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Four Tips For Hiring A Non-Professional Wedding Photographer


(And Living To Tell The Tale)

by Maddie Eisenhart, Digital Director & Style Editor

Four Tips For Hiring A Non Professional Wedding Photographer | A Practical Wedding

If you pay attention to the sponsored posts we run each week, you’ve probably already figured out that this site values photography. Meg has written extensively about choosing her own wedding photographers, and we even have two wedding photographers on staff. Which means that most of the conversations we have on this site are about how to choose the photographer whose aesthetic speaks to you. But let’s be real. Not every wedding budget includes a few thousand dollars to plunk down on photos, and not everyone has wedding photography at the top of their planning priorities list to begin with (which I’m pretty sure I’m never supposed to admit as a wedding photographer, but whatever, I live dangerously). So let me start by saying that it’s totally okay if all you’re looking for is a photographer who knows their way around a camera and is going to produce an accurate representation of the day. And maybe a little art too, if that’s your thing.

Most wedding and photography websites are going to tell you that you really should be hiring a professional wedding photographer. And while, yes, there are definitely more guarantees with a professional wedding photographer, that knowledge isn’t going to make an additional two thousand dollars appear in your bank account tomorrow. So instead of telling you all the reasons you should hire a professional wedding photographer, we thought it might be a little bit more helpful if we helped you guys navigate how to go about making the most of your decision and avoid the potential (but not guaranteed) trouble that can come with hiring a non-pro. Starting with:

Sign A Contract

In a lot of scenarios, the person you’re hiring for your wedding photography is probably someone you know already. Maybe it’s that old friend from college who’s always had a passion for photography, or maybe it’s your retired wedding photographer uncle who’s dusting off his camera for one day and gifting you with his skills. Whatever the situation, and no matter how well you know the person, sign a contract. Yup, even if it’s for free. Actually, especially if it’s free. Setting expectations up front is going to ensure that everyone knows what is expected from them in the arrangement, and will prevent uncomfortable situations in the future. I know it can be uncomfortable making a friend sign a contract when they are doing you a favor (friendor contracts are the prenups of wedding services, amiright?), but it’s way less painful than having to have a difficult conversation six months down the road about why you haven’t seen your wedding photos yet. Moreover, signing a contract will help set expectations in advance for how that person is going to act on the day-of. If it’s a family member, are they expected to be working the whole day? Or is it okay if they have a few drinks with dinner and quit at 8pm to dance with family?

Do A Test Run

If you’re hiring a non-professional wedding photographer, chances are they are still good at taking photos, even if they aren’t making a living off of it. But weddings present a lot of varied lighting conditions that can surprise even the most skilled of photographers (I’ve been doing this full time for three years and some venues still give me a run for my money). The best thing you can do if you’re really invested in your wedding photos but don’t have a ton of money to spend is to invest in your photographer’s skill. Have them do an engagement session with you in lighting conditions that are similar to your venue, and try out different lighting conditions to see how they deal with change from location to location. When you’re just starting your photographer career, there are limited opportunities to practice in these conditions with real people, so the more opportunities you can give your photographer to make mistakes and learn from them before the wedding, the better your photos will be.

Invest In Your Photographer (If You Can)

Better equipment can go a long way toward helping entry-level photographers take better photos. If there’s any extra room in your photography budget, think about offering to rent equipment for your photographer. Most non-professional photographers don’t have the money to invest in a ton of equipment or backups, and when you’re starting out and offering to do weddings for friends you’re mostly just trying to not lose any money in the deal (the first few weddings I did each put me a few hundred bucks in the hole). A three-day rental for a professional level setup can be as little as $200 from places like Adorama or Borrowlenses.com and can give you the peace of mind that if something breaks during the wedding, your photographer will have a backup. (Which reminds me: refer back to the section on contracts and make sure to talk about who is responsible if something breaks. Places like Borrowlenses.com have insurance options that you can just add to your order, which significantly reduces the amount someone will have to pay if an item breaks or gets stolen.)

Ask Them To Shoot RAW

If you happen to have hired a non-professional photographer who has the skill of Annie Liebowitz, but doesn’t normally shoot weddings and has made an exception for you because they love you, then go buy yourself a lottery ticket because you’ve found a wedding unicorn. But a more likely chance is that you’re working with someone who normally identifies as a hobbyist, but maybe is looking to break into weddings. (Which, thank you. All professionals have to start by building their portfolios, and it’s often only through the trust of couples like you that they are able to.) As photographers learn their craft and build their portfolios, they add new skills with each experience. Shooting RAW is usually one of the skills that comes later in the game, because it requires special editing software to work with RAW files.

I won’t get into the nitty-gritty of what RAW files are unless you ask, because boring, but I’d liken it to the difference between getting your oil changed at Jiffy Lube and changing the oil on your car yourself. Changing your oil isn’t actually hard, exactly, but you have to know a certain amount about cars and have certain tools to be able to even figure out where your oil pan is to begin with, let alone get to the part where you change it. Knowing what to do with RAW files is sort of like that.

