Wedding photography has gone through a metamorphosis over the past couple of years, from the last resort of the retiring journalist producing dreary photographs that few look at in later years, to now what is considered the ‘New Photojournalism’, very much in the style of Life magazine, strong story telling images, great visual awareness and sensitive coverage of what can be an emotional day for all, images that are ultimately displayed in high end, hand made albums with the top photographers commanding high fees and full diaries throughout the year.
What has driven this change? Several factors, the principal of course is the meteoric rise of the digital SLR allowing photographers to experiment with different lighting, deeper coverage, and the opportunity to make an instant review of any image. The second is a greater sense of visual awareness from the public, photography and photographers regaining credibility since Diana and coupled with the rise of Facebook and the national compulsion to record any social interaction.
Wedding photography too has changed in its depth of coverage. Guests now travel to the event from the far corners of the world, and so the wedding day your Grandmother may remember of a service and then a brief champagne drinks reception before departure would not cut much ice with a family flying all the way over from Australia. The day has extended from 2 hours to now a standard 8 to 10 hours – a drinks reception, sit down meal for a typical party of 100 and then dancing and perhaps a buffet supper late in the evening. These events need to be recorded as, anyone knows who has been married, the time simply flies by, in a blur….and so enter stage left the new breed of wedding photographer.
To be clear, a wedding photographer isn’t a guest with a fancy camera, in my view, a guest should enjoy the day and not lug 20kg of camera kit around as many seem to enjoy doing. A successful wedding photographer will capture the scene setter images, an emotional father and relatives, a number of formal images, and all of the joy and laughter without interfering or turning the whole day into a photo-shoot for him/her self, oh, and do this week after week. Its about knowing exactly where to stand before the bride and groom recess out of the church for example, having the camera all set in advance, no panicky fiddling with 30 different picture modes as the beaming couple stride towards you. All this takes experience and lots of it, the old adage about 10,000 hours to make an expert is no less true now, when trying to cover a wedding day.
Many times, and when I say many times I would say, at every single wedding, a guest will stop me to firstly make sure I coo over the latest chunk of image capturing technology, and secondly to make me review his/her efforts from the wedding that day, often I then have to witness a succession of badly composed, copied (yes, I had noticed you stand behind me at every opportunity to copy the image) and over or under exposed, overly flashed ‘photographs’ HOWEVER there WILL be a good shot nestling uncomfortably in amongst that dross, and this will be printed off as a canvas, mouse mat or key ring and posted to the couple to much applause. This in turn leads the snapper to wonder that this wedding photography malarkey has much to offer, only one day a week, on a Saturday usually too so its extra income. Its then an alarming simple matter of collecting a few of these ‘Wunderbar’ shots from this summer friends’ weddings, squeezing them into a template and uploading them, throw in some verbose and horrendous SEO driven copy to get the search engines, (despite what they say about poor copy to get a high ranking) to ensure some enquiries trickling in. This is where is all goes pear shaped for the bride and groom of course, and as Aristotle pointed out ‘one swallow does not a summer make’, equally one chance photograph does not make you Cartier-Bresson. Couples expect 400 plus decent photographs from their wedding, from bridal preparation right through to beyond the first dance, and I see many sets of wedding images that are genuinely terrible, feet cut off, heads even, cut off and the couple left wondering why these photographs look nothing like the shots on the website, but with little recourse. The photographer must be on time, dressed appropriately, have the right kit, and know what he/she is doing. Would you hire a brain surgeon on the basis that he carried out one or two bits of his last operation correctly?
Which brings me on to the knotty problem of fees for the day. ‘You’ve got a good job there mate, one day a week and nearly three grand for your effort? Money for old rope’ is a quip that could easily justify homicide, but heard all too frequently, how is it I’m not driving a Ferrari after shooting my typical 40 weddings a year? Well there is kit to buy and maintain for one, a pro camera has two memory slots built in, so when I unlock my mythical bright red 355 to drive home, I have a backup already, so if a card fails, get stolen, trodden on or dropped in a pint of prosecco I can still provide a complete service and no awkward phone calls to the couple on honeymoon. But what if the camera fails? True, you need a second, I shoot on top of the range cameras so that’s an eye watering £5K per body, and lenses too, consumer lenses are softer in focus, less robust and slower in that any shots taken in the evening require eye-brow searing flash to get a picture, so add on 5 or 6 more pro lenses at £1,500 each. It doesn’t stop there, back at ranch computers have to power through the high resolution RAW files and make the crucial and very often neglected backups to go to two locations. The terabytes of files backed up and indexed, the software that colour corrects files and monitors all these priceless images would get a low whistle of appreciation from Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.
Then there is the real drain on resources, time and money…marketing.
Incredibly couples do not form an orderly queue outside my house with a completed booking form in January, having chatted amongst themselves so as not to clash wedding dates, that indeed would be a wedding photographers utopia. To try and achieve 40 weddings a year requires hundreds of strong enquiries, and that in turn requires covering every single marketing avenue known to man. An expensive process all by itself, attending Wedding Fairs, placing advertisements both online and on the page, Google Ad Words, the list goes on.
The processing and backups, coupled with the marketing efforts means that wedding photography is a full time job, probably more than typical as the working week easily fills, with a wedding at the weekend, its just so much more than the day itself, a fact that cannot be emphasised enough.
So how would a couple find the ‘right’ photographer for them, who has experience, has a good understanding of how their cameras work, and will in all likelihood turn up on time, supplying exactly what it says in the contract for the right fee? The solution is easy but very few mention it. Ask to see at least 10 complete weddings, no cherry picking, and no ‘explaining why I couldn’t quite get the shot on that occasion but that wouldn’t happen on your day’ kind of comment. You’d be amazed how quickly you whittle through your shortlist. Then arrange a meeting, again there is only one person other than your Fiancé that you will be with longer on your big day and that is the photographer, make sure you get along. If you think he comes across as a plonker in the meeting then he will be uber annoying on the day when tensions tend to run high. Employ the sort of person you could have around for dinner, it makes it easier to ask for impromptu images on the day, and much easier to smile on cue.
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