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.

  • Ingrid Spangler

    You’ll save money on their “developing?” ha!

  • Dizono

    4 of
    5 pictures showed could be done better by a (photography)student…
    If you hire a photography student (FIRST take a look at his/her
    portfolio), I think it’s a great way to get good photos on a budget.
    There are to many photogs who learned photography in the analog era
    and didn’t make the transition entirely. Young talent should start somewhere, it’s how I started as well.

  • Nope

    Please get your eyes checked.

  • Douglas Ulyate

    The photographer was the ONE part of my wedding I insisted on using an established Wedding Pro Photographer, was worth the extra expense!

  • John Mueller

    Every aspect of a wedding should be important. Sure not everyone has a huge budget, but this IS the biggest event of your life. So if you didn’t save for it, then it’s probably not important to you. Fine. Be cheap, but don’t expect good food, nice flowers or decent photos. Not everyone can afford a Ferrari.

    But as a photographer, there’s nothing more that pisses me off than when the bride tells me she’s on a super tight budget for photography and then I get to the wedding and it’s an open bar, amazing food, 200+ guests. So photography really isn’t appreciated anymore the way it used to be.

  • pgb0517

    Is Cheri Frost a photographer yet?

  • yeppp

    um no. Dizono is right, the photos in the article, save for the second one, are crap. Maybe YOU need to get your eyes checked…

  • Carsten Schlipf

    Now let’s do not start discussing on how to make a medicine student happy with their first surgery… no, no, no!

  • Adam Cross

    and, of course, older pro’s may have particular ways of working that might be old fashioned – you may not end up with photos you expect regardless of their portfolio. A new photographer baptised in the digital age, especially one with an interest in weddings, may be slightly more refreshing in terms of what they produce – you never know. (obviously I know there are plenty of older pros out there with their finger on the digital pulse, who keep up to speed with trends etc, this comment isn’t aimed at you). let’s remember that being a student doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t know what they’re doing, we’ve all seen the success stories here of 16/17/18 year old photography kids booking major clients simply off the back of the work they post on Flickr.

  • wedding PRO

    GMA, would you like to see MY first wedding when I was a student? or even the first five? HORRID. The bride is still mad at herself for hiring me. I am still mad at myself for taking the job and that was in 2010. Future brides, skimp on the cake, skimp on the flowers, skimp on decorations, skimp on the invite, but DO NOT, I repeat, do not skimp on photography. These are memories that last a lifetime and nothing is worse that horrible photos. Weddings are intense and require someone who doesnt flinch when things go wrong, someone who has been through it hundreds of times over and knows exactly what to do, someone who knows what angle is best for each moment, and there are thousands of moments in a wedding. Dont mess around! I cant tell you how many brides who couldnt afford me write me back saying they should of hired me. Unless of course you want, under/over exposed, blurry, bobble head family portraits and meaningless photos in your album. Shame on your GMA. REALLY bad advice!

  • Dizono

    That is the problem, people without knowledge of photography are not that trained in distinguishing good photos from mediocre ones as well.

  • MR D

    When I USED to do weddings, I would invite students along who were interested in wedding photography. They got to see if it was for them (most hated it as much as I did) and they got some extra money.
    A few times the students took the “best” shot.
    Its a wonderful way to work if you are used to working alone.

  • Eh…No

    Save $8k by buying their camera??…really?

    I know photographers who take in excess of $35k worth of equipment to shoot a Wedding.

  • Carlini Fotograf

    Dizono your comments have to be some of the most stupid Ive ever seen! Your right though young talent should start somewhere…. its called being an assistant to a professional. Learning your craft and slowly building your portfolio. Not jumping into a professional shoot when your not a pro and have no idea what your doing! Also your comment “There are to many photogs who learned photography in the analog era”… I learned in the analog era, and in my opinion I think everyone should start learning photography with film. Shooting on an all manual film camera teaches you the basic disciplines of photography, without being able to see an instant preview on the back of the camera and having only a small limited number of exposures to get it right. Yes I shoot Digital today as well as Medium Format film, but I spent years and years developing my style through film.

  • M. A. S.

    I agree with 98% of the article. I also agree with Dizono about the photos in the article not being not very good. The best one (2nd photo, the B&W) actually looks like something a new assistant would take when I tell them to find an alternate angle to give the couple different looks. Because the primary (pro) should be directly in front of the couple getting their expressions as they make their way out. The article should say hire a GOOD professional wedding photographer.

