CHOOSING YOUR WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHER
Choosing your photographer for your wedding day could be one of the most daunting and difficult parts of organising a wedding for a number of reasons
- In my opinion this is the single most important decisions. You don't just book a person or a company for your wedding day. You book your photographer for the future. All aspects of your wedding carry great importance yet once the day is over the importance of them all seem to fade away with time. There is only one decision that will be with you forever and that is your photos. If your bouquet is not exactly how you wanted it, if the DJ didn't play the exact list of songs you wanted, if the limousine wasn't as comfortable as you imagined...well...you really don't dwell on it forever and you will still have one of the best days of your life.
On the other hand when you receive your photos from your Big Day and you feel like it doesn't really represent your wedding day the best way, you feel like things are missing from it, you don't look your best as you imagined you would on the photos, the quality of the images are sub standard, amateurish...unfortunately it never goes away. If anything, it gets worse with time ..when you want to pull out your photos to show someone or just to go back a bit in memory lane .
-The photography industry is unregulated. It has a huge number of great photographers but it is virtually flooded with self proclaimed “photographers” who are really just “people with cameras” whom I call “The Weekend Warriors” . These “weekend warriors” come and go with the wind.. or the season if you like. In the digital era we put more emphasis on the equipment rather than the skill, experience and the talent to be able to capture , record , preserve and reflect YOUR DAY.
-The price range is wider and more diverse than any other aspect of your wedding for what seems like exactly the same offer. (emphasis is on the “seems like”)
-Pretty much all our marketing is online these days. Having a physical viewing room, office, studio for a wedding photographer where our work is displayed, our personality is shown is absolutely not necessary. This means not just that anyone can really enter the industry but that you will be exposed a lot more to some “photographers” who are extremely active on the social media side, digital marketing side. Highly active social media campaigns are not always in correlation with high quality operators, service and finished product.
All right, lets get started.....
I have been a full time wedding photographer for about 15 years. Won many awards (though I really and honestly don't care about it too much ... and I will tell you why later) , shot internationally and nationally approximately 800 weddings . The smallest one was where I had to be a witness because there was nobody else and the biggest one was with over 600 guests where just the bridal party consisted of 32 people. That is BIG. I have put over 100 photographers through my specially designed 4 days wedding photography courses. We have also owned and operated an upmarket bridal boutique for many years.
...so you might say rightfully that I do have a bit of an insight into the topic but I definitely don't claim that “I know it all” or that my views and opinions will represent the industry fully or anybody else's views.
First and most important: its your and only your decision who you book as your wedding photographer so you need to own the consequences – good or bad.
YOU DONT BOOK YOUR PHOTOGRAPHER FOR THE DAY, YOU BOOK YOUR PHOTOGRAPHER FOR THE FUTURE
When you start the process of looking for a photographer you kind of need to sit down with your partner an discuss what you want from your photos, from your photographer. When this discussion occurs there is one mistake made time and time again. ..and that is ..you only discuss what you want on the day and not what you want to have from the day.
“we don't want you to cover the reception as it is just a big party”. True ..but would you like somebody to capture the moment your dad started to tear up half way through his speech so you can look back at it 25 years down the track.
I always say: be prepared that you will suffer on your wedding day from what we call sensory overload. It happens when there is so much happening at the same time or on the same day that the brain (no matter how good your memory is) will simply not be able to store a huge amount of this information. You may laugh at it but it happened that I presented the couple with the photos and they were both gobsmacked as they saw a photo shoot location that they didn't even remember going to ...Of course the photos jogged their memory. The same thing happens during your bridal prep, ceremony and reception. Some people don't even remember the ceremony...ask around!
So...you don't book your photographer for the day... you book your photographer for the future. Decide what you would like to have in the future to look back on, to remember.
WHAT SETS WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHERS APART (not in any particular order) :
NOTE: I am not including equipment here. When a photographer wants to sell his or her service to you based on equipment it usually means he/she is lacking in competitiveness in the above list.
Just like you expect your DJ to have the right speakers, your function centre to have tables, your caterer to have cooking pots you should expect that your photographer has the equipment needed. I am not saying equipment is not important. It is. But its basic requirement and shouldn't be something that sets us apart.
Let me see if I can help you understand the differences in the the different aspects:
-STYLE (one of the biggest subjects I guess):
Disclaimer: There is nothing wrong of promoting a certain approach/style that a professional photographer feels that represents their work.
