My wedding planning thus far has been ridiculously stress-free.  To the point I wonder if something extraordinarily bad is going to happen, because wedding planning isn't supposed to be this easy, this fun and this far under budget.  One tip I extend to other future brides is the value of reading about the trials and troubles encountered by other brides who have weddings of a similar type to yours.  The Reddit Wedding Planning sub has been a fantastic resource to discover what works and what doesn't. Today we are talking photography.

My one minor stressor so far has been securing a photographer.  As a creative myself, I believe that quality creative work deserves to be compensated fairly. This belief has hit an equally formidable reality that my budget cannot entertain paying the cost for a wedding photographer.  An established wedding photographer is literally the same cost as my entire wedding budget.  So what to do?  How we made our photographer decision.

1.)  Determine, specifically, what photographs are most important to you and your partner.

Where are the pictures going?  Which pictures will be displayed in your home?  On social media?  Do those pictures require a level of professionalism beyond your time and capabilities?

In our case, we want posed pictures of myself, my SO and my family and close friends, to display in our home.  I prefer truly candid photos taken by loved ones to professional candid photographs.  I have no attendants, as well the idea of having someone following me around taking pictures of me all day makes me nauseous.  There will be no First Look photos, as I don't want them.  It's nice that documented stalking is included in most wedding photography packages, but I don't want it.  I absolutely intend to share pictures on social media, however, I do not need those shared pictures to cost me 3 thousand dollars.

2.)  Be realistic, and honest, about your own abilities and the time cost of taking your own pictures.

I have painted a picture, in abstract form, of my cake design.  I also feel confident about my ability to take a very nice still-life type photo.  I do not need a professional picture of my cake, my flowers, my dress hanging in a window backlit in the sun nor a picture of my shoes artfully arranged on a pillow or chair.  Half of the still-life photos don't even need to be taken on the day of the wedding, adding to my comfort taking those myself.  

I do not have the skill, however, to take really nice pictures of people.  And as the bride, I may need to be in some of the photos.  Need identified.

Unsure of your skill?  Practice before hiring a photographer, so you know which portions of the wedding photography package are really necessary.  I've already taken some photographs of my dress that I really like.  Not everyone is a great photographer.  But what if you are a better photographer than you think you are, and it saves you money?

3.)  Where does photography fall on the list of important wedding factors to consider?

If having a professional photographer is more important than food, a meaningful ceremony, decor, the dress, the shoes ect...then ensure your budget acknowledges and allows for that.  You certainly don't need to justify to anyone why one factor has more meaning than another*.   My number one priority is delicious food for my guests.  My second priority is being surrounded by fresh flowers that enhance my garden party them.  My third priority is a gorgeous pair of wedding shoes.  If you want the full wedding photographer package, then arrange your budget around it. No apologies.  There are some amazing photographers who absolutely deserve the fee they command.

4.)  Are you willing to let someone else pay for the photography package?

 If Mom [insert person bothering you about it] *must* have something a certain way that isn't in your budget, simply say "as this is not in our budget, on this one thing, you may hire and pay for the photographer".  Be specific as you don't want a wishy-washy statement to suddenly give the green light to the idea that someone else can plan your event any way they wish, as long as they pay for it.  If the annoying Trying To Plan YOUR Event Person does not take you up on your offer, simply state "my apologies, that simply isn't in our budget" and change the subject repeatedly until they throw themselves off a bridge in frustration or simply let the topic drop.

It's easy to get so caught up in wedding planning that you forget to slow down and take the time to deeply examine what you truly want for this once-in-a-lifetime event.  It's easy to know you need a photographer, so you start researching wedding photographers and secure the best one available on your day, without detailing if you really need what you are paying for.  

The likely day for our wedding is also a very popular day. I would end up very unhappy spending 3k on a wedding photographer when what I really need is a family photographer for a few hours.  I would also feel very guilty about hiring a wedding photographer for their lowest price, nix most of their picture ideas and limiting their ability to expand their portfolio on one of the most popular wedding days of the year.  I'd rather leave a talented creative professional available to take a bigger job for a bigger profit, for a client with a bigger budget.

5.)  Do your research, read reviews, peruse portfolios and think outside the box for a non-traditional wedding.  

Simply taking the word "wedding" out of your search for a local photographer might save you a ton of money.  Some people are willing to go with a less-experienced photographer to save costs.  Or perhaps a family member is skilled with a camera.  You may actually need to purchase the full wedding package.  If you take the time to consider the end result of your decision, you'll feel a lot more comfortable with spending the money, whether you spend $100 for disposable cameras or buy a 5k wedding photography package.  I know many people who spent thousands on their wedding photography and are very glad they did.  I have friends who are professional photographers, who earn every cent of the fee they charge.  

6.)  Understand photographer contracts.  

Educate yourself on photography rights, whether your photos will be used in their advertising.  You may not own your photographs if the photographer does not release the rights to you.  Will your information and/or image be shared by the photographer to advertise themselves?  I say no unless I am compensated, as any model or advertiser would be.   How many photographs will you receive, in what format (file or hard copy) and within what timeframe?  Retouching?  I strongly  recommend reading through examples of a typical contract and researching any issues addressed that matter to you and your partner.  I personally would not work with any photographer that did not operate under a contract.

After considering the above, we are hiring a Family photographer for the 2-3 hour reception, to take meaningful family photographs.  

Under budget, guilt-free.

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* Although if you have a mealtime wedding and only serve snacks, we will have a word.