The offbeat advantage negotiating with wedding photographers

Photographer Mike Allebach took this selfie to show how much he LOVES shooting offbeat weddings.
Photographer Mike Allebach took this selfie to show how much he LOVES shooting offbeat weddings.

I've got this theory about wedding photography and offbeat couples.

See, wedding photographers aren't just doing a service for you. You're also doing a service for them by providing images for use in their portfolios. And, let's be honest, which photos add more to a photographer's body of work: another traditional shot from a traditional wedding or a photo of a couple dressed as astronauts taking flight on their wedding day?

In other words, photos from your offbeat wedding may be of greater business benefit to a photographer … and therefore, photographers may be willing to negotiate a lower price.

I decided to test this theory by asking some of my favorite wedding photographers about their pricing policies and negotiating tips for non-traditional couples. Here's what I learned…

"I have special packages that are JUST for offbeat couples — all they have to do is mention that they're a member of the Offbeat Bride Tribe and I send them a whole separate price sheet," Washington DC photographer Lara Swanson told me.

"There are two ways I benefit from offbeat clientele," she said. "One, it's good for the portfolio. Two, I can actually stand being at the wedding. My thesis in college was on gender roles perpetuated by wedding traditions, and starting out as a second shooter I saw my fair share of grotesquely wedding-y weddings. Traditional is NOT bad — but brides and grooms who just accept wedding traditions because 'that's what you do at a wedding' is bad. After a year of shooting more traditional weddings, I realized that there was something more that I wanted out of it — and that's when I started catering my business to offbeat couples."

One of the many laughing breaks during the ceremony
Photo by Whitney Lee

Austin photographer Whitney Lee countered that she sometimes negotiated her prices, but it didn't have much to do with offbeat-ness, but rather timing: "I am never offended when a couple requests a lower price … however I don't always oblige them. I am much more willing to negotiate my fees if the wedding is on a weekday because it is unlikely that I would book that day at my full rate."

So, while you can't assume that a photographer will be willing to negotiate, it doesn't hurt to ask. Which then begs the question, how can you go about asking without offending the photographer? You want to tread very cautiously, because when you ask a photographer to lower their rates, you're asking them to take a cut out of their pay for you.

"If you break down my fees, I make about $23 an hour," LA photographer Amanda Brooks told me. "Oh, and let's not forget the minimum of 30% that the tax man charges me…do I charge tax on wedding services? Nope. So, it comes out of my wages…out of my bottom line. Oh, and that equipment that I use that takes such fabulous pics of you on your day? Santa didn't bring it. The equipment I'm currently shooting with cost a year's worth of my wages. Equipment needs constant maintenance and updating and cleaning and repair. Minus all of that and I'm back to wages I made behind a counter somewhere in the retail world…not exactly the glamorous life, huh?"

So be sensitive when negotiating with a photographer. Do not expect that you're entitled to any discount — especially if you use the dire economy as your reasoning. "It irks me when someone wants to negotiate just because 'the economy is bad,'" one anonymous photographer told me. "The economy is bad for everyone, including my business, and we'll be doing even worse if we undervalue our services. If you plan to ask for a discount please attempt to make a case for yourself."

Budget Backyard Lesbian Wedding
Photo by Allebach Photography

Mike from Philadelphia's Allebach Photography agrees that it's about making a case for yourself, explaining that "The first step to negotiating with a wedding photographer is get them excited about you! If you love a photographers work, first market yourself to the photographer. Don't send photographers an email that says 'send me your pricing please.' Instead, say 'I met my fiance' while moshing at a Rancid show when he accidentally broke my nose in the pit.' Recently we had a bride contact us who was getting married in an old prison — we were hooked right away. So we worked with her to change pieces of the contract she wasn't comfortable with."

Mike added, "We always offer discounts to tattooed brides."

When negotiating with your photographer, be sure to be honest. Jenny Jimenez in Seattle told me that "Creative weddings are certainly my preference. However, I've had clients claim to be taking an alternative approach but when the day arrives it's not as offbeat as they made it out to be."

