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

jamesmeliaphoto_028

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 www.lensesforhire.co.uk)

♥ 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 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!

bad wedding photographs1

bad wedding photographs2

bad wedding photographs2a

bad wedding photographs3

bad wedding photographs4

bad wedding photographs5

bad wedding photographs6

bad wedding photographs7

bad wedding photographs8

bad wedding photographs9

bad wedding photographs10

bad wedding photographs11

bad wedding photographs12

bad wedding photographs13

bad wedding photographs14

bad wedding photographs15

bad wedding photographs16

bad wedding photographs17

bad wedding photographs18

441 comments

  1. Dee Manville

    When I was married (many years ago now) I had both a professional and an keen amateur photographer.
    A Professional was the only thing I insisted on for my wedding, allowing the Groom to have his way on everything else.
    My Photographer was excellent – the pictures superb and the amateur (my Uncle) supplied lots of ‘happy snaps’ of things going on in the background/off beat moments, many of which were included in the album.
    I would suggest that you definitely have a professional, but dont ignore the happy snappers- you can get some jewels amongst the dross

  2. Billy Walsh

    I remember seeing a friends wedding photos taken by an amateur and they were very poor. From that point, my now wife and I decided that of all the things you pay for at your wedding only the rings and photos last forever so they were worth splashing out on. We’re so glad we did.

    My friends scoffed when we did, insinuating that we were being overly extravagant, saying that they never look at their pictures. I think we all knew deep down (though we’d never say), it was because they weren’t great quality. We always look at our photos because we did a lot of research into photographers and style we wanted and we were ecstatic with the results.

  3. Neroli McLachlan

    I worked in photolabs for 8 years printing wedding photos, and have shot a several weddings myself as an amateur (but official) photographer. I worked very hard to get the best photos I possibly could for the clients, even doing a refresher photography course as it had been a while. While working in the photolabs I also saw some very poor professional photos, which proves that just because someone calls themselves a professional, and perhaps charges for that title, it really does pay to RESEARCH photographers, and shop around. I think when my turn comes, the photographer will be the biggest expense for my future hubby and I!!

  4. Donna J

    Just wanted to add: I’m also a photographer. I wouldn’t call myself a professional quite yet but I’m well on my way there. With that said, I’ve had different friends ask me to do pictures for their weddings/other important life events, and expect that all those things would be done for them for free…
    While it’s a honor that someone would ask me to do their wedding pictures, it also means a lot of other things: namely, as a photographer, you don’t get to enjoy the wedding as a guest. It becomes a job, you’re under that pressure to give the bride and groom the best pictures you can give because it’s one of the most memorable days of their lives, and so inside of celebrating and making memories with the bridal party, you end up just spectating and capturing the moments you don’t get to enjoy.
    Two, good photography and good pictures, means that a good amount of time, preplanning, post production and editing has to go into it. For a friend to expect it to be all done for free, also often shows that they don’t understand all the work that goes into something like this. Ultimately, you’ll get what you pay for. (Overgeneralizing of course, but it’s still true).
    So, if you’re a bride and you’re thinking about this, I just urge you to consider whether or not you’re taking advantage of your photographer friends. You may think it’s not a big deal, just a favor… but it would be so much more honorable if you would treat your photographer friends just as you would a professional photographer. Thanks!

  5. Deanne van Vuuren

    I cannot agree more with the importance of a good photographer and apart from the bride, groom and rings, the photographer is the most important person on the wedding day.
    Harsh sunlight is about just as bad as low light and your equipment should cater for this.
    Also, having quality equipment, does not automatically make you a great photographer!! It is like having a fantastic oven, but if the recipe is poor, the cake will still be a flop.

  6. Steph

    hi. I feel I have to add. I got married in the eighties and we paid for that professional photographer with the worst photos ever to show for the day. The photographer was the most expensive thing after the reception and came highly recommended. I know we had that december wedding and it rained on the day. But not one photo have I ever displayed the results were that awful. So please take time out to research your intended photographer. Research and research again it is so very important if you really wish to have these photos to look back at. Please take my words to be so very true and feel it is worth sharing

  7. Fitzroy

    Hire an experienced wedding ‘tog … and I don’t shoot weddings!

    It’s even more embarrassing when the guests get better images on their ‘phones.

    If you want to see a pro at work, watch Mark Cleghorn or one of the other wedding masters on The Photographer Academy … and I have no connection other than as a paying member.

