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.