Wedding Advice

Wedding Photography: You Get What You Pay For

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Matthew and Jazmine Gallegos a couple that was married in Albuquerque, NM, back in September 2016 recently were featured in KRQE News 13 because their wedding photographer never delivered their wedding photos. They paid the photographer, the photographer showed up to their wedding, but when it came time to receive their photos…the day never came.

With tears forming in her eyes, Jazmine expressed “Those are memories that…”, “That we can’t get back” her husband interjected. Shaking her head in disbelief about their situation, she clarifies their loss “The photos that she took, the ones that we wanted to have up in our house to show our kids when we are old to look back on.”

It is this part of the interview that really stood out to me. Clearly, having photographs displayed throughout their house was a priority to this couple. Yet somehow they misplaced their trust in a photographer that didn’t deliver the most important part of the wedding photography process. So how did this happen? Based on the social media outcry in response to the story, everyone seems to know how it could have been prevented.

There is an old saying that sums it up well. “You get what you pay for”. This couple paid for the services of an inexperienced, untrained, out of area, hobbyist photographer, but expected more than they paid for.

There are a few flags that really stand out to me as a wedding photographer that I want to share with you. First, photographers are a dime a dozen. Most professional photographers learned photography shooting film cameras. If you go to a university for fine art, they are still going to make you learn how to develop your own film. It is crucial to understand that relationship between light and camera obscura to train your artistic eye in photography. Unfortunately in an art sense, but fortunately in every other sense, in 2018 everyone is a photographer thanks to our cell phones. And that is awesome and very convenient. But when it comes to art, selfies are not part of the curriculum. Which I believe led to the sad uneducated state we experience today, where the average person cannot tell the difference between a good photograph and a bad one. Which also explains why there are so many “professional photographers” that really just picked up photography as a hobby, have little to no artistic training, and yet offer wedding photography as a service to the general public for a price they came up with by looking at what other photographers in their area are charging and undercutting it. This is a big flag: Price.

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We all price shop, but there are certain times when I am willing to pay extra to get a better quality product. For example, leather. There was a time in my life when I would buy cheap leather shoes for work (back in my public accounting days). I would spend about $30 for a generic store brand, not like you could see the brand anywhere anyway right? I made sure I would get shoes made from genuine leather because even though I wanted something cheap, I wanted decent quality that would last a while. Despite my attention to that detail, my shoes would fall apart in about a month. I went through this cycle about three times before I got fed up and started looking into spending more for shoes that would last longer. It turns out that as I looked into the features that would help shoes last longer, I learned that genuine leather is not so great. In fact there is only one type of leather worse than genuine leather, and that’s bonded (junk pieces glued together like a plywood of leathers). I was floored. Now I know to get full grain leather, a leather that not only holds together better, but gets more beautiful with age. And guess what? Full grain leather shoes cost about 4 times as much as genuine. I have two pairs of different full grain leather shoes that I have had over 4 years now. One month compared to four years. Even though the price up front was much higher, the cost of the shoes over their lifetime is much cheaper.

I share this personal story with you because this is the case in every industry including photography. Many photographers have strayed from the traditional value of displaying photographs on physical walls and have moved onto the walls of Facebook. The average life of a digital file from the archivists I have spoken with, is about 5 years. Whereas when I visit my parents’ house, I see framed photographs on the wall that have been displayed on a wall my entire life.

This couple expressed their physical loss of the ability to display their wedding photos in their house. They clearly valued that in hindsight, but they didn’t value it enough to spend the kind of money it takes to hire a professional photographer who makes a living from making such images and physical artwork for their clients.