  8. You wouldnt let your friend make your wedding dress just because they’ve started a sewing class would you

    The age old lesson of you get what you pay for

  9. Oh my…I am not sure quite what to say, except thank you for sharing this. It just may save some couples from making a terrible choice they can never recover from.

  10. What a bad experience for the girl. Really I agreed with you that hiring a professional is almost necessary to capture the beautiful moments of life.

  11. Erroll Jones

    I was reading this as a fellow pro thinking ‘show us some pictures how bad could they be.’

    After seeing them I don’t think I could find a more appropriate occasion to use that expression that seems to be all the rage with the kids.

    “Oh My Days!”

  12. I completely agree that having a professional is preferred, however some couples can’t afford the prices some charge. I’m a professional tog, based where I am in the world I don’t get to see the more fluid wallets that can catapult the quality of the equipment you use into the next realm of awesomeness.

    I’m using semi-pro kit for some things, full pro for others, but the job always comes out completely pro. It’s not just the photography, it’s the level of service you give in return for being asked to do the job in the first place.

  13. My best advice for couples is; look for deals on things, not on people. No one will ever know the difference if you found your dress on sale, or bought your centerpieces at a discount. However, the people that you trust to have around you and make your wedding what you want it to be, are worth paying the money for. Besides, you have to hang out with your wedding photographer all day, you’d better make sure they’re good at what they do!

  14. Love this article! So sorry for your experience, though.

    This is probably the best example of what can go wrong, even when it’s someone who already knows how to shoot other things.

    I’m reblogging this article!

  15. Catherine

    I’d have to say that I chose a serious amateur friend to photograph our wedding, and never regretted it one second. I’m very picky when it comes to photography, but we had a small DIY wedding and couldn’t afford the photographers whose style I really like. And the budget photographers I could afford were really uninspired and uninspiring.

    Our friend was inexperienced, but he had a good eye, decent gear, knew what I liked, and did a tremendous job.

    Did he get every moment perfectly? No. Our ceremony pictures, for instance, were terribly lit, but good enough to be a nice reminder of the day. But we got half a dozen nearly perfect pictures (I’ve been told by a pro photographer, one of those in my original wish list: “wow, any pro would be proud to have those pics in his portfolio” when she saw them on our walls), and several dozen “album-worthy” ones that documented our day in a fun, emotional and personal way. It matched the vibe and inspiration of our wedding.

    And we saved enough money to pay for several years of professional family pictures.

  16. Great post, wanted to put something like this on my website blog but was worried it would just sound like I’m pushing them into booking me but good to see it on a different site

  17. Such a shame, we have heard of similar instances. So glad you shared this with everyone, including the pictures. Unfortunately there are people out there that do not understand the demands of wedding photography and think they can pick up a camera and do the job.

  18. Professional, award winning and qualified wedding photographer for £250…
    where? gumtree:) Some nice photos from portfolio building course or stolen somewhere on the web, average camera and thats it…
    Most of the people never hired a wedding photographer and they don’t understand all the dirty tricks some “photographers” play.

  19. fran

    I’m sorry for your experience. I’m planning my wedding and one of the first things I did was to contact a photographer I saw online, who also took the pictures of a friend, and was highly recommended. Her portfolio is amazing, she has “something” I can’t explain that makes her pictures stand above all others. She’s not cheap but not the most expensive either. My fiancee agreed that pictures are important but delegated the decision on me hahah I just hope they’re as amazing as her portfolio seems

  20. I hired professionals and they screwed me – the pictures are awful – the video un-watchable – I got basically the few shots I posed before, and nothing good from the actual ceremony. The professional photographers didn’t get a picture of the kiss (and there were two). I hired a friend for my reception – I paid her and she did an amazing job. The professionals were horrible and they messed up my wedding and called me a bully for saying they weren’t amazing.

