Do We Really Need Professional Photos of Our Courthouse Wedding?

AAPW: is this really something we'll regret? Because I kind of doubt it.

by Stephanie Kaloi


Q: I’m getting married in November 2016, and we’ve finalized the majority of our plans: venue, catering and alcohol, florist, and DJ. However, the one thing that we haven’t budgeted for (at all) is photography. I’m not a picture person. I never remember to take them, and the few picture frames I own are filled with pictures that were inserted about a decade ago and were never changed. In fact, I don’t have a single picture of my fiancé in a frame. The few pictures we have of ourselves together were posted on social media, but never developed or saved in any more meaningful way.

Our wedding is already eschewing many traditional aspects. We’re getting married at the courthouse with only parents and siblings in attendance and having a party the following weekend. So, the subject of many traditional shots (first look, proceeding down the aisle, etc.) won’t even be occurring. For all these reasons, we’re planning to ask a few friends and family members who are talented amateur photographers to simply share whatever photos they choose to take with us.

However, a common aphorism I have encountered over and over again in this wedding planning process is that your photos are the only tangible thing you take away from your wedding day. So even though I know that in my day-to-day life pictures aren’t something I value, I’m allowing the seemingly pervasive opinion of the importance of wedding photography to make me second-guess myself. I have never wanted pictures of any of the other landmark occasions in my life (graduations, swearing-in, etc.), but… what if my wedding is different?

Are the people who agonize about their wedding photos also the people who would never allow any other occasion to go un-photographed? Could you please share your perspective on the importance of photography?


A: Dear Sarah,

First, in the interest of honesty and disclosure and all of those things, let me get this out of the way: I am a wedding photographer. But I absolutely don’t think that a hundred percent of the time you must hire a photographer for your entire wedding day… I don’t.

Before we get there, let me tell you a story:

My husband and I got married at the courthouse almost ten years ago. It was perfect for us, because we couldn’t even begin to handle wedding planning that went beyond “Oh maybe we’ll get married in a field somewhere.” We picked the day we got married spontaneously (that morning), and we didn’t decide to tell our mothers until we were on our way to the courthouse. It didn’t occur to us that we might want a photo until my mom mentioned having a wind-up disposable camera in her purse and we asked the judge to snap a photo after the fact. This is what we came away with:

And you know what? I’m happy we have that photo, but I totally wish we had more. I don’t wish we had hired someone to follow us around for eight hours that day and document everything from us going to class the morning of to the celebratory margaritas we had after, but in hindsight I do wish we had something.

Which brings me to your idea: just asking the amateur photographers you know the share their photos. I dig that, because it involves your community, and I personally understand that small wedding days do not equal a huge need for full coverage. But consider this. In ten, twenty, thirty years, will you wish the photos you do have from the day you got married weren’t heavily filtered via Instagram? Is it likely that you’ll come away with even one physical photo from a day that ranks pretty high on the Important Days list, or will they all be posted to your aunt’s Facebook and ultimately lost to the digital sands of time?

do think wedding photography is important, and I often tell my couples the exact line that you parroted: your wedding photos are one of the few tangible things you take from your wedding day. As someone who has volunteered with elderly citizens, I’ve seen firsthand that people do love those tangible things: A photo from their baby’s first birthday. A photo from the day their husband came home from war. A photo from the day they got married. I’m not saying that you’ll forever regret not having professional photos from your wedding, but I also don’t mean that you might not experience a… twinge, if you don’t have something a bit more tangible, thirty years from now.

So here are two ideas: hire a local photographer at an hourly rate (you’d be surprised how many wedding photographers offer some kind of hourly deal for a courthouse wedding), or come up with a rock-solid plan for your most talented amateur photographer friend. If you go with the former, swell—that person will know what to do. If you opt for the latter, ask your friend to take five minutes of photos of the two of you on a higher resolution than a smartphone (or, you know, a disposable camera #sademoji). If you don’t have a DSLR on hand, they can be rented from sites like Lens Rentals.

Either way, make sure you print your photos. If you only keep the pictures on social media, they might be gone forever or compressed at an unprintable resolution. No one wants to look at their wedding photos and see a pixelated mess staring back at them.

In conclusion, to just flat-out answer your question, if you’ve never valued photos before, it’s unlikely that you’re going to mourn the lack of professional photos from your wedding day. But if you’ve got a couple of a hundred dollars to buy two hours of a pro’s time, or you have a friend with a semi-decent camera… then you’ve got a plan.


