Should we use a pro photographer for our wedding, and why? How could we cut costs?
June 9, 2012 1:05 PM   Subscribe

Should we use a professional photographer for our wedding? Is it worth it, and why? If so, how could we cut costs?

We're getting married this fall and are hesitant to spend thousands of dollars on a photographer, as seems to be the standard. We could afford it, but we're both pretty thrifty people, and we're just thinking of all the other things we could do with that much money instead.

We would like to have a couple nice pictures we could put up on the wall, but we don't feel like we need a whole album full of high-quality photos... we'll ask family and friends to take pictures and share them with us, and it doesn't really matter if those are imperfect. And we don't really want a stranger around taking pictures while we're getting ready anyway. The main reason we're leaning towards a photographer is that we want to have photos of the ceremony but we don't want to ask any of our guests to take on the pressure and distraction of being on point to take pictures during the ceremony. But even there, we could go with a student or someone else inexperienced willing to build their portfolio for cheap or free. Another reason I'm hesitant about spending so much is that I really dislike the way I look in most photos-- a combination of me being really squinty and blinky, disliking the way I look when I fake-smile, and just being pretty picky and critical of my appearance in photos (although not across-the-board; there are a handful of photos of me that I really love, they're just few and far between.) So since I dislike such a large proportion of photos of myself it seems crazy to pay thousands of dollars on the hopes that these will magically be different (although on the flip side maybe that means we really need a great pro if I want to have any confidence at all in getting even a few photos of myself at my wedding that I like?)

So how much difference does it actually make to have a pro photographer? So many people say it's really important, but what exactly are the advantages? (The ceremony will be outdoors in full daylight, by the way.) How much does having a great and very experienced pro matter versus a middling, cheaper pro, versus a student with little or no practice, versus just friends and family? Did you or someone you know have no photographer or an inexperienced photographer and regret it, and why?

I know that part of why wedding photos are so expensive is that there's typically a ton of time spent on post-processing/touch-ups/etc. And I get it and totally believe in people being paid a living wage for their time and work. But I'm curious, how much of an impact does all that post-processing actually have on how good the final product looks? And if we don't actually want hundreds of nicely polished and touched-up photos, can we ask them to only do the editing on a few photos we pick? Will they do that and will it bring down the prices significantly? I haven't really seen that mentioned on the photographers' websites I've browsed.

If we do go with a pro, how else would it make sense to save money? How much difference is there between the best of the pros and the mediocre ones? If we let them keep the photo rights and purchase only a few prints, would that probably save us much? We're thinking about things like having them there a shorter period (like 2 hours), although that doesn't seem to make as much of a difference in prices as you'd think, and not having a second shooter. We've thought about going with someone inexperienced who's charging less. But then part of me thinks if we're going to spend $500-$1000 on this anyway then it doesn't make sense to cheap out and stop there, that it's kind of the worst of both worlds. What are the smartest ways to get the best value here? (Also, the wedding's less than 4 months away and many of the best photographers and those with the best value are probably already booked... so at this point is it smarter to just wait and try to find a good photographer last minute who might be looking to fill in for a cancellation and give us a bargain?)

Tldr: Should we have a pro photographer for our wedding, and if so, why? And what are the best ways to save money if we do?

(Any suggestions for specific photographers in the DC area who are affordable and/or flexible are very welcome, too!)
posted by EmilyClimbs to Shopping (72 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I'm an amateur shooter, never shot a wedding, but here's my 2 cents:

this is going to be a memory for the rest of your life, it would probably be nice to have good pictures of the wedding. Skimping on a photographer might be a bad idea.

Post-processing does not really take that much time if you just correct exposure/light/white balance, if on the other hand you do touch-ups (as in making people look better than they actually looked) it can become time-intensive.

Photographers are going to charge you a certain amount the shoot, they don't care about the rights to the pics, they want to get paid for the shoot. So you can't just pay for a few prints (might have misunderstood that part).
posted by wolfr at 1:20 PM on June 9, 2012

I cant stay long to answer, but my album (in2001, on film and not digital) was all of my proofs in 3x5 format. I bought big prints of what I wanted but didn't have the crazy fancy album. Also, I paid for my photographer to cover 5 hours of my day. We faked a few getting ready shots but she wasn't there to watch everyone get hair and makeup done...I didn't care about that. Do a lot of shopping around and interview photographers tonsee what deals they will work out for you. Most advertise their biggest packages to show the grand things they can do but the ones you want are the ones that will do what YOU want. In 2001 I spent about $500 on my photographer, plus some extra prints. I personally think its worth it to get some great photos without stressing your friends during the ceremony.
posted by MultiFaceted at 1:20 PM on June 9, 2012

I didn't use a professional photographer, my pics aren't very good. I got what I paid for.
I worked as a wedding photographers assistant, there I learned the value of a professional. They know what to look for, can finesse awkward situations, they keep working and capture your day. Other than the fact that you are married, pics are the only documentation of the wedding.

Ways to cut corners. Hire someone who will give you the negatives or the memory card, make your own copies. You do not need to order books. Hire someone who is good, but is just starting their business. Go through a wedding photography broker, they are usually way less expensive, use the photographers time wisely, do formal and family pics before the ceremony, don't have the professional photographer stay through the entire reception.
posted by jennstra at 1:21 PM on June 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I really enjoyed having a professional photographer at our wedding. For one thing, they are almost always going to take better photos because they have experience and great equipment. That means no red-eye, no weird angles, no shots where someone is picking a wedgie in front of you, etc. They can take one million photos and sift through all of them to find the one where you aren't making a funny face, where you look elated, etc.

Another reason is that your guests can enjoy without feeling like they are responsible for capturing the right moment. My photographer actually had a "no guest cameras allowed" policy because she wanted the guests to appear focused when she photographed them during the ceremony too! It made a huge difference.

A skilled photographer is also someone who can both feel like your best friend and seem invisible at the same time. They should know what to say so you look relaxed and natural in photos, rather than feeling like you're being stunned by paparazzi.

Finally, a good photographer is going to know how to take a picture to make you look your best. I am kind of not great looking (lumpy body build, non-white teeth, small squinty eyes, etc) and I photograph absolutely horribly when friends and family pull out the cameras, but I look stunning in my wedding photos. It's not like my photographer just Photoshopped the hell out of them-- she just knew how to find the right angle and lighting to bring out my good features.

So, yes. I am pro-pro photographer! You can save money by hiring a professional photographer for just a few hours (ceremony + some formal shots with your partner or family) rather than the whole event. Not all photographers may be willing to do this, especially not the ones who specialize in big fancy formal weddings. Look for photographers' web sites to see how chill they seem. I picked a photographer that was kind of hipstery and anti-tradition, and I think she'd be just the kind of photographer you need.
posted by joan_holloway at 1:22 PM on June 9, 2012 [12 favorites]

We had a close friend, a photo journalist, shoot our wedding. Great photographer, good pictures, but my wife and I still, five years later, talk about how we wish we had spent the money and gotten the full-on professional wedding photographer to do the pictures.

Find a great photographer you're comfortable with. Spend the money.
posted by incessant at 1:22 PM on June 9, 2012

I'm a photographer, though I don't shoot weddings.

Keep in mind you're not necessarily paying for post-processing. Actually shooting a wedding is a lot of work.

If I got married the only thing I would spend money on would be a professional photographer because:

1) Getting married is a once-in-a-lifetime event
2) Being disappointed by shitty/mediocre wedding photographs, to me, is worth spending thousands of dollars to avoid that feeling.

There are tons of photographers with so many different styles. I bet you could find one who does what you want and can work with you. Wedding photography doesn't have to be a big spectacle--I'm seeing very simple wedding photos these days.

I am super cheap but I would never skimp on a wedding photographer.
posted by girlmightlive at 1:24 PM on June 9, 2012 [5 favorites]

I've been to a LOT of weddings, hell I've been IN a lot of weddings. It is really really obvious (when looking back) who used a pro and who didn't. Here is the order of things I want to spend money on for quality at my wedding.

Everything else
posted by magnetsphere at 1:31 PM on June 9, 2012 [10 favorites]

Wanted to add that since wedding photography can be difficult, there's a very high chance that someone who's willing to do it for free doesn't really know what they're doing, no matter how nice they seem. Photography isn't just about taking photos, it's also about problem solving. It really does take experience to learn how to get a great photo even when things are going wrong or not as expected. THAT'S what you're paying for why you hire a pro. Just because digital photography makes it so accessible to everyone doesn't mean it makes everyone good.

