Wednesday, March 07, 2012

A Picture's Worth a Thousand... Dollars?

Photo Credit

Wedding planning is coming along slowly and not-so-surely. We've got the dress, the venue, and the officiant (more on that later!). The thing that is causing us the most stress right now, however, is the photographer. (And by "us" I mean "me." Nathan doesn't even want a photographer because he doesn't think he looks good in photos. Which, I told him, is all the more reason to get a good photographer!)

In case you didn't know (because I sure didn't) wedding photographers are expensive. Really, really expensive. I understand why - the photographers are talented and often trained professionals. They have fancy equipment. They often travel for shoots. They spend the whole day with you and then countless days after, sorting through and editing your photos. I get it. I appreciate it. I admire it. But that doesn't mean I can afford it.

My sister and Maid of Honor, Susan, is a photographer and a photo editor at a magazine, and she volunteered to help me find a photographer who does awesome work and is within our budget. This is proving to be much harder than I anticipated. I feel like I've looked at dozens of portfolios, fallen in love with more than one, and then broken my own heart with the sad truth, which is becoming more of a refrain these days: "We just can't afford it."

On the one hand, I wish we had a million dollars and could throw the exact wedding we want, with all the bells and whistles my Pinterest board desires. Local, organic food. A team of exquisite photographers. A hip band and a laid back DJ. A quaint castle in which to not only marry and party, but also provide free rooms for all our out of town guests.

But we don't have a million dollars. We have a few thousand and we're making due, which is more our speed anyway. We're creative, we're thrifty, and I'm trying to look at this as a fun challenge, a way to walk the talk as far as living a simple and sustainable life goes. I also keep reminding myself that it's not the wedding that matters, it's the marriage. That no one will remember the details of the big day, only how it made us feel - happy, in love, surrounded by friends and family, and looking lovely in some fancy clothes.

That said, the one thing I do want is nice photos. I want to have those moments - imperfect as they may be - captured and done justice, so that in the years to come, I can look back on them, remember, and smile. I only plan to get married once, so the pressure to get the photos just right is even greater. And yet the budget remains so small. I've been obsessing over this for the last two weeks, and have gotten some great advice and ideas from people. There are two main roads we can go down:
  • Having a few friends to take the photos for free. PRO: I like my friends, they like me, and I would be comfortable with them sticking a camera in my face. Also, free is the best price there is. CON: My friends aren't professionals and while they mean well and are being generous with their time, I don't know if giving them such an important job is worth the risk. Also, I kind of want my friends to be free to party with us, and don't like the idea of them "working" my wedding, even if they offered.
  • To hell with the budget, and splurging on a professional with a great portfolio. PROS: Our photos will be awesome, and I won't spend the wedding worrying if they're doing it correctly. Peace of mind is important. Also, so many people have said photos are something worth splurging on. We're cutting a lot of corners so we might be able to make it work. CONS: The photographer I like best is literally one half of the budget we arbitrary decided upon. More than the dress and the venue, combined! That just seems so excessive (for us, that is - all costs are relative, of course). 
What I really want is a professional photographer who will do our wedding for free. Since that is highly unlikely, I'm toying with this compromise:
  •  The best of both worlds? Hire a professional for only half the day (that is, four hours). Allow the professional to photograph the early part of the day - the getting ready shots, the ceremony, the decor, the portraits, the early part of the reception/dinner. Then rely on friends and family to take photos during the dance party, when everyone is going to be tipsy and having fun anyway. Honestly, we don't need four hours of professional photos of our guests dancing like fools. Amateur photos should suffice in that department. One great idea a friend on Facebook suggested is to include stamped, self-addressed envelopes containing blank CD's with the wedding favors, or just in a basket by the door. Guests could take one home, burn us any photos they took at the wedding, and then mail it back to us, ensuring we get a large collection of personal photos from the people we like best. I love this idea, and think it would be a great way to capture what matters - the energy and emotion of our wedding day, and the love and joy that I fully expect to be present. 
So now I turn to you, dear Readers. Do you have any advice, opinions, ideas, suggestions, or stories from your own weddings? Y'all have been amazingly helpful with this wedding planning business so far, and I always look forward to comments on these posts in particular. Thank you in advance!

25 comments:

  1. You could also check with a local university to see if they have student photographers who want to practice. Cheaper than professionals, with more know-how when it comes to getting good shots than your average person. Or... you could always just splurge on the real deal. :)

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    1. Splurging seems to be the most recommended route. The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced it's worth it. Thanks for the input!

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  2. I'm a photographer who has a passion for wedding photograph with no desire to actually be a wedding photographer -too much stress ;)

    I think its a good idea to encourage your friends/family to bring cameras along but only with the intention that they capture random photos, angles and perspectives that a pro wouldn't and 'snapshots'.

