August 19, 2020

How to Price Elopement Photography

Myths, Tips, & Insight on Elopement Pricing

You’re either starting a photography business, growing your business, or niching down to focus on elopements—is that right?

How you price elopements is a major structural decision that will determine how profitable your business is, how many elopements you should plan to photograph to hit financial goals, and what value you’re communicating to prospective couples about your services.

Basically, your prices have a significant effect on the perceived value of your whole business, whether you realized it or not.

Below, you’ll read all about the myths of elopement pricing and how the data proves these notions aren’t true. You’ll also get insight into our pricing guide, learn how we determined the price of elopements for our business, and tips on how to increase both your prices and your value to customers.

Myths About Elopement Pricing

Myth: Elopements should be cheaper than weddings.

Truth: No, elopements should NOT be cheaper than weddings.

First, elopements often take more time to plan and photographers frequently have more involvement in the planning process, which results in more time spent for the photographers who document them.

Second, the importance of an elopement day is not inherently less than a wedding because it is still the day a couple gets married—the value of someone’s wedding does not depreciate based on the number of guests in attendance! There is so much more to pricing psychology that I’ll cover below that has more do with what someone is willing to pay than whether it’s an elopement or a wedding—and there are a ton more factors involved in determining the value of an elopement. 

Myth: Eloping couples won’t pay as much for photography.

Truth: Photography is often a higher percentage of an eloping couple’s budget! Yes, elopements often end up costing a couple less than a traditional wedding, but most of those cost savings are in venue, catering, & decor—NOT photography! The only reason eloping couples might not expect to pay as much for elopement photography is because that’s the messaging they’re receiving from the photography industry—it’s time to change that.

Myth: Couple’s don’t value an elopement as much as they would a wedding.

Truth: The value of a marriage celebration is NOT dependent upon how much a couple spends. In fact, the top reasons couples choose to elope suggest they actually value their elopement experience more—because they appreciate authenticity, a true-to-them experience, intimacy & intention, and less stress. 

Couples who choose to elope value experiences more than things, which changes how the day looks but does not change how important the day is!

Myth: The main reason couples elope is to save money.

Truth: A side effect of eloping is often spending less, but it’s rarely the reason a couple chooses to elope! Instead, eloping couples invest their money differently by spending their wedding budget on experience-based products like travel, activities, & photography.

Myth: You can’t charge as much for elopements because those couples don’t have as high a budget for photography.

Truth: In our experience at Adventure Instead, couples actually spend more of their budget on photography! Because we are such an integral part of their experience—sometimes the only other person present—we help plan & actually do more work for each elopement than we ever did photographing weddings. It might be true that an eloping couple has a lower budget than a couple planning a bigger wedding (but this is often not the case), and that still has nothing to do with their photography budget! Don’t assume a couple isn’t willing to pay as much for photography because they’re eloping—that assumption does a disservice to the industry, to their wedding day, and to your business.

Myth: Eloping causes family drama by excluding loved ones.

Truth: Many couples choose to elopement specifically to avoid drama—not to cause more drama! Whether you have a great relationship with your family or not, they probably have opinions about the way you get married—and couples who elope can still involve their family in the celebration if that is something they want. Couples can plan a reception following their elopement, or ask family and friends to help plan and support their elopement endeavors. Yes, it is possible for elopements to cause a bit of tension if loved ones don’t immediately support the couple getting married, but there is zero evidence that eloping causes more drama than a traditional wedding! Watch any romantic comedy with a wedding—traditional weddings are known for causing drama!

Myth: Elopements are all last-minute.

Truth: Yes, some people will inquire about elopement photography with only a couple of months to plan. No, that is not all elopements! Most inquiries we get at Adventure Instead come in about 7-12 months in advance of the wedding date, which is a pretty standard timeline for traditional weddings as well! We even get couples who reach out about 18 months in advance because they want to put just as much intention and planning into their elopement as couples who are planning huge extravagant weddings! Eloping can be last minute, but so can a wedding–our experience has not been that elopements are given any less time or thought than a wedding.

Myth: Elopements don’t last as many hours as a wedding.

Truth: A lot of this depends upon what photographers are offering—when I began photographing elopements, I noticed there were very few photographers even marketing elopements as possible all-day celebrations. The fact that I was able to tell inquiring couples they could celebrate their marriage all day, no matter if they had guests or not, was a novel idea.

I’ve spoken with many couples who choose to work with Adventure Instead because we were the only photographers they felt were offering elopement coverage that fit their vision.

Elopements aren’t less important than weddings and therefore eloping couples deserve a full day to celebrate their marriage, just like a couple planning a wedding would be expected to celebrate for a whole day!

