How Much Should I Spend On My Wedding Photographer in Chicago?
If you’re like me when I got engaged, one of the first steps after that happy “I do” moment was that realization of…we need a budget! And a question at the top of my mind was, “How much does a wedding photographer in Chicago cost?”
A wedding celebration is an important milestone in every couple’s love story, and one of the most common questions I’m asked by newly engaged couples is, “How much should we spend on our wedding photographer?” Chicago wedding photographer cost can vary greatly depending on levels of skill, renown, and other factors.
Together, we’ll gain an understanding of Chicago wedding photographer cost averages, and equip you to make the right decision for your wedding day. If you’re looking for even more wedding planning resources, then be sure to check out these top questions to ask your wedding photographer to ensure you’re partnering with a wedding photographer with the skills, equipment, and artistic vision that are perfectly in line with your unique wedding plans.
The Percentage Rule
Popular wedding planning sites like WeddingWire offer guidelines for Chicago wedding photographer cost, and it’s usually based on a flat percentage of your total wedding photography budget — or a “slice of the pie” if you’re looking at a circular chart. Many guides recommend investing 10-20% of your budget in a wedding photographer.
While this can be a good starting point to consider, there’s no one-size-fits-all rule that works for every couple and every wedding day. Why? Every couple values different things when it comes to the wedding day! For some couples, it’s of utmost importance to invest in a photographer with a strong track record of experience, with all the necessary equipment and backup gear, who can deliver consistently beautiful wedding galleries and stunning heirloom albums. Other couples may be willing to take a bit more of a risk, trading quality and experience to save a little bit of money by hiring a less-experienced wedding photographer.
So, remember: While a 10% “slice of the pie” may be a good starting point, many couples invest more than 10% of their wedding budget when they find the perfect wedding photographer!
Factors that Influence Wedding Photographer Cost
But really, how much do wedding photographers cost in Chicago? In a perfect world, there would be a short and sweet answer to this question, but there are a lot of factors that can influence Chicago wedding photographer costs.
You might not immediately consider lifestyle as a factor when it comes to how much a wedding photographer costs in Chicago, but it’s one of the most important to consider, as the cost of living in Chicago vs. the surrounding suburbs varies greatly.
For instance, a wedding photographer residing in the downtown loop may charge more simply because he or she has a higher cost of living, while a photographer raising a large family in the suburbs will be priced another way entirely based on what it takes to support his or her family.
You may also want to consider investing in a wedding photographer with a similar lifestyle as you, as the two of you are likely to have shared values when it comes to documenting your wedding day. While your wedding photographer’s lifestyle is an important factor to consider, it’s certainly not the deciding one!
Skill & Talent
Often lumped together as “expertise,” skill and talent are important factors to consider, as these two elements are critical factors when it comes to understanding your wedding photography investment. These two factors represent both the tangible and intangible outcomes when it comes to wedding photography, including:
- Photography skills (such as composition, posing, and handling varying lighting scenarios throughout the wedding day)
- Post-production skills (such as photo editing and album design)
- People skills (guiding the timeline planning process, communication, working well with others — especially important when it comes to collaborating with vendors and organizing your family formals!)
- Business skills that guarantee a high level of service and a consistent client experience
Skill and & talent often command a premium when it comes to wedding photography due to their desirability and demand. You can get a good idea of a photographer’s level of skill and talent by reviewing their portfolio, view full albums from client weddings, and checking reviews on places like Google, WeddingWire, and The Knot.
Do not undervalue a photographer’s previous experience! If your photographer has shot 50 or 100 or 200+ weddings, they will have had far more opportunities to troubleshoot and refine their wedding day process than a photographer in the beginning stages of their business.
If your photographer has more weddings under their belt, it’s far more likely that they will have already dealt with lighting or timing scenarios similar to your wedding day. They may even have shot a wedding at your venue before!
But don’t forget — the knowledge that comes with this sort of experience will affect the average Chicago wedding photographer cost.
A photographer’s style — or artistry — is that highly subjective and somewhat intangible quality that can also influence the investment you will make toward wedding photography. Photographers that charge more than the industry average have typically earned the right to do so by crafting a style that is unique, in-demand, and have often won awards for their work.
Even outside the most elite wedding photographers in the business, style influences the average Chicago wedding photographer cost as public sentiment and trends create higher demand for one or more distinct photographic styles. Check out a local wedding magazine. Are the images bright, clean, and true to color? Or are they more stylized, with moody edits and dramatic or edgy compositions? As trends change, so will the demand for a specific style or genre of wedding photography.
Services & Offerings
When considering the average Chicago wedding photographer cost, be sure to also consider what your wedding photography investment might get you. Every photographer structures his or her services and offerings differently, which will greatly affect their pricing. A few typical things to look for include the following:
- Time: Some photographers include “all-day” coverage in all of their collections, (this usually amounts to about 12 hours, by the way), while others structure collections with timelines of varying lengths: 4, 6, 8, and 10 hours are some common options here.
