Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Is it cool to haggle with wedding vendors?

Hello esb,

Perhaps I shouldn't care about this, but I don't want to be an ass. How do I politely tell vendors that I got quotes from that they are way off base on price?

I feel like if I didn't want to pay that, perhaps I shouldn't gone these vendors. Like perhaps I should have started with the reception hall next to the guns and ammo store instead of venue with a wild flower garden overlooking the river with filet mingon and lobster on the menu. But I didn't. And now I am suffering from sticker shock. And quite frankly, I really don't want to have my reception next door to a hunting store.

Is there really room for negotiation like stupid bride magazines and blogs suggests there is? Or will I look like and ass and cheap skate if I tell these vendors I don't want to pay that much?



I don't feel qualified to answer this one, so I forwarded your question to Noa of Feather Love Photography because I knew she'd give us an honest answer.

(I didn't know she'd give us such a loooong answer, but it's so good I couldn't bring myself to cut anything.)

Anyhoo. Here's Noa:

Thanks for asking me to answer this question ESB, because I have lots to say about lots of things, and I shoot weddings for a living. (To start I would like to say that I can’t stand the word “vendors” but for lack of a better one, I will use it way too much in this post- can we come up with a better word please?)

Everyone is surprised when they start researching the costs of having a wedding: It’s pricey. Firstly: there are low, medium, and high-priced vendors in the wedding industry. Stick to what you can afford. I was a bride too a few years ago and my photography budget was $500. I worked in partial-trade for some vendors, saved money, and with the help of our parents, did whatever else I could innovatively think of in order to afford the wedding that I wanted. Which in this industry’s standards was a “low-budget” wedding, totaling at around $14,000 for 130 people.

Some vendors will offer small discounts if your wedding is off-season, or on a Sunday/Friday, or if you choose enough items off their list of services. But in general, it doesn’t make sense to go to a medium-range-priced vendor and ask them to lower their prices to match a low-end-priced vendor. Think of it like you have Valentino taste, but can only afford the thrift store.

There are ways to see if there is any room to move the price around. Let the vendor know right off the bat what your budget is and ask what is possible within that budget. That is the polite, respectful way to approach it. And this will also give you a clear and quick answer and save you & the vendor the time of going back and forth. They understand people have budgets, and they also always have a limit of what they can & cannot do.

However, the least favorable way to approach it is the following (this is a real email btw):

Bride: How much would it cost for 8-9 hours of photography and the negatives? Is there a discount for Friday weddings?

Me: Please see my price list attached. Rates start at $5,500 for 5 hours of coverage. Additional hours can be added per hourly rate. The limit is 7 hours. Otherwise the additional 8th hour after that is charged at 1.5 times the regular hourly rate. Depending on which package or items you choose, I might be able to offer a Friday discount, so please let me know what you are interested in from the price list, which also includes my Associate Photographer’s rates starting at $3,800 for 5 hours of coverage.

Bride: We would really like to stay around 2000-2400 for 8 hours of photography and the edited digital files. Can we possibly make something work?”

Yea. No. We can’t. The hourly limit was clearly stated & the price list was sent. She seemed to ignore all that information and still ask for my rate to be cut by more than half, then work some crazy over-time, and then she totally blew off the option of selecting the more affordable Associate Photographer choice.

That email kind of surprised me since I haven’t gotten any hagglers for a long time. In fact, I found that 5 years ago, when I was priced low, I got tons of hagglers who always mentioned how they could get more from another photographer for a lower price in order to try and get me to reduce my rate. Hey I’ve done that too as a bride so, I get it. As soon as I was priced medium-high, I stopped getting hagglers… Interesting… (Except for that rare email response above which ironically arrived in my inbox 5 minutes after ESB’s email asking me to guest post on this subject.)

Something I would strongly recommend would be to try and find talented newbie vendors who want to build their portfolio. People say that a lot, I know, and it’s more work to find them, but that IS one option.

Then of course there’s using your resources. Ask family and friends who have specific talents to help out, as a wedding gift to you. This cuts the costs down & and also gives you a more personalized, intimate DIY feel for your wedding. I once shot a wedding which was one of the most beautiful & fun weddings I have ever been to- almost everything was done by the couple and their family and friends. It was on a friend's property; beer was brewed by the groom; bbq was grilled by friends for dinner; the bride’s brother was the officiant; mom, grandma & aunties made the cakes; friends & bride made all the decorations & invites; the groom created the ipod playlist for all the music that day…

All images by Feather Love Photography. You can view all the pretty details from Emily & Royal’s DIY wedding here…. also featured on ESB! :)

Put down those bridal magazines, and utilize the plethora of fresh, innovative wedding blogs out there more (it’s free!) to come up with unique locations and ideas. My personal favorite: backyard weddings… do your parents or friends or parents-of-friends have a cool backyard? Can you drive 30 minutes out of town to some quiet areas and see if there is a Bed & Breakfast or a restaurant with a pretty view? Have you been somewhere that you really love that might work as a good location? Emilia of Sweet Emilia Jane had one of my favorite backyard weddings: her own. We were guests at their wedding which took place at her parents’ home in Massachusetts. All DIY, budget-conscious, and absolutely beautiful.

All images by Davina & Daniel Photography. You can see the entire gallery on Style Me Pretty.

And one of my biggest recommendations is: cut down your guest list. Nobody likes to do that but I can promise you that 5 years after my wedding I can look back and cut my guest list of 130 down by at least half, easily. And if anything, I would much prefer to have a 20-guest wedding if I could do it all over again today, for a million different reasons. And btw, most brides say that, and I really wish I would have listened back then.

I shot a wedding in Carmel where instead of having a sit-down reception, they had really tasty food stations that went on all evening where guests could balance out their blood-alcohol levels by having something to munch on consistently throughout the night. It felt more like a party or a really long cocktail reception where people went from dancing, to eating and chatting, to dancing, to drinking, to eating, and it moved smoothly & was super fun. No rush. No millions-of-things-to-get-done-before-the-cake-cutting. The bride & groom got to hang out with everyone and have a good time. More importantly, the catering cost a LOT less than a sit down reception, and it tasted better. The whole thing was less… stiff.
[Editor's note: YAY HEATHER!]

There are so many ways to cut costs and stay innovative but it’s hard to come up with ideas like that if you are reading traditional bridal magazines who tell you what a wedding SHOULD be comprised of, instead of coming up with what an ultimately fun party would look like if you could decide on it all by yourself. Imagine there was never a wedding before yours, start from there, and come up with ideas that would make you and your fiancé happy. Personalize it. Those are the best weddings I have ever been to or shot, and they are by far the most fun for everyone.

Here is one idea for example, depending on what your personality is like: Consider having a ‘picnic wedding.’ It’s easier to gather up & borrow 20 colorful blankets, rugs, & a bunch of floor pillows than it is to pay to rent 100 chairs & 15 tables. Have it catered by your local middle-eastern deli, buffet-style (I’ve always wanted to do that! In fact it was my initial idea and it would have been a lot better than the catering we had) at $10-$15 per head. Borrow all tableware & serveware from friends and family, mismatched looks great! Decorate by throwing decoration parties where your girlfriends come over & drink wine with you whilst watching Project Runway or Jersey Shore or whatever is entertaining that you can talk over, & make cool stuff that you can hang everywhere at your wedding. Hire a pro photographer for just two hours to cover the main event, and then provide all your guests with those cheapo table film cameras to capture the rest of the day with. Personally, the table camera shots from my wedding are my favorites. 

When you prioritize what is most important and what is least important to you, you can spend more money on your higher-priorities like location, food, photography, alcohol, dress etc. Also browse for more “contests” on blogs to get some potential freebies that will free up your budget for other priorities. Broke-Ass Bride is great with posting contests & stuff like that and she has tons of other great ideas too.

To summarize, I would focus on creative ways to make your wedding fit your budget more, and focus less on the vendor-haggle: Have an off-season, Friday/Sunday/weekday wedding. Let vendors know your budget & ask what can be done with it. Use the lovely, fresh ideas & resources available on blogs to inspire you. Find a cool backyard. Have an ongoing cocktail reception with food stations instead of dinner. Cut that guest list down- way down. Get your friends and family to help make decorations & invites etc. Get grandma, mom and the aunts to make the cakes/desserts. Look on etsy or ebay for a pretty, vintage, non-traditional, non-wedding dress for under $200. Find talented new vendors that are just starting out and get their rates… You will end up with a more affordable, personalized, intimate wedding plan that will look rad, feel rad, taste rad, and might spark the interest of some creative vendors enough for them to offer you some discounts, because they love being able to show off their unique work in the blog world. 

Or alternatively, apply for a new credit card to pay for everything you really want. But please don’t haggle.

(Top photo of Noa herself by Chloe Aftel. See the whole amazeballs shoot here. Almost makes me want to do my own photo shot before I get... you know. Old.)


  1. Hmmm, although I completely agree that engaged couples need to be realistic about how much wedding services costs (and not expect 50% off like that extremely tactless person who emailed you), I don't see the harm in asking for more reasonable discounts, especially if the vendor gets something out of the deal. I've gotten referral discounts of 10-15% just by using vendors suggested by friends, and definitely plan to recommend those vendors to others as well. Sometimes I didn't even ask for the discounts; the vendors offered them.

