Confessions Of A Wedding Photographer (part 2)
Since I posted “Part 1”, a few people have asked me about my reasons for moving away from wedding photography, something I’ve been doing for about 25 years. I thought it might be a good idea to spell out some of the reasons why I feel it’s time to get out of this aspect of the business.
Over-saturation: With less people geting married (I am reliably informed) and more and more people thinking that now they have a decent DSLR, the wedding market is a soft point of entry into professional photography, there are simply less weddings to go around. I know from speaking to long-established wedding togs that bookings have dropped off year by year over the last 3 years or so.
“Weekend Warriors”: Not a term I like to use, personally, but I’ve heard other togs muttering this under their breath, interspersed with a few expletives. It is certainly a fact that on many of the weddings I have shot in the last 3 years there has been a keen amateur tog “parroting” (shooting from my shoulder) and in one case, when I went to the couple’s house less than three weeks after the wedding to show them the proofs, there was already a large canvas hanging over the fireplace which was clearly shot over my shoulder: location selected by me, group arranged by me, group smiling at me, shot taken by me AND well-meaning Uncle Fred. Years ago, when I was assisting at weddings, part of my role was to block the view of these amateurs, or to rush in after the shot was taken and place a tripod in front of the group. Now you’d need an army of large-shouldered, pointy-elbowed assistants to block all the potential photographers.
Let’s face it, you don’t need a huge pile of equipment to shoot a wedding, especially when there’s no pressure on you and all you have to do is produce a few supplementary images to hand over on a cd. I have often heard people say “Uncle Fred’s photos were better than the official photographer’s”. Of course they were! Uncle Fred only needed to hand over 10 or 20 of his best images – the official photographer will be expected to produce hundreds, and the quality is only ever as strong as the worst image. A wedding is, I believe, one part photography to nine parts crowd control. The photography itself isn’t particularly technically challenging, especially when someone else is setting up the shots, bouncing light into the shots etc. One wonders how Uncle Fred would fare if forced to round up 200 half-cut strangers as well as concentrating on the photos.
Of course, everyone has to start somewhere but it does worry me just how many people seem to be shooting weddings without at least first assisting a more experienced photographer. There are laws and customs that one only usually learns about in practice.
Diminishing Returns: As recently as 10 years ago, it was possible, if not usual, for a photographer to make more from wedding re-prints than from the wedding itself. Most couples now expect a cd or dvd of high-resolution, copyright-free images as part of their wedding photography package. This obviously means the photographer waves goodbye to any possibility of commission from reprints. In fact even before this, I have know people use their (increasingly sophisticated) home scanners and printers to reproduce the images in their wedding album for circulation amongst family and friends. Completely illegal of course, but very common.
The price of wedding packages has also come down (due to all of the above factors). Lisa Lester, one of fotofilia’s photographers, recieved a phone call a few months ago from someone asking “We’ve been quoted £75 for our wedding photography, can you beat it?” That’s £75!!! For attending a wedding for a whole day, travel, taking images, insurance, and post-production (which might be two days’ work). I myself have quoted for a wedding and offered what I thought was a very competitive price only to be told that “a bloke in the office has said he’ll do it for £40”.
I have no doubt that there are people who will shoot weddings for these amounts. But would you really entrust the memories of what is supposed to be the biggest day of your life to someone with no experience? One camera? No insurance? What if it all goes horribly wrong? Just because someone takes great pictures of landscapes doesn’t make him an ideal wedding photographer.
Unrealistic Expectations: Here’s an example – I was emailed a photograph of a man who was standing (at least I think he was standing – I could only see his top half) squinting in strong sunshine and asked to “photoshop him in” to a wedding group shot which was taken indoors on an Autumn day. The couple thought this was a perfectly reasonable and simple task.
I have also been told “Aw! You’ve made it look rainy on that one”. I replied, “Yes, it was raining”.
Reportage: I’ve lost count of the times I’ve heard couples say “We just want unposed/reportage photographs”. Again I know plenty of togs who specialise in that style. Often, this means the couple don’t want to be bothered with the formal posing bit, which I can quite understand. What the couple don’t realise is that the best reportage/candid images are actually at least partly set up. I once attended a wedding where there was a reportage approach and the whole day had no structure… People wandered out of church, looked at their watches and headed for the car. The wedding photographer is also often the Ringmaster, organising the day’s main set pieces – the confetti-throwing, the cake-cutting etc. I’ve seen reportage albums which have consisted mainly of people moving from one place to another, or looking suspiciously over their shoulder as they try to enjoy a drink in the bar. I’ve heard reportage photographers say that the couple then say, “You didn’t get a shot of me with Auntie Ethel” when they never went near her during the day.
The approach I have mainly used is to set up some formal and less formal (but still posed) shots while my assistant grabbed candids from the sidelines. This gives the best of both worlds: people are in the right place, with the right light and the right expressions but not looking directly at camera giving an unposed feel whilst actually quite carefully contrived.
But… although shooting weddings is undeniably stressful, increasingly underpaid, tiring, and frequently under-appreciated, it can be very rewarding and yes, even great fun. Over the last twenty-odd years I’ve learnt a lot from weddings that I’ve been able to carry over into other areas of photography. Thankfully, for every miserable bridezilla, grumpy mother-in-law, or tantrum-prone bridesmaid, theres many a lovely, glowing happy couple. I’ve been priviledged to have been a part of so many people’s special days and to have helped record them for posterity.
If you are interested in starting out in wedding photography, I regularly do 1-1 or 2-1 tutorials which will give you enough ideas and information to set you on the right path. Contact me for details.
Thanks to Danielle & Ezi whose wedding is pictured here – one of those weddings that made it worthwhile.