So how do I get the most for my money if I hire a qualified wedding photographer?

First, don’t go for shoot and burn packages.

When you hire a shoot and burn photographer, you relieve the photographer of the responsibility of capturing a technically good image. Once the photographer captures an image and delivers it to you in digital form the photographer is done with you. They do not have any further responsibility for the image if you cannot make an acceptable print from it. That would be like promising you a masterpiece and delivering a paint-by-number kit.

Did any of your parents ever hire a photographer to take pictures and hand over the film? Same problem then. If the film came back from the lab with crappy images or no images, who’s fault is it? Did they have any luck blaming the photographer? Usually the lab pointed the finger at the photographer and the photographer pointed the finger at the lab leaving the bride helpless and without images.

Don’t make having reproduction rights to the images a priority over the art and craftsmanship that goes with hiring a qualified photographer.

Good wedding photography is capture to finished print. Would you hire a caterer who brought the food and left you to cook it just to save you money?

Downsize your photographic needs to less hours, prints, etc. Consider coverage of the ceremony and posed pictures only, or other events that are most important to you.

You don’t need a print of every single image from the wedding. Consider a smaller album with a smaller amount of prints. Select the most important images to print.

Ask for watermarked images of unprinted or less important photos for later enjoyment of your wedding day events.

Ask for the option to purchase reproduction rights or prints of the images at a later date when funds become available. And then, only purchase retouched finished images.

Put prints, albums, frames, etc. on a registry. Even extra hours and album components can be put on a registry for the couple. This is how the photography is paid for in some cultures.

Wait until closer to your wedding date to hire a photographer. Many photographers will discount or offer smaller packages to fill remaining dates they have available.

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Overall, you said a lot of stuff that i will disagree with, but that's just me. :o)
Please, I welcome your opinions.
I hear what you're saying here, Rodney, but times have changed. I shot one wedding last year where the couple chose the album over the disk, and they were in their 50's. Getting a disk doesn't mean that the client is stranded, because a successful wedding photography business isn't run by vagrants that are here one day and gone the next. No image I've shot is ever made public without editing, and even if they opt for the disk, they are still welcome to order professional prints from me and I optimize the image according to the print size.
All of our packages come with disk and prints. It's the digital age. Resisting this and telling clients who ask for the disk that they really don't want it is more like a car salesman than a photographer. We're here to capture memories. Then get those memories to them however it best fits them and charge accordingly. All in all this sounds like it was written 10 years ago. Resisting the change will only leave you grumpy and with fewer clients.

As a fellow photographer, I care that you do well. Consider your mindset toward these things and offer what the brides want.
I feel that there's enough photographers to go around for each bride and groom to find one within their price-point.

Those who want a bargain will find the artist who just finished photography school.

Couples who want only the best will find the award-winning photographer. You get what you pay for.

AND it's a matter of priorities. I've seen young, college students pay for their own wedding, photography included and get exactly what they want.

I feel uninvited finagling with the professional is disrespectful of their talents. If what they have to offer isn't a good fit, asking them to do more work (i.e. watermark images they didn't order) for potential less money (or no money), isn't fair.

Cramming an 8 hour timeline into a 4-6 hour time frame (due to budget) is going to turn into a stressful situation for the bride, photographer, the caterer - any vendors who are working with a timeframe the day of the wedding. She shouldn't have to think about overtime rates and sticking within the shorter time frame on her wedding day.

Just a little feedback on a couple points. FWIW
Good points, although id say about 75% of my past clients wanted to have a CD of all images taken at their wedding for their convenience , and thats all they wanted! Sure, I would love to give them prints! But thats just not want they want anymore.

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