wedding photography

In Wedding Photography, you get what you pay for

Why is wedding photography so expensive? More than a few people have asked that question over the years. To the average consumer, it seems a common sense thing to ask. All they’re doing is taking pictures. What about that is worth $2000 or more?

wedding photography
Let’s begin this article with a reality check. People spend hundreds of dollars for a limo that they’ll have for four hours. They spend $5000 on a reception hall with $30 a piece plated dinners. A bride will spend $1000 or more on a dress she’s only going to wear once. The couple will spend $500 on a single bouquet of flowers, and in some cases over $1000 on the decorative flowers for the wedding, all of which will be gone by the next morning. The groom will rent a tuxedo that costs $200-$300, and it has to be returned promptly the following day. But when it comes to the photographer, who is going to produce and prepare the only lasting memento of their event, he or she is out of their mind to ask more than $500.

I’ve read many articles discussing ways to cut costs with your wedding photography, and most of them, unfortunately, are very bad advice.

1) Price Shop – While it can be generally agreed that shopping around for the best price is a good idea, be sure you are shopping within comparable areas of the market. A photographer who costs $3000 versus a photographer who costs $500 is comparing apples to lemons. If you want to compare $500 versus $600 or $450, then you are shopping comparable services. Likewise, you are shopping comparable services if you are comparing $3000 versus $2800 or $3200. If you think you are getting a deal by going with the $500 photographer to save yourself money over the $3000 photographer, you aren’t.

2) Put Cameras on the Tables – This is by far the worst idea I’ve ever seen, and I speak from many weddings worth of experience. In the first place, you aren’t saving as much money as you think. Disposable cameras cost roughly $6 each, and it runs you, per roll, about $7 to develope the film and get prints. If you put out twenty cameras, you are talking about an approximate expense of $260. And you know what you are going to get for your $260? You are going to get pictures of walls and floors. You are going to get pictures of people taking pictures of people who are taking pictures. You are going to get pictures of Aunt Pat’s behind. And that’s provided you get pictures at all. Sometimes the cameras just sit there unused, and I’ve personally witnessed a wedding where someone was banging the camera on the table, saying, “look, you can make the flash go off.” Other guests immediately began doing the same thing so they could all get a giggle. In the end, you’ll walk away with about twenty pictures that are worthwhile, which amounts to about $13 an image. Not a good investment at all.

3) Find Someone Cheap – I know that you’re trying to save money, but hiring someone cheap is a very bad idea. It is my experience that photographers who work cheap aren’t typically photographers at all. The fact is, anyone can take a picture, but not everyone who can take a picture is a photographer. With the explosion of digital technology, it seems that anyone who buys a nice camera and snaps a few lucky shots suddenly considers themselves a photographer. And since they’re so good three months out of the gate, maybe they should do some weddings.
If you go this route, you can expect them to show up with a consumer level camera and a kit lens. While there are exceptions to every rule, this generally tends to be the case. And my condolences to you if you’re having a wedding in a low light environment with an amateur using a kit lens. There will be ghosting and motion blur in every last one of your orange pictures.

4) Have a Friend or Relative Do It – Refer to item 3. Whether you are hiring someone or getting a favor from a friend or relative, the fact is, either they are a photographer or they are not a photographer. If they don’t have the equipment and know how to use it to accomplish the best possible results in any given environment, your pictures, if you’re lucky, will be mediocre at best. Do you know what aperture to use if you are photographing a couple with the sun behind them? If you don’t know, chances are good that the friend, relative, or amateur isn’t going to know either. A professional will.

5) Get the Negatives/Raw Files to Make Your Own Album – First of all, no professional photographer worth his salt is going to give you the negative or Raw files. You might get processed jpegs, maybe even in high resolution, but you aren’t going to get the Raw files. Secondly, professional photographers aren’t providing you with scrapbook junk albums with the peel-back, static-plastic pages. The albums are generally matted or flush mount. You have to have a retail license to get those at anywhere close to a reasonable cost. So this is another instance of comparing apples to oranges. If you can get the files, and if you make your own album, it will pale beside what the photographer would have given you, both in quality and artistry. And that’s assuming you can even open the Raw files, which requires particular software, in some cases proprietary.

