If you’re a soon-to-be-bride and have shopped around for wedding photographers, you may have noticed that the price of albums seems to vary substantially between photographers. Unfortunately, a combination of bad business practices and sub-par quality products has lead to a slew of photographers offering non-realistic prices on a product that’s supposed to become a precious family heirloom. Furthermore, the photographers who are pricing their albums unrealistically low will have some nasty reprocussions, too.
So let’s blow some of the secrecy away and have an open and honest chat about wedding albums! We aren’t limiting our discussions to the brides perspective, either – we will be addressing the issue from a photographers perspective, too!
So the price of an album can be broken down into 2 main components: materials cost + design time.
Let’s chat about the material cost of wedding albums first:
There are dozens of companies that professional photographers use for album printing – unfortunately, just because these companies say that they are ‘for professionals only’ doesn’t mean they are offering the best of the best when it comes to the quality of their product. Think of it this way, the word ‘car’ can describe any type of vehicle be it Toyota or Aston Martin – two very different products and two very different qualities! This holds true for the phrase ‘professional album’ too – there’s also a sliding scale of quality associated with these products.
Cheaper ‘professional albums’ are made with inferior papers and inks, covers that are much less dense and prone to warping and bindings that aren’t strong enough to last more than a few years. The higher quality of album you purchase, the less likely it is that you will run into inferior products. How does this affect the price of the album? Well, a photographer will pay less for an album that is made with inferior products which means that wedding albums made with low-end materials have a lower material cost.
Along with basic album components like paper pages and inks, there are “fancy-shmancy” add-ons that can increase the cost of a wedding album such as genuine leather covers, silk wraps and metal cameos (just to name a few). The more fancy-shmancy you add to an album, the higher the materials cost becomes.
So now onto design time and it’s effect on the cost of a wedding album:
There are three ways a wedding album can be designed:
- designed from scratch,
- designed with drag-and-drop templates
- designed by a third party company.
If your wedding photographer is designing your wedding album from scratch, you’ve found yourself a true artist who is devoted to an individualized product for their clients. When a photographer is designing an album from scratch they are actually starting with blank photoshop files and they make up the layout themselves. This allows the photographer to fit as many photos into the album as the client wishes while also being in full control of the design and making sure that the images within the layout compliment one another for a totally seamless and unified layout. When your wedding album is being designed for you, from a blank slate, your proofing options are also increased drastically! Whether you want to swap around some photos that aren’t the same size, or decide on an entirely different layout – anything is possible because the photographer created the layout and can therefore change that layout. Custom designed wedding albums affect the overall cost of an album because it takes a pretty big chunk of time to design an album. On average, I put about 30 hours into a standard 20-side album (including the time I take to make any changes requested during the proofing sessions).
If your wedding photographer is using drag-and-drop templates, they aren’t actually designing the book themselves. Sure, they’re deciding where to put certain photos – but they have no control of the layout and can’t change anything no matter how much better it would look with a little tweeking. When a photographer uses drag-and-drop templates to design an album, the client is often not given the option to request changes to the layout beyond a simple photo swap (and even then, you need to swap same size for same size). Drag-and-drop album templates can look really pretty in the online stores and it’s understandable that a photographer might want to purchase them, but in my opinion, they aren’t designed with nearly enough flexibility to accomodate for the images obtained at real weddings (and not styled shoots) which means the resulting layout often is lacking that “flow” that a custom designed album has.
Finally, if your wedding photographer simply hates designing albums or doesn’t have the time, they’ll send the work to be done elsewhere! Whether they hire a third party design company like Red Boot Designs or pay a co-op student or intern to do it, they’ll take any option given to them when it comes to passing the buck. How they price their albums would depend on how much they spend on the third party design service. Some of these design services can be very expensive, especially if changes need to be made during proofing sessions – a cost that is passed on to the newlyweds. Furthermore, many brides and grooms choose to purchase their wedding album via their photographer because they trust in the photographers artistry and skills to produce a custom product. Personally, I think it’s incredibly unethical for any photographer to give the illusion that they themselves design their albums if they are providing someone else designed.
Now that you know a little bit more about the materials that make a wedding album and the various options available when designing that album, I bet you’re wondering what happens to a bride and groom if they buy a cheap (or ‘less expensive’) wedding album from their photographer.
If a photographer is selling an album for a price that seems a little too low, the bride and groom are probably getting:
- An album made from inferior products (muted color, warping pages and/or bindings that break)
- Little to no options for album proofing
- A layout that doesn’t actually flatter the photos you choose to go in the album
- Or worse… you may not get much choice over what photos actually go into the album!
- Layouts that aren’t even designed by the person who you trusted to tell the story of your day
- A product that isn’t even professional quality (and is actually available at a print shop open to the general public)
- You may be dealing with a new photographer who has no idea how to price their products and will eventually get burned out and go bankrupt (hopefully after they deliver you the final product, but that’s a risk you are taking!)
So then what happens to a photographer if they sell their albums at the wrong price point?
- If you’re pricing your albums in such a way that you’re basically designing for free, you’re going to get burned out! No one has the time to work for free. Oh, and did I mention that working for free often leads to going out of business? (I have mentored quite a few new photographers in the GTA as well as Ontario-wide and I know first hand that a lot of new photographers take the ‘knight in shining armour’ approach and want to save their clients from “overpriced products” by bashing the high prices of the wedding industry and basically working for free – these new photoraphers rarely, if ever, flourish in the industry as their naivité and poor business practices often cause them to have to close up shop after only a few years.)
- If you insist on designing for free (which is a bad, bad business move!) then you’re probably using drag and drop templates since they take little to no time to use. If you use these types of templates you must be careful not to advertise any of your services as custom, fine-art or any variation of the sort as your product is not custom whatsoever and it’s completely unethical to give that illusion to your clients
- If you’re pricing your albums in such a way that you’re using inferior materials in order to offset the price of a custom design, you can expect your clients to come back to you with complaints and wanting refunds when their product warps or breaks – this is pure hell on your reputation and business image.
The long and the short of it is this: Everything has a price. If you’re shopping around for a product or service and notice that some prices are suspiciously lower than others, it’s because somewhere along the line, corners got cut. Shopping for a wedding album can be difficult because you need to change your mindset from ‘present’ to ‘future’. When planning your wedding, everything is “now, now, now” – everything seems rushed and hurried and brides and grooms often have a hard time thinking ahead; however, when shopping for a wedding album you need to keep in mind that you should be purchasing a product that will still look awesome 40-years from now, regardless of what it costs today.
There’s always a way to find the funds for a wedding album. Compared to the overall cost of your wedding, the cost of the album is often minimal! I offer my clients the option to register for gift certificates that can be put towards a wedding album; but even if your photographer doesn’t have that option, take a step back and reassess your priorities and finances and please, please find a way to invest in your wedding album! After all, your wedding photos are the only wedding-related purchase you make whose value will actually increase over time.