A picture is worth a thousand…dollars?


It’s common for folks to tell brides-to-be that the photos of the big day are the one thing no new couple should skimp on. I love photos – I have entire folders stuffed with pictures of The Beard, my cats, my friends, my family – so I’m inclined to agree. I recognize, of course, that not everyone is as photo crazy as I am. I know folks that have been married for years and have all but lost their wedding albums. But most people fall squarely in the middle where photos are concerned and thus most people scheduled to tie the knot are going to be considering booking a photographer.

When it comes right down to it, there are basically four choices: 1) Hire a pro. 2) Hire an amateur. 3) Coerce a friend into doing it. 4) Leave it up to the guests, either by seeding the wedding with disposable cameras or hinting that you’d love copies of everyone’s pictures.

Options three and four are easy and cheap, but will likely get you the poorest results. Option one is the most expensive, ranging from between $1,000 to $6,000, with an average package costing roughly $2,500. Ouch! As far as option two is concerned, it’s risky, but going with an experienced photography student can save big bucks.

Brides- and grooms-to-be should start thinking about photography about 10 to 12 months before their wedding date. Pro photogs can get booked months in advance and if you can afford someone with a reputation, you don’t want to miss out because you dragged your feet. If you don’t know where to start, ask a your wedding planner, your DJ, or your recently married friends to suggest someone. Consider your budget and how important photos really are to you. Also consider what you want. Some couples would feel empty without an album while others are satisfied with a disk of electronic prints. Finally, ask yourself where you can save some dough and try one of these money-saving suggestions:

Limit the number of hours the photog is actually working. Have him or her photograph the ceremony and take commemorative pics of the wedding party. Then send him or her home. Do you really need pictures of Aunt Edna doing the Macarena?

Examine the relative merits of buying a small package, a large package, or no package at all. If you’re going to want extra copies of everything, you may save by buying a larger package. If you’re only looking for a simple set of photos to frame (and no additional prints), a small package might be right for you. If you’re a do-it-yourself kind of gal or guy, you might want to create your own album or even a storybook like this:

Photo Story Wedding - Edition

Forget prints altogether and ask for a CD of digital photos rather than prints. Frankly, a photo printer is going to cost you a heck of a lot less than a photo package. Then you print what you want and scrapbook with something like the Memory Makers Wedding Idea Book: Scrapbooking Ideas, Tips and Techniques.

Memory Makers Wedding Idea Book: Scrapbooking Ideas, Tips and Techniques

Forget the extras. Remember that any time you put the word ‘wedding’ in front of something, it doubles or even triples the price. Your photographer may offer the option of framed prints and the frame he or she shows you may be beautiful, but the photos are what counts. You can buy your own frames for a whole lot less.

If you are set on having photos from the reception but don’t want to saddle your guests with disposable cameras, consider asking a few trusted friends to document the event using their own cameras. You’ll likely get a better variety of photos than you would with a pro photog, but without lots of down-the-shirt shots and pictures of people’s ankles.

You may not particularly want pictures of the back of your head, which is what you get at most ceremonies. If that’s the case and you also don’t care about documenting the reception, consider having your wedding party gather at the photography studio the evening before to get some pics. On site photography will likely be a lot cheaper.

Finally, if you happen to have a friend with photography skills, ask them whether they might consider taking your wedding photos in lieu of a more traditional gift. The worst they can say is no and, if they say yes, they will let you keep the negatives!

Coming soon: Questions to ask photographers before booking them
Image by photographer Kwanghoon Jhin

17 Responses to “A picture is worth a thousand…dollars?”

  1. Jessica says:

    Many thanks, good NtB.

    I asked a recently married friend, who recommended a husband-and-wife team who have a non-customizable package — they don’t even give non-Saturday discounts — but give you print AND CD copies of all your pics, where “all” is 500 or 800, depending on which of the two price points you hit. Any album is extra. I don’t know yet if they’re the norm or the exception.