RAW files offer a whole lot more control over your images, and more importantly, they give you a much better chance at fixing something after the fact than JPEGs do. Even in my professional wedding experiences, I’ve occasionally had situations where my flash didn’t fire during the first dance, or I metered incorrectly and overexposed or underexposed a photo and RAW files let me fix those things in a way that’s way less noticeable than JPEG. So ask if your photographer will shoot RAW for your wedding. That said, because editing RAW files can be tricky, especially when you’re just getting started as a photographer, I’d give yourself an extra safety net and ask your photographer to shoot RAW with JPEGs as a backup—it’s a simple switch in the camera’s menu. That way you get both finished images straight out of the camera, and the safety net of an editable image just in case those don’t come out the way you want them to. A few things to keep in mind if your photographer is shooting RAW:

  • RAW files take up a lot more memory space. Check to see if your photographer has enough memory cards to shoot RAW and JPEG at the same time, and if they don’t, consider buying a few extras. You don’t want to end up in a situation where your photographer is deleting photos as they go, or where they run out of space halfway through the reception.
  • This next tip is a hot button tip in the wedding industry, but like I said, I live dangerously. During the contract-signing phase, ask your photographer if they will give you the RAW images to keep, and get it in writing if they do. Particularly if your photographer is a friend or family member and their portfolio is less developed, having the RAW files gives you the option to not only edit the photos at a later date, but to even hire a professional editing service to pretty them up for you (Colorati and Fotofafa are two of the more popular ones in the wedding industry). Editing can do a lot for images. Sometimes the difference between an okay photo and a good one is as simple as a good crop and other times a photo requires more nuanced editing. It’s much easier to ask in advance than when you get back the finished images and have to tell your Uncle Ned you’re not in love with the filter he used on the photos.

Most wedding and photography websites will try to convince you that hiring a non-professional is a recipe for disaster. And while sometimes that’s true (and I wish and pray it doesn’t happen to you), hiring a non-professional wedding photographer can be a great exchange. It can mean getting professional-looking wedding photos at a price you can afford while also helping emerging artists to build their portfolios. But like anything else, sometimes the best defense is a good offense. Unless you managed to snag that wedding unicorn I mentioned above. In which case, all bets are off and I want your life.

Four Tips For Hiring A Non Professional Wedding Photographer | A Practical Wedding

How To Choose A Wedding Photographer: Part I

How To Choose A Wedding Photographer: Part II

How To Choose A Wedding Photographer: Part III

How To Avoid Photo Fatigue At Your Wedding

Photo by APW Sponsor Emily Takes Photos

Maddie Eisenhart

Maddie is the Managing Editor of A Practical Wedding. She’s been writing stories about boys and crushes since she was old enough to form shapes into words, but received her formal training (and a BS) in the art of talking from NYU in 2008. In her spare time, she takes pictures of people in love. Maddie lives on a pony farm in the Bay Area with her husband Michael, her Mastiff named Juno, and her roommate named Joe.

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  • Hannah

    I would think if you were hiring an amateur photographer who you know is capable of taking decent pictures, the last thing you would want to do is ask them to use unfamiliar equipment or camera settings. I think keeping your own expectations in check could be good advice. Also, asking a few different guests to take photos just to hedge your bets could be a good idea.

    • http://andshelovesyou.com Lucy

      I don’t think Maddie is saying to rent equipment that your photographer doesn’t normally use, but that it’s a good idea to have a backup lens that is the same as what you’re using. So if it breaks/falls/gets sticky drink spilled on it, the day is not lost.

      And shooting RAW images doesn’t change other camera settings. It’s just a menu item that tells your camera what format to save the files in. My point and shoot actually does this, so I use it for larger events. Then I can get photos edited somewhere and they hardly look like they came from my teensy little camera.

    • meg

      Couple things: one, Maddie is talking less about hiring an amateur (though some of these tips could apply there), and more about hiring a non-pro. IE, someone who’s interested in getting in the business, passionate about photography, but not there yet.

      Regardless, the issue here is that camera equipment is EXPENSIVE, so often people don’t have what they’d like to use. Solution: rent it for them. Obviously, rent them stuff they know how to use, or rent it for them early, so they can practice. But you should be renting them what they REQUEST, not just random crap you think they should have. Because let’s just assume they know way more about this than you (or I) do.

      Also, Lucy is right, there is nothing different about shooting RAW. I (the least experienced photographer on the planet) shoot in Raw if Maddie is going to be editing my photos. You just change the menu setting, and the way the photo is stored is different.

      • http://www.smittenchickens.com SarahHoppes

        Also, most rental places have 3 day rental deals over the weekend, or if you’re getting equipment online, they often start at a 3 day rental period. Which means non-pro/hobbyist photographers who already have a good grasp of how their camera works can practice with a rented lens or two so they are familiar with it’s limitations and strengths. If people are renting equipment for a friend to shoot their wedding, they should definitely take advantage of that.

