Can We Please Stop Booking Cheap Photographers and Moaning About Them ‘Ruining’ Our Weddings?

Deep breath.

This week, yet another news story about an amateur photographer ‘ruining’ a couple’s wedding photos hit the headlines. “Poor couple!” the comments read, “What a terrible woman this photographer is!” “She deserved to get sued!” The comment threads (including on the photographer’s business social media accounts, which have all now been deactivated) read like the modern day equivalent to the Salem witch hunts. They might as well have been chanting “BURN THE PHOTOGRAPHER!”

Now I’m not saying the photographer was wrongfully called out here. In this particular instance the photos that we made public were, for all intents and purposes, utterly terrible. There are also always two sides to any story so I’m not even going to get into the claims that she was 45 minutes late, only took 15 photos of the reception and spent more time in the photo booth than doing anything else. That’s really all superfluous to the point I want to make.

However, what is important is that when these types of stories come out, the recurring theme always seems to be that the couple hired a cheap, brand new or (as in this case) student photographer yet still expected their photographs to be of the same quality that a seasoned professional charging ten times more might deliver. There appears to be a complete lack of value placed on what a professional wedding photographer actually does. And believe me, its way more than having a fancy camera, lighting equipment and retouching software installed on their computer.

Here’s the other thing that perplexes me about these stories: when it comes to other aspects of the wedding where a couple might want to save money, they always also seem to understand that cutting corners involves some element of risk. I’ve spoken to countless brides who’ve ordered dresses online from China for example, but they always preface by saying “I knew it was a gamble, but I thought it was worth it to save so much money”, or “The quality wasn’t as good as ones on sale in bridal boutiques, but we didn’t have the budget to spend any more so I was fine with it”.

So why, when it comes to the photographs, which are one of the only things you’ll have left after the wedding, do so many couples spend way less than average but are completely blind to the risks of doing so?

I understand that professional wedding photographers are expensive. I would never, ever want to tell you that you HAD to spend more than you were able (or wanted) to on your pictures. If you’re not to fussed about having them, you think they’re just overpriced Instagram fodder, or you’d just rather have pictures taken by your friends then AWESOME, you own that! It’s your wedding and you have the right to spend, or not spend, your money on whatever you damn well please.

But please, can we all stop being horrified when the photos delivered by someone that charges £125 to shoot a wedding turn out to be terrible?

Further reading:
Should I book a professional wedding photographer or get a friend to shoot it for free?
The price of wedding photography; how much should I expect to spend?
8 ways to get affordable but amazing wedding photographs
Want great wedding photographs? Follow these simple tips

99 comments

  1. Oh Kat, thanks for this. It’s what everybody has been thinking but when you read comments like ‘she charged professional prices (£500!)’ you realise people don’t value the skill, customer service and attention to detail a true professional will deliver.

  2. This is so well said. I am surprised it even warranted becoming a ‘story’ when they said student photographer and 125.00 a shoot! Good grief surely if you need to be as budget conscious as that put throwaway cameras around and let your guests record the day. AS a florist I also get the comments that flowers are such a waste of money as they are only for a day! And yet they will spend money on stretchy Lycra chair covers! Shudder!

  3. Samantha Kelly

    THIS!!!!! We had 2 weddings and the first used a fantastic photographer, but the second one was organised by my Mum and she hired a family friend. Now the photos are not bad, but they are not the beautiful pieces of art our actual wedding photos are. We knew that would be a risk and attempted to hire our original photographer, but she was unfortunately busy, so we put up with it. I have regrets, but won’t let it spoil my memories.

  4. Spot on Kat. Don’t brag that you managed to get a photographer to give you 12 hours cover with 2 photographers and a huge wedding album for £500. You’ll inevitably end up with egg on your face. Having said that, if you manage to find a talented photographer with a great portfolio of REAL weddings they have shot as the main photographer, who is still building their portfolio, you may just get lucky. Do your research and get recommendations. If someone sounds too good to be true they probably are.

  5. Perfectly said!!

    It’s so obvious yet the idea of saving money, or worse the perception that ‘photographers are ripping poor couples off because it’s a wedding [otherwise they would charge third of what they do when the wedding word is mentioned]’ appears to certain group of individuals, which is why these cases keep happening.

