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Posted at 5:23 PM ET, 02/18/2009

Wedding Photos: Saving Money One Shot at a Time

By Stephanie Merry

What's the point of spending so much money on the dress, the cake and the flowers if it all only lasts for one day? Hence the importance of wedding photos. People take the hiring process for wedding photographers pretty seriously, as they should, but in this economic climate, dropping $6k on a photo album might seem a bit extravagant. Worry not; there are still a number of ways to document the bouquet throws and exchanged vows without breaking the bank.

While going the route of finding a less-expensive photographer with positive reviews on a site like Pictage is a no-brainer, there are other ways to cut costs without going with an inexpensive (or inexperienced) professional. Event planner Lesley Cohen, who founded LelyCo Events, thinks there are plenty of places to cut costs in weddings, but skimping on the photographer is generally a bad idea. "My recommendation is to hire the best photographer you can find but forego the prints, albums and such until you have the money to invest down the road." Cohen says.

A lot of photographers will offer expensive packages, but those options may include extraneous services. Boudoir photos? Probably something people can live without. In that case, try to negotiate a la carte or hourly pricing rather than going with the pricier all-inclusive option. One photographer that Cohen recommends, Lori Love, offers packages starting at $3,500. But with a coffee-table book, unlimited images and a second photographer, the hourly rate of $350 might be a more cost-effective option.

Speaking of hourly rates, most weddings yield more photos than the bride and groom know what to do with, and that's before they even receive the professional photos. Have a few friends with digital cameras that relish playing paparazzi? Ask them to go crazy on the wedding day. That way, you can employ a professional photographer at an hourly rate for the most important photographs and fill in the gaps with photos from friends and family. Think of it as a sort of wedding photography crowdsourcing. Of course there may be a more limited number of artsy shots, and touch-ups might not be an option, but (for the more practical among us), having a wide array of images from the Big Day is the most important thing.

Another economical option is to hire a photojournalist from a local newspaper. This option could also potentially take a bit more work on the part of the bride and groom. First, there's tracking down the photographer, then the task of tracking down references. Professional photojournalists also may not offer the add-ons of a typical wedding photographer, so the wedding album may become a do-it-yourself project instead of a finished product delivered to your doorstep.

Rather than seeking out a photographer on your own, there's also the option of companies like Bella Pictures, which has a database of photographers to choose from. It might be a slightly less personal experience, but the rates are good and most of the details are handled for you. After the company gets a sense of what the bride and groom are looking for, Bella serves as a sort of eHarmony and about two months before the wedding, the company recommends a photographer that seems like a good fit (and bride and groom have veto power). While there are pricier packages like the "elegante" at $6400, there is also the "Simplicity," which includes the basics: six hours, one photographer and digital negatives for $1950.

And for those willing to take a larger leap, there is always the possibility of contacting an art student. Of course, hiring someone who is less experienced is not for the feint of heart, but amazing things can come from raw talent and that kind of talent abounds at places like the Corcoran School of Art and Design.

Have other ideas for saving money on wedding photographs? Let us know in the comments.

-- Stephanie

By Stephanie Merry  | February 18, 2009; 5:23 PM ET
Categories:  Misc.  
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Well, wedding, at least between two particular people, happens mainly once in a life. If you want good pictures to remember this day, hire a professional photographer, do not rely on your amateur friend with a fancy gear.

Posted by: jpbillon | February 18, 2009 9:59 PM | Report abuse

First, let me disclose I'm a full time-make my living from-don't have a day job which takes my time or attention away from - totally dedicated to-photographer (weddings mostly) That being out of the way..My advice
1. Meet the photographer, no matter the budget, 9 hours on a big day is an awful lot of time to spend with someone who might not suit your personality or style well, insist on engagement sessions as a tryout.
2. Get a real contract that states when you can expect to receive your images, the larger companies give you a ball park time, the smaller independents who do weddings as a hobby may take up to 2 months, find out.
3.Never be ashamed of being on a budget, so much time is wasted trying to haggle over a price, If you cant afford a Mercedes, don't go to the showroom!
4.Will you get FULL copyright(reprint rights) over all the images? Just a few? Will there be a watermark? Do you get to pick the images?
5. Will they be online for viewing, and for how long, can they be purchased?
6. Ask any question you can think of, more questions mean fewer surprises, 20 years from now, you will be glad you did

Posted by: djamesnm | February 19, 2009 9:03 AM | Report abuse

If you really want to save money on the photography, just think of the overall choreography and think of what shots you want taken from what angle. Then ask a couple of your friends who have decent equipment to take those shots for you.

