they had a friend be the photographer (helps when you are in an artsy field), and i've had others who put disposable cameras at reception tables and on the church pews for guests to take photos for them rather than hiring a professional photographer who will charge extra simply because it is a "wedding".
While I like a lot of your suggestions, I have to disagree with this one. In the interest of full-disclosure, I'm a part-time wedding photographer myself - Swan Wedding Photography
With that out of the way, I want to make a couple points regarding your suggestion. Photographing a wedding is an extremely hectic task. There is very little break time. If you put this on a friend's shoulders, understand that a compromise has to be made. Either your friend will not
get to enjoy your wedding (because he/she will be busy running around getting all the necessary pictures), or they will miss some important moments, while they are mingling or eating dinner. A professional photographer is there to do one thing: take pictures. They do not chat with relatives they haven't seen in years, they do not chit-chat about the rented tuxes with their friends, they do not take their time savouring the delicious 5-course meal while you take your first dance and cut the cake. They are there to work. If you ask your friend to photograph your wedding, then you are effectively asking them to skip your wedding, and work instead.
Secondly, photographing a wedding is actually very difficult. Unless you have a friend with a lot
of experience photographing events, you should think twice about tasking them with this responsibility. Years later, after the flowers have wilted and the food has been eaten and the music forgotten, all you'll have are the photos. Do you really want blurry, out-of-focus, underexposed memories of your once-in-a-lifetime event? A professional photographer has the equipment, know-how, and experience to properly capture the beauty and emotion of your wedding.
Finally, while many wedding photographers do charge hefty fees (it's simply supply and demand - their clients believe their product is worth it or they wouldn't still be booking weddings at those rates), many less-experienced photographers charge significantly less. Still, you should expect to pay at least $1,000 for all-day coverage. I know to a layperson, that sounds outrageous, but if you break it down, it's actually quite reasonable. Consider that the photographer has to amortize the cost of their equipment (at least $5,000 for a bare-minimum pro), their insurance, taxes, licensing, travel expenses, software, and legal expenses. Next, an "all-day" event typically means at least 6 hours of photography, which can easily yield 600+ photos to be sorted and processed. Even if half of them are culled, and only 300 make it to the customer, that represents a substantial investment of post-production time. A good professional photographer will spend roughly as much time retouching the photos after the event as they spent at the event itself. So for a 6-hour event, that represents at least 6 more hours of time on the computer.
$1,000 for 12 hours of labour is about $80/hour. That sounds like a lot, but again, I remind you to remember that that has to cover their equipment, gas, insurance, and many other expenses, not to mention the album and prints included in your package.
Oh, and forget about the disposable cameras. We did it at our wedding, and I've seen it done at several other weddings. The photos end up looking like crap. They will be dark and grainy, and the subjects will look like they're in a cave, being lit by a miner's helmet. When you figure that the cameras (with flash) cost around $20/each with processing, it would cost you a couple hundred dollars to put one on each table for even a moderate-sized reception. You'd get far, far better photos if you simply take that same money and hire your photographer to stick around for a couple more hours.
I would strongly advise against skimping on the photography. It'll be money well-spent.
When my wife and I got married, we spent around $6,000 in total. We saved money in a number of places. We held the reception in an elementary school gymnasium next to the church. This allowed us to save on the cost of travel, because we just walked from the church to the reception. Also, elementary schools are much cheaper to rent than a fancy ballroom. We made our own church decorations from fake flowers and tooling. We rented the decorations for the reception from a local rental company (basically just table cloths and a few other things). The tables and chairs were already at the school.
My wife was most proud of the deal we got on our wedding cake. My wife saw a photo of a wedding cake she loved in a wedding magazine. It was 4 layers, but each layer was atop a tier, with each tier at a different height, arranged next to each other. We went to a wedding cake store and found the cake stand, used, for $20. They were basically just rigid cardboard tubes and cake platters, but when we covered them with sheer white fabric and little white mini-lights, it looked beautiful. The lady who made our cake liked it so much, she took $200 off the cost of the cake if we gave the stand to her after the wedding! Of course, we had no need for the stand after our wedding, so we instantly agreed. Our wedding cake only cost us about $200.
Another cost-saving move we did was to do the formal photos before
the wedding. This had numerous positive results. First, our photos were taken right after we'd finished getting our hair and makeup done, so the wedding party members were all still fresh (the crying during the ceremony does a real number on mascara). Secondly, by doing the photos before the ceremony, we reduced the amount of time our guests had to wait at the reception hall. Typically, the family goes out and takes photos between the ceremony and the reception, but this can make the rest of your guests restless. Thirdly, by getting the reception going right away, rather than making everybody sit around doing nothing for 2 hours while photos were taken, we reduced the number of hours we needed to rent the reception hall for by 2 hours.
The meal itself was a bar-b-que buffet.
Our wedding was about 100 people. We spent $1,000 on the photographer, $1,000 on the D.J., and $1,000 on the catering. The other $3,000 went to dress/tux rental, hall rental, liquor and wedding licensing fees, wine and beer, decorations, gratuities, invitations and thank you cards, the cake, and everything else.