  2. Of course, when I was told "sorry, that's the price" I did exactly what's being suggested here. If it was important to me, I paid up. If it wasn't I DIY'd, did without, or found a newbie vendor.

  3. Hot Button!!

    As a Wedding Specialist at a high-end hotel in Boston I appreciate when couples are upfront with me from the beginning about their budget. I am going to try to do what I can to work with them on their budget (suggest off peak times, days, ballrooms, etc.) but there comes a time when their expectations are ridiculous and to be honest, even insulting.

    Please don't compare our packages to what the holiday inn is giving you and please please please do not pin us against another venue. The pricing that we offer is in line with the level of service and quality you will receive. I appreciate getting "more bang for your buck" but be careful not to alienate the "vendors" you are working with along the way.

  4. I appreciate getting "more bang for your buck" but be careful not to alienate the "vendors" you are working with along the way.

    word. i feel like this is an extension of the "don't anger someone who's about to prepare food for you where you can't see them" rule: don't develop an adversarial relationship with someone who's going to be spending serious quality time with you on your wedding day. anyone can be unlucky enough to end up with a seemingly marvelous vendor who moonlights as a douchebag, but i'm amazed at the number of brides-to-be who seem to pick fights.

  5. this is brilliant. i don't understand how people trade services. we've got tons of services to trade "vendors" and what not but i don't get how people are so forward to offer or if there's a good way to do it...hm...good to know not to haggle, i haven't done it anyway. especially not for photography on the budget we're looking at, ha. it would be a wee bit offensive, i would assume.

  6. Noa is always the wise one. There is a reason why those vendors you love have the pricetag they do. You probably love them because of the quality of their work and it is a hell of a lot of work to get to that level of quality. Noa isn't just shooting your wedding for 5 hours. She is prepping like a mad woman and spending hours upon hours making sure the finished product looks nothing less than perfect. Trust me. I've worked with her and seen her process. She's a genius. And genius isn't always cheap. Same goes for a lot of other artists out there trying to make a living doing what they love and sharing that love with you. Most vendors I know will do what they can to work with clients (who share the same vision as them) WITHIN REASON. I'm talking a couple hundred bucks not a couple thousand. Anyway....love ya Noa!

  7. Please... Let's be real: "Bang for your Buck" - My brother owns several luxury botique hotels and his margins for weddings was anywhere between 50-75% (depending on how much alcohol was consumed).

    While there is a certain cost associated with all things wedding, in my personal opinion it has gotten a little out of control. The average cost of a wedding is now tipping in at 26K... And don't get me started on Photographers - I was lucky enough that a dear friend of mine happens to be one of most highly regarded photographers in the country... When he told me his typical rates (10k+ for 8 hours) - I almost died, especially considering I know exactly what his job entailed before and after. *Perhaps, I am a bit bitter because my fiance and I went to med school and suffered through residency to barely make what he makes... :)

    I know that this is going to piss a lot of people off - but I think it's all gotten a bit out of hand.

    I say Haggle all you want. There are so many vendors out there, and with the ever climbing rates that people want to charge I think you can take a risk in asking for what you want to pay. (Unless of course your heart is set on one particular vendor)

    *Note about Photographers: I do think that this pricing will bottom out over the next couple years - so many people are getting into the field because of the availability of affordable quality cameras coupled with the automation of photo editing... SO I would suspect by 2015 we will see a much more competitive price structure for 8 hours of photography.

  8. I really appreciate this post because I've heard some vendors in the wedding world complaining about haggling as if it were a naughty word... and I definitely haggled. I did it respectfully, and understood if a vendor couldn't work with my budget. If you know your budget for photography is $1K, you're not getting a $5K photographer. But if your budget is $3K, I think it's okay to ask to work with someone who advertises $3,500 rates.

  9. There is SO much advice in here, I wish it were broken up into bullets or even separate posts. Some of it is brilliant and actually applicable but hard to find.
    Something I find funny though is that Meg at APW recently put out a call for non-useful budgeting advice and a lot of this: cutting guest list, using talented friends, etc. were brought up a few times.
    To wit: it's hard to know now who out of my 130 guests are going to still be important to me in ten years. And, my friends have many talents but wedding-related stuff are not any of them. I think it's good advice for some folks, but it seems to be striking a nerve with a lot of people in the throes of budget planning.
    I think that, as Noa says, if you are clear about your budget upfront and don't press the issue or shoot too high, it is reasonable to look for wiggle room or concessions. For example: the proposal we got back from our florist was too high, so I asked if he could make my bridal bouquet the same size as the bridesmaids' to save some $. He was happy to do so, easy peasy. But I wouldn't have asked him to make the proce lower without making some sort of compromise in quality or quantity.

  10. Love this one. Chock full of very valuable info!

  11. Time = money not to mention all of the other associated costs. If you want good quality, you're going to have to pay for it. Did you go get quotes from several sources when you first decided on what you wanted? Are you having regrets now that it's too late? If you haven't signed a contract for these services yet, go out and get some other bids and don't ask for a lowball figure from someone whose prices are already out of your range. Good luck!

  12. don't haggle.

    keep in mind, the vendors tend to be the ones pouring their hearts into the wedding to make it perfect for the OTHER people involved.

    anon - the wedding world has spun out of control because of the people that are getting married, not necessarily because of the people doing the work. if no one paid that 10,000 dollars a photographer was asking for, the photographer would change their pricing.

  13. kind of biased advice, don't you think? seeing as this woman is a vendor herself...but i agree that there's a polite way to go about getting a fair price and a not-so-polite way. being up front with your budget is key. and being upfront with yourself about what you can actually afford. do what you can with what you have- don't go into crazy debt for one day of your life!! part of "having good taste" is to know your budget boundaries.

  14. Luckily I got married in a small town. I was never tempted to "haggle" because prices and services were fair, and "vendors" were reliable and honest. I think it's too bad that folks go into debt for one day of their life, like Anon said. The pressure around weddings is really insane. Noa's tips for budget friendly weddings are great- those types of weddings have so much more heart and personality than the big expensive bling-bling ones anyway!

  15. I would say instead of "haggling" you should talk to your vendors to help PRIORITIZE. As Nicole said, I also found my florist's costs to be too high so I want for much simpler bouquets for myself and my bridesmaids (in other words, I prioritized the table settings).

    For me, it was fun to problem solve within our budget believe it or not. I think it is as much as part of the DIYness as any craft project.

    But be reasonable, why would complete strangers give you something for nothing? They are not charities. But I would say most people you meet will help you identify ways that you can have less (and pay less) and still have an amazing wedding.

  16. Also DO NOT GET A CREDIT CARD to pay for anything you can't afford up front. Sorry, but to me that is crazy talk/bad advice. If you are going to go into debt make it for something worth while, like a down payment on a house.

  17. I "haggled" a lot for our wedding but as sofia says, I really prioritised. When someone quoted me £800 for a toilet i picked my jaw up off the floor, went to another vendor, and said "i've just been quoted £800 for a toilet, can you offer me something better?" She rented me one for less than half the price. It wasn't as fancy, but it also wasn't a priority! I also agree with the advice to approach with a budget in mind - i got a totally kick-ass caterer for our wedding for a steal, and it's because i went to her with a very small budget and said "is this possible? If so, what could you offer at that price?" She came back with a cold buffet menu that everyone loved on the day.

    Venues are the hardest. I just sidestepped the whole issue by finding a venue that wasn't a regular "wedding" place, which worked beautifully for us. I saw a ton of beautiful, stunning amazing places (seriously, we have castles over here!) that I would have loved to have gotten married at, but the place we found turned out to be intimate, laid-back, personal, and totally private for us with no staff pushing us about or no bookings to worry about the next day. So keep hunting for the venue, it might feel hopeless sometimes but you will find something!

  18. Um, I agree with Anon 1:06. This advice advice is hard to swallow from someone who charges $5,500 for 5 hours. No, my parents don't have a nice backyard and no, I'm not crafty enough to DIY my centerpieces. So I don't find this advice particularly useful.

    Maybe I'm just mad because the whole wedding industry charges ridiculous mark ups.

    I do agree with the other posters who've said that it's best to be upfront about your budget. I don't think there's anything wrong with saying, "Here's my budget for X. I really admire your work. Can you do anything for me in my price range?" If they say no, then that's the end of it.

    I also think it's fine to ask, politely and only once, for your vendor to waive certain fees. For my sister's wedding, my dad talked the band into waiving their travel fee. It saved her and my parents a few hundred dollars.

  19. The credit card advice is horrible.
    Noa should be ashamed of herself for suggesting that someone go into debt before asking a vendor if a different price point could be worked out.

    Do NOT go into debt for your wedding. The long term harm isn't worth the short term gain.

    As far as the other advice goes: it really depends on the type of vendor, and what level of service, we're talking about here. Because, as anyone who has gotten married can attest (or thrown a big party), there are vendors who have higher prices than they should.

    You can always ask, but try not to be ridiculous (why would someone agree to take a 50% cut in their pay).

    If you aren't getting the prices you want, move on to other vendors or compromise about the level of service.

