Couldn’t afford it, don’t regret it: why I skipped wedding photography

Guest post by Branwyn

Everyone knows that we loooove us some amazing professional wedding photography, but what about those of us whose ENTIRE wedding budgets are less than a photographer costs? Here's one bride's perspective.

David & Cayla Wedding

When my husband and I started planning our wedding, there were few things that he insisted on, including “no strangers.” Every person present at our wedding should be a friend or family member we considered close enough to invite to our small, intimate wedding. I couldn't help but agree. I didn't want any strangers there either — not even just passing at a distance.

My husband and I are both introverts, both very private people. We have an independent streak a mile wide, and a strong DIY ethic. We saw no reason for our wedding to be any different. Thoughts of hiring caterers, servers, or musicians were considered and quickly dismissed. No strangers. We even briefly considered hiring people we knew, and dismissed the idea as well. If we wanted them at the wedding, then we wanted them as guests.

Everywhere on the internet I went, everyone echoed the same sentiment: “Hire a good photographer. If you don't, you'll regret it. Doesn't matter if you don't think you want it or can't afford it. Make whatever sacrifices necessary to make it happen.”

We could either have the wedding we wanted, or a low- to mid-range photographer with absolutely nothing else. Put that way, the decision was easy.

But the budget for our entire wedding was $1500. That was how much we could afford and felt comfortable spending, and we felt confident we could make everything we wanted in my wedding happen for that amount. We were both unwilling to put off the wedding to save up money, and both unwilling to go into debt for it.

In our area, an “average” wedding photographer charges about $1500. A “good” photographer, about $3000. A photography student from the university, about $800. So, we could either have the wedding we wanted, or a low to mid range photographer with absolutely nothing else. Put that way, the decision was easy.

I want to be very clear here: It's not that we lack appreciation for the art form of photography, or don't think there's any skill involved. It's just not something we chose to prioritize.

I thought about how weddings have been taking place for probably tens of thousands of years, and how photography has only been around for a couple of centuries. Even a couple of generations ago, it was not uncommon to have only a dozen pictures of a wedding, or maybe only one.

That was all I wanted! A dozen nice candid shots of my loved ones. One good picture of my new husband and I together. No group shots, no hundreds and hundreds of pictures to have to sort through, no picture editing to remove my less than flattering bulges or zits or any unfortunately-placed bystanders. Simple and honest and low-stress, like the rest of the wedding we wanted.

So, I said, “fuck it.” We would not hire a photographer. If we were to regret it, then so be it. At least we would be honest to our own values.

And you know what? I DON'T REGRET IT!

I made little cards for our photo sharing website and stuck them in a basket of M&Ms for guests to take. My sister-in-law took the majority of our pictures. Several other people also took pictures and shared them with us. We ended up with more than I expected, a few dozen all told. Lovely, honest, imperfect pictures that take me right back to the overwhelming joy and love I felt on my wedding day.

I wanted a wedding where I could truly be present in the moment. I got exactly what I wanted, and I don't regret a thing.

What difficult decisions have you made with your wedding budget? What were your deal-breakers that you couldn't live without? How did you pick what to prioritize?

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Comments on Couldn’t afford it, don’t regret it: why I skipped wedding photography

  1. I feel the same way. Too many people transform into completely different people for their wedding. .. but I can’t think of a better day to just be the person your friends, family, and spouse love you as. I’ve never been professionally photographed before so it would just be awkward. I also had trouble finding a photographer who didn’t try to blatantly overcharge while having no set prices or wedding photos on his site, or a photographer who didn’t feel the need to pressure me into several shoots. What’s the point of engagement photos? I have no idea; therefore, I don’t need them. Pictures of me getting dressed? All the bridal shots. .. Why would I want a bunch of pictures of myself by myself on the day that no other day beats as being about TWO people?? Why do NONE of the photographers I’ve said that to understand the simplicity of it?? ? My sister photographs as a hobby and I honestly have never seen anyone pull out their album of wedding photos, or display more than one, if any, so I fully trust that we can get quality photos. Profesional just means it’s done as a profession, not that they’re the best. Plus it’s just way too expensive.