Couples at the initial contact quite often ask me ( because they read in somewhere that they should) ;”what is your style” or “how would you describe your style” . My reply can be a bit cheeky sometimes as it happened in the past that I said “ I don't know but you must like it as you have contacted me” . On the more serious days I say to them “my photos should do the talking (and I have a lot) when it comes to style”. Ok, I do put it into words as I need to for marketing but I am very cautious about this subject and I tell you why and It is going to be controversial. It is going to be debated sometimes in a heated manner and many people will not necessarily agree with me...and they have a good reason, because I shed light on their shortfalls quite often. In the digital and weekend warrior era (and if it doesn't apply to you please don't take it on board.. I am sure you know what I am talking about) I hear more and more often self style descriptions such as : I am a candid photographer, I am a journalistic photographer, I stay in the background and capture moments without intruding on people, I am a natural light photographer and don't use flash at all, I only use fixed lenses, I have a moody look to my photos etc etc. Let me dissect it using 800 weddings, 15 years and over 100 photographers who were my students as my source …
Weddings are big big days, You can have a lot of people attending with all sorts of different personalities, you have some formal parts, some serious parts, some emotional parts, some fun parts and some drunken parts of course. Its not just a wedding, Its a family reunion, its a high school reunion, its a uni reunion, Its a work place gathering, its a “meet the other side” gathering... and its bloody everything!!! Average wedding costs $36000 in QLD..so it is quite possible that it is the most expensive day of your life. So as a photographer you must take it into account and act accordingly....which means :you will have to capture candid moments as well as maybe having to arrange a big group photos of 150 guests. You may need to take a very special family photo of 4 generations for the first time in the family's history.. which will mean you have to take control, choose the best spot, the best light, the best background. No “candid” stay in the “background” aspect to it at all if you want to get it right.
Well, photography is about light and its in the name. I love natural light as that is the genesis of photography but this is one thing I hear way too often “I don't use a flash at all” . What if I told you that and extra light source -namely flash- in some cases and situations will enhance the image, will work with and highlight the existing natural light, will compensate for bad or average available light (could be natural or artificial indoor light) , will create amazing special look to the photo in a very average situation...and so forth. To me its like mechanic saying : “I will fix your car...I only use a three quarter spanner and phillips screwdriver.” Same applies to fixed lenses. I love them, Who doesn't... but to say I only use fixed lenses just means...I really limit what I can do!..
All in all very very often “photographers” make these claims simply to mask their lack of skills and ability. It can be that they really have never mastered the use of external light source called the flash and its easier to say “I don't like flash” , they never mastered setups for group photos and controlling groups, they never mastered posing couples the right way where it is flowing and fun and even at the thought of setting up a nice bridal party shot of 8 people makes them nervous as they really lack basic skills. Its easier to claim..” Well... its not my fault that the family photo is not up to scratch...where you were standing the light was in the wrong direction, there was a toilet sign behind you and grandpa was talking to someone all the time...Remember.. I am a candid shooter”
As a wedding photographer you have to be extremely versatile in my opinion and be able to cover all aspects of a wedding the best possible way.. let it be journalistic, candid, formal, group, posed.
Common mistake is mixing up style of wedding with style of photographer.
When you are flying to a relaxed tropical island for your honeymoon ..you still want your pilot, your your air crew , your ground crew to be professional and deliver the service you expect plus to get you there of course.
Lets not mix up the style of the wedding with the style of the photography. A casual , informal wedding still requires a highly skilled, experienced professional, versatile photographer to be able to capture and reflect the casual, informal nature of the wedding just as much as it still requires a professional, experienced, skilled caterer to cater for your guests or a professional experienced DJ to create the relaxed atmosphere you would like to have. Your overall vision and description of your special day must influence how you choose your suppliers but not be mixed up with the description of your suppliers for the day.
-PRICE (very important subject but far from being the most important)
I had couples approach me at expos and the first question they asked “ how much?”
My reply was always the same: “please look at my work and if you like what I do we can discuss what would suit you the most price-wise and package-wise.
It really doesn't matter if you pay $1000 or $2000 if at the end of the day you don't like the finished result. The bottom line is you either do or don't like the photos. I know budget is very important but never start with price. Start looking for what you like, what you want as far as photos go. ...than you start narrowing it down. You may find what you want and at the price you wanted. Be always prepared to have some flexibility so you can compromise. You may realise that what you want and you really want is just impossible to get at the price you want to pay. What are you going to sacrifice....? an extra $500 or the quality of service and photos you dreamt of. Whatever you decide to sacrifice make sure you wont regret it in the future. I have been to weddings and one that stands out in particular where the couple spent thousands on an extra piece of décor because she liked it (wont mention what it is as many businesses make money out of it). When it came to photography she was on a “tight budget” . When she came to collect the photos she was so upset as there were no shots of the bridal waltz, speeches, cake cutting, dancing, games etc. She knew she made a big mistake by booking me only till 7pm and regretted it there and then in my office. I came to her 3 times before I left at 7pm on the night(before all the formalities started) to see if she wanted to extend it but she insisted I leave as they didn't want to pay for the extra hours on top of what she booked and paid for. (to top the story off... she was a wedding coordinator at a different venue believe it or not)
You cant go back and do it...so think carefully about it!