Jenny explains that really it's not about how offbeat you are — it's more about how she relates to her clients that determines whether she's willing to negotiate: "The bottom line is your personality. Do we get along? Do you have a sense of humor? Do you value photography? Are you willing to work together to make some rad images? That connection and commitment transcends what you're wearing and what your favors look like."

If you've found a photographer who's work you love, it seems that the key is taking the time to get to know them to see what arrangements you can make. Lara Swanson told me that for certain offbeat clients, she'll even consider bartering: "I currently receive acupuncture once a week from one of my '09 brides, and it's an awesome way to go — we each earn what we typically charge, but we're trading instead. I've been able to build a friendship with her along the way, and it just reinforces why I'm picky about only photographing offbeat weddings. I think that we all get something out of it — they get photographs filled with love, and I get their friendship and a fulfilling job."

In our Offbeat Bride Vendor Guide have almost 20 pages of wedding photographers offering discounts to offbeat readers! Go see!

  1. Time of year and how far off the wedding is are other really important factors in negotiating. I won't lower our prices for a summer or early fall wedding, even if it's on a Wednesday, because we are booked so solidly during that time. But if I really loved a couple and their wedding sounded great, I would consider negotiating for a March or November wedding, for example.

    You're also more likely to have success negotiating if your wedding is within one or two months, because photographers usually book 6-12 months in advance.

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  2. As a ten-year wedding photographer veteran, this article really hit home for me! I've seen it all but welcome anything I haven't seen yet ;o). So true about the economy and asking us for a paycut – we suffer, too. And your wedding doesn't HAVE to be far out for us to love it but be excited! This should be fun! Fabulous article – thanks!

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  3. It's funny we didn't tell our photographers before hand about the Halloween wedding we had but they were more than happy to stay later than they were contracted for because we were all just having so much fun.

    Not to mention, I love looking at the reception pictures so much more than the ceremony ones as you can tell they were so excited by seeing everyone in costume they went all out.

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  4. My photographer is pretty awesome. We had talked on and off, but her prices were steep. She cut out a ton of things that I didn't need that she includes and dropped in different time brackets and added complete reprinting rights with the images on CD for about half her normal price. She just loves winter weddings and we clicked so well. I felt bad, but she was amazing about it. I didn't even ask her to drop her rates, but we talked and came to an agreement.

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  5. Interesting! As someone just starting out in weddings, I totally agree that the 'offbeat' types are better for the portfolio. While an experienced photog with set pricing and a full portfolio already may not be able to negotiate a lower price for a unique-style couple, I'm sure there are many new photogs who need the experience (and the photos) who'd be open to this idea.

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  6. As a seasoned wedding photographer I hear you about the economy, so true. We welcome out of the ordinary, and we have fun with it. It is always exciting to try something new and offbeat. None of our packages are set in stone, the couple can add or drop from a comprehensive a la carte menu as they like.
    Cool discussion.

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  7. Buyer-Be-Ware! While I'm not opposed to giving discounts to couples whom I click with or even couples that are unique, I would strongly caution anyone who is just looking for a great deal. There is an old saying that is as true today as it ever was – "You get what you pay for." This doesn't mean that you have to put off buying that house to pay for your photography, but it was mentioned that new photographers are always willing to give great prices while they experiment on your wedding day. So the question remains – Do you want a newbie photographer EXPERIMENTING on YOUR wedding day? Those who are open to such an idea will indeed get what they paid for.
    On a happier note, if you plan your wedding for the slower or off season or, as was previously mentioned, even on a weekday your sure to find a photographer who will work at a reduced price. Just remember that a good deal doesn't always translate into a smart deal.

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  8. As one NOT in the photography business, I thought I'd share my perspective on negotiating.

    A photographer is our single greatest expenditure for our wedding, and it was critical that we not only find someone whose work we appreciate, but also someone with whom we can build a great rapport because when it comes down to it, great photos are a collaborative effort between the person behind the camera and the folks in front of it.

