Tying the Knot in a Meaningful and Memorable Way (Without Losing Our Savings or Sanity)

Friday, September 26, 2008

Q & A: Professional Photography

Reader Question: I have fallen prey to the wedding photography hype and wanted to ask you if you were happy with your friends doing your pictures?

My future sister in law is not a professional photographer but she has been taking photos for years, she knows all about the different lighting and effects and all of that and she has a camera that takes incredible pictures. She has offered to do our wedding photos for free (woo hoo! don't you love that word?) but I guess I am just a little hesitant after seeing the amazing photos on some of the wedding websites. I am also concerned that she won't get to enjoy the time, but she would love doing the pictures, it's totally her and she assures me that she would be completely content in her own little world.

Do you regret not having a professional for your pics? Did you miss out on the photojournalistic effects or are you completely happy with them?

I just don't want to be disappointed, but $1000 for the cheapest photographer I could find and be happy with versus free is a huge difference! I could definitely put that money to a better use.

I want to start by saying that our wedding was a really important day for us. We brought together our nearest and dearest and planned a big event that was focused on connection, community, commitment, and fun.

But we acknowledged at the beginning of the planning process that it wasn't the most important day of our lives, or even the most important day of our relationship. Acknowledging this up front took us off the hook. We didn't feel pressured and stressed to create the ultimate day.

The irony of feeling like you have to plan the "happiest day of your life" is that you end up feeling completely stressed and anxious as the day unfolds. You worry that it won't live up to your expectations and then the day "flies by." You're left to relive it with photography and videography.

We just wanted to create a really meaningful and memorable experience. And we documented it with photographs of three friends who functioned as "designated photographers" and the rest of our friends and family who uploaded their photos to a centralized flickr account.

We went this route for several reasons:
  1. We didn't want to spend a small fortune on one day. There are lots of good causes out there in need of money (including a down payment on our first house!).
  2. I often find professional wedding photographers annoying. I've interacted with lots of them at friends' weddings over the years. They often choreograph situations in order to get the best shot. Or they are in your face when you're having the most fun in order to capture the action. (Of course I'm not saying every professional photographer is like this! It's definitely possible to find a cool one.)
  3. We wanted to limit our wedding to our closest friends and family. The only outside vendors were Cathy and Cory, the owners of the Sunshine Mountain Lodge where we held the reception. We spent our 7-month planning time building a relationship with them, so by the time the wedding rolled around, they actually felt like family. (Of course, some people do form friendships with their photographers, too.)
  4. We have never hired a professional photographer for other important events in our lives and never plan to. College graduation, birthday parties, the birth of our first child--we are fine with all of these things being captured by an amateur's click. Our wedding didn't seem any different. In fact, we were afraid that hiring a professional photographer might make our wedding feel like a show.
Before you make your decision, you should figure out what the purpose of wedding photos are. Then you can figure out the best route for you.

For us, we wanted to have lots of pictures that we could look back at, reminisce with, and share with people who were unable to attend the wedding. That's pretty much it. In the end, we have over 2,000 photos collected from our designated photographers and our friends and family. That works for us.

The only time I have even a modicum of self-doubt is when I see all the beautiful wedding pictures by professionals posted on the web. But then I remind myself that a wedding is not a competition. It's an incredibly personal thing. We all have to plan the very best wedding for us.

When I look back at my own wedding photos, they are beautiful to me because I experience all the feelings I had while it was happening.

Readers, please chime in with your own insight into this situation: Are you going with a professional photographer? Why or why not?

E-mail your questions to saracotner@yahoo.com

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V. Wetlaufer said...

I agree with so much of what you wrote here, and this is a big issue for us as well. We couldn't afford a pro photographer, but we did want pictures. Enter my friend from art school, Emily. She studied photography and is an absolute artiste, plus she's one of my best friends. I asked if she would do our wedding photography, because I wanted the person behind the lens to be as important to me as the people in front of it. But Emily is a struggling artist like most of my guests, and it didn't seem fair not to pay here, so we are enlisting her talents with a modest sum, definitely less than we could get a pro for. It is awesome when your friends can help you out for free, but the truth is they can't always afford to, so this is how we balanced that.

Jesse said...

We're going with a friend of the family whose turned to photography over the past few years. He told us that he couldnt possibly charge us, so we're paying for his expenses of the day (food, gas etc) and agreed to buy a print from him at some point that's fancy and framed :) I'm pretty happy with that arrangement though i know ahead of time we won't be getting as many arranged shots as most couples like. Hopefully we'll get some requesite family ones and i'm sure people will have their cameras as well.

EBM said...

My whole thing is that I wouldn't want a guest to shoot my pictures because they wouldn't be enjoying the wedding because they will feel the pressure that their shots have to be great for your perfect day. This takes away from their experience of your wedding.

Anonymous said...