  20. with all due respect, that was really long & my ADD wouldn't let me read it thoroughly, so forgive me if Noa hit this point (don't think she did?): Some vendors are ridiculously priced.

    Bottom line! Their work/reputation/product is no better than the next, but they are triple the price

    I say this because of my ongoing experiences planning a destination wedding.

    Why is 4 hours of a photographers time for a wedding worth so much more than that for a portrait session? Bottom line- vendors take advantage. Put the word "wedding" in front of anything and it triples in price. I feel your pain, writer

  21. So... Noa was willing to pay her wedding photographer less than 10% of what she (Noa) currently charges? Nice. Also, even factoring in time for travel, editing, etc., $5,500 for five hours of shooting is obscene.

    And yes, the credit card advice is disgusting, especially coming from someone who could profit from a person who chose to take the suggestion.

  22. @Molly, if you were to see our profit & loss statements, you'd wouldn't see as many "ridiculous mark ups" as you'd think. One word: OVERHEAD. It's expensive to run a small business.

    Advertising, office space, equipment, employees, continuing education, taxes, et al take most of our money**. Did you know that photographers in CA have to pay sales tax on the ENTIRE cost of a package sold to a bride & groom? 10% of everything Noa(and all other photogs) charges immediately goes to sales tax. Then the federal, state, and self employment taxes come into play. With all of the overhead I listed above, a photographer who charges a couple $5,000 really only nets about $2,000 when you factor taxes, the cost of a second shooter, and depreciation of equipment and software.

    For myself, I so appreciate it when potential clients tell me what kind of budget they're working with. Many times their budget can't accommodate my fees, but that's not my problem. There will always be other wedding coordinators out there who can.

    **it's still so worth it though to do what I love AND pay the bills by doing it!

  23. Great article and advice!I don't think you should open up a ceredit card to pay or a wedding (I think Noa was joking people!), but you should look at your budget line by line first, prioritize and then reach out to vendors in your price range.

    My wedding was about $12,00 and half of that was spent on photography because photography was the most important thing to me. Otherise, I found ways to be thrifty, like using a restaurant that cost $15 a person for catering, making the invitations myself, etc.

    As a bride or groom approaching vendors, you also have to consider that the people you are hiring are making (or trying to) their living off of weddings. If you want a professional, you need to pay enough for someone to make a living from that service. A photographer who puts in 40-80 hours of work on a full day wedding (shooting, editing, album, emails, etc.) can't charge $500 and make a living off of that.

    I am a photographer who just started my own business last year so I am at the lower end of pricing, but that's because I in the phase of building up my experience and I have a day job (as a photo teacher). Once I have enough business to leave my day job, I will need to up my prices to make a living, and doing it full time will make me an even better photographer so I will be worth more (plus if I work two full-time jobs for more than a couple of years, I might go crazy due to lack of sleep!).

  24. Rates starting at $5,500 for five hours do not mean Noa makes $1,100 per hour. It means she makes $5,500(ish) x the number of weddings she shoots PER YEAR.

    @prac, shmac "Why is 4 hours of a photographers time for a wedding worth so much more than that for a portrait session?" Because there are a limited number of days in a year that people choose to get married. And wedding photographers make the bulk of their living for the ENTIRE YEAR on those days. They can shoot portrait sessions on any old Tuesday or Wednesday morning.

  25. @ESB - Can we please have a follow up post (from Noa or Amber Events or someone) that clarifies what you're really paying for when a photographer charges $5k for a wedding day?

    Most of us don't plan huge parties very often, so $5k for a photographer seems absolutely ludicrous, because we don't know better.

  26. I love it when blogs suggest "picnic" weddings or sitting on bales of hay or the ground. I guess they're lucky enough to not have any relatives/friends with mobility challenges, who can easily just plunk down on the grass with no problems whatsoever. Yes, picnics are cute and photograph like an anthropologie catalog, but when dad/grandma/etc. have horrible knees/backs/etc, it doesn't work.

    Also, backyard weddings aren't necessarily cheaper, believe me. My fiance and I nearly had one until we got a good look at what rentals would cost us. Finding a venue that includes those things would wind up saving us money.

    Any vendor you talk to is going to tell you that their service is totally indispensible, but chairs were always going to come before photography for me. And there was some wiggle room. I looked at my photog's packages and explained what I needed/wanted and what I didn't, and I was able to put together a rad package within my budget.

  27. @Abernacky didn't Amber Events just tell you?? I'm not gonna post her fucking tax return.

  28. Seems like there are two separate issues here. First, the haggling. Hopefully we can all agree that no one has a constitutional right to get Noa (or anyone else) to shoot their wedding. People charge what they've decided is necessary to make a living. Sure, ask if they have ideas for making their work fit your budget, maybe you'll get lucky and their offseason rates are much lower, etc. But if not, then you just don't get to have whatever it is you want. It's a consumer product, not chemotherapy. No need to get outraged if you can't afford it.

    Second, though, the cost-cutting. All those ideas are great if they work. But frankly, for many (most?) people, they don't. At least not enough of them to make a significant dent in the budget. Travel schedules & family with disabilities will put a crimp into a lot of Friday backyard wedding plans. I say that as someone who DID almost all of those things. It only worked for us because we were ok not inviting pretty much any family. For people who actually want their grandparents to show up, it may not be so feasible.

  29. Go ahead and haggle with tent rental people. But you shouldn't try to get 50% off from an artist. That's not how it works. You're not paying for a service; you're paying for someone's vision and artistic ability.

    And to the Anonymous dude that said, "*Note about Photographers: I do think that this pricing will bottom out over the next couple years - so many people are getting into the field because of the availability of affordable quality cameras coupled with the automation of photo editing... SO I would suspect by 2015 we will see a much more competitive price structure for 8 hours of photography."

    Yeah, everyone has a camera now. Everyone calls themselves a photographer. Which means that so many couples now have to sift through tons of bad photographers to get to the great ones, which means that people like Noa (and other genius photographers) will stand out come 2015 when everyone's uncle claims to be a wedding photographer.

    And seriously, Anonymous? " *Perhaps, I am a bit bitter because my fiance and I went to med school and suffered through residency to barely make what he makes... :)" Um what? Bill Gates never graduated college and he's the richest person in the world. Get off your pedestal.

  30. I'd like to add on to my comment, in which I said that I did not need to haggle or ask for discounts when planning my wedding due to the fact that I felt the vendors I worked with were honest, fair, hard-working, and worth the price they asked...

    We had a small-budget wedding compared to the national average (which is insanely high...who ARE these people??), and we were up front with our vendors about our budget- including our photog. He was our first choice- we loved his work and *had* to have him. But he was out of the price range we had decided on for photography.

    We told him about our wedding and our budget, and he said it sounded like one that he would really enjoy shooting, so he gave us a discount without us even asking. We were over the moon to have our first choice photog without messing up our whole budget. Now, we recommend him to all our engaged friends...and since my husband is a photographer, our opinion means something. Our wedding photog informed me a few months ago that he has gotten several jobs because of us.

    The point here is to work with quality vendors- no matter if they're low, medium, or high in price- who love their work and care about their clients. My husband and I run our own business and we are more concerned with maintaining good relationships with past and present clients than we are about making as much money as possible from them...and I prefer to work with others who share that same outlook.

  31. I’ll be up front in saying that I am a wedding photographer and videographer as well, with about five years of experience. I can honestly say that my partner and I have always tried to keep our prices as low as we can for out clients, while still keeping in mind the value of our work and time. We post our full price list on our website so that people know up front what our packages are and they don’t waste their time meeting with us to determine that we are out of their budget or don’t offer what they’re looking for. Someone above mentioned that you should say/email "Here's my budget for X. I really admire your work. Can you do anything for me in my price range?" I know that if I received an email like this I would be much more likely to respond positively because it is polite and undemanding. It’s asking what I can do for them in their price range, not asking to have everything in one of our packages, but for ‘x’ dollars less. If you don’t want to pay as much, it’s best to ask if something can be removed from the package or service to lower the price. Also, it’s usually better to ask for extra services, rather than just a monetary discount (ie. If you go with ABC package, would you be willing to include a photobooth at no extra cost?). To summarize: Ask politely for what you’d like, be reasonable, and you may get what you’re looking for. And flattery may just help…

    On another note, I agree with what Noa said about not immediately being drawn towards a traditional wedding (and maybe avoiding wedding mags to help you do this). A friend of mine just got married in her living room (with a handful of old candlesticks, a vintage bar cart with champagne, and a table full of appetizers) and about 25 family/friends. Afterwards we went to a Greek restaurant for a regular dinner under a group reservation. It was really fun! I’m not trying to say that you need to have a simple wedding – just don’t feel pressured to have something huge and lavish that is unaffordable for you.

  32. Amen Tonia.

    I am a wedding videographer and I have built up my business on my own over the last 2 and a half years. My first full year in business, I shot almost 30 weddings. It was hard work, and I believe my work was worth every penny I was paid. Like everyone has said before, wedding vendors make our living off of a select number of events every year. But that doesn't mean we don't work every other day of the year. Running a small business means you never actually get a day off, and everyone who has chosen a career like this knows that and is hopefully okay with that. Otherwise they wouldn't be doing it. I'm not going to lie, being haggled with is really frustrating and annoying. But if there is a bride that I really connect with, that really wants to use my services I will try my best to come up with something (within reason of course) that will work for both of us. I do agree with the above posts though, search for people within your price range and be realistic about your expectations.