    • “Plus it’s just way too expensive.”

      I strongly disagree with this. The amount of work photographers put in is massive. I completely respect that some of us don’t have the budget for photography, but I’m not ok with dismissing the value of what photographers do, or criticizing them for charging enough to make a living wage.

      I’m really hoping we can talk about this issue without being reduced to dismissing photographers’ work OR dismissing the value of photography for those of us who DO prioritize it.

      Very much related post:

    • I would just like to point out that most photographers throw in a free engagement session so they can get a feel for the couple. Mine specifically told us that the engagement pictures were a way for us to get to know one another and for the day-of pictures to go smoother. We will be “practicing” certain poses so instead of wasting time during the short window on the wedding day, she can just say “elbow” and we’ll know what general pose to hit and she can move us around from there. It’s also a way for us to communicate with the photographer what kind of pictures we liked or didn’t liked. So maybe we didn’t like the way one particular pose looked, like it was too formal or made my arm look fat. Then she knows not to waste time shooting that for the wedding pictures.

    • “What’s the point of engagement photos? I have no idea; therefore, I don’t need them. ”
      It’s a test run, a practise so you guys can get used to working together and talk about anything you didn’t particularly like. A lot of people use them in the wedding somehow too – whether it’s the Save The Date cards or favours or whatever. It might sound dumb to you, but when you’re forking over big bucks for wedding photos, the practise-run is invaluable.

      “Pictures of me getting dressed? All the bridal shots. .. Why would I want a bunch of pictures of myself by myself on the day that no other day beats as being about TWO people?? ”

      It’s their job to capture the whole day. Seems like its pretty common for the whole wedding day to rush by in a whirl of colours and peoples faces – the photos provide a permanent memory of the day, more than just a picture of how the bride and groom looked.

      If none of that is important to you, that’s totally cool. But I don’t think you can be dismissive of it.

      • “It’s their job to capture the whole day.”

        It’s their job to capture the whole day if that’s what the couple want.

        For me, photography wasn’t a big priority. All I really wanted was a photographer for the for the ceremonies (so we could tell guests to put their cameras away during the ceremony), a few of the standard posed shots with relatives and a few candid shots of guests before and after the ceremony. I found a cheap local photographer who charged by the hour and hired him for a few hours to just cover the ceremonies and the time immediately before and after. I didn’t particularly want a stranger around whilst I was getting dressed and the blurry photos of the reception were enough for me to remember it by. (Plus, I don’t think it would have been a appropriate for the photographer to capture some of the more memorable parts of the reception, like when I realised that two of my friends were having sex in the kitchen.)

        • Nothing wrong with not wanting getting ready shots. I usually seek to avoid things like “bride without her makeup” shots, because lots of us tend to severely dislike these.

          When I’m shooting in the bridal suite, I like to be capturing moments like a parent or loved one zipping up the bride’s dress, or helping her put on her garter and shoes. Those are the kind of getting ready shots people love.

          I’m surprised there wasn’t a ‘tog around that would cut you some kind of deal for just ceremony and a couple formals? Significantly less work (I think); most of my stress as a wedding photographer is from being in the bridal suite with a very anxious woman who put down or whose family put down a lot of money on this event.

    • As someone who prioritized photos (and found an amaaaazing price for how talented and awesome the photographers were — after the OBB discount, it was $1300 (plus tip) for 2 photographers all-inclusive, in Seattle. and i would promote them here, but they moved out of state and are not doing wedding photog anymore)…
      I had also never been professionally photographed before, but it was not awkward at all. In fact, I basically never noticed they were there except for during the few posed family/friends portraits and the ‘first look’ (and even then, my mind really was not on them. it was a really emotional, really “real” time, and their only posing advice was, ‘keep kissing if you want.’)

