Average Cost of a Chicago Wedding Photographer
For 2021, according to Snapknot.com, couples in Chicago will spend an average of just over $3,400 on wedding photography. Most (nearly 70%) will spend between $3,500 and $6,000. Of course, that’s just an average and doesn’t tell the whole story. Wedding photography prices can vary based on many factors. In general, more experienced photographers have higher pricing…but spending more money might not always mean getting better photos.
A common rule of thumb is to expect to spend 10-15% of your total budget on photography. If photography is more important you may spend more, or vice-versa.
In the Chicago market there are three distinct “Tiers” of pricing with photographers that can start at $1,000 or less and go as high as $12,000 or more. In the lowest tier (by price) you’ll find part-time photographers and high-volume studios. At the most expensive end, you’ll find a group of photographers who cater to the most exclusive events and clients. In the middle (where we consider ourselves to be), you’ll find the boutiques that emphasize a blend of great customer service, overall value and the best photography at any price point.
Lowest Price Tier ($1,000-$3,000)
High Volume Studios
High volume studios typically advertise low rates and outsource the actual photography to freelancers and contract out the editing separately. That means you might not get to choose your individual photographer(s) and likely won’t meet them until the actual morning of your wedding. While the base rate might be deceptively low (around $1,000), you can end up spending $3,000 or more once you start adding on extras like enough hours to cover your whole day. Be careful for caveats that require you to wait a year before receiving your digital images. Because you won’t know who your actual photographer is, it’s impossible to see real weddings so that you can accurately judge the quality and consistency.
With modern digital cameras and the ease of creating a website, it’s never been easier to call yourself a wedding photographer. Nearly anyone can spend a few thousand dollars (or less) and jump into photography. In this category, you’ll find folks who have ‘day jobs’ but want to turn a hobby into a side-hustle. Everyone has to start somewhere, but be wary of photographers that don’t have the experience of shooting in a variety of situations. Photographers in this category often won’t have the liability insurance that many Chicago venues require and rarely can afford to have backups of cameras, lenses and other necessary gear.
Highest Price Tier ($8,000-$12,000+)
Luxury Brand Insiders
At the highest end of the pricing spectrum you’ll find photographers that are well-established and often rely on exclusive relationships with industry professionals. In my, (admittedly slightly-biased) opinion, photographers at this price point can’t justify their cost with their work alone. In other words, a $10k wedding photographer isn’t necessarily twice as skilled as a $5k wedding photographer. In fact, the most expensive wedding photographers often succeed by winning at networking and marketing.
You can expect photographers in this category to have insurance and backup equipment. At this price point you may also notice photographers filling very small niches: such as shooting only on film or exclusively in black & white. Products such as prints or albums will often be sold at additional high markup.
Middle Range ($4,000-$6,000)
This is the category we consider ourselves to be in, both based on price and approach. You can view our pricing page here for more info on our Chicago wedding photography packages. In the middle range you’ll find photographers operating their own businesses (occasionally with a partner or very small team) with a boutique approach. You’ll be dealing with the actual person who will be photographing your wedding and you’ll have a highly hands-on experience from inquiry through final delivery. In our case, we typically see our clients several times (in-person meeting, engagement session, rehearsal or walkthrough) before the wedding day.
We suggest you always double check, but personally we have top-tier liability insurance and more backup equipment than anyone I know. We are confident that our work is as strong as photographers at any price point and our client experience is second to none.
Additionally, we love that we get to work with a wide variety of young professionals. We are regularly humbled to learn that a couple really stretched to make sure their budget included us and we always take great care knowing that.
Why is wedding photography so expensive?
If you’re starting to research and feeling like wedding photography is overwhelming, here’s some background on what goes into pricing. These can vary based on the photographer’s approach, but when you hire a wedding photographer you’re paying for:
Time (Both Shooting & Editing)
Obviously there’s the time on the actual wedding day (in our case, up to 12 hours), but remember that for every hour shooting, most photographers spend another two or three hours editing.
EXPERIENCE & TRAINING
Personally, I’ve photographed a couple hundred weddings. Before that, I spent six years as a photojournalist. The reason I’m confident in my ability to produce award-winning work in just about any situation is that I’ve got a tremendous background of training and experience to rely on.
Most couples don’t realize, but in Chicago nearly 90% of all weddings happen on just 28 days per year. Based on our weather, the typical wedding season here is May-October. Other than a few holiday weekends, it’s almost only Saturdays as well. That means there’s a very real limit to the amount of weddings we can actually schedule.
SECOND-SHOOTERS / ASSISTANTS
We photograph every wedding with two photographers and occasionally need an additional assistant depending on the logistics of the day.
EXTRA SHOOTS OR PRODUCTS
If your collection includes an engagement session or book or album, there’s additional time for shooting, editing and creating the book.