    I don't think I am an unusual offbeat bride in that I came upon this blog by looking for elements that are outside the norm – looking to experiment with our wedding, if you will. One of the things that was important to both my fiance and I aside from price is that whatever vendors we work with, they can't try to force us into the same box that perhaps the mainstream wedding world fits into.

    I don't want to get on a soapbox here, and while I do to some extent agree with "you get what you pay for," paying more doesn't always equal more. I personally have to be able to tolerate the person who is taking the picture, or, dare I say, even LIKE them. I'd treat hiring a photographer the same as I would in finding a job – it has to be a good match for you all the way around and your goals have to match. As a client – I'm sure you want wonderful that hopefully represent you and bring back the memories of that day, and the best photographer for you is the one who shares that vision.

    If you're like us and you don't fit well in a silver-and-white box with a pink bow, than it only stands to reason you'd want to look for the same qualities in your photographer – whether they have 2 years experience, or 20.

    I'm in sales – so I live by "everything is negotiable". To you brides/grooms, don't be afraid to ask about discounts, and don't be intimidated by lack of experience, but do the legwork and take the time to meet with your photographer to make sure it is a good match, and absolutely ask for references if you're uncertain.

    Last parting words – we found someone who will help us making memories, and we've no problem helping him make money doing so.

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  9. I just wanted to put in my two cents for remembering the artist inside ALL our vendors–I'm just anxious about money, so all the potential negotiation was giving me the heebie jeebies. And then we started figuring out what we responded to, started talking about that with photographer, florists, even our site people. And so far (getting hitched aug 29 09), it's made it all SO much more fun.

    and we've gotten some folks to work with us a bit on their prices (for trade offs, but ones we're glad to make) because they have a sense of who we are and what we like.

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  10. Thanks for including both sides, and reminding people that photographers need to eat as well and it's very expensive to be a good wedding photographer, with equipment, insurance, and just all the time spent. I certainly would never be offended if someone asked for a discount, as long as they didn't have the attitude, like you said, that they are OWED one. :)

    I have given many discounts, because I have a soft heart and I like to help people, plus I do love new and interesting things. But at some point I still have to pay my mortgage!

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  11. I completely agree on the portfolio point! I think its actually the main reason we got such a huge.. like 3k huge.. discount on our photographer.. granted, I may know the man (and he may LOVE my fiance and hate my ex…?) but photographing a more nontraditional (yet still traditional? ha) wedding full of tattooed people (a little cliche, but it is, what it is..) and an after-party-show gives him oh-that-much-more to put in his lovely, yet traditional, portfolio… plus its a winter wedding.. (yeah 4 days!), so I'm sure that helps.

    Thus, everyone wins!

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  12. wow, Ariel… thanks for balancing this topic out.

    It's so difficult for me to keep reading all this economy crap and then see all the articles that basically encourage wedding planners to demand a lot, but then pay just a little.

    Yes, there is a place and a budget for student and beginning photographers, but I agree with those who point out that if you really value imagery, it's worth investing in someone who knows their stuff.

    I'm just really impressed with the way you presented this topic.

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  13. I think the best advice is to be upfront about who you are as a couple with the photographer whose work you love, and if you click, then things will work out to make it happen. Don't be out looking for a deal and expect to get a discount. I fell in love with one particular photographers' portfolio, and sent a long email about our "love story" (cheesy but true), and the photographer wanted to meet with us right away. Their company name is Lifestyles Imaging — I can only imagine that having more lesbian and gay couples in their portfolio would help their business. But she thought we were great and we loved her enthusiasm and personality, and together we worked out a package that was a third of what their starting price was. We had a fantastic time, have amazing photos, and our photographer says it was the most fun wedding ever. It's all about synergy… the right personalities and type of wedding will definitely dictate whether or not the budget can be tipped in your favor — and theirs as well, if the photographer can use your photos to grab more cool brides and grooms.

