What if I can’t afford any wedding photographer?

Many professional wedding photography studios offer packages starting at prices that are higher than most brides’ entire wedding budgets.  Because I am a photographer myself, I do put a premium on the value of wedding photos, but I’m also a realist.  One way or another you should have someone who is capturing images of your special day.  How you go about doing that on a tight budget can really vary.  Here are some steps you can follow to try and get the best photographic coverage of your wedding possible.

1) Professional Pro-Bono:  If you have a particularly touching wedding story, and you don’t mind sharing it, you could try to find a professional photographer that would be willing to do the job pro-bono.  I know this sounds too good to be true, but some photographers out there actually budget for a certain number of free weddings a year.

2) Craigslist: this can be tricky.  On craigslist you’ll find everything ranging from well established photographers, to someone who owns a basic digital SLR  who wants to make some extra cash on the side who has little to no wedding photography experience.  If you decide to go with a photographer on craigslist you should look for someone who has shot a wedding before and can show you their previous work.  Taking someone who charges something over charging nothingis usually a smart idea.  A person who is charging nothing is probably just starting out.  Going with a person like that is risky.  You could get some with amazing natural talent, or someone with no skills at all.  You should meet them PRIOR to the wedding day in person if you can, or at the least speak to them on the phone.  If you meet them in person, it is smart to meet at a safe public place like a coffee shop.  Be upfront and honest with them about how much you can spend on photography and give them a detailed description of what you want and expect from them.

3) Local photography student: This like craigslist can be somewhat risky.  Just because someone is a good photographer, or a photography student, doesn’t mean that they will be a good wedding photographer.  Taking beautiful landscape photos requires a completely different skill set than taking beautiful wedding photos.  You can look up your local art school or college and find the email or contact information for one of the photography professors.  You can ask them to then send out a request to their students looking for someone to cover a wedding.  I would suggest offering them a nominal fee, i.e. $50-100 and allowing them to use the images in their portfolio.  I would also suggest that they bring along a friend who is also a photography student to be their assistant or a 2nd shooter.  That way you have a better chance of getting some decent images.  Ask them to shoot in JPG+RAW or just RAW file format.  The final images they give you will need to be in JPG file format though.

4) Have a friend or family member take shots at the wedding:  this should be the last option you consider.  Generally mixing something as important as your wedding photos with friends/family, is a BAD idea.  But if options 1-3 have failed to work for you, then proceed to option 4 with care.  You will want to pick someone who is NOT in the bridal party and someone who preferably has a digital SLR camera.  This is different than a point and shoot camera.  This type of camera is bigger than most and the lenses on it are interchangeable.  They have the ability to shoot in RAW format.  RAW format holds MUCH more information than regular JPG files.  This allows for more of an oops factor.  If the friend or family member you have taking photos underexposes or overexposes the pictures, if they were taken in RAW it is much easier to fix, than if they shot it in JPG.  Preferably, this person should own a program like adobe photoshop or iPhoto.  They should also be a person that you normally associate with taking pictures all the time, so that they aren’t shy about taking photos of everything.  If none of your friends or family members has a digital SLR camera, find the person with the best point and shoot camera who likes to take photos.  The camera should have at least 10 megapixels.  Make sure that the person has plenty of extra batteries. Digital SLR cameras usually take special batteries, if the person doesn’t have a 2nd battery, buy them an extra.  The same thing goes for the memory card.  If they don’t have at least 2 memory cards, buy them a second one.  You can give this to them after as a thank you for doing you the favor of being the photographer or you can keep it.  If it is a point and shoot and it takes regular AA or AAA batteries, be sure to buy them extra regular batteries. Taking photos isn’t just about having a camera and pressing the shutter down.  Much of it is organizing people, and making sure to get the shots the bride and groom really want.

  • Rather than just hoping they will divine what you want, provide them with a list of shots.  For group shots, give them a list with the names of people who are supposed to be in the shots so they can call out those names easily, so that formal group photos go quickly and smoothly.  Also list details you would like shots of, such as your wedding cake, your shoes, the rings, any special jewelry you have for the day, getting ready shots, etc.  The more detailed you make this list, the easier the job will be for your friend or family member that day.  Give them a detailed schedule of the order things will go that day, like ceremony, entrance, first dance, father-daughter dance, cake cutting, bouquet toss, garter toss, etc.
  • For the posed formals, the friend or family member should remember these points.  Don’t just have people be in big long line-ups.  Try to do things with levels.  For example, if you have 5 people, get 2 chairs, have 2 people sit in them, and have 3 people behind them.  Also to avoid the police line-up effect, people should stand with their bodies at slight angles.  It makes people look much slimmer.  ///center\\\.  Arms should also not be just left hanging straight to the sides.  You lose all shape of your body then.  Putting arms at slight angles helps bring your shape back.  Men can do this by putting their hands in their jacket pockets.  Women can hold their bouquets or have their hands on their hips.  They should remind everyone to stand up straight, shoulders back.  EVERYONE looks better when they do this.
  • When taking the formal posed photos, the only person who should be taking these photos is the friend or family member who is the dedicated photographer.  Otherwise, you will have wandering eyes in the group photos.  They won’t know who to look at.
  • The friend or family member should try to be mindful of the backgrounds.  Having people stand directly next to a wall is not a very good idea.  It usually casts shadows on the wall if the person is using flash.  Also, they should avoid having things seemingly growing out of the back of people’s heads.  Typical culprits are flowers or trees or bushes in the background.  They should also avoid having distracting elements in background like exit signs, fire alarms, etc.  Sometimes this is unavoidable though.
  • Ask the friend or family member to take many more photos than they normally would.  That way you will have a better chance of having some shots that turn out well, than if they only took a few photographs.
  • If you are going for a more photojournalistic style, be sure to let them know that you aren’t looking for tons of shots of people mugging for the camera.  In that same vein though, remind them that people have 2 eyes.  Getting tons of shots of people in profile is not the best thing to do.
  • Do NOT get the little disposable cameras for the tables.  The quality of the images they take are terrible, and the amount it costs to develop them is NOT worth it.

  • Email your friends afterwords asking if they had any photos they took that turned out well and ask them to send them to you.
  • Last but certainly not least, be sure to thank them profusely. Tell them that you understand that they aren’t a professional photographer, and that you are doing them a huge favor.  Having some photos from your wedding is much better than having NO images.

After your big day is all said and done, take all the images your friend or family member took and upload them to your computer, save them on a CD or DVD, make several copies of this, and upload the images to a site like www.mPix.com.  You can then use this site to print out your images at your local pharmacy or have them mailed directly to you at home.  From blurb.com and photo book america you can create lovely photo books.


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  • KylieAugust 23, 2010 - 7:17 am

    Great advice 🙂

    Another budget option that one of my friends took was to hire a professional for the ceremony and formals only and then had blank discs with self-addressed envelopes on all the tables for guests to put their reception photos on and mail back to the couple. The professional was more cost-friendly by only attending one venue, but they still got to have beautiful, memorable photos with their families from her. They then had hundreds of funny and lovely candid snaps from the day to choose from as just about everyone brings a camera along!ReplyCancel