    And chill out with all of the negativity. It's weddings we are talking about here! The happiest day ever.

  33. @esb- i'll save you the trouble. i brought in $84,000 in 2010. After my expenses, my profit is around $30,000. Expenses where mostly travel since i shoot out of town 95% of the time, plus all the business expenses, building my studio etc. now i have to pay my taxes for 2010 (about 30% of my profit) monthly, for the rest of 2011- as well pay as my 2011 taxes quarterly- which is about 30% of this year's income on top of what I owe from last year.

    when i got a migraine immediately after I heard this from my tax guy in his office, here’s what he told me: go home and pour a large glass of whiskey, then celebrate the fact that you are now a successful self-employed business person, because for the first time in 5 years of your business- you have actually made a profit and not been in the red.
    Then I said: but i haven't seen any of it! he replied: welcome to entrepreneurship.

    True story.

  34. @everyone else- this was written from the perspective of a wedding “vendor”, a bride, AND someone who has been in the industry for 5 years. I am all of those things.

    Now as a photographer it makes more than enough sense to me why everything costs so much, which is not how I felt at all as a bride… it was an eye-opening experience working in this business.
    Also since most of my weddings are out of town, THOSE weddings require 3 days off of regular office work (fly in the day before, leave the day after) so I have to charge a fee for not being in the office for those 3 days, then also one entire day in just prepping for that wedding (getting all directions, contracts, contact details, making sure the assistant has all the right info, checking, double-checking, quadruple-checking, and then triple-quadruple checking that I have all my equipment, & that it’s all charged, have all my backup EVERYTHING, batteries, cameras etc). so for an out of town wedding- 3 days travel+ one day prep = 4 days dedicated entirely to one wedding, PRE & wedding itself, then at least 40 hours in post (after the wedding).

    If you go into a boutique and you see a dress that you absolutely MUST have- do you go up to the lady at the store and say “hi, I like this dress, can I buy it for half price?” This industry is EXACTLY THE SAME as any other industry. Srsly.

    I found it imperative to actually give ideas and solutions to my comments on the non-haggle in that post. Ways to think outside the box, accept the fact that it IS an expensive thing to get married, and come up with other ideas to reduce your costs.

    This doesn’t mean you cannot ask your vendors if they are willing to offer discounts or reduce their rates, it means that if you approach it with the attitude that everything is over-priced because YOU don’t like it, then you probably won’t get what you are looking for in regards to vendors trying to help out and take a cut

    Another thing is that the people I know and love and have worked with in this industry are some of the most fiercely dedicated, hard-working & creative people I have ever met in my life. They don’t get to clock out at 5pm- they work all the time, they work with their toddlers in hand, they eat, sleep, dream and breathe their jobs, and have to deal with so much more stress than most regular 9-5 jobs, and on top of that they have to find a way to be creative all the time, even when they're completely exhausted. If they’re charging what they charge it’s because they can and should and because they love what they do.

  35. So controversial! LOVE IT.

    Thanks Noa for the great insight. It's ALL so true.

    ESB- you should have at least one dramatic post like this a week, plz.

  36. @dominique YES! at least once per week! ;)
    @esb i promise that if you ever ask me to do another guest post in the future (i wish!), that it will be a lot shorter than this one. & also i would like to point out that i have also been known to break promises sometimes.

  37. @noa, I appreciate what you're trying to say, and really there's not too much advice to give besides the cliche "have a backyard picnic wedding" that frustrates people so much. The only other thing you can suggest is "suck it up and accept that you can't afford a luxury photographer." Which is just the reality that people have to get used to and find a way not to be bitter about... when you're thinking bitter thoughts you look ugly and the cheap photographer will take even crappier photos.

    However I have to say that it is sooooo hilarious to me when wedding industry people post things like, Oh I have to get directions, talk to my assistant, quadruple check that I have with all my equipment, have all my backup batteries, waah waah! That's not hard work, that's showing up to do your job. Every door-to-door vacuum salesman has to do the same thing.

    If you think your job is stressful you should try one of those regular 9-5 non-artiste jobs you pooh-pooh. Your salary compared to that of a schoolteacher is obscene, and your work is ten times less important than hers. I think you can complain about the hours and the job duties after you get a taste of what it's like to change adult diapers and clean bed sores like a minimum-wage nurse's aide. Or working 80+ hours a week as an attorney or investment manager. Or putting your life on the line like a cop or a firefighter.

    You can charge what you charge because you're good at what you do and the market for your style of photography skills is distorted. Not because your work is actually worth that much. You take very nice artsy pictures of people at their private family parties. In a just society, you should be compensated much less than almost all other workers (child care workers, customer service reps, bus drivers).

  38. @noa, I hope I didn't offend you. I'm sure you're worth every penny of that $5,500. And I realize that you've been on the other end of things as a bride. And you're right--haggling can be annoying and insulting. But you're not a "budget" priced photog, so it's a bit odd, maybe a bit patronzing, to hear budget wedding advice from a vendor with medium to high prices.

  39. Noa you said it eloquently, and I think you addressed everyone's comments and concerns very pragmatically. One part of your article screamed "yes!" right out in my face:
    "Something I would strongly recommend would be to try and find talented newbie vendors who want to build their portfolio."
    Yep, that's me! And as much as brides may want to find us, we want to be found! It is the old chicken and egg syndrome of not being able to book weddings without samples of weddings. I am in a unique and frustrating situation of having shot over 20 weddings as a lead photographer and maybe 30 more as an assistant with no access to my images, because I was under another studios employment. I cannot be alone in this dilemma either.
    As most "vendors" know the wedding business functions greatly on word of mouth, thus the early years in business are slow, but once you get going the momentum is wonderful. Now starting out on my own with a need to build my portfolio, my biz perfectly fills the niche of brides on a meager budget looking for an experienced photographer. There should be a website called "eager and talented newbies"!

  40. @Jenny: Noa said her salary from photography is $30K. Reading skillz.

    @everyone breathing fire: chill the fuck out, no?

    @Noa: thanks for being so candid and lovely and for being such an incredible artist.

  41. As a makeup/hair stylist I couldn’t agree with Noa more. I can’t stand it when people get to the end of their budget and then want me to discount their rates for hair and makeup services. Chances are if you find someone to do a free trial or $50 makeup on location with no travel fee you arent getting the best quality. Typically the price someone charges reflects the time, expericence and the quality of services they provide...Just something to keep in mind. I guess it’s hard for people to understand all the hard work and costs we deal with as "vendors." Reguardless....You can’t have champagne taste on a beer budget people. If you want a service you should pay for it. Period.

  42. As a wedding cake designer, I don't mind when people try to haggle with me, but the answer is probably going to be no, I won't reduce the cost of the cake. Feel free to ask, but I'll feel free to say no discounts. My profit margins aren't that big.

    Look at it this way. The next time your boss asks you to come in for extra hours on the weekend without pay, he's just haggling with you. Well sure, why wouldn't you want to work for free? Well, wedding vendors need to be paid for the work that we do, too.

    I'm glad to work within people's budgets, but I usually have to drag the budget out of people. I'm not in the business of trying to gouge people, and I do want to stay within their budget, but I need to know what the parameters are before I can do that. There's nothing wrong with having a limit, we all do.

    Believe me, I got paid more when I worked in a department store than I do now, so discounts on the work that I do? Not so much.

  43. First off, @Jenny was just being a bitch.

    Second, it is important to stress that when you are talking about creative vendors like photographers, you are paying for artistic work and it is priced accordingly. Also, let's not attack a group of artists who are actually able to sustain themselves on their work. It is rare and we should congratulate them.

    As far as the inflation of wedding prices as a whole, it is not the vendors' fault that everyone wants their wedding to look like a fucking magazine spread. Don't sit around and be bitter that you can't have the wedding/photographer/caterer/dress/whatever and be realistic and get rucking happy that you're marrying the one you love (not all of us are so lucky) infrint of the most important people in your lives.

    Lastly, stop being assholes to the nice photographer lady. She's just trying to help.

  44. @Jenny While I agree that there are lot of people in this country who should be paid much, much more for their services than they currently are, I think it's unfair for you to make a judgment call about who *doesn't* deserve fair wages. Noa is providing a service, and as long as there are people willing to pay her fee, then she is making exactly what she deserves.

    There's no pleasure in taking each other down a peg or two here.

  45. Can we also acknowledge how incredibly kind it is that Noa has taken the time to answer questions that are usually withheld in this industry? And the comments that follow?

  46. I wish I could "like" Melissa's post :)

  47. @Melissa YES.

    And what no one has said here is that it is NOT expensive to get married. Go to city hall, get a marriage license. Done.

    Everything else associated with weddings is a luxury, and we are free to pick and choose our "add ons" as we sit fit.

    @Noa, you are a class act, lady.

  48. ahahaha! oh you guys are all so rad-- all of you!! i'm loving this... apparently i have started an unintentional fire! i'm proud of this one. (esb- thank you).

    oh and @miss K- thanks for actually reading!!: the $30,000 salary (which is actually more like $28,000 this last year but who's counting?) and yea- last i heard- teachers got around $35,000- $40,000 per year?

