The Complete Guide to Wedding Photography Services

February 7, 2020

One thing I hear from many couples is just how overwhelming wedding planning can be. So many choices, options, and decisions to be made – it can make you just want to run away and elope (which if you do, let me know – I got you!). We as photographers are often guilty of adding to this confusion as well. Most photographer’s pricing guides are written as if everyone already knows what each service is. It’s not intentional, we’re just so close to it that we forget that not everyone understands insider lingo.

Well I’m here to help correct that and give you a leg up during your search for wedding photography. We’re going to cover the most common services you’ll see listed, their alternate names, and why you might want them. I’ll also give you some insider info into some ways that you may be caught off guard after the wedding and end up spending more money than you planned if you don’t know what to look out for. Okay, let’s jump into the guide!

Packages (AKA “Collections”)

I think this is pretty straight forward but we’ll cover it real quick anyway. When you receive more detailed pricing from your potential photographer their services will likely be grouped into different packages (or sometimes called collections). These are just convenient groupings of their services they most commonly book and/or get inquiries for. 

Wedding day Coverage (aka Hours)

The first thing each of the packages or collections will mostly likely list is the number of hours of coverage you’ll get. Sometimes instead of “coverage”  you’ll see this simply referred to as “hours”. In most cases the terms are used interchangeably. 

Wedding day coverage is the amount of time your photographer will be providing their services and documenting your day. The number of hours you’ll need will depend on how your day is structured and what moments you want documented. If you’re looking for full day coverage expect to need about nine hours. If you don’t need much (or any) of the reception covered expect to need six to seven hours. If you want every moment covered from getting ready until the dance floor closes, expect to need twelve or more hours. 

Engagement Sessions

Many photographers build an engagement session into their packages and for good reasons. I personally recommend an engagement session to most couples as they provide some great benefits. We’ll dive into those benefits below, but first, what really is an engagement session?

What is an Engagement Session?

An engagement session is a relatively short (usually 1 to 2 hour) photo session where you’ll get a variety of photos of you and your partner in a beautiful and/or meaningful location. Most couples use these photos for their wedding website, save-the-dates, and/or invitations. 

Though they’re referred to as an Engagement Session, the photos don’t necessarily have to be all about the engagement. I’m sure you’ve seen your fair share of cheesy engagement photos doing all sorts of craziness with rings and hand hearts, etc. If these photos don’t resonate with you, find yourself a photographer whos great at capturing the two of you in a natural and effortless way. ** much coughing and clearing of throat while pointing at self **

The way I approach these sessions is to take my couples for a hike, a walk, or a mini adventure somewhere fun and I guide and document them both enjoying the experience together in a natural and relaxed way. 

Why Should You Book One?

One big reason I recommend booking an engagement session is that you’ll get another chance to confirm that your photographer is someone you’re comfortable spending the day with. You’ll get to experience the way they direct, guide, pose, and interact with you. More of their true personality will come out and you’ll get a better idea if they’re someone you get great vibes from. Why spend one of your most important days with someone who annoys the s*** out of you or doesn’t make you feel comfortable in front of the camera? 

I also use engagement sessions as a warmup to help walk couples through some basic principles of posing. Before getting started and taking even a single photo, I’ll coach each couple on the fundementals of looking like a badass. In less than ten minutes you’ll never have to wonder what to do with your hands or feel akward during a group photo or selfie again.

Second Photographers

What is a Second Photographer?

A second photographer, sometimes referred to as a second shooter, is a photographer that accompanies your primary (or lead) photographer. Usually the lead photographer is the person who you actually hired to document your wedding (though many times this may not be the case which we’ll discuss later). 

Why You Should Want One?

The lead is of course responsible for the wedding photography as a whole and is usually focused on getting all the essential, safe, and expected photos throughout your wedding. Adding a second photographer typically results in more candid moments being caught, alternate angles of important moments (e.g. first kiss or first look), and more photos overall. 

They can also make your day more efficient by being able to photograph concurrent events. Often both partners get ready at the same time, so having two photographers allow both of these moments to be captured simultaneously. I go into much more depth about the benefits of having a second photographer in another blog post linked below. 

FOUR REASONS TO BOOK A SECOND PHOTOGRAPHER

Digital Images

So … you’ll see this listed a bunch of different ways which means there’s a bit to unpack in this section. So where we go!

What Does that Mean?

Digital images from your photographer means that you’ll be receiving some, or all, of your wedding images as digital files. Some photographers will provide a link to download them online, others will mail you a USB drive, and some photographers will send both.

You may also see “digital images” listed a number of different ways … digital files, digital downloads, high resolution digital images, digital images optimized for social media, and the list goes on. In each case they’re digital images, but there are some subtle differences you should be aware of. More on that in a moment. 

Why you want the digital images

To start, there’s no denying that in 2020 we’re a digital first society these days. You’ll likely want to share some of your photos on social media for friends and family to enjoy, set them as your profile picture, etc. Having the digital files makes this super easy to do. 

Having digital files as a part of your photo package is also the simplest way to get them delivered to you after your wedding. They can be downloaded with minutes of receiving the online web link and/or USB flash drive. 

If your wedding collection includes the “High Resolution” digital files and a “Print Release” they’ll also give you the most flexibility when it comes to making any prints. You’ll be able to get common sized prints, albums, wall art, etc. produced at any time without having to purchase them directly through your photographer. I’d still recommend using your photographer to purchase these items as they’ll be able to produce a higher quality print than most labs available to the public. However, if you have the high res images you won’t be forced to. 