Which brings me to the next flag, a professional photographer is anyone who earns more than 50 percent of his or her annual income from photography. Back when I was a public accountant, and Elise was a photographer, we mistakenly referred to her as a professional photographer. More than half of her income, the money we used to support our family, came from my public accounting job, not photography. Why is that distinction or level of detail important? Because people who make their living from photography are more qualified than someone who just purchased a DSLR camera and decided today they are a professional. And sadly, that is how the industry works. There is no accreditation for the photography industry. There are associations, like the Professional Photographers Association, that awards it’s paying members “degrees” for their commitment to their group. But that is neither here nor there since their members don’t have to be professional photographers to join in the first place. Most brides aren’t looking to see formal education listed on the about page of the photographers they are price shopping. A photographer doesn’t need to hold a Bachelor’s of Fine Art degree in order to create a website that states they are a professional photographer. So the overwhelming responsibility depends solely on the client. The client must determine with their artistically trained eye, or lack thereof, to determine for themselves by critiquing each photographer from their area’s individual portfolio to determine the validity of that person’s claim to be a true professional photographer. Which is crazy, especially considering most have never been through or seen a formal critique to begin with let alone the photographer who they are critiquing.  

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Next flag, reviews. I read comments saying this couple should have looked at reviews to know whether the photographer they hired was legit or not. The photographer they chose had an A- on the Better Business Bureau’s website, which means they had good reviews. Why are reviews not cueing unprofessional photographers? Because my friends, no news is good news. Reviews are usually received when requested. New photographers tend to offer friends and family free photographs to get their foot in the door of the industry and build a portfolio. Then they turn around and ask those same people for reviews. When is the last time you left a bad review for a service or product you got for free? Ratings are not enough when browsing reviews. It would be foolish not to read several of the reviews to determine what people are actually getting from hiring this photographer. What was their experience? Would they recommend or use this photographer again? And even after looking at reviews with this in mind, understand how limited this source pool is. When is the last time you switched service providers in any industry and found out that the new service provider is so much better? Did you go back and leave a bad review on the previous service provider? Of course not. People have their reasons for switching and often are bad at putting those reasons in words without being a troll. So why bother? And that is the downfall of relying on reviews. Look for a wide range of portfolio images form the photographer. Is their portfolio comprised of several different people or is it the same people over and over again? If you see nothing but photos of their kids, then this is a sign they are new to the industry. Look for these kinds of flags, and gamble with your money not your photographer.

Lastly, beware of new photographers to the industry and your area. There is a reason why people praise experience so highly in any profession. Hire new photographers at your own risk. Ansel Adams said it best “The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it.” Ultimately when you hire a professional, you are paying for their capability, consistency, and ability to deliver after the end of the day. All of which comes from experience doing so over and over, time and time again. And going back to professionals making their living from photography not their spouse’s income from their job, beware traveling photographers that move from place to place to wherever their spouse goes for their job. That is a big red flag that this person can disappear with your photos in a heartbeat. The best way to support local businesses is to look for the old salty dogs of the industry. Those who have deep roots in your area and don’t just talk about how much they love the area, but are actually grounded there. They have family here. They went to school here. They contribute to the community here. That is how you build your local community, not by chasing the cheapest, newest options. Those are just gimmicks like genuine leather.

Some simple questions this couple could have asked to prevent this from happening to them would look like this. Do they make a living from photography? Have they been providing photography to my area for several years? Do they have a formally trained artistic eye? Have they ever used a film camera and developed their own film? Do they have a wide variety of portfolio images as well as several different clients in the images?

If you are reading this thinking “Oh they are just saying look for a photographer like them”, you are right. That is exactly what I am saying, because we would never do this to one of our clients.

How to Give an Amazing Wedding Toast

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We have all been there, embarrassingly looking around the room, or sheepishly at the floor as some poor soul gives a train wreck of a speech on the wedding day. If you have just been asked to be a Maid of Honor or Best Man one of the duties of this coveted role is to give a wedding toast during the reception. Here are a few simple tips to give a great, not cringe-worthy, wedding toast.

Prepare in advance

Just like the legendary basketball coach John Wooden said, “Failure to prepare, is preparing to fail.” This toast is a big deal, which is why your friend has trusted you with it in the first place. Honor that by putting in some time and work. Do not wait until the night before to start thinking about what you are going to say.

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Don’t drink too much before you get the mic

Hopefully this is pretty self-explanatory.

Remember the purpose

This is not the time to tell embarrassing stories about the bride or groom. It’s a toast, NOT a roast. Your purpose is to congratulate, celebrate, and extend well wishes. So keep the wild stories of that one night for another time.

