We Crowdsourced Wedding Photos to Save Money and It Was Absolutely Worth It

Crowdsourcing and camera cake toppers for the win


Hester, teacher & Iain, product manager

Sum-up of the wedding vibe: There was a rainstorm and no plan B, but everyone pitched in to make it happen with lots of love.

Planned budget: $5,000

Actual budget: $3,800

Number of guests: 70


Where we allocated the most funds:

Champagne at the wedding reception (bought wholesale by the crate), as well as the free flow at a little bar owned by someone we know where we had wedding drinks and the after-wedding gathering. This was more than a third of our budget.


Where we allocated the least funds:

Our wedding venue was this beautiful park with the most amazing history, so we didn’t have any decorations at all. Our initial thought was that people could walk around and take photos of the surroundings… but then on the morning of the wedding, it rained so much that the government hoisted the amber rainstorm warning (in Hong Kong, we have colored warnings for the intensity of the rainfall).

We also didn’t hire a photographer. For our engagement shoot, we set up a tripod and used a remote shutter control, but we figured this might not be so feasible for the wedding. So we asked several good friends with DSLRs to take photos in raw, and then we edited the photos ourselves. In retrospect, I wish we had more photos of our wedding, especially at our post-wedding drinks gathering (of which we have none because we wanted our friends to have fun and not be on photo duty).


What was totally worth it:

My dress! My bridesmaids and I thrifted almost everything for our wedding, and I had a cute, flirty BCBG evening dress that I bought secondhand for only $50. I also had a red Chinese dress I thrifted for $25, because I did not want to spend a lot of money on a dress I would wear for only one day, and I didn’t want a white gown. But you know all those stories you hear of brides who knew it was the dress? I didn’t believe it at first, until I tried on my dress at the Ted Baker shop and actually teared up. Even then, it took a lot of convincing by my very understanding and patient partner that even if I splurged on this dress, our wedding was still pretty thrifty. In the end, the blue China pattern on my dress matched our Chinese venue perfectly, and I wore the thrifted party dress to our post-wedding drinks. I’m hoping to wear my wedding dress again on our first anniversary.


What was totally not worth it:

We planned everything with an eco-conscious and thrifty mindset, so we opted not to include lot of things that would have been nice, but weren’t necessary. That said, though, we know our type of wedding isn’t for everyone. We didn’t have a wedding banquet, and we didn’t take many wedding photos because we wanted a relaxed and carefree gathering where we could kick back with a glass of wine or beer, and actually hang out with our friends without all the wedding obligations and duties. Instead, our friends got a sandwich and a bag of chips in a paper bag and some finger food. We hope we made up for it with the open bar.


A few things that helped us along the way:

Having understanding parents and friends who took on all my idiosyncrasies and embraced my wedding vision helped a lot. I loved how everyone jumped in and helped us thrift for the wedding. Friends who married just before us gave us their leftover decorations, and my bridesmaids searched all the flea markets and online thrift sites for wedding-related paraphernalia. On the morning of the wedding, our family and friends showed up early, and rolled up their party frocks and suits to help us set up in the pouring rain. While we couldn’t have the ceremony in the airy open courtyard, in the end, it brought everyone closer together—literally, since we had to huddle together under the only covered pavilion.


My best practical advice for my planning self:

Make the wedding truly yours, to reflect who you are. We wrote the ceremony ourselves and chose a dear friend to unofficially officiate (we signed the legal papers with a lawyer just before the ceremony). And, following the APW womanhood vibe, I purposely wrote the ceremony script so the bride went first in the vows and acknowledgements, followed by the groom. I also didn’t let myself get bogged down with the perceived must-haves for a wedding, or feeling guilty that I didn’t feed our guests a proper dinner. (Okay, maybe just slightly, but no one noticed any of that.)

Favorite thing about the wedding:

The post-wedding drinks (unfortunately we have no photos) were the best part because it was a bunch of our friends hanging out at a bar where we always hang out anyway. Carrie, my bestie and bridesmaid, gave the best speech ever with a song she wrote for us, sung to Billy Joel. She got all our friends to sing different verses and everyone joined in on the chorus. It was a spectacular wedding speech for the ages. I actually met Carrie in Hong Kong and when I was planning my wedding, she gave such practical wedding advice—it’s no wonder we became such great friends.

The Info:

Venue: Kowloon Walled City Park | Location: Kowloon, Hong Kong, China | Hester’s Shoes: Steve Madden (via eBay) | Hester’s Dress: Ted Baker | Iain’s Suit: Tailor-Made in Hong Kong


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  • idkmybffjill

    I LOVE this. I feel like photography is the only thing where I’ve felt pushback for spending a little less, and I am so in love with your photos. These are gorgeous! Thank you for sharing.

  • This is so lovely!

  • sage

    Beautiful!! I gasped when I saw your dress! I was just in Hong Kong a week ago for the first time, didn’t visit Kowloon Walled City Park but seeing these photos is taking me back :)

    Great job crowdsourcing the photos, and the after party sounds like such a chill and happy time!

  • Sosuli

    Ohemgee I want that dress. To wear everyday. Forever and ever and ever. Also everything else is awesome too and the photos are really nice! Well done on the ceremony scripting – it annoyed me slightly when our totally non-religious officiant announced during our ceremony that the groom speaks first. Screw that.

  • Jess

    I was wondering what the cute paper bags with quotes were about – but they were for food! I love that!

  • HannahESmith

    Kowloon Walled City Park! What an incredible location for a wedding. I was in Hong Kong over Christmas, and I loved that park. It is such a peaceful oasis in one of the busiest cities in the world.

    • Hester

      Thanks! I’m glad you know about the park! The history is mind boggling when you consider what it was like before (and not even that long ago) to the beautiful park now.

      • HannahESmith

        I know! I can’t believe it was still a walled city up until the early 90s. I really enjoyed the video interviews they showed with people who lived there.

  • LJ

    Sometimes the “important things” for the budget are ABSOLUTELY booze and a pretty dress :) you look so happy! Thanks for passing on your thoughts on photography as well – knowing regrets is just as important as knowing what you loved :)

  • StevenPortland

    What a dress! Fantastic wedding. We too don’t have enough photos of our after wedding, but am glad that instead our friends got to enjoy the time without being on camera duty. Everything looks fantastic and the rain adds to the vibe instead of taking away from it. It makes it seem more “real”. Congrats!

    • Hester

      Definitely! Friends enjoying our after wedding party was more important than photos.

  • Oh man, so many of these photos are so much better than the photographers in my area charging in the $1,000-$2,000 range. I’m glad this plan worked out for you!

    • That would be reasonably but vendors in Hong Kong charge bonkers prices for photography, to the tune of $5k and up.

      • Hester

        Yes! The wedding industry culture in Hong Kong can get pretty crazy.

        • You could probably very easily find an American who would travel to Hong Kong just for the price of a trip and a stipend. Many of us are looking for a reason to write off international travel and to experience the fun of a totally foreign place and culture.

          • idkmybffjill

            Her wedding only cost $3800 total, and round trip tickets to Hong Kong are ~$1000. I think it’s okay that she chose her priorities.

  • XANGA FRIEND!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! :D

    • Hester

      Friends who share the same values in making the day uniquely theirs! I may not have had a parade but the spirit was totally there!

  • Shawna

    Squeeing over the dumplings, LOVE your dress, and you two look so wonderfully happy and in love. You make a rainy day look like paradise.

  • Nisha

    Exactly why does APW have a vendor guide? Why are the vendors paying fees to this website?

    • Hmmmm. As a photographer and someone who has considered advertising with APW this is an absolute turn-off. Way to alienate your existing and potential advertising base!

      • T.K.

        What I like about APW is that it doesn’t pushthe whole “you must have this vendor your super-special-day will be ruined” drill. I think people tend to look at APW vendors hoping for someone who isn’t very hyped up on wedding industrial complex and won’t try to pressure them outside of their budgets or personal priorities.

        • I don’t think my statement above was any sort of value judgment about what a bride should and shouldn’t do or who she should or shouldn’t hire but if I spend money to promote my work on a site that perpetuates the idea that hiring a professional photographer isn’t necessary I’m going to think that perhaps that blog is not the best place to spend my money. I’m also very practical about how I allocate my marketing funds. There’s something to be said for not biting the hand that feeds you. That said I’m probably one of the most flexible and non-salesy photographers you will ever come across. For me it’s about serving my clients and making sure that they have beautiful, well lit, well composed photographs that document their day in it’s entirety and while it may not be a priority for you now, later on you may have regrets.