      We did not do an engagement shoot, but we answered a big Q&A beforehand, so they knew what we were about and what our photo priorities were. That way, they didn’t need to check in with us about anything. We could just have our day and later have beautiful photos of it.

      Having them there allowed us to have an otherwise “unplugged” wedding, which meant to me that everyone else was actually much MORE present (we are not smartphone people, and it would’ve driven me crazy for people to have their phones out at the wedding), and then, soon after the wedding, I got an incredible DVD full of photos (over 1300) which I actually had trouble narrowing down into a 300-photo album. Looking through the album never ceases to bring me (or my husband) joy, and 2 years after the wedding, I do look through it at least once a month. It is especially good if we get in a small fight, to look at it to bring us back to reality. We also got a massive photo-on-canvas (cheap with a groupon) of one of our favorite shots from the first look, so I get to see that hanging up every day. It calms me.

      There’s only like one (amazingly gorgeous and unposed, btw) picture of me by myself, and at the same time, the other photographer took an unposed picture of my husband, reading over his vows before our first look (so cool for me to be able to see later!!) But, anyway, (for me) a wedding is not just about 2 people. If we felt that way, we would have eloped. It is about our whole community celebrating our love. I am so happy not just to have pictures of my boo and I, but also my parents’ reaction when we surprised them by using the same vows they had, my friends and I laughing hysterically while they tried to put makeup on me, my little dog running to give us the rings, etc etc.

      And the day was such a love blur that there were actually people there (of 125 guests) who I didn’t even talk to that day. and then I saw them in pictures and said, “What!? I didn’t even know they were there!” but there was the proof, them watching the ceremony with sappy well-wishes all over their faces. Love love love.

      We looked extra-amazing that day (got my hair done, dress that gave me never-before-seen cleavage, husband in costume tux) and so it is nice, on days when we’re sitting around in food-stained pjs to be able to look and say, ‘We clean up nice.’ (Not to say it’s about fake perfection. I LOVE the copious amounts of “ugly” crying pictures of me, which, once again, I never noticed them taking.)

      Friends were very happy to get copies of pictures as well, since they were all lookin’ stylin’ in beautifully taken photos. It took some work, but I managed to send out selected prints with all the thank you notes.

      I completely respect that people have all different priorities (this comment is not in response to the original post but to the comment, with more of my own babbling thrown in), and I fully believe that even people who really value photos can often find a talented friend to do them for free/cheap (yay!), but I just needed to gush about my own experience and to say, actually, some of us DO pull out our albums.

      I do think it helped that I found my photographers on OBB.

      P.S. Living in a punk house with a bunch of roomies for our first 2 years of marriage instead of off on our own easily offset the cost of photography and a million other things. Sometimes super-debt is an issue, but for us, it was all about priorities.

  2. Thank you SO much for this. Our wedding budget is $3000, and with the prices of photographers, there’s just no way that we could fit a “good” photographer into that. I’ve felt so much pressure to have a pricey photographer, especially from all the blogs and comments of people recanting on how very necessary it is. But at the end of the day, I look at it like this: Of all the precious memories in my life, the amazing moments, my children being born, my grad convocation, my grandparents, I don’t have a single professional picture. My cherished memories are captured by Polaroid, blurry 4X6’s from “old school” film cameras. Even newer, digital cameras, or cell phone. Does that lessen the memories? Not at all. As long as I have a handful (or two) of great candid shots, I will be more than happy!
    Also, in lieu of gifts for our Jack and Jill wedding shower, the guests will be asked to contribute money towards one major gift, which we chose to be a really nice camera. 🙂

    • I’m the opposite; I don’t have any Polaroids or blurry 4X6’s or even many cell phone photos of ANYTHING that’s happened in my life, because I’m too busy DOING it to take pictures. I’m super sad that I don’t have a single good picture of my partner proposing to me–it was one of the things I’d specifically asked for, that he’d arranged for, and it didn’t happen because the person who was supposed to do it wasn’t paying attention. And then the couple pictures we did get are suuuuuper washed out because it was foggy and they used a flash.