  • Melissa

    Personally, I elected to get married on a Friday night which actually meant that I was able to book a professional photographer at a fraction of the cost. This is because his equipment would normally be just sitting there unused and he would rather make a few hundred dollars than nothing

  • Lando

    I’ve been trying to figure out the math, myself. I’m planning my own upcoming wedding, and photographers, at least in the Midwest, are in the $3-6,000 range. I can’t imagine shooting a wedding with less than 4 grand worth of gear (1 body, a couple lenses, and a couple inexpensive softboxes). Are wedding photographers really pulling in $12,000 a weekend?* There have to be some decent photographers in the middle ground, even on the coasts, with more experience than a student.

    *I don’t mean this in a disparaging way; I know there is a ton of work and gear and backups for backups that go into a wedding shoot. That $10-12,000 expectation just jumped out at me.


    Wedding registries rule! Glad they got a mention in the article!

  • Dino Traite

    An alum from my school, Montserrat College of Art, actually contacted the head of the department for recommendations of students. Needless to say, I was hired to photograph their wedding last June because both the department head and the client saw my skills and were confident even as a freshman at the time. I even talked to my department head asking why in the hell he recommended me, but he said I’d be fine because I had been photographing other large events at the school. So I hired one of my close friends as a second because I absolutely love her photography and everything turned out splendid. It was great experience and everybody was happy. Only thing I wish I could have changed was that I charged more, among other things. I was smart enough to make them put down a booking deposit though.

  • Dino Traite

    Thanks for your comment Adam. My client for my first wedding last year contacted the head of the photography department at my college for recommendations and after looking at my portfolio, I was hired. Both my department head and the client had the confidence that I had the skills to produce what the client wanted, even though I was only entering my second year a the time. You’re right to say that a lot of people don’t seem to understand that being a student doesn’t necessarily mean I don’t know what I’m doing. Mind, I don’t know absolutely everything there is to know about complex studio lighting situations or the ins and outs of the business, but I come from an extremely experimental, dedicated, and hardworking background. She indeed was looking for non-traditional photos, which is why she looked for a student. And the wedding was non-traditional too. The client was happy, and that’s what matters in the long run.

  • Venser

    Six years later, I think we’ve looked at our wedding photos maybe twice, and both times were because of moves we made. I would argue the wedding photographer is the one place were you could afford to shave a couple dollars off the top.

  • maxrobes2000

    Let’s be honest, people can afford what they can afford. Hiring a student photographer is better than hiring someone off of Craigslist. And if they know the kind of quality they are getting going in, I don’t see a problem. if I start seeing people sue student photographers because they wedding pictures don’t match up to the quality of a 10k wedding photographer, then I’m going to have to call BS on that.

  • Marius Viken

    If a couple comes to you to hire you as their photographer and finds out you’re to expensive then their out of your target group. Everyone can’t afford a ferrari, some can’t even afford a toyota. And because the photographer is a student doesn’t mean he’s useless, they do teach pricing, business and legal forms at school (at least they did at mine).

  • penny

    The photos in this article are good proof that using a student is a bad idea. I assume these are student photo examples considering the diagonal horizon in the third photo and the horrid WB of the 4th image. As a general rule I’d suggest ALWAYS having a really good look at a photographer’s portfolio before hiring, professional or not.

  • Andrew Kandel

    Weddings are mostly about keeping up appearances. You can’t hide the venue, catering, decorating, or band from the attendees, but you can keep the photography from their eyes. So, it’s an easy line item to skimp on if you don’t value photographic memories.

  • Amateur

    Those photos in the article are the examples of the “student” shots, not actual pro shots. If you check the credits at the end of the article, none of those photographers are pro wedding shooters. Which, in the end, proves the point of the article – you can tell right away that the shots, even if okay-ishly done, are nonetheless shot by an amateur.

  • eh…No

    There are a number that charge extortionate amounts, but they’ve got the reputation to back up those fees. There are cracking Wedding Photogs that charge mid-range of about $4k & are constantly booked out to the point they get extremely little holiday time.

    They way I look at the equipment list is:

    3 FF Bodies, one of which is a back up.
    2 additional batteries per body
    70 – 200 f2.8
    24 – 70 f2.8
    16 – 70 f2.8 or 17 – 40 f4
    Macro lens of choice, usually 100 2.8
    Total of 8 16GB CF/SD cards
    Pro Flash + battery pack & Wireless Triggers
    Monopod & Tripod

    Dependant on personal style throw in an Elinchrom Ranger with 2 or 3 light modifiers.

    Add in a 1st Assistant & you can double up on a few of those (2 Bodies, 70 – 200 & 24 – 70), with a 2nd assistant doing running for you.