Price is important but you must see it in context of a number of other aspects to be able to make the right decision. Whatever your budget is, there are great photographers out there to accommodate a whole range of prices.
Once again, this can be a contentious issue but it really shouldn’t be.
Anyone who books a wedding as a job and charges money for it (doesn't matter how much) should be experienced at shooting weddings. Weddings can throw anything at you and they will. If you lack experience you will lack confidence. (confidence must have a foundation otherwise it is called arrogance) If you lack confidence you can be very easily over powered and overwhelmed by one of the 100 aspects of a wedding and your job as a photographer (I talk a lot about it in my courses) .
Online courses, YouTube tutorials, Facebook pages, taking photos of babies, taking school photos, buying an expensive camera, being “passionate about photography” (one of my favourite ones) etc do not make up for lack of experience. The best way to acquire extensive experience is by working for, assisting and learning from an experienced, skilled professional wedding photographer. Apprenticeship if you like, but it doesn’t exist in a structured way in our industry unfortunately.
Many, many individuals who are “passionate” about photography attempt to use you as a vehicle to gain experience …at your expense , I hate to say. You don’t just pay for it with your hard earned cash but also pay for it in the results…or should I say lack of results. You will be left disappointed in many many cases. Not all, but many.
Shooting a wedding without experience is simply put : a gamble. Would you gamble by letting a 1st year apprentice cook cater for your wedding, would you trust a stranger who has only made her child 3 birthday cakes make your wedding cake? How about a learner driver to be your limo chauffeur on the big day ..or maybe a someone who just bought her first sawing machine to design and create your perfect wedding dress? …so how about trusting an inexperienced person who bought some expensive camera gear to capture and preserve your memories from one of the most important days of your life and to create those really special images that you, your children and grandchildren down the track should treasure forever? And with that I rest my case.
Well, I am not sure if you ever thought about it but whoever you book will spend most if not the whole day with you. He/She will be part of many intimate moments, emotional ups and downs, stressful and anxious parts, happy and elated moments etc… right through the day. You will really need to feel comfortable with this person, this stranger. Not just being there but to look at you and all that is happening through the lens.
I always say that a good wedding photographer shoots from the inside, not from the outside. That means we need to gain your trust and your guests trust. We need to be part of the wedding. We need to feel the vibe. We need to be able to relate to all aspects. We need to want to be part of the wedding yet stay professional and in control all the time.
We must always remember that it is your day! We are there for you on the day, we need to listen to you yet we need to guide you through the day as well to achieve the results you booked us to achieve.
We need to have the right attitude as professional wedding photographers to make sure we make you feel comfortable, we don’t intrude on your day, we understand it's your day and no matter what we deliver the desired outcome.
No matter how many weddings you shoot …you never have two days the same. As a photographer you never stop learning and gaining skills to get new, different or even better results. BUT…a photographer should never use your wedding to gain skills. If you don’t have elevated levels of skills as a wedding photographer you should be working on gaining more experience and skills from other professionals as I mentioned in the Experience section.
This subject I called SKILLS is a huge subject that encompasses most aspects of what I am writing about. Style, Attitude, Experience, Knowledge and even Pricing and Reliability requires a skill set as a professional wedding photographer. If you are the right person for this industry with experience you will develop great skills if you have the right attitude.
Cameras don’t take wedding pictures. Never have, never will.
I had my camera set on a tripod waiting for a special photo I wanted to take of the bridal waltz. A chap came up to me and said: “what a great camera you have there. Must take fantastic pictures”. I paused for a second than proceeded with the reply. “ I agree with you and that is why I spent lots of money on it…..but I am taking it back after this wedding as I am really disappointed with it” He was taken back by my answer and asked: “really, why is that?” . So here came my punchline: “well, I set it up 5 minutes ago on the tripod and I have been waiting and waiting …but the bloody thing is refusing to take one single shot”
You may think we just buy a camera and off we go on our lucrative carrier (that is why so many individuals are taking up the “title” of being a photographer just to drop out of the industry in less than 12 months but not before they did some damage. Wrong attitude.