      • Copper

        Also a tip for this is that many cameras have the option to shoot RAW + Tiff or RAW + jpeg. That way if they find working with RAW too unwieldy when it comes to it, they have a backup that they know how to handle.

        If you decide to do that, I’d highly recommend Tiffs over jpegs though, because the compression of a jpeg degrades it ever-so-slightly over time. So if the photog opens it up, touches up some weird flyways, adjust lighting, saves it, sends it to you, who opens it to look at it, then saves-as to a different location because you don’t know better, then later on decide it needs to be a little lighter, or be cropped to fit a certain print you’re doing, opens it, does that, saves again… pretty soon you’ve got something that’s akin to having a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy. Every time you save, you lose a tiny bit of data with a jpeg. An uncompressed format like Tiff (or RAW) avoids this effect.

    • Maddie

      These are all totally valid points. Regarding renting new equipment, if someone is familiar with a specific brand of DSLR isn’t actually all too crazy. Often the mechanics are the same, but there improved internal elements, and maybe a button moved from the top to the bottom. But actually (and somewhat surprisingly) they get easier to use as you get into the better cameras. And as Meg mentioned below, most of the time we’re talking about lenses anyway, which go a long way towards making better pictures.

      In short, we were talking about the point-and-shoot to DSLR level of upgrade, then YES. But once you get into DSLRs, it’s actually really easy to catch on (just don’t rent them a different brand! Yikes!)

    • http://www.briantoddphotography.com Brian

      Asking friends to also takes pictures is a disaster for a couple of reasons. Ask any wedding photographer, and their single biggest problem is guests getting in the way with their cameras and camera phones, which risks ruining the shot. Don’t hire someone if you don’t think they can get the shots you want. A $5,000 photographer should get fancier and/or more artistic shots, but even if you’re getting an newer photographer, don’t hire them if you don’t have confidence they will get what they said they would get. Your guests with their camera phones will only ruin the final product for which you paid.

  • Kestrel

    Something else you should remember: if a friend is your photographer, be aware that they cannot be a guest – not really. Shooting a wedding is work and there are a lot of people who seem to think their friends can just shoot photos in between drinks and it will turn out like all the photos they post on facebook.

    Nope. Just not how it works. If you want your friend to be a guest and a photographer, realize that you will get far fewer photos, and they will likely be lower quality. They also may accidentally miss some ‘important’ moments. You have to decide whether that’s ok with you.

    • Copper

      This is a good point. We avoided hiring a friend for this reason, because we want them to be able to be a guest. Now I’m wondering if we should mention it, in case he’s offended that we didn’t hire him!

  • Jeanine

    Please, oh please, could we have a similar post on “Tips for Hiring a Non-Professional Wedding Band?” We have some friends playing at our wedding reception in October. We are paying them as professionals…but they aren’t acting like it. Help! Please!

    • http://www.piercedwonderings.com Jen

      that sucks :(

      My husband’s father’s band played our reception, and they were awesome. They treated it very professionally…but then again, they’re all, as they say, “old dudes who have been around the block” and knew what they were willing to do and what they weren’t willing to do.

      It sounds like y’all need to sit down and have a conversation. What exactly are you paying for and what exactly are you getting? In our case, the $400 my father-in-law paid his band got us 2, 45-minute sets and the use of the band’s lighting and sound equipment for the duration of the ceremony and the reception. It also included the band’s sound guy managing the sound for the ceremony (music cues and mic for the officiant, etc).

      Everyone has to get on the same page, the sooner the better.

    • Emmy

      I’d think the tip about putting together a contract would be applicable to your situation. Then you can state your expectations and they can let you know if they think they can meet them. Good luck!

  • Hilary

    I had my brother and his wife shoot my wedding. We had a destination wedding so it worked well that I paid for their room at the resort for the 5 days(helped them since they were in the poor college stage of life) and I got unedited pictures in RAW and JPEG loaded to my computer that night. They still edited and put together an album but I was able to see my pictures the next day if I wanted. They did an amazing job. But they have the professional level cameras/lenses/skills that made this a very non-risky choice for me.

  • http://www.ronmphoto.com Ron

    Shooting raw will save you on a few photos but you don’t want to count on them fixing all their photos in photoshop. A test run is good, be sure to view photos as you go and give input. If you are directing too much then maybe it’s not right? I have heard more horror stories than happy endings now that dslr is available and has an auto setting, just do heavy research and you may be ok. All the good ones charged much less than their premium rates at some point. Good luck!

  • http://www.marbleryephotography.com Melissa

    These are all great tips. If you’re dealing with someone from the hobbyist to amateur side of the scale, they will geek out if you offer to rent them a great lens or two (of their choosing). Along with thoughtful editing, using great lenses is going to bring you closer to professional looking photos.

    • meg

      You know how photographers say “It’s not the lens?” Coughbullshitcough.

      Well, KIND OF.

