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How Much Is Your Wedding Photography Worth to You?

May 29, 2012

by Chappell Ellison

Etsy.com handmade and vintage goods

Perhaps nothing seems more counterintuitive to running a successful business than taking a pay-what-you-wish approach. It takes a huge leap of faith to trust customers to place their own value on goods and services. Yet the model is gaining traction; Radiohead, for example, made headlines when they posted a new album for download at whatever price music fans wanted to contribute. It also worked for Panera, a bakery-café that invites customers to name their price for sandwiches. Now, a Seattle-based photographer wants to see how a pay-what-you-wish model could apply to her wedding photography business.

For Nicole, the founder of Sunshine Charlie, taking part in nuptials has always been satisfying. “Weddings are full of life and emotion. It’s a day of new beginnings and hope for a fruitful future,” she says. “I enjoy being around love, celebration, and positive energy.” Yet one question seems obvious: isn’t she’s worried about the possibility of losing time or money by letting her clients set the price? “Sure,” responds Nicole. “But I am trying to keep focused on my vision and connection with my clients. So far I have booked sixteen weddings for the year and have shot one wedding. Brides and grooms have been very gracious with my time and appreciative of my efforts.”

Having only shot one wedding, Nicole’s experiment has not yet truly begun. Whether or not this model proves successful, it begs a specific question: just what is a wedding photograph worth? Certainly, our relationship towards photographs has changed over the years; fewer households contain prized photo albums, leaving many images to languish away on hard drives. Yet if there is one memory that you want to revisit years later, a wedding is one of the most important events to document. In this light, it seems almost impossible to place a monetary value on a photograph.

Regardless of the amount of money she receives, Nicole simply wants to build her portfolio in a meaningful way. “I hope to create some fresh images, connect and share life with some interesting people, and learn some things along the way.” But as the project progresses, do you think this social experiment will prove a successful example of the innate value found in person-to-person commerce? Or will couples still seek the bottom dollar, regardless of any larger social mission?

Etsy Weddings | Photography Category

2 Featured Comments

  • stewartw

    stewartw said 7 years ago Featured

    Besides the guy, the photography was the next most important thing to me and I willingly paid for it. Coming from a photography background myself (I have an MFA) I didn't want to skimp on what was sure to be way better than my memory on the events of the day. I've never regretted it. It was worth every penny.

  • maechevrette

    Mae Chevrette from maechevrette said 7 years ago Featured

    I agree with Melanie - while I love the idea of pay-as-you-can, I wonder how many regular people/brides outside the photography business really know the "worth" of good photography from a professional photographer (vs. an "Uncle Bob" weekend photographer. Some people are shocked by the price of any kind of custom photography, art, music, etc. because they aren't privvy to all the details of running this type of business. This article made me think about a blog post I read a while back where a Seattle bride posted on Craigslist about how "wack" wedding photographers' prices were and the very well-written response from one pro... worth reading if this type of stuff interests you: http://blog.nikkimaydayphotography.com/2012/01/26/why-wedding-photographers-prices-are-wack-erie-pa-wedding-photographer-response/

42 comments

  • MegansMenagerie

    Megan from MegansMenagerie said 7 years ago

    Definitely something to think about. We didn't go crazy on photos at our wedding. Sometimes I wish we did but I didn't want to wait any longer for him to be my husband. I think we did pretty good on our own with the photos. They really can get crazy expensive.

  • stewartw

    stewartw said 7 years ago Featured

    Besides the guy, the photography was the next most important thing to me and I willingly paid for it. Coming from a photography background myself (I have an MFA) I didn't want to skimp on what was sure to be way better than my memory on the events of the day. I've never regretted it. It was worth every penny.

  • lisammay

    Lisa said 7 years ago

    We are getting married in a few months and doing it on a tighter than expected budget so we haven't hired a photographer and don't plan to. Instead we're asking our guests to take their own photos of the day and email them to us. From there we'll compile an album based on the different perspectives of our closest family and friends. I am excited to see how it turns out!

  • LivingVintage

    LivingVintage from LivingVintage said 7 years ago

    Interesting.

  • ReleafPaper

    Heather from ReleafPaper said 7 years ago

    Absolutely true. For my first wedding I hired a hack photographer and all my pictures turned out BLUE. Then my second I had my mother take a few which worked out pretty well given our financial state....but oh how I wish I could take it all back and get some gorgeous pictures taken. This is something I truly regret.

  • timelapse

    timelapse from timelapse said 7 years ago

    Fascinating concept...it would be fun to check back in and see how it is going in maybe a year? And you taught me something I never knew about Panera, even though I have eaten there many times!

