Budgeting for Great Wedding Photography

Setting Your Wedding Budget to Help Afford Professional Photography


I get many emails from potential clients saying, “We love your photos, and photography is the most important part to our day, but you’re out of our budget.” I also get many brides saying “I would hire you in a heartbeat but my fiance doesn’t understand why photography costs so much and won’t pay more than x amount.” (Cost of photography will be discussed in a different blog post.) First of all, I have to say that I completely hear you and I know it's a tough spot to be in. Hosting a large event like a wedding is rather expensive and I would NEVER suggest going into debt over it. 

The very first thing I would advise you to do before planning your budget is to sit down and realistically go over your finances. For example, discuss how much you'll be getting from your parents, how much you have saved currently, and how much you can save per month over x amount of months of your engagement. Can you cut out $50 more per month by not eating out? Are there other unnecessary expenses you could cut? Going over this should help you come up with a final budget amount. 

The next thing I highly suggest is to list out your top priorities. These priorities could be the venue, the number of guests you want, a wedding planner, photography, videography, food, florist, band or DJ, stationery, cake, dress, your wedding date, time of year, etc. For me it would have been 1) Venue 2) Photographer 3) Food 4) Dress and Suit. Every wedding is different so you will have your own list of priorities. Now, list out things you care the least about. For me personally, I didn’t care at all about the cake, stationery, time of year or the date, and it was super easy for me to cut down the guest list (Check out the micro weddings blog). Once you have these listed you can plan your budget accordingly. If neither of you cares about having a cake, don’t have one! If you don’t care about save the dates and invitations do them digitally or download printable ones. All the money you will save on the insignificant items can go towards your top priorities. 


If having great photography is your priority, here are easy ways to save money elsewhere:


  1. Cut your guest list. This is the easiest and quickest way to free up some of your budget. Depending on your venue, of course, the average cost per guest can be anywhere from $100-$200 or more. This doesn’t only include the price of the meal but also the bar cost, cake, stationery, gift bags for out of town guests, and decor. Think of it this way, if you add just 10 extra guests an entirely new table at your reception has to be made. That involves more flowers/decor, chairs, staff to serve them, etc. Where many couples go wrong is assuming that if they have more guests they will just recoup their money spent via wedding gifts. This, unfortunately, is nowhere near true. Unless you’re friends with very wealthy folks, most guests don’t gift $200 each. 

  2. Stationery. As I touched on before, there are many ways to save on stationery. The first way is to do digital save the dates. It doesn’t take much to make your closest friends and family aware of your wedding date. You really don’t need to send everyone a card or magnet. Not only will it save you the printing costs but it will also save you on shipping. For your actual invitations, you can easily get pre-made invites on Etsy or sites like Minted.com. You could completely remove your RSVP cards by including an email, phone number, and link to your website for RSVPs. Not only will you have fewer cards to print but you won’t have to add return postage on all the RSVPs. For your place cards, you can either print them yourselves with purchasable templates or you can make one large printed menu that has everyone's name and table listed. Lastly, remove ceremony programs. They really aren’t necessary. 
  3. Flowers. The easiest way to save on your flowers is to replace blooms with foliage. Foliage is often much cheaper but still gives a natural, floral look. Ask your florist which flowers will be in season or cheaper flower alternatives to the expensive ones you may like. If your wedding is more rustic or vintage you could also go with dried flowers. I've had recent weddings that DIY'd their own flowers from Costco (Seriously!). This is a great option, however, I would advise you on a few things  1) Be honest on the amount of work that it will take the night prior to your wedding. You are already going to be stressed so are you willing to stay up until 3 am the night prior to finish flowers if necessary? 2) Know your skill level. Making floral arrangements look good is an art form. Sadly, I have seen a DIY floral wedding where the flowers were all dead a couple of hours into the wedding day. The last thing to discuss is arches. Arches are beautiful, and rightfully so, are becoming commonplace. Arches, however, are very expensive to cover in floral arrangements. Find arches that can visually stand on their own or are made of materials that need fewer florals. Since no one will be super close to it you can also use faux floral decor. 
  4. Dresses. Most brides have very strong opinions on their wedding dress. To save money here the best options are to either buy used dresses on sites like preownedweddingdresses.com where you can get expensive designer dresses for a fraction of the price. You can literally save thousands. The other option would be to go to sample sales. You can find great sample size dresses for half the price. 
  5. Meal. Your venue will dictate much of the meal options and pricing. Once in a while, you may have a venue where you can bring in your own more affordable caterer like food trucks or have a BBQ. Even if your venue has limited catering options you generally have the option to choose between plated meals, family style, or buffet. On each of these options you also will be able to pick which proteins you serve. By choosing chicken over steak for example you can save money. Depending on your time of day you can also have a brunch rather than a dinner. Breakfast and lunch foods are significantly cheaper. 
  6. Cake. With your cake, you have a few options to save funds. First, and most obviously, you can totally remove the cake altogether. There is nothing that says you need a wedding cake. The second option would be to make a faux cake and have a sheet cake in the back. This option is surprisingly common. Since most people prefer other desserts over the cake, you can cheaply create a small dessert bar and forego the cake. 
  7. Bar. Unless you have a group of guests that don’t drink much, you may not want to skimp on the bar. However, if you want to cut bar tab costs you can easily limit options. For example, Beer and Wine and one or two signature cocktail options are not crazy to do. If you limit the types of alcohol needed and choose cocktails that are premixed, it does save a bit of money. 
  8. Wedding Date. If you're not set on a specific date or time of year, changing up your date can bring significant savings. Ask your venue which dates may come with discounted pricing. If you're not opposed to a Friday or Sunday (or weekday) wedding you could find savings there. Most venues also have slow months like Jan-March where they offer some savings.