      It was that disappointment that made me realize how much I really wanted professional photos. There will be 10 professional photographers at our weddings as guests, but we hired someone else. Because I couldn’t ask my friends to not be fully present with us at our wedding, and because if the pictures came out horrible I didn’t want it to ruin a friendship. Thankfully, we don’t have to pay for the photographer until 4 weeks after the wedding, which means it’s due 2 months after just about every other expense has to be paid anyway. So, some of our wedding present money might be spent on it. *shrug* In any event, it’s part of our budget and we’re saving toward it even as we are buying the other things, and it’s most decidedly going to be the biggest piece of the pie, but that’s ok.

      I think to me, the most interesting part of this article is seeing how people’s personalities are reflected in their priorities!

  3. Thank you for this! I’ve been in an uncomfortable camp regarding this for a while now, namely: “Photography is important to us, but also… we can’t afford it.” I tried to let it go, even though it was important, but coming across those “if photography is important to you, spend as much as you can on it and prioritize it!” articles made me deeply unhappy, every time.

    What we have done is found an up-and-coming photographer (on Craigslist – he had actually posted an ad looking for a gig as a second photographer on a wedding to build up experience), who we are just paying as much as we can scrape together. I will always wish we could pay him more than what we’ll be able to, but I feel a million times better that we will have a photographer (one whose work we like, to boot!), and I am glad that someone like him will get some portfolio-building out of it.

    • If you like the photos, you could always give him a bonus later when you can afford it. Maybe save up a bit and get some anniversary photos, hire him and pay him a little extra?

  4. I’m glad to see this post. Although amazing photography is amazing, and I’m not knocking it, it’s not everyone’s priority.

    I had a much larger budget that’s the OP. I only hired a photographer because it was important to others to have someone responsible for taking pictures (and nothing else), and he was a low-key, affordable small town guy willing to do post-ceremony and reception only. I did not want a photographer there during set up or while I was trying to get ready or during the ceremony. I have some great photos, some adequate photos, and no regrets, despite the near-constant message that photography should be the top wedding priority because the photos live on. For me, the photos are there to help trigger the memories, not so much as an entity in themselves.

  5. Im getting married June 2015. found out recently that the photographer i wanted is moving to another province so she wont be available. My dad (who used to be a wedding photographer) told me not to worry there will be plenty of cameras. But still i think if anything i will ask a friend to take photos for me plus any pics my dad isnt in he can do some and if we need lighting my dad has the who setup of lights ( he did weddings, proms, the works) incase of rain and we need indoor pics we have lights already.. i was worried when i found out the photographer was moving.. but hey thats money im saving and can go somewhere else. like more for food or the DJ or more decorations.

  6. Where is it that “good” wedding photographers get paid $3000? Ooof, do I live in the boonies or something? I’m a photographer who has a BA in photography and wide range of experience, and I’ve never been able to get a fee more than $1000. Not that I’m, the most amazing magical photographer in the world or anything — I’m certainly not — but I’ve never left a couple unhappy!

      • Also, while that’s the average, we’ve got one for $1,100. She’s fantastic, but just getting started. If we really couldn’t have found someone good for less than 5k, we would have gone without and had only candids. You’d remember the moment just as well and while they’re less frame-worthy, they’re still evocative. I agree with the op, we very nearly went without photography as well due to budgetary constraints.

    • In major cities $3,000 is low-midrange for a good photographer. I’m in NYC and charge around $4,000. You should consider raising your prices especially if you have happy couples that can vouch for you!

    • Philadelphia suburbanite here… When I was searching for a photographer, that was about the going rate for “basic” packages with most of the “experienced pro’s” I looked at. What was included varied greatly, but almost never included all hi-res digital or a copyright release (something that was vitally important to me… I dreamed of creative commons, but not one photographer I spoke with was willing to go there with me) .