  • BeadtrissLane

    Krista Kirk from BeadtrissLane said 7 years ago

    I love that idea! What a way to bless others that do not have huge spending room for that area of wedding planning! :}

  • blueridgewoodworking

    Gabe and Athena from BlueRidgeWoodworking said 7 years ago

    I truly wished I had hired a professional for our wedding. We just had family takes pictures and I did not receive all of those. I have many pictures from my wedding but so many of them are just silly cheesy shots, I only have a few that are nice. Even if you do just have friends take the pictures, make sure that you do have some that are posed and some that are more candid. You want a mix of shots.

  • fantasygarden

    Anna Kikute from fantasygarden said 7 years ago

    Very good article

  • StringBeardCraftery

    Stephanie from StringBeardCraftery said 7 years ago

    I love this kind of social experiement. Especially when the product is not of corporeal value, the cost of the materials is irrelevant to the cost of photographic art. So cool!!!

  • LaughingHour

    Melanie from LaughingHour said 7 years ago

    This is a hard on for me! The problem is that people in general don't know what your time is worth or the things you have put money into to take the pics. What is the right and fair price for a photographer? I would want to have a base line for knowing what to pay. I would hate to under pay or over pay. Usually people getting married have budgets they want to stick to. A certain amount allotted for Photos, cake, dress, ext. So then would it be fair to be paid only what they budgeted for the photo's or would that be underpaying/overpaying. Its not really fair to ask people what they think their pics are worth because the answer is they are priceless! I understand doing that for a sandwich because its a sandwich and either its made well and tastes good or doesn't. And its not an item in the hundred or thousands of dollars.

  • ArtsyFlair

    Michaela Bowles from ArtsyFlair said 7 years ago

    I would want a wonderful photographer, for my wedding in the future. It'd be worth it to pay a bit, to be able to cherish something beautiful; a new beginning. :)

  • anordicrose

    virginie lykins from anordicrose said 7 years ago

    we had few photos...... I was 7 months pregnant, wore pants and looked puffy in the face... but, 10 years down the line we are still happily married... that is the most important after all.....

  • BellaEpoca

    BellaEpoca from BellaEpoca said 7 years ago

    Photographs are super important treasures, but for those of you planning on a tight budget consider hiring a photography student in their last year of school. Ask to see some work first, but often their photos are really good and they need the experience to build a portfolio.

  • opendoorstudio

    Martha Layton Smith from opendoorstudio said 7 years ago

    I believe it will work to start... might be interesting to see how this works. I wish you well i love the concept!

  • telepelekids

    ilanit bronstein from telepelekids said 7 years ago

    very intersting,,,when i got married my friend was the photographer,we super happy with the pics,but the best memories are in my heart,i think all what connect to wedding is over prices,so this idea sound intresting!

  • MesTroisSoeurs

    Kimberly B from MesTroisSoeurs said 7 years ago

    It's a great idea to hire a photography student... they can often rent professional equipment from their school, and they are always up-to-date on trends and technology! (My sibling is one :) )

  • PaperAffection

    Suanne from PaperAffection said 7 years ago

    I think this price model would work best for a business that is just starting - but once a photographer is established, there's a definite level that makes working worth their time and they should be able to establish a more stable price point.

  • maechevrette

    Mae Chevrette from maechevrette said 7 years ago Featured

    I agree with Melanie - while I love the idea of pay-as-you-can, I wonder how many regular people/brides outside the photography business really know the "worth" of good photography from a professional photographer (vs. an "Uncle Bob" weekend photographer. Some people are shocked by the price of any kind of custom photography, art, music, etc. because they aren't privvy to all the details of running this type of business. This article made me think about a blog post I read a while back where a Seattle bride posted on Craigslist about how "wack" wedding photographers' prices were and the very well-written response from one pro... worth reading if this type of stuff interests you: http://blog.nikkimaydayphotography.com/2012/01/26/why-wedding-photographers-prices-are-wack-erie-pa-wedding-photographer-response/

  • auntyem4

    Emily from auntyem4 said 7 years ago

    If she's booked 16 weddings, then the price should already be set! So what were they all booked for? I really strongly do not reccomend couples have friends or family take pictures for something as important as a wedding, no matter how tight the budget. First and foremost, by having friends and family do pictures, you're imposing this HUGE responsibility on them that takes away from their ability to enjoy your wedding and CELEBRATE with you! Secondly, a non-professional is not going to know how and what to capture. Knowing how to handle light, posing groups, and capturing romantic shots are something that can be really difficult and you only get one shot at this. Hire the best person you can afford. That's why after all these years I still keep a small, modest package that is totally affordable and doesn't include any high end extras. I also offer severely discounted rates for weddings booked less than 3 months in advance, if I'm still available. I WANT to pay homage to the couples who got me started out, and who would not have been able to afford a photographer if it had not been for me. Now I can provide quality work, with a rate that's still affordable to most. And I love that.

