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Hey ColorCoated! When I first starting looking at photography (as a researcher for a friend of mine getting married), I was pretty shocked at how expensive photography was.
Then when I became a photographer myself and first began charging what I felt were more “affordable” rates, I realized just how much work AND money I had to put into the business – equipment, insurance, taxes, internet and website costs, travel, education, software, the material cost of prints, just to name some off the top of my head – and that an average wedding for a photographer is at least a week’s worth of work in editing. A desk job that pays $1,500 a week is great, but a photographer who charges $1,500 a week is running a company by themselves and a lot of that money doesn’t get to them, and no sane photographer could do 52 weddings without dying of exhaustion (most professionals I talk to book 15 – 25 at most).
You book your photographer not just for the hours you hire them the day of, but all the work and planning they put in before and after, and their artistry and experience in not being a screwup vendor. To be completely honest, I barely made any money in my first year, Boston is an expensive city to live in, and I still hold another job to pay the bills.
Also, including a second shooter is tough because not only are you paying for the second shooter’s time, you have to pay for the photographer’s time to edit all the photos the second shooter has taken – in some cases it is double!
That being said, for $1,500 I think you can still hire a photographer – maybe not the best one or the most experienced, but look for a part-time one who can meet your needs. Look for a photographer who lives in surrounding Chicago but not the city itself. You should let them know about your budget and see if there is anything they can do to customize for you – either restrict the hours of the second shooter, cut hours altogether, cut the album, and see if you can find a photographer willing to sell you the disc of photos. Have him/her spend a good 4 hours or so shooting the most important parts of your wedding that you want to capture. Hopefully this helps! I don’t think the majority of photographers are out there trying to gouge you brides (a lot of us were once brides/grooms too), but we have our limitations, too.