Hire a Photography Student to Photograph Your Wedding, Make a College Kid Happy


Dear Good Morning America,

I just watched your segment “Bride on a Budget,” during which ABC’s very own Ginger Zee gave listeners money-saving tips courtesy of her very own wedding coordinator.

First of all, a heartfelt congratulations to Ginger. Planning a wedding is very exciting and a bit overwhelming. I’m glad to see she spent money on a wedding planner to help her with her day. It’s alway a good idea to use a professional with experience rather than leave the day in the hands of someone who doesn’t know what he’s doing, which is why I found this money-saving advice from Francesco-the-wedding-planner a little disturbing:

Rethink your wedding photographer. “The best thing to do is contact your local school — find somebody that wants to build a career with their skills,” Bilotto said. “Nine out of 10 you’ll save $8,000 just paying for the cost of their camera, their developing and their time. You’ve made a college kid happy and you’ve got some great photos.

Francesco… Francesco… Francesco… I was a little surprised by this advice. You recommended using an actual florist and having a buffet reception (no doubt professionally catered) and an actual wedding cake (no doubt from a bakery) but when it comes to one of the only lasting memories of a wedding, you advocate hiring a student who is still learning?

Francesco, when I heard this, I kind of wanted to reach through the TV, take you by the shoulders, look into your eyes and say, like Michael Corleone to Fredo in The Godfather II, “You broke my heart, Francesco. You broke my heart.”


Now, GMA, I get that not every bride has a huge budget. I get that. I understand it. And sometimes, compromises have to be made in wedding arrangements to accommodate that budget. Cutting corners here and there when you can. I also know that each vendor feels as though its product or service is THE most important aspect of a wedding.  After all, what is a wedding without flowers? Or a cake? Heaven knows, you need a wedding dress. And, actually, they are all correct because it’s all important.

And let’s face it, Ginger, like most brides, will have spent months on her wedding preparations. She will have carefully selected her invitations, her flowers, her dress, the tuxes, the bridesmaids’ dresses, the venue itself, the reception, the decorations, the menu, the wedding cake and a hundred other details you don’t even think about until you plan a wedding.

She will, no doubt, have made sure that everything was just as she wanted, just as she imagined. And then, on the day of the wedding, as she surveys her fairytale, the little-to-no experience wedding photographer/student will arrive to photograph this most magical day.

Weeks later, Ginger will more than likely realize how silly it was to spend all that time and attention on the details of her wedding when so much of it never made it to the photographs. Will there be a few good images in there? Sure. The law of averages says there have to be, right? But nothing like if Ginger had actually used a REAL wedding photographer.


Here’s the thing that I think Francesco might not understand: saving a few bucks by hiring some student from a local school who has little to no experience photographing weddings will most likely result in photographs that look like they were taken by some student from a local school who has little to no experience photographing weddings.

See, there’s a reason you hire professionals. Let’s take Good Morning America, for example. You all boast a huge pool of professional on-air talent. Folks with real experience. Qualifications are important to you because you want it done right.

Now, using the advice dispensed by Francesco in today’s piece, you really don’t need professionals. Heck no. You could just grab a few journalism or communication majors from a local area school, instead. I’m sure they could read the teleprompter and smile and save the network A LOT of money. Plus, you would be helping them grow their resume. I mean, what you do isn’t that hard, right? It’s just talking and laughing and asking questions and smiling. Anyone can do that.

Yeah, okay, I know it’s more than that… but so is wedding photography. The people in our industry who do it well have spent years and years perfecting their craft. They know that when all is said and done — when the flowers have died and the cake has been eaten and the guests go home and the dress has been cleaned and boxed and put away — what a couple is left with are the photographs.


It’s their testimony to an extraordinary day. Their album is what their great-grandchildren will one day hold. Professional wedding photographers understand this; they know what’s on the line when they show up to photograph a wedding. This isn’t a hobby for them; it’s their life. It’s their career.

They know how to handle the unexpected surprises (and there are almost always surprises). They know how to perform under pressure. They know how to get the shot. They know how to work with people. They know how to deliver. And yes, they do charge good money for this… because they know what they’re worth.

Most wedding photographers can also help a couple with a tight budget save money with ideas like a “Wedding Photography Registry” where guests can purchase a gift in the form of a payment toward their photography package, or helping the couple to structure the day so they aren’t paying for unnecessary photography time.


Now, GMA, lest you fear I am disparaging photography students, I assure you, I am not. I realize that we all start somewhere. That’s why the photography students are still photography students. They are still learning their craft. Practicing. But, GMA and Francesco, here’s the thing: You don’t practice wedding photography on an actual wedding. (Just writing that gave me heebie jeebies).

A bride and groom are not homework; they aren’t models, nor are they test subjects. They are a couple for whom these photographs are very very important. Why would you trust that to anyone other than a real wedding photographer?

In closing, GMA and Francesco-the-wedding-planner, I sure hope you understand this. And if you don’t, then I’m pretty sure Ginger, the bride-to-be, will. After all, she realizes the value of experience and is paying a professional to help plan her wedding day instead of just using a spiral notebook and some Post Its.

Image credits: Photographs by Chris Metcalf, Dmitri Markine, David Ball, Andre Engels and Andrew Bird.

