Should I Book a Professional Wedding Photographer or Get a Friend to do it for Free? A Cautionary Tale…


Photography Credit: James Melia (full wedding)

You’ve probably seen similar discussions to this on other wedding blogs, however today I wanted to share with you this cautionary tale from a bride who had personal experience of taking the cheaper option and was unhappy with the results. Now, I know spending £2000 on a wedding photographer isn’t possible for everyone, however the point of this post is not to bully you into paying for someone you can’t afford. No, I wanted to share this story with you so that you make your decision with your eyes wide open. I just want to be open and honest with you and to let you know that, as with most things in life, you really do get what you pay for…and if something sounds too good to be true then it probably is.

If wedding photography isn’t that big a deal to you, the great – who am I to tell you that’s wrong? However it breaks my heart when I hear from newlyweds that say ‘I wish we’d thought more about our photography. We spent more on the cake/my dress/the flowers and now we have no good photos to remember our day’.

OK, Over to you Mrs X…

♥  ♥  ♥

I have asked for this post to be anonymous so that people reading this don’t think it’s a shameless marketing ploy. I may now be a professional wedding photographer myself, but I didn’t want to write this article to promote myself. No, I really just wanted to share this cautionary tale with those of you who might not understand the importance of having great wedding photographs.

It’s been a few years since I got married but when I think back to it I get a sick feeling.  It wasn’t the family argument that happened (don’t get me started on that!), nor was it the fact that we funded it with a loan which we are still paying off.  Nope, the sick feeling is purely centred around my foolishness and the pretty terrible images we now have to look back on for the rest of our lives.

Here I am a few years later, now a ‘pro’ photographer myself (who knew that would happen!!) and I now have a new found understanding of the skills required to shoot a wedding. I find myself wishing I knew then what I know now. You may have read articles from photographers before staying how important it is that your wedding photographer has experience, knows how to handle lighting and uses the right equipment etc, and while I am here to reiterate these points, I’m not here to say these things to pimp my own services. I figured this article could be a little cathartic for me and I really hope I can help you think a little bit more about your decision – whether that be to spend money on your wedding photography, or to go for the cheaper option of hiring someone with no experience – maybe a friend with a nice camera who has offered to do it for free. Please note that a ‘nice camera’ does not a good wedding photographer make!

We got married in December and I now appreciate that winter weddings, where you come out of the ceremony to the cold and dark, are bloody hard work and really difficult to photograph.  I understand that romantic candle lit receptions might look gorgeous in ‘real life’ but require a certain level of skill to capture on camera, and above all I now know that all of the money I spent making the venue look beautiful and cosy was pretty much wasted.  OK so our guests will always remember how beautiful the venue looked, but for me the day flew by so fast and I don’t remember much of it myself!  Every time I mention my wedding my Mum says ‘But it looked so beautiful’ and whilst I’m sure that’s not just her being kind (it’s really not her style) it has made me hate my own wedding because I don’t look back at my photos and see a beautiful wedding, I look at them and see horribly dark and blurry photos.

You see, not realising the true impact of what I was doing, I asked my friend to shoot my big day.  He had a DSLR and could take amazing pictures of cars so he must be able to shoot my winter wedding right? Wrong!

It wasn’t his fault really, I should have learnt more, understood a bit about light (or lack of it) and made things easier.  But here’s the worst part, I wasn’t on a £1000 budget, I spent quite a lot more.  I prioritised wrongly.  I spent more on bridesmaids dresses than I did on my photographer, more on pretty decorations than pretty images…simply put, I was a fool!

Don’t get me wrong, I know not everyone has the budget to pay much for their wedding photographer and this is not an article to make you feel bad.  I say use whoever you want – a professional, a friend, whoever…it’s your wedding after all. But I urge you to do your research first and go into it knowing that the results of the cheap option just won’t be the same as someone with experience shooting weddings.

If you aren’t using a professional then you need to take some responsibility and help them out a bit, consider it a creative project.  Here’s the things I wish I had done…

♥ Took them to the ceremony venue at a date and time with similar light (light is so important, I can’t stress that enough) and took sample images to get the right camera settings.

