HOW TO AVOID THE DISASTER & HEARTACHE OF BAD WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHS
By Paul Spiers & Ian Pack
National Photographic Society
If having a set of photographs to cherish from your wedding is important to you, then this could be the most important article you ever read!
With the advent of affordable, professional standard digital cameras, just about anyone can call themselves a professional photographer. It may come as a surprise to you but the law does not require a professional photographer to have any qualifications, training or experience! It is all too easy to get a website, some business cards, and an impressive looking camera and start calling yourself a wedding photographer, even if you have never been to a wedding.
I was discussing this with a group of new entrants into our industry recently and some of their statements made me cringe. I anticipate they would strike fear into the heart of most brides. Here are a couple of examples:-
“If a bride books someone who she later has to take to court because they didn’t produce a quality set of pictures, that is the brides own fault for not doing enough research”
“Not every bride can afford a wedding photographer. If I can keep costs down by not paying out for training, qualifications or insurance, I’m doing them a favour”
“As long as my pictures are better than those taken by her guests, the bride will be happy”
“I think brides accept that they won’t be getting professional standard pictures from me, they just need someone else to take the photos because they can’t do it themselves”
“I’m just hoping my boss never calls me in on a Saturday that I have a wedding booked.”
Each comment was made by a different person, all of whom are currently advertising themselves as professional wedding photographers.
Wedding photography is something that most people only ever buy once, and because of this, brides seldom know the potential pitfalls or what relevant questions to ask to sort the good from the bad. Remember, there are cowboys in every industry!
To help you choose the right wedding photographer for you and avoid the type who’s comments are displayed above, I have put together a list of tips to follow and questions to ask:
- Ask friends, work colleagues and family for recommendations.
If they did a good job for your workmate, chances are they’ll do a good job for you.
- How many weddings has the person photographed alone?
Do you want someone who’s still learning their trade or someone who has mastered it?
- How long have they been photographing weddings for payment?
A statement such as “I photographed my first wedding in 2005” can be very misleading. This could have been their best friends wedding and they only started earning money from wedding photography last month.
- If they have not photographed many weddings, what training has the person received or have they worked with another photographer as an assistant or second photographer?
We all have to start somewhere and every industry needs new blood. If you are on a very tight budget and can not afford to hire a professional, make sure any newcomer you consider hiring has taken their training and education seriously.
- Is the person a qualified member of a professional organisation such as the NPS (National Photographic Society)
Industry recognised qualifications are shown as letters after the photographers name such as LNPS or ANPS. Having a degree in photography does not mean the person is a fit wedding photographer, as there is much more to wedding photography than just taking pictures.
- Does the person carry both Public Liability and Professional Indemnity insurances?
No one can guarantee that everything will go perfectly on your wedding day. Planning for the best is great, but a reputable business person will also prepare for the worst by having the appropriate insurance in place. Public liability protects you & your guests in the event of an accident. Professional indemnity insurance will pay out in the event of the photographer not delivering the promised results, loss of images or memory card failure etc. Because of the lack of professional indemnity insurance, many of the couples who have recently been awarded compensation by the courts, have still yet to receive any money from their photographer.
- Are they familiar with the health and safety requirements of the venue(s)?
Most wedding venues have strict requirements for sub contractors using their premises. This will very often include PAT tested equipment, completing a risk assessment and having the appropriate insurance to indemnify the venue owners from the increased risk.
- Do they have back up equipment?
If a photographer only has one camera, what do you think will happen if it develops a fault during your wedding?
- Is photography their only source of income?
Many photographers claiming to be “professional” actually only photograph the odd wedding here and there to get some extra money. No law against that, but how committed will they be to delivering a quality service? When photography has to pay your mortgage and put food on the table, your whole focus is on making your clients happy, which may not be the case when photographing weddings is nothing more than a hobby and your day job pays the mortgage.
- Is their address and landline phone number on their stationary and website?
If they do not, or only offer a PO Box number or mobile phone number, ask where they live before booking? If something should go wrong, how do you contact them after the event? A non-contract mobile phone number can very often be untraceable, even by the police.
- Do they have a comprehensive booking form with clear terms and conditions?
Some people can be wary of signing contracts, but a written contract is as much in your interest as the photographers. Read all the terms and conditions prior to signing and make sure everything that you have agreed on is included.
- Is the person you are speaking to the person who will photograph your wedding day?
If not, ask to meet the photographer and see examples of their work before making a booking or entering into a contract. You will spend a big part of your wedding day with your photographer, its important to book someone you like.