  • Christopher R. Côté

    @Dizono –

    This last comment is correct, but now you’re being defensive because you realize that your initial comment was not. Are there some “professional” wedding photographers who aren’t very good? Of course. Are there some students who are amazing? Again, yes. Are most students going to be better than most professionals? Not even close. Experience trumps inexperience 99% of the time. Even if the photography is not super-creative, chances are good that at least the photographer realizes which shots are important and how the day should flow. Additionally, most professionals know the value of back-up gear and insurance. Students will like only have one camera and a couple of lenses… not the full, redundant kit that a professional will have.

    Having been a professional wedding photographer for years, I honestly have to say that the single biggest comment I get from previously married guests is that they wish they had hired a professional when they got married. Some hired a student. Some asked Uncle Bob. Some may have just found a guy/gal off Craigslist. The point is the same… when wedding photography is not your “gig”, you probably don’t know what goes into a real wedding day.

    There are some cases where the amateur/student/beginner captures a better shot than the pro. It does happen. However, for a planner (whose job is the LEAST important out of all the vendors) to suggest avoiding professionals in lieu of amateurs, I’m disgusted. They should know better.

  • Linda

    I have had 3 different people ask me to photograph their wedding and I declined all 3 offers. I take pictures on the side of families, parties, kids and infants. I would never photograph a wedding because it is ONE of the MOST important parts of the wedding. I am getting married next May and my photographer has been doing this for 35 yrs and he has produced some of the most gorgeous pictures I have ever seen. I agree students need to experience, but I don’t think weddings are the place to get that. Maybe shadow an expert at weddings for a while and get experience that way, but I wouldn’t jump right into photographing a wedding on my own, until I had that experience.

  • MW

    Nobody has brought up one point: What happens 2 weeks before the wedding when your venue asks where your photographers COI is? That’s a certificate of insurance. And I’ve been asked for proof of having a million dollar liability policy everywhere from the chi-chi downtown venue to the hometown fraternal lodge. Some NYC venues have required $2 million to $5 Million in liability insurance …

    What will your student photographer say then?

  • olivegreen

    Actually, if you follow the links, they all label themselves professional wedding photographers.

  • Ellen Nitchals

    Self-labeling doesn’t mean a thing. I could label myself a nuclear physicist, but that doesn’t mean I have the slightest clue how to do nuclear physics.

  • olivegreen

    My point is these are not photos by students or college kids who don’t know what they are doing. These are people who have shot multiple weddings and charge thousands of dollars.

  • Daniel Pryce

    lol everyone is doing wedding photography because its an easy $3000 that’s going to pay for another semester of school. I’m getting paid to have an excuse to do what I love all day, I get to work with fun people, and I get fed. A wedding day is only stressful if YOU make it that way. It comes down to a student’s portfolio and experience. Obviously if someone doesn’t value photography they are going to hire an inexperienced photographer, if they want great looking photos and have a value for photography, they are going to hire a highend professional.

  • braineack

    They don’t all; it appears only two do.

    Dimitri’s photo is unfortunate, but it goes to show you don’t have to be a student to take bad pictures. [the shot isn’t bad from a technical standpoint, but you can’t even see the bride and groom.]

    A wedding presents in itself many different technical challenges, in just lighting, throughout the event, and requires a certain amount of knowledge and practice to handle it. Be it shooting in low-light, posed portraiture, brilliant direct sunlight. Someone with his/her entry-level Rebel and pop-up flash is not equipped with the knowledge to handle the challenge, let alone the equipment. Not to mention the countless hours a typical photographer will spend processing the images to look their absolute best before being presented to the bride/groom.

    But there’s a lot more to it than just being able to take a picture. Shooting a wedding is one of the more demanding jobs a photographer can take, and many pros refuse to shoot weddings from all the stress/effort it takes. A student has no training in dealing with the customer/family in such a demanding environment and all the other various business aspects of the job [contract, copyright, business license, taxes, insurance].

    If you don’t have the budget for a professional with a great portfolio, then sure, go ahead and hire the student–It’s better than nothing–but you get what you pay for. But it might also be worth while to go for a photographer with at least some experience who is better positioned to your budget. In 20 years will you care about your $10,000 wedding dress in a box, or wish you reallocated the budget a bit on a practiced professional that could have captured amazing timeless photos of the day?

  • fwjs28

    As a college student in a school specifically for photography and graphic design, this makes me cringe. Shooting a wedding should not be done by a student. They don’t have all of the final training, experience, INSURANCE, knowledge and critically refined eye yet. This is just an awful idea under the guise of “Save money, support college kids!”

  • pincherio

    Or better yet, why not just ask the guests to take as many shots as they want with their cell phones and the couple can select the “keepers.” That should be fun.

  • Richard Ford

    So tired of these articles. Industry is changing deal with it. Give what your customer’s want. Not what you think they want. Seriously move on.

  • Richard Ford

    Do you know how arrogant that sounds? No wonder people don’t value your services. Seriously.

  • Kitsu

    Not even just that they aren’t supporting college students at all. They’re taking -advantage- of college students.

  • notaselfimportantphotographer

    Is this site just a place for photographers to whine? After reading these comments I’m going to skip having a photographer altogether. I don’t want to deal with this kind of attitude!

  • Smarten_Up

    Skip weddings, please elope, and invest in real values: education, home, family.