Cheap & Cheerful Wedding Photography?

A question that I sometimes see asked online is “Where can I hire a cheap photographer for my wedding?  I only need a few pictures!” and that is usually answered with something to the effect of “My Uncle Brian has an amazing camera, so we have asked him to shoot my wedding.” Obviously, I don’t know how good Uncle Brian is with his picture-taking machine, but what I can do is tell you a real-life story that I have witnessed myself.

A few years ago, I was invited to a friend’s wedding, and I know exactly what you’re thinking – a wedding photographer being a guest at a wedding? Talk about a busman’s holiday! Well this was not the case for me as the cameras were left at home. Instead, I got the chance to stand on the other side of the lens and enjoy the day without doing any work. Admittedly, there was some expectation of responsibility on my part since I was the Best Man, but still…

On the morning of the big day, both the Bride (who, for the purposes of this Blog, we shall give the pseudonym of Sarah) and Groom (let’s call him Steve) were getting ready in separate rooms of the same hotel and as we were getting suited and booted, I decided to float the idea of me going up one floor and asking the photographer if they would be so kind to take a break from the Bridal prep, pop down to where we were and take a few pictures of Steve. “Sarah’s Dad is taking the photos.” was the reply.

To help build some context to this, Sarah’s Dad is a bit of a photography nerd and is often seen at family gatherings with his camera but as I have previously said in my ‘Choosing Your Wedding Photographer’ Blog post, wedding photography is an entirely different beast to other genres of photography and there is so much more to it than just having a nice camera. As it turned out, Sarah’s Dad did have a very decent camera and a few nice lenses to go with it, so he is already much more prepared than 99% of the Uncle Brian’s out there.

I take the trip upstairs to find out that Sarah’s Dad isn’t there. Turns out that he’s spent quite a bit of time outside taking photos of the venue but as Sarah’s Mom was telling me this, Dad arrives and starts taking photos of Sarah getting pampered and very quickly, he notices that his lens isn’t wide enough. To solve this problem, he runs out to the car to swap out his lenses and by the time he gets back, the bride’s makeup is already done and now they are working on the hair. It was at this point that I stepped away to tell Steve that Sarah’s Dad is a bit too busy to take photos of him before the ceremony. Probably best to leave it until later.

Downstairs, the ceremony room is decorated beautifully, and Sarah’s Dad has already scoped out a great spot, pops on his zoom lens and takes a lot of shots of Steve walking in. The only problem is that all those photos were out of focus.

Then came the calamity of the day: as the song to accompany Sarah walking down the aisle was playing, there was a bit of an awkward pause. Everyone had risen to their feet and were looking round to see Sarah in her stunning wedding dress but instead, nothing was happening until Steve turned to his Father-In-Law to be and asked the question “Aren’t you supposed to be walking Sarah down the aisle?” This created a moment that should only exist in a sitcom in which Sarah’s Dad sprinted up the aisle to take his Daughter’s arm, walk her back down the aisle and give her away. It’s a moment that, in itself, is hilarious but there are no photos of it happening. Nor are there any photos of Sarah walking down the aisle, Steve’s reaction to seeing his beautiful Bride for the first time in her wedding dress or the moment where the proudest man in the room gave away his daughter’s hand in marriage.

The wedding ceremony is going great (made even more entertaining by the Registrar who threw a jab or two at the Father of the Bride’s lack of planning), and Sarah’s Dad grabs several great shots but he realises again that his camera lens isn’t wide enough. He had learned his lesson from earlier though and had placed his bag by his feet, so he reaches down and swaps lenses. As he looks back up, he sees Sarah and Steve kiss for the first time – he missed it. He also didn’t think to shoot any of the Bride or Groom’s family during the ceremony.

After the ceremony, it’s time for the group shots and portraits of the newlyweds. Sarah’s Dad has already found a great spot which has stunning views and stands everyone facing away from the sun so that he can capture the grandeur of the scene. Since Sarah’s Dad doesn’t want to manually control his settings, he leaves his camera in Auto mode and as a result, all of the photos being shot in the mid-afternoon sun perfectly show the background, but the newlyweds, their friends and their family are too dark.

So what went wrong there? Think about the predictive text on your phone – it throws up suggestions on what it thinks your next word should be. Sometimes it does get it right but more often than not, your phone is just suggesting something not even remotely relevant to what you want to say. The Auto mode in any camera is not too dissimilar in that it’s trying to predict what you want to achieve but the biggest difference is that instead of asking “Is this what you want?”, it just takes the picture. You get what you are given, if you like.

The wedding breakfast is now being served and Sarah’s Dad has already worked about 8 hours. He has decided that after a hard day’s graft, he should relax and enjoy the wedding too since he is family, so he gives his camera to his youngest son and tells him to shoot. In fact, Sarah’s Dad doesn’t shoot for the rest of the night and that is completely understandable – after a three-course meal, a couple of glasses of prosecco and a few pints, who would want to work after that? After all, he is helping the Bride and Groom by saving them money and he figures that it shouldn’t matter anyway.

Sarah’s Dad doesn’t have the software to post-produce his photos or even do a bit of colour correction. He simply gives the Bride and Groom a USB stick of all the images. I wasn’t there when Sarah and Steve looked through all of these photos, but Steve did tell me what happened next.

Sarah’s Dad delivered about 2,000 photos. At around photo 100, Sarah was already in tears because every photo is too dark, too bright, blurry, or just not that good. There are next to no photos of the Bridal prep, nothing of the Groomsmen getting ready, no shot of their first kiss and the only evening shots were of Sarah’s younger brother shooting all of the kids at the reception.

I’m a big believer in what I call the four pillars of a wedding: your venue (with catering), your photographer, your flowers and your entertainment. Along with the two of you and your guests, these are the core areas to build your wedding around. There are a lot of extras out there and if you can set some of your budget to one side to get those extras then go for it, but not at the expense of the four pillars. It’s that old saying that it’s better to do the basics well…

As a Worcestershire-based wedding photographer, I have a few standard packages but more often than not, I create bespoke packages to try and fit within my clients’ budgets. As an example, it’s always better to choose quality photography over products, so choose to have full day coverage and download your photos for now and then have an album at a later date. That way, you can go for that album or those large prints in a few years when your family is well established instead of having low quality photography slapped into an album ready for when you get back from your honeymoon.

Sarah and Steve’s wedding was an amazing day. Beautifully decorated, perfectly planned and struck that balance of traditional elegance and alternative. Unfortunately, there are no worthwhile photos to document their big day. You can always order products later, but you can never order better quality and more creative photos after your Wedding.