    I know of some photographers who’ll bring along their laptop with a projector & screen, & whilst the guests are seated for the meal, they’ll have a slideshow of a selection of the images from the ceremony & Bride & Groom shoot, coupled with a framed A3 print of one of the Family Photos taken after the ceremony as a gift.

  • tarena1991

    As a photography student at a fine art school, I assure you most of us cringe at the thought of wedding photography.

    a few friends of mine do it because they really need the money but for the most part

    1. we’re not ignorant, we know wedding photography requires a professional
    2. we don’t like getting ripped off any more than you do.
    3. we don’t have the time.

  • Lando

    That’s enlightening, and I appreciate the gear list and though process. I guess my point is that with Zee’s estimate of about $10,000*, instead of trying to save $8,000 and hire an untested photographer, one could hire what I might call a lower-tier professional, still save $6,000, and have someone more reliable, if not on the cutting edge of creativity.

    *Just basing this guess on her saying you could buy gear and save 8 grand.

  • Douglas James

    you could hire a ferret to do a weasels job, but in the end a weasel does it better.

  • Simon wardenier

    I’m willing to bet on it, that half of the photography students can outperform half of the professional photographers out there. Experience, gear and age are in no way guarantees for creativity, vision and quality of the images. If you want a great photographer, you simply need to carefully look for one.

  • nicolaiecostel

    I honestly thought that the images in this article are made by students, to show that you should hire a pro. The fact is, everyone now poses as a pro and there are a lot of full time photographers that are talentless. Except maybe for the first picture, all the others are mediocre. Maybe the second is worth a look. Yes, there are a lot of young students and amateurs much more talented than pros, but the pro, even talentless, will be there, will deliver the shots, will have backup, albums, a legal business with a contract. That is why you hire a pro, for the security, knowledge, talent. Under no circumstance should you hire a beginner to do a pro’s job.

  • John Blablabla

    You know something? People can do whatever they want! If someone wants to advice others to hire a student, he can! If someone wants to hire a student, instead of a wedding photographer, he can! Don’t be so butthurt about it. Wedding photogs are overrated. There, I’ve said it. Good day!

  • Kristin

    Just to mention… Ginger did hire a pro photographer, she is used a florist who is the venue’s “preferred vendor” (advice Francisco advised against to save money), her dress is from Kleinfelds, her shoes customized with Swarovski crystals, and she is having a real cake. Thank you Cheri for the excellent response.

  • Deveron

    “You don’t practice wedding photography on an actual wedding.”

    Unfortunately Cheri, I would have to disagree with you. There is only one way to practice wedding photography. On an actual wedding.
    How else do you propose that students learn the intricacies of wedding photography? Surely as a student you don’t bill yourself as a professional wedding photographer. Perhaps you don’t even charge money. But you must shoot weddings at the amateur/student/learning level before you can go pro.

  • John C

    So you cringe at the thought of shooting weddings? Get used to being broke and working at Hunts after graduation-nobody is buying your “fine art” photography.
    Last summer I met a girl working at Shaws and tells me she is a “photographer” and that she “will shoot anything but a wedding”. LOL, how’s that working out for you? Funny because I would never work a hack job for $9/hour.

  • John C

    Your wedding photos are probably the most important keepsake you will ever own and your album should be your first family heirloom as a couple. If you’re cheap or poor and can’t afford to do it right-you deserve the low quality images/products you get. You only live once kid-I can’t believe how cheap some people are.

  • tonyc0101

    I would suggest this: if a couple does want to go the student route for their wedding photographer, then hire him/her now (or a year in advance) for photographing their family and family parties. That way, the student will be accustomed with the family, will know their names, will be used to being seen with the family, will realize what gear(s) they will want to acquire, will know how to capture party moments in time for the big day, and will hopefully have an appropriate understanding about proper editing. For all parties involved to jump-in head-first, blindly, would be regretful.

  • John C

    You’re an idiot. I’d love to see your photos-I’m sure they are total junk. No true professional gives discounts like this. Oh I get to sit in rush hour traffic on a Friday so you get a HIGE discount-HAHA-NO.

  • Deveron

    Oh pish posh. Get off your high horse.
    Just because you study the arts, doesn’t mean you can’t have a good paying job. Students really don’t have much time or money to invest in the gear (strobes, high-quality zooms) that makes for better wedding photography. There is nothing that stops them from doing it, save for the three aspects that tarena listed above.

  • Dino Traite

    John, weddings aren’t the only way to make it as a professional photographer. Ever heard of set photographers, working in advertising, journalism, etc? Not to mention, students don’t have the time to shoot weddings because we’re students, for pete’s sake. After we graduate, sure. But as students? Not unless it’s over the summer.

  • Deveron

    I’ll bet the author thinks that these photos are examples of pro photography.