  6. Thank you for writing this, Kat. It’s absolutely spot-on and the first time anyone has actually told the truth! I’m a newly-established wedding photographer and put so much work into every wedding as I want their pictures to be truly amazing. The amount of thought and preparation before the day, plus all the work afterwards is why we have to charge a higher fee.

  7. Absolutely agree with this. I would like to add as well, it’s not just about being an amazing photographer. It’s a personality thing too. Wedding photographers need to know when to blend into the back ground and when to come to the forefront. They need to make the couple feel comfortable especially those pre wedding nerves. The first thing I booked when we had the wedding date was the photographer. I didn’t want to scrimp on that (I’m one of those people who isn’t naturally photogenic but Sassy made me feel and look awesome). We cut back in a lot of other areas to suit our budget but the photos I still look at with a smile.

  8. People couldn’t believe how much I said I was spending on a photographer – everyone kept saying you can get one cheaper than that you know, and every cheap photographer comes at a cost from what I’ve seen. Lack of creativity, lack of editing ability and sometimes even lack of good equipment. As a blogger who has really put a lot of effort into her photography this year I’ve ended up thinking when looking at some photographers thinking I can do a better job myself – and I don’t consider myself to be any better at it than just a hobby!
    It’s one day that will be gone in a whirlwind, a good photographer is essential to me to be able to capture and relive my day in future! The one regret my parents have always said was the photographer didn’t do a very good job and that would be the only thing they’d change about their day still 30 years on.
    I clearly think there’s something wrong with that story, there’s no way the photographer should have been taking any photographs in the booth in my eyes – they’re there to work, and being a student isn’t good enough in my eyes either she’s still been hired as a professional to do a job, the quality of the job may be reflected in the fact she’s a student – she’s probably going to have tainted her whole career by people googling her and finding those articles, but do agree there might be another side to the story too!

  9. rb

    we are not having a photographer because a recent study found most people dont look at them past 6 months after the wedding… I always see people saying ‘we are getting 300 edited photos and an album’ but honestly your not going to hang 300 photos on your wall or look at an album daily (or even weekly, monthly, anually)

    I also lost my interest in photography related wonder as I have work as a photographer but I have only done 2 weddings both for friends who had no budget and wanted any free images I can say wedding photography is bloody hard work.

    I worked with children and animals (the 2 things they say you should never do) but I capturing the personality of an animal is a million times easier than photographing 100 moving people in varying light levels while attempting to be invisable :s

  10. Abi

    The fact that this photographer didn’t have some sort of a contract written up, or a website with a showcase of photos from her last weddings should have been ringing alarm bells. I am rather baffled that the couple didn’t have some sort of meeting with the photographer about what they wanted, or at least had a practise engagement shoot before hand to test her skills and trust.

    However, I do hope people aren’t put off by employing a photographer who is just coming into the industry. I know its a ‘gamble’ but there are so many excellent and affordable photographers out there! I know many stories of people booking photographers that charge £1000+ and have been left with awful photographs and bad service.

    I personally employed a photographer who had just started her wedding business. She had done 2 Weddings previous to mine and had some experience as a second photographer for a year. She was affordable and her style was just my cup of tea. I did test the waters with an engagement shoot, but she was highly professional and I could see this was her passion. She charged 200 pound more than this lady, for both engagement and wedding photos. My wedding was a year ago and I see my friends and family still look at those wedding photos from that day, we all love them.
    I also have a friend that is a professional photographer. He has a degree in photography, and has been doing Weddings full time for 5 years. He charges the same price as this lady in one of his packages, and his portfolio is fantastic. He just wanted to offer an affordable service for those that need it.

    So if you see a photographer just starting out (’cause they need to stat from somewhere, right?!) and you love their work, DON’T BE AFRAID! Just do your research, test them out and if they ace it, employ them!

  11. Good article; but you miss the point (as do others) about equating price with quality. If that was the case any photography who wanted to be classed as good quality with charge £15k and still produce the same quality that they did when charging £1.5k

    Photographers are out there on any budget – it’s the client’s responsibility to choose a photographer that fits the budget they have, the personality they are looking for and the style of photography that want. There are many excellent “hobbyists” that can produce outstanding work for £500. That £500 will cover the photography costs as their main income will cover the other living expenses.