    @melissa thank you! "artists who are actually able to sustain themselves on their work. It is rare and we should congratulate them." yes!
    and also i think the most important thing in this entire post AND thread is: "And what no one has said here is that it is NOT expensive to get married. Go to city hall, get a marriage license. Done."

    @hartandsol @anonymous @miss k @ molly thank you!

    @everyone- i'm not offended by any of this- i take very few things personally. this is all rad and you are all absolutely right. great convo!

    @jenny- i TOTALLY agree with your statement: 'suck it up and accept that you can't afford a luxury photographer." Which is just the reality that people have to get used to and find a way not to be bitter about...'
    that was exactly my 'point' in the "credit card" statement- deal or don't deal... totes.

    hey so anyways, who's down for having a nice cocktail & just dancing it out tonight? :) i got my dirty-hip-hop pandora station on... word.

  49. @esb ha! i'm on my 2nd vodka-lemonade. this might be more entertaining than jersey shore. maybe.

  50. @Noa - I want to buy you a drink. You obviously put a lot of time and care into typing that leeennngggtthy post, and again in responding so patiently to all these assholes. Your blog is fab, you're a fatastic photographer and thank you.

  51. @nikki- thank YOU! :) i do care about things like debates and stuff like that. and yes let's have that drink pleez!!!

  52. great convo. thanks esb and noa. i totally just hit refresh on this post like 300 times to keep up w/ the comments.


  53. @hartandsolphoto said it perfectly! The reality is, the reason brides find everything associated with weddings to be so expensive is because they have never planned a big event to feed 100+ people before. I never had to rent out a venue and hire a caterer, etc before my wedding and I probably never will again. It's a once in a lifetime (hopefully!) event that you can put whatever you want into it. If you are fine with a sweet little backyard wedding, go for it. If you want a grand ballroom affair, be prepared to pay for it. Don't bite off more than you can chew. Noa has some excellent ideas for cutting your budget, even if you don't want a backyard wedding. If you want to save money by DIYing it, thats great. But be prepared to put time and energy into it, the same time and energy that a vendor you would pay to do it, and once you do a DIY wedding, trust me, you understand why vendors ask what they are asking for.

    And @Jenny, please learn to read and to not be so caddy and mean. Noa has talent and skill and training that is most definitely worth something, just like any other person in this world.

  54. You can't get the magazine, luxury wedding for the backyard price, srsly... If you want an Oscar De La Renta dress you pay for it or you get something else cheaper. It may or may not be 'as' nice, but it won't be ODLA. You want a featherlove wedding you pay for it or you don't.. it doens't make her the devil

  55. I *dislike Alice.
    I'm not on a pedestal - I was simply stating that perhaps I am shocked that he can get away with charging 10K minimally for shooting a wedding, and that his work after wards (while brilliant) doesn't take more than a week. Quite frankly we are jealous as we work 365 days a year and in 36 hour stints... so STFU. I am super thankful that my friend shot my wedding - he knows I wouldn't have paid him his usual prices despite our lack of budget - it's just not something I could justify, but it was and is my favorite wedding present.

    And @noa - thanks for taking the time to reply with your opinion as an industry vendor.

    I still think the influx of photographers will drive the price down... just my personal opinion.

    It is one day, and it's an important day, but I still believe it has gotten out of hand. Most people can't and should not spend 30k on one day of their life. It's this massive entitlement attitude that our society is inflicted with, but I also think that wedding vendors have started to take advantage of this kleinfield-esq BS that we are being sold. When you walk away from your wedding, no matter how beautiful it is, you don't really remember the flowers or the linens or any of that shit - you should remember the moments. And if you don't you fucked up.

  56. And just as a quick comment: My mother who has planned 100's of large galas has stated that the minute she mentioned she was planning for our wedding, prices for things she had previously rented were definitely more expensive.

    Example: she had rented 1500 clear chairs for an event about a year prior - for our wedding she rented 350... they were $4.50 more a chair...

  57. I love @Alice from way back at 3.23pm. I think we could be BFF's ;)

    @Jenny: WOW. Recording your history is less important than teaching or nursing?! What's the first thing you're gonna get when your house is burning down?!

    If photography isn't your priority that's great, just don't get shitty with great artists who charge accordingly. Same goes with the rest of it. Be nice people- ask politley and be prepared to possibly get knocked back. Clearly there's a whole lot of emotion involved with weddings on both sides.

  58. @Anonymous 10:08 PM
    I'd be interested to know what days and times of the week your Mother's galas fell on. Chances are, not Saturday nights, as they are the Tiffany's and Bentley's of the event world. There are only 52 of them a year and thus prime, prime real estate. Galas are usually on Tuesday & Wednesday evenings.

    In LA, it only costs $90 to get married. Everything other than the cost of the marriage license with the county clerk is due to the bride & groom's desires to have pretty things. Supply & demand, y'all.

  59. Um... Yes recording your history is less important than nursing and teaching - are you fucking kidding me???
    I mean seriously... you can't be comparing wedding photographs to nursing/teaching??? Are you in your 20's??

    And if my house is burning down I am betting that photographs with the digital copies stored are probably not high on the priority list...

    And Amber - good point. Only 4 of the galas last year were during prime time.

    In regards to supply and demand: for sure, it's definitely dictated by the market, but diamonds for example, we know the price is driven up, not because they are rare, but because a certain large company who carries a large supply dictate the prices and drive them up to make more money - not based on demand. And marketing has contributed to this crazy drive for all women to insist on "diamonds are a girls best friend" - It's marketing... all of it. I totally agree with you - I know that people should be able to charge what they want for the services they provide, but I think that the whole industry is preying on emotional brides.

    I wish I could tell them all: trust me it will not be the only time you ever get to plan a party, it won't be the last time you wear a white dress, your wedding photos won't always be your favorite photographs of you and your SO, & it shouldn't be the most important day of your life...

  60. I didn't say photography was more important than these things. It is still a huge responsibility, because as Noa said, you can't do it again- and the photographer is the first one to cop it when there aren't images of all the other things that you paid for. When there is no image of your grandparent/parent/friend who died not long after. No, it's not curing cancer, but a bride does not want someone who is blase and uncaring about a day that is important to them. And just because we're not curing cancer does not mean that we shouldn't get paid a half decent income.

    Glad to hear you have copies of your files because most people don't. As I said, if you don't value photography that's just fine. The day and budget should prioritize what's important for YOU.

  61. When people complain about photographers' prices they to think it's a one day job. Like, "Whoa, nice work for a Saturday." I'm a wedding photographer and I spend at least one solid week, working long hours, in post-production to really bring out the best from the photographs I show my clients. Plus factor in dealing with emails, meeting clients, before and after, albums, prints, etc., it's actually not a particularly great hourly wage. But even if it was, surely you must recognise that within any industry the level of skill and expertise is remunerated accordingly. It's pointless to compare entirely different professions (photographers and doctors.. what??). Show me any commercial enterprise where the difference in quality is NOT reflected in the price...

  62. Holy cow!

    Awesome conversation going on here, and may I say it's no different here in the UK!

    I'm a photographer. And I LOVE what I do. I have more than 15 years experience in my field. Years of highs and lows. Years of feast, but mostly famine. I am a single parent with a small child. I do not own my own home. I make the minimum wage. No, I do not charge £4000 for a wedding (not even half that), but I wouldn't mind if someone wanted me so badly they were prepared to pay it (and I suspect NO-ONE on this blog would, either!!!).I work VERY hard, but no, I'm not saving lives or performing brain surgery. Yes, I am an artist (boo, hiss!), but I take providing my clients with the very best very seriously. I have loads of overheads. I have spent more than £15,000 on equipment to provide this high quality service (a boss/company didn't provide it for me- or the insurance, or the premises, or the car...). I am not married, but if I were getting married I would try to spend as little as possible. I welcome folk who tell me upfront what their budget/hopes/dreams are. If I can help, I will. BUT DO NOT KICK MY ARSE FOR DARING TO MAKE A LIVING FROM YOUR WEDDING DAY. I am not a charity. I am lucky to be doing something I love with a passion every day- but it comes with a price. You may envy my freedom, and perhaps that is why some of you are carping on about fees charged,but I miss the joy of a regular income and the freedom THAT brings!

    Bottom line?

    If you can't afford a big, flash wedding, so what? Don't get caught up in the celebrity/you can have it all bullshit going around.

    PRIORITISE, PRIORITISE, PRIORITISE!!!! If food's your bag, go for the sit-down feast. If you've dreamt about your wedding dress since you were 6, book the appointment with the couture designer. And if photos will keep your day alive for many, many years to come- save your pennies up, be honest about your budget, be realistic and swap those Jimmy Choos hiding under your dress out-of-sight for a pair of sneakers and call your favourite snapper!

    Wedding days are about the 2 of you.
    Binding yourselves together with love, forever.
    Just bloody enjoy it!

    Well, that's what I would do if I hadn't spent so many of my Friday and Saturday nights capturing other people's joyous moments, that I've missed out on finding 'someone special' of my own, lol!

