Amber Wilkie: Washington, D.C. Wedding and Courthouse Photography

One of the things I love most about APW sponsors is that they are constantly evolving to meet the needs of this community. Case in point: the recent rise in photographers adding courthouse, city hall, and elopement packages their services. (Editor’s note: RAD. And I love that the motivation is about giving people who love photography, but not big weddings, a way to memorialize their vows. Instead of the WIC, which is just trying to convince you that you should spend as much on your city hall wedding as your Ritz Carlton one.) But you’ve gotta love a photographer who not only specializes in courthouse and elopement photography, but who actually eloped herself. Which is exactly what you get from DC-based photographer Amber Wilkie, who has recently taken her (amazing) no-nonsense approach to wedding photography and tailored it to the courthouse.

Now, before I kick it to Amber to talk about her passion for this kind of photography, let’s just take a minute to talk about these photos. Because here’s the thing. I’ve shot city hall weddings. I had a city hall wedding. And what Amber does? I can’t even put my finger on it. But I know it gives me butterflies in my stomach. (The one above made me feel like I was actually back in the county clerk’s office again, signing my own marriage license. So, like I said. Butterflies.)

On top of stunning photos, Amber Wilkie also makes city hall wedding photography super easy, which is no surprise to me coming from the lady who proudly states on her website, “Forewarning: I will call you dude. I will overuse the word actually. But I also promise to never refer to your photography package as an ‘investment.’ We try to keep it real over here.”

And keep it real she does. Amber told me, “It’s really important for me to make everything about working with me super easy—from my contracts, to my timing, to accessibility and emails. I’m not going to stress you out on your wedding day—promise.” In fact, Amber’s even put together a really helpful PDF that focuses solely on small weddings, elopements, and courthouse ceremonies. Her no-nonsense $850 package is just for small weekday weddings (Monday–Thursday), and includes up to two hours of shooting anywhere within the Beltway, plus you get all of your high-res images too. Amber also has options for outside of the Beltway, for Friday and weekend weddings, and she even offers special albums tailored specifically to courthouse weddings, which are just $300. And since Amber Wilkie is all about that no-nonsense business, those are just her rates plain and simple. Nothing “starting” here.

And now I’ll leave you with Amber, because what she has to say about her approach to courthouse photography is just so good, it doesn’t need anything else:

Hi, I’m Amber and I photograph courthouse weddings. I photograph lots of other kinds of weddings, too. Courthouse weddings sort of fell in my lap after I shot one amazing wedding that Google seemed to love. I was getting all these website hits for “courthouse wedding photography,” so I thought I’d just roll with it. I put together a helpful PDF and started talking about courthouse, elopement, and intimate weddings, and they’ve been coming in pretty great numbers ever since.

I love working with courthouse (and other small wedding) clients because in many cases they eliminate the accouterments that the wedding industry claims we all need—a huge party, an invitation for everyone we know, spending tens of thousands of dollars, even a honeymoon. Some of my clients just head on down to the courthouse like it ain’t no thang. In fact, in some cases, I am the big splurge, the thing that makes their wedding day special (these are their words, not mine! Of course your wedding day is special because… it’s the day you get married).

People have courthouse or very small weddings for all kinds of reasons, but here in DC people come to have their same-sex unions legally recognized, or because one member of the couple is a foreign national, or because they live here but are getting married back home and want to get married benefits right away, or for a number of other reasons. It’s a great joy to me to be able to document these smaller occasions that are anything but small in the lives of my clients.

Photographing courthouse ceremonies and more intimate weddings is also a way for me to work with clients that either don’t have the means or don’t have the interest to have the big wedding. Working big, all-day weddings is awesome and it’s my bread and butter, but it’s also great to work with folks who never considered that they might have professional photography on their wedding day.

So yes, I do big weddings, but I also know that a lot of APW clients have less traditional plans. I want to introduce folks to the idea of having professional photography at your courthouse/intimate/elopement wedding. Some people figure if they’re not having the big party, they won’t have photography, but that doesn’t have to be the case.