  • tarena1991

    that’s a nasty bit of pessimism. We cringe mostly because we have a better understanding of all the work involved. I personally feel like it would take years of apprenticeship to be able to be a confident wedding photographer.

    As for the poor girl at Shaws, that’s her problem. Wedding photography requires a very unique skill set within the realm of photography.

    as for nobody buying my art, I’d say you don’t know me or my work so you’re pretty quick to judge blindly.

  • Deveron

    Intelligent response. Thank you for the advice

  • tonyc0101

    thank you Yeppp!

  • Eric Lefebvre

    You do as as an ASSISTANT! You assist a proper wedding photographer for a year or two, learning from their experience, building your skill and portfolio. You don’t start shooting weddings right out of the gate! That’s just pure INSANITY!

  • M. A. S.

    That is why getting a real wedding album is important. People are taking more photos than ever, but they are kept in laptops, Facebook, MySpace, Friendster, etc. notice the trend I used, soon Facebook will go away, and hard drives will eventually crash.

    Look, I know most people will not look at their photos often, but that is now, 20-40 years later when people start passing away, having real photos will be important. Having an album will be like a time capsule, even if the marriage does not last, your siblings, parents, grandparents were there and if current trends continue, most people will not have any physical memories.

    In my family, old photos are very dear to my parents because they have outlived most of their friends and family. They get great joy seeing old photos, especially wedding photos, because it brings them memories and they get to see many people they knew in one place.

    I have been asked by some young hip couples, “we do not want tradition family photos”. I still get a few in, on more than one occasion they told me how grateful they that I did because their grand(—-) passed away days or weeks after the wedding. Of course, they added the photo to the album, because who knows when was the last time they took a real photo of them.

    Sorry to get off topic, but I wanted to stress how being pro is more than just good pictures, it is a whole package, and honestly the word pro is used to casually, charging (high) prices does not make someone a pro. It is people skills, consistency, coordinating skills, creativity, problem solving skills, proper equipment, full understanding of light, posing, knowing when to let things go naturally (photojournalistic) or to step in. Not the typical, “I am a natural light photographer (because I do not know how to mix ambient with flash), after all, I have a 1.4 lens and a camera that can do ISO 104,000.

  • Eric Lefebvre

    A huge discount on a small profit margin? Does he also offer groupons?
    *shakes head in despair*

    I’d rather my gear sit there gathering dust than working at a loss.

  • Rob Hillis

    I think one major point that everyone is missing is everything that a wedding photographer is that a student photographer isn’t. Yes they both may take great photographs and they both may have a great eye but that is only part of what a wedding photographer does. A wedding photographer commands a large group of people who dont want to listen or dont listen well and gets them to do what he/she wants them to do to get a good shot. A wedding photographer many times doubles as the wedding coordinator because the bride and groom skimped on the wedding coordinator to save money and the wedding photographer winds up directing the entire event. A wedding photographer knows what angles to shoot from and where to be during a ceremony so that he/she is not running down an isle at the last minute trying to get a good shot because they weren’t prepared to be where they needed to be and becoming a spectacle to the guests. A wedding photographer knows how to take photos during a ceremony without becoming the focus of the ceremony and being respectful of the ceremony and the attendants. A wedding photographer doesn’t get their photos developed at a department store because they know that the quality of the paper will not hold up to fading and wear and tear as they know that their pro lab prints will. A wedding photographer doesn’t just have 1 camera 1 lens 1 flash and 1 battery. They have multiple to get multiple different shots from different vantage points and never have to worry about not getting a shot because they arent ready or their equipment failed and it will fail at some point.

    A wedding is one of the hardest things for ANY photographer to photograph because you control nearly nothing about your subject. You dont control location, you dont control the pace of the event, you dont control the lighting you will be dealing with, you dont control your subjects. A student isnt going to know how to handle that like a professional. People think that point and shoot really means Point, Shoot, Get Great Photos and that’s just not true. People’s cell phones have made everyone think that anyone can be a photographer. Its ridiculous.

  • Lando

    I can agree to a point. Personally, trying to save money on my own upcoming wedding, my big concern isn’t talent, so much as reliability. All the creativity in the world doesn’t matter if a little battery or card pin gets bent, or a lens locks up and you don’t have a backup. My fiance and I are looking at renting a backup body and maybe a lens for our photographer, and asking for a raw card dump before she leaves, just in case.

    Even a mediocre pro wedding photographer will have those things in place. If this tip is more about saving money than having incredible photos, I would rather at least have the ‘meh’ photos than risk getting nothing at all. But I’m hiring a non-pro, so take my opinion with a big grain of salt.