♥ Showed them the way I intended to light the reception and had fun taking practise images with them to get a feel for the correct look.

♥ Checked their kit included at least one low light lens (2.8f or lower…it’s the number that’s important) and if not budgeted to hire them one for the day (try

♥ Showed more interest in their work and ensured they had practiced shooting in similar lighting situations – shooting static cars in the middle of the day is nothing like shooting a wedding, with loads going on, when its dark!

♥ Had my wedding earlier in the day…to give them a fighting chance.

♥ Turned the lights up a bit for important things like the first dance and the speeches.

♥ Most controversial of all, perhaps I should have held my wedding when the light was better and not in the winter.

Sadly I only realised how important my wedding pictures were after the big day.  I waited for months for images that I am now too embarrassed to show people!

My parting words are these.  If you can afford a professional wedding photographer then please please please spend as much as you can to get the best! These images mark the start of your family album and they can’t be easily redone.  If you use a non ‘pro’, be sure to put some work in yourself, show an interest and consider the previous tips.  Oh and finally, if your shooter is using a DSLR (and they have enough memory…RAW files average 28MB each) ask them to shoot and provide RAW images as well as JPEG (they can set their camera to do this automatically).  RAW files are much easier to correct in Photoshop afterwards if you do have problems with the images, plus you could always pay someone to edit the RAW files in the future when you have the budget for it. Just remember you’re still not going to get the same results as with photos that were shot by a skilled professional (you can’t polish a turd after all!) but the images may be able to be improved with some clever edits in Photoshop.

My final words of advice are this, please be careful when choosing a friend or family member to shoot your wedding. If they do a bad job it could even ruin your relationship. It kind of did ours, and that makes me even more sad.

If my words don’t convince you then take a look at my wedding photos! If you do recognise me…ssssshhhhh Mum’s the word!

It’s actually hard to put in to words how upsetting it is to look at these but mostly because I know it’s a problem of my own causing!

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  1. Fiona Conn

    Wow I’m shocked! This shows that you definitely shouldn’t trust your wedding day in the hands of someone who doesn’t have a clue. I used a wedding photography duo called ‘Picture the Day’ they were great and would highly recommend these guys passionate about what they do & with great rates…

  2. As a professional wedding photographer, I see this phenomenon happen a lot more since the digital era because everyone is used to having pictures instantly as snapshots and therefore forget or do not know what is the difference between good and bad photography, not to mention better photography!
    Therefore, it is our duty, as wedding photographers, to spend time educated and explaining what is the real difference between making a snapshot and being a real wedding photographer, with every skill needed, either photography-related or other skills (sociability, professionalism,…). But it is true that some people tend to not believe you and only see the difference after their wedding, when you cannot do a lot of things!

  3. Jo

    I agree with your article except the part about asking for RAW files. Most photographers would never supply the RAW files because they are exactly that – raw. If you supply RAW files it is because somebody wants to edit your images which is a breach of copyright unless the photographer has given you written permission to do so. I do understand that it may have helped a little in your case to have the RAW files to perhaps save some of your images from your wedding but paying someone else to edit those files without written permission from the photographer would be illegal. I’m sure, as a professional photographer yourself, that you wouldn’t waive all rights to your images by signing over copyright to a client?
    On a different note – I am always telling people to budget for their photographer before the dress, venue, bridesmaids, food, flowers because of exactly what you said – at the end of it you only have your photographs to look back on and they’re the start of your family album. I only photograph newborns in a studio but I still constantly tell people the pitfalls of using a cheap photographer, especially ones using GroupOn!
    I’m sorry you don’t have beautiful images of what looked like a beautiful day x

  4. As a fellow “Pro” I have also observed this more and more. More worryingly I have noticed that couples are hiring so-called professional photographers for truly rock bottom basement prices. For example, I went to see a prospective client recently, the bride said she loved my work, but she had just called a another professional who would spend all day at their wedding, shoot 2000 images and give them to her on a disc for £249. I asked her about the editing, colour correction, etc. Her answer was “We might not get all of that stuff, but he is cheap which mean’s I can spend more on my hen week in Tenerife”.
    The old saying “You only get what you pay for” is very true, especially in the wedding photography business.