          • idkmybffjill

            FWIW I think you’re coming across really salesy on a thread about this one person’s very budget wedding. She spent $3800 total. TOTAL. Almost every other Real Wedding post on this site has incredible professional photography. Several of the site’s editors are wedding photographers. This site is an incredible resource for vendors. If anything, posts like this make me able to trust the vendor list more. Because when a site says, “all you need for a wedding is two people getting married”, and then PROVES it, I’m more willing to trust the great vendors they recommend. Same with flowers or dresses or jewelry. When they start with, “You don’t need this, but if you want it – it could be incredible” it feels authentic. Telling people they’ll regret it feels salesy.

          • I get your point, I totally do and if I come across as salesy that’s not my intention. Back when I got married I didn’t get an album. Now I regret it. People change. And what they want changes.
            It’s a dog eat dog world out here and every little bit of press that comes out saying “you don’t need a wedding photographer” makes those of us who are just trying to make a living in an over-saturated profession we love and take very seriously; shouldering car payments, kids’ expenses and all of the other added expenses of having a business–without a steady salary– feel devalued. I do understand a couple’s need to be frugal and that not every wedding has a budget for a pro photographer but when photographers pay to play on this site an article explaining how to dispense with a pro can be harmful to those of us who are giving our all–to succeed in a tough market and who allocate funds to advertise here because the content resonates with our own philosophies. My pictures are about people and not really about all of the things.
            For what it’s worth, while editorial staff does review the work of potential vendors before allowing them to get on their list make no mistake about it, recommended vendors pay to be listed on this site. A slot came up (you have to be on a waiting list) and I declined to advertise because it didn’t work with my marketing goals and budget at the time but it has always been in the back of my mind as something to consider.

          • idkmybffjill

            I’m worried you are misunderstanding this article – it wasn’t a how to. Especially because if it had been a how to it would’ve had to start with, “First, have friends with very fancy cameras.” If it were a step by step guide to do your own photos, I would understand your objections. But it was just a real wedding, like many other real weddings featured. And you’ve told the real bride how her pictures could’ve been better, and hinted that she’ll regret it – her wedding is done, it’s very unfair to say things like that.

            I understand how you’re feeling but your comments here are misunderstanding the article, I think. It would be like if a florist commented on a wedding in which the bride did her own flowers and pointed out all of the ways they could’ve been better. Or if a seamstress critiqued a brides dress. For that matter though, APW HAS featured tutorials on how to do your own wedding flowers, cater your own wedding, etc etc. What makes them such a valuable resource is because of those tutorials AND the vendors they recommend for when you don’t want to do it yourself. For example – I ended up hiring both a florist and a photographer after realizing just how much work it would be to DIY. Someone may well decide they really need a pro photographer after realizing this bride didn’t have reception the reception photos which she missed.

            There are about a million wedding sites that will sell you on regret. You’ll regret it if you don’t get the perfect dress, the perfect flowers, the perfect signage, the perfect signature cocktail, the perfect photographs, the perfect location. What makes APW so special and so trustworthy, IMO, is that they do not do business that way.

          • Good point. Thanks for the discussion. In my defense, though I said I regret not having an album I don’t push them though they are listed on my pricelist. That is a personal example of how what we want changes over the years.
            I trust my couples to know what they want. I don’t push them towards anything unless they ask because that doesn’t feel authentic to me. And I am here for them if they want an album later. Inherently this couple didn’t want professional photography and I hope that’s a decision they’ll be happy with always.

          • idkmybffjill

            Yeah absolutely. My parents got a TON of wedding photos even though they aren’t really photo people – they’ve always been big on photos snapped on Kodaks, and my stepmom really regrets that they didn’t spend more time with their guests instead of taking photos. They have a wedding album and my stepmom has said she’s maybe looked at it once? Different strokes!

            FWIW, if google lead me to the right place, I think your work sells itself! It’s really beautiful! Unfortunately STUNNING work doesn’t always create money where there isn’t any. And feeling those feelings of “I will regret not having the photographer/flowers/dress of my dreams” doesn’t help anyone.