    As for the pro photographer have you considered students? it may be worth your time and effort to check with local art programs, some students are super talented and willing to work for less to get their name out there and the experience. also check out http://www.thebschool.com/photographers - its a social networking site for pro and aspiring pro photographers, you can sort by location and price and many talented photographers who dont all charge $$$$$ are on there.

    and I agree no need for a pro to sit around while people attempt to drunk dance, maybe have them capture the 1st dance or few and then be free to go.

    Good luck

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    1. Yes, wedding photography seems really stressful. Plus I would have a hard time bossing around a friend doing me a favor - easier to tell a professional what you want and how you want it, you know?

      Thanks for the advice!

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  3. My husband and I got married twelve years ago and, to this day, my wedding pictures make me angry. I knew in my gut that we should have fired him, based on his behavior the month before our wedding. But we didn't. And I regret it. I don't have beautiful pictures- I have mediocrity (at best). I look at my photos and feel sad. They've never been displayed in our home- ever. They're put away, in the top of the closet. I wish we could do them over. But those are moments you don't capture again, not really. I know it's a lot but get the best you can afford. It's worth it. Truly.

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    1. Oh, man. I'm sorry you had such a bad experience! Maybe you and your husband should get some nice professional photos done of the two of you - not wedding related, just as a nice gift, a bit of do-over? I do appreciate you sharing your story - it helps put things into perspective.

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  4. I recommend considering students too. That being said, in six years, I've only had four students work for me that I would recommend to someone for event photography, two of which probably wouldn't want to do it at all... and LOTS that thought they could do it and would sell themselves as event photographers. You can probably tell from a portfolio, but sometimes their best, practiced pictures are not the ones you would get in the heat of the moment during an event. You can ask program advisors for recommendations, and ask about students that recently graduated and are still in the area. You can look at recent yearbooks or newspaper issues, if the school has that, to see pictures the person might not include in their portfolio. And your sister's editor eyes can help you weed out the fakes. :)

    Our wedding photos were very traditional, and looking back, I wish I would have known to look for something different when we got married. But I also like that our wedding album looks similar to my parents wedding album that I would look at growing up. SO it's a give and take for me.

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    1. My parents had really traditional photos too, which are lovely. And yet all these websites, wedding blogs, Pinterest accounts, etc, make me feel like my wedding should be a photographic EVENT, you know? Normally I don't buy into that kind of stuff (for example, no engagement ring here!) but I really like pretty photos. Like, a lot. So maybe the photographer will be my one splurge item? Ahh! Getting married is hard!

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  5. This is a tough one--we also had friends who were fantastic photographers, but we didn't want them to feel like they should be "working" instead of partying, so we bit the bullet and hired someone based on their portfolio. If you can find a photographer that you like who will work for only 4 hrs and shoot just the before stuff, the wedding, and a bit of the beginning of the reception (any first dances, toasts, etc stuff, because that usually gets taken care of at the beginning anyway), I'd say to go for that. I will say, however, that the photos my wedding photographer got at the reception where we're all dancing like fools are some of the best shots from the whole thing. And TRUST ME on this: you think that you'll remember the whole day because, after all, it's your wedding day, but it goes SO FAST! I'm so grateful for all the photos we have because there are parts of the wedding/reception I wouldn't even remember clearly if it weren't for the photographer. Your brain can only hold so many moments at one sitting. :)

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    1. Good point. Fun party photos are important too. I'm glad you pointed out how fast the wedding goes, and how the photos help you remember the details. So important!

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  6. Whatever you decide, get a photographer that's going to give you pictures that you will love. My biggest regret about our low budget wedding was that we didn't get a more creative photographer.

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    1. Thanks for the input. It's good to hear from others who are on a low budget!

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  7. When my friend got married she and her husband decided to put the bulk on their money into a photographer. Their reasoning was that the food and decorations will only be there for a few hours, but the pictures will be how they can look back on their wedding for the rest of their lives. That always made sense to me. Good luck with whatever you decide!

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    1. This is what I am leaning towards as well, for the same reasons. Well, maybe not the bulk of the budget. But a photographer seems like an investment worth making.

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    2. Katie has it: the only physical object you're going to walk away with from that day is your dress and the photos. This is an area to splurge. I like your best of both worlds solution, only do the first half of the day.

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  8. When M. and I got married, having a great photographer was really important to us. Like Katie said, the food and cake don't last, the dress gets worn once, but I still look at the photos and will years down the road. I think your 4 hour compromise makes a lot of sense.

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    1. Thanks lady! It's good to hear from women who have viewpoints similar to mine and have struggled with this same issue. I am so used to being cheap that it's hard to wrap my mind around a splurge like this. But it's true. The photos are forever, and that counts for something.

