"Why is there such a large price range among different wedding photographers?"
I'm tempted to go on a tirade on the concept of perceived value - something seeming better just because it's more expensive.
Because of this, marketing a brand name can be the difference between an excellent photographer thriving and starving irrespective of their talent level or professionalism. Everyday, it seems, the market is flooded with more and more "cut rate" photographers looking to provide some unknown level and quality of photography for a pittance. Experience is what they're lacking. Treading lightly here, I feel it's safe to assume that most people charging south of $1,000 can be assigned several characteristics:
Photography, wedding or otherwise is not their full-time profession. It is better described as a hobby of theirs. As a bride or groom, ask yourself how much value (not money) you place on your wedding memories. Would you want someone who performes surgery as a hobby to operate on you? Do you want a "fire enthusiast" to come to the rescue if your home goes up in flames? I think two examples is enough. We have the word professional for a reason. Enough said.
They are not charging enough money to allow for paying the taxes which they are responsible for, regardless of how seriously (or not) they take their work. They are not charging enough to allow for the days and weeks it would take to properly edit all the images, reformat and post them online, design an album and all the other things that happen behind the scenes, so it's safe to say those things aren't happening, certainly least not at a high level. If they are working in photography "on the side" it's likely that they only have an hour a day or even less to dedicate to their business and to their clients' needs, whereas a full time professional will tell you that their tasks are seemingly endless. Ask around enough and you'll hear plenty of stories about people who got a great deal and then waited 6 months to even see their pictures, if they were lucky enough to get them back at all.
For many other reasons, if someone is charging very low fees for their services, it can be a reflection that they are striving to be attractive by being the CHEAPEST photographer they can be rather than by being the BEST photographer they can be.
Lastly, the wedding market is huge, like any other, and there are always exceptions to the rule. If it were easy to find the best option for your wedding, there wouldn't be a thousand magazines and websites all offering guidance. There would be a big flashing sign or a trail of breadcrumbs leading you to your vendors.
On the other end of the spectrum you can always find another photographer that charges twice as much as the last. Normally, there is going to be a common thread between all the photographers you find that charge what seems to be an arm and possibly a leg (eg. as much as a decent used car). Their pictures are beautiful! They have rave reviews from their brides, their customer service is impeccable, they have experience for days, tens of thousands of dollars worth of gear to lug from event to event and a sharpshooter's ability to get technically sound and aesthetically pleasing images in any situation. Since they've priced themselves out of the general market, it's usually the case that they're catering to clients with large budgets and the entire wedding will be on par with the financial commitment they're willing to make with their photographer.
This is an entirely different type of client, and not only are they paying for beautiful photographs (which they could certainly get from any number of lower-priced competitors,) but they are also paying for pampering. These photographers must be prepared to go to the ends of the earth for their clients, reediting pictures endless times for tiny requested changes, meeting with the client multiple times for coffee to make sure details are ironed out and doing many other things that consume their time to the point that they are only able to shoot 10 weddings per year or less and therefore can't afford to do it at the same price as one who shoots 2-3 times as many. Within the realm of competent professionals who have reviews to reinforce their track record of excellent work, I believe it can be said the the photographs, of a $10,000 photographer are often no better than those of a $2,500 photographer, rather than 4x as good as their price would suggest to the uninitiated. Any full time photographer will tell you that the actual shooting is something like 10% of what they actually do. The other 90% of the time they're generating their own business and running their small business, often single-handedly. The difference in price is usually going to go towards the 90%, not the 10% that you see on the wedding day.
Any photographer can set their prices however they please. They decide the amount of money they'd like to make in a year and how many weddings they're prepared to photograph in order to hit that mark. YOUR job as a bride or groom is to look at their work, get a feel for their personality and professionalism, inspect their online reviews, take another look at their work and decide if YOU think that it is worth paying 1/25th of their yearly salary in order to get their undivided attention, ability, experience and artistic vision for the most special day of your life.
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::about the author::
Brendon is a photographer in the Birmingham area, available worldwide for nearly any project or event. Visit his main website (linked below) to see his portfolio, resume, bio or to get in contact. Add this blog to your RSS feed and "like" his Facebook Fan page to receive fresh photos and content.
Brendon Pinola Photography 2013
American Pictoralist | Storyteller