working within a budget or selling yourself short, how to bargain with a client, should wedding photographers negotiate

Working with a Budget or Selling yourself Short: Which are you Really Doing?

It’s common practice for a lot of couples to bargain with their wedding photographers.  It’s also quite common for photographers to create “custom packages” to help with with clients who are on a certain budget.  But are you really working within a client’s budget or are you simply selling yourself short?  Should a wedding photographer negotiate?

You have to determine your cost of living as well as your cost of doing business (which includes all the costs associated with shooting the wedding and the behind-the-scenes stuff too).  From that you can determine what the utmost minimum is that you need to be making for every hour that you work in order to be able to pay your rent, put food on the table, keep your gear up to date and pay for your business insurance and other operating expenses.

The thing about the bare minimum is that while you can technically live off it, it basically puts you in a position where you’re “living paycheque to paycheque”.  If you’ve ever been in a situation like that, you’ll know how stressful it is and how quickly one little emergency can put you into financial distress.  Working for the bare minimum is never a good idea.  Photographer’s who are business savvy and who have actually taken the time to calculate their utmost minimum fee have also added a percentage on top of their minimum fee.  Is this so that they can drive a Ferrari?  *looks around at rented apartment and 4-year-old Toyota Yaris* Nope.  It’s so that we have a little bit of breathing room.  It’s so that we can save a bit for the future and put away in case of emergency.

So… Should a wedding photographer negotiate?  When a client approaches a photographer and has budgetary limitations, it’s possible that the photographer may be able to accommodate depending on how rigid the constraints are that they need to work within and whether, over all, it would be a good business decision.  Here’s some insight into what goes through an average photographer’s mind when they are asked by a client if they can make a certain budget work.

working within a budget or selling yourself short, how to bargain with a client, should wedding photographers negotiate, Should a wedding photographer negotiate
Image by Toronto wedding photographer Ten·2·Ten Photography ( ©2016

What are the “prime” months and what is the “off season”?

  • May, June, July, August, September, October = prime months
  • April + November = not prime but not really “off season” either, transition months
  • December, January, February, March = the “off season”

Why does this matter?

From a business perspective, when demand for our services is high (the prime months) the likelihood of someone securing our services at full price is very, very high.  It’s not a wise business move to sell yourself for your absolute minimum when the demand for your services is high.

What are the “prime” days of the week?

  • Saturday = hell yes!
  • Friday + Sundays = definitely a lot more common now, especially on a long weekend.
  • Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday + Thursday = “off days”

Why does this matter?

Similar to above, you have to think in terms of supply and demand.  When the demand for services on a particular day of the week is high (ie: Saturdays), it’s not a smart business move to offer your services for the bare minimum because the likelihood of booking at your desired rate is incredibly high.

How much do you care about photography?

  • Super invested in it and really care about the resulting images = awesome
  • Meh, I like photos but I doubt I’m going to do anything with them or display them = not so awesome

Why does this matter?

Negotiating a “deal” with a photographer means that both sides have to feel like they are benefiting from the agreement.  The vast majority of photographers want to work with people who value their work and who are invested in making beautiful photos.  We’re business people but we’re also artists.  If we’re going to offer our services at a lower rate (which puts us closer to that “living paycheque to paycheque scenario) we at least want the experience to fulfill us as artists!  Asking someone to do something for less money when you also don’t particularly care about their product is rather insulting.

How far in advance?

  • 6-12+ months = standard booking time frame
  • less than 6 months in advance = quicker than normal time frame

Why does this matter?

Most wedding photographers book 6, 12 or even 18 months in advance.  In Canada, the average couple is engaged for around 20 months which means wedding planning typically lasts a very long time.  It’s quite likely that a photographer will get other inquiries for a date when it’s 6, 12 or 18 months with clients who are willing or able to pay the regular price of a package.

How many times this year have you already done this?

  • Not many = increases likelihood of being able to accommodate client
  • A lot = decreases likelihood of accommodation

Why does this matter?

As we mentioned in the beginning of this article, photographers (at least those who carefully calculate their pricing) work in a buffer.  A percentage that allows them to not only meet their operational needs but that provides a little extra so that their bank balance isn’t always $0 at the end of the month.  If you’ve “worked within a client’s budget” too many times in a year, you’re putting yourself back into that “living paycheck to paycheck” lifestyle unless you take on additional weddings above and beyond what you were planning on shooting.  Taking on extra weddings means less time with friends and family and more chance of burnout.  Over-shooting is not a sustainable business plan.

How many people are at the wedding?

This one is a red herring.  The number of people at a wedding really has nothing to do with the cost of your photography as the photographer’s job is not priced based on a per-person rate but rather how many hours the photographer is working.

So should a wedding photographer negotiate?

Bargaining/negotiating is never mandatory but if you want to enter the world of bargaining and negotiation, you need to have a serious handle on your financials.  Should a wedding photographer negotiate with a client, they must be aware of what your worth is and at what point basic operational needs are no longer being met.  If you aren’t aware of what these numbers are then you need to take a step back and reflect on the fact that being a photographer isn’t just about being an artist… it’s about being a business person too.  You may want to do some mentoring or find other educational means to brush up on your business skills.

So what does this mean for couples who are on a budget?

While this article was intended for photographers, I’m also delighted to know that brides and grooms are reading it too.  So to my soon-to-be-wed individuals, I have this to say: even if your wedding is in the winter, during the week and at a killer location there’s still no guarantee that your photographer may want to negotiate with you.  Everyone’s business plans (and values) are different and some build in room for negotiation and some don’t.  Wedding photography, as a whole, is a luxury service.  You’ll be just as married at the end of the day whether you have a photographer present or not but if you truly value a photographer’s work and if they are your dream photographer, paying their regular fees won’t be a dealbreaker for you.


As a final note, I want to state that there are a lot of other aspects, beyond what’s in this article, that a photographer has to consider before being able to work within a certain budget and even then, every photographer has their limits as to what they can work within.  It’s foolish for a photographer to work at a loss in order to accommodate a client’s request not to mention it’s totally unreasonable for a client to expect that.  Pricing is subjective.  What one person may think is a great “deal” another person may think is astronomically expensive.  Regardless of perception of value, the utmost important message in this article is that a photographer needs to be keenly aware of their minimum fee when negotiating and the clients need to respect the fact that a photographer has limitations and that they may be different than other photographers as each individual business is unique.


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