The offbeat advantage negotiating with wedding photographers

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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 OBT 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."

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.

IMG_4315a"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."

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."

Photo by Jenny JimenezJenny 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."