Stephanie Kaloi

Stephanie is a photographer, writer, and Ravenclaw living in California with her family. She is super into reading, road trips, and adopting animals on a whim. Forewarning: all correspondence will probably include a lot of punctuation and emoji (!!! ? ? ?).

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  • Cellistec

    As someone who didn’t get professional photos of her legal ceremony and regrets that, I agree with the hourly rate idea. Better to have them and not care about them than to not have them and wish you did.

  • I agree with everything Stephanie said! Another thing to think about — even if you and your partner aren’t picture people, your families might be. In my experience, wedding photos (particularly albums and big framed photos) are verrrrrry much for parents and grandparents. So I’d check with them and see if they feel strongly about it (and, if so, if they’d be willing to help cover the cost).

    • A.

      Yes! At first, my husband and I were a little frustrated that our wedding photos came back with about 75-80% glamour shots of the two of us. Like, it’s nice to have a couple, but any more than that was really puzzling to us. But you know who loooooooooves having a plethora of gorgeous photos of the two of us? Our moms. They’ve both created books and photo collages and slideshows and Facebook albums that make them so happy, even if it’s not our thing as much.

      So while in retrospect we still definitely would have asked our photographer for more of a 50/50 balance of pictures of us vs. pictures of our people, it became pretty clear pretty quickly that photographers don’t only take those photos for the couple’s desire to make their home a shrine to themselves. It’s for the families.

      • JenC

        On the other side, the pictures our photographers took of our parents are so amazing. We aren’t big photo families and so neither of us have many pictures of our parents but I really cherish those pictures of them. They’re beautiful and I will revisit those pictures in the future. However, my uncle is an amateur photographer and one of my favourite pictures of the day is one he took, so it doesn’t need to be a professional.

        • Danielle

          Yeah. We have some great pictures of my 96-year-old grandpa. He is still alive, thank g-d, but I think about how precious those photos will be in the future.

          In general, our families *never* get professional photos taken. It was a nice opportunity to get good pictures of all of us!

          NB: Beforehand I was also like, “Is this really worth it?” But we got a small, relatively reasonably-priced package from a good local photographer, and I think it was worth it. Our families love it. Now, if I could just get those books made….

      • Lexipedia

        Also, not just parents! My stepdad and mom got married when I was 21 and I think their adult kids are the ones that enjoy the pictures most. I was the one who put together their wedding album from the pro pictures, and I love having those pictures of them to look back on. Because they have multiple siblings and five kids combined we love that we have (beautiful) pictures of us all in the same place. Even my grandma’s (pretty shotgun) wedding had a few pictures taken, and although she never really looked at them early on she loved being able to have those once her parents and my grandfather had passed away.

        Alternative thought, if you decide to have a sibling or something get some amateur snaps of the ceremony you might think about getting a photographer for an hour at the party the next weekend. A good photographer can walk around and take some candid shots of you spending time with friends and family. Maybe you don’t care about ceremony pictures but might really appreciate documentation of all the people you love being in the same room.

  • lildutchgrrl

    My good friend with a good camera came along when my (now) wife and I signed domestic partnership papers at the UPS store. She got a couple shots of paperwork-signing and then we stepped outside to the park and she took a few more of us being schmoopy. I really love some of those. (I also loved that there was someone there who loved us and was excited for us, even though the wedding we’d planned for later that year was the main event.)

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  • Amy March

    I think if you felt strongly that you didn’t want photos or that you just couldn’t afford a photographer, the answer would be go for it, totally fine. But if you’re just sort of whatever about photos, not actively opposed, and you can reasonably afford them, I’d get them.

    My parents have one photo of their wedding. Just. One. And they simply couldn’t afford a photographer and most of their friends couldn’t afford cameras, and we all treasure that one picture, but I’d really love to see my grandparents at my parents wedding, and my aunts and uncles etc. They don’t have any regrets- it just wasn’t possible, but I think if they had the option and didn’t take it, they would regret it now.

    • Meg Keene

      Wise. I think a lot of people are making a smart point that wedding photos are not just (and maybe not even mainly) for you. I sometimes forget to think about it that way, but it’s true.

      • A single Sarah

        And even more the point that sometimes the photos are for people who you haven’t met yet.

    • A single Sarah

      This! My grandfather died before I was born. Looking through old photos is one of the easiest ways for me to hear stories about him.

      There don’t need to be many. They don’t have to be professional. And the photographic style of the day can be part of the conversation. But having the spaces to start the conversation is so valuable.

  • Alexandra

    In hindsight, I really fell for the WIC thing and thought pictures were going to be incredibly important. I didn’t spend an obscene amount of money on them–$1500, but I really thought they were going to be the biggest deal to me. And we got them back, they were lovely, I am glad I have them, and not mad I spent $1500, but…they aren’t the most important thing in the world to me.

    Documenting the event intentionally in a low-budget way is a good idea. Middle ground between hiring a super-amazing photographer and nothing at all–that’s what I’d go for. Because our wedding pictures WERE a huge deal to our parents. And we printed out all the pictures of our guests and included them in all of our Christmas cards that year. It was worth the money.

  • Alice

    So, just to share my own experience with this, we had a tiny wedding with, I think, twelve guests. I love photos, and would actually have liked a photographer, but I’m choosy about my photographers and we didn’t have the budget or time to hire someone who wowed us. My dad is a very accomplished amateur photographer, but we didn’t want him to spend the whole time behind a camera. So, I asked a friend with decent photography skills to shoot a bunch of photos with his equipment, and my brother took a few shots as well. Since they were on my dad’s camera, they were in super high-quality, editable RAW files, which meant he could take a few we liked and clean them up for us later.

    Would I have loved professional photos? Sure. But two years later, I have an album of prints, a few nicely-printed enlargements hanging around the house, and all the files backed up in case I need them again. And I have no regrets at all about not hiring a professional.

  • lady brett

    i’m leaning toward – you will want pictures, but i don’t see (if it’s not your *thing*) a need to ramp “have photos” up to “have professional photos” in either quality or quantity. i’m on team enlist a buddy, because, honestly, if you’re like me and your wedding photos aren’t going to get bigger than a computer screen or 4×6 print, someone with a nice smartphone and an interest (and a little taste, maybe;) can make that happen. (we spent $300 on wedding photos, and it was the only money i regretted at all, but in retrospect it was probably worth it for *guaranteed* photos and not worrying about it).

    • Eenie

      I also would hate to have the designated photographers be in very few photos. That is the really nice thing about hiring someone who you wouldn’t invite, it’s really easy to get photos of all your guests.

  • Caitlyn

    3rd option here: ask a professional photographer about doing a portrait session the day of your courthouse wedding after your ceremony. Just you and your new husband. My husband and I got married at a courthouse in NYC on 2/29/16. We hired Smitten Chickens (OMG THE BEST!!) for a portrait session later that day. We were on a trip to NYC and didn’t bring anyone with us. The courthouse ceremony was SO fast and the rest of the day just felt kinda like a normal day. But then we wandered around NYC with our photographer for two hours taking photos, giggling giddily and having tons of strangers congratulate us (and take our picture and honk at us as we walked across the Brooklyn bridge). It was perfect. And then afterwards, we were exhausted (and our feet were very blistered) so we got Shake Shack and were lying in our hotel bed thinking well this is a bit anticlimactic, when our photographer sent us proofs THAT NIGHT!! And BOOM, it all felt real for the first time all day. We still plan to have a party with our family and friends. But those photos of just us – and honestly the time spent together having them taken – are so incredibly special to us. Just magical. (and really a very affordable option comparatively). I think when we have our party, we’ll just have friends take photos or maybe hire a student on the cheap, but having professional portraits of us on our wedding day is something I’ll cherish.

    • Lindsay

      i love the story of your wedding day! i work near the NYC city clerk’s office and i LOVE seeing all the newlyweds taking pictures in the neighborhood.

  • Juanita

    We didn’t have money for a professional, but we do have a family friend who’s done 2 other weddings and some other events abs had a good camera. There are some pictures I wish I’d made sure to get, but at the end of the day we had lots of lovely photos and we didn’t go into debt for them. My only recommendation would be a good camera not just a phone or point and shoot.

    • another lady

      “There are some pictures I wish I’d made sure to get, but at the end of the day we had lots of lovely photos and we didn’t go into debt for them.” I feel this way and I hired a professional photographer that was just starting out in the business. YMMV no matter what you do.

  • Ashlah

    A semi-related question: My sister is getting married on a very limited budget. She’s probably just going to ask guests to take photos after not finding a photographer that would work for them. I’ve offered to bring my DSLR and do some basic photo editing for her. I’m definitely an amateur, but I want to do right by my sister. Would any photographers recommend that I rent a fancy lens for the occasion? I have the standard kit lens, a basic zoom lens, and a fixed 50mm/F1.4 lens. That’s probably the best quality lens I’ve got, but the fact that it’s fixed can be a hassle when taking candid photos of folks. Any tips are welcome!