Pricing, Perception, & Value

What Photographers Believe About Elopements Directly Affects the Price of Elopements

  • Do YOU believe an elopement is more than just a portrait photoshoot?
  • Do YOU believe an elopement is just as valuable as a wedding day to the couple getting married?
  • Do YOU believe the value you offer couples who elope is as valuable as what you offer couples planning bigger weddings?

If you answered “yes” to those 3 questions, you’re on the right track.

Now that you perceive elopements as valuable, you are ready to begin communicating that value to potential clients through your website, branding, and marketing.

  • Do your website and social media communicate that elopements are more than just portrait shoots?
  • Do your website and social media communicate that an elopement is just as important as a wedding to the couple getting married?
  • Do your website and social media communicate that you can offer couples an elopement experience of equal or greater value than you can offer a wedding experience?

If you answered “yes” to those questions, you’ve built a consistent brand that is truly ahead of the industry in communicating the value of elopements. Your clients are seeing a consistent and radical message that their authentic wedding day experience deserves to be valued, even if they don’t invite many guests.

In doing this, you’ve increased the perception of your value to any potential clients. Pricing elopements can’t simply be based upon the value YOU believe you offer, it has to be based on the value COUPLES believe you offer. Having a consistent message that values elopements will increase the perception of elopement value and therefore the actual prices themselves.

The fact is MOST photographers still don’t price elopements as high as they price weddings. The only reason for this is that they would have said “no” to at least one of the questions above.

The photography industry as a whole has not communicated properly how elopements can be valuable marriage celebrations—and it is time to change that!

Do Not Price an Elopement Like a Photoshoot

An elopement is still someone’s wedding day. These photos will be the way they tell their family, friends, and kids about how they got married—and the photos possibly matter even more because they are the only documentation of this special day that the couple has! Instead of hundreds of guests with cell phones, eloping couples have one person (that’s you!) present to document their day, and that person has a huge responsibility to document this day thoroughly.

(This is a huge reason why I advocate for styled shoots over offering to shoot someone’s elopement day for free—because if you are looking for marketing content on their wedding day, your goals are objectively out of alignment with each other. Unsure about how to set up your own styled shoot? Check out this blog post for my best tips & tricks!)

Most couples don’t want just a couple of portraits and then call it a day. Planning a true-to-them celebration can result in a multi-tiered day schedule that involved just as many intentional details as a wedding, and a couple should have photos to remember those moments by.

From getting ready in the morning to picnicking by the lake for lunch to sharing vows at sunset on a mountaintop—whatever the timeline of an elopement is, couples deserve photos to remember those details.

Memories fade, faster than we want them to, and eloping couples are just as deserving of photographic evidence to help them remember the in-between moments from their day. The candid shots, the way the sunlight shone during a particular moment, or the color of the flowers in the meadow—whatever it is that you’re noticing and smiling over on your elopement day, you should have photos that help you remember that. 

Determining the Value of Elopement Photography

Everyone understands the phrase “you get what you pay for,” which means a higher price equates to a higher value.

The value of your photography isn’t based on what you think your photos are worth—it’s about the value of the experience to the couple getting married.

So, exactly what should you charge for elopement photography? Well, a good place to start would be whatever you’re currently charging for wedding photography.

If you’re just starting out as a wedding photographer of any sort—well, then it’ll depend. I don’t ascribe to the idea that you need to charge less just because you’re new to an industry. But you do need to be able to provide a service valued at whatever you’re charging. Know how to take great photos, be able to craft an elopement experience that exceeds your couple’s expectations, and be there to help them throughout the planning process—and if you can do these things, charge what you believe makes sense for that work. To run a sustainable business, you’ll need to charge enough to cover costs and make a profit.

No two photographers have exactly the same overhead costs, and working in different places will alter your costs of doing business compared to someone who lives in another city, state, or country. 

Aside from what you do, your pricing will also be a reflection of what your couples perceive to gain from your services. For many, the photos you take and deliver are absolutely priceless. They are physical memories of an experience that only happened once, and they will cherish these photos forever. Unlike a wedding with guests, there is no one else present to document a couple’s elopement—that in itself values elopement photography significantly. 

Knowing what I just said above about the value of elopements, why do you think it is what many photographers still offer only 1-2 hour elopement sessions? Well, it’s a self-defeating cycle. Photographers might think that clients will only pay for a couple of hours of elopement photography, so couples looking for an elopement photographer keep seeing photo packages that only cover a couple of hours and then only inquire about 1-2 hour elopements—further convincing photographers that is what couples want.

It is my experience that eloping couples want so much more than just a 1-2 hour elopement. Many still highly value the day they get married and want to celebrate their marriage with a true-to-them elopement experience. If they knew it was possible to plan a “just us” 8-hour elopement doing their favorite activities in their favorite place, they would choose it.