    In all seriousness, there are loads of really valid points being made, but please don't forget it's all about the choices we make.

  63. My husband is a small business owner who had to haggle when he was starting out. He doesn't any more because he paid his dues and built his business and reputation on hard brilliant work. If you want to haggle go ahead and try, but that doesn't mean your vendors will be interested in working with you. Noa's advice was perfect. If you can't afford her services, I'm sure you can find someone just starting out who needs a shot, haggle with them.

  64. @Noa - You are awesome.


    "Another thing is that the people I know and love and have worked with in this industry are some of the most fiercely dedicated, hard-working & creative people I have ever met in my life. They don’t get to clock out at 5pm- they work all the time, they work with their toddlers in hand, they eat, sleep, dream and breathe their jobs, and have to deal with so much more stress than most regular 9-5 jobs, and on top of that they have to find a way to be creative all the time, even when they're completely exhausted. If they’re charging what they charge it’s because they can and should and because they love what they do."

    After reading @Jenny & @Anon's comments, I wanted to go off on a rant, but I'll refrain. If you don't value photography, then don't spend a lot of money on it. No one is forcing you to. But no need to insult those who are able to make (a very meager) living doing what they are passionate about. (And it's not just a week's worth of work... but that's neither here nor there.)

    And having a camera does not automatically make you a photographer, so I don't think anyone worried about the influx of people who get SLRs for Christmas and open up shop. They don't have the same quality of work.

  65. As a wedding photographer myself, my prices are about mid-range. My top package is $2900 for 8 hours but I actually don't make $362.50 per hour when I shoot a wedding. I normally spend approximately 80 hours afterward on the editing and artwork because it's important for me to give my couples beautiful artistic images, something that's going to blow them away. My work isn't for everyone but the couples who do hire me appreciate that my work is different from most of what's out there. When all is done I make approximately $36 per hour. This doesn't include the expenses of the 400 proofs and the 100 engagement proofs. After taxes I guess I make about $20 per hour. This also does not include the expenses of advertising, equipment, gas, office supplies, an assistant for the wedding and workshops to upgrade and improve my work.

    If the photography is important to you then I think it's worth it to pay a photographer that you love to document the wedding because you know they're going to do the job. A photographer is documenting history and the images will be passed down for generations, and that's important. If you want to cheap out on a photographer I can guarantee that you'll be disappointed in the end.

    Personally, if I were to get married, Noa would be doing the wedding. And yes, it would be a backyard wedding. And yes, Noa would be at least half of my budget, if not more. That's how much I LOVE her work and how important photography is to me. And guess what? I wouldn't be asking for a discount. As an fellow artist I understand what she puts into her work and I feel she's worth every single penny that she charges. Noa puts her heart and soul into each wedding and the proof is in her images. Priceless.

    Photography is a labour of love to most of us. There are only a handful of rock star photographers in the world making loads of cash. The reality is that most of us have partners with full time jobs or business to support us while we work at our passion. I honestly love what I do so much that if I won a lottery I'd do it for free. In the meantime, please don't try to haggle - it cheapens my work and I'm already offering the best price for the amount of work I put into a wedding .

  66. Hells Yes, Noa. Thank you so much for being so honest. I work two jobs so that I can afford to work with clients that can afford me and not make me work for nothing, so pricing is something that I really value. This post (and you ESPB) rock.

  67. I can tell you our experience. We shopped around A LOT. We found people who we loved and couldn't afford and then kept looking and found people with similar style that we COULD afford. For instance we realized we couldn't afford a certain super hot indie wedding DJ that everyone (including this blog) recommends. We asked around and found another cool indie DJ that plays in bars and restaurants in our neighborhood but also has wedding experience (this is key we didn't want someone who was totally green to weddings). We got referred to a talented photographer with similar experience. I'd also say go for the assistants if you can't afford the person you like. After all they should be trained in the style you're looking for.

    Since we were planning late, only (gasp) SIX MONTHS out! We picked our date based on what our venue had available and we shopped around quite a bit for that as well. When we called some of the other venues back to tell them we were going with someone else they said they would have liked to have a chance to match the price- too late we already signed the contract. Everyone who is still shopping should keep that in mind. Of course the venue we went with allows you to buy your own booze and the others didn't so I have a feeling the open bar cost would have been difficult for them to match.

    Everyone we've talked to has seemed to have some wiggle room on their price. Maybe it's because of our late planning- they're just happy to book a date they have open, but I do think the economy has something to do with it. I think asking people to do something for half their price is crazy but 10-20% off isn't. They can always say no. It is more polite to be upfront about your budget though. There's always the possibility of them altering their package. You can cut back on the hours too. You'll want pics of the ceremony and the beginning of the reception but at a certain point how many pics do you need of drunk people dancing? You can get that on the throw away cameras.

    Seriously though, shop around and ask for referrals. Then get examples of people's work and make sure you like it. If you go super cheap you're likely to get what you pay for. My friend found a wedding photog on Craig's list for $800 bucks, he used the wrong lens for a bunch of the photos and made everyone look like midgets.

  68. Hey there, I didn't read everything, but just want to say that you definitely won't be getting the steak & lobster dinner for a deal, and to play negotiating by ear. I negotiated successfully negotiated one aspect of the wedding, which was the location. They are not (yet) a big Wedding place, which is why I think it worked. This is how I did it: "We love your place! We had only budgeted x for the location. We don't expect you to drop that low, but we thought we'd just ask if there's any room for negotiation." The manager dropped the price WAY more than I expected. I think that's a pretty respectful way to start a conversation. You will definitely come off like an ass if you say, "That is way out of line. We're not paying that." That's just starting things off in an insulting or, at the least, confrontational way. In other aspects, however, we just chose the cheaper options: Farmer's Market flowers, lower-priced (but delicious) caterer, purchasing wine/champagne ourselves, etc. Btw, in my experience, I think caterers that also have restaurants tend to be on the cheaper side. If you choose an all-inclusive Wedding place, it's just going to be expensive. But then you don't have to worry about shit. That's the tradeoff. Good luck!!

  69. Reading this has been hilarious and fascinating. It is interesting to see the different perspectives. and of course everyone is an individual with the right to think as they like. and when it comes down to it, as stated, a wedding can cost $100 and you don't need to worry about all the charges, the overcharges and haggling etc., just be in love and sign the papers. but to throw a big party on a weekend is going to be expensive, wedding or not, backyard or not. I've looked into throwing a party after my very small intimate 20 person wedding that cost under $10,000 total and it is still expensive, even without the wedding tag on it. and honestly we could of run off, just the two of us and been perfectly happy but it was perfect and amazing to have our close beautiful family there and if we had more money we would have loved to done it up a little more but we were and are happy in love so we worked with our budget and did what we could and were happy regardless of whether it was just the two of us or a bigger event. I kind of don't get where people's anger is even coming from. as a bride planning a wedding I never got angry at cost because you don't HAVE to do any of it. it's up to you. if I was quoted a price and I wanted to work with the person and it was manageable with my budget then there is no problem if it is not within budget and they cannot lower the price much (which I never even asked, I'm not much of a haggler type) I would not work with them, end of story, no anger, no more thought about it. I never thought to myself 'is this person worth this much?' that's impossible to answer and why even ask it. and if you can't get the vendor you want at the price you want and you're angry about it then really you're just whining that you can't get what you want and it's not about the wedding or being in love at all.

    I am also starting out as a photographer and it would have been nice to have had the desire and the smarts to be a doctor but that is not where my heart is and I am not driven to do that does that mean my chosen profession is not worthy of me making a living off of? that's silly. I mean the whole argument of this person shouldn't make as much as this other person is impossible to qualify. are we going to argue that Picasso's art shouldn't cost as much as it does because art doesn't save lives? (which I would argue, because I think art enriches and does save lives in a psychological, metaphysical way) But most wedding photographers or wedding vendors in general are not living lavish lives, in fact as has been stated they work crazy long hours prepping, shooting, post, advertising, continuing education etc. etc. to make most times a simple meager living. not that I don't agree that doctors and teachers deserve to make more money, of course they do, but that's a whole other topic. I just think it's pointless to compare. I presently work a low paying full time job as I try to also start a business so I don't get much relax time and if the day comes that I can charge an amount that I can actually make a living off of it and not be in debt (equipment, websites, insurance, education is not cheap) and not have to work an additional full time job I will not feel guilty because I'm not a doctor... and did any one catch that Noa has been in this business for 5 years and this is the first year she's made some money, and it's not a huge amount of money. Maybe some vendors are charging outrageous prices but I think more so that people in general don't realize the cost and time involved in running a business. and if someone is making a nice living off of doing what they love in the wedding industry or other and you find yourself angry about it maybe you need to find what you love and start pursuing it, maybe then you would be happier and not so worried about whether other people deserve what they have.