- Are the photos they show you original images created by them and of real weddings?If you are not shown photographs of at least one complete wedding, beware!
If you are being shown sample albums with no photos in, beware!
If you are being shown album catalogues rather than actual albums, beware!
Some people will attend one of the many “portfolio builder workshops” available to novices, where for a fee a professional photographer will set up a number of shots of models in wedding attire and allow people to take the photo as if they took it at a real wedding. A tell- tale sign of this is the photos are only of the bride and groom. Some people will assist professional photographers and take photos of their weddings, or just take photos of a family wedding. A tell-tale sign of this is the subjects never looking at the camera.
- Ask to see images from a whole wedding; preferably more than one wedding.Photographers will show you what they consider their best images. If they only show you a sample that contains one or two photographs from many different weddings, beware! A good photographer will have lots of images from a single wedding. Only showing a couple of images from each wedding could indicate they only took two decent pictures all day.
- Some photographers will tell you that they only work by available light as flash or supplementary lighting will spoil the atmosphere of your wedding.
In all probability that person has no experience of working with other light sources. So what they are really telling you is that they have limited skills and unless the natural light is perfect on your wedding day, they won’t know what to do.
- Many photographers advertise themselves as photo-reportage or “fly-on-the-wall” unobtrusive photographers.
Some photographers are brilliant at this as they trained and worked as freelance photo- journalists or for newspapers, some are just naturals. Expect to pay hefty fees for a good photo-journalist as they are in great demand. Other people are merely “snappers” and shoot like this because they do not have an eye for what makes a good image, are not able to “create” a good image and/or are not comfortable dealing with groups of people. Chances are they will only give you a collection of random images, often no better quality than what your guests take.
- You get what you pay for.
We all love getting a deal and saving money, but a cheap starting price nearly always means low quality. Very often it can also mean hidden charges. If you buy cheap shoes and the sole falls off the first time you wear them, you can take them back. If you buy a cheap diamond ring which turns out to be a fake, you can take it back. If you hire a cheap plumber and they flood your house, you can get the house fixed up as good as new. In all these instances, if things go wrong they can be put right
But your wedding day is a one shot deal so the photographer has one chance to get it right. If they don’t there is no coming back next week for another go, and even if you do, you will know the pictures are not of your wedding day, but of the day you staged to make up for your wedding photos being ruined by someone claiming to be a wedding photographer, who turned out to be nothing of the sort. By all means shop around for a good deal, but don’t decide based on price alone.
- Trusting a family member to photograph your wedding
In the majority of cases, if you have a friend or relative with a good camera and ask them to photograph your wedding to save money they may say yes, but you have none of the comeback when something goes wrong. The photographer needs to have professional detachment in order to get the best images. A professional wedding photographer makes it look easy because she is a professional and has a vast wealth of experience to draw upon.
- Do they have a plan in place for if they can’t attend your wedding?
They can tell you they have never missed a wedding yet, but there is always the first time. Accidents happen, usually when you least expect them. Reputable photographers will usually have links with other photographers and they cover for each other should the worst happen. Can they provide a named photographer who will shoot the same style to take their place?
- Do they only provide a disk of unprocessed images straight from the camera?
If so, it is doubtful if they have any post-production or image processing skills. It could also be an indication that they have no arrangements with the suppliers used by the professionals.
- Don’t believe that it can be fixed in Photoshop.
Image retouching and manipulation is a skill that has to be learnt over many years. There are no quick fixes. People new to photography do not realise this. Much of the time images need to be created with post-production or Photoshop in mind.
A Final Thought
Your photographer is charged with the task of recording your wedding day for you. They will be creating the only material thing that survives past the honeymoon. They will have to interact with the Vicar/Priest or registrar, the reception venue staff, your wedding planner (if you have one), the car drivers, the DJ/Band, the toastmaster (if you have one) and all of your guests. You will be spending a good proportion of your day with your photographer. They will have one eye on you all day, watching for the special moments that make great pictures.
This means your photographer is more than just a service supplier. To get the full return on your investment you will need to work with them before, during and after your wedding. So book someone you can get along with, someone who can work around and within your plans.
Good luck for your wedding day and for your future together.
Written by Paul Spiers & Ian Pack
Paul Spiers is a wedding photographer and also trains wedding photographers. He is a regional officer for the NPS and on their panel of experts.
Paul has been featured in British Journal of Photography, Photo Pro Magazine, Image Maker Magazine & Advanced Photographer Magazine.
Ian Pack is a photographer and trainer.