My own wedding and my biggest regret
When I got married to Christian 4 years ago, I was broke. I was SO broke. My dress came from a BCBG outlet store for $130, we got married at our church basically for free because we worked there as musicians, I purchased flowers to make my own bouquet at the last minute from Sam's Club and I got my maids some small pre-arranged odd lot bouquets from a local florist. My now mother-in-law was literally throwing together boutonnieres from extra stems that I had from my bouquet the morning of the wedding. This was my dream wedding only in the sense that I finally could be with my best friend in the whole world, but I'm not going to kid and say that wedding had any of the trimmings that most normal weddings have. We didn't even have a reception, just some cupcakes after the ceremony on a table outside the church.
Now, this isn't to say that I didn't WANT to have all the trimmings. This is my 2nd marriage and all the money got spent on the first wedding (and subsequent divorce... but it is what it is). It was beautiful. It didn't stick, but it was beautiful... haha! At my wedding with Christian, things were modest and simple, and the things we wanted to remember weren't trivial things like napkins with our name on them or anything else that was exorbitant. The things that were important to us were having people that truly supported us there and great music. We are both musicians - Christian is a professional keyboardist and I am a singer. Christian and I decided that we wanted to do a couple of songs together at our wedding, so he asked his bandmates from Lucas Wilson and the Bad Disciples to come play at our wedding and we were beyond thrilled that they did. Lucas even agreed to do a song from his Sweet Japonic days for us to process in to the church. So we had lots of elements in the wedding that I think were just the coolest things ever.
Unfortunately, because our budget was so stretched and small, we didn't have any money to hire a photographer or videographer. I figured I wasn't going to spend even a few hundred on someone because I knew we wouldn't be happy with anyone under like $2500. We were both getting into photography and we are super picky artist types and when you don't have money to spend, you certainly aren't going to spend what little you have on photos you probably aren't even going to like. To me, spending $500 on a sub-par photographer is like throwing money out a car window because I won't display the photos anyway.
So, I did the best I could do at the time. We had a couple of friends who had great cameras because we were starting to hang out with people who were into photography. One of them has an amazing portfolio online of some abandoned places he has been and has high end gear. Another has a great camera and does senior portraits for people he knows through the grapevine. Then we both brought along our super nifty new Rebel cameras to take some "behind the scenes" photos from our own perspective. I figured I may not be able to get "professional" photos, but I could take a few nice ones and that would have to do. I knew my friends and family would have cell phones and point and shoot cameras, so I would surely get at least a few passable photos, even if they weren't professional. We told our friends that we understood that they were not wedding photographers and that we didn't expect them to be, but that we would be grateful if they took some photos for us. We told them we understood if they couldn't get certain shots and that we were just happy with whatever they could provide, and we were and are happy that we were at least able to get SOMETHING from our wedding day.
So here is what actually played out when I got married. Our wedding day went by so fast. Because the budget was so low, my friend Jill was doing all the girls' hair, even though she was a bridesmaid as well, and we were just flying trying to get ready. I didn't have time to take more than like 5 photos, and they were just of random things - my bouquet, my shoes, my daughter sitting on a couch. I didn't have time for any of that! Between doing our hair, Jill grabbed my camera and ran down to the guys' room to take a few of them getting ready and one of the band outside chatting. Then she was back up and we had to fly because the ceremony was starting in a few minutes.
When the ceremony started, Christian and I walked in opposite doors of the church, met in the middle, and walked in together. I'm a wee bit of a feminist, and my dad had already walked me down the aisle once, so I wanted to do something that symbolized us making this decision to get married together, not as me being something to be "given away" as a throwback to when women were property (By the way, if you choose to do this, I don't judge. I know its tradition and most people love walking in with their dads, parents, or someone else). So, I would have loved to have some great photos of this because it was a special moment for me. My friend got one photo of it on her point and shoot camera from a distance, and I'm super thankful for that, but I would kill for some great clear shots of that. I would love a professional video recording of us walking in to the song that I begged for, but all I have is a shaky video from the pews that I begged someone to take with my camera (which she was unfamiliar with). Again, very thankful to have what I have, but can't help but be a little sad that I wasn't able to get a clear recording of that. We did a couple of songs together and I don't have recordings of those either.
Almost all the photos I have are off point and shoot cameras. I'm not even sure where these photos wound up because I got a handful of photos from several different people. Just trying to track all the photos down and organize them was a pain. I decided recently that I wanted to try to piece all of the photos together and put them in an album, but I gave up on that project because there were so many gaps and the quality of the photos was just all over the place. The group photos were basically a zoo. We just stood there and tried to guess who to smile at and there was no posing whatsoever. Everyone struggled with the weird church lighting and no one had any flashes other than the one on top of their cameras. Needless to say, they didn't turn out. I mean they are something, but I'm not going to be framing anything. This goes to show that just because someone has a professional camera does not mean they are professional wedding photographers!
This year Christian and I decided that we will be having professional portraits done of ourselves in our wedding attire, as well as some other clothing just for fun. We don't have any professional photos of the two of us together for our wall. We value great photography and we want something gorgeous to blow up huge and hang in our living room. Self portraits won't cut it. I will never get to redo my wedding and I will never have much in the way of wedding portraits, so this is the best we can do for now. We are in a better financial situation than we were before, and although it is still hard to pay for a photo session and buy art for our walls, it is that important to us to have great photos to display.
So, if you're still with me, please do whatever you have to do to get the best photographer you can afford. Find someone who has a style that you love (and since you're here, I hope that person is me!). When you hire a great professional, your photos document the story of your day and they all flow together. They are lit properly and they are artistic. Get the album. Seriously, just spring for the album. I put together albums for people all the time and its kind of a big task. If you decide you will do that on your own, odds are you are going to get busy and it won't get done. Get prints. Whatever you do, don't leave those photos on a flash drive, disc, or the computer. They just get lost or worse yet, corrupted or gone from a hard drive failure. I would kill to have a beautiful wedding album for my coffee table and a great print of my husband and I on my wall.
If a good photographer seems out of reach, cut something else out. No one keeps those napkins with your name on them, they wind up in the trash. Your guests will be able to deal if they don't get a favor. Do you need shoes that cost hundreds? Those are usually buried under the dress. If you can afford all of those things, wonderful! Buy whatever makes you happy that you can afford. However, if you're feeling pinched and wanting to cut photography, or go with someone cheap, please do not. There are thousands of horror stories out there from people who went cheap on the photographer and regret it. I would do anything to go back and do whatever I had to do to get a professional wedding photographer (and videographer!) on my wedding day. Don't wind up having regrets like I have.