  21. Amy Loughran

    My husband and I went with a friend for our wedding photography, from what we knew he was a great photographer and we trusted him because he was our friend and he was adamant he wanted to do the photography as our wedding present so we thought why not, we took him for a visit beforehand to the place we were married, also sat down and made a list of the shots we thought would be the most important in our wedding album and for our families and everything seemed peachy. When the wedding day came around he seemed to change and become less competent despite the fact the weather was perfect, he didn’t turn up to get my ‘getting ready’ photos, even though he stayed on site, he got angry if people wanted to take pictures from the view he was taking them. Even if it was family members. We know we had hardly any of the pictures that we spoke about and agreed on in our list. Anyway, the reception came along and he gave up completely, but, we still had faith, he was our friend after all. So, after the wedding we thought it would take a couple of weeks to a month for our photos to get edited and put into an album and also have digital copies which we agreed on. When it came to 3months gone we started wondering what was up, asked our friend what was up, he said they were just taking a while to edit. Another couple of months passed and we were getting a bit fed up, as we really wanted to see our photos, we wanted a reminder of our wonderful day! It got to point where we said to our friend if the editing was too much for him we would edit the photos (we both studied photography in college) which he was happy with us doing. In the mean time our friend had taken up with someone, who through no fault of our own didn’t like other acquaintances of ours and all of a sudden he wouldn’t give us our photos at all. Still hasn’t. It was heartbreaking at the time, that was 2 years ago come Easter. He hasn’t spoken to us at all and has never seemed to let up. All the photos we have are the ones other guests took. Which the majority of them are side on. If I could go back I would definitely go with a professional. That’s the only thing I regret, as our venue and everything was incredible. This article is so right…

  22. Reading this I can’t help but remembering our wedding and the similar situation. We have so many friends who are photographers some of them professional but not wedding photographers. We had a modest budget so we agreed with them to take photos during the wedding. I can’t say our wedding photos are horrible but many moments were missed out, and many many details that made our wedding authentic. Thinking about it now, as a wedding photographer I know precisely what I would have done different. It’s just a matter of experience as well as the ‘eye’ for a good photograph. I definitely would have payed for a professional wedding photographer and maybe cut on some other things. The friends that took photos did a quite good job, but some very important things are missing.
    Partially one of the reasons we started with wedding photography after many years of photographing other things is this experience. We are just starting but hoping to do some great things in the future.

  23. amelia f

    Thanks for sharing your story. Although I feel it reads like a story from a sour friend… I got married in September last year and my brothers partner did the photos completely free, our pictures are amazing the ceremony the reception the group photos and wedding car the getting ready in the morning…. All stunning! There is good and bad on every side.. Your friend was no good and you regret it that does not mean all non professional wedding photos would be the same… Your “you can’t polish a turd” comment is ill thought out… I’m sure your photography is amazing but there are alot of professionals our there who do down right terrible jobs of it! All I say to brides and grooms to be is do what you think is best trust your instincts not someone who is depressed about her so called friend disastrous failing.

  24. All very valid stuff. With our business, my husband and I think long and hard all the time how to get this message over. The regret comes later for couples who did not bring in good pro photographers – a post-wedding realisation – and the day cannot be done again. Photography is not tangible on the Big Day – but your wedding photographs are with you forever. They should be timeless, perfect memories. Julia – half of Spinning Your Dreams with husband Martin Webb.

  25. This is a very good article. Very true and unfortunately the same sad story again and again. You hit the nail on the head by saying “if it’s to good to be true, it usually is”! This is applicable to everything including DJ wedding services. However a Photographer is important in my opinion as it offers you the memories for years to come.

    A DJ will on the other hand make or break your wedding party to, so I believe they should be the two most important operators to have!

  26. Not everyone can afford a professional, and I get that. However, if you are going to hire an amateur, why not send them at least on a wedding photography training course? They’ll get a real feel for what is actually involved and you’ll get a better chance at some reasonable photographs. However, I’d still plump for someone who does it as a job! The difference is genuinely amazing.

  27. Davina

    Your wedding day is a massive day, one to look back on for the rest of your life. I would advise using a wedding photographer or use a friend who’s hobby is photography (someone who’s work you have seen). These photos can’t be re-taken or the day re-done, it’s not worth the devastation. I am currently waiting for our wedding day story album, we’ve been waiting a while but hopefully it will be worth it!! I’ll keep you all posted 😀.

  28. Thank you so much for this article! It is SUCH an important point I always try to share with people, asking they do their research before booking their photographer. I’ve done a few wedding styled shoots for couples who had ‘pro’ photographers let them down. Yes they had nice pictures in the end, but the sentiment wasn’t there – it wasn’t their actual wedding day. It’s worth spending a bit more on someone who is both professional and who has a style of photography you love.