I don't think I've ever met anyone who regretted spending money for great photography. I've met plenty of people who've regretted cutting corners to document something that was important to them.
posted by girlmightlive at 1:35 PM on June 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

Another reason I'm hesitant about spending so much is that I really dislike the way I look in most photos-- a combination of me being really squinty and blinky, disliking the way I look when I fake-smile, and just being pretty picky and critical of my appearance in photos

I'm the exact same way, and yet I love EVERY shot of myself from my wedding day. Seriously. We hired a professional photographer and she was a miracle worker. We chose her because we wanted a more laidback, candid, photojournalistic style, and boy, did she ever deliver. Everyone looks so relaxed and happy and beautiful in our pics thanks to her expertise.

We cut costs in every other area of our wedding so we could afford a fantastic photographer, then we saved money on the photographer herself by booking her for a shorter amount of time. We skipped all the the usual boring cliché stuff (getting ready, married hands on top of a bouquet, etc.) and instead focused our time on getting lots of great shots of us and our family and friends beforehand, the ceremony, and an hour or two of the reception. It was absolutely worth it.
posted by anderjen at 1:43 PM on June 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Specific rec - two DC-area couples I know used Nancy Anderson Cordell and one of the brides described her as "really not that expensive!" (which, I know, could mean pretty much anything). These were both Indian weddings but the Western-style wedding photos on her site also look lovely. No idea whether she's at all likely to be available, but I was so impressed by the photos.
posted by mskyle at 1:50 PM on June 9, 2012

When one of my siblings got married, the happy couple shelled out for a pro photographer. After the wedding, they received a cd of low res photos to choose from for their wedding album (and the little mini-albums that came with their package). It will be three years this year, and they have yet to make a wedding album, or even get in touch with the photographer to request a cd of high res photos instead. Nothing. The photo of them together that they use the most often (and have printed out and in a frame) is one that our mom took during the reception on a point-and-shoot digital camera.

Whether you want a pro photographer or not just depends on who you are and what you want from your wedding day. If you genuinely think you'd be happy with photographs shot by family and friends, then why bother with something else?
posted by shamash at 1:53 PM on June 9, 2012

This depends on what you want, where "what you want" is more specific than "nice photos."

My sister had a professional wedding photographer take pictures of her wedding. The pictures were awful. He took a lot (a looooot) of ridiculous posed photos, every possible permutation of family members. These are desirable only for their kitsch value. He took some candids too, of course, but they're not better than what a decent amateur would have done.

I've got a couple of friends who are really high-end wedding photographers. What they shoot is really art photography that happens to be at weddings. It's beautiful work, but it might not be what some folks would have in mind.

So you want to see the photographer's book, and don't settle for something you don't like on the assumption that "well, I guess this is what wedding pictures look like."

At my own wedding, a friend who is a professional photographer (but not wedding photographer) volunteered to take pictures. He shot a bunch of candids, and almost as an afterthought, lined some of us up for a few posed photos. I'm happy with how they turned out.
posted by adamrice at 1:57 PM on June 9, 2012

Oh, and our friends who married last summer in DC hired Len Spoden Photography. I don't know what they paid, but they were incredibly happy with him.
posted by anderjen at 1:59 PM on June 9, 2012

I've been struggling with this myself. I'm frugal and thrifty and definitely on a budget, and it seems extravagant and ridiculous to spend $2,000 on anything, period. But I think I've decided to hire a pro anyways (to afford it, I am skipping a bunch of things that are less important to me (flowers, very expensive dress, towering cake, etc). Here are reasons:

1) I always hate being in photos. Hate it. Not photogenic. And it's not just the retouching you're paying for, it's the particular skills that pro photographers have--including the ability to be practically invisible during weddings, thus not tripping my "oh gawd I'm on camera" reflex to hide. I don't expect a student or any of my friends to be practiced at unobtrusive photography.

2) I don't want all of my guests glued to their phones during my wedding. I want them paying attention and present, not taking photos.

3) I also do not want photos of my wedding on Facebook, at all. Hiring a pro means there is more control over the digital content. (The converse of this is that I can't just have all my friends email me photos, and the photographer retains the rights.)

4) It's a one-shot deal (pun intended). I can't do it over if my friends screw it up.

HOWEVER, there are other options, and some people are very happy going non-pro. Here's one idea:
posted by epanalepsis at 2:08 PM on June 9, 2012

I have a friend who's work I've always liked. She's in Baltimore and it would be worth checking her portfolio photographybymelody.
posted by zephyr_words at 2:08 PM on June 9, 2012

Actually shooting a wedding is really hard work. Really. Exhausting, and post processing is a big slug of time. I don't shoot a lot of weddings (5 or 6 so far), and it's like running a marathon.

Different photographers have different strengths. I'm getting married in a few weeks, and my SO and I chose a photographer who is particularly skilled at party shots--people dancing and being crazy--because that's what we're most looking forward to. There are some great documentary photographers locally, but that's not our prime focus (though our guy does that, too).

Guests can take great shots, and if you have 100 guests, and everyone takes 30 pictures, I'm sure you will get a handful of great images. If you pick a good pro, and the pro is the right pro (i.e., great with the formal shots? The prep shots? The dancing shots? All of the above?), they should give you 1000+ good shots, and 40-50 amazing shots, at least. And, as someone noted above, a really good photog feels like they're a part of the wedding--it's totally natural.

Even if you don't get the big books, or 1000 prints, I think a pro is a good investment. And each will tailor their packages for your needs.

To counter what was said above, I think the order of importance of vendors is:

Alcohol (which is, all told, cheap and everyone enjoys)
DJ (there must be dancing at a wedding; no one cares about your ceremony, they want to party)
Photographer (will frame the images that people remember forever)
Food (no one gives a shit about the food, and won't remember the next day)
Flowers (meh)
Trained squirrels (optional)
Favors (dreary)
posted by Admiral Haddock at 2:09 PM on June 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Go pro. A good photographer with good equipment will take shots that require less post-processing. They will also know all sorts of tricks to help people pose/smile naturally. And they will be much faster than an amateur, plus as invisible as possible.

To save costs, ask for a contact sheet of all the photos before processing. Be warned, you will have hundreds to sort through. (The photographer may have already identified some of the best ones to get you started.)

I've done tons of post-processing as a graphic designer and have worked some minor miracles around piss-poor equipment, but there's no good way to fix poor staging/framing.
posted by Wossname at 2:17 PM on June 9, 2012

I'm a professional photographer, I have shot weddings in the past, and I have sworn them off because it is extremely hard and I do not enjoy the massive amount of time it takes. Here is what is involved on the photographer's end:

The lighting is constantly changing and everyone is wearing polar extremes in contrast (it doesn't matter if your ceremony is in full day light, getting a black suit and a white dress exposed well in any light is a challenge).

You only get one chance at all these little moments that everyone wants to hold on to forever, and often this basically requires you to be in two places at once. You spend all day sprinting back and forth (but you know, not distracting the guests or getting in their way).

Everyone is half-drunk and tired by the end of it, you try taking a flattering picture of your random uncle who has taken full advantage of the open bar and see how it goes.

You have to shoot an incredible amount of images. I am mostly a studio photographer, and the amount of images you shoot in one day for a wedding is more total frames than I typically shoot in a month or two.

But so what, right? It's digital and it takes a day to shoot it regardless, just keep firing away and you're bound to get some good ones. But then you have to edit this mountain of images down to the ones that actually do look good - panning for digital gold (someone above said 1000 shots? hah! That would be a good warm up.) This easily takes just as long to do as shooting the actually wedding did, and we haven't even started on the processing!

Post-processing does not really take that much time if you just correct exposure/light/white balance

Spoken with the full confidence of someone who has never shot a wedding! Just doing the absolute, bare minimum don't-give-a-fuck-just-get-the-color-balance-right will take far longer shooting the wedding did. You want someone who is going to put their artistic touch on it and make beautiful images that go beyond journalistic snaps? You're looking at a week of sitting in front of your computer analyzing how to make someone else's granny look good in that harsh afternoon sun.

But I'm curious, how much of an impact does all that post-processing actually have on how good the final product looks? And if we don't actually want hundreds of nicely polished and touched-up photos, can we ask them to only do the editing on a few photos we pick?

It's night and day, to use an outdated metaphor it's the difference between dropping your roll of film off at Walmart or having it meticulously printed in a darkroom by a professional.