  5. Paula

    Goodness me! Poor you! I have to say he shouldn’t have accepted though – I have been asked before (as an amateur with a DSLR) and refused point blank to be official photographer as I just don’t have the skills, experience or equipment… and I don’t mean to be arrogant, but I have taken standby photos for a wedding in case of corrupted cards etc and the results were definitely not what you are seeing here :(
    Always pay for a professional! This coming from a rank amateur who KNOWS she is an amateur!

  6. Wedding is a memorable event in everyone’s life and photos of wedding can preserve this memorable day for long time. Definitely wedding photography is so essential for every wedding event. I appreciate you to sharing your views here………

  7. Will

    Thank you for your story. For many years I have loved taking pictures. But never had a DSLR but still been able to take good pictures with a vary good all round camera. But my wife treated me to a DSLR early this year. I love it. I have been to two weddings since. At both people thought I was the main photographer. One of the weddings the BnG want to use some of my pictures in the main album. I have been asked to do a wedding and have said NO! I want to work with a photographer ( do like an apprenticeship, I am a carpenter by trade so been there) to get the experience in exchange for taking extra photos for free before taking the big step. If anyone can help please let me know. Will

  8. Adam

    A very good reminder why you should always use a professional photographer with a proven portfolio of wedding work. There portfolio should also include images from the whole day, and not just a few of there “signature shots” to wow you. Remember you should be happy with the photographers coverage of the whole day.

    When the party is over, the cake has been eaten and the honeymoon has finished, the only memories of the day will be the photos! Quite an important reason not to cut costs with the photographer.

  9. Thank!mI’m going to share this blog on my photo page. Only last week I got am email from a client I had already booked, saying they have changed their mind and a family friend with a nice camera has become available to do their wedding. I am in two minds to send them this, not because I want them to go with me but because I can just imagine their disappointment when they get their amateur photos back :(

  10. Allea Marie Santiago

    Thank you for sharing your story. In my opinion I would rather hire a professional toronto wedding photographer to my big day. It not because I don’t like the work my friend. but I want to see the best moment of my life on the pictures. Another I want the idea of the professional photographer in capturing dramatic scenes. But nevertheless it was you who will decide and if you find your brief is good as professional then why not choose him.

  11. oh, you poor thing. Similarly, I was a bride before becoming a wedding photographer. I eloped and rationalized that I couldn’t afford a photographer. We had our witness take pictures with a point and shoot and I cried that night out of regret. We spent more on the rings (but we both have since lost those..again:tears of regret)

  12. A young couple approached me a couple of years ago asking for a quote for their Wedding Photographer, which I duly supplied. It was out of their budget so they opted for the ‘Friend with a really nice camera’ option. The week after the Wedding the bride, Jo, rang me in tears as she had just received her ‘proofs’ and asked if their was anything I could do. The pictures were underexposed, out of focus, over exposed poorly orchestrated and the vast majority were beyond hope.
    So, I asked them if they still had access to the dress and suit. I rang the venue, as I had worked there a couple of times before and got permission for a portrait shoot. The three of us spent an hour at the Wedding Venue and ‘re-created’ the Bride and Groom portraits to salvage some memories of their special day. But this only happened because of the kindness of the venue and suit supplier, not everyone will be this lucky.

  13. Kat, I would definitely have a professional photographer, but I would like to point out not all photographers are the same. When I got married we went to see three photographers – one we just couldn’t stand and did not want at our wedding – the second photographers work we did not like and the third we chose because we liked his work and seemed like a nice person. However he turned up late on our civil wedding day and missed capturing of our vows, so no photographs at all.
    It is because of that experience i became a wedding photographer and as I do not want other couple to go through the stress I will do anything to make sure the couples get way beyond what I promised them as you can see on my site


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