      I could never ever shoot like Maddie, or Emily, or any of my super talented pro photographer friends. But now that I have a good lens, I can shoot pretty decent pictures. In short, the lens REALLY REALLY REALLY matters. And for those of us sans photography talent, it’s important, because a good lens allows us to get good shots. My vacation photos are now beautiful. Not pro, but beautiful. (But no, I could never ever shoot your wedding, even as a favor. Not talented enough for candids.)

      • http://www.smittenchickens.com SarahHoppes

        The lens TOTALLY matters!

        If you want that pretty blurred background, or you want to be able to shoot in a dark chapel without blasting a flash in everyone’s face, you will have trouble with a cheap lens. You can have all the talent in the world, but the gear will have it’s limitations.

        Offering to rent a backup camera body in addition to a lens or two will cover their ass in case something happens to their camera body while they are shooting. Renting a duplicate of the camera they already have means they will know how to use it if they are in a pinch, and you’re less likely to miss important moments.

        • Angie

          You need a lens that can do an aperture of 2.8 if you’re getting married indoors. Period.

      • http://jessicaschillingphotography.com Jessica Schilling

        I think when most photographers say “it’s not the lens that makes the photographer” they are more referring to the fact that you could have the best possible equipment and no clue how to use it, vs. someone with experience and skills knowing how to get the most out of the same or lesser equipment. Renting someone an f/ 2.8, or even 1.2, lens will not automatically get you better results if they don’t know what light to look for or what other settings to use. It will give them more options than a slower lens, definitely, which is a great start but it is all the other stuff that goes along with it that matters too and factors into “it’s not the lens.”

  • http://www.piercedwonderings.com Jen

    We used a concert photographer who was looking to break into wedding photography for our photos, as well as a friend’s wife who is getting a degree in photo journalism. It was what we could afford, and we got a few great photos (including one of my puppy…who isn’t a puppy, but who will always be my puppy…in her wedding finery that is my favorite picture ever). Not a ton of great photos, but a few great photos. I think in total, our photographer gave us 50 photos? Mostly from before the ceremony. A few of the ceremony. A great photo of my husband and I laughing during our first dance. A great photo of my husband and his mother during their dance. Other than that, none really of the reception.

    We didn’t sign a contract, and I think we should have. One of my greatest stresses of the wedding day was my photographer. She was supposed to arrive at 4:00. I started calling her at 4:30. When I couldn’t get ahold of her at 4:45, I popped an Ativan. She rolled in at 5:15…for a wedding that started at 6:00. By then, I was slightly high from the Ativan and a drink someone had shoved in my hand so I didn’t really care by that point.

    I’ve actually recommended her to others, and from what I’ve heard, she’s learned things along the way and gotten much better and more professional.

    • http://www.alacartealbums.com Jane

      I want to second the concert photographer suggestion; they tend have more experience working in weird lighting (assuming they shoot in clubs; look at their pictures first, of course!). I’ve seen a lot of couples with solid results from concert photographers and that consistency isn’t matched by, say, professional product photographers, where the kills needed are wildly different.

      • http://www.piercedwonderings.com Jen

        She actually didn’t get too many shots of our reception because she said the lighting was “weird”…which was odd to me because she’s a concert photographer…she’s used to that, supposedly. (we were in a tent outdoors. Was much brighter than a club. So that was odd)

        We’d invited her (& her family…we knew that she had a young baby as well as 2 pre-teen daughters) out to our rehearsal the night before so she could get a feel for the lighting and location at the time that the wedding would be taking place. My husband’s parents even offered to pay her an additional $100 just to come out that night, and there was plenty of extra food and drink for everyone. She said she was going to come but then never did. I think if she had come out the night before, she wouldn’t have had so many difficulties the night of the wedding.

        We were one of her first weddings, and by all accounts all the bumpiness that we had with her has smoothed out.

        • Angie

          One of the things that can make tent lighting “weird” if you’re not used to it is that the open sides of the tent let in light. This can can make the background brighter than the subject you’re shooting because the top of the tent “covers” the subject, preventing, say, sunlight, from illuminating them from the top. If you don’t know what you’re doing or have your camera set in automatic metering mode, the camera might meter for the bright background, making your subject too dark. You need fill flash. This is not the case at concerts. At all. I wasn’t there, so I can’t say for sure, but that’s one possible explanation.

      • http://www.alacartealbums.com Jane

        Skills, dangit. What an embarrassing time for the edit button to fail me!

  • Cleo

    The part of me that’s a lawyer wants to add something about the contract:

    If you want it to be enforceable, you need to offer the photographer consideration in exchange for their services. Consideration means something of measurable value ($1 is the standard for consideration if you both don’t want to make it a paying gig), and the value needs to be written into the contract.

    But it doesn’t have to be money. It could be something like, in exchange for Y renting photographer X a super nice set of lenses for the weekend of MM-DD, X will photograph the wedding of Y and Z.

    “Experience” is not valid consideration.

    Even if you know you’re never going to sue your friend to enforce the contract, I find that making it legally binding makes both parties take their obligation more seriously.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      Also a lawyer, and wondering if promissory estoppel would apply.