  29. There are a lot of so called professionals out there who shoot everything from architecture to wildlife.
    Wedding photographers have a bad reputation within the world of pro photography and are seen by some, especially those in the world of fine art photography as the lowest of the low.
    In reality a good wedding photographer has more skill in their little finger than most of the other types of photogrpahers who dare call themselves professionals.
    They have to be masters of everything from portraiture, achitectural phototography, product shots, organising and managing people, have an acute understanding of different lighting conditions and how to work with them, along with a deep knowledge of ligthing.
    Your friend may have been a great car photographer, but a consumate professional they most certainly aren’t.
    It’s obvious from the photographs that you’ve posted that the photographer has absoulutely no idea how to use basic camera settings, never mind think that they had the knowledge and skill required to take on the huge and complex job of shooting a wedding.
    Unfortunatly there are too many camera owners out there who believe it’s easy.
    Your wedding photographs are consumate proof that nothing could be further from the truth.
    I feel very sorry for you, I truely do. But you won’t be the first or last bride to be too embarrased to show her wedding photographs to friends and family after an inexperienced so called pro has destroyed their precious wedding images.
    I wonder how many other stories will hit the newspapers and blogs in 2016 – Just as many as 2015 and probably more.

  30. brent

    Great article! I’m a pro wedding photographer in the Washington DC area. Getting what you pay for is not exactly correct either. I believe a good reputation, referrals from previous clients, and a good portfolio is going to go a long way before just considering price. If you do your research well and give yourself a great amount of time to do it, you can certainly find a competent photographer that suits your budget and style. I’m really saddened when I see photos like the ones displayed here. In the business I see so called pro photographers that deliver poor work like that all the time. In many cases its someone that purchased a decent camera at an electronics store and is trying to have you pay for it while they use you to learn photography. On the flip side, I’ve seen photographers that have been in business for over 30 years but have been doing the same crappy work for just as long and never improve. Research is key. Many couples also do not know a good well composed, processed photo from a bad one. In fact, most of my wedding packages include a wedding album and most of the time, the couples choose the worst photos for their album. And by worst, I mean a lot of the candid snapshots that just about anyone with a modern digital camera could have shot. They want the Facebook, selfie type photos, yuck. The ones that still tell their story but look like photos that you would hang on a wall for generations are often less chosen. It makes you wonder why the heck did they hire a pro photographer in the first place. We also have couples that look at a photographer’s portfolio, hire them, and then start sending them Pinterest photos that is not the photographer’s style of shooting. When you refuse to cmply with that wish, you’re not skilled enough to do that? No I’m skilled alright, but this is not my style of shooting. If you use Pintrest or some other source of inspiration for your wedding ideas, look at these sources before choosing your photographer; not after to make sure they are a good fit. Sorry for being long winded here but wedding photography is a team effort and a mutual appreciation of both the client and photographer.

  31. Some great advice here, unfortunately many couples don’t think about photography until it is too late. There is only one chance to get the wedding photographs you want.

  32. Great article, I have a similar one on my own blog, from recent experiences. It is only April and already I have had four people contact me asking if I took any images at the wedding I attended as a guest (I carry a small point and shoot or mirrors if I’m not working), or if I can do a reshoot for them. Now they will end up paying twice, and the magical fairytale that they created for themselves, will fade while the below standard images will remain their memory of the biggest day of their lives … I sincerely wish I could educate couples on how important their photo and film are ….

  33. I’m shocked at the pictures above and my heart completely goes out to you. The sad thing is that paying for a professional doesn’t absolutely guarantee that everything will run smoothly but this is the same when hiring in any profession. Poor service and quality seems more rife in photography in recent years and this is, to a certain extent, due to the easy availability of “professional” photography equipment and the easy entry level into the profession. As someone rightly pointed out above though shooting a wedding isn’t the same as being able to take great pictures of cars!

    The problem is that we are all photographers and therefore think that it’s easy. It’s a bit like thinking that we can all cook – making beans on toast is one thing but creating a cordon bleu experience is another matter completely. You need to decide if you want your wedding recorded as beans on toast or cordon bleu and plan accordingly.

    Get references, meet the photographer in person, look at complete weddings from similar venues as yours in similar lighting conditions at a similar time of year.

    Paying for a decent photographer will be an expensive time for a short time followed by a lifetime of pleasure as you look back on your wedding. You will save on a cheap photographer in the short term but may well feel as though you are paying for the rest of your married life!

Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *