Today when it comes to the arts most people in my experience do not bother to discern between “good enough” and “the best sh*t ever” and the skills that a professional wedding photographer may have to offer can go largely unnoticed in some commercial markets. This has nothing to do with not being good enough. The minimum skill set you need to operate a digital camera is NOTHING like the minimum skill set to operate a film based system (however to shoot digital well does in reality require a higher level of accuracy and understanding of the equipment than most anyone is willing to dedicate to learning). I don’t mean this as any kind of judgment, just a simple statement of fact. Therefore, if all you are looking for is “good enough” or “whatever’s cheap” a professional wedding photographer is now directly competing with someone with a digital camera that on a good day is “good enough” (but on a bad day, well…).
Does this mean that professional wedding photography as an industry is in its death throws? Well, I don’t know but what I do know is that here in southern California you cant spit without hitting a novice “photographer” with an add in the paper or their wedding prices posted on the net.
The Nuts and Bolts of Wedding Photography
One of the most asked questions I get is how to and what does it take to be a wedding photographer. (also one of the most searched terms on the internet in one form or another). The first answer to that is absolute and intimate understanding of the equipment you are using, every button and dial on that camera body must be operated by second nature, you will not have time to stop to look and make adjustments. I will typically shoot a wedding ceremony with two identical camera bodies, one with a “standard” zoom lens (Nikkor 28-70 AF-S f/2.8) and the other with a “long” zoom lens (Nikkor 80-200 AF-D f/2.8). I will also have a backup body at hand with a second standard zoom that my assistant may be shooting with. I will shoot with flash only when absolutely necessary and most commonly in outdoor daylight situations in order to overcome harsh shadows.
The pre-wedding (bride getting ready, details etc.), group shots and romantics, I will shoot with several different prime lenses and a standard zoom, I like to pull the newlyweds aside for a while to photograph them alone after the wedding ceremony using a long zoom, It gives them time to let it all sink in and also is a great opportunity to get some “semi” candid shots. I still use some film rather than a digital capture with my higher priced wedding packages, it is better suited for some situations* even though the expense is high and scanning from film for retouching is a logistical post production nightmare. Now…having said all that.
What does it really take to be a wedding Photographer
I know many highly skilled Editorial, Commercial, Photojournalist and Portrait Photographers that would run screaming from the idea of shooting a wedding… Why?
Professional Wedding photography takes a different kind of person, first of all you have to love weddings. A wedding photographer must be both emotionally and psychologically flexible yet stable and have the capability to work well under extreme amounts of pressure…without showing it. The most important tools for photographing a wedding are: compassion, flexibility and intuition. Oh and nerves of steel, good balance a sense of humor…and oh, did I mention you never get to go to the restroom?
Why hire a fulltime professional wedding photographer?
This subject really hit me when I was attending the wedding of a friend this last March. She had hired a photographer to shoot her wedding (later I found out that she was too embarrassed to ask me because she could not afford my prices).
When the “photographer” showed up with a Nikon D-50 and the kit lens, popping the little on camera flash. I said to my self: “Oh”…”No Way.” (Actually, I said something entirely different however I’ve already been busted here once for my use of colorful language).
…I always have some gear in my trunk.
I asked him if it was okay if I shot and he acquiesced. Latter in the evening he asked how I could see my shots on “that little screen” pointing to the ISO/DX LCD on the back of my Nikon F-5… A Film Camera.
I processed the film and gave the negatives to my friend as a gift (I rarely shoot film anymore except for my own weird retro sense what real photography is, however I had the better part of (I think it was) 8 rolls, about 250 shots.
Her “wedding photographer” rendered a CD of unedited shots in basic jpeg all for the low, low price of $995. They were all shot in Automatic and the camera ISO was left at 800 so there was a lot of “noise” in the images and they were severely oversaturated.
This guy is not my competitor; actually this incident has been one of my greatest advertising coups. My friend has become a walking talking public service announcement for professional wedding photographers in general and Colegrove Photography in particular.
* Update 2009: I still do shoot some film because well… Just because, However since 2004 when I first published this the capabilities of digital capture has pretty much surpassed film in every way.