      Shared publication rights might be adequate consideration. That is, that both the photographer and the couple could post the photos online and the photographer could cause them to be distributed in print. I know that’s a term we bargained about with our professional photographer. (Of course, some couples don’t want the photographer to have publication rights.)

      Another publication consideration is indemnity for libel. The most likely libel arising from wedding photography is a very unflattering picture of a guest that gets posted online. We agreed to indemnify our photographer against such claims. Homeowner’s and renter’s insurance often covers publication torts, and this might be consideration that doesn’t directly cost the couple cash.

  • http://irvingplace.net Kayjayoh

    On the flip side, as someone who is a serious amateur and trying to get into shooting on a more professional basis (starting with answering ads on CL), this is also useful information to have. Thank you for sharing, Maddie!

  • Stalking Sarah

    I wish I’d been more upfront about getting ALL the pics from our wedding. Our photographer gave us 600+ awesome shots, but there are ones that I remember her taking, but that I never got. When I asked for them, she said (essentially) that they didn’t meet her standard, so she wouldn’t give them to us, as it would bring down her brand. But I’m like, I don’t give two figs about your brand! I want that picture of Uncle Fred!

    • Kestrel

      I really understand her point though. You’ll be showing these photographs, possibly for years to come. You’ll also be able to tell people who took those photographs. If she gets a photo that isn’t up to her standards, that could suddenly be a picture that represents her, and that could be very problematic if others saw it. No one can every have 100% success on photography, and it may even be that that photo of Uncle Fred was horrendously underexposed and you wouldn’t be able to see him anyway.

      So while I totally get that you want all of the photos, I totally get why photographers don’t give all their photos.

    • Anneka

      As a pro-wedding photographer I can almost guarantee you that the photo of Uncle Fred etc you saw your wedding photographer take was un-useable, which is why she didn’t hand it over (along with the other 1000 photos that “didn’t meet her standard”). Most likely he had his eyes shut or it was blurry, because the focusing unit didn’t focus quickly enough.
      And although I totally understand that my clients don’t care too much about my “brand”, they just want as many photos as possible of their guests, I never (well, almost never. I made an exception for a pro-photographer friend once because I knew he knows how to work with RAW files) hand over RAW files or unedited photos, for exactly the reason Kestrel mentioned.
      I also make sure my clients understand that they don’t employ me to take photos of every single person at the wedding. If you want that, that is what a photo booth is for. I am there to document the day and tell the story of the wedding and ultimately, although I obviously try to capture every single moment/person, I decide which photos to hand over and the reason is that I want my clients to trust me that they will get a bunch of awesome photos that make them happy, not some blurry, badly exposed, eye-shut mediocre crap (excuse my french).

  • http://kateo.org Kate

    Great post! I’ve been on both sides of this relationship — I photographed a friend’s wedding for free a few years ago (I’m a “hobbyist,” I guess) and I wish I’d had this as a reference back then! Renting a fancier lens would have been amazing and a simple thing to do that would have probably helped. I’d have loved it if either of us had thought of it. Same with a practice session in the chapel. We had some unexpected changes on the day of the wedding, switching from shooting the group photos outdoors to shooting them indoors, and the lighting was a big issue. A different lens, RAW, and some practice would have helped. I also had a tough time negotiating the line between photographer and guest (I ate, drank, and danced, but also shot throughout the entire event), which was also an unexpected challenge for me. I didn’t want to miss any shots while I was standing at the bar, but I also wanted to enjoy myself at my friends’ wedding, you know? Over all, though, the photos turned out well and the couple was happy with them, so all’s well that ends well!

    On the other side of the equation, my fiancé and I just hired a photographer for our wedding — someone who is just beginning his professional career and mostly has experience shooting theatrical performances. He’s done one wedding before and we loved the work we saw, so we have faith that his photos for us will be great. In addition to saving quite a bit of money, I really, really like the idea of giving a newer photographer the chance to build his portfolio. And, suffice it to say, he is MUCH more professional than I was when I worked with on my friends’ wedding!

  • http://harberphotography.com Gabriel Harber

    I don’t know if this has been touched on, but I also want to add that craigslist can be an excellent resource for finding able photographers who are way cheaper the seasoned pros (says a somewhat seasoned pro). When I first started out I advertised on craigslist and searched craigslist for people looking to hire photographers for their weddings. I now almost always post on craigslist when I am looking for second shooters. Sure I have had to wade through a lot of really not rad photography, but I have always found great photographers hidden in the sea of not so great ones. And the contract, test run, and shooting RAW things are great guidelines for whoever you end up hiring.

  • Michelle

    SO helpful! We’re planning to ask a friend that we do political organizing with that takes amazing pictures of our political actions and is trained in photography but doesn’t really do events. If others have done similar things, what do you do about price? Obviously we want to support an artist that we feel is pretty awesome, but photography isn’t a priority in our budget. I wouldn’t even know where to start in offering a price point.

    Any ideas?