    The real issue is someone saying they are ‘professional’ without any context behind it. A professional is some one that gets paid to do something. What clients SHOULD be looking for when they see “professional” is the cost of the photography AND if the photographer is a full time professional or just that hobbyist who calls themselves professional. If it’s the full time professional for £500 then surely they need to think about the business aspects of supporting a lifestyle on such a low amount of money?

  12. Graham MM

    Perhaps the happy couples should be advised that its not just photographers they need to be careful with. I have heard of a cheap wedding car that turned up so late that the bride had already left in a taxi and have personally witnessed the wrong flowers being delivered to the wrong house – a stressed out bride is understating it. That old idiom ” you get what you pay for” is so true.

  13. I’m so glad you posted this. Whatever the issues with the photographer being late or delivering too few photos, the couple paid £500 for a full day wedding – AND apparently an engagement shoot which they exchanged for a christening shoot for their baby. How dare the Daily Fail say that they paid “professional prices”?? Man, that makes me angry.

    (The info about the engagement/christening shoot is in the rebuttal the groom posted after the photographer told her side).

  14. Thanks for this Kat. It’s not said often enough. I hear stories at wedding meetings of how couples friends wished they’d spent more time searching for the right photographer and spent a little more money to get the one they really wanted. I don’t like to use the term we are ‘expensive’, that still gives the impression we charge more than we should. Yes wedding photographers can be a lot of money, but for the majority that takes into account, time, equipment, spare kit, servicing, insurance, liability insurance, software,albums, marketing, website costs, days spent editing, blah blah, it always seems to go on and on when you really look at whats involved. Basically it’s a LOT more than just turning up on the day and this is often overlooked. First rule should be, work out what your budget is, find a photographer that you like, I mean them as well as their work, then work out if you need to trim down the budget else ware if they cost more than you can afford initially. Couples are made to believe there are so many things they ‘MUST HAVE’ for there big day, that they are often spread too thin across the things that are more important, the things they will take with them in to the future.

  15. Well said, Kat!

    I think it boils down to how important wedding photography is for the couple and what is affordable for them. Most couples will find something in the the middle and be happy with that.

    I always think it’s nuts when I hear that the bride has ice sculptures, doves being released, reception at the Dorchester, yet has a £800 budget for photography!

  16. This is so well said. Too often brides spend time regretting their choice of photographer as this was where they saved money. Your photographs are the lasting memory of the day. It is so often the case that you get what you pay for.

  17. This!It actually makes me sad that people place so little value on their wedding photos. The day goes by so quickly and all that’s left is the memory which if you’re smart, you could have perfectly and beautifully immortalized.

    We budgeted the bulk towards our venue and then second runner up was our photographer. He was amazing and worth every cent. I cut out tonnes of stuff I wanted (a photobooth for example) to afford him and in the end, he was worth his weight in gold.

    We also ended up building such an amazing relationship with him, he did our engagement shoot and trash the dress and wanted to do a boudoir shoot but I chickened out, all for free just because he loved our style and we got on so well.

    In my opinion, it is ALWAYS worth paying for someone who knows what they are doing.

  18. Hi Kat.

    What an awesome article.

    With exception to video which isn’t as popular, photography is all that you have left after spending loads on everything else.

    It’s up to us as photographers to educate everyone why they should be investing in their wedding photography.

  19. Cheri

    I totally agree. Unfortunately people, including my fiancé, don’t see why it should cost so much. I had to argue my point that why spend money on anything if you don’t capture it all beautifully?! I showed him portfolios from different priced photographers and he agreed with me in the end that it was worth the money. You can buy discounted products but you can’t skimp on services. I’m a graphic designer so I sympathise with getting undervalued for services, some people literally have no idea what goes into creating things!

  20. Let’s hope brides and grooms who love photography and who will treasure the memories photos evoke will realise the value to future generations too. Wedding photography is priceless family history, where the photos sadly are loved even more once the people in them are no longer around. Even 10 years on after a wedding, brides come back to me for photos of their loved ones for funeral brochures, or just to get copies of.