Sure, you can reduce their processing time by picking out your favorites. They still have to edit it down and then go back and forth with you over which ones you want - by then you're not saving any of their time.

You might get lucky, but shooting a wedding is really, really hard and extremely time consuming. You can definitely find an amateur or student who will do it for $500-1000 - they will think "One day of shooting for that much money? Hell yeah!".

Then they will drop off the face of the earth after your wedding when they realize how long it's going to take them to edit your images. I've seen it happen a lot. And when you do get the images, they will be mediocre at best and you'll still have shelled out a thousand bucks for something you can't do over.

If you want good photos, hire a professional. Preferably someone with an excellent portfolio who enjoys it and knows what they're doing - not me!
posted by bradbane at 2:18 PM on June 9, 2012 [22 favorites]

Congrats on your upcoming wedding.

I am also in wedding vendor shopping mode, and if you do decide to go pro (for the reasons that other have stated above), one thing that can save you some cash is to negotiate on the amount of time that you actually want said photographer around.

Most 'togs I've looked at have a fee for 6 or 8 hours. If ceremony pictures are really important to you, and you don't want "getting ready" shots, maybe you only need 2 or 3 hours?

You may not want a professional looking album, but one of my girlfriends had an excellent point: they make awesome and easy mother's day/christmas presents for your parents. So maybe splurge and get a couple made?
posted by sparklemotion at 2:19 PM on June 9, 2012

My husband were also on the fence but ultimately decided to spring for a professional. The best thing we did to save money was to just get the two guys to come out, shoot everything, do all the processing on the thousands of pictures they took, and then put them on a disc for us and be done with them. We didn't buy a single album, print, or whatever from them. This was a significant cost savings for us, and I was so, so thankful when I saw the pictures from a friends' wedding by their amateur photog. So, so not worth the cost savings. Believe me! DO THIS!

Our wedding pictures, and our wedding photographer, who definitely does DC weddings! We paid less than $100 over his $2,500 starting rate. So, so worth it.
posted by two lights above the sea at 2:20 PM on June 9, 2012

I wanted a photographer and was talked out of it. We were working on a non-existent budget, but we could have found $100 here or there for the investment. That much is not going to buy you a great photographer but from my perspective it would have ensured a few decent shots. The problem is that not many people know how to use their cameras. If you are less than photogenic, like me, it's important that people hold the camera up near eye level. But because of the rise of view screens, nobody does that any more. You're paying for someone who knows how to use their camera.

Our wedding was, like I said, a no-budget picnic style affair for about 20 people. We served pizza, salad, home-made cupcakes and champagne cocktails out of a large cooler and everyone had a nice time. So I now know everything about putting on a wedding for no money.

The thing is that even something of this small scale needs coordination. Getting the tables set up and the tent and all of the miscellaneous crap you wind up having to bring, plus the drunken and emotionally-charged people to the lovely park on the lake that we had chosen was kind of a madhouse.

HERE IS THE IMPORTANT THING: THE most important thing to spend money on is a coordinator. Even if it's the receptionist at your job running around with a clipboard. Someone with no emotional stake in the proceedings who knows what's going on and is directing parties accordingly is crucial. You don't have to pay a lot, but you have to pay them something to guarantee their emotional detachment. My wedding would have been 100% stress-free if we had someone like this.
posted by bleep at 2:20 PM on June 9, 2012

Local heros Leah & Mark will travel any where for a wedding. They are awesome.

Reasons to pay for a photographer:
1) They have photographed EVERY KIND OF PERSON. If you look at the photos on the L&M site, you can see, they aren't just doing classically pretty girls with princess dresses - they are doing weirdo concept shoots, weddings, engagements (SECRET ones even), babies, they shot a show for me, basically these guys have seen it all and figured out how to make it look good.

2) You only get married on this one day, and if you don't have good photographic evidence, you will probably be at least a little sad.

I feel like these guys in particular are very reasonable - I can't remember what I paid Mark to shoot us for our sixth anniversary, but frankly I like those even BETTER than my wedding photos, and if I could go back in time and make the decision about photos with money as the LEAST important variable, I would. It weighed on my decision too much, and while we have some nice photos, we also just have a lot that I am meh about.

I'd reorder the things from above, personally:

Alcohol - is not actually cheap and your family may or not be into it. You know what is cheap? Getting drunk with your friends afterward. Recommended.
DJ - only if you like dancing. You may not.
Photographer (will frame the images that people remember forever) - YES
Food (no one gives a shit about the food, and won't remember the next day) - Enh, it needs to be edible. They will remember cake. People still ask me about my cake.
Flowers - I disagree - Flowers are easily very pretty and are FUN to have good ones that are gorgeous and that you love. Yes, it's transient, but whatever. Choose blooms that are in season and shop around.
Favors (dreary) - agreed.
posted by Medieval Maven at 2:26 PM on June 9, 2012

We hired a cheap photographer, and ended up not using any of the photo's that he took. My brother hired a professional who did stuff in the style they like, and they have dozens of fantastic photo's of them, the family, and friends, many of which they made prints of and hung up in their house.

Do you have photo's hanging up in your house? If so, than hire a professional who has a style you love. If you don't hang up your photo's, and instead just have a small photo album that you pull out from time to time, than my suggestion would be to contact an art school in the area that has a photography program, and try to find a couple of students who are close to graduating (and have some sort of portfolio they can show you). They may be willing to do it fairly cheaply. In addition to this, make sure you have several friends with cameras who can take some photo's for you. I know that if one of my friends was getting married and asked me to take some photo's during the ceremony, I'd be happy to do it, and wouldn't feel like I'm missing out on anything.

In the end, the question you should be asking your self is this: If we don't get any good photo's of the wedding, would we regret not spending the money? If so, than hire a photographer. If not, than take your chances with something cheaper.

Here is what my brothers photographer did, and if we could do anything about our wedding over again, it would have been to hire this photographer:

My Brothers Wedding
posted by markblasco at 2:33 PM on June 9, 2012

Yes, pay for a professional photographer!
Anecdote: when my younger sister got married, our oldest sister insisted on doing the wedding photography "as my wedding present to you": based on almost 6 months' experience shooting those cheap photo packages you can get at places like Sears or KMart, Oldest Sister considered herself a A Professional Photographer..... yikes. End result is that the photos she took were often weirdly framed, sometimes fuzzy/out-of-focus, and (to add insult to injury) OS didn't even give YS the few (fifteen!) pictures she did eventually turn over until it was almost YS's second wedding anniversary --- merely being "imperfect" would have been an improvement in the quality of those few photos.

In short: with a real pro, you'll get more and much better photographs than you would from a well-meaning amateur. Shop around for better prices, but remember that there's no 'do-overs' here.
posted by easily confused at 2:38 PM on June 9, 2012

Regardless of whether you choose to go pro or not, you may want to do something that my sister and her husband did: as guests leave, whether it's at the end of the evening, or at a next day going away brunch (as was the case for my sister) have someone stationed with a laptop and an SD card reader to download your guests photos of the wedding.

You will have loads of snapshots. While they won't be pro shots, they'll have some things the pros couldn't get, because the pros were elsewhere taking other important photos.

My sister loved her pro photos, and wouldn't change a thing in getting then, but having so many guest photos (over 1000!) has been really special, too.
posted by ocherdraco at 2:41 PM on June 9, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks so much for all the answers so far!

Maybe I'm dense, but I'd really appreciate more insight and specifics on why and how the pros are worth it. I mean, I know this is all about personal judgments and priorities, but I'd be really interested in hearing people's assessments of 1) why you feel like having great wedding photos rather than mediocre wedding photos is worth the equivalent of a few awesome trips or dozens of fantastic meals or all sorts of other things you can do with thousands of dollars [not trying to knock people's priorities, really! just want to understand if there's things I'm missing]; and 2) what specifically are the differences in the results that make it worthwhile?

(Also, obviously no matter how much you pay, you can always still get disappointing results if the person's not very good or is having an off day or whatever. What on earth do you do to try to avoid that? I know to ask to look through their full shots for a wedding rather than just the highlights they put on their website, but what else? It seems like most of the professional wedding photos I see all blend together to me as generic "sure, those look nice" and I have no idea what to look for. Or what to ask, besides how many weddings they've done. So I'm petrified about paying thousands of dollars and being disappointed at the end anyway, especially since we're only a few months away from the wedding so it seems like all the best photographers are probably booked already.)
posted by EmilyClimbs at 2:46 PM on June 9, 2012

We hired a photographer almost at the last minute and I am very glad we did it. We hired an "event photographer" (the sort who do corporate award luncheons or charity fundraisers) rather than a "wedding photographer" (although it turned out that he does both). I was very upfront with him that I was not hiring a wedding photographer because they were too expensive and only offered "packages" that were seriously overkill for both our needs and our budget. I told him that I understood the costs of shooting weddings and was not trying to cheat him, but that we could not find a wedding photographer willing to price what we wanted--two hours of candid photography only at a reception only.