    • Laura C

      We’re having our photography done by my fiance’s former housemate, who’s in the stage of still working a day job but trying to get to be a full-time professional photographer. Wedding had not been his thing, but as his friends get married he’s realizing he could use their weddings to build a wedding-specific portfolio and have that help him move toward his goal. We’ve been to one wedding he did, and the pictures we saw turned out great, and he’ll be doing at least one more friend’s wedding before ours. He asked for $1,000 plus travel, which we’re happy to pay. But for him it really is part of trying to build a business, so somewhat different thing.

    • Heather

      We hired someone who was trying to build his portfolio. He’d done two weddings and had done a lot of family photo shoots. He charged us $500 for an 8 hour day.

    • http://www.jalondraadavis.com Jalondra

      I learned the hard way that offering any less than $400, even for someone without a lot of wedding experience, unless they are very close to you, is offputting. My photographer was a good friend of my older sisters who my family has patronized and help her build her portfolio for previous shoots who did good portraits and couple shoots but as far as I know, hadn’t done a wedding. We paid $650 for two events (we had a beach brunch wedding and a barbecue picnic the next day) and we are very happy with our pictures. For a friend building a portfolio I think the 500-1000 range is very appropriate.

  • http://raisingthedough.wordpress.com Marina

    Heh, I didn’t do any of those things. :) But the main reason I didn’t hire a professional photographer was that I honestly didn’t care a lot about having super quality pictures after the event. I got a bunch of posed photos that look mostly ok, and a ton of snapshops of varied artistic merit but huge emotional merit, and feel totally stoked about it. I would suggest maybe adding a #5, make sure your expectations are appropriate for your unique situation. How soon after the wedding do you want to get the pictures? Do you want to do all the editing yourself, even basic color/light adjustments? Are you planning to print up a 50 page album, or a few 8x10s to go on your wall, or put everything up on a website? Depending on the results you want, you’ll want to change the things you ask for.

    • Rainer Lucks

      I am a dedicated passionate professional Photographer and have been doing Weddings since 2006. A professional Photographer would not provide Raw files to his Clients. I do wonder about such comments and what Planet this is coming from? A Pro does the shoot then post edits each image spending many hours behind his costly professional equipment. This can range from 20 to 40 hours! The photo shoot is merely a piece of Cake in comparison! Ones all images have been painstakingly post processed, they are then compiled in to a finished product. Why would any Photographer hand out Raw files so that his photo shoot can be compromised with ill adjusted images? I will only hand out JPG images and a Slide Show on a DVD for my Client. The JPG are of a size that is not suitable for printing. Any Prints required are ordered through the Photographer. After all. I have good reputation to keep and there for will endeavour in protecting it and my hard quality photo work. Ever thought about that?

  • Jeannie

    I feel that these ideas are ways to take on more risk/liability and delayed costs in order to avoid immediate costs. Liability and delayed costs do not equal to saving money.

    You can rent the equipment for your amateur photographer, but keep in mind that according to Borrowlenses.com, stolen/lost/irreparably damaged equipment is not covered by insurance http://www.borrowlenses.com/page/about#Insurance. Only unintentional damage is covered. For damaged equipment, you still have to pay a 12% of value fee or repair fee. For an amateur who may not be used to carrying so much stuff, taking care of this equipment might not be part of his skill set. You also need a big bag for all this stuff, possibly a locking one that can be attached to a secure object. Gotta rent that, too, unless you want to be responsible for $10,000 in lost/stolen/irreparably damaged equipment.

    Whatsmore, have them shoot in RAW, and you’re on the hook for more delayed expenses, either by hiring out image processing or buying the software ($150+) that can read RAW files. Most professionals spend many hours going through the images, adjusting, and curating their clients’ collections. Imagine trying to learn new software (many hours) and feeling the paralysis of not knowing how to make great choices (also many more hours).

    Signing a contract is a great idea, but man, doesn’t it feel a little icky to set forth such high expectations–those that you would expect of a professional–of someone who’s essentially doing you a favor (this is a 15-40+ hour-long favor)?

    There are lots of ways to save money, and APW has many great ideas for them. However, taking on risk and liability in order to save money does not make good financial sense. If you really need a photographer, lower your expectations and find a beginning professional who has, at minimum, liability and equipment insurance.

    • http://unexpected-moments.blogspot.ca/ Sheryl

      It all comes down to how much you care about the wedding pictures, right? If XYZ missing shot is going to make you freak out, non-pro photography probably isn’t for you. If you’re not that fussed but just feel like you need some sort of photo evidence of the event, and it isn’t something you feel like prioritizing financially it’s likely a great idea.

      Case in point, me. I eloped. I have a couple dozen photos and that is more than what I needed to be happy. There’s maybe three that I’d ever consider framing/displaying … but my husband and I aren’t big “picture” people. As much as I would have loved photos if I’d done a bigger event they weren’t something that I would have cherished and found the value in long term. Not worth thousands of dollars to me, and I would have been thrilled going the non-pro route just so I could have some photo evidence.