If you want to photograph full-day elopements, you need to be able to communicate the value of being with a couple all day, documenting the in-between moments and experiences beyond just couples portraits, and explain to couples that you value their elopement as much as you would a wedding. The day they get married is still their day—just like anyone else’s wedding. It is industry standard to have all-day wedding coverage, so why not have all-day coverage of an elopement?

Wondering what the heck you can do for 12 hours during an elopement? Check out my blog post on all-day elopements for ideas to suggest to your couples about how to fill an all-day elopement timeline!

Elopements are Often More Work than Weddings

When I was photographing big, traditional weddings, I would rarely have a hand in planning the event. Usually the couple or an event planner would give me the day schedule, and I simply had to make sure I was in all the right places at the right time, finding time to capture all the important moments. Usually, I’d steal the marrying couple away for a few minutes to take couples portraits, but I was otherwise documenting a well-oiled machine of a day.

With elopements, I have much more of a hand in the planning stage, which translates to more hours spent on each elopement.

The time spent location scouting, consulting with the couple, getting to know the location for seasonality, and planning a timeline is all a part of the value that I offer couples with elopement photography—it’s not just taking pictures and processing the images following the event.

Now, I’m not saying you should price elopements as more than weddings, because the value to a client has a lot to do with perception. A couple getting 8 hours of photography for an elopement is going to look at 8 hours of wedding coverage and say they are getting the same amount of time from their photographer. The perception of value in this case doesn’t translate exactly based upon the number of hours you’re putting into the event, but it does speak to why you should certainly not be charging less for elopement photography!

Pricing your packages purely based upon the work you put into the experience is a very narrow way to view the value of your photography. Instead, be able to market your work and price it based upon the perception of value–this doesn’t mean to charge more than something is worth, it means to take into consideration the market and client expectations—because the value of your photography has more to do with the experience provided to the couples than it is about what you’re doing behind the scenes.

Certainly, communicate the value of the work you put from the point of helping couples plan, providing insight that will help them be prepared, and the work you put into producing incredible images, but a couple isn’t paying for the other background parts of you running your business. Marketing, materials costs, and all the other background work needs to be factored into the cost of doing business, but it doesn’t factor into the value of the product you’re selling to the customer.

Prestige Pricing vs. Charm Pricing

Elopement photography is a luxury service. It’s not something covering a person’s basic needs to survive, it  is a service that caters to an emotional desire for beauty, sentimentality, and legacy. When people are paying for things that they choose based on this strong emotional response, they want to know they are paying for something they value highly. To put it bluntly, something more expensive will create the emotional response in a customer that they are getting more value by spending those extra dollars. Photography isn’t toothpaste or a plain t-shirt—couples who value photography aren’t looking to spend less, they’re looking to invest in something they want.

To cater to the psychology of luxury, use round numbers. Charm pricing is for discount products (like, $2.99), which works really well for cheaper products or smaller items.

Prestige pricing is for luxury items (like, $8,000) and the rounded number communicates higher value for products that people are investing in. If you were to list the same product for $7,999, it looks like a less serious number because it looks and sounds like a sale item. 

How to Increase Both the Value & Price of Your Photography Services

Communicate the Value of Elopements

If you as a photographer don’t believe that an elopement is just as worthwhile to photograph—that the day deserves as much attention, time, effort & care as photographing a big wedding—you’re going to have a hard time communicating that value to couples and you’re probably going to instictively price elopements lower.

On the other hand, if you truly believe that an elopement day is just as important and worth celebrating as a couple’s wedding day—you’re going to have a much easier time communicating the value of elopement photography!

In all areas of your brand—website, social media, marketing & pricing guide—communicate the value of elopements. Make it clear that they are of equal value to weddings and half the work will be already done when you get an inquiry from someone who is even somewhat familiar with your brand.

If you price your elopement packages lower than your wedding packages, you’re communicating that elopements have lesser value. Even if you don’t believe that, that is what a lower price for elopements communicates.

Want to fix that? Make your pricing for weddings and elopements equal!

And if you’re curious about how exactly you can make your overall strategy more marketing-friendly, I’d recommend checking out my free 7-Day Elopement Photographer Challenge—which teaches you how to communicate the value of all-day elopements both one-on-one with couples & throughout your marketing strategies!

Structure Your Pricing Guide With Marketing in Mind

At the point you send a pricing guide out to a couple, you’re still marketing yourself with the intention of selling your services to suit their needs. At this stage, you still want to be communicating everything I mentioned above—value, experience, and personal expertise. 

Things to keep in mind as you build your pricing guide:

  1. List your highest photography package first
  2. Communicate your value again—couples who inquire haven’t always read your whole website, this is a good chance to summarize what you want them to know
  3. Charm pricing isn’t great for luxury services—so use rounded numbers.
  4. Don’t ask for a budget on your contact form—a couple’s perception of the value of photography should be addressed when you can communicate the value of your packages, not before.
  5. Use a smaller font when listing prices, it makes a reader literally think the number is less expensive because it’s not big and obtrusive.

