I have been perusing some wedding pages lately. As I photograph weddings it is a good thing to do for ideas and to keep up on what is going on in the industry. One thing I have noticed that really has blossomed since the advent of the digital age is the "guy/girl with a camera" offering to shoot weddings for a lot less than the pros are charging.
At first glance this may seem like a great idea, things are definitely easier now, the professional's "secrets" are a thing of the past and heck this guy or girl can shoot a couple thousand photos so some are bound to come out. Well that is the thinking anyway. Heck they might have a good eye and you could get lucky and get some good photos.
I am happy that photography has in some respects gotten easier since digital has taken over and I am happy to see so many people getting into photography it is a very rewarding pursuit but there are some things one ought to consider before hiring that guy/girl with a camera.
I was reading about a woman in Salem who was shooting weddings and then she would not give the photos to the couples. There are multiple complaints with the attorney general about her. I cannot think of any reason to shoot the weddings and then not give the photos to the client other than she messed them up so bad and had nothing to give or was embarrassed about the images she had taken. So here are a few things that can go wrong in the digital era.
Camera Failure The guy/girl with a camera has just that a camera. Cameras fail and if they have only one camera and it fails, the wedding is lost. Just to give you an idea I personally bring a minimum of three professional grade cameras to a wedding and my daughter brings another. A while back I brought a brand new camera to a wedding. I had it for a couple weeks, enough time to get to know it. Yep you guessed it, half way through the wedding it failed. I was very glad that I had two back up cameras to finish the wedding with.
SD or Compact Flash Card Failure Like it or not the cards that the camera records the photos on fail from time to time. I always buy new cards for a wedding and check them before I show up. This too adds cost to shooting a wedding, sure I get to keep the cards but I still have to purchase something that I normally would not need. This also brings us back to Professional level equipment. My cameras have dual card slots where I can record a second copy of all the photos as I shoot them so in the event that the new card fails (and it has happened) there is a back up. Speaking of back up I also will always create a back up file for all the photographs on an external hard drive. That way I will have my main file that I am using for processing, a back up and two dual camera cards as well so I will have a main file and three back ups. I don't delete the photos on the cards until I have processed and delivered the photos to the client. You cannot reshoot a wedding.
Equipment is one reason we pros have to charge what we do, and yes we have to support our families as well. When I show up to a wedding I am carrying three camera bodies worth in excess of $11,000 and lenses $12000, this is not unusual among professional photographers. This gives me excellent glass and the ability to capture a wide variety of situations something the guy/girl with a consumer grade camera with a couple kit lenses will not be able to do. On top of this I bring flashes, strobes, radio triggers and other equipment that runs into the thousands as well. I, as other pros, had to pay for this and pay for its upkeep. A pro camera also has a larger buffer. A cheaper camera may let you shoot continuously but the processor is slower so after a few shots the buffer will be full and you have to wait for the processor to catch up before you can shoot again. This can very easily cause a photographer to miss those wonderful moments that happen so sporadically. For example the camera I use has a huge buffer and it also has multiple processors that are so fast I have yet to see the camera stall even when shooting sports. Sure this is a technicality and sounds like camera nerd talk but it does make a difference. The point is that the pro will choose equipment that can do things that the consumer grade camera cannot do, things you should never have to think about.
Equipment Upkeep As a pro and having purchased professional equipment I am eligible to belong to the Canon Professional Services Program which helps pros keep their cameras working perfectly. I know that Nikon has a similar program as do most makers of high end equipment. Owners of consumer grade cameras cannot join this professional service and being being a member is very helpful and allows us to get cameras repaired and returned with in a couple days not to mention many other professional services. I have known friends to wait months for consumer program repair to return their equipment and if they were shooting a wedding they would have to rent then show up with a camera that they are not familiar with.
Professional Organizations Along with many other professional photographers I belong to the Wedding Photojournalist Association or the WPJA. Here in the words of the WPJA, is why this makes a difference to the client. Since 2002 the WPJA has been the number one trusted source for the best wedding photojournalists in the world. Recognized for excellence by leading wedding publications including BRIDES magazine, the WPJA is an international network of vigorously vetted professional photographers whose work is regularly judged by award-winning photojournalists (including many Pulitzer Prize-winners) and news photo editors. With ongoing curatorial vision the association identifies emerging talent, keeping our talent pool fresh and cutting edge. The WPJA is dedicated to upholding the highest standards in creative wedding photojournalism while promoting best business practices. There are a number of professional organizations that aid the photographer. The provide information, training, seminars and a host of other activities that help the professional photographer grow at his or her craft.