    I have to say, though, that looking through my friend’s online album, which he was sweet enough to share with me, I realized I absolutely want pictures of the reception. I’ll have daily reminders of what I look like and (God willing) my husband, but the photos I want to make sure I have are of friends and relatives I might not have around me twenty years from now.

  2. Phyllis says:

    I gotta tell ‘ya – I’ll happily allow myself to be coerced into viewing any wedding album, from any wedding, from any decade – but ask me to watch a wedding video and I run screaming from the room.

    However, a good photographer is worth very penny, without question.

    I still cherish a wonderful photo of my parents taken at our wedding – the phography was one of our few big ticket items, and we didn’t have a cake so we would be able to afford the one I wanted. Now that my father has passed away I can’t even express how much this photo means to me.

  3. Never teh Bride says:

    I’ll agree with you there, Phyllis. As I said, I love photos, but weddings just don’t transfer well to video. Sort of like how some movies are great in the theatre, but just ‘eh’ on TV. It’s about the moment. Photos capture the moment while videos just record it.

  4. I have friends who spent a ton of money for a videographer and who’ve only watched their wedding video once or twice. They’ve certainly never thought about dragging it out to show the kids.

    If you’re going to spend your hard-earned cash, a photographer is one place where I’d spend it. Don’t depend on your friends — I had a girlfriend who did, and the photographer shot the whole wedding with the lens cap on.

    You may not care about the video… but you WILL treasure those photos. A whole slew of really bad photos is a tragedy… but even one truly beautiful portrait will make the whole expense of using a professional worthwhile.

    P.S. —

    The one picture I treasure more than any of the rest is the one where my dad and I AREN’T looking at each other… because we kept bursting into tears every time the photographer tried to get us to do that. And I experience that moment again every time I look back at that photo.

  5. Twistie says:

    Definitely going with the majority here. While we went homemade and volunteer on a lot of things, we did hire a professional photographer, and he was worth every penny. The album is great, and he got a wonderful picture at the reception of me with an old friend. Mort was a friend of my parents’, and I’d known him since I was about two years old, but in all those years, this was the only picture taken of us together, and he was very dear to me; almost a surrogate grandfather. He died a few years later, but at least I have that one picture, and it really does show every bit of love we felt for one another.

    One of my favorite photos in the album doesn’t even have me, my beloved, or any member of my family in it. It’s of one of my bridesmaids sitting with her mother. My bridesmaid had found out about a week before the wedding that she was pregnant. She’s absolutely glowing with joy and her mother looks as happy as can be. I consider it a picture of three generations of wonderful, strong, beautiful women.

    Spring for reception pics if you can. You may be surprised at which photos come to mean the most to you as the years pass.

  6. Jessica says:

    One option for making your own album.

    I know I saw a second online place that did create-your-own leather albums, but for the life of me I can’t remember the name. It wasn’t Zookbinders.

  7. Hi, I’m only on day 12 of engagement bliss and am already feeling weighed down with these sorts of decisions! The photographer is definitely something we feel is important but the really good brides-home-until-end-of-reception packages are like AUS$4500. Its heaps! Thats half our reception! Thankfully we’re not going for a professional video (we’re going to have my sisters colleague who works in video production do it).

    Also NtB I have just finished reading all the archives! So now I can check the daily updates!

  8. Never teh Bride says:

    Dang, Data, that’s pricey. But if it’s important to you, do it! You’ll be glad you did 🙂

  9. Yeh I know. I guess I should count myself lucky as we’re discovering we have lots of contacts for cheaper services, my Hairdresser works from her garage, I used to sell cosmetics so my old boss will do my makeup, my cousin is a florist, my fiancee’s mother works for georg jensen so we’ll get our rings there and my mother’s best friend is a dressmaker so I’m set there too!