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Speak to both the bride and groom

Whether your closer to the bride or the groom, make sure you give attention to both. The whole wedding day is about the two of them coming together and becoming one so make sure you address each of them. They’re in it together from here on out.

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Forget about yourself

This moment is not about you, or about a performance. Once you let that sink in, you can free yourself from the pressure of being perfect and just speak from the heart. What an incredible moment for the couple and for your friendship, take it in and be in the moment. Look at your friends as you address them. Don’t read from your phone, you can do better than that.

You can do this! 

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You Might Want to Tell Your Wedding Guests "We Already Hired Photographers"

This is actually a trendy movement right now, they call it unplugged weddings. The bride and groom explicitly ask for wedding guests to sit in their seats, keep their cell phones off, and just be in the moment with them. Some photographers even require this and it’s included in their contract. So what’s the big hype? What problems does it solve? And how could anyone ask guests to do this without crossing into the bridezilla territory?

Why Would You Unplug Your Wedding?

In your mind you already have the perfect picture of your wedding day, pause your favorite moment, and imagine the back of your uncle bob’s head behind an Ipad taking up half the frame. Unfortunately, we get this picture a lot. Not just Ipads, phones, and point and shoot cameras, but the entire person using these devices essentially photobombs the bride and groom’s moment for a picture we know is going to include us in the background as well. This hiccup is all too common to the point where you can find stories like this on the news, in numerous photography blogs, and just about every website dedicated to the wedding industry. Recently a photographer from Australia, Thomas Stewart, posted this picture along with a corresponding message of frustration:

Photograph created by Thomas Stewart, from Thomas Stewart Photography (http://www.thomasstewart.com.au/)

Photograph created by Thomas Stewart, from Thomas Stewart Photography (http://www.thomasstewart.com.au/)

“Look at this photo. This groom had to lean out past the aisle just to see his bride approaching. Why? Because guests with their phones were in the aisle and in his way.”

This is just one photograph, imagine what a video would look like. The Knot helped put the situation in context: “One faux pas we've been hearing about a lot lately is guests getting in the way of professional photography and videography. Considering that photography is often one of the biggest expenses couples will spend on, it's an issue that's harder to ignore than ditched seating assignments.”

Stewart went on to express that guests taking photographs is not only the photographer’s problem, but “these same guests will get in YOUR way. You will miss moments of your own wedding day because there’ll be an iPad in the way”. Put simply, do you want to see your wedding guests’ faces at your wedding or their favorite tablet/mobile device/camera?

It may seem advantageous to get as many pictures as possible from your wedding, I know, those guest candid photos right? For our wedding, we thought it would be cool to have disposable cameras on all the reception tables. We thought everyone and anyone could be a photographer and take great pictures of everyone having fun to get those candid moments that our photographers weren’t getting. Out of all those cameras, we got one decent picture, that’s it. And it is nowhere near as good as our hired photographers’ photos. Obviously we hadn’t read Cracked’s article naming Photography as one of four deceptively difficult jobs that everyone thinks they can do.

How to Have an Unplugged Wedding

Asking your guests to unplug for the entire wedding is a little much (we do love our selfies after all). Simply ask that during the ceremony all photography and video be left to the wonderful professionals you have hired. Use a combination of these tips from the Huffington Post article, 4 Ways to Get Your Wedding Guests to Put Away Their Freakin' Phones, to send your guests the right message so that they understand you want them to enjoy your wedding, and not be a vendor at it.

  • Put a note in your wedding program
  • Ask your officiant to make an announcement
  • Ask your DJ or band leader to make an announcement
  • Put a sign on the reception tables

Finally, for close family members that insist they must get pictures on their new camera, assure them they will have access to the photos created by the photographers you hired.

In Conclusion…

We aren’t trying to pick on you, or your guests. We just know setting the right atmosphere with the right tone at your wedding will allow you to focus on being in the moment you spent 6 to 12 months planning. Now it’s time to sit back and enjoy it, without getting photobombed.