Today I’d like to talk to my readers about one of the most difficult assignments you can work on as a professional photographer. (hint: it usually involves a white dress)!
Technical mastery is the starting point
So let’s imagine, just for a moment, that you’ve been contracted to do one of the hardest, most difficult day-long photographic jobs typically encountered in the industry. It will be extremely varied; taxing all of your technical, organisational and people skills; and it will be partially indoors, partially outdoors with lots of lighting changes from bright to dark with mixed colours and high contrast. This, combined with a fast changing environment, will fool all camera metering systems – so you’re going to need experience and technical mastery to deliver results. Everything will be fast paced, often with no second chance of re-taking the shot, so if you miss it, it’s gone forever. Let’s also mention that there will be an element of unpredictability and a tight schedule that may slip at any time, and a lot of expectations and unspoken etiquette that you’re expected to know about in advance and adhere to.
High stress, fast paced, all encompassing
On the day there are going to be a large number of people, some of whom will be very stressed, emotional and/or drunk so you’ll need great diplomatic skills, patience, tact and be quick thinking. You’ll also need superb people skills to anticipate, avoid and diffuse problems with humour and grace. The client brief will almost certainly include architecture, photo-journalism, food photography, product photography, formal & environmental portraits and fashion photography; so you’ll have to be good at all of these very different genres. You’ll be dealing with several things going on at once so you’d better be a master at multi-tasking and able to remember everything you need to do. This job is going to require 10+ hours of continuous work with a single break in the middle and you’ll be on your feet and covering a lot of ground, so you’d better be fit as you’ll also be carrying all your equipment. On that note, you’d better have (and thoroughly know how to use) the very best cameras and lenses, with backups in case of equipment or memory card failure.
There are no second chances
Throughout the assignment you’ll need to concentrate continuously, as beautiful moments you should capture may unfold before you at any given moment during the day. You’ll need to stay unobtrusive, but also be able to direct large groups of people, including the elderly and small children at the appropriate occasion. Did I mention that this is a one-off event that can’t be repeated, re-shot or re-staged, so you can’t miss a shot? Did I say a shot? The client brief demands hundreds of images and certain ones are keenly expected. To deliver these you’ll be dealing with potentially thousands of images which need to be edited, enhanced and delivered quickly after the event. Oh and did I say client? You’ll also need to satisfy a wide range of other people, all of whom have differing expectations and who may be very vocal publicly if they don’t like your style and resulting images. You also may well be sued if you fail to deliver any part of the assignment as this BBC article makes clear, so so you’ll also need Professional Indemnity and Public Liability insurance.
The assignment of course, is to photograph a wedding.
So if you are engaged, now that you know the work that’s involved, I wonder if you would still consider asking a friend with a ‘good camera’ to shoot your wedding, when it’s something that even experienced professionals with the best equipment and training find difficult and stressful?
Budgeting for wedding photography
Of course everyone has different budgets for their weddings to consider. A wise wedding planner once told me she sits down with a couple to work out their priorities and allocate the finances proportionally. There’s a reason the traditional advice has been to spend 10-15% of the total wedding spend on photography, as this is the primary way they will remember the day. Speaking personally we had a tight budget for our wedding and spent almost a quarter of the budget on the photography, because it was important to us. An article about planning a wedding on a tight budget at Love Lux blog makes the following point: “However you mix up the budget allocation, and you REALLY need to listen to this, please make sure you save enough for the wedding photographer. It’s probably the only thing I’d advise you to splurge rather than save on. Just trust me on that one”. Good wedding photographer are worth every penny. As Claire from English wedding said, “Do you wear George, Warehouse or Gucci? And does your wedding photographer match your t-shirt?” I.e. there’s a professional out there who will suit your style of wedding and the importance you place on the images.
Sadly many people only realise the importance of having beautiful images that capture the day, after it’s all over and they realise they don’t have any. It sounds harsh, but most of us know someone who gambled & lost on the assumption that at least one guest would get some good photos. It’s rare for people to put their hand up and say they made a mistake, but this article over at Rock n Roll Bride does just that. “Not realising the true impact of what I was doing, I asked my friend to shoot my big day. He had a DSLR and could take amazing pictures of cars so he must be able to shoot my winter wedding right? Wrong!”
Friends don’t let friends shoot their wedding
Yes, I’ve shot weddings for friends before I went full time Pro. My first one was in 1994 and I shot 12 rolls of film with a manual focus camera. People tried to dissuade the couple from using me and they went ahead because they loved my work and understood that I really, really knew what I was doing. Even with modern digital camera, it’s still very, very hard to get a good shots, let alone a consistent set of images that tell the story of the day in a beautiful and timeless way. Yes, some of us make it look easy, because we’ve had decades of experience, have invested heavily in training & equipment, have a creative eye and think about light and photography *all* *the* *time*. (Obsessive, moi?!).
There’s a reason that the general advice out there is not to ask/choose/allow a friend to photograph your wedding. If they can do a good job, then they won’t be part of the wedding as they will be focused on capturing the moments. If they are enjoying the day they won’t be concentrating on ensuring they are getting the shots, including everyone, covering the important moments etc. Is the risk of a lost friendship over lacklustre photos worth it?
A quote from Sara who writes one of the leading UK wedding blogs is very appropriate: “[A Pet Peeve is] Amateur photographers shooting weddings and wondering why the images are disappointing. Book a professional. Trust me”. My advice is that friends shouldn’t let their friends photograph their wedding as a ‘cheap option’. It’s simply not worth the risk.