  • Sophi

    I know this comment is late – but just wanted to say that we didn’t do any of this and it worked out great! We have a friend who is a photographer who offered to photograph the wedding as our gift, and he did a great job! He is already a pro, so we didn’t need to rent equipment or anything, but we also didn’t sign a contract and we were happy with that arrangement. I think this also stems in part from the fact that if he hadn’t offered his services, we wouldn’t have hired a photographer! We didn’t care that much about wedding photos and figured the ones our friends took would be good enough. That being said, we really love the pro photos we got, so, there’s that. :-)

  • Marta

    We used a photographer who normally does artsy things or portraits, but since we more or less eloped, she was willing to shoot our ceremony. I paid $150, she gave me over 100 pictures, and it was amazing. (My MIL hated her, but she hates everything so it’s a mute point…)

    It’s totally worth looking in to people who “don’t normally do weddings.”

    • Rainer Lucks

      Yes but you took a risk on your Wedding day. One has to ask if the risk is worth it? On this occasion you appear to be satisfied. It could have gone the other way….

  • Angie

    By the time you rent equipment for your friend, ask them to do a test shoot, stress over their professionalism (a hour and 15 minutes late and you’re popping Ativan?!? Oy.), pay for a service to edit the raws you asked them to shoot inpost-production and bought them the kind of fast-writing digital card that can handle simultaneous raw+jpg capture for hours at a time so they aren’t deleting on the fly and worrying that they’re not having a good time because you’ve asked them to straddle the pro/friend boundary then potentially gotten screwed because your contract wasn’t specific enough… please, I beg you, just hire a pro. Your wedding memories aren’t worth the gamble.

    • Elemjay

      Not everyone has the same priorities! And just cos the photographer is “pro” doesn’t mean they’re wonderful. We had our wedding ceremony in one country (with friends taking photos) and our big reception in another country (with a “pro” photographer). Which ones will I be looking at in 50 years time? The ones taken by our friends – big time. Paying for pro photos was a bit of a waste of money for me. Maybe we didn’t get the right person but the act of paying for something doesn’t necessarily make it better. YMMV obviously…..

      • http://www.smittenchickens.com SarahHoppes

        As a pro wedding photographer, I think the post’s advice is spot-on.

        If one of the top priorities for a couple is good photos, they should definitely hire someone who shoots weddings as their business, because they will avoid a lot of the pitfalls this advice is helping to avoid -they will be fully covered by liability and equipment insurance, they will treat your wedding as a serious commitment because it’s their livelihood, and they will be prepared for all the lighting situations that could throw off someone relatively new to photography. They will either have all the gear they need to do a great job, or they will know what needs to be rented. All of the extras you would have to buy if you had a friend shoot your wedding (renting extra lenses/camera body/flashes, post production software to open RAW files, fast writing CF/SD cards, and photo retouching) would already be included in the fee, and it would be way, way simpler for the couple in the end.

        BUT if photography isn’t a huge deal, and someone just wants basic photos of their wedding, and they have reasonable expectations about what will happen (ie, you could end up with just a handful of photos you really like/love, and some of them won’t be of the parts of the day that were most important to you, and they most likely won’t look like the photos you see from people who shoot weddings for a living), asking a friend who is good a photography or someone trying to get their portfolio started makes a lot of sense.

    • http://jessicaschillingphotography.com Jessica Schilling

      I agree with Angie. If photography isn’t a big priority for a couple, that’s fine and there are tons of people who can adequately capture fine or even great images of your wedding. But most of these tips seem like they are trying to rapidly accelerate a non-pro into professional shooting and business practices at warp speed. So yes, by the time you have looked into all these additional costs for gear rentals, editing software, extra memory cards, liability and equipment insurance, possibly having a lawyer draft a contract or purchasing one, maybe it’s worth it to check if there was someone else out there who already has these systems in place that would be a better deal? And if photographs aren’t as much of a priority, do you need to go through all these steps with your amateur photographer to get them up to professional speed, or do you like what they’re already doing with their own equipment and editing, enough to have that be sufficient for your wedding photos?

  • Girly Emo

    Thanks For This Post… It Would Be Nice If You Do A Post For Wedding Cards Also

  • Mallory

    We hired an acquaintance of mine from high school that I knew did photography for fun and had some photography courses under her belt. I had seen her photos from previous shoots on Facebook and was really impressed with her work.

    I contacted her, set up a meeting, and negotiated her price. We signed a contract, made sure to include the ever important “what if the photog has an emergency and can’t make it” back-up plan, and communicated our expectations to one another verbally and on paper.

    After that, I had a blast working with her. My photos turned out wonderfully and we even got a second shooter thrown in for free when one of her photography friends got a new camera that they wanted to test out (they asked beforehand, of course). When we returned from the honeymoon, the photographer dropped off an SD card 3 days later with nearly 400 (edited) photos for us. Everyone was more than happy: we got amazing photos at an amazing price, the photographers got paid to do what they love, and even used their extra tip to subsidize the price of shooting a wedding for a couple that wouldn’t have been able to afford a photographer on their own. I have so many feels about the fact that our wedding “paid it forward” to another couple.