We did not want prints; we did not want a book; we just wanted digital candids of a party. We did need 12 hours of the photographers' time; we did not have more than one location; we did not have a first dance or cake cutting or anything that needed multiple angles to be sure that the best shot was captured. We did not have a wedding party (no bridesmaids or groomsmen), so we needed neither portraits of the party, nor "getting ready" shots (again necessitating multiple photographers to be in more than one place at a time). The photographer was great because when I explained all that, he said "That makes sense. You don't need a wedding photographer, so let's do an event package." He arrived about half an hour after the start of the reception--shot candids and took pictures of anyone who said "Hey, take a picture of us" and then sent us a DVD of lots of nicely done high res images. It was an incredibly reasonable rate.

Anyway, that's a lot of detail to say that maybe you should approach an event photographer. If your wedding can accommodate something much less than a "wedding package", maybe you can work out a deal like this with either an event photographer or a wedding photographer. I think it's really important to have good photos and not have your guests distracted trying to get the good photos for you. They'll take pictures anyway, and those will be fun, but the professional ones should be really special.

As a side note, and not to be gloomy, but we got married last November and one of the young guests at our wedding died this week. Our wedding was the last time he and his wife were out together having a good time. There are a couple really great pictures of them at the reception--I'm not sure that would have happened if we had relied on our guests to capture the event--and I have been really happy to have those photos. There is, in fact, at least one great picture of every single guest. Professional photographers are good at making sure there is a picture of everyone.

I tend to agree with the posters who have said the things to spend money on at a wedding are: alcohol, food and photography. Everything about the wedding is one night only (the dress, the flowers, even the alcohol and food), but the memories are the important part. Good food and good booze contribute to a good party atmosphere--good photography lets you reminisce in the best way.
posted by crush-onastick at 3:03 PM on June 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

Skimping on the photographer is the one thing I really regret.

I'm never going to wear the dress again, I hardly remember the cake, and the DJ was an ass.

The pictures are all we have left and they suck. The one good shot I have is from my Grandfather-in-law who used to be a pro.

Pay the money, it is worth it.
posted by TooFewShoes at 3:10 PM on June 9, 2012

Um DID NOT need 12 hours of the photographer's time on a Saturday--I'm sure his post-production took a long time, but he was at our event for 2.5 hours only
posted by crush-onastick at 3:30 PM on June 9, 2012

what specifically are the differences in the results that make it worthwhile?

When we got married, we chose to splurge on two things, one ephemeral (the food) and one more lasting (the photos). Everything else we found ways to economize on. I got my dress at a second-hand wedding-dress consignment store and paid a grad student in the theater department's costume design program to do the alterations for me. A friend of a friend did the flowers (for a very good price), the music during the ceremony was performed by a group consisting mostly of my family members (we only had to pay the pianist), and the wedding and reception were on my college campus (which is something I recommend considering if it's a possibility — we saved a lot of money on the chapel and the reception space because I got the alumnae discount).

When we got the album back from the photographer, I was looking through it with a friend and classmate who'd been at the wedding. She looked at one picture, started to turn the page, then did a double-take and turned back. "That—" she said, stabbing a finger at the photo, "that is that nasty-looking algae-covered pond over beside the music building that you two are standing next to, isn't it? How the hell did he make it look like something out of a pre-Raphaelite painting?"

We're both very glad we spent the money to have a really good local photographer do the photos. The candid ones that friends sent us, even the talented-and-experienced-amateur-photographer ones, just don't compare.
posted by Lexica at 3:36 PM on June 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

1) why you feel like having great wedding photos rather than mediocre wedding photos is worth the equivalent of a few awesome trips or dozens of fantastic meals

Well, I suppose it depends on the person. Here is one way of thinking about it. What did you order/make for the last fifteen fantastic meals that you've had? Second question - how accurately can you remember and describe your sixteenth birthday (or other milestone that you were excited about a number of years ago). If you can clearly and accurately recount those details, then you probably don't need photographs. For me personally, everything becomes a blur after awhile. Having photos allows me to recall details that I might completely forget otherwise.

There is also a sentimental aspect to this. The photos may be really important for your children (if you plan to have them) and for you and your spouse in your sixties/seventies etc. This is something that will hopefully last a lot longer than a few meals or tickets for a flight. I'm looking forward to the day that I'm old and wrinkly, but can look back on a beautiful photo of me and my love in our heyday.
posted by valoius at 3:38 PM on June 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

My husband and I struggled with this issue before our wedding. I felt very strongly that I didn't want a photographer at all, he felt more or less neutral about it. We found a compromise that worked for us; maybe it'll work for you?

After much discussion, we decided to hire a professional photographer to take a formal portrait just after the ceremony. He set up the camera, took two wet plate photos and a handful with his holga, then went home. Happy ending is that we have two ferrotypes of us in the moments after we spoke our vows that we treasure AND we got to spend the rest of our wedding enjoying the things that were more important to us - out friends and family, the food and drink, and the rockin' band.

(Choosing a photographer was easy after I got some good advice from a friend: narrow your list down to the photographers whose work you find beautiful, then choose the one you like as a person. I know that my comfort level with the photographer the day of our wedding made the portraits he took so much better.)
posted by minervous at 3:40 PM on June 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

We didn't hire a professional photographer, and instead opted to disposable cameras for the guests to take shots with. BIGGEST MISTAKE EVER. Most people assumed someone else would get the shot of me walking down the aisle, most people's pictures were blurry, there wasn't a single shot of me that I liked at all. We've been married 6 yrs and I don't have a single wedding picture of us any where in our house. That has been my biggest regret about the wedding day.

If you have the money to hire a professional, I say go for it. Not having good quality photos will bum you out more than you think it will. That's a day that won't happen again and you'll kick yourself in the ass every day after wishing you had just shelled out the money.
posted by Sweetmag at 3:46 PM on June 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

Back in the day I assisted a pro on a few wedding shoots, and as noted above, it's a long day of hard work, making sure everything runs smoothly while being as unobstrusive as possible.

Don't scrimp. I'm not saying you need to spend $5000 dollars, but if you spend $500, there will be a difference. When we got married a few years ago, we hired a friend who is semi-pro. He has a beautiful portfolio, but I should have paid attention to the fact that they're mostly nature pics, or still lifes. As mentioned, it's your wedding day, and it only happens once. Having the skill and experience to capture the moments as they happen are key. Prime example, at the end of the ceremony when we kissed, we have two shots with our faces inches from each other, with weird puckery lips and smoopy faces. These were the frames taken as we were leaning in to, and then pulling away from, the kiss. No pic of us actually kissing. Now I wasn't your traditional bride at all, and overall didn't expect the giant grand album, but misses like this were really blaring disappointments. Nearly three years later, my mom is still hounding me about why we don't have a wedding album. Well Mom, it's because we weren't overly thrilled with the pictures.

Long story short, you get what you pay for.
posted by spinturtle at 3:54 PM on June 9, 2012

A pro will:

Have better or worse days but not awful or incompetent days.

Be aware of all the stuff that you want to watch for in wedding shots: background, snafus, stray hair/dress/brastrap etc. Lighting.

Be able to deal with wedding party/ relatives/guests in order to get good shots; this is something talented amateurs or students don't know how to do and is key for capturing people at their best.

Will know which shots to get when; won't wait while people get drunk and disheveled: won't intrude mid-speech, etc.

My SIL shot our wedding with her then-husband; they were both very talented photographers. She is now a pro -wedding- photographer and even though I am fine with the album I got, the difference is still night and day when I look at what she does now.
posted by Zen_warrior at 3:58 PM on June 9, 2012

If you don't like the way you look in most photos, that's a very good reason to hire a professional photographer.
posted by thebrokenmuse at 3:59 PM on June 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Clearly we're in the minority, but we didn't have a professional photographer at our wedding, and I don't regret it at all. We got married, it was a lovely time, the food was excellent, I remember it well, there are several pleasant snapshots of the event, and then we went on a great trip that I also remember well and nostalgically. I continue to care exactly zero about whether there are photos of the exact moment we kissed or anything lik e that. So it really does depend on you.
posted by redfoxtail at 4:05 PM on June 9, 2012

I've been shooting weddings professionally for five years, it is a lot of money and there are a fair amount of talentless hacks out there however (in my opinion!) a beautiful picture will gain so much meaning over the years.