    • mui

      My fiance took photos for his brother and rented a nice lens. I think the pictures turned out really nicely and it wasn’t too expensive (I think) to rent.

  • Sara P

    I’d go with friends and family, if you have people that are game. That’s what we did – my husband’s aunt volunteered, and one of his cousins helped out (they are both quite good amateur photographers). We had fun, they had fun, and we ended up with lovely photos. They didn’t follow us around all day, or take photos of as many things as a pro would, but we didn’t want that anyway. It was a lovely gift.

    My one tip would be to have a people wrangler for any group shots – that’s a whole separate skill that a family member or friend may not have.

  • Elizabeth

    LW, I think my feelings about photos are very similar to yours. We have 0 framed photographs in our house and do not take pictures of ourselves often (basically ever). If somebody says “pictures or it didn’t happen,” I get so angry.

    But I love my wedding album. I got it made real inexpensively using blurb (thanks APW) and it has a very unassuming spot on our bookshelf. It doesn’t announce itself, but it’s there when I want to glance through it. I tasked a very talented photographer friend from college who was coming anyway to take the photos. But he wasn’t just a guest. Taking photos was his primary role, so, it was low-key but not an afterthought. I do not regret it.

    • JenC

      We had two framed photos of us before our wedding and they were given to us as gifts. We don’t even have our graduation pictures in frames. We take pictures a lot but never of ourselves or at events, our pictures are of landscapes, flowers or historic monuments usually. I really love my wedding photos and so we bought a couple of frames to put a wedding picture up and also some of the landscapes we took on honeymoon. I’m glad we hired a professional, whilst my uncle is a very good amateur (and as I mentioned below he captured one of my favourite images from the day) he was focused purely on his relatives. The reason we actually decided to go with a professional was after speaking with my step-mum she said that when he photographer hers and my dad’s wedding, she ended up with hardly any pictures of her family and she regrets that. If the LW goes with a friend or relative I would possibly consider discussing a bit of a plan with them so that they know what you’re looking for.

      • Elizabeth

        Absolutely agree re: communicating with whoever takes your photos! APW has a really great form that’s a good starting point.

        • a few

          Or, maybe have someone from each family or friend group take pictures… then you have options and you can also make sure to get pictures of the different groups of people. My parents had a friend take pictures for their wedding (when we were teens) and they were a disaster! It looks like she took them all with a crappy phone or point-and-shoot camera. She had a nice camera at the time, but just didn’t know how to use it or how to get the lighting correct. She also had never done a bigger event. So, having backups is good!

  • A

    My person and I are very much photography-loving people, but since we wanted the focus to stay on the upcoming wedding and not the legal ceremony, we were against a pro photographer for the courthouse, and just handed over one of our fancy cameras to one of our witnesses. It went amazingly. They took a billion photos as we waited around (some awkward, some AWESOME), and now we’re super thrilled to have nice photos to show people who want to see them, and still have the budget to spend on other things!

    I would definitely advocate for the friend route, but it’s definitely a “know your people” situation. Make sure it’s someone who honestly enjoys photography (Do they have an Instagram? Is it usually pretty?), and give them a camera that can do much of the work for them. Another witness also took a few cell phone photos here and there, and let’s just say we’ll be sticking to the fancy camera photos when we show our future kiddos :)

  • Carolyn S

    My husband and I really weren’t photo people at all, and didn’t really “care” about pictures per say, except that I knew I wanted a few of the ceremony and our guests to remember the day, and who was there, and how fantastic we all looked. We ended up booking an elopement package, so we just had of photographers for a total of 3 hours, and the 1 hour we went off by ourselves with the photographer (right after our ceremony) was actually really fun. Most of the time the photographers were standing a bit off, and my newly minted husband and I got an hour almost alone to laugh and smile.

  • another lady

    The short answer is no, you probably won’t regret not having photos or professional photos, based on the reasons you stated in your letter. I think people are just trying to make courthouse weddings feel more special, while also avoiding the situation that Stephanie had of having only one picture from their wedding (or no pictures, like my grandparents). If you have other guests or witnesses, you can probably have someone take pictures and send them to you, like your friends. Just make sure that you have a plan and discuss it with said friend(s) before hand so that they know what they are responsible for and find a way to get your the photos in a good format and in a timely manner. One of the best photos from my wedding was taken by a semi-pro photographer friend and NOT my hired wedding photographer. YMMV, but I would assume that will be enough for what you may want for your actual wedding day. Also, maybe have some people do the same thing and act as ‘photographers’ during the reception. That should also suffice for what you want or ‘could miss’ in 20+ years.

  • Rose

    I had a destination wedding and had no intention of flying a professional photographer to Belize, but when we mentioned to my now sister-in-law our plan of just asking our friends and family to share with us whatever photos they took, she was adamant that we should get a paid photographer. As it happened, the venue had an add-on of a “professional” photographer for something like $200, so we decided what the heck, we’ll just to that to be safe. The “professional” photographer’s pictures were garbage. But our friends’ photos were amazing, and I think our wedding was well-documented (including in print, in an album we put together with them). So, I think the instinct that my friends’ photos would be good enough was spot-on. (Of course I didn’t have the option of a good professional photographer at a price I was willing to pay…)

    • another lady

      my sister and her now-husband when to one of those big resorts on an island (named after a type of beachy foot ware) and hired the pro photographer with the wedding package and their pictures turned out great! they have a couple small albums and the rights to the pictures, so they could print whatever they or the families wanted. it worked out well to not have a friend or family member worry about it, but you just don’t know what you are going to get in those situations.

  • Christy

    I’m totally biased because we JUST got our wedding pics back today. But we had a two-hour session with a pro photographer (at $450/hour, minimum two hours) and I’m SO glad we have those pics. There’s a million couple shots of us, a ton of shots from the short ceremony, and also the billion family portraits I asked for. The pictures are so, so good. And we’re not photo people, really. But we’ll definitely get some prints and maybe a cheaper album.

    One thing that I LOVED about our photographer was that he was very experienced at shooting weddings, so he was great at putting us at ease, capturing all the important shots, and just taking really good pictures. (Stephen Gosling, if you’re in the DC area and looking.) And we got our pics within three weeks! I’m so happy we went pro.

  • Very solid advice here! As a wedding photographer that got married recently on am extremely tight budget ($1k), I had to get creative when hiring a photographer. For me, though, photos were important even though I didn’t have the budget to hire the one I wanted. I’ve always been fond of moments frozen in time and I wanted those memories for my wedding.

    If photographs aren’t important to you I would say that you shouldn’t feel pressured to hire a photographer. While I mainly like to work with clients that want their full day captured, I also work with a handful of couples that need less time, too, depending on my availability. It doesn’t hurt to ask!

  • My husband and I had a courthouse wedding that was planned in 3 weeks. It never even occurred to me to have a photographer. As luck would have it, one of my husband’s friends (an amateur photographer) brought his good camera and photographed our wedding. They are the only good pictures we have of our wedding and I am so beyond grateful. Yes, I have my memories, but I also have photographic proof of that day and I am so happy that I will be able to share with our children these photos. Yes, hire a photographer.

  • Courthouse wedding here and a similar non-traditional path (courthouse with a few friends/family, break in the afternoon, then happy hour). We did hire a photographer which was a first-ever for us because we wanted everyone we loved to be in the pictures and we wanted to be able to look back on the day with all parts of it captured. It’s so rare to get everyone you love together and in festive attire and we wanted it documented for posterity. Since we didn’t bother with an engagement shoot, we enjoyed having some silly shots taken by a pro with the right equipment (most of our friends don’t have those heavy DSLR cameras). And having someone capture the happy hour was the best decision because now we know what all our guests were doing while we were busy chatting with folks one on one. We viewed the photographer as peace of mind in the making of memories – because we weren’t being forced to do formal shots repeatedly, we were able to thoroughly be in the moment with our guests knowing full well that someone was going to piece together pretty much the entire story of our wedding day for us instead of us running around trying to remember it all.

  • So I guess I’m in the minority because I have looked at our wedding photos precisely…zero times since I made albums for our parents. However, I watch our wedding video like once a week. So if photos aren’t your thing maybe a wedding video is the answer?

    Bonus: There is nothing like hearing your wedding vows again to put an end to petty arguments. I highly recommend it.

    • frugal-pro-tip: put a video camera on a tripod in a corner and ask someone to press record. (this can be your iphone… just make sure there’s enough memory for it to record your entire ceremony, and also make sure you put the camera in a corner where there’s a clear view of the ceremony and not of a guest’s behind.) we did this. we even got stills off the video afterwards as our wedding “photos.” guests get to enjoy the ceremony, and the camera keeps rolling in the background.