  70. jumping in late here, but whatev.

    when we were planning our wedding, i ALWAYS told people our budget. i said i wanted to be upfront and transparent and X was what we had planned to spend - was this a figure that they could consider?. i said i'm sure they heard that quite a bit in this economy, and i understood if they couldn't make that work. most of the time, we ended up not being able to work with them and having to shop around more. and - you know what - not the end of the world. yes, we are spending a lot of money, but we are finding vendors that fit our budget, that we like, that seem professional and great to work with. some of our are on the more expensive end ($4,500 for photo) and some are on the lower end (caterer was our biggest bill and where we tried to find a price we were comfortable with. there was lots of sticker shock on this one). i don't feel entitled to a kick-ass photographer without paying for it. i dug into the caterer estimates and realized that they had to rent stuff and labor costs and food costs and then the bill made total sense.

    that said, some wedding stuff is totally overpriced. you know what i did? DIDN'T FUCKING BUY IT. there are choices people. vote with your dollars. support business you want. don't support business you don't agree with. uh, duh.

    also, there is a perception out there (fed by marketing) that your wedding is YOUR DAY and if you are REALLY in love you won't have to compromise on ANYTHING. because then it won't be as special or real.

    i've compromised on a hell of a lot. and you know what. my day is still going to be special. i'm still in love. turns out.

  71. oh man. way too many comments here, but this is a fantastic post.

    as someone who ran a very successful catering department (specializing in weddings) for many years, this is a hot topic for me. let's be honest with ourselves here... most of us who are planning or have planned a wedding know about feather love. noa's work is all over blogs not because of luck, but because it's top notch and stands above the rest. she doesn't just take wedding pictures; i think we can all agree that her photographs have a unique touch and a certain je ne sais quoi. whether or not that's your particular taste in wedding photography, her prices reflect that and scrutinizing her for it is childish. it's quite ridiculous, not to mention RUDE, that some of you were requesting a breakdown of her (or any photographer's) expenses and profit. if you can't afford a $5500 photographer, build a bridge and get over it... you'll be fine. i find it extremely difficult to believe that any of you are writing letters to vera wang demanding to know why her dresses are $20,000+.

  72. (apparently, i have too much to say)

    back to me working as a catering chef. i always found it shocking just how many couples tried to not only haggle, but get prices close to or even below cost. here's what goes into catering your average wedding (AFTER we've gone through planning your menu, making sure it fits within your's and your guest's dietary needs, and doing a walk-through of your site):

    1. four days before the event, i'd come up with my order. that means breaking down every recipe and figuring out exactly how much of every single ingredient (chicken breasts to cremini mushrooms) i would need to prepare the meal for your wedding. it's a fine line here... if i don't order enough, you'll be shorted; if i order too much, we're losing money.

    2. my order comes in the next day. my two assistants would meet me at the kitchen (labor costs) usually between 5-6 am for long days of prepping. time to clean and marinade 150 pieces of skirt steak, pound and stuff 150 chicken breasts, devein 300 pieces of shrimp (for the shrimp cocktail you just HAD to have), wash and chop case after case AFTER CASE of swiss chard for braising, etc.., etc..,

    3. 24 hours into it, i access the situation and take an accurate inventory of what i have. most caterers will initially order less, and then redo and up their order 48 hours before the event. more prepping to be done...

    4. it's the day before your wedding and you've just called to inform me that (whoops!) 10 more guests just rsvp'd and you completely forgot that one of your aunts is lactose intolerant, so she'll need a special meal. i tell you not to worry, we've got everything under control. i hang up the phone and panic. after a tiny fit of rage and a much needed drink (at 11 am), i am back in action. i call my vendors and beg and plead for a last minute afternoon delivery.

    5. it's wedding day! i'ver slept a total of maybe 12 hours in the last three days that usually involved some sort of nightmare about how i forgot to grill the steaks. my assistants meet me again at the crack of dawn and we start actually cooking all the food. we'll do what we can at our kitchen and do the finishing touches at the wedding site. at around noon, the servers meet us at the kitchen and help us load the van full of food and all our supplies. we go over and compare our lists multiple times to make sure we're not forgetting anything.

    6. we all drive off to your site where we'll all stay until the wedding and reception are over. on average, this would be a 15-18 hour day for me. if i'm lucky, you won't request that dinner be served an hour earlier.

    SO, when you're quoted $75 a head (and no, that does not include service fees or extra labor costs), i truly hope you don't wince an eye. vendors (or whatever you want to call them) put a shit ton of work and effort into making your day extra special and perfect, and their prices are well deserved. come up with your budget and DO YOUR RESEARCH. if you can't afford someone, find someone else.

  73. Noa - thank you SO MUCH for taking the time to write this & respond to everyone. That's hardcore, & greatly appreciated. A few thoughts:

    It always amazes me when people see my mid-range pricing and assume I'm rolling in it. Yes, it would be awesome if I could make $3200 every work day, five days a week, but that's definitely not how it happens. About 70 - 80% of the studio's annual income goes toward expenses and costs of running a business. I have a retail location, too, so that's another chunk of cash that has to be made. Rent, camera equipment, computer equipment, printing, shipping, website hosting, travel, insurance - running a business is not cheap. Even though I'm the sole photographer, if the business makes 80 grand a year, that does NOT mean that I take home 80 grand a year. I had the (ultimately depressing) idea last year to try to figure out how much I actually make per hour. I really lowballed my weekly hours and still realized that I take home something stupid like $8 an hour. I could make more than that working at the coffee shop down the street, but obviously that wouldn't be as much fun :)

    Which (sort of) brings me to my next thought - we're photographers rather than baristas because it's fun, and we like being able to be creative. If you're trying to save some money on photography, make it super fun for us and you might have better luck. I get so many copy and paste inquiries that tell me next to nothing about the wedding or the couple. If I were to get a personalized email from a bride explaining that she's all tatted up and getting married at the circus by a fire-breathing priest or something I would be much more inclined to negotiate on the price a little because it would be REALLY AWESOMELY FUN for me to shoot. Hell, if someone were to contact me about a wedding like that, I would go out of my way to try to make it work. If you're doing something unusual, mention it - however, don't phrase it like "it would be great for your portfolio" because that sort of implies that my portfolio needs help. Just mention it.

    This last point - I'm curious to see what you all think. I'm from a really small town so maybe it's more acceptable than in the city, but IF it were the right bride with the right professional skills, I might consider some sort of barter - you know, you're a yoga teacher and are offering me unlimited yoga classes for the next year or something in exchange for some sort of discount. Don't offer something that you don't do professionally, and I would wait until you've talked with your potential photographer a bit and gotten to know them, but it couldn't hurt to ask. I don't do this often, but IF it was reasonable and the right fit, I might be willing to consider it.

  74. @Noa, As a wedding photographer for low-budget brides, I would fully agree. You don't haggle with someone in the higher brackets. They are there for a reason. It is a costly business, time-consuming and stressful. You deserve the rate you request.

    I didn't have a wedding photographer for my own wedding and I kick myself almost every day. We had a few family members take photos + they were nothing like having a hired artist to come in and weave a story out of images from the day. Photos are so important to me. But, as a photographer, I just couldn't find someone whose work I loved + respected ...and, more importantly, something within our budget.

    We did everything on our own...food, decorations — you name it. We had 225 people in our backyard for a little under $7K! And we walked w/ some profit from gifts. If we would have hired someone to shoot our wedding, we probably would have ended up with debt. Looking back (even though I think you were kidding), I would have gone into a little debt for having those memories.

  75. As someone who photographs weddings, I don't mind haggling to an extent. I wouldn't go to the most high-end person and ask them to do the job they do for low end pricing. Don't be ridiculous or rude, but instead make concessions on your part. Cut the hours you want covered back and be honest with your budget. If you lay it all out on the table then the vendor you are working with then they might have a plan or suggestion. For the sake of my conscience, I would rather work with someone and give them a few hours worth of shots they can cherish then just have them go with their free cousin and his shots that they will cringe over & have nothing to show their kids.

  76. wow-- all this great honest input! thanks everyone- really pertinent info that people should know about from both brides as well as industry people. so glad we got all these conversations going.

    btw: i have been called many things in my life but "pooh-pooh" is certainly my favorite!!!! :)

    also- in regards to 'trying out a non-artiste job': i have had about 1000 careers in my life before this business, including but not limited to: barista, caregiver for elderly holocaust survivor, narrator, courier, driver, telemarketer, sales-person, multimedia artist, graphic designer, web designer, waitress, cocktail waitress at seedy strip club, person who answers phone at pizza joint in the barrio in santa fe, secretary, assistant, unemployed, and lots more... this photography job (albeit NOT the least stressful) is my fave so far.

    and apparently at this point i might be the Guinness world record holder for 'most controversial wedding photographer ever'! ha. #dreamcometrue (& yes that was also a joke btw)

  77. geez! i love this!! i have enjoyed this. however, I think some of these folks need to be put on blood pressure meds. yikes! the chick is just trying to help! for the record...I would love to be able to afford your work. that includes your time, effort, dedication and love for your craft that is evident in your art! i hope the select few can find kinder ways to state their difference of opinion. then again...i have been thoroughly entertained :/

  78. While I recognize a grain of truth to The Wedding Industry and the hype that can go along with it, I come down on the side of the artist.