    The first question couples ask is “How Much?” , instead of how long have you been a full-time wedding photographer?
    Its not just how to take good photos either, but how to deal with people so everyone has a great experience too.

    The market though is saturated with wedding photographers who have on average less than 5 years experience, and expected prices are a third of what they were 10-15 years ago, so its no wonder many don’t last long in the profession. Advertising, website costs, insurance, data storage of ever increasing file sizes, computer upgrades, transport costs etc all eat into the perceived profit, long hours editing, so its a wonder any photographer survives and turns up at your wedding with a smile on his or her face. Love and passion prevail whatever the world things though, I guess!

  21. Elaine

    I love how you have written this article….with the highlight on you know dont exoect champagne when paying for lemonade principle. I am a budget wedding tog and make it clear to every couple i meet with that weddings are not my speciality. I can capture beautiful memories and i am pro tog but my wedding package suit more for those who simply want some memories to keep and i am mostly hired to cover small, second marriages, or weddings where the couple despise having their photograph taken and are simply just wanting a few to keep the parents happy….i always say if you are spending 30000 on your wedding then spend at least 1000 on your tog and if you want the photography to be a big part of your day then i explain that all these fantastic pintrest shots they love require more than 2 hours coverage and 1 photographer …i can capture beautiful memories but if they want stunning posed and perfect award winning shots then its the so called “rip off’s” they need to hire x

  22. Bill

    The price for Wedding Photography is entirely subjective so how can anyone say what is classed as “cheap” or not? A £1500 photographer is very expensive to some, yet very cheap to someone else. Do they offer an inferior service? In some cases yes, but in some cases they will offer a superior service to someone who charges £3000 because what you charge DOES NOT make you a better photographer or more of a professional.

    There are MANY photographers who charge a lot of money yet have a normal job during the week. Are they more professional than someone who doesn’t charge as much but is full time and actually able to take phone calls from their couples instead of having to wait until they are on their break?

    Fact of the matter is this: every single photographer charges what THEY think their work is worth and because of that anyone who charges less is inferior, and everyone who charges more is overpriced. If they didn’t think that then an “average priced” photographer should surely owe it to their couples to point them in the direction of a more expensive – and therefore more professional – photographer.

    Couples should make their bookings based on a number of things – portfolio, professionalism and price. Portfolio & professionalism should be the priority and the price secondary.

  23. Josie

    https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=2009974855895309&id=100006484429067
    Everyone needs to read this. There are two sides to every story and it appears the comments given by this poor girl have been spun and she has plenty of evidence against many of these claims. She is even now being harassed by the couple.
    I agree that if you hire a student the likelihood of the photos being as good as a seasoned professional is slim as they are still in training, but this couple knew what they were paying for and were apparently happy with it originally. This young girls reputation has been ruined and I think everyone should hear her side before passing judgement.

  24. Finally someone saying it how it is. I have no sympathy for either party in this story. Both are guilty and need to take responsibility for their own decisions and actions.

  25. Oh I hope this article prevents some brides and grooms doing the same mistake. But in a world where everyone with a DSLR-Camera thinks he can be a great wedding photographer after photograph their friends while drinking in the park once, this won’t be the last case of ruined wedding day by an unprofessional wedding photographer.

    When I look back, I was happy to be only Assistant, later 2nd shooter for a lot of weddings before I photographed my first wedding as 1st shooter by my own. I think many young photographers wont learn and get teached, their ego whispers them they are already good enough. Bullshit, even now i assist once some great photographers and I never stop learning by others. Thanks for this article.

  26. Reeeeeally glad someone stepped up to say this. A photographer says this, and they get “ohhhh you’re just trying to book work.” It’s refreshing to have someone else legitimately defend this argument, and be completely valid throughout. Many thanks, Kat.

  27. At least twice a year the media loves a “Loon wedding photographer ruined my wedding”. Its a tough business to be in and customers from the iPhone generation don’t value photography they value “cheapness”. When I first started out i did wedding jobs for free just to make sure I could handle the speed that is wedding photography.

