not a wedding photographer

Should you hire your friends? | Friday Mail Bag

One Hindsight Reader Says:Think Twice Before Asking a Pro Photographer Friend to Shoot Your Wedding

not a wedding photographer

Don't get me into the wrong pigeon hole here. You all know I'm not afraid of DIY-ing the big components of a wedding. Like the ones most typically leave to the experts: catering, cake, photography, dress design, etc.

Yeah, that's right, like DIY-ing your own wedding cake. That's me. I bake. I made pastry puffs with homemade custard filling from scratch when I was 12. No joke. I'm seriously a bit of a bad ass when it comes to that stuff. So making my own wedding cake made sense to me. It was fun and I wanted to do it. So I did it. and it was awesome. No regrets.

But beyond skills, in today's tough economy, many of us are turning to DIY to save money. And the litmus test for DIY-ing components of your wedding seems to go something like this:

  1. Survey your talents
  2. Survey your friends and family's talents
  3. Tap into those talents for DIY projects according to a time-talent ratio

Gravy! You have a professional photographer/baker/caterer friend who wants to help out with your wedding.

Whoa! But as today's hindsight bride reader suggests, even if you have one of the world's top [fill in the blank] you still need to…

Proceed at your own risk.

Now I'm not one to say you have to spend the $30K-average hiring professional vendors. I think average people and amateurs can do a fine job. And Meg, over at A Practical Wedding has featured many couples who enjoyed wonderful wedding ceremonies with "Friendors." I'm not trying to dissuade you, but I think it's important to share the flip side of the "OMG-everything-worked-out-perfectly-for-my-wedding" mantra we see on so many of the real weddings published on blogs. This is a story of how things didn't work out so well.

So here it goes:

Dear Hindsight Bride,

I've been following your blog for a while now and wanted to share a story I think your readers will find helpful. It's about hiring professional photographer friends who are not wedding photographers.

One of the only aspects of my wedding that I was hugely unhappy with (though there were definitely a handful of smaller things I would have changed)… is something that's not exactly public knowledge. Like you, it was my photography. I hired a friend (not necessarily a big 'no-no' but in this case, it was) who was a primarily  photographer for a national lifestyle magazine.

The thing is, I've realized that wedding photographers are a very special breed. You have to be able to read people's emotions and document it all in an instant. You have to be able to understand the flow of the day and be flexible when things don't go as planned… and most importantly, you have to be able to work under extreme pressure.

The person I hired had never been married, had only photographed one other wedding, and I loved his photography, but I learned the hard way that skills in one area of photography definitely does not necessarily mean you have skills in another.

He was very unprepared and did not do any kind of research in order to even SEEM prepared… my 'family formal portraits consists of probably five photos (I don't even have a photo of myself, my parents, and my brother and sister from my wedding day). He was flying by the seat of his pants the entire day and, stupid me, just thought it was because he was 'being photo journalistic' (in hindsight, this seems to be the biggest overused buzz word by wedding photographers, but what did I know?)

Because he hadn't researched and really didn't even understand how much work photographing a wedding was, he was extremely stressed out the entire day and was cursing under his breath. Like I said, his editorial work is amazing… but it's because he is not working under pressure.

I was also just so caught up in the moment and the fact that I got my wedding photos back that, at first, I didn't quite process the fact that I didn't even like them. Before I'd really been able to process it all, I'd told him that I really liked them. And that was that. It's kind of hard to go back to it now since we're still friends. In fact, that's one of the worse parts.  I feel I have no recourse. He is a very dear friend of mine and I didn't have the heart to tell him that I was (and still am) unhappy with my photos. Of course, even if I did tell him, it wouldn't change anything. I can't re-do the wedding just to get better photos. It stinks.



So here's the deal

I'm not one to tell you you HAVE to hire a professional photographer, or any other wedding professional. I love, honor and cherish all of you rogue brides out there who forge their own paths. And I admire all of you practical brides, anti-brides, broke-ass brides, offbeat brides and DIY brides who encourage us all to focus on the substance and meaning of your wedding ceremony and marriage first. Yes, yes, yes; Amen sisters!

But, like Darla, there's also this part of me that really, really, really, and I mean REALLY, REALLY, REALLY wanted beautiful wedding photographs. I even gave her my tear sheets, interviewed her twice,looked at her portfolio,  and asked her to find wedding photography she thought I'd like. We seemed to be on the same page. Unfortunately she liked to me about her skills and equipment. My pictures were ruined.

All this was because I wasn't honest with myself; because I felt the pressure of saving money; because as a self-identified feminist I didn't want to seem selfish or greedy or bridezilla-y (is that even a word?) I ended up hiring an amateur who couldn't deliver the results I hoped for.

And here's what you do:

I think Meg over at a practical wedding laid it out best when she advised to start with the basics.

  • partner
  • vows
  • officiant
  • family
  • clothes

Then add on the things that you're into

  • food
  • photography
  • cake
  • flowers
  • guests
  • music
  • attendants, etc

Prioritize and choose what you can afford.

If you have your heart set on a certain kind of photography, make sure you find someone who can deliver on your vision.

And keep in mind that for better or worse, wedding stuff is a bit different than other stuff.

Just because your friend is a professional photographer doesn't;t mean she or he understands the rhythm and flow of a wedding. Just because you know a baker, doesn't mean she understands the inner architecture or decorating skills to deliever that elaborate three-tired confection you've had your heart set on.

See what I'm getting at here? If you have an image of a magazine-style editorialized photo book of your wedding, your National Geographic photographer friend may not be able to deliver, even though she works for Nat-freaking-Geo.