- Travel: Depending on the location of your venue or if you’re planning to travel to multiple destinations for formal portraits, a travel fee may apply. This is even more important to consider if your wedding photographer is traveling cross-country or abroad to serve you on your wedding day.
- Additional Photographers/Assistants: Does your wedding photographer offer collections that include a second shooter or studio assistant? These added staff persons also translate to a higher initial investment.
- Editing: This usually represents the part of your photographer’s time spent processing your images after the wedding so they look as beautiful as possible.
- Images: Make sure your wedding photographer’s cost includes JPG files of your images. In today’s modern, technological world, you should not have to pay extra to download your files. (Note: most photographers deliver your edited images only, and retain the RAW, unedited files for their archives.)
- Print Release: A print release is a personal use license granted by your photographer. The most common application you’d need this for would be to print your images at the photo lab of your choice or simply sharing images to your social media channels.
- Albums or Wall Art: Expect the average Chicago wedding photographer cost to go up if you’re investing in a collection that includes a custom album design or bespoke wall art, like canvases or metallic prints.
- Additional Photo Sessions: Does your wedding photographer offer additional photo sessions like engagements or bridal portraits? These come with additional time and editing costs for your photographer, and should be reflected in your total investment.
Average Wedding Photographer Costs in Chicago and Illinois
For the Chicago area and communities throughout Illinois, wedding photographers usually fall into the following starting price ranges:
Inexpensive ($1,000 – $3,000)
Beginners and Hobbyists: Other photography options that fall into this category would include those folks who are just getting started in the wedding photography business, or only consider wedding photography a hobby. While they may have shot some weddings, they do not yet have enough experience to be considered professional, and/or they may not deliver a style and quality of work that’s in demand in your area.
High Volume Studios: Some wedding photography businesses operate by charging lower rates, and cheaply outsourcing aspects of the business separately. (Most businesses of this type generally outsource both the photography staff and the actual editing work after the wedding day.) This may sound like an attractive offer, but you could end up spending much more than $3,000 with add-ons like a second photographer or additional hours to cover your full wedding day timeline. Keep in mind, you won’t have the peace of mind of knowing who your actual wedding day photographer will be, so it will be harder to judge other factors like quality and consistency.
Brand Insiders & Celebrity Photographers ($10,000+)
These sorts of photographers fill out the highest end of the range when it comes to the average Chicago wedding photographer cost. These sorts of professional photographers typically command a high starting price based on fulfilling a special niche (like only shooting film) or based on key relationships (partnership with influential industry leaders or celebrities).
Individual Artists & Small Studios ($4,000 – $8,000)
Individual Artists: In between the low-priced high-volume photography studios and celebrity wedding photographers are wedding photography boutiques — wedding photographers operating on their own or with a small team of 1-3 other professionals. You can rest assured knowing exactly who will be there to document one of the most important days of your love story.
Small Studios: Small studios are often a collective of wedding photographers working together to run a small business. You’ll have the same personalized, high-quality service you might receive from a boutique photography studio, with the added benefit of being able to choose from several closely-connected pros to find the perfect photographer to match your wedding day needs and style.
Both of these types of photography businesses are fully equipped with backup equipment, liability insurance, and the technology and skills to support any kind of wedding day. As a general rule, most photographers within these two groups have a starting price range around $4,000. Personally, this is where my photography business falls when it comes to artistry and business processes, and you can learn more about my services and offerings on my investment page.
So, how much does wedding photography in Chicago cost? As you can see, there’s no hard and fast, right or wrong answer to this question. It’s important to understand what you’re comfortable investing and then find the photographer that’s the absolute best fit for you.
As a general rule, the cost of a wedding photographer cost is whatever and as much as you’re comfortable investing. If you find a photographer whose work you adore, has great reviews from past clients, and their personality puts you at ease and gets you excited to create beautiful wedding heirlooms together, then book them — whatever their price.
For some, the perfect wedding photography investment might be $1,000 or less, while other couples may choose to invest $5,000, $10,000 or even more for the right wedding photographer. There will always be a more “inexpensive” option, but consider what you might be trading when it comes to style, skill, and consistency.
No matter which photographer you choose to invest in, remember that your wedding photographer will be working hard all day long to faithfully preserve your wedding day memories for you, your children and grandchildren. Be sure to love on them, as they’ll be loving on you as they take photos throughout the wedding day.
And don’t forget to check out my “Top 5 Tips for Choosing a Wedding Photographer” and “Questions to ask Your Wedding Photographer” articles for even more resources to help you find the right photographer for your unique love story!