The offbeat advantage negotiating with wedding photographers

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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

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

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 whose 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!

Offbeat Bride Vendor

This post features vendors from our curated Offbeat Bride Wedding Vendor Directory. They're awesome and we love them.

Comments on The offbeat advantage negotiating with wedding photographers

  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.

  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!

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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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