and don’t rely on it to make a living. That’s not to say that you won’t luck out with an awesome photographer. You might! But wouldn’t you much rather have a relationship with the actual photographer who is going to shoot your wedding beforehand, instead of just dealing with sales and account managers, and only just meeting your photographer on the day of your wedding!?
If you have a tight budget, you might be considering this option, but its always nicer to hire a local photographer directly. That way, they will be way more committed to ensuring your wedding day goes down perfectly, than they would be if you went with a photographer from a multi-state company who just meets you on the wedding day. They don’t have their reputation on the line and aren’t allowed to use the images to build their own portfolio. They are also being paid a fraction of what they would be paid if it was their own wedding.
Average income in California wedding photographer’s city
This is pretty straightforward and shouldn’t be all that surprising. A photographer in rural northern California will be cheaper than a photographer in San Francisco or San Diego where the median income is much higher. Sacramento area is a nice middle ground, as the median income is neither super high or super cheap.
Demand for the particular photographer and/or photography style
Demand for a photographer or their style of photography can play a big factor in the average cost of a wedding photographer in California. Some of this is just simple supply and demand economics. A photographer that has a high demand on their time will be more likely to raise their pricing, while a photographer who is struggling to book weddings will come in at a lower price point. And demand for a photographer is not always related to years of experience. Sometimes a photographer can be relatively new but have a good marketing strategy, or simply be really good at what they do.
Additionally, they may have a style of photography that is very in demand or requires certain inputs that are more costly. For example, a photographer that uses off camera flash for consistent lighting will always require an assistant. While a photographer that solely relies on natural light may not, but may struggle in low light situations. Certain editing styles can also take more time. For example, some photographers simply color correct their images in a certain style and call it a day. Other photographers may replace the sky, photoshop out unwanted objects (like trash cans), or even take-out unwanted blemishes when requested by the client. This detailed editing takes significantly more hours and thus costs more.
The time of year and day of the week of your wedding
Yet another element that can influence the average cost of a wedding photographer in California is the time of year and day of the week you have your wedding. If your wedding is a Saturday in ‘wedding season’ (i.e. April-October) expect to pay top dollar. However, if you are able to schedule in off-season (i.e. November-March) you will have a better chance of finding a deal. Additionally, Fridays or Sundays could also be good alternative options. Often, venues are also cheaper on those days.
Average Cost of Wedding Photographer in California Reference Table
Expert Tip: Want to know the questions you should be asking a wedding photographer before you hire them? Read our post breaking down all the most important questions and why you should be asking.
One item not discussed above is packages. What is included in a photographers packages can greatly influence pricing. Some of the main elements to look for include:
- How many hours of coverage
- Help with the wedding timeline
- Second shooters
- Whether travel is included
- How much editing is included (i.e. color correction only or detailed photoshop editin)
- Print release
- Wall Art
Just a quick note that videographer pricing often is determined by the same factors as already discussed for photography above, and the price ranges are largely consistent with photographers. However, you may expect a bit of a discount if you go with the same company for photo and video, as you are now purchasing in bulk, and their cost for each additional service is less and therefore may be able to extend a bit of a price break.
Why is the cost of wedding photography so high?
Finally, we just wanted to conclude this article by giving a shout out to all the wedding photographers out there both thriving and those struggling to make it. It’s a tough industry and many hours goes into creating the perfect photos for your wedding day. Sometimes couples ask why wedding photography is so much more expensive than smaller events such as birthday parties. But consider all the hours of planning, preparation and editing that goes into a wedding:
- Initial client emails and booking meeting (approx. 3 hours)
- Engagement session with local travel (approx. 3 hours)
- Timeline and pre-wedding preparation (approx. 3 hours)
- Wedding day coverage including local travel, set up, coverage, clean up, photo transfer/backup (approx. 15 hours)
- Editing time (approx. 25 hours)
- Reveal session, album design & print product ordering (approx. 6 hours)
- Backup of final photos/miscellaneous activities (1 hour)
That’s around 56 hours that a photographer puts into a wedding, and that doesn’t include the cost of equipment, training/education, software, second shooters/videographers, insurance, taxes, and advertising. That’s quite a bit of time and resources, and for most photographers the pay needs to justify it and allow them to support their families.
Concluding Remarks about the Cost of Wedding Photography in California
We know the average cost of a wedding photographer in California can be a big lift, but a wedding is an event you can never get back. You want a photographer that will capture the day in a beautiful way that you will cherish for years to come. There are no other photos that you will likely look at more and share with your friends, family and children one day!
Ready for the next step? Read our post breaking down all the most important questions you should be asking prospective wedding photographers and why you should be asking. It even includes a downloadable infographic for your reference.
For more tips on planning for your wedding, visit PSP’s Tips and Advise Blog Posts.