  • Kirsten

    I think a lot of people would be well-served by hiring a photographer to take their portraits on their wedding day instead of booking the photographer for the whole day.

    For one, the photo is controlled, so you’ll look your best. Second, it’s kinder to your budget. Third, it frees you up to have fun with the rest of the day.

    • Totch

      This is really interesting because I feel the opposite! I don’t think I look my best in portraits or posed photos, I’m always really uncomfortable.

      We’re choosing to prioritize candid photos during the ceremony and dinner, and avoiding that section of the day where the bride and groom leave everybody to do the portraits.

      I definitely see your side too, to each their own!

  • Lindsay

    i also had a courthouse wedding. we had only two witnesses present and it was really important to me to have photos not only for myself and my spouse, but – perhaps even more importantly – for our loved ones who couldn’t be there. we hurt a lot of feelings by having such a small ceremony, which is inevitable, but our loved ones appreciated being able to see the photos. we hired the amazing vivian chen (whose photo is in this post!) for a few hours, long enough for her to capture us filling out forms, the actual ceremony, and portraits throughout city hall, but not so long that it felt like an all-day photoshoot (which some weddings i’ve been a part of have). having a photographer for a short period of time might be a good compromise.

  • no, you won’t regret it. none of the photos from my parents’ wedding were taken by professional photographers. they just had basic family group shots and those are just as wonderful to look at as all the wedding photojournalism stuff today. we didn’t have professionals for ours (though paradoxically we are photographers ourselves, and have talented friends.) you sound like you know what you like, and know that you’re not a photo kind of person. just have the guests or the judge take turns snapping a few basic group shots for mom to put on her fridge. your mom will probably take some on her phone anyways.

  • AmandaBee

    I don’t know if this is the case for you, but one thing someone pointed out to me is that weddings are often the only time when you’ll have your whole community around you. I’ve known so many people who say that the photos they treasure from their wedding are the ones with their grandparents, friends, parents, cousins, etc. I’ve also heard that often the value of these photos isn’t really apparent until later, when you start to lose people. It’s kinda morbid to think that way, but it’s one of the reasons we plan to ask our photographer to capture a lot of candid photos with family and friends in them – when else will we have all those people together in a room? That said, even if you don’t go the pro photographer route, I might think about what photos you’d want (ex: one with you mom) and considering asking a friend who’s good with a camera to make sure to get those shots if they can.

  • Ebloom

    I got married on paper this morning at the courthouse, even though we are planning a more spiritual wedding for early next year. One of the best things was that our witness was ready with her iPhone snapping pictures of us as we did everything, even though this was not our final wedding day. I didn’t think I would care that much, I mean, we didn’t even take pictures when we got engaged. But it turns out, seeing those pictures made me so happy. Like emotional gooey happy. Even if you don’t hire a professional photographer, having someone there to document those moments between you and your partner might be special.

    • Greta

      second the “happy emotional gooey feelings” take away. I have photos from lots of events in my life and looking back at them, they’re like “oh, nice photo, I remember that day.” But when I look back at my wedding photos, 1.5 years later, I get filled with such joy and happiness. I’m not a crier and sometimes my chest gets tight just looking at the photos and remembering all the joy and wonder and love and happiness I felt of marrying my husband, with all our community there. Memories are super strong and powerful things, but they do fade with time, and I love looking back at my wedding photos because they charge my memories with more emotion. I don’t feel the same way about any other photos than I do about my wedding photos.

  • RNL

    Also, just one more thought: I think of wedding photos as, among other things, historical documents. So I don’t think they need necessarily need to be SUPER GORGEOUS or whatever, but I would be incredibly sad if we didn’t have good photos of us, and just as important, our families, on that day. We actually got a photo of everyone at our wedding in one big shot, and I’m SO happy about it.

  • steinem

    Thanks for the hourly rate idea! We’re planning an elopement later this summer and I could not care less about photographs but I am marrying a professional photographer and obviously he has a very different take. Now I know what to ask for when I start emailing photogs. I want to fairly compensate a good photographer but don’t have any need for the whole wedding package.
    Also, let me just throw out one more thing — professional photographer friends don’t always necessarily appreciate being asked to take photos at your wedding. It’s actually pretty high-pressure and work-like for them and sucks. My fiancé is asked to take photos at friends’ weddings all . the . time and it’s sort of crappy. I don’t think you’d ask a guest who happens to be a cook to cater. Creative professionals get asked to give away services for free way too often.