All you are doing in hiring a pro is hiring someone who will tell you up front that they are going to charge you to take pictures at your wedding. But how do you know that they are any good? At least offer the opportunity to a friend who is a photo-geek, stage some sessions and try it out and see if he or she can do the job for you and save a *lot* of dough and frustration. If they don't have the necessary gear they can always rent it from a place like Penn Camera here in DC. They have several locations and helpful staff.

That is if you *really* want to save money. Never pay someone to do what you can get done for free.

Posted by: dubya19391 | February 19, 2009 1:35 PM | Report abuse

Full disclosure, I am a professional photographer and weddings make up the majority of my income from photography.

Generally the article had good advice. I'm glad that it was prefaced that it's generally a bad idea to skimp on wedding photography. I also would caution that you really need to think about your coverage and what's important to document.

In my opinion, people get way to caught up in the product (images) and not focus on who is taking the pictures, especially the style that informs the coverage.

One of the reasons why wedding photography is so expensive is that you are not buying just pictures but the skill, experience and style of the person taking them. I had a bride last year tell me that she tried the friends-with-camera route at her previous wedding (this was #2 for her) and they all took the obvious photos but missed the candid moments that she had hoped that would be captured. This is what an experienced and aware Photographer can provide for a couple. Also, this is a lot of work. I spend 35-40 hours per wedding, the bulk of it doing work after the wedding.

As a guideline, Photography should make up 5%-10% of the overall budget. You will see that the prices for good photographers around here tend to reflect the average cost of wedding in the DC area (roughly $40k).

Other ideas to afford a good shooter:

- Do your wedding on an off day:
of the week (like Thursday or Friday). A lot of good shooter are willing to entertain a "shoot and burn" wedding (photograph the images, and burn the batch processed images to a disc) if it does not take a prime wedding dates away from them.

- Consider a reception-less wedding:
The majority of the wedding images that make it to my albums happens before the reception. Most of the stuff that happens at the reception can easily be captured by friends and family. I'm not dismissing the importance of the reception, but if money is tight 4 hours of coverage for 75% of what ends up in your wedding album is a pretty good deal.

- Front load your reception:
If the previous suggestion is totally not a realistic consideration for you,then perhaps, getting 6 hours of coverage and front load the reception so that the Photographer can get all the moments (1st dance, Father/Daughter dance, Mother/Son dance, toasts and cake cutting) and pictures of the venue and decor during the first part of the reception. This could allow you to book for less time.

- Register your wedding photography:
I offer this as an option for my clients. Add the Photographer to the wedding registry. Getting a $50 wedding gift from 20 friends is $1000. That can help you afford the photography that you really want.

Posted by: RMickle1 | February 19, 2009 2:05 PM | Report abuse

If you truly want to just get married and have a few good photos, in these days of digital cameras, where you know immediately how bad the shots are, you CAN count on an amateur friend with an $800 Nikon and some decent lighting. Go before the wedding to the Walmart studio for the formal shot you plan to hang on the foyer wall.(Or get the photo taken after the wedding if you really think your marriage will last longer if "he" doesn't see your dress beforehand). I'm sorry, professional photographers, but you are WAY overpaid for weddings, especially now that you don't have to mess with film.

Posted by: mcleangirl | February 19, 2009 6:02 PM | Report abuse

Having got married 5 years ago, I have to say that it is totally not worth it to spend a fortune on your wedding photos. You hang them up for a year or two, and then they start looking a little weird and creepy and not reflective of your real life at all. If I go over to friend's houses who have more than 1 wedding photo up, it is definitely weird. They end up in a box that you look at every 5 years. If it only cost $500 to get that box of photos, of course it's worth it. But for the thousands it costs, you can do without. We hired a cheap photographer for $700, who took the standard ceremony and post-ceremony shots, and did 15 minutes at the reception. So we got the one or two great shots we need for the one picture we keep out. Digital cameras were just becoming popular, and our absolute fave wedding day shots were from friends cameras. We had an otherwise traditional wedding, and were so happy that we pooled our resources into a live band, good food and beautiful flowers - things that made our guests have a really good time. Which is the whole point of a wedding. Wedding photographers are overpaid and have done great PR in trying to convince everyone that this is a must-do.