HELPFUL TIPS

  • Some photographers will list “digital images optimized for social media” or “standard resolution digital files” or some other variation of these on their price list. This is code for low resolution images and you won’t be able to make large prints with them. If having the ability to make large prints on your own is important to you, be sure to select a wedding collection and photographer that will provide them.
  • Watermarks – some photographers put watermarks on their images, some don’t. Some will remove them for an additional cost. Another good question to ask during the consultation phase. 

Online Gallery

What’s an Online Gallery?

Having an online gallery means you’ll get your own personal online page to view your digital images. In most cases you’ll also be able to download your images through this online gallery as well. Many times you’ll also be able to do things like create favorites lists, share your photos directly to social media, and order artwork like framed prints and canvases directly through professional print labs. 

Why Online Galleries are Great

Some photographers will leave these galleries up long after your wedding. This can be useful if you ever need to download them again or simply want to come back and make additional print purchases. Also, they are just a really beautiful and organized way to view, favorite, and share your wedding or engagement photos.

HELPFUL TIPS

  • Some photographers leave these galleries up for as long as possible, others will remove them after a set amount of time (usually 30 days). It’s good to know your photographer’s policy ahead of time.
  • Even if your photographer doesn’t take down your gallery right away, don’t delay in downloading your images! Also be sure to back them up on multiple drives and locations to ensure you don’t loose them due to a device failure, fire, or theft.

Wedding Albums and Spreads

What’s a Wedding Album?

A wedding album is a collection of your favorite wedding day images (as well those that help tell the story of your day) laid out into a book like format. 

Page versus Spread

Often you’ll see price lists mention how many spreads come included with your wedding album as well as the cost for additional spreads. A single spread consists of both the left and right side pages when the album is opened and laid flat in front of you. 

Why Wedding Albums are Great

The images you and your photographer select and the way in which they’re presented from page to page (or spread to spread) will tell the story of your wedding day in a way viewing them on your computer or phone cannot. Albums also safeguard against aging technology formats. In ten or twenty years it’ll be just as easy to pull your album off the shelf as it is today, but that may not be the case for your digital images. For example, do you even still have a CD player in your home? 

In addition to being an art piece of their own, they can also serve as a beautiful heirloom piece that can be passed down to future generations of your family. The albums that many photographers provide use modern, high quality papers and inks that, if cared for, will last generations. 

HELPFUL TIPS

  • If you’re considering an album understand that there will likely be additional costs after the wedding. Plan for adding additional spreads and upgrades when you and your photographer begin the album design process.
  • The albums that photographers provide can vary GREATLY in quality of materials, inks, and overall design. Before placing your album order ask for an opportunity to view some sample albums. This way you’ll have a clear idea of what to expect once your album arrives.

Bonus Section – Individual Photographers vs Large Studios

While we’re talking about individual wedding photography services I think it’s also a great idea to discuss some broader differences with regards photography businesses themselves. Generally speaking, you’ll find wedding photography businesses structured in one of two forms. 

The first business type is one that is owned and run by a single photographer (or photography team). They are the primary photographer(s) for EVERY wedding they book and all the photos you see on their website, social media, portfolio, etc were taken by THEM. The second business structure is that of a large studio with multiple photographers working under the same brand / business name. These studios can vary greatly in size, some only operating locally and others with operations nationwide. 

If you choose to go with a single photographer your photos will likely be more consistent with the style you see in their portfolio. You’ll also be communicating directly with your photographer during the planning months rather than an account coordinator.

Should you decide to look at hiring a studio be sure to ask if you get to choose your photographer. Many large studios assign an associate photographer to your wedding just a couple weeks prior to your date. A good studio will allow you to browse the portfolios of their associate photographer to find one who has style you enjoy. Also ask if it’s possible to meet with them before booking to ensure that they are someone you could easily see yourself spending your wedding day with. Just keep in mind that which ever photographer who choose is only an employee or freelance photographer under the studios brand and can quit at anytime. So the photographer you choose at booking may no longer be available by the time of your wedding day.

Double Bonus Section – Printing Rights vs No Print Rights

Okay, so back in the film photography days the way most wedding photographers priced their business was around prints. The actual day of photography would be priced rather low and the majority of their profit was made by up-selling printed goods – you know – 4×6’s, 8×10’s, albums, etc. After digital became the standard for wedding photography the trend shifted towards higher upfront pricing, but … you’d get all the digital images and a rights to print them whenever and wherever you chose.

So fast forward to 2020. In today’s wedding photography marketplace things have started to shift back the other direction. There are now a good mix of photographers and photography studios operating under one or the other models. You’ll find plenty of photographers who still provide you with final edited images in high resolution along with a print release and the option (but not the requirement) to purchase prints through them. However there are also a growing number of photographers who provide either no digital images, only some, or only low resolution images with their packages.

The tricky thing is, it’s not always easy to know what model they are working under. Many times photographers will state in their packages that you’ll receive digital images, but they don’t make it clear that they’re only low resolution files. Sometimes they’ll even label them as “digital images optimized for social media” which sounds great, but really just means the files are too small to make large prints with. Then after the wedding you’re either hit with another very large expense to purchase the high resolution files or you can only get the high resolution file if you buy it along side an expensive print.

Now there’s nothing wrong with either pricing model, it’s just you need to know what’s important to you and what you’re signing into when you book with your photographer or photo studio. If digital files aren’t that important to you but you value high quality printed goods – then great! If you want the flexibility to be able to print your images at your own convenience even if the final product is much lower quality – awesome! Just be sure that when you’re speaking with photographers to ask if you get the high resolution images with print rights if that’s important to you.

Okay, I know this was a long one but hopefully it cleared up some confusing points for you. I tried to be thorough but again, as a photographer sometimes it’s hard for me to remember what’s unclear looking from the outside-in regarding wedding photography. If there’s something that’s not clear to you that I didn’t cover in this article leave a comment down below and I’ll answer it there.

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