    • I agree with the problem of asking creative professionals to do free work. But if you really don’t care about photos (I didn’t) I wouldn’t ask or make any requests for specific photos. I just encouraged folks take photos if they felt like it — “feel free to take photos and share them with us if you get any good ones” — most people like getting their instagram on anyways. For group photos guests took turns pressing the button. Chances are, if you know your friends/family are good at taking photos, you will get good photos. But if they don’t turn out well? It’s not the end of the world to me. I think as long as you go into it with that attitude you’ll have no regrets about photography.

      • Eenie

        And professional photographers can always say no. “I don’t want to bring my equipment to the event.”

  • TeaforTwo

    I think that in the long run, having photos matters a lot and having professional or even high quality photos doesn’t.

    If you aren’t picture people, you probably don’t care about having super glam photos of yourself to blow up to 11×18 and frame all the way up your staircase, or even about a wedding album. Totally fine. But in 20 or 30 or 50 years, you may well want that reminder of the day, and of your parents and siblings and how young and happy you looked.

    I’ve been going through old family photos recently and here’s the thing: in sharp contrast to the really stylized maternity/newborn/first birthday/holiday card shots I see people posting on FB now, our family photographs are pretty haphazard. Not shot on great cameras, not great composition, mostly just group candids of aunts and uncles and baby cousins sitting around in the backyard at summer BBQs. Nothing special AT ALL.

    Except that 30 years later, now the parents in those pictures are retiring and even in those nothing-special pictures they look GORGEOUS and youthful and vibrant. And the babies who were crawling around on the lawn have grown up to look just like their parents did, and now have their own babies crawling around on the lawn. And other people in the photos have since died. And it doesn’t matter one bit that they’re not pro photos – having those vivid images of what our family looked like 30 years ago is incredible.

    In short: take photos, make sure you get copies, don’t worry about whether they’re good or even whether you like them the weeks/months/year after your wedding. Just hang on to them.

  • CMT

    So it’s obvious you don’t care for photos, but your letter doesn’t mention your partner’s feelings at all. Do they want photos?

    • Sarah Briley

      Hi! I’m the letter writer, and this is very much both of our opinions. Sorry that wasn’t communicated well!

  • KH_Tas

    My experience: We went the ‘friends’ option and it was fine, we didn’t get quite the photos that we might have with a pro but we still got plenty of nice ones. I like this option as a ‘middle ground’.

  • SuzyNP

    Hi, long time APW lurker here, first time commenter! I also feel similarly meh about photos in day to day life. I appreciate them when other people take them but never really remember to do so myself. I couldn’t fathom paying 2000 or 3000 (Swiss Francs – pretty equivalent to dollars), especially when I cared so much more about food, flowers, dancing, and these were costing soooo much. I’m not into staged photos either and I wanted to spend as much time with my guests as possible. My partner basically favoured anything DIY or low cost during our planning process so he was also not too excited about paying so much.
    We realised that one of my partner’s colleagues has a good camera and enjoys taking photos of people in particular. We paid him a small sum of about 300 dollars (he flat out refused to accept more) and invited him to the wedding, and he got some great shots of us. They are not professional but they are nice quality and much better photos than any taken by family members or friends (who have a particular talent for capturing my worst angles haha). The colleague Ivan also had a great time at the wedding which was a bonus!
    The only downside was that I did spend an awfully long time on making decorations, flower arrangements and little details, and he didn’t take many (or for some – any photos) of these. I regret this a bit. If there are any details of the day that you’ve spent time preparing, make sure someone is tasked to capture them.
    Conclusion, you don’t need a professional, but at least put someone in charge of capturing some memories. Even if it’s low down your on priority list – it’s nice to have something months and years down the line.

  • Elinor

    I’m very indifferent about photos of my own life. My motto with my gang of friends is ‘no photos taken? Sign of a great night!’ I never print them out, I hung up a few picture frames a while back in a fit of DIY but didn’t have any of my own photos to put in the frames so we just looked at the fake families that came with the frame for months.
    BUT I absolutely love my parents’ wedding photos. Even more, the wedding photos of each set of my grandparents. These photos are so special to me and everyone in my family. There’s not a lot of them (1940’s) but you could truly say that they are priceless. Likewise, my parent’s love the photos of my brother’s wedding… all of us captured in full vividness and technicolor at a certain point in all our lives. And it’s not just the photos of the bride and groom that are important.. seeing my grandmother, aunt, and others that are no longer with us all dressed up and happy are wonderful.
    Also, I often think the downside of asking a friend to be the designated photographer for the day is that you won’t have any shots of that person. I know it sounds silly but that person is special too. Especially if it is a very small wedding, you will certainly be close to them.
    You mentioned that you won’t be having many of the traditional shots. I don’t think this matters. The photo of my grandmother’s wedding that I love the most is of her walking towards the photographer (in the church) with her mother, sister and brother walking alongside. Lots of the community are standing along the sidewalk watching. It’s an action shot from the 40’s! And you can see all the style and lovely clothes of that time.
    For my wedding, we’ve asked our photographer to just focus on our friends and families chatting, laughing, having deep conversations.. I personally can’t wait to see photos of my nephews having shenanigans with my fun-loving college pals and if I happen to be standing in the background hugging my Dad while wearing a long white dress… then all the better!

