The short answer might surprise you, as a full time professional in this gig, I'd say that no one really needs a wedding photographer. But, it should be more than just a yes-or-no answer to this question and I have my humble opinion on this one of the most debated topics in wedding planning (especially after the mighty Vogue Magazine famously ruled out the necessarily of a professional wedding photographer).
I want to start off by thanking all my brides and grooms for not only putting food on my table but trusting me enough to be part of their special day. They reassure me the value of my work and documentary wedding photography as a whole.
It's true that no one really needs a professional wedding photographer, nor a wedding at all per se (nor a husband or wife really, but I wouldn't go that far). I read up some of the articles voting against a professional wedding photographer and here are some points I gather:
The first point rules out the existence of documentary style wedding photography and the second point makes it sound like the main purpose of wedding photography is to physically proof the happening of a wedding. The third and fourth points I respect the most and are the main reasons why I agree that a wedding photographer is nice to have but in the presence of true love and union not at all necessary. Myself and many talented wedding photographers in Toronto I know of try our best not to be a stranger on a wedding day. We understand that your wedding is one of the most precious day in your life and while we are in tens of weddings every year, yours is the one and only to you and your loved ones. There is a high chance that you can find a photographer who clicks with you and I suggest you take that into consideration when hiring a wedding photographer. My lovely bride Ashley (who's in the picture with her mom here) sent me a message right after her wedding, when she's on honeymoon. It made me tear up a bit.
"Thank you so much for EVERYTHING you did yesterday! Not only were you a photographer...but a makeup assistant, guest wrangler, and member of the family! We cannot thank you enough for everything you and Jo did. You were both so easy to work with and made us very comfortable. You went above and beyond to make our day perfection!"
While wedding photography can be expensive, wedding photos are one of the only things you can really look back to and pass down from generation to generation. It's the best piece of art work you can possibility get to hang on your walls. It's memory. It's a slice of life.
As for the last point, I can't argue what kind of photos you'd prefer from your wedding. I must admit that disposable cameras sound like a cool idea to me too (definitely not selfies but again that's just [not] me). However, a wedding day went by quickly and a wedding photographer, especially a documentary style one, is trained to be sensitive to the fleeting moments and capturing emotions that might otherwise be gone forever.
“What i like about photographs is that they capture a moment that’s gone forever, impossible to reproduce.” - Karl Lagerfeld
Consistency is another important factor to consider when comparing a professional wedding photographer to an amature or a guest. We're good at what we do and are legally bind to deliver, rain or shine.
All in all, if hiring a wedding photographer is a feasible option, I don't think you'll regret having one. If you really can't afford a professional photographer, please do still take a few pictures of the day wherever possible. You can always burn them (did I mention please print your wedding photos) if you hate the way they turn out. But if you don't have them, you don't have them ever.
Happy wedding planning.