    Personally organisations like the BIPP should educate the public more and enlighten the iPhone generation that some photographers click in manual and use light meters 😉

  28. There was a lot about this story that I didn’t quite understand. However again and again I ask prospective couples to look at my work online and sample albums I have produced. They know exactly what they are getting. There should then be no surprises. This I believe falls back on the couple for not checking the photographers work out. They made a poor decision and will not take responsibility for it.

  29. At last an article not demonising the photographer. I’ve watched this story closely for a couple of days now and the facts are the photographer actually delivered over 260 shots plus an engagement shoot – the 15 stated were for the evening reception. It doesn’t have the same editorial impact though does it?, ‘Student photographer delivers 260 mediocre shots’. The best thing she can do is publish all the shots and let her ‘peers’ comment on whether she was worth £500. You are spot on about the ‘gamble’ aspect of booking her, it was a gamble and in the clients view they didn’t get the quality they expected. Gamblers sometimes lose. That said, I’m not defending the student as she brings our profession into disrepute, there are plenty of professional ‘budget’ photographers who charge at that price point and deliver good value work. Where this couple have gone wrong is that they have booked a photographer with little or no experience of shooting a wedding – and she has obviously struggled. There are alleged claims her website contained other photographers’ work – and if this is indeed the case she got the job under false pretenses and dishonesty and deserves every bit of criticism she has got.

  30. Couldn’t agree more. Often you see Facebook groups full of “My terrible pictures”, “I’m gutted” etc with some examples posted on the group. Only to find they had 5 bridesmaids, sparsely dance floors and fireworks at the end of the night. All awesome and adding to the day of course but surely £500 towards a proper professional photographer would be a wiser investment than 1 minute of fireworks?

    We all have budgets and Kate and other good pro photographers are not having a go at budget brides. If a bride does have a budget of 3500 then hire a good professional to shoot the arrivals, ceremony and family shots with B&G. Maybe 2-3 hours. You’ll get beautiful photographs of the day instead of a part time enthusiast spending 10 hours there.

  31. Yesssssss. Well said / written let’s hope lots of people read and pay attention to this article. In fact I may just show it to people when I get the ‘Oh we’ve got a friend with a good camera to do our photos’.

  32. You always are the truth speaker! I’ll be sharing this on my Facebook page for sure. thanks for saying what we are all thinking, once again.

  33. Kristin

    I agree totally!!
    I think this applies to every aspect of a wedding, honestly. I’m in the US and it’s all about getting things as cheap as possible and expecting diamonds for a rhinestone price. Brides want a cake that is embellished, that takes hundreds of hours of work, and 6ft tall for $200.00. Then “price check” several bakers, go with the cheapest one, then take to social media and slam the Baker because their cake looked like a $200.00 cake instead of the $2000.00 cake she wanted, but didn’t want to pay for..
    I always tell people, ‘you get what you pay for’.

  34. Nick Rutter

    Excellent Kat.
    The phrase, Pay Peanuts… Get Monkeys comes to mind.

    I always advise people at least 10% of their budget towards their photographer. JUST 10% towards something that most will give 1000% importance to. It’s not rocket science to work out that it’s a good idea to invest first in the most expensive things. And these things generally are where the quality matters. Most of the rest of the things to book, doesn’t always depend on quality and thus doesn’t have to cost a lot.

    I have spent a lot of time getting feedback from my clients. Most have an idea of budget when they start out booking things and all of them realised that their initial idea of budget for a photographer was way less than they needed. For the quality that they wanted their photography to be, they had to almost double their budget. They saw what they could get for £500 / 1000 and realised they couldn’t get great quality photography for that.

    If a couple are marrying two years away, they have more than enough time to save for a great photographer, commonly £1500+. It’s priorities… and the article in question reflects that the couple obviously didn’t have photography as a priority otherwise they would have invested in a ‘professional photographer’, not an ‘amateur’ or spent just £500!

    A common thing I have seen in the past and have heard from most pro photographers is that they and I have had more complaints when we used to charge around the £500 mark or do a half day wedding and charge less than couples who pay good money. Some people expect the world for minimum cost. Also I bet the photographer in the article didn’t do a contract which means the couple have no leg to stand on anyway. A contract protects the photographer (from silly people) and protects the client.

  35. This has got to be one of the most on point articles I’ve read. Basically you get what you pay for. I try and explain this to all couples that we have meetings with to discuss pricing and what we offer. We always try to work with a couples budget.. But there is a limit unfortunately. Kat you rock!