    You get what you pay for, and you have to decide what's important to you. When my fiance and I planned our wedding, we decided that the important part was getting married. We're having a 15-person ceremony, and a wedding celebration party a few months later. We're having a local BBQ restaurant cater, and the price is 1/2 to 1/3 of the price that a regular caterer would be.
    We splurged on photography. We planned the rest of our budget around that cost because it was important to us. We're both into photography, and we wanted to have a certain quality of photographer to tell our wedding story.
    My sister spent every penny of her wedding budget with a 150-person traditional wedding & reception. I had the same budget, and spent about half; and most of that was spent on photography and our 10-day honeymoon.
    A backyard wedding is NOT the only way to plan a budget wedding, by any means. It's trendy right now, and it is an awesome idea, but there are so many ways. DIY'ing your wedding shouldn't be a chore - it should be fun and a
    way to make your wedding personal to you.

    Keep in mind also that while someone who works a 9-5 job has steady work, the same is not necessarily true for wedding photographers.

    Bottom line - you get to decide how much you want to spend, and there are myriad ways to plan within that budget. Don't insult someone because they are above your budget, or because they excel at a craft you have no respect for.

  79. I really appreciate you addressing this common issue.

    Personally I feel like it's more the norm these days for clients to haggle with me. I understand where they're coming from because I myself threw a small budget wedding and it was perfect. When I know the client is a good fit for me to work with, enjoyable, kind, respectful, and truly loves my style I am then more likely to try to work with their budget. However when someone calls saying they're getting married at a $40,000 venue with 150+ guests, multiple locations are needed for coverage, there is 18 people in the wedding party, they want 40+ person family group shots and they don't really care if I shoot film (that's part of what I offer so it's not really up to them) and they are fine getting unprocessed raw files to help reduce the cost (EWWW!) then I pretty much know I won't be giving them any deals and I will more then likely wished I charged more if I do book them at full price.

    I get it though. The world has changed a lot and an informed consumer is a great thing. They just have to learn it's better to be sweet and respectful in asking and not assume that we are trying to overcharge (like the comment above where the guy says his friend who charges 10k doesn't do the amount of work to deserve it...by the way, I went to Brooks and my photo degree cost about as much as going to school to become a doctor so I take offense to that comment).

    :) thanks for standing up for us!

    Michelle Warren Photography

  80. @noa wow. I finally tried to read through all the comments and I give you major props for having such a great attitude in dealing with some of this bitterness. One could take it as hurtful and degrading but you are holding your head high. I love it.

    So sad some of the opinions are so bitter and negative. Exactly the kind of people I wouldn't want to work for. True we have an amazing career and I thank my lucky stars every day for my life, career and loving family & friends but that doesn't mean that because I love my job I shouldnt get paid well for the hard work, devotion and quality I provide.

    Thanks again for being honest and taking the hits well. It is very refreshing to read this kind of debate in our industry. I appreciate you Noa.

  81. P.S. I've been shooting weddings with other photographers for almost ten years now and started my business 8 years ago after graduating from Brooks Institute and I can back Noa up on this one. I did not start profiting till my fourth year in the business and currently I shoot about 10-15 weddings, 40 family sessions, 5 or so random corporate events and a few other miscellaneous jobs I can get my hands on and my average yearly profit is about 40-45,000. I work every day editing, color correcting, designing albums, pulling print orders, emailing/calling back clients, assembling, meeting brides, shooting, promoting, bookkeeping, and more. It's not like I work only 60 days a year when I'm actaully shooting. Each wedding I do requires about 40-50 hours pre-planning and in post production.

  82. Can I just add that... having access to high end DSLRs does not automatically turn a person into a great photographer, just like having a MontBlanc pen won't automatically turn you into Scott Fitzgerald any time soon...

    It's always hard to place a price on art and that's what photography is. Art.

  83. im a freelance photographer and a friend of mine had asked me to photograph her wedding for free - and i did, and now she is telling people that i did!

  84. I'm a photographer: IN A VERY SMALL TOWN.. my prices are incredibly low and people still haggle me.

    Do you go to the grocery store, pick out $300 worth of items and tell the clerk you only have $150??

    Our time, equipment and resources arent the only thing going in to this... Dont you realize if we mess this up, you could sue us as well as get a discount? Dont you realize we could lose our business, or a lot more money then you ever put into it in the beginning if our memeory cards were lost?

    Yes I back up everything, but we are human. And accidents happen.

    Her advise was honest and truthful. If you wanted something about haggling, maybe you should head over to couponmom.com and start saving pennies because weddings are expensive.. and for some reason brides feel entitiled to the world.

    If you dont want your memories to look great, then dont hire a photographer.
    And dont haggle one either.

  85. The comments here have been real fascinating to read. I won't say much- except that I think too many people out there are smoking (way too much) crack.
    Take it easy people and don't haggle. It's so uncool.

  86. @noa no one called you a pooh pooh! She said that you "pooh pooh non-artiste jobs" Don't really get why she things you look down on nurses and teachers but hey, I don't really get most of her post. Oh well.

  87. It really, really, really bothers me when people start to talk about how wedding vendors are gauging all of their clients.

    Frist of all, if a vendor were truly charging a ridiculous amount for the EXACT same service as someone else (meaning, one tent guy is across the street from another tent guy but charges 100 times as much for the SAME tents), then the world would take notice and those people would go out of business.

    How can you possibly know just exactly where the money you're paying goes? For photography consider this: Four hours of wedding coverage yields 5 times as many photographs (roughly) as four hours of portrait photography, and encompasses at least four times as many situations. It is not a matter of time equals time. Because a portrait session has time to relax and say, "Oh hang on, the sun went behind a cloud, give me a minute to change all my settings or my lens." In the middle of a wedding ceremony, if the sun goes behind a cloud and all of that beautiful color from the stained glass is no longer flooding the room, you cannot say, "Oh pause that. Let's wait for the sun to come back out." You just can't. Furthermore, if a freak snowstorm hits (like it did today, in NEOhio, where I live and the weather is fucking crazy), you can't call your bride and groom and see if next weekend works better. The wedding has to happen, no matter what.

    It is so illogical to compare the hourly rate of a portrait photographer to the hourly rate of a wedding photographer. I mean, seriously.

    I think that Americans want everything for cheap. We want to make $12 an hour (or more) and then pay $1 an hour for what that $12 an hour makes. It's worse when it comes to weddings, because everyone sits back and assumes that these vendors are crazy fuckers who are just taking in LOADS of money and laughing at the suckers who paid for their services.

    No one is trying to fuck you over. Get that out of your damn head right now.

    When you think of haggling with a vendor (or worse, lying to a vendor) consider this: On Monday, your boss strolls into your office and announces that you now must work Saturdays for no pay. You feel this is unfair because you are worth your salary and the time you put in to earn that. He says ok, you can have no more lunch breaks. You argue this is unfair and illegal, because you have a right to eat food. He says that's fine, I'll just remove the restrooms. You argue this is illegal and unfair because you have a right to use a restroom when working. He says that's fine, but then you must come in every day two hours earlier or you will be docked, and you must stay 'til the normal quit time. You argue this is unfair, because you are worth your salary...

    I could go on. It sounds ridiculous, right? What a waste of your time? How insulting? Unfair? You have rights, don't you?

    Yeah, well so do vendors. These are individuals trying to make a damn living and you think you deserve what they're offering for less? Why the hell would you think that? What makes you fucking princess of the world should give you shit for free?

    You're ridiculous.

  88. I got married this past year and I can proudly say I never, ever, EVER considered haggling any prices with any vendors. We knew our budget, we had it set and we used what resources we had. $5,000 is nothing when you consider that has to cover everything including the honeymoon. (ahhh yes life as a Masters student's wife ;) ) Thank goodness my mother in law had a stunning back yard and garden and my aunt makes cakes professionally, photographer was free since I am a photographer as well and I am shooting her wedding this summer for free. I knew of an incredible florist and was very willing to shell out the cash for small bouquets. Everything else from the decor to the boutonnieres was 100% DIY. Anyway, this is simply a hot button for me as well considering I am both a new bride and a wedding photographer. You should truly be ashamed of yourselves for trying to pull something like that. I understand you want to get as much as you can for as little as you can but if you do your research (even if it does take a lot more work) you can certainly find things without having to try to talk people down in price.

  89. I do agree that a lot of things are overpriced as soon as you mention the word wedding (genuinely rang one place to ask about a birthday party a few months before I started with my wedding and for pretty much the same thing I got wildly different estimates on price) BUT I think it's because 'vendors' assume you're wanting the super deluxe ridiculously over the top wedding thing. If you contact a photographer who makes amazingly arty shots etc then you're going to pay more but when you then contact an average run of the mill photographer and they want to charge the same price that's annoying so you don't use them.
    In my experience I liked the website of a photographer who was local but at £2500 for a day of shooting and prints etc (a price which I understand) I couldn't afford it. I got in touch and asked if they did 'none package deals' i.e. a couple of hours photography making sure there were some nice group shots, finishing photos afterwards and putting them on a usb for me since my partner works in printing. I said how much I admired their work but couldn't afford the full packages and I got a lovely email replying that since my wedding was a saturday in july he couldn't do anything but his experienced assistant who he highly recommended could do the small package I wanted at £350.... The moral of the story is don't haggle on price haggle on what you're asking for if you've got your heart set on a particular supplier. I know I'm getting someone who works in the same style, is incredibly professional but won't cost me the earth because I'm not asking for the super deluxe thing. Also I think sending a personal email rather than a round robin helped.