    Thanks for pointing this out, Ariel. :)

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  14. Don't forget to look in unusual places for your photographer, too. Mine was AMAZING, just starting out in the biz but had such an incredible, artistic eye – and I found her on Craigslist. I went to her website and fell in love with her portfolio, too, and emailed her begging to be in it. I needed someone who could just pick up on what would be the best shots, not operate from a list of "shot of the family, shot on the altar, blah blah." She understood that completely and was perfect, my photos are incredible, and since she's new at it, the price was super cheap! She's added my stuff to her portfolio and it's been picked up all over the internet – I'm so happy for her.
    Great topic, Ariel.

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  15. I actually posted an ad on Craigslist outlining what our wedding was and that we were on a budget. The photographer that I was in love with ended up contacting me! We're so excited!

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    • I did the same thing, and got a ton of responses! The photographer we went with responded to our ad with such enthusiasm for our offbeat wedding, and she offered us a great deal, apparently almost 1/3 of what she normally charges.

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  16. I agree that I would be willing to negaotiate fees for Offbeat Brides: I once had a groom rise from a coffin while the bride walked down in a black dress to "the Corpse Bride" theme!

    I am always looking for photos from "beyond the Goth"….I love the Swing Kids theme, vampyres, Steam punk, and anything else that you normally don't get with an "I do."

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  17. It definitely doesn't hurt to ask, I don't think… I have been willing to negotiate to photograph at different/interesting locations.

    As far as "getting what you pay for" – there is something to that, however, everyone (as in, every photographer) has to start somewhere. If you take a risk on someone new, or inexperienced, it might really BE a risk, or it might be a great deal!

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  18. There are a number of factors that "wow" a photographer and open the possibility of negotiation. In no particular order:

    -an usual wedding
    -a location that the photographer wishes to shoot at
    -a couple that is very excited about you shooting their wedding
    -a couple that takes the photography seriously and makes time for photos and are open to unique ideas
    -a couple that not only looks good but you can tell that they will pose well for photos

    It's important for the excitement to be mutual for any photo shoot and a couple enthusiasm can certainly help soften the photographer's prices.

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  19. The single easiest way to cut expenses for wedding photos is to ditch the wedding book. They can sometimes cost just as much as all the photographer's time at the wedding. Try to get just a DVD of the images and take them to a photo lab for printing yourself. Buying prints from the photog is often ABSURDLY expensive.

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  20. I just wanted to chime in to say how realistic it is now days to barter.

    As a wedding photographer getting to know my clients, I always ask about their background. If one of them have an interesting job that I feel I can benefit from, I will propose a bater as partial wedding services payment. So far, I have gotten hair cuts, eyebrow waxing, tattoos, graphic design, and even a shark tour for my whole family from bartering.

    As a bride, I would share all the unique details of my day with my potential photographer. If they feel you are going to be their "dream bride" they may end up offering you a free bridal or a day after session.

    It never hurts to ask or offer. Just be fair and reasonable.

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  21. I loved this well rounded article!

    The reason we photogs charge so much once we get in the business is indeed the overhead involved. And you wouldn't believe the amount of time we put into each wedding. More than the 8 hours you are booking us for, I can assure you. However, that is the biggest difference between a seasoned pro and someone just starting out. This is my FULL TIME JOB… And all that entails. That means that I am at your beck and call for more than 40 hours a week… leading up to your wedding and after. I help my customers with wedding planning and as a seasoned pro, I keep the wedding day flowing with as little stress on the couple as possible. I'm great at troubleshooting. This is what comes with experience, since I've seen it all and I've seen worse things happen than the drama at your wedding. You don't get that from someone starting out. What it comes down to is basic… what do you value? Not every couple wants what I offer, some are more DYI. There is a photographer out there that is a perfect fit for every couple and vice versa. Find the Photographer that you can't live without and then pay them whatever they charge. We all have different financial situations and therefore different overhead.

    Here is my .02:
    * Most of my couples are unique, so I don't give discounts on uniqueness.
    * The only weddings I ever gave a discount on, I regretted immensely. Same for those who promised portfolio gold. If I have a great portfolio wedding… I compensate the couple after the fact in tangible ways. Like sample albums… Which I give to them when I don't use them anymore!
    * Find the Photographer that you can't live without and then pay them whatever they charge. We all have different financial situations and therefore different overhead.
    * In this day when photo labs are closing by the dozen, I think having the photographer make your prints and album is hugely important. We know how to get archival quality that will last generations. In this one area, cheaper is not better. I worked for a photo lab for 10 years, and this is one point that I cannot repeat enough. And when will you ever get around to designing your own album??

