Quite possibly the most difficult task when running a photographic studio is figuring out your pricing schedule. There is no real set standard because there are a lot of variables involved. The top five things that will make your prices higher or lower are education, experience, personality, marketing strategies, and talent. The “talent” category is where things get tricky. You may have all the education and experience in the world but still no talent, therefor you will only be able to command lower prices and will most likely be at the lower end of the pay scale for your career. However, on the other end, you may not have much experience nor education but you are very talented and great at marketing. In this case you will start out at the lower end of the pay scale and then increase as you gain more experience.
Let’s assume you are in the latter category and have gobs and gobs of talent. On average most wedding photographers start out shooting for free with their first paying wedding being around $500. As they gain a few under their belts, the beginner with around 1-2 years of experience may charge around $1,500 to $2,500. After one or two more seasons you may find yourself in the $5,000 range which tends to be the mid to mid-high range price range. When you go beyond that you are now expecting someone who has a great deal of experience, education, AND talent. Most brides who hire in the $10,000 range are looking for an artist. Someone who can capture their day beautifully and create works of art all at the same time.
Please note: talking price tag is one of those areas of great opinion for many a photog. Things vary from market to market and city to city. Southern California is one of the most impacted markets on the planet with thousands of wedding photographers. I was recently asked by a student of mine how someone could charge (beware, this is a typical package you can find on many photographers sell sheet!) $1,850 for full day coverage with a leather bound flush mount album? My answer is to look at the hourly rate. If the album costs on average through any printer/binder $500 now we are down to $1,350. Take out a cheap assistant rate of $100 for the full day and we are now down to $1,250. If the photographer is working 8 hours at the wedding, then 8 hours to archive and process, then 4 hours to do a template book (super fast and easy but not a lot of style) you are talking 20 total hours. Now divide 1250 by 20 and you get $62.50 which is quite a good hourly rate. These photographers then will try to book 50-100 weddings a year. That comes out to $60,000 to $120,000 per year. Not bad.
It is simple math and why many people with not a ton of talent but a good understanding of marketing, photography and weddings can make quite a good living. Remember, the higher you charge, the less clients you will have. If you are talented then you will want to learn and experience all you can so you can command higher prices sooner than later. It is never good to spin your wheels for too long or you will get stuck in a rut.
My background: Graphic Designer turned Photographer in 1998. Went back to school for photography at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena and graduated n 2001. Worked in the advertising industry and shot a few friend’s weddings along the way. In 2004 I shot my first full paying wedding at $1000. The above image was captured with (get this!) a non DSLR Sony Cyber-shot 5 mega pixel camera. I shot half film and the rest with my first funny looking digital camera. I then decided to commit to being a full time wedding photographer in the summer of 2004 and never looked back. The best decision I could have ever made!