Posted by: coops905 | February 19, 2009 6:56 PM | Report abuse

After our first daughter hired a very good professional photographer and no one really looked at the photos after the first showing and then she got divorced 4 yrs later, our second daughter decided to go to the photography dept at NVCC and ask if there was a student who could be paid by the hour and would hand over copies of all the digital photos they took on memory chips so we could do whatever we wanted with them (crop, etc). The photographer was also given full use of copies of the photos for her portfolio. Most people only look at photos on line any how. We were very satisfied with the results.

Posted by: schneebaum | February 19, 2009 8:21 PM | Report abuse

Wedding photography is no place to skimp, on the other hand you don't have to pay a fortune either. Suggestions in the article and comments that guests will provide a lot of 'fill' is, in the main, just that: filler.

You might have a friend or family member who is big into photography, and s/he might be quite talented. However, a wedding is a real time event that requires doing it right for every part of the sequence without dropping the ball.

Hire a professional. There are pros in your area who can show you their portfolios (reassurance) and you'll quickly discover the quality/price waterline. Most pros do not mind if there is a family amateur shooter in the mix as long as he doesn't interfere with the key shots.

There are pro wedding shooters who shoot the traditional style and some who shoot in the recent (last 10, 15 years) "photojournalist" style. Some (many?) can mix the styles as they go. Just make sure YOU know which style you want and make sure the photographer matches that.

Posted by: AlanBrowne | February 20, 2009 8:48 AM | Report abuse

Full disclosure: Third generation Washingtonian, long continuing career photographing people.

On my father's dresser in his bedroom there was an excellently executed bridal portrait of my mother. Like many brides in her day, she was in her early twenties and at the peak of her attractiveness and of ideal child-bearing age. The level of craftsmanship that was used to create the portrait was high. The lighting was not a simple, flat on-camera flash that is so common today among the untrained, but instead carefully positioned studio lights that bring out the texture of her wedding dress, her figure and her facial structure. This dresser-top portrait was and remains an enduring symbol for our family.

She had eight children, but passed away when her youngest was five. Her photo is not in any way "weird" to us as her children, even though the wedding, reception and even the marriage are long over. Instead, we have continued to enjoy her wedding photos, displaying a couple dozen highlight 8"x10"s from her wedding in the 1950s at her youngest daughters wedding last year, the prints enclosed in a brand new album. In my grandfather's role as a newspaper publisher, he had access to his staff of photographers, and made sure they produced several hundred 8x10 prints. Looking at that album was a fun activity for us.

Not everyone is going to fall in love or remain in love with their photos, or even their family or any possible spouse. When I seek clients, I'm looking for folks who are expressive and enjoy familial love.

I think the ideas expressed here about self-examination are important. People seeking photo services should determine of they really want to commit the expense of not only money, but also their own personal involvement in the process. It takes time and you have to "be there" when the event transpires, if a there is to be a good result.

Posted by: pptcmember | February 20, 2009 1:12 PM | Report abuse

Good article. Good to hear from both sides too in the comments--photographers and those with ideas to save $$. I would just say that as an amateur photographer who has done engagement shoots with friends, please don't ask me to do your wedding. If we're friends I want to celebrate with you and enjoy your day not work. Shooting a wedding is SO much work, as the pros here attest. And there's so much pressure on such a special day, if you're not happy with the photos, I would hate to think it could affect the friendship. Hiring a pro is a good idea on so many levels.

Posted by: Snowball2 | February 20, 2009 3:43 PM | Report abuse

If you truly want to just get married and have a few good photos, in these days of digital cameras, where you know immediately how bad the shots are, you CAN count on an amateur friend with an $800 Nikon and some decent lighting. Go before the wedding to the Walmart studio for the formal shot you plan to hang on the foyer wall.(Or get the photo taken after the wedding if you really think your marriage will last longer if "he" doesn't see your dress beforehand). I'm sorry, professional photographers, but you are WAY overpaid for weddings, especially now that you don't have to mess with film.
In this as in many other endeavours you get what you pay for. Relying on a friend or a student for such an important event is not very smart in my opinion. That does not mean that you have to break the bank, but you should find a good professional to do the _bulk_ of the work.

Most photographers do not use film anymore, but there is a lot of computer work afterwards. And they are not more overpaid than wedding planners, cake bakers and the like.

Full disclosure: I am NOT a professional photographer. I just understand and value their craft.

Posted by: youknowwho | February 20, 2009 4:04 PM | Report abuse

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