    • Rainer Lucks

      For starters. It is not the Clients job to make sure what a Photographer should know anyway. It is ludicrous to suggest that this Lady ought to make sure what file format the Photographer is using, if he has enough memory cards, if his batteries are charged and has spare ones and so on.
      Clients are not Photographers! They know very little or nothing about settings, procedures and so on or they would be doing their own Wedding shoot. Lol! All any potential Client needs to be concerned with is called a Portfolio. Some track record. If you like what the Portfolio is showing you then may like to take to the next step. If there is no Portfolio and if you are comfortable enough with it ask him to do the Wedding shoot for nothing in order to help him get started as I do not go knocking any Learner.
      This way he gets his first Portfolio and you get a no cost to you Wedding Photos. of course there is a risk and you need to decide if the risk is worth it to you.
      Other than that? I will counter much of what Anneka has written who sounds more like an Amateur. No professional Photographer will ever start a Wedding shoot with just ONE Camera! I have 3 Cameras and 2 Pro Flash Units with another one to be added. I even have a spare Lens for the one I use mostly.
      One must have a back up system in place. No Client is interested as to why a Photographer failed to complete a Job. Period! As for the $500.00 job? Hell! You got more than what you paid for. Stop whinging..

  • Carol

    Hmm, I may have found the wedding unicorn photographer. He is a pro landscape photographer and his landscape photography is beautiful. He is trying to break into the wedding market (maybe the landscape photography isn’t quite paying the bills?). Anyway, he is charging us $500 for all day at the wedding plus a bridal portrait shoot plus an engagement session. We payed an extra $200 for him to travel to another state to do our engagement photos. The engagement photos turned out really great and he really knew what he was doing. They were outdoors on a mountaintop at sunset.
    The two biggest concerns that I have going forward is his lack of experience with weddings in general and lack of experience with indoor photography. I think that I will have to be very proactive in telling him what pictures I want and what the timeline will be. I can’t rely on him to know what group portraits need to be taken. As far as indoor photography and weird lighting, I guess I just have to hope that he can handle it?

    • Anneka

      I wouldn’t worry too much about weird lighting problems and the likes. You are hiring a pro, so he knows how to deal with difficult light because he (hopefully) knows how to shoot in manual mode. And he knows how to post-process photos. Just make sure he shoots RAW (and tell him not to bother with shooting jpegs at the same time, it is a waste of memory space in my opinion. There is nothing that jpegs can do that RAW files can’t) and he has enough memory cards (for a full day he’ll need between 24 and 30 gigabyte of memory) and a spare fully charged battery for his camera. If he isn’t sure what lens to use and he only has one camera body, then I recommend a 24-70mm f2.8 lens and to also bring a telephoto for sneaky unobtrusive snapping and/or a super fast 50mm (f1.8 or faster) for low light party fun. When I first started I shot entire weddings on a 24-70mm lens with one camera body, it’s totally possible to get fine photos. If he has two camera bodies, then great! He can use a 24-70mm and a telephoto side by side :)

      What non-pro wedding photographers often have trouble with is being in the right spot at the right moment. Weddings are pretty fast paced and positioning is everything. As a landscape photographer your guy probably has a good eye for composition but he might miss key moments because he is used to having lots of time to set up the perfect shot (landscapes don’t really move and he can take things slowly).

      So in addition to giving him a list with your ‘must-have’ photos, I suggest you help him take awesome photos…

      If you are having ‘getting ready’ photos, tidy up the room! Plastic bags and clothes strewn all over the place make for very unattractive pictures.

      When you get out of the car, do it slowly and look up and smile. It’s one of the most difficult shots to get right because many brides are too busy wrangling their wedding dress.

      Allow enough time for posed pictures, and ask your photographer to take multiple shots. If he only takes one picture he’ll likely end up with half the people having their eyes shut.

      Oh and if you want awesome pictures… don’t forget to SMILE :) (sounds obvious but a lot of people look very strained when they are nervous) and if you are doing the whole “you may kiss the bride thing” do it properly, not just a quick peck on the lips! ;)

  • Rainer Lucks

    I am a dedicated passionate professional Photographer and have been doing Weddings since 2006. A professional Photographer would not provide Raw files to his Clients. I do wonder about such comments and what Planet this is coming from? A Pro does the shoot then post edits each image spending many hours behind his costly professional equipment. This can range from 20 to 40 hours! The photo shoot is merely a piece of Cake in comparison! Ones all images have been painstakingly post processed, they are then compiled in to a finished product. Why would any Photographer hand out Raw files so that his photo shoot can be compromised with ill adjusted images? I will only hand out JPG images and a Slide Show on a DVD for my Client. The JPG are of a size that is not suitable for printing. Any Prints required are ordered through the Photographer. After all. I have good reputation to keep and there for will endeavour in protecting it and my hard quality photo work. Anyone ever thought about that?
    http://www.capture-photography-sa.com.au

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