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 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. 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.


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