A great 'tog will also sit down with you beforehand, plan out exactly what you want and need and work that into their plan of the day. I've been in situations where I'm the only one in a wedding party who knows what's going on which is pretty exhilarating.

Paying for a pro also isn't just for the post processing, it's for the days before and after the actual wedding, for being on call whenever the clients have needs, which can be years after the wedding and for crisis managing the (small percentage!) of weddings that go wrong on the day.

If you do want to shave the prices down there are a few tips I can think of -

1) Never go for a package, ask for a custom quote for your needs
2) Expensive albums are invariably a racket, Blurb is an excellent alternative.
3) Think of some great engagement/portrait shoot concepts, most photographers are desperate for interesting and unique portfolio ideas and may factor it into the deal.
posted by brilliantmistake at 4:16 PM on June 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

1) why you feel like having great wedding photos rather than mediocre wedding photos is worth the equivalent of a few awesome trips or dozens of fantastic meals

I think that you realize that this is extremely personal in a "why do I like burritos more than tacos?" kind of way. You are talking about preferences here, but let me try to re-classify the examples.

An awesome trip and a fantastic meal are experiences. Of course the trip may include some great pictures you took and the meal may involve tremendous culinary artistry, but these are primarily experience-based examples. Wedding photography can be either 1. a solid, but reliable product (see Jasmine Star) or an artistic collaboration between you and the choices you make for your day and the photographer with a defined vision (see Del Sol Photography). Either way, you aren't paying for an experience you are paying for a document of sorts.

How valuable is this type of document to you? Are you the sort of person who would enjoy having a large reproduction of that document in your house? Would you enjoy leafing through a book filled with such things?

It seems to me that wedding photography is backward-looking, and while that sounds negative it isn't intended to be. At what other time in your life will you be able to get so many people you love, looking their best together? There is a real value to that...for some that value is higher than for others. If you are more interested in looking forward, if you can't see yourself re-visiting that day, than maybe it's less valuable.

Either way, the idea that it is your happiest day always struck me as extremely depressing, so I'd suggest that you don't buy into that crap.

2) what specifically are the differences in the results that make it worthwhile?

This is a question best answered in book form. I do understand the place from which you are coming from, though. It took me a very long while to refine my assessment of quality photography and I definitely wouldn't consider myself any kind of expert. I mean, there are basics (is anything strongly geometrical in the a pole...intersecting with anyone's head in a shot). Unfortunately, there really isn't all that great of a consumer reports for wedding photography.

You could try to look people up in the WPJA website for your area...this is an institution that only accepts as members people who meet certain criteria. But in this case all you are doing is outsourcing your analysis...this seems to be the opposite of what you want. Like I said, though, it takes time to learn how to do that analysis.

Its for this reason that many wedding photographers are able to succeed due to their social skills (vs photography skills). Because they excel at selling the photography experience. And here is where we dovetail with the above. A Jasmine Star may not have the best images (or often good images) but she sells herself and the "experience" very well.

So, what does it all mean? It's hard to say, but here goes. If you care about experience above all else, I'd say scrimp on photos. The money-to-moment proposition isn't nearly as good as hopping a flight to Costa Rica and zip-lining, or something. If you care about experience and want the glamorous "photographer experience", Google "rockstar photographers" and take your pick...and remember that what makes rockstars rock was not always technical ability. If you care about the actual imagery...well this is the hardest of all because you want to understand why x is better than y and thats only something you'll get after a bit of work (I mean I could tell you who I'd pick for myself, but my sense is that that really isn't what you want). Based on the fact that you are even asking the question, though, I'd guess that you aren't in the middle or last groups.
posted by Hypnotic Chick at 4:21 PM on June 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

For me, part of ensuring wedding photos I was guaranteed to love was hiring a professional hair/makeup artist. I found someone I trusted and every penny I spent on her was worth it.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:22 PM on June 9, 2012

A pro can be worth it because:
- They can stand close up to the ceremony, and move around it. They are the only way to get good ceremony shots, unless you assign one guest this project.
- You can point out your important people and they will be sure to photograph them. Your guests will not photograph your grandmother or your junior high best friend. A pro will (if you ask them to) photograph every guest at least once, and the important ones several times.
- A pro will be sure to get photos of the bride and groom together! Even if you don't do posed shots. Your guests will catch shots of you and your spouse, but not necessarily together.
posted by xo at 4:46 PM on June 9, 2012

We didn't hire a pro. We had two friends who are excellent amateur photographers take pictures. When we got the photos back, we were a little disappointed that some shots had been missed or not quite composed as well as we would have liked. However, many of the shots were fantastic and the wedding itself was more important to us - and we just cropped a couple of pictures to get rid of stuff we didn't like. Within two years, we had a baby and I have to say that looking at wedding pictures is not high on my "to do" list. Honestly, I don't think professional photos are a good place to spend money. We scrimped here and were able to buy a home, which was a lot more important to us.

That being said, disposable cameras on the tables were a bad idea. People took stupid pictures - really immature pictures - and it was a waste of money. We'd left a card asking them to take pictures of one another at the table and they didn't do that, for the most part.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 5:14 PM on June 9, 2012

Professional wedding photographer here, so my biases should be obvious. But I thought I would take a stab at this any way.

1) why you feel like having great wedding photos rather than mediocre wedding photos is worth the equivalent of a few awesome trips or dozens of fantastic meals or all sorts of other things you can do with thousands of dollars

You should consider the possibility that for you, it's not worth it and it never will be. If you know in your heart that that is the case, then I say, go cheap and be happy.

That said, I think the sentiment from a lot of people who regretted it later is born from the very acute feelings of disappointment that either hit immediately after seeing the mediocre photos, or the nagging feelings of regret over time that it was a mistake not to get good ones. There's also the realization that $2,000 or 3,000 is simply not that much money. It might feel like an enormous sum in your youth, but it really isn't as you get a little older, work more, and realize what things cost in life.

2) what specifically are the differences in the results that make it worthwhile?

Specifically: a good wedding photographer will get beautiful photos under any circumstances. Bad weather? No problem. Drunk guests? No biggie. Inconsistent lighting? Gear failures? Only have ten minutes for formals? No issues. You get the idea. An amateur might get some good shots, but might also totally bungle things once one (or several) of these unexpected difficulties get in the way. It happens all the time.

There are certainly good amateurs out there, and you could definitely get lucky if you do your homework and screen people as best you can. But a professional will deliver high quality every time. That peace of mind may or may not be worth it for you, but it's a real thing. Similarly, an established pro will capture great moments: good, flattering, and interesting expressions. Not the awkward in-between moments where no on looks good. This is tougher than it sounds if you haven't shot a lot of candid people shots.

Finally, a few tips: if you decide to seek out a cheap amateur solution, then really pour over their work. Ask them to show you samples of photos in low-light situations. Do they have any prime lenses? Do they know basic bounce flash techniques so as not to totally ruin the ambient lighting in a scene? Can they show you examples of similar shoots they've done? Do these samples show good moments between people?

If you decide to shell out for a pro, then there are some things you can do to mitigate the cost. Ask them if they can set up a registry service, and let your guests know that you would appreciate contributions to the cost of photography as wedding presents. And remember, weddings are expensive, but they are also often cash cows. This sounds crass, but it's true. We received several thousand dollars in cash as wedding presents. If we knew to expect that, we probably would have made different choices about what we spent on our very frugal wedding.

If you do work with a pro, make sure to choose one who offers an engagement session in the package. Even if you don't care about engagement photos, this session allows everyone to get to know each other. It allows you and your fiancé to get comfy in front of their camera, and it allows you to communicate your concerns about your appearance in photos. Your photographer can shoot you and figure out the best way to address them for the big day itself. This pays dividends on the wedding day.

Finally, my own wedding anecdote: we were married before becoming photographers. We had two friends do it (free--though we gave them gifts afterwards), and they were both great amateur photographers at the time. Literally, among the best anyone on a budget could hope for. We have a lot of really nice images from that day, but if I had to do it again, I would hire a pro in a heartbeat. The "formal" photos we did consumed our whole afternoon (time I'd rather have spent with family and friends), and although we had fun, there's really only a few in there that I care about any more. Both of those guys filled up their only CF cards by mid-reception, so we don't have any good photos from the big party at the end of the night. They also worked their asses off, instead of kicking back and enjoying the wedding. I regret that now. I wouldn't have dreamed of spending $5,000 on wedding photography then, but now, a mere four years later, I would pay that without thinking twice.

Whatever you decide, good luck, and have a great wedding.
posted by hamandcheese at 5:30 PM on June 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

My husband and I didn't think we'd care too much about wedding photos and decided against having a pro. We had an amateur photographer shoot our wedding and the photos looked like they were shot by an amateur. We have no photos to use in updates for our friends and family, we have no worthy photos to put up, and 5 years later, that's the one thing I would do differently if I could do it all over again.

Your wedding day is a day that you are drop dead gorgeous for the whole day. You're wearing a beautiful gown, your make up is exquisite, and you're having the time of your life. As the bride, you won't remember a moment of it. It'll happen so fast and before you know it, you'll be headed to your honeymoon. You'll be grateful for the photos afterwards.

You'd be surprised how many photos a pro has to take to get even a few worthy shots. An amateur may take a bazillion photos and not get a single one that's worthy. If you go with a pro, you're at least more likely to get the few that you want to display.
posted by jadegenie at 5:43 PM on June 9, 2012

Our pro wedding photographer bailed at the last minute and sent her (crappy) back up guy.
We ended up using the best shots from our friends and family but they weren't as nice as pro shots should be.

I'd spend the money.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 5:44 PM on June 9, 2012

Maybe I'm dense, but I'd really appreciate more insight and specifics on why and how the pros are worth it. I mean, I know this is all about personal judgments and priorities, but I'd be really interested in hearing people's assessments of 1) why you feel like having great wedding photos rather than mediocre wedding photos is worth the equivalent of a few awesome trips or dozens of fantastic meals or all sorts of other things you can do with thousands of dollars [not trying to knock people's priorities, really! just want to understand if there's things I'm missing]; and 2) what specifically are the differences in the results that make it worthwhile?

Oy. This is one of those AskMes where I know that the OP and I are coming at this from different perspectives and the OP already knows what she wants which is different than what I think, and is just trying to get a last-minute survey of opinion as a sanity check. It's kind of painful to watch someone about to make a mistake yet at the same time remain calm in giving advice.

Please use a professional photographer who has done this hundreds of times before and is good at what he or she does. I've seen what happens when they retain a hobbyist or family friend to take wedding photos. The lighting is never good. It's not easy to take a photo of you and your family lined up in the hall/church without it coming out too dark to too over-saturated with light.

Framing, posing, getting your good sides, knowing how many pictures to take to ensure you get a few good ones, etc. These are all things that professionals will do

I know it seems like pictures just "come out" looking nice, but they really don't. It takes knowledge and effort to line things up, direct the subjects, and get the lighting right (especially the lighting... I've seen an entire wedding party fading into the dark in a picture).
posted by deanc at 5:48 PM on June 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Maybe beautiful photos aren't important to you, but they were important to me, and you asked my opinion, so...

I'm not sure if you're just assuming that all the wedding photographers out there are crazy expensive. I booked mine about a month before the wedding using Craigslist. I booked her for doing the getting ready pics and ceremony only, since the reception was outdoors in the dark and would be tough to photograph anyway. She charged me $800 and I don't regret the expense in the least. And we definitely come from the school of "would prefer to spend on fun trips and great meals" - I have a $75 titanium wedding band with (gasp) no diamond. We spent <>
Anyway the photos she took are so lovely. If you plan to make an album it really helps to have someone whose job it is to capture the important moments. Because your friends are there to have fun and enjoy the party, and unless they are really hyperaware of this sort of thing they will just take photos whenever they feel like it. The photographer helps to marshal the troops and get everyone to do the posed photos, at least for a few minutes. She knew what looked good and made sure it only took about 30 minutes to get all the formal shots we wanted of our families and of the wedding party.

In order to make sure I was going to like the photos, I just looked at her website portfolio for weddings and was easily able to judge that I thought they looked professional quality and pretty. When I chatted with her about getting a quote I could tell she was laid back and friendly and flexible. I ensured that she would give me all the original full size digital copies of the photos. She even did some nice sepia tone photos and whatnot, and I love that kind of thing. She got along well with the wedding guests.

In contrast, I decided to make cuts in the budget by not hiring anyone to take video. Instead, I asked my brother to do video for us, because he is an artist and an amazing photographer, and he definitely has the skills and ability to do a great job. Because he's a busy guy he did not send me the DVD of the wedding video until a year after we got married. I was so excited for it and we watched it on our anniversary. At that point I found that the wedding video was less than 10 minutes long and really only included the ceremony, which you could hardly hear, and there were noises of cars and traffic passing by in the background. Nothing of the guests, dancing, speeches, etc (we did a lot of speeches and I really wanted to remember them). It is a major regret but I realize that my brother was busy enjoying the event and being a wedding guest, and it was unfair of me to expect him to act in a professional capacity and not focus on participating in the fun.

hope you are able to find the photographer who suits your needs!
posted by treehorn+bunny at 5:50 PM on June 9, 2012

The one time you can get away WITHOUT a super-expensive photog - i.e., a student one or a friend you trust - is if you are willing to make a very specific list of shots you want to take, list them, and tell everyone that's to be in each one what you expect them to do in every photo.

I have done this; it worked. Most people are so emotional on their wedding day, it turns into a blur. You won't remember half of it. Paying attention is what you're paying a pro to do: capture moments that otherwise would go unnoticed. And the thousands in between when they're TRYING to do that.

That's why they cost so much and it's worth it - to delegate your trust. That said, save money and don't get a video made - just get digital copies of the photos and print them yourself. That's the best way to save money, IMO.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 6:11 PM on June 9, 2012

I have a recommendation for the DC area: Procopio Photography. Her work is beautiful but I have no idea how much she charges.
posted by Nolechick11 at 6:37 PM on June 9, 2012

Why the pros are worth it?
1. If you've done your homework and looked at their portfolios, you will see that they know what theyre doing.
2. If you ask a family member or friend to do the shoot, they won't have time to enjoy the wedding themselves. I shot my sisters wedding - against my better judgement and hated every minute of it.
posted by flutable at 6:49 PM on June 9, 2012

Pros have the proper lenses (and enough camera bodies to simply switch cameras instead of lenses) and will ensure good light & angles. Not being awkward is part of their job: they've probably seen it all, wedding-wise, and know that part of the job is making photo-shy people comfortable around them. Someone with experience will also be more efficient with staged/group shots, and come prepared with a general list of shot types that have worked well/made people happy in the past. I don't know many folks who re-watch their wedding video often, but EVERYONE I know looks at their wedding pics form time to time.
posted by smirkette at 7:00 PM on June 9, 2012

My husband and I kind of went with a middle ground - we went with my brother's friend who is an actual professional photographer but he's still getting started so he gave us a break on cost. I also freaked out when I realized how much professional photographers cost so I was relieved that we could have a talented family friend do it.

He was very good but I still don't feel like the pictures really made me look my best. Also, we had heard several people suggest making a list of photographs that we would have really liked but I never made that list because I didn't want to seem like a bridezilla. I regret that. For example, we had 20 small children at the wedding but only a few pictures of them. My favorite picture of the two of us was taken by someone else. And you don't know what photos are going to be meaningful for you after the fact. My sister got married eight months after I did but my grandfather died before her wedding and I have some nice pictures of him at the wedding.

We did opt to buy a disc of the pictures as well as the rights to them so we don't have to go back to the photographer for reprints. He made us an album so we have that - it's pretty but it's not elaborate.
posted by kat518 at 7:07 PM on June 9, 2012

If you care about experience above all else, I'd say scrimp on photos. The money-to-moment proposition isn't nearly as good as hopping a flight to Costa Rica and zip-lining, or something.

I would argue that you are buying an experience by paying for quality, professional photography-- the experience of looking at your wedding photos in the years to come.

You want to have the best possible experience when looking at your wedding photos, and that requires a good photographer.
posted by deanc at 7:33 PM on June 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

If photos are important to you, use a pro. Photos weren't that important to us (I happen to loathe looking at my photographed image) so we didn't. Family and friends took pictures of us and gave us copies, and I'm glad to have them, but I haven't looked at them in a decade or so.
posted by Daily Alice at 8:10 PM on June 9, 2012

Forgive me if someone already said this but someone gave me a tip when I was hunting for a photographer and it served me well. When you look at their portfolio, do the people in the photos seem like people you know? Like, are they so comfortable in the moment that you feel like you're right there, experiencing some aspect of the event. It really helped me pick a pro that has a real knack with people.

We probably went overboard with our photog. As it turns out, I don't care much for the photos of the "getting ready" or some of the later stuff. But he took some of the best photos of my family and friends that I have ever seen. He captured some great moments and I still love looking at our photos many years later.
posted by amanda at 9:06 PM on June 9, 2012

Ask them if they can set up a registry service, and let your guests know that you would appreciate contributions to the cost of photography as wedding presents.

That goes against every form of wedding etiquette I have ever seen. You do not register for wedding services, if you want to follow traditional etiquette.

As for 2-3000 dollars not being much? Yes, it is for very many people. Our entire wedding cost $4000. We had dinner for 125 people, with an open bar, but did everything ourselves, there was no way we could afford 2-3000 for pictures alone.

Do what you think is right. Only you know if you'll miss having professional shots done.
posted by SuzySmith at 9:55 PM on June 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I got one of my best friends to shoot our wedding - she did it for free as a gift (she's a pro photographer). And truly, I like having the photos so much more than I thought I would. There have been other times I've neglected to get professional photos and thought "Eh, the photos I take will be fine." Notably, I didn't get professional photos of my son as a newborn and.... well... the photos that my doula took are certainly proof that "THAT HAPPENED" but I didn't have one photo of his very first day that was worth of putting in the little photo collage that we had for our holiday card.

It will absolutely be worth it. Find someone you can afford and work it out. You will absolutely not regret it a bit getting professional photos for a big event like this. You may even seriously look back at the amateur photos and think "Man, I wish we'd had better photos."

Another reason I'm hesitant about spending so much is that I really dislike the way I look in most photos-- a combination of me being really squinty and blinky, disliking the way I look when I fake-smile, and just being pretty picky and critical of my appearance in photos

This is a huge reason to hire a pro. I'm also fussy about the way I look and the photos that our photographer (we did all candids - no posed photos, and I like it best that way) took were all very flattering of me and there are exactly zero photos where I look at them and think "Oh geez, self, could you have a few more chins?" A pro has more experience making their subjects look their best and will get better photos of you on your special day than a bunch of well-meaning friends with cameras.
posted by sonika at 5:14 AM on June 10, 2012

You say you've looked at a lot of pro sites and they all look "eh" kind of the same. May I suggest you ask friends who had amateur photography done to look at their photos and see what you think. It will help your opinion a lot to see the difference rather than assuming that amateur photos will be good enough. If you truly can't see a difference... then I guess you probably don't need to hire a photographer, but I'd bet dollars to donuts after looking at a few amateur albums you'll see a huge difference in photo quality.
posted by sonika at 5:27 AM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Photographer-turning-pro here - my two cents.

Paying for a professional photographer ensures a few things: some level of experience with many kinds of people. Anyone can press a button, and some people have some nice cameras to work with. Taking a good picture, however, has more to do with being in the right place, with the right light (whether natural or created), and preparation. That's the key word here - preparation - something that the best photographers do, whether they call themselves 'pro' or not.

As a (emerging) pro photographer, it's my responsibility to ensure a few things:
1. If / when disaster strikes, I can compensate. There's an extra camera body in the bag and an extra couple lenses. This is just in case - I carry top-of-the-line lenses, but anything mechanical can be dropped, bumped, scratched, etc. Batteries run out faster than expected, so I have three of them. Memory cards (which are always formatted before a shoot to prevent degradation or corruption!) have spares - and some cameras sport two memory card slots for an instant backup. In short, we build in redundancies to prevent any issues on our own. We can't say that for the caterer, of course =)

2. My attention is on you, your new spouse, the families, friends, and everyone else. I (SHOULD NOT) be paying much (if any) attention to my phone or my personal matters. I'm not there to socialize with Aunt Fannie, and I won't be distracted by Uncle Bob's demonstration of the trombone (although I might be running to get a picture of it!)

3. Amateurs and friends-that-are-pro-photographers-that-work-for-free are wonderful - the fact that they're willing to share their work for free is wonderful. A full-time photographer makes their bread and butter by doing this for a living, so consummate photographers have to charge enough to make said living along with the other expenses that are necessary for business (e.g. the need to keep equipment up-to-date, keeping up my personal knowledge).

With all that said, look at their portfolio, talk to past brides / grooms, and chat with them over a cup of coffee. Professionalism, personable, and flexibility are three essentials - the website is helpful, although some folks are great photographers but not the best website programmers.
posted by chrisinseoul at 6:13 AM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Many here have already praised the virtues of going pro. I agree that the pros know how to pose you and know how to ask you to turn your head this way or that way and catch the light. Composition before snapping a single photo is part of the art.

You asked about questions you should ask to decide if a certain pro is worth it. And it all depends on your idea of what is visually appealing to you and if it matches your photographer's style. How would you like to see yourself and what part of your wedding would you like to remember the most? Do you want to see yourself as fun and vibrant? Maybe go with a photojournalist style who showcases bright vivid colors. Are you a softer more muted personality? There's pros with softer washes of light. Do you want the best portraits of your family and friends or do you want to see them laughing and dancing? Good photographers will get great shots where no one has that ugly cry face or weird arm flappy dance moves.

It's seriously just a preference. Do you like to go back and look at photos? Do you frame them and put them around your house? Do you want a photo that you think makes you look awesome? Go pro. And if you're unsure of how much it's worth it, try out some engagement photos to see if you like how the photographer captures you.
posted by watch out for turtles at 7:26 AM on June 10, 2012

We ended up spending 1/3 of our budget on a photographer, and I did have to sacrifice a number of things to make it happen, and I am so happy that I prioritized this way. Now, for me, photography was the most important thing on the list. I did extensive research finding a photographer whose style matched what I wanted.

The reason this was so important to me is that I wanted to frame pictures all over my house, and I wanted to have the most amazing pictures of our wedding day. I have regretted not having pictures taken of other events in my life. I think that's where the point that is important to decide on. The best part of having hired a professional was that I didn't worry for a moment about whether or not there were fantastic pictures, or that moments were being caught, and that was worth every single dollar I paid.
posted by Nimmie Amee at 7:42 AM on June 10, 2012

Why a Pro:
1) they know how to make you look great under practically any circumstances
2) they will have at least 1 person as a 2nd shot
3) they will have at least 1 more camera in case something goes wrong
4) they are going to SEE EVERYTHING and get better photos of everything/everyone much more than any person will who hasn't done it a lot, or a person who is related to you or a friend.

I'm again going to stump for Leah & Mark. On that page it says "Want a discount? Just ask. It’s cool." They also have a 100% Money Back Guarantee. Slightly funny/slightly serious 17 tips on choosing a photographer. And one of them is to negotiate a little.

I hear you. I hate photos of myself. I really do. I have a head shaped like a basketball and my eyes have always had laugh wrinkles. In every photo on earth my mouth is open. A pro will just . .make it happen. The photos are just BETTER. It's slightly ineffable and beyond this hard to explain, but that's in some sense because these guys are both technicians and artists, so I can't really explain to you how say, Picasso envisioned and made Guernica happen. I just know that he seems to be very talented.
posted by Medieval Maven at 8:00 AM on June 10, 2012

We spent a total of $4000 on our wedding. That included the dress and Husbunny's new blazer. We had an open bar and a Cuban buffet. Most people say it's the most fun wedding they've been too. (Not the fanciest, not the nicest, but hey, that ain't us anyway.)

One way we saved a ton of dough was to use folks in our UU church for services. Our flowers/chuppa, dj, piano before and during the ceremony all came from the church.

The photographer was a friend of mine who was really into doing the job. She charged $100 for the pics and I paid for developing.

We got a mix of b/w and color posed photos and a metric shit-load of candids. Not only that we did the disposable camera on every table deal. (DON'T do this, the pictures come out for shit!) It was only 10 years ago, funny how things change.

You can get good pictures from a hobbiest, but look and see what they do and set your expectations accordingly. I chose our photog based upon the pictures she took of her cats. I felt like I knew their little souls when looking at them.

We ended up with about 6 great pictures and the rest were adequate. This is without any Photoshop.

We also chose NOT to have our wedding video'd (a decision I'm still good with).

If you want one great, posed professional photo, how about going to a studio in your wedding clothes for a formal shoot, and let the rest be candids from your day.

