The average cost of a wedding in the UK is £32,723 (quoted from Hitched )
The average cost of wedding photography is £1166, so less than 4% of the entire budget & yet there are still couples willing to take a gamble on not hiring a professional to capture their wedding day.
I am not being facetious when I say that I can well understand why this is the case. Firstly £1000 is not pocket money, it’s a good chunk of honeymoon funds, maybe the difference between unlimited G’n’T on an all-inclusive package and having to be frugal, and nobody wants to count every shot on their wind-down once in a lifetime holiday (please drink responsibly).
Secondly when you compare your friends’ decent photos from their SLR to some “pro” photographers, they are likely better than some, no arguments here. Sadly, in Wedding Photography there is no “barrier to entry” as Peter Jones & Deborah Meaden would have it. There are no regulators, ombudsman or governing bodies, anyone with an SLR a Facebook business page and a Wix website can set themselves up as a wedding photographer overnight & start charging money.
The problem therein lies. You could pay £500 and get very bad wedding photos, every single year, without fail, the Daily Mail will run a story (or two) about a wedding photographer who has “ruined a couples big day”, how a couple paid £350 for all day coverage from bobsyouruncle photography (hopefully fictional for illustrative purposes) & have nothing but out of focus photos and more photos of the Bridesmaid than the Bride to show for it. As sure as predicting the worst winter ever & the hottest summer on record these stories will surface every year around September time. And true enough the photos will be diabolical, the general public will be outraged and sad for the couple and the photographic community will post on insider forums “what did they expect for £350?”
So what is the point of this post? It is a cautionary tale, not a sales pitch but hopefully some sage advice from someone who has worked in the wedding industry (this always makes it sound like some huge white factory billowing bubbles and confetti out of the chimney stacks) for nearly 30 years and who has heard (first hand, not from the Daily Mail) many stories of woe.
If having good photographs of your wedding isn’t important to you at all, if you would be satisfied with a few half decent, half in focus, badly composed snaps & would have no regrets then choose your family or friend who has a decent camera, you might as well save yourself £350. You don’t HAVE to book a photographer, it’s not a prerequisite to a legal or happy marriage so please don’t pay a bad photographer whose portfolio is about as inspiring as a house brick, The Daily Mail really don’t pay that much for stories these days.
If on the other hand you would both like to look back on your photos in 20+ years’ time perhaps with your children, in your 40’s, 50’s or 60’s and still feel the emotion of the day, see the love, the fun & the happiness, every critical moment captured, each smile, kiss & tear all preserved in sharp, well thought-out, well-exposed photographic detail then you should leave the job of capturing your wedding to a real professional photographer.
I have been told a lot of horror stories by guests at weddings, Bridesmaids and friends of my couples about how they let their uncle, friend or next-door neighbor shoot their wedding photos and how very disappointed they are with the results but there isn’t anything they can do. On the flip side I have heard from people who due to their photography hobby (wholly unrelated to weddings) they were asked to shoot a friends wedding, and how it scared & stressed them so much that they no longer enjoy photography. And every year I get last minute panic inquires from couples whose friend has got cold feet and is too nervous to go ahead and shoot their wedding, leaving them with no photographer 2 months before their wedding day.
Wedding photography is not easy, far from it. I have been involved in many different genres of photography in my 28 year career, from PR, Commercial, Advertising, Fashion & Portraiture to Press, Sports & Music, each difficult in their own right. Based on my experience, Wedding Photography is the most challenging of all (second only to War Photography which I have no personal experience of), these are the reasons why.
There are no re-shoots. Unlike a lot of photography jobs, if you mess it up, make a mistake, you can try again. If you take out of focus portraits, you can call your sitter back into the studio. If your camera decides not to work on a PR shoot you can stall the proceedings while you fix it. If you mess up your exposure on a fashion shoot you can as for a re-take. With weddings (and to some extent music & sport) you HAVE to be ready, you HAVE to preempt the moment & you HAVE to get it right, first time, every time. You cannot ask the Bride & her Father to walk up the aisle again & you cannot request that the Mother of the Groom gives her son a hug mid speech for support, you have to be ready and competent enough to react and capture it as it happens.
Having a lot of wedding experience is highly valuable. I have photographed over 1500 weddings in my career, and although each of them different & individual, I am highly alert and preemptive to all wedding situations, I don’t miss a thing! It takes many years of wedding photography experience to be this quick. I have many professional photographer friends in other fields, who despite being very competent photographers, and technically excellent wouldn’t consider shooting a wedding for this one reason alone..You have to KNOW weddings.
The responsibility is immense. As a sole wedding photographer, you will be looked to to have captured, in focus, well exposed and composed all aspects of the wedding day, from the getting ready to the dancing. You have to be a fashion photographer, an action photographer & a portrait photographer all in one as well as having excellent people skills to coerce guests to the correct place without being too bossy. People are there to celebrate, to drink, eat & catch up, they don’t really care too much about your group photo-list, so it is your responsibility to make sure any posed photos are done as quickly & painlessly as possible for all concerned.
You have to know your camera kit inside out, the camera, the lenses, the flash and all the other bits of kit, you have to know what to use when & have a full technical understanding of how it works, and if it doesn’t work, what to do. Remain calm, un-flustered & patient at all times.
So to summarise, having a half decent camera, owning an SLR, taking decent landscape photos or nice photos of kids, none of these things is enough to create a beautiful narrative of a wedding day. Book a photographer with at least 8 years professional full-time wedding photography experience, a wealth of work in a portfolio to back-up claims that their price is justified & someone whose work doesn’t just look like lucky snaps. If you entrust a friend who isn’t a full-time professional photographer to shoot your wedding to save 4% of your wedding budget be prepared to regret it for the rest of your life. It’s a cliche and coming from a wedding photographer sounds like a sales patter but when your wedding day is a distant memory, when all you have is each other & your wedding rings wouldn’t it be nice to have a set of photos that you can look back on which will clearly document where the other 96% of your wedding budget was spent, and your friend with a decent camera will actually still be your friend.
PS I have taken a few great Sea Eagle photos recently but I wouldn’t expect to be hired as a wildlife photographer!