  • thevicagirl

    VaLon Frandsen from thevicagirl said 7 years ago

    It is an interesting business model. I hope it work out. I know that as I think about my wedding (no guy yet, so I can think a long time) I think that the photography is going to be my big spending item. I want it to be perfect, you only get the chance for it once.

  • mazedasastoat

    mazedasastoat from mazedasastoat said 7 years ago

    I've been pricing commissioned items like this for years. I simply give a minimum price (based on materials plus minimum wage for my time) & tell people how long an item took to make. Most people pay me more than the asked price, usually the amount they would earn for that amount of time, based on the idea that my time is worth as much as theirs... which seems perfectly fair to me. It's easy for me as I have few overhead costs, but I find most folks are fair & understanding, & some are what seems exceptionally generous. It just takes a bit of trouble to get them truly involved in the pricing process, but I think they appreciate the empowerment of being able to fix the price themselves. The challenge is to continue doing it once things take off business-wise...

  • lovelygifts

    Linda from lovelygifts said 7 years ago

    Interesting concept.

  • TheBeautyofBoredom

    Gracie from TheBeautyofBoredom said 7 years ago

    If I were to get married, I would probably hire my friend, who has a small business doing photography. Her prices are not bad at all, and the photos she has taken and shown others seem great! Despite this, I would still probably hire one other person to take pictures, just to get two different takes. I don't think I would ever have enough money for a professional photographer, my wedding would be pretty low-budget. I do like the idea of having a variety of people take pictures, but if you want to remember your special day and have great pictures it would be best to hire someone who has been in the business awhile.

  • TheEverlastingPosy

    TheEverlastingPosy from TheEverlastingPosy said 7 years ago

    Lovely photo!

  • DolceCaramella

    Kristina from HappyRainyDay said 7 years ago

    We did not have a photographer at our wedding, just our guests taking pictures with a couple different digital cameras. Five years later, the memories of our wedding day are fading quickly, and our photos are fond reminders of that happy day, but they are poor quality. They don't look great blown up and framed, so we don't have any hanging on our walls. Most of them are blurry, have red-eye, or one of us looked silly. Guests don't make great photographers- they don't always care about getting that keepsake shot. Five years later, I would not longer be feeling the pain of a $3,000 photographer. Ten, 20, 50 years later- the cost would be forgotten. I regret not having beautiful wedding photos, and my advice to budget brides would be to invest MOST of your budget on the photos. Skimp on the venue, cost-cut everywhere else, but the photos will be your memories that you will never regret paying for.

  • HandmadeIsAllAround

    HandmadeIsAllAround from iammieOWLshop said 7 years ago

    Interesting!

  • AtticAntics

    Alex Wijnen from AtticAntics said 7 years ago

    Certainly an interesting idea but I don't know how long a concept like this would be profitable. Thinking back to when I first started in graphic design, I would happily have accepted whatever people were willing to pay me. But after 15 years of developing my skill and gaining valuable experience, I honestly prefer to be paid what I feel I'm worth, not what other people feel I'm worth (sadly, the two may be too far apart, especially when working with individuals or small start-ups as opposed to larger corporations or non-profits.). When I got married 16 years ago, we spent the highest portion of our budget on the food/venue followed by the photographer (spent far more on him than on my dress!) and to this day, I think it was money very well spent!

  • BayMoonDesign

    Kathy Lindemer from BayMoonDesign said 7 years ago

    Great concept! I love qualify photographs. I just finished searching and locating a wedding photographer. I had to enter into a contract that requires me to pay for a service that I hope will be worth the price. This contract ensures the photographer gets paid well and leaves me hoping I get what I am dreaming of. It is a little like going to the doctor.

  • FreakyPeas

    FreakyPeas from FreakyPeas said 7 years ago

    I love the feature response of Mae Chevrette from maechevrette. Her blog reply to a craiglist post is priceless!

  • myvintagecrush

    Kathleen from myvintagecrush said 7 years ago

    A good wedding photographer was my number one, hands down, must have! Our photographer captured so many special moments, many of which my husband and I didn't experience untill we saw them ourselves.. My grandfather died the following year and we will always have the most amazing photos of him enjoying the family he created.. it's hard to put into words what she did for us, as our photographer.