  10. Twistie says:

    That’s the way to get the most bang for your buck, Dataceptionist! Networking helps tremendously, as does seeking out hungry young professionals just starting out. Sometimes throwing work the way of a newcomer allows you to bargain down prices. Just make sure the newcomer is really talented! Lots of photographers think they want to do weddings because of the steady cash flow, but aren’t really good at it.

    It definitely puts your mind at ease knowing most of the people working on your wedding. And as you noted, it certainly helps keep the budget under control. ; )

  11. And I forgot my Best friend makes cakes!

    Where do you find “talented newcomers” though? I wouldn’t really have a problem with that except I don’t know where to look!

  12. Twistie says:

    In my case, it was easy because I had a coworker whose husband had recently started a photography business, so I saw the guy almost every day. Plus he’d already done two or three weddings, so I had a chance to look at his work. It didn’t hurt that I knew he had the talent of making himself nearly invisible and was about a mellow a person as you could hope to know.

    If there’s a college or art school in your area with a good photography department, you might be able to find a student who will work for less in return for the chance to add to his/her portfolio. If you have any friends who’ve gotten married fairly recently, ask if you can look at their wedding albums. If you like what you see, ask who snapped the pics. Someone may just tell you it was her Uncle Harry or one of those aforementioned students.

    Oh, and it doesn’t matter how cheap the photos come if the photographer stresses you out. It’s better to pay more and find someone you can work with than save a few bucks and look like you’re about to fall over from a stroke in your wedding album. ; )

  13. Shannerlynn says:

    My uncle owns a camera store and was able to pay a friend in free developing. The pictures were wonderful and I own the negatives! He’s doing it again for my sister’s wedding in June.

    On another note, even a professional isn’t a guarantee. The photographer for my father’s best man’s wedding somehow ruined the film. Luckily my dad is an amateur photographer who had done several weddings. He had gotten a picture of every shot he wasn’t in. Consider having a friend take some pictures just in case.

  14. jhin. says:

    My photo is here! 🙂

  15. Mariel says:

    I’ve been engaged for a month and a half… and photography was the only expense that truly startled me with its cost.

    We did meet a husband-wife photography team at a bridal show, though, and liked them a lot. Their middle-of-the-road package was 2500… although it doesn’t include negatizes it had tons of photos. We want a cd of the images… so we might go with the cheaper version from the, Because… at the end, about 2K for two photographers for 10 hours of coverage is better than most other offers we saw.

    I’m counting on saving on the flowers — my brother owns a boutique and one of his roommates is an award-winning florist, so I get them for much much less — to help pay for it….

  16. Daisy says:

    I’ve never planned a wedding, but as an experienced guest I have only this to say: For the love of God, don’t let the photographer take over the wedding. I’ve been to ones where you got the feeling you had been invited to a photo shoot, not a solemn ceremony, complete with non-stop picture taking (with multilpe cameras) and a photographer who went right up to take close-ups of the exchanging of the rings, completely blocking everyone else’s view! (There also was the unfortunate moment at the beginning of the ceremony when all of the guests aimed their digital cameras at the bride, and the assortment of red dots that appeared on her dress made her look like the target of a sniper attack, but that really can’t be blamed on the professional.)
    My point is, pictures are nice, but given the choice I’d rather have memories.

  17. Jeannie says:

    I live in a town with a great photography program at our local university. My husband is the high-tech one of the relationship and he asked around his shop because a lot of the students stop in there. He got the name and website of a student majoring in photography and when we looked at his website, we were amazed. I was able to email him and give him an idea of photographers whose style I liked and he completely understood what I wanted. He shot completely digital so all of the pictures can be in color or black and white, after touching up some of the portrait photos he developed them all for me and also gave me a disc with all of the pictures on it, all for $200!!! I was really lucky to find him because I was getting so frustrated because all of the local professionals charged at least $1000. So definitely check out student photographers but make sure that you are able to look at their work and that they are able to understand what you are looking for.