This is something I have recently been struggling with. I have many creative family members whom I would love to enlist to do things for my wedding. My aunt & uncle own a photography business, and my cousin is a DJ. It would be easy to utilize their talents, and I know they would be completely willing to provide them as a gift to us. But when it comes down to it, the wedding day isn't about me. It's a celebration of our family and friends untiting together for a very special moment, and I don't want any of them to feel the pressure of having to satisfy my fiance and I, bare the pressure of something not being perfect, or be completely consumed by their "responsibility" at the ceremony and reception. I might be the only person on the planet who says that I am willing to spend $1000 on someone else to take my photos because I don't want my family and friends to bare the responsibility.
Having said all of that, I am still undecided. I am leaning more towards the idea of purchasing a photographer for the day, but I also know that everyone and their mother at my wedding will be taking numerous photos. Being an amateur photographer, I find it truly important to "capture the moment" if you will in a way that can sometimes only be done by a professional. Quality cameras aren't cheap, and most people won't have a fast enough shutter to catch my beautiful niece & nephew in action. But then there's the part of me that doesn't want to spend a grand on someone I don't know when I have talented people in my own family to take advantage of. Just call me Miss Indecisive!!

Anonymous said...

Sarah I love your perspective! We decided that our priority for our wedding day is being surrounded by our friends and family and being comfortable.

Pictures are great, but as my fiance said to me last week, "the best pictures I have of myself were definately not taken by photographers" and god knows neither of us will be comfortable with a stranger snapping photos all night. We decided to have everyone at our wedding be our photographers. Not only are we going to give people disposable cameras but my three siblings will be passing around a Polariod camera. There are also two people who love to dable in photography on the guest list so we'll ask them to take some of the important posed shots. We decided this would facilitate our goal of connecting with family and friends and being comfortable and relaxed.

And just in case, we are going to get some engagement shots so that grandma has something for the mantle. I think its all up to the individual, for me, I can't imagine breaking a professional wedding album past five years from now.

Suite B said...

I'm a newbie to this blog so HI

Now, I'm using a professional for my wedding because I love photos and that was the most important thing to me. If you know that she cna take pics and do a great job and you want to save the money then go for it. Remember that one thing that lasts forever is your memories so make sure that you have a lot of pics. A quick and easy way to do that is set up a shutterfly/kodak account and post a note at the wedding and suggest that all your guests share the photos that they take on a public account. That way you will have her pics and those taken by your loved ones that might capture something nobody else say!

Anonymous said...

My groom and I decided that our wedding photos would be the ultimate keepsake for us and we wanted them all professionally done. So, we budgeted for a professional wedding photographer ($1500) and I'm so glad that we did. Luckily, I found a two-for-one photographer whose assistant came along as his second shooter. Yay for us! She followed me around as my bridesmaids and I got ready, and he followed my groom and his groomsmen around. We got so many creative shots worthy of frames to last a lifetime and, fortunately, we didn't have to rely on our videographer for memories because he had done a terrible job.

Our guest list of 400 friends and family had their own digital cameras and brought them to our wedding. They gave us copies of whatever they had. I was so thankful but, at the same time, I didn't have enough creative shots, just "snapshots." And, with each personal camera it was filled with snapshots of only the people that camera-owner hung out with at the wedding, not really of us (the B&G).

I did attend a wedding where the couple could not afford all the expensive stuff, such as a professional wedding photographer or videographer, wedding cake, etc. But, one of the most clever thing they done was encouraged all of their DSLR-savvy friends to bring their DSLRs to the wedding and "be" photographers ... as a wedding gift (in lieu of an actual gift). The couple got hundreds and hundreds of professional-looking photos (in high resolution files) because some of their guests were photography hobbyists or were real wedding photographers ...

... I thought this was a better idea than buying a bunch of disposable cameras to place at each guest table then having to develop and print every single one of them. That's an additional cost in itself. So, with the digital files from their guests, they got to choose which ones to print for their wedding album and/or frames.

But, in response to your reader's question about a friend wanting to shoot their wedding for free yet their concern was her not being able to enjoy the wedding, too ... I'm a photographer myself and I enjoy nothing more than being behind the lens -- I love it!!! And, before I made it a business I was a serious hobbyist and so I jumped at the chance to photograph friends/family's wedding. I got to have "VIP" access, if you will, to areas that are normally restricted to guests, such as the room the B&G gets ready in (prep photos rock!). Ultimately, I was able to document a beautiful day for people that I love in the best way that I knew how (photography) ... the best gift I could give to them. (A check gets cashed then forgotten; the images I produced for them are treasured for the rest of their lives.)

A professional photographer is pressured to do well, since they're paid, but a friend of the B&G is given some slack, this way he or she can do what they love for the people they love and not feel pressured to get all the right shots.

Wow, I wrote an entire novel! Sorry!

Heather said...

Sarah, thank you so much for all of your advice and to everyone else as well. I was the bride with the original questions, and all of the comments have been very helpful. I especially like the comment prior to mine regarding having guests photograph the event instead of bringing a gift, very clever. I think, after reading all of the posts that I am going to go with my future sister in law and pay for her expenses while she is here, that way she doesn't have to worry about hotel costs and meals while she is here, and it will still cost us much less then hiring someone would. Best of luck to all of the planning brides!

Mrs. Andi said...

I've already planned to hire a local professional photographer, who took some great pictures of myself & my man already. Along with that, I want to ask my guests to bring their own cameras & help us capture all the moments we might end up missing.

Anonymous said...

We have chosen professional photography. We LOVE photographs and it is our one big splurge for the wedding. So we hired an amazingly talented photojournalist. Yes, it expensive. But her work is phenomenal and the photos will be a wonderful keepsake for us and our families.

Additionally, I didn't want to leave pictures to our friends and their amateur photo skills. Plus, I want them to be IN the photos. Not taking them all night.

Jessica McLeod said...

Hi Sara, this is a great post! I just wanted to let you know that I quoted you in my blog :D


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