      We ended up going with an ‘up and coming’ photographer who recently finished art school and worked with my wife. After a year of experience (and building up a decent portfolio), her prices are currently about $1500 for 8 hours of coverage, including a 2nd shooter, editing, a DVD of hi-res images, and a copyright release. As one of her first weddings (and real-life friends), we received a significant discount.

      I was apprehensive at first, since when we booked with her she had no previous wedding gigs, but she had a good enough art porfolio and we had a limited enough budget for photography that I was willing to take a chance. Looking back now, I would happily pay the full $1500 for what we received.

    • In central MA, most wedding photography starts at the 3k range. Thankfully I’ve found a photographer who will be about $1200 – we still have to meet with them to make sure my fiance likes them. I’m sure he will, but if not, I think I’ll have to reach out to friends and family for help/ideas because as much as I want great photo,I ddon’t want them badly enough to break the bank. For us, it’s partly important to have nice/professional photoz, but more important that all of our guests can party and have a good time without relying solely on them to capture everything on film.

    • I’ve found if you set your fees that way, they will come.
      Wedding photography is a touch different, but with portraits I found my clients are less likely to flake out on a session or hassle me with strange requests, and they usually really value the pro-lab prints I include in that price, prompting them to order a bunch more.
      Ultimately, pay yourself what you feel your worth. As long as you’re not hurting your business, there is absolutely nothing wrong with charging <1,000.

  7. So glad this post came along when it did. I’m getting married Friday and our photography is being done by my step-dad and a close friend. Photography actually was very important to me – I fucking love pictures – but we had a very small budget and I knew that if I was going to pay, I was going to be very selective about who I’d work with. As such, the photographer I really wanted – an OBB Sponsor! – was just out of my range. So I let it go. My step-dad is great with a camera and really excels at posed shots, and my friend is excellent at candids. Combined with everyone else’s photos cropping up on facebook and the like, I’m not worried. Of all the weddings I’ve been to over the past couple years I’ve liked the guest’s photos best. (Not to knock professional photogs- you guys are mostly awesome, I’m just not into the style of the ones that come across my dash.) And honestly, with how low-key and laid back our wedding is, it just makes more sense to do it this way. But that’s just us.

    So I’m just hoping I don’t regret the decision. I don’t think I will, because when it comes down to it they are just pictures. I’m not making a big wedding album or scrapbook. I just want a couple to look back on and smile.

  8. I can totally understand this. I married in 1990 and was the only photographer among my friends. (This was back in film days when most people did not own a camera.) My total budget was £600 and a photographer back then was £500!
    So from the start I accepted that we couldn’t afford one. Fortunately my husband had a friend who was a keen amateur photographer and he did the photos for us as a gift.
    I wish I’d taken my own camera to the wedding to capture candid shots, I never thought to take it.
    Also, having an amateur meant that the group shots took AGES and we had far too many of them. Sadly, there are no photos that I have ever liked enough to display around the house. Not because they are bad photos, our friend just didn’t have the confidence to arrange us or capture me from flattering angles.
    My teenage hobby eventually became my job and I now work as a wedding & event photographer. It’s made me realise how much skill and practice is required to get great candids and natural looking portraits!

  9. Unfortunately it’s not you, the bride and groom, who suffer. It’s your children, grand children etc that will only have faded low quality prints to marvel at. That’s really sad in my opinion.

    Wedding albums are usually the first heirloom, and the longest surviving.
    I personally have my great grand parents albums and I cherish them, and I appreciate the legacy they represent.

    I had hired a low budget shooter for my wedding – regretted it every time my children pulled the family photos out.

    Perhaps you should have waited a tad longer, saved a little longer. Just say’n.

    • This isn’t a place for shame, Greg. Your experience is regretful, and that’s unfortunate. I have one picture, a group shot of the whole bridal party at the altar, of my parents wedding, and they’re divorced so it’s in a bin somewhere in my garage. They spent a fortune on a photographer. Just sayin 😛

    • Hey Greg, I’m going to assume you’re new to Offbeat Bride. To echo what Shayna said, we are not about shaming anyone’s choices here. As much as we don’t want people dismissing photography in this thread, we also don’t want to shame those who can’t afford or didn’t prioritize certain things.

