Tuesday, November 10, 2009

How Not to be a Wedding Photographer

The Scary Truth About Wedding Photography

Question (edited version):

Hello Stephen, hope you are doing well. Firstly let me say, I am a huge fan of your work. It's so beautiful and fresh.

Secondly, I am emailing you in regards to one of your posts about scams. Recently, I was looking through different photographers' sites with my friend, who is getting married, and stumbled upon a somewhat shady-looking (ie. unprofessional-looking site).

I found the following red-flag rising facts:

  • None of the photographers/owners are professionals. I found out that they have only done a handful of weddings and therefore, are charging people $300 dollars per hour essentially for practice.
  • Neither have any solid credentials in photography. On their photography site, they don't disclose this and don't inform anyone that they've just started and have done only a few weddings. Also, they don't put any professional credentials in photography. They just said, in an email, they've done workshops.


Thank you very much for your email and your very kind comments about my work.

I can’t advise you on whether to report a website, or a photographer, as that has to be a decision that you make yourself. What I will say, though, is that the wedding photography market probably has the largest percentage of non-professional (and often very inexperienced) photographers working in it, than any other sector of the photographic profession.

This is due to a number of factors including:

a) Low start-up costs

Wedding photographers don’t need to have a studio, or a lot of expensive camera and lighting equipment. They just need a reasonable camera (and many underestimate this, and buy what they think is a good camera, but actually it’s not nearly good enough in terms of the reproduction quality of the image) and a flash gun – and again, many beginning photographers don’t even know what fill-in flash is, or why they might need a flash gun – and how to use it properly.

b) Previous Experience

If I want to get a job as a magazine photographer, or a commercial photographer for a large company or a press photographer for a newspaper, or a travel photographer for a guide book – all of those potential employers will ask to see examples of my previous work. If I don’t have the work to show, I probably won’t get the job.

Also, some particular work, like press photography, will (sometimes) require me to hold membership of an appropriate organisation – like The National Union of Journalists (UK & Ireland) or the Association of Photographers. This is because many employers won’t consider a photographer without those credentials.

Wedding photography doesn’t work like that, though.

All you have to do is find someone who is getting married and convince them that you are the best wedding photographer in town. A few shots from the wedding you took of a friend, when you attended as a guest, might be enough to convince them – as a lot of people wouldn’t appreciate the skills involved to separate a snap shot from a great photograph.

They might also be swayed by the cost element, so if you’re less expensive (and by that I DO mean “cheap”) you might get the job.

c) Regulation Against Sham Wedding Photographers

It doesn’t exist. Anyone can set up as a wedding photographer – and the market is flooded with part-timers trying to supplement their income by working on weddings at the weekends. There are certainly more part timers than full-timers out there. Some are actually quite good at what they do – and some that I have seen are criminally bad.

Occasionally, the Law comes into play and Brides & Grooms sue their wedding photographers for poor work and a ruined day – there is an example of that happening in the UK here.

Also, I've found that on forums where wedding photographers show their work to each other, they are often supporting each other from a base of misinformation. By that, I mean that some wedding photographers are not as experienced or skilled as they should be and examples of poor work - or at least "mediocre" work is being complimented and praised instead of being criticized.

The result of that, is that the standards never get any higher - and those photographers keep on producing the same low standard work as before.

d) Should you report a wedding photographer?

Well, maybe after the event (admittedly a bit late), because people are entitled to set themselves up in business as a photographer, if they want to do so – even (unfortunately) if they are incompetent!

Before the event, you should ask to see a lot of their work, in person, not on a website – and also ask for the names and phone numbers of the last 3 (or more) couples whose wedding they photographed.

Because, the decision to book them is yours.

As with most things in life, you get what you pay for – and experience always counts. And the old Latin phrase “Caveat Emptor” – Let the Buyer Beware – still holds as true today as when it was first coined.


  1. enjoyed article, Issues I deal with everyday

  2. Sometimes I get so discouraged on trying to do anything photography wise when I read some of these blogs and articles. I agree with alot of the things you say but after investing in classes upon classes and equipment and reading and observing you finally have to jump in and start shooting. I have only done a few weddings and I don't have years of experience in photography. But I have years in business and want to eventually have this be my business.