If it's super-important to have lots of pictures, go with a pro, if it's not, go with a talented hobbiest. There's a huge difference, but it really depends on what YOU want.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:50 AM on June 10, 2012

We used a friend who was not a professional photographer, but a good one nonetheless. We did it to save money.

None of the photos turned out well at all. In fact, they were really bad.

A month later, my wife and I dressed up in our wedding outfits again to have new photos taken - by a professional :(
posted by punkrockrat at 9:29 AM on June 10, 2012

Twenty years from now, you won't have the food from your wedding. You won't have the alcohol, you won't have the cake. If you still have the dress, it will be stored away. The one thing you will still have is the photos. It's absolutely worth it to spend money on a true pro, because those photos are the one thing you will treasure forever.

And there is an enormous difference between a real pro, and a talented amateur. As mentioned above, shooting a wedding is a huge amount of work if it's done properly. Wedding photography is a specialty unto itself, and it has very little in common with other kinds of photography.
posted by MexicanYenta at 9:32 AM on June 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you don't care about the photos (which it sounds like you don't) then don't feel pressured to spend the money on a photographer!

I know plenty of people ( my parents, my fiance's parents, friends) who did not have professional photos at their weddings and don't regret it. I know, because I'm planning a wedding myself and have asked them.

Now, I am going to have pro photos because I don't have hardly any of myself and my fiancé and I would really like them. But it sounds like they don't matter so much to you, and that is FINE.

I'm actually surprised at all of the responses that are pro-professional photography!
posted by pintapicasso at 10:08 AM on June 10, 2012

You won't get great photos from a non-professional, but that was ok for us. Our priority was to throw a damn good party, and we did for not a ton of money. We had good food, good beer and wine, and a great band. The next thing on our priority list was a pro photographer, but we just decided we'd rather spend the 2k on a trip.

Photos are great memory creators, but we ended up with many other mementos from our wedding. The two best were 1) many lovely thank you notes saying how much fun(something surprisingly rare at weddings) the guests had and 2) a polaroid scrapbook/guest book that my sister-in-law put together complete with notes from all the guests. If you don't want to spend the money, don't!
posted by david1230 at 10:19 AM on June 10, 2012

Yeah, we didn't have a pro photographer at our wedding, instead just opting to have a couple of friends who occasionally do freelance photography (and, not of people) bring their nice cameras.

Didn't really work out. The nicest photos we have from the day end up being a few that a random friend of ours took on a crappy point and shoot. A couple of times we've looked through the pictures, and we really don't have even a single picture that would look good framed.

And that's fine. Would I rather have a nice frameable wedding photo? sure. Would I retroactively pay $500 for one? No, I don't think so. But, I think most people feel differently.

I guess really the decision comes down to how you expect you'll feel five or ten years from now, when you start to think you want a framed wedding photo to put in the office, but don't have any that would work. If that sounds like something you'd shrug off (or never think of in the first place), then save the money. If that sounds like something that would really bother you, then suck it up and hire a pro.
posted by 256 at 10:28 AM on June 10, 2012

I didn't have a professional photographer at my wedding and I don't regret it at all. I suspect partly because I got married somewhat young (22) and we weren't interested in a big, fancy wedding, and having family take some pictures fit perfectly with getting married in the park. We had some posed pictures beforehand (with lots of family snapping for as long as we were willing to put up with it) and a few of the reception. But I wasn't planning on having a wedding album, and I have more than enough lovely pictures to fit the page or two I'm willing to allot in the family photo album. (There's one or two of the posed whole family, one of my dancing with my godmother's daughter, one of my husband juggling with his cousin, and maybe a few more of us spending time with various family.)

My stepmom, my grandmother, and my sister all sent me a roll of film that they had taken at the wedding. (Yes, this was awhile ago.) That worked out really well for me, in terms of what I wanted. You could probably set something up pretty easily where everyone could upload photos somewhere for you. You'd have to figure out whether it would work for you.
posted by Margalo Epps at 11:23 AM on June 10, 2012

We paid about $2000, which is on the low end in the city where we got married. The photos are mostly terrible; I look like I have a double chin in almost all of them. (Whereas my mother-in-law's photos of me were really good!) There are only three that we liked enough to make prints of, and those aren't even that great. Sometime I wish that we'd paid more for a really good photographer, but in the end, the memory of the really good food and drink and being able to invite all the people we wanted (~120) was more important to me.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 3:10 PM on June 10, 2012

I'm a photojournalist but part of my photography income comes from wedding photography. I can tell you how I shoot weddings.

1. Meet with bride and groom, discuss in detail how I like to work. Discuss in detail with you what your expectations are. Show you my work.

2. Two weeks out from your wedding, I expect a full run down of your schedule as well as a list of all the important guests you want posed photos of which will be scheduled in advance.

3. I contact a friend and fellow professional and ask in the event of a catastrophe to myself that they can take my place last minute (it's in the legally binding contract that we all signed when you booked me).

4. Night before. Check and recheck all of my gear. Batteries charged, lenses clean. I have three camera bodies that I will bring with me. One is a backup the other two are on me at all times. Pack my car up.

5. Day of. Get there at least a half hour early. Drop my camera bag off, find the bride, find the groom. Introduce myself get everyone comfortable and then begin documenting your day. Uh oh. Some issues pop up already. Raining out? No problem, I have the umbrella. Stain on the dress, got the Tide pen. Hungover groom? Bottle of Advil. Tears already? Here is a tissue.

6. Start shooting. It's all gravy. I've been there and done this and I have three copies of the schedule you gave me on my person. Shoot and scoot, shoot and scoot. I don't miss things.

Go home and take my shoes off because my feet are killing me and immediately save the photos to my laptop and an external hard drive.

Deliver the photos as discussed in the time frame we agreed upon.
posted by WickedPissah at 5:05 PM on June 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

In the past year I've had two friends' weddings almost completely ruined by amateur photographers. In one, the photographer's actions on the wedding day caused a rift between two groups of friends in the wedding party that ended the friendship. Before photographer = good friends and in the wedding party. After photographer = no longer friends. Not sure exactly what happened, but they still talk about what a horrible experience it was with the amateur.

In the other case, the bride decided to go with the sister of a friend. This sister had just graduated from a well-known photography school and was just starting a wedding photography business. Portfolio looked good, but she didn't have much experience. I wasn't at the wedding, but a friend who was in the wedding party said it was a bad experience and mostly due to the photographer. She wasn't comfortable working with people, got in the way, fought with the bride, etc. wedding party friend said that the photographer ruined the wedding. Also, the photos were horrible. Bride and groom had to find a real professional to retake portraits a few months later, but they have basically nothing salvageable from the wedding day and the retakes don't have any family members or the wedding party. The bride is currently pursuing legal action against this photographer. I could imagine a worse situation.

What you need to realize is that no one will be closer to you for more time on the wedding day than your photographer. It's important that you get along with them and that they know how to handle themselves at a wedding and around a ton of different types of people. If you get someone without experience, you'll get someone who will get in the way or clash with personalities or not have the wherewithal to be in the right place at the right time ready to take the right picture. The photographer is in the middle of the most stressful time of what is already an extremely stressful day. The photographer needs to be able to work in that stress and handle you and your inlaws are totally frazzled and ornery. Oh, and they need to be able to take decent pictures and deliver them on time.

Also realize that there's a huge difference between photographing a wedding and attending a wedding with your camera. If Uncle Bob brings his camera, he'll get a few shots here and there, but he'll be distracted by Aunt Alice half the time and concentrating on food the rest of the time. Shooting a wedding (for any length of time...all day or just ceremony or another portion of the whole day) is like running a marathon. It requires constant awareness and creative effort and lots of physical activity (squatting, running, climbing, moving people around). It is notq for the faint of heart, and any amateur or student who hasn't done it a few it mes before will have no idea what they're getting in to and probably peter out halfway through. Just imagine yourself staying in a single room or couple of rooms for 4-12 hours taking pictures of the same people as they progressively more tired and grumpy. Someone who's shot a dozen weddings or so knows how to manage their time, your time, the physical requirements and the technical requirements (batteries draining, cards filling up, etc.) of shooting a wedding.

If you do go with someone less than a pro, at least get someone who has "second shot" a bunch of weddings. That means they assist the main photographer and shoot things when the main photographer is busy with another situation. If they have done that, they'll know the ropes of shooting a wedding even if it's their first time as the main photographer.
posted by msbrauer at 5:04 AM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

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