To become a member of the WPJA is not easy and membership tells the Bride and Groom that the photographer has met the creative, technical and professional requirements to get in.
The Ability to Perform Under Pressure Like it or not a wedding is a high pressure event. A great deal of work has gone into it and the event is filled with great expectations. This can be a daunting challenge for someone who has not worked under that kind of pressure. There are a great many challenges that can come the way of a photographer from equipment challenges to location problems. The light is hardly ever perfect and the photographer has to be able to adjust to each and every situation seamlessly. This is usually beyond the abilities of the guy/girl with a camera. The seasoned pro can enter the toughest situations and come away with the best images possible.
Assistants and Second Shooters Most pros have assistants and they too need to be paid. I always have at least one assistant and usually a second shooter. As a male I prefer to have a female photographer as second shooter. This helps in a number of ways.
Professionalism Professionalism includes all of the above and more. First I have a wedding agreement where both parties agree on what is expected of my company. I take very seriously the reverence of the occasion and the understanding that as a photographer I have one chance to get it right. A professional photographer also knows that he or she must be able to work well with the other vendors at the wedding. We understand that the wedding is about the Bride and Groom not us and we need to work with not against those others who are all working to create that special once in a lifetime event. The last thing needed is squabbling vendors. All venues have their special rules. Many do not allow flash photography during the ceremony and the photographer must be competent enough and have equipment capable of shooting in ultra low light and still get wonderful images also having professional equipment helps in this instance as well.
Experience No one is great the first time out. Becoming good at shooting weddings takes time and experience. While shooting a wedding may seem easy it most assuredly is not. I have personal experience that reminds me of this lesson. When my wife and I were married we had a friend shoot the wedding. He was a very talented commercial photographer. He did a great job of exposing the photos, all were technically perfect but he missed the emotion of the day. I was in graduate school and I had friends attend who were from many different Asian and African countries they all wore wonderful traditional dress from their respective countries. This would be a wedding photographers dream yet we have not one photo of these people most of whom we will never see again. An experienced wedding photographer would know to get those shots. While I am still very grateful for the work this fine photographer did for us an experienced photographer would have not let so many once in a lifetime images get away.
Time I had a friend once say to me, wow I wish I could work one day a week. I found that extremely funny as I put in way more time now than when I worked a normal weekday job. There are many hours that do not relate directly to the client. Things such as marketing, dealing with keeping your equipment clean and in good working order. Trade shows, seminars and other learning events take up lots of time. Hours of looking at what is going on in the industry and much more. Here are some things that do directly apply to the client. Time for correspondence, meeting and working with client to get a good understanding of what is wanted. Engagement photos, I include this with some packages. The day of shooting, usually that is a ten to twelve hour day depending on the wedding. Then the processing and color correction. I will shoot over a thousand photos at a wedding and will have to go through each one. Yes I discard some if they are the same as the next one or I may shoot rapidly to catch just the right emotion and the photos on either side of the choice may be discarded. However I still have to put eyes on each and every photograph. If I give the client lets say eight hundred photos each will be processed and color corrected and this takes time. It is not unusual for me to put in well over one hundred hours working on a single wedding's photos. Then there is retouching which I will do for the photos of the bride and groom. This takes far more time. Sometimes I will put in more than an hour on a single photo depending on what is needed. Multiply this by a hundred or so and you can see how the time adds up quickly. Also the years I have spent learning my craft, from the actual photography to the processing. Back in the film days I learned darkroom work and spent the hours there now it is Photoshop, Lightroom and other processing programs that took a couple years to get really comfortable with. I became a professional photographer in 1980 and that is a lot of experience. I shot fashion and advertising for years and didn't start shooting weddings until around 1987 to help pay for graduate school and I fell in love with shooting weddings at that point. I know photographers who have been doing it longer or even less and are great photographers. The point is that it takes time and the guy/girl with a camera doesn't have the experience needed to put the thinking clients mind at ease.
Its Your Choice It is your wedding and you will make the choice, you can have wonderful images that you will treasure for the rest of your life or save a bit of money and take a huge chance. I would hate to think of others wishing they had photos of friends they will never see again. I could go on and on with this little post but I hope I got my message across and my message is simply this. A Professional Photographer is Worth the Money.