I Bundle Travel Costs into My Photography Package—This is Why:

People LOVE free shipping—so bundling your travel costs into your photography packages makes couples feel the same satisfaction as when they get free shipping. Of course, you’re going to charge enough to cover the costs of doing business, but when a couple gets the chance to just pay a single amount, it is easier to stomach.

Even when you get free shipping for a product, you’re technically paying for shipping—the seller just bundled that price into the price you pay so you don’t know what dollar amount goes toward shipping.

Part of the psychology behind pricing choices is that fewer digits make a customer feel like they are paying less. 

Which of the below pricing structures looks less expensive?

  1. Cost of an elopement with travel included: $8,000
  1. Cost of an elopement with travel paid separately: $6,500 (photography) + $800 (flights) + $200 (rental car) + $500 (accomodation)

Well, option 1 and option 2 are the same cost! But, for a couple, getting to cut a single check instead of four is much easier. They aren’t looking at the price of what goes toward “them” and what goes toward “you,” even though they are technically paying for your travel too.

If you’re going to roll your travel into your package price, you’re going to want to make sure whatever you charge covers travel to many different places. For instance, a flight to New Zealand from Los Angeles is going to be a lot more expensive than a flight to Mexico from Los Angeles.

We do a lot of research to make sure Adventure Instead’s travel costs will balance out throughout the year, no matter where we’ll be traveling to. Whatever you charge for travel, or whatever number you increase your prices to when accommodating for travel, will be dependent upon your business.

Things to consider when determining what to charge for travel include: flight, baggage, 2+ nights lodging (depending on how long the elopement is!), food, pet/kid sitters, and transportation. 

Also, consider charging the same amount for any destination, even if the cost of going to one place is technically more expensive than the other. Doing this will prevent couples from being dissuaded from more remote places because it’ll cost more to bring their photographer. Instead, plan your year out so that the cost of travel to your destination elopements gets balanced out amongst the places you plan to go. 

Want to hear more about how to actually get hired for destination elopements? Check out the bonus section at the end of the “How to Become an Elopement Photographer” blog post!

How to Get Couple’s to Invest in Bigger Photography Packages

Once you’ve done all the things above—communicated your value, structured the pricing of your business to reflect your services in an easily digestible way, and honed your skills to provide an epic elopement experience—then now it is time to show couples what an elopement can be!

Couples will invest in larger photography packages when they can imagine the incredible experience of eloping with you. It’s not about “upselling,” although that is an effect of increasing the value of a service. Instead, it’s about laying out your expertise to invite couples in to imagine how great their elopement can be!

Provide sample timelines that show an 8-hour elopement is so much more than a photoshoot (which is covered in the free 7-Day Elopement Photographer Challenge). Explain the importance of giving themselves time to celebrate and not rush through the experience. Show couples that an elopement can be literally anything they want it to be—and often you can help expand their imagination to exceed their initial expectations.

Many inquiries we receive are actually for only a few hours. It isn’t until we get on the phone with inquiring couples and explain how epic it is to have an all-day elopement adventure that many of them begin to imagine that kind of day for themselves.

It’s not difficult to look around at wedding marketing materials and see how couples already have the belief thrust upon them that a wedding is meant to be a grand and extravagant celebration. Conversely, popular culture still frequently references elopements as smaller, cheaper, and quicker experiences.

It’ll take time to change that narrative, but until the social conversation changes, it is up to us as photographers to open the eyes of our couples to what an elopement day can be.

Elopements are still a couple’s marriage day—it is no less valuable than a wedding! If weddings can be expected to be all-day celebrations, an elopement can be just as momentous.

Truly, I think the value inherent in an elopement is greater than within a wedding because the couple is choosing an authentic experience over a traditional gesture. I charge more now to photograph and craft elopements than I ever did to photograph traditional weddings.

There’s only thing holding you back from valuing elopements as much as weddings—being able to communicate that value to couples. Pricing is the perception of value, and helping couples see the value of a day spent doing what they want, somewhere they want to be, without the stresses and expectations of a traditional wedding—and that is the key to higher-priced elopement photography.

Interested in learning about how you can communicate that value through Instagram specifically? Check out my free “How to Write Engaging Instagram Captions” video workshop—which you can access alongside the rest of my library of other free education here!

Written by

Maddie Mae

Award-winning Destination Elopement Photographer + Business & Marketing Coach

Founder of @adventureinstead

I help wedding and elopement photographers discover what sets them apart—and make that their “secret sauce” to building a thriving business.

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