What the people who try to help you save a buck neglect to realize is that there is a reason professional photography is so expensive. They’ll tell you to ask, for example, if you can have the Raw files, when what you should be asking is, “do you have liability insurance?”. They tell you to ask to see additional samples, when what you really need to see is a finished album that demonstrates their competence in photographing a wedding from start to finish. Any Joe can nail a good shot, but can he nail two or three hundred of them to make a nice album?
Some other questions that are truly worth asking:

1) Are you shooting medium format, full frame 35mm, or APS? – Medium format will give you images from 28-64 megapixels. Full frame 35mm will give you images from 21-25 megapixels. APS is a consumer level camera in the 10-12 megapixel range, and you shouldn’t pay a premium price if that’s what they’re using.

2) Are you accredited with the Better Business Bureau? – If they’re not, what recourse do you have if your photographer gives you terrible service or products? If they are, you can at least check their profile at the BBB website.

3) Do you have a business license? – Why in the world would you pay anyone for a service who isn’t legitimate? That’s very risky.

4) Are you insured? – What happens if they drop dead of a heart attack in the middle of your wedding? What happens if they fall in a fountain and ruin not only their camera gear, but all the pictures they took up to that point, as in this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r3cvsImyIZA? Liability insurance is a must.

5) Do you have backup equipment? – If they drop the only lens they have and damage it, what then? I guess they won’t be taking any more pictures. Insurance is a non-issue. It can take care of their equipment after the fact, but it does nothing for them at the time of when they still have the rest of the wedding to shoot.

6) Are you going to use fresh flash cards? – While flash cards are generally reliable and have a very long, usable life, they will eventually go bad.

To illustrate the point, I’ll talk about a certain wedding on August 28th. Everything went smoothly. Bride and groom were very happy with their pictures. The following month, her cousin got married at the same place. The amateur photographer photographed the entire wedding on a single, used flash card. The card went bad. The entire wedding was lost. She (the photographer) was not legitimate. She was not insured. The cousin lost everything with no recourse.
Was it worth the alleged savings?

But moving on to more important things, clearly a professional is a wiser choice. But the question that remains is, why does it cost so much?

1) A professional will show up at your wedding with $16000-$20000 worth of professional equipment, with back-ups of everything. That equipment costs a lot of money, and it needs to be maintained, repaired, and occassionally replaced.

2) A professional will have insurance that can cost as much as $800 a year.

3) A professional deserves a professional wage.

4) Prints, paper, ink, and other supplies and cost of goods cost money.

5) A professional is educated in his or her trade.

6) A professional can show you samples that will give you peace of mind and confidence.

7) A professional is experienced and knows what to do in a given situation to get the shot.

Ultimately, you can hire a $500 amateur and take your chances. They will show up with a 12 megapixel camera, a used flash card, a kit lens with a maximum aperture of F/4, and if you’re lucky, they’ll have a shoe-mount flash unit. If something goes wrong, I hate it for ya. If they mess up and miss all your important shots, I hate it for ya. When your inside pictures are all underexposed, or have motion blur because their lens is inadequate, I hate it for ya. When you and your intended are silouettes against a white sky because they didn’t know how to light and expose for a backlit situation . . . I hate it for ya!  The internet is loaded with woe-is-me tales from disappointed brides who got messed up pictures, haven’t gotten their pictures at all, etc. In the end, you will get what you pay for.

If you hire a professional, it will cost you a good bit more. But they’ll show up with a professional camera that will give you high resolution images. They’ll have new flash cards, professional series lenses with F/2.8 apertures that can handle low light situations, and a shoe-mount flash. They’ll also have backups of everything in case something happens. They’ll have liability insurance in case something drastic happens. They’ll get all the important shots. Your pictures, inside or outside, will be properly exposed, sharp, crisp, and without motion blur. When you’re back lit against the sun, they’ll have lights to compensate, and know how to meter the ambient light to get a clean exposure between the foreground and the background.

The choice is yours. How do you want to spend your money? Invest in something you will love and enjoy for the rest of your lives together without regrets & always remember, “You get what you pay for.”