I wont go into details about all skills that you need as it would be a full wedding photography course. You just need to see, and accept that no matter how much technology changes and has changed..it is still a profession that requires and carries a huge amount of skill if you want to pursue it at a professional level. You will treat the importance of the skill level differently if its just beer money on the weekend or if it is the occupation that pays for your mortgage and your children's education. You, the couple will decide who is the right person for the job.
Your knowledge of many aspects of the wedding is important not just your knowledge of photography. That is why weddings are different. You need to know how limo drivers operate, you need to know how different function centres operate, you need to know the ceremonies inside out no matter what cultural, ethnic or religious path they follow. A Serbian orthodox ceremony will not even resemble a ceremony held by a celebrant on the beach but even a Coptic Christian ceremony will not relate to a standard Roman Catholic ceremony. You need to know how DJs work, how makeup artists work and pretty much everything else.
Your knowledge and understanding of photography as a photographer if you shoot weddings should not be at the level of an apprentice. Not just your knowledge of your camera (that should just be your first tick on your first day as an apprentice) . Unfortunately many many new operators seem to confuse the understanding of basic settings on the camera with the title of “professional photographer” . Through experience you gain knowledge that develops into a skill set.
Well, once again I can call up so many examples that show the importance of this simple word. Many couples don’t even consider “reliability” as a deciding factor. Not that its not important to the. Of course it is. They just don’t think about it. The consequences of the booking of an unreliable operator are detrimental.
Just yesterday I had another booking for a wedding that is in a couple of weeks. This time, like almost all the times the initial contact starts off with the same sentence: “our photographer stopped returning our calls and emails and disappeared”
I hate to be the barer of bad news: you didn’t book a professional, reliable wedding photographer. You booked someone who was “passionate” about photography, and with bit of cash made the investment of the century in the shape of a camera. Took some photos at a friends friends wedding for free as they were on a budget. Out of the whole day he/she managed to create 15 semi decent images with the help of Photoshop Elements. Riding high on this wave and still high on the experience the decision was made there and then. It was decided that he/she will take on the easiest job in the world yet earn a fortune in a couple of years so he/she can retire and cruise the world. Almost instantly the skill levels were gained by looking at Instagram images and a Facebook campaign was launched along with other social media campaigns and a star was born!!! Shortly after this you decided that you found the perfect solution to your budget in the shape of this star and the deposit was paid. Unbeknown to you in the next few months this rising star managed to book in a couple of other weddings before yours. More than likely they went pear shaped due to lack of experience, skill and knowledge. Our rising star had to face the harsh realities that cameras don’t take pictures, weddings are extremely complex, intertwined and fast paced, there is an enormous amount of people skills that is needed to keep everyone happy and on top of that…he/she needed to bring the bacon hope and deliver that amazing candid, journalistic, elegant relaxed style that the bride and groom expected. A month later he/she delivered the heavily and amateurishly (due lack of skills) edited, photoshopped images or even better…the “natural style as promised” , unedited work the bride and groom extremely politely expressed their disappointment and asked for some more editing to be done so at least some photos can be shared with friends and family. After 85 more hours on editing software the result seemed to get worse and not better but that weekend he/she had another wedding to shoot. That weekend the fire was burning in his/her heart on the economy setting. The passion for photography started to dissipate faster than a morning fog on a warm day but got through the day somehow. Next morning while looking at the previous days work the email came through form the first couple asking for a refund.
At this moment he/she realised that there may have been some “errors of judgements” made along the way. The journey of becoming a wedding photographer may not be the Disney fairy tale where to road to success and the riches is paved with fluffy soft bricks it is thought to be paved with and with that thought it was just easier for him/her to disappear for a while than face the clients who have booked our rising star.
So that is one point. My other point on reliability is once again coming from the past few moths:
I shot a wedding in 2008 (now that is a while ago) . I had a call on the other day. They lost their photos due to moving house. I managed to send them the full set again. Another sad story is from a wedding in 2016. Unfortunately she has passed away and he cant find the wedding photos. I replaced them for him promptly.
I am not saying you need someone who will be in business 20 years from now…but you need someone who has been in business to prove the long term commitment and someone you trust to be in business for at least for a while after your wedding date to iron out and finalise everything if needed.
So here you go :)
I hope you have gained a bit of an insight into the “behind the stage” aspect of being a wedding photographer. By outlining a few important points hopefully I have helped you in your decision making when it comes to choosing your wedding photographer.