    What are your ideas on when are you ready to be a wedding photographer? What should be the equipment and the experience you feel is necessary?

    if you would like to take a look and see the few that I have done on my website please feel free and let me know what you think.

    I am sincerely interested in learning all I can from all of the professional photographers out there and hopefully avoid all the pitfalls mentioned in your articles.


    Thanks for sharing your article

  3. Hi Eve

    Thank you for your feedback. I certainly wouldn't want to discourage you from pursuing your chosen career in photography - after all, I pursued mine and I haven't had a photography lesson in my life! But, I did bide my time before becoming someone who took the risk of getting paid for work that could leave people feeling disappointed or worse - not having the chance to recreate the images.

    I'm now divorced but my wedding (over 30 years ago) was marred by the fact that none of the wedding photographs came out - and they were taken by the town's main pro wedding photograph - at what was a great expense at the time. So, I think that my caution - and my desire for others not to rush in is in some way influenced by that experience.

    As for when you'll be ready - you will know that best. But maybe a good way to start is to act as "second shooter" with a more experienced pro wedding photographer, until you find your feet. My great pro photographers started out as assistants to others. It's not bad way to learn and develop your confidence.

    The equipment is less important but a good quality sensor and good glass (high quality lenses) will allow to to make larger prints with good resolution.

  4. Don't most brides-to-be rely on friends, co-workers, and family to recommend competent wedding photogs? Or at least request references from multiple satisfied clients?

  5. Hi Michael (dbltapp) I'm not sure if you're asking a question or making a statement.

    But if it's a question: I'd like to answer "I would hope so".

    But, speaking for myself, I wouldn't want to be so certain about "most brides", as I haven't met most brides, and I try not to make sweeping generalizations.

    What I will say is that I have (only very recently) seen a lot of shoddy, and sometimes downright very poor examples of wedding photography that has been charged and paid for at top rates.

    I can only assume that those brides-to-be didn't get good recommendations (if any at all) or references from satisfied previous clients.

    So on the basis of the limited evidence that I have, I felt it best to at least offer the advice of seeking recommendations and references.

  6. Interesting comments on the upstarts and poseurs in the wedding photography business. Here in California there a scores of competent, established pros. While I'm pretty new to wedding photography, I do have a very long background in photography in general. Would my "handful" of weddings shot be the basis of exclusion? I like to think that my examples speak for themselves. I charge a very competitive rate but hardly a bargain, as I put a lot of time and effort into each job. There are many pros that to my eye, do not exhibit the creativity or passion that a wedding requires. I check the competition regularly, which can be both inspiring and disheartening.

  7. Thanks for your comment Norm.

    The basis of the original email to me, and my reply to it is that there are too many wedding photographers out there with no experience or skills in any kind of photography, at all.

    An experienced photographer shouldn't have a problem in making the tranisition from other types of specialism to wedding photography work - assuming that they have the sample images to show - that many clients want to see.

    An example of that: I recently lost a job to photography a school, because my website doesn't have any images of school children's portraits on it. My hard drive is full of them - and it's the sort of work I started out doing over 25 years ago. But, the school adminstrator had looked at the website - after I sent her a leaflet about a campaign we were running - before talking to me in detail, and called to say "you don't do that work, so we'll look for someone else".

    The fact that I spent thousands of euros revamping my state-of-the-art studio recently, just to do more of that work meant nothing her.

    The other thing I will say here is: while you need to make sure that the client can see that you do a certain type of work, it has to be technically perfect.

    Double check your gallery images to make sure that the first image showing hasn't got camera shake in it!

  8. I look forward to your views. Everything you write will be posted without editing.......

    Guess not hey

  9. I chose not to publish a comment recently. It was anonymous, based on inaccuracies, juvenile in its form (LOL and similar abbreviations included) and singled out one comment in my post in a way that totally missed the point.

    That comment was not intended to enhance the debate but tried to lower the tone of the comments that had gone before and the post itself. So it was excluded.


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