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  9. My wedding photos turned out okay (photog was a dick!) but I feel creepy displaying them. We're just not that couple. I'd rather display our hiking photos, or the ones taken randomly doing something we love. While I'm glad we have the formal portraits as kind of a time capsule of what we looked like and how we were on that day, they don't mean as much as the photos we took in Montana.

    That being said, I would prioritize photos over other things, like decorations and overly priced food. I would hire a pro to cover portraits/ceremony, but have a student/friends cover the rest. Make sure a few of those friends are bloggers, and you know you'll be covered!

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    1. Honestly, I would probably display a few photos but definitely not hundreds. :) I do like to look back at photos, though, especially on my computer and via my blog. But you're right - the photos I have of us racing, or canoeing, or of our dogs are meaningful and get looked at just as much as our future wedding photos probably would.

      The amount of money I'm thinking of spending would not be considered a "splurge" for most people, but splurge is a relative term. Especially for broke students! :)

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  10. I have very beautiful and wonderful wedding photos. I was fortunate in that I had a friend who was just getting started in the business and who has since become a highly successful wedding photographer do them for me at a steal. That said, seven years down the road, I don't really ever look at them. I have one 4x6 in my office and one 4x6 in our bedroom and that's it. We have lots of photos in our house, but in the seven years since we've been married (and in the years before that), we have done (did) a lot of cool things, so I'd just as soon have a picture of us on safari as I would of our wedding. The wedding, while awesome, was just one day. Our marriage is so much more than that day. I'm not advocating for not doing photos or not getting someone good to do them, but I'm saying that you should really consider how often you will look at them/display them before deciding how much to spend. I'm not particularly sentimental, so I might be odd in that I don't look at mine very often (but I do have to say that when I do look at them, they make me very happy).

    Also, I doubt you're thinking of getting a videographer, but I'd vote against it. I would, however, vote for getting someone to videotape it. One of my brother's friends volunteered to do it for us for free (low-budget, no editing, no cheesy music) and we loved watching the video. There's so much that goes one that you forget or just don't see that it was fun to see it all from a third-party perspective.

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    1. We were not going to hire a videographer, but thanks for the idea of getting a friend to do it for free! I hadn't considered that but you make it sound worthwhile. And I mentioned this in a previous comment, but my definition of "splurging" on photography is much lower than some people's definition. Remember, I'm a broke grad student! Right now, I consider a bottle of wine instead of a box a splurge. ;)

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  11. An online acquaintance of mine is a wedding photographer, and she just posted a pretty sound list of tips for hiring a wedding photographer. She's writing from the POV of someone in the business, but it's inflected with her own experiences planning a wedding on a budget. You might want to check it out: http://www.elissarphotography.com/2012/tips-on-hiring-a-wedding-photographer/.

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  12. honestly, this is one of many reasons i am happy that i did not have a ceremonial wedding.
    i am not a good planner, couldn't fathom spending the money on someone who was,...and like you said, it's the marriage that matters, hardly the wedding.
    that being said, i had a friend shoot some photos of my wedding day and the lighting was terrible, it rained on my wedding day,...and you know what?
    it's all of those things that make it that much more special.
    it's the things i recall that would have been "disasterous" for the average gal getting married, but it didn't matter because i was so elated.
    the photos (i think) turned out wonderfully.
    they were grainy...they were underlit, but everyone that sees them (and that's not many!) only immediately say "you two look so in love!"
    in fact, when i think about the photos of me as a child even, there are few. that leaves more room for mystery as a now fully grown viewer.
    every era has their idea of what professional looks like.
    the professional photographers portfolios that i veiw these days tend to focus on smaller objects within a larger scene, they tend to over expose, and do a hell of a lot of touching up on the photos later, making them cripser and highlights more pronounced.
    i dunno,...it's personal preference really. on your wedding day, you're still wearing a smile!

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  13. Our photographer left after we did all the traditional hokey stuff at the reception - the special dances, the bouquet toss, etc. So he missed some of the classic moments toward the end of the night. Like John doing karaoke to Danger Zone. Might not be a bad idea to do the half-day thing, especially if the photog is planning on leaving at some point during the night anyhow. Be on the look-out for wedding fairs in the area. During weeks of research I somehow never came across my photog's website. My dad got a hold of a brochure for him from a friend who went to one of those things. He ended up being the cheapest good-quality photog in the area.

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  14. You don't need to do CDs. You could have a website that is file sharing and people can upload to there. I've been to a few weddings that did that.

    Also when I was looking at wedding photographers our ceremony was days earlier 5 hours away so we only needed a photographer from 4:30 PM on instead of 10am on or whatever and most photographers were charging $2000-$3000 for all day but would only knock off $200 for half the time! I just had a friend do it. That same friend video taped too so that proved difficult. I have a picture of him with a video camera in one hand and a camera in the other. I should dig it up.

    Sorry I'm really behind on blog reading.

    PS I ran a 50k if you didn't see it. You might have seen and commented. I forget.

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