    All this being said, I reward my clients heavily. I value their hard earned money and I work twice as hard as I think I should because I am no longer in the lower price bracket. So, all I ask is you don't judge a book by it's cover (price). It could be the best money you ever spent.

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  22. I took the photos for my brother's wedding (supplemented by our uncles and their cameras) since I had recently gotten a very nice digital Nikon as a multiple-holiday gift. It was a small, very informal, wedding so it was pretty easily covered by just me, with a little help. I didn't charge as it was considered my gift to them; not everyone can do it for free, but if you have friends with good cameras who don't mind missing–sort of, since they'll be taking pictures of it rather than listening–the ceremony, it's always a possibility.

    I made them a CD, which they were able to copy and hand out as many times as they wished. We're not really the wedding book/hanging family photos in the house kind of people, so lack of formal portraits was not an issue (which is not to say they didn't get nice pictures. They did, but not in the formal, posed, sense).

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  23. Would any photographers be more apt to negotiate discounts if you agree to do a "trash the dress" shoot at the photographer's convenience? I tend to find that "trash the dress" shoots are way more beneficial to a portfolio, and the photographer can then choose the best lighting, etc.
    Then again, it's the sort of thing that essentially requires a really cool dress/outfit and a really cool looking bride/groom. So who knows.

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    • I don't agree with the cool looking bride and/or groom comment or about the dress. A good photographer can take whatever you give them and should be able to turn it around. My friend Tori got married… she is gorgeous and she got her dress from a small resale shop for $20 but her photographer got some amazing photos of her.

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  24. This article is awesome. I don't think a lot of people understand what all it takes for photographers to be there. Yes I would love to give discounts to offbeat clientle but right now my prices got lowered because of the economy. Everyone is hurting right now and when you think of the overhead that comes with running a photography company it cost A LOT and mine is nearly double because not only do we run a photography but also a video company as well.

    When you book us to do your wedding it is more than just us coming out and taking a bunch of pictures and leaving it at that. It is for us 8 hours of shooting is just the start. Then we go in and retouch the images, cleaning up a zip the bride or groom might have on 400-800 pictures can take A LOT of time, then editing and getting them to you. For video it is just as tedious… going in and editing together a movie, rendering, and putting on the pretty stuff take a lot of work. We do this because we love it and we love brides and grooms. The only time I might see someone even more happier is doing a maternity shoot.

    I love offbeat brides and hope for 2011 that I get to book more of them personally because they offer such a uniqueness to the table. I know when I get married my dress is going to be used more for the photos that will be taken afterwards than for the actual ceremony/ reception itself.

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  25. This is a very well balanced article.

    It definitely depends on the photographer I guess. I wouldn't discount my packages based on just the couple as I love all my couples but you give me a F.R.I.E.N.D.S theme or an aquarium wedding or something of a horror/zombie nature then I would definitely consider negotiating.

    Underneath the business, and the bills and the fact I have to eat and (sometimes) clothe myself, I am still an artist who gets excited by photographing certain subjects and in the end I want my portfolio to reflect my personality as much as my clients.

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  26. I already know that when my turn comes the photographer will be one of the biggest expenditures however I would like to point out that sometimes the price tag doesn't necessarily equal quality of service. One of my friends hired the photographer that her planner recommended at a rather steep price and ended up with very few good shots because she didn't take the time to research or build rapport with her. Another one of my friends went with the cheapest she could find (she is not a picture person at all and considered just not having one) and got some amazing pictures that even she loves, in my opinion because the guy was personable and automatically bonded with her and her fiance. I say when searching for someone in your budget make absolute sure that you mesh well with your photographer and if you're like me and place a lot of sentiment on your photos, find a particular person you love and be willing to scrimp and save to get them.

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