  36. Totally agree. The photographer you were talking about didn’t do a great job, but what she did was consistent with the work she had onnher website.

    The couple involved posted on a wedding scam Facebook page, and I asked the legitimate question as to how they were scammed. Did the photographer misrepresent herself? And what were their expectations for a photographer that was one tenth as much as the competition.

    His response was to call me a dick, and I got blocked from the page.

  37. Of course all reasonable minded established photographers would be agreeing with you. However, writing for a well-subscribed wedding blog, probably one of the best known of its kind, and expressing this sentiment does actually put you ever so slightly in a position of preaching to the preached! Brides who venture into these pages are likely to look for a particular style, theme and the expectant quality to go with it. I don’t think that you would have featured a wedding by the photographer in question and I wonder if her clients would have ventured through your pages either.

    The reality is that magazines and blogs like this are unlikely to feature those £125 wedding photography packages that we see strewn all across Facebook groups. Just this morning, an acquaintance invited me to a page that collates the work of local inspirational photographers (https://www.facebook.com/UK-Weddings-742397082566760/?notif_t=fbpage_fan_invite&notif_id=1460724168111394) where supposedly award winning teams of wedding photographers are offering packages from £125! The quality of photography on offer is not something I shall pass judgement on and shall leave the readers here to make up their minds. But, may I just say that there are examples of colour-popping. There are also packages for £4000 within the same page, but again, I shall not pass personal judgement on should the example of photography warrant such prices.

    Shock horror but this is exactly what happens in real life! The wedding industry may be worth £40 million to the economy but at the absolute budget end of it, there are couples who simply can’t afford to pay more than £500 and some are operating on even lesser budgets. This does not mean that they have any less of a right to complain about the quality of their photographs if they turn out to be poorly composed, exposed and lacking in focus. Chloe Johnstone’s Facebook page and the webpage that was hotlinking from her Facebook gallery are precisely the kind of offerings many couples go through. It is a minefield and photography being what it is, people use personal aesthetical judgements as well as recommendations by friends to book photography packages like that. Most turn out to truly happy outcomes with competent photographers still catering for the value end of the market in a professional manner. I recently had the pleasure of mentoring someone who had just shot his first solo wedding and subsequently been booked to shoot another for £400 in Cardiff. The images from the first wedding were improperly exposed and what with it being a very bright day, the outdoor images have very strong shadows on the faces of subjects. The photographer had shot the entire wedding on his new DSLR on Auto mode and did not actually know what aperture, shutter or ISO meant. However, the expectation of the bride and groom was low and they were not unhappy with the images and they were also pleased with the very hardworking photographer who acted professionally throughout the event. Many established photographers charging rather more would always be looking down upon these budget offerings and sniggering over any hint of a flare up as the comments have highlighted.

    Lastly, as the mudslinging continues with both the photographer and client offering rebuttals to the story originally reported in the Daily Mail, the new figure of 276 pictures have now been accepted by both parties to be the number of images supplied and received, thus, your piece is based on old information. This does not detract from the theme of your headline, but as far as the example upon within your story is based, I believe that none of us are in a real position to judge who is telling the truth. The following website has links to both the rebuttals and ought to have been researched before you wrote the piece. http://stopstealingphotos.com/johnston-photography-leeds-uk/

    One post script, I came across a meme just the day before yesterday about wedding photography that read something along the lines of, 50% of marriages in UK end in divorce, there is no guarantee that your marriage would be a smooth ride, so the best documentary wedding photographer should be capturing the hints of all such future tensions! I wonder how much such a photographer would quote for a full day wedding?!?

  38. Perhaps one solution would be if wedding venues insisted that photographers had insurance, both professional indemnity and Public liability. I am surprised that venues don’t check already to be honest. Professional photographers – even at the budget end, would be prepared to pay for insurance, whereas the casual inexperienced amateur would not. As venues are usually the first thing to get booked, if they insisted on an insured photographer this could really help and set a standard. If any good has come of this episode it would be that couples may be wary of booking a cheap photographer – checking if they were insured would be a start. Don’t even get me started on couples using friends!

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