  • joanna b.n.

    A few other suggestions to consider:
    1) we set up a website and put it on vistaprint-personalized “business cards” (a photo of us and the link), which we handed out at the reception, and asked our people to upload their pictures there. it was Flickr. It worked WELL. And avoided that dreaded “filter” issue mentioned above.
    2) if you are going to have people taking portraity shots (where you and your peeps are posing/standing in one place), have ONLY ONE person do it. my husband’s brother had a cadre of amateur photogs taking their portraits, and would you believe that nobody in any of the photos is looking in the same direction? Yah, that’s not the best.
    3) consider asking someone, anyone with any camera proficiency whatsoever to do video of any key moments. I have that as my big regret – we didn’t need a professional videographer or even super high quality video, but I definitely wish I had some of the words people said recorded on video so I could relive them later when I wasn’t, oh I dunno, totally overwhelmed by my wedding day?

    Anyhow, a few things to think about. Best wishes to you and good on you for doing what you know is best for you two!!!

  • the cupboard under the stairs

    While I do agree that you can save a lot of money by using photographers who offer hourly rates, I just want to point out that it’ll probably cost you more than “a couple hundred dollars,” especially if you live in a major city. We’re holding a small, short ceremony on a different day than our reception and wanted to hire a photographer for four hours instead of the usual eight. Our photographer usually charges $3500 for weddings, but he cut us a “deal” for $1500. Still not cheap!

  • pockets

    So, we had NO money for our wedding and we thought photography was an easy thing to cut. A handful of our friends found out about this (via one very organized friend) and everyone chipped in to buy 30 minutes of time from a very fancy and nice photographer (we live in a small city where everybody kinda knows everybody and it happens to be a wedding destination of sorts so this photographer is pretty “high end” but approachable). Anyway, those 30 minutes of taking photos before our actual ceremony? They were fun! The photographer was lovely and we cried because we were so happy. And the photos? They are lovely! We shared exactly one of them on Facebook and that’s it. One day, we’ll print another one and frame it when we’ve got the room in our budget. In the meantime, we have these two tiny Instax photos (like Polaroids but narrower?) that the photographer snapped. She tucked them into my husband’s blazer pocket before our ceremony and we remembered them later during dinner. Now they are tucked into the frame of a big screen-print that my best friend made and we look at them every day. I never thought a photo could be so powerful but seeing them every morning honestly reminds me of the joy we felt and the vows we took. So, all of this is to say, I recommend hiring a photographer for an hour like Stephanie suggested.

  • LizCoop

    Honestly? You’re going to love them. I’ve officiated and coordinated a lot of small outdoor and courthouse weddings, and everyone has been really glad they got pro pictures. And there are a lot of really good photographers than can do it for an hourly rate. Find a style and price point you’re happy with, and go for it.

  • A good friend of ours offered to take our wedding photos as a gift. We were so lucky because he is a professional and seriously so good! I feel really lucky to have such lovely pictures and they’re even more special because a friend took them. The phone / point and shoot pictures from our friends are fine, but no comparison to the professional ones.

  • Kara Davies

    Um, really? This is a no-brainer. Hire a professional to cover your wedding! It doesn’t have to be full on 8+ hour coverage. A couple hours is plenty. I personally would regret it if I didn’t have professional photos taken.

  • Sarah Briley

    I’m the letter writer, and I’m so late to the commenting party! I read this post thinking, “Wow, this is exactly what we went through, I’m so glad to see someone else’s answer,” and then realized I had submitted it. We ended up finding a photographer who offers elopement packages. We’ll only have her for four hours (and I think we’re going to use all four for the party rather than at the courthouse). This way, we come away with some nice pictures, and we didn’t have to pay the multiple thousands for a more traditional package. Thank you so much for your advice Stephanie!