Should I go with the free or inexpensive amateur photographer, or hire a professional?

“If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur.”- Red Adair

Let me tell you a story…

My brother- and sister-in-law are intelligent, frugal people. They planned and paid for their own wedding. Their attention to financial detail paid off for them in all ways, but one…their wedding photography.

My sister-in-law’s mother is a photo technician for a studio in their hometown. One of the studio’s employees was an enthusiastic amateur photographer, who offered to take their wedding photos for $200. That’s practically free, right? They had seen some of his work and thought it looked pretty good, so they booked him.

On the day of the wedding the photographer showed up with one camera, one lens and an on-camera flash. He shot for maybe two hours and delivered their images on a DVD about a week later. As my Bride hugs her motherbrother-in-law and his new wife began looking through the images, their hearts sank. Over half were too dark and made the wedding gown look grey. In others, the whites were blinding, faces were pale and harsh shadows littered the images because the photographer used direct flash.
In the end, they were able to use less than half of the photos, with several of the key moments of the day (think kiss, first dance, cake cutting, etc.) not usable at all. I gave them all the photos that I had taken as a spectator and a few others did the same, but even with those, key moments from the day were still gone. My brother-in-law and his wife were devastated, and an offer by the photographer to re-take the posed shots was useless, since those who had traveled to be there were already gone.

Things to consider when choosing between a friend/amateur and a professional:

• Experience –

A professional wedding photographer brings years of experience. We have had epic triumphs and spectacular fails. All of which are factored in to the way we prepare. An experienced wedding photographer will anticipate when a moment is about to unfold and know how to capture it.  A lot of thought goes into shooting a wedding and each wedding is different.

• Cameras and lenses –

Professional photographers spend thousands of dollars on professional grade cameras, lenses and lights. They bring multiple camera bodies, lenses and a lighting kit to use throughout the day. Should they want to enhance lighting, use a piece of specialty gear to capture a unique image, or quickly replace equipment that isn’t working properly; a professional photographer will always come with options.

• How well do you know the amateur –

Have they shot a wedding before? How many? Is this person punctual? You run the risk of alienating a friend or relative either by asking them to shoot, or worse, not liking what they produce. Shooting a wedding is time consuming and requires focus (no pun intended). It’s a lot to ask of someone. Will your shooter stay focused and capture the day? Chat it up with others during the ceremony and/or reception and miss key shots? Get bored and stop taking photos altogether?

• Post wedding services–

A non-wedding photographer will not be setup to provide all of the services that come with shooting weddings. Things like a web gallery, prints and albums. If they don’t provide an online gallery and just give you a disk of images, you will need a robust image editing program and the software to handle images.

Moral of this post: In wedding photography, there are generally no do overs. Everyone can take a good picture, but not everyone can take 1000+ consistently good pictures during one event.  A professional wedding photographer can guarantee that you will get the photos you need to fully capture the beauty and emotion of your wedding day.

Good luck!

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-Jud McCrehin is an award-winning professional photojournalist based in Warrenton, Va. in Fauquier County just outside Washington D.C. –


Photo•jour•nal•ism n. is a form of photography that employs images in order to tell a story. Photojournalism is distinguished from other close branches of photography by complying with a rigid ethical framework which demands the images be a fair and accurate representation of the events they depict in both content and tone. -- photo•jour•nal•ist n. -- photo•jour•nal•is•tic adj.

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