  • misponko

    Liudmila Rosario Ponko from PonkoWorld said 7 years ago

    great article!

  • shabbyone

    Anita Spero from AnitaSperoDesign said 7 years ago

    Piece of advice. Get doubles and triples of EVERY picture. Even put some in a safe at a bank. Also give family extras to hold on to. We were in the big flood here in Ill. years ago and lost most. Then several years ago had a fire and lost the rest. Have a back up of everything. Baby stuff to. We lost all of that also.

  • LittleWrenPottery

    Victoria Baker from LittleWrenPottery said 7 years ago

    I tend to think that it depends on the photographer and how much you like their work, its sad to hear of stories from people who paid good money only to have disastrous photos!

  • steffsullivan

    Stephanie Sullivan said 7 years ago

    I'm having a videographer - because I'm getting married abroad I want to have a video to show people at my name changing shindig i.e. my reception where we change our names to avoid passport hassle. As he's through the hotel, I'm totally worried about his quality (old school dude who doesn't have a website and doesn't have dpa signoff to send a dvd) but I mainly want raw footage that we can cut together how we want since most wedding videos come out CHEESY. We also have a semi-pro father taking more 'standard' pictures and I've bought a bunch of memory cards for the less than the price of a disposable camera each to give people so that I'll be able to gather all the videos and photos people have taken throughout the event. A good photographer is a great thing but I prefer video and I'm working on a multiple redunancy concept on pretty much everything to do with the wedding because its abroad and I would rather have a backup in the event of a specific failure than be stressed whilst on holiday. I really like the model, but as others have mentioned, a minimum price is good, and also specifiying how much people pay on average as people do like to have guidelines.

  • livfortoday

    Liv Gabel from MansionHouseRoad said 7 years ago

    I love the idea of trusting other people. This fits into the truth that there are many more honest people in the world than dishonest people. And in general, other humans will do the right thing. Look at Nordstrom, they have been trusting their customers forever by allowing them to return anything to the store and this business concept has obviously worked well for them! Anytime a person is willing to take a little risk and trust their fellow man it makes me very happy. Good luck!!

  • TheSunshineGrove

    Natalie and Jeremy from TheSunshineGrove said 7 years ago

    Nothing beats having great wedding photos to look at down the road. We've been married two years and still people ask to see our wedding photos. We enjoy being able to share great photos of our wedding day. It was one of the only things we spent a bit more on and has been well worth it.

  • solocosmo

    Jessica Grundy from solocosmo said 7 years ago

    We had an $800 wedding budget. Total. That's for everything, my dress, shoes, venue....we got married in my moms backyard. We ran out of money quickly and began to ask friends and family who were asking about gifts to contribute to the wedding. My maid of Honor/Best friends gift to us was 150 cupcakes, she even made special ones for my step mum who is vegan. Flowers were also given as a gift by a friend who worked at a floral shop. As far as photography, that was big! I wanted nice pictures, but didn't want to ask anyone to pay for them. At the last minute my mom and dad offered their gift could be to pay a photographer, we asked a friend who was a professional skateboard/club photographer at the last minute, he charged $300 and spent the whole day with the wedding and even followed up to the after party at the bar where we met. I feel like it was worth every penny and I am glad my parents were able to give us the beautiful photography as a gift, I often look at the pictures and smile.

  • amandaxmurder

    Amanda said 7 years ago

    Obviously, the most important thing when getting married is the other person and not all of the extra fluff that gets added to weddings. I loved everything about my wedding but my only regret was the photographer. I have a family member who had quasi-professionally photographed a few weddings, so I was kinda stuck using their services in order not to cause family drama. My family member had taken a few OK shots, but overall I wasn't impressed since they had only focused on my side of the family, and not my husband's. Additionally, the tripod that was used for some shots, wasn't level, so a bunch of photos came out crooked. Thankfully, many of my other friends and family who were at the wedding had good digital cameras, so I was able to supplement what was lacking with their photos. The only upside to using my family member's services was that it was cheaper compared to a professional photographer, and I was given CD's with all of the photos on them, to re-print at my leisure.

  • deltejo

    debbie del tejo said 7 years ago

    oh but that is the WORST pose for a bride........wish you would have used a much nicer one. Is she waiting in line to go 'potty?'

  • princessmemaria
  • tomneola1

    Neola from CustomAlbumsandMore said 5 years ago

    I would like to connect with a good wedding photographer for my wedding albums in etsy. You can view them at custom albums and more or customalbumsandmore.com

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