And then Amber talks about something that I love, but rarely ever see anymore:

Here’s another big point: if you have a smaller budget for photography, my suggestion is to hire someone for just a few hours. Instead of finding a low-budget photographer to be there all day, instead look for a professional who is willing to show for the amount of time you can pay for. Friends and family can grab snapshots from the rest of the wedding, while a professional captures the ceremony, family, and couple portraits, and maybe even the beginning of the reception—first dance and toasts—as time/budget allows. My policy is to book hourly like this starting two months out.

Which means that if you love photography, but can’t afford to hire someone for the full day, Amber Wilkie is available hourly (at $450 per hour with a two hour requirement) and will be happy to photograph just the important parts. Which. Is. Awesome. And not something you see many photographers offering these days.

So guys, if you’re in the DC area (that includes Arlington too!), and you’ve been toying with the idea of having a professional photographer document your courthouse wedding or elopement, then Amber Wilkie is your gal. On top of being a straight shooter with talent to spare, Amber is frankly just a great person (self-described as “such a nerd it’s possible I’ve come back around to being cool”).  So I encourage you to head over to her website and get to know her better. (Want to fall in love with Amber? Watch this video.) And then for the love of all that is good, come back here and share with us. Because after putting this post together and seeing all of these amazing images, I want to know the story behind each and every one.


Staff Picks

[Read comment policy before commenting]

  • CPM

    Amber is seriously so great! She’s shooting our (decidedly non-courthouse) wedding this summer. We found her through APW, so I’m super stoked to see her featured!

  • Emily

    That first photo is so fabulous!

  • LoLauren

    I’m doing a small wedding in Boston with just 16 family members (siblings and parents). When I tell people we’re doing a small wedding they still assume 100ish so I say, “like a courthouse wedding, but in a church courtyard” and that helps. As I’ve been looking at photographers its become clear that we don’t need the standard packages of all-day coverage so this was really fun to see. Now come up to Boston so you can take gorgeous photos for me too!

    • I totally would! But you know… with travel fees, it’d sorta defeat the purpose. But hey – I’m always telling people to negotiate on this issue. Probably some photographers hate me for that, but if you get within a couple months of the date, it’s very likely that we won’t be booking anything, and that makes hourly coverage attractive – from a business perspective. Ask the photographer you love if they’d be willing to do just a couple hours for you. They probably won’t be willing to commit far out from the date, but many, many photographers will budge on their lowest “package” if the wedding is coming up soon. Good luck!

      • LoLauren

        Awesome, thanks so much for the advice! (and I so, so love your photos!)

    • LoLauren, we had 13 people at our wedding, and when we told those who asked we were having a “small wedding” they assumed there would be many more people, and that of course they would be invited. I never thought to describe it your way. That would have helped!

      Also, Amber, these photos are so emotive and pretty!

  • Oooh! Beautiful photography, lady. And (as a fellow wedding photographer) I completely, 100% support the idea of someone hiring us photogs for a small number of hours, if that is what their budget allows. We’re doing two hours of shooting for a couple in June, and we did three hours for a wedding last year- plus we’re doing a two hour “courthouse elopment” next month. In a way, these short weddings hold a special place in my heart– even if a couple cannot afford a lot, knowing professional photography is important to them is always something we are willing to work with, and we still get to share so many special moments with them since we’re usually there for just before the ceremony, the ceremony itself, couples portraits, and at least a few of the most important reception things if it’s a wedding-with-a-reception. (What is important, obviously, depends on the couple!)

    But, yeah– amazing photography. :)

  • CuriousLiz

    Amber is awesome! We found her through APW (and Yelp, where she has AMAZING reviews), and are super excited for her to shoot our wedding in August. She recently threw a beer-and-pizza party for her past & future clients, which was just so generous and FUN of her! It’s so lovely to see some of the other folks we met in the photos above! :D Amber, you rock!

    • Hi Liz!! It’s so fun to do these posts and have people I actually know comment on them. PS: You guys made a big impression on George :)