            I do wedding signage/calligraphy as a side hustle, so while I don’t need it to pay my bills – I definitely feel you on the cringe factor when people are told they don’t need your work because they can do it themselves (recognizing that I absolutely am not doing the kind of artistry you do, nor is my work as integral to the memories of the day.) But I also have to recognize that each couple only has so much money to go around, and has to make the choices that are within their reach. Just like as much as I want to make my work available to everyone because I really love doing it, I have to charge what I have to charge in order to make it make sense for me.

            I think APW really excels at helping people build weddings that make sense for them. (I don’t work for them, nor am I an APW vendor – even though it may sound like it! I’ve just found them to be so invaluable in planning my wedding and not drowning in the what ifs that I can’t help but defend them.)

        • idkmybffjill

          This, exactly.

    • Hester

      The spirit of APW is that it supports the choices that a bride makes and that brides don’t have to do something just because others believe they should. This wedding is not for everyone as stated and it doesn’t make the vendor list pointless. There are many brides who chooses the catered party, florists, and photographers through the vendor list. However, the APW culture is also one that supports a bride’s choice to be thrifty and to use the talents of good friends.

  • Heather Jowett

    It seems like, considering the bride regrets not having photos of her favorite part of the day, a more accurate title for this article would be “We crowd sourced our wedding photos and it saved us money with some trade offs”.

    • Hester

      Photography was tough for us. My husband and I are both into photography and we just couldn’t find a photographer who’s aesthetics matched ours. We also wanted control of the RAW files which we wouldn’t have been able to get with a professional wedding photographer. We knew the trade off would be that we wouldn’t have as many photos however, we enjoyed taking the time to go through the RAW photos and having the control over the editing process.

      • cpostrophe

        out of curiosity, what are you guys using for hosting the photos to share with friends and family? We went a quasi similar route with having a couple of former semi-pro photographer friends gift their services to us, and now we’re working taking a half dozen Google Drive and Dropbox folders and curating highlights into one place. Flickr is probably the leading candidate, but I’m curious about other options.

        also, I love the brown bags with quotes! Were they all the same lunch or were the quotes somehow tied to the contents?

        • Hester

          We just asked all our friends to put the photos onto a hard drive rather than chasing up after on google drive or dropbox. We were after the RAW files which can get too large for online sharing so hard drives was our best way. Otherwise, I find Dropbox to be the best especially if you upgrade to the larger storage option.

          The quotes were all different. I compiled a bunch of geek quotes about love or from our favourite films and spent an afternoon with some friends writing it out. We offered two options only for lunch, chicken or veg sandwich since we were on a budget.

    • idkmybffjill

      Just my take – for me this was a great article that displayed, “here’s what you can expect with crowdsourced photos.” For some, this might mean hearing her regret and seeing the photos might mean they absolutely go professional. For others, it might mean seeing these and thinking, “These are great! We totally can do this!”. I feel like choices and trade offs are always implied in planning any wedding.

      • Hester

        “I feel like choices and trade offs are always implied in planning any wedding.”


  • Nicole

    It’s so wonderful you had the perfect day you imagined. Some couples don’t value photography as much as others, and that’s completely OK- hey, our differences are what make the world go round! I do have to say, that as a professional photographer the majority of these images were shot in poor lighting scenarios and are out of focus, which is a very drastic difference between what would’ve been captured in hiring a true professional to do the job. Fortunately, you’re happy with them, and that’s all that matters! Congratulations- you were a beautiful bride.

    • Hester

      Thanks. I wouldn’t call it a perfect day but we accepted the trade-offs when booking the venue (amber rainstorm and no plan B). If it was a perfect world, the sun would have been shining and we would have been able to hold the ceremony in the lovely courtyard and have beautiful photos with low ISO :)

    • Sarah Stoneham

      FWIW- I’m not a professional photographer, and I didn’t notice the lighting or the focus. What I did notice was her smile and how happy everyone looks and how deeply personal her wedding looked.

  • gonzalesbeach

    thank you APW for featuring a smaller budget wedding like this – I really appreciate that you show the wonderful range of weddings and celebrations possible – and the beautiful wedding shown here just highlights that the only real key line item is love