Far too often, this seems to be the one and only factor - how much does X photographer charge compared to Y photographer. There are dozens of skilled photographers in our county alone - all with their unique differences and subtle specialties. Judging us all on price alone is like going car shopping with $900 in your pocket.
Simple question: would you expect a Mercedes Benz for the price of a used Dodge Neon? My point is that you get what you pay for.
People tend to especially cringe when they look at wedding prices, thinking in terms of simply being paid an hourly rate. However, what is not considered is the time involved with consultations, equipment maintenance, product purchases, post-production and follow-up. A photographer can easily spend 40 hours on a single wedding. What would you expect to be paid for a week's work?
Personally, my pricing structure is somewhere in the middle. There most certainly are photographers more and less expensive than I am, but my goal is to provide high quality service at an affordable price.
So, what criteria should be considered when looking at a potential photographer? First and foremost - style. Do you like the images the photographer is able to garner - what makes them unique?
I've heard (and seen) far too often how people buy the newest entry-level DSLR, take a picture of their dog, call themselves a photographer and offer a few hundred photos on a disc for practically nothing. By the same logic, these people can stand inside a garage and call themselves a car.
Conversely, I've seen people with several awards under their belt who break the basic rules. Awards don't necessarily mean anything, sometimes they are just stickers people put on each other to make themselves feel good.
Search for quality, honesty, and above all - personality. Are you comfortable with the photographer? This is why I insist on having a pre-shoot consultation. Getting to know the client is key in my business. If you are not happy, then you are not smiling. If you are not smiling, then I have nothing to shoot!
So, shop around. Find someone who you love artistically - not financially.
And if you've already been kicking tires and have talked to a potential photographer, then decided to go with someone else, please tell them the truth. Photographers are kind of like people, too. We despise being lied to. If you have a particular reason why you choose Shooter X over Shooter Y, let them know how they can improve!