      I would also recommend not assuming that all couples are even going to have children, or grandchildren. This coming from a child-free editor who shelled out some big bucks for wedding photography. That was a choice made for ourselves, not for anyone else. And that’s what we encourage here.

    • For what it’s worth, I’m the only surviving member of my mother’s family. When my grandmother died a few months ago, all her children had already predeceased her, and I was the only grandchild. Which means I inherited boxes and boxes and boxes of family memorabilia. Too much for one young woman. And I’ll cherish many of them for years and years, including the one posed photo I have of my grandmother on her wedding day. But I’m not planning on having children, so I have no idea what happens to all those family heirlooms when I die. And I can’t turn my house into a shrine to display the memories of my mother’s family.

      So I’m chiming in here to say that no couple should feel obligated to pay for something out of their price range/ interest level on the off-chance they have grandchildren who expect professional photographs. Maybe the couple in the story isn’t planning on having kids. Maybe they’ll have a boatload of kids and those kids will never have kids. Maybe they’ll have an army of great-great-grandchildren who will be thrilled with the photographs they do inherit, professional or not.

      • Just a small suggestion about what to do with the family photos/heirlooms. You could maybe get in touch with the historical society in your area an see if they would be interested in having them?

        My family is on a huge genealogy kick right now, and we have been able to find pictures of relatives/ancestors online because people have donated collections like that. Enjoy your link to the past, and don’t feel guilty when it’s time to downsize.

    • OP here. I’m sorry that you regretted the choice that you made. But the thing is, we could have waited longer and saved up more money, but that doesn’t change the “how much we were willing to spend” number. If I’d had more money at the time, I would have spent the same on the wedding and put more towards other things I’ve been saving up for in my life. It’s more about priorities than budget.

      There are only a couple of pictures of my grandparents’ wedding floating around in my family. They are faded. They are probably what you would call “low quality.” And I love them! They are almost magical. On the other hand, there are several hundred high-quality pictures from my sister’s wedding, and I feel like I can’t enjoy any of them because I find the quantity totally overwhelming.

      Some people like having hundreds of pictures, and that’s awesome. Personally, I’m a “less is more” sort of person.

    • My parents’ wedding pictures are entirely a friend’s candid shots and some assorted polaroids. They’re plenty.

    • ps, No. I saw one picture of my mom and my dad together in dess/tux and I really never cared for that. I dont knwo what they did at their wedding, I dont really know how moms dress looked (bc the picture was Bust-style)

      So, you know, not every child cares for such stuff. I never saw Picture of my grandgrand parents or of my grandmas mariages, because I am german and both parts of my family at that time had to flee, my grandma from Kaliningrad in January. She just simply had not the time to take anything with her (she had no documents) Similar the other half of my Family.

      So I dont think pictures are so important per se- for some people they are, for other people (like me-I dont have any pictures of me or important stuff in my life because I never cared for them. I think that there are other people like me with no regards for pictures/old Picturebooks)
      So, maybe thats why its not important to me-because both could tell me about their experience and didnt need pictures for that. You take what you can get- in their cases, which are extreme, other stuff was far more important.

      But maybe its a cultural thin, I dont know.

      Also, my parents can tell me of their Marriage should I show interest enough to indicate.

  10. Thanks so much for writing this! I’ve been reading article after article about how important getting “the right” wedding photographer is – and since my engagement is fairly short, we went with the wedding photographer we could get/is available. I’ve been semi-stressed ever since about the photos not ending up being as awesome as they should be because I didn’t make the right choice when it came to a photographer.

    This post reminds me that wedding pictures are just one piece of the puzzle – and that it does not have to be the most important piece! This thought has relieved a great deal of stress for me – so thanks!

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