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Wedding Advice: Friends don’t let friends shoot their weddings!

Here’s my latest wedding advice for those of you planning your wedding. I once received an email from a bride who contacted me back in May, scheduled a meeting in early June, and then cancelled the meeting saying that a friend of a friend was going to photograph their wedding.  I later received another email from that bride, asking if I was still available because the friend backed out at the last minute. Last minute is putting it mildly, as they were getting married in six days.
I felt badly because I was no longer available to help her. She was a week away from her wedding and did not have a photographer. That was one drop in an ocean of cases where brides get left without proper coverage of their wedding day because they try to save a few bucks on something that is far too important not to spend money on.

Like anything in life where you need professionalism, experience, accountability, and dependability, friends and family are not typically the people you want to fulfill those duties. Something as important as your wedding day photography should not be left to someone who happens to have a nice camera, any more than playing QB in the Super Bowl should be left to someone who happens to own a nice football.  If you’re considering going with a non-professional for your wedding day photography, I hope you will read on.

There are no do-overs

Your wedding day can’t be redone if someone screws it up or cancels on you at the last minute. Wedding vendors must be reliable, dependable, available, and must communicate efficiently and professionally with the couples at all times. Weddings are a high-pressure environment, and experience in dealing with the potential pitfalls of a wedding day is absolutely critical.  Working with a professional helps ensure that not only the photographs are excellent, but so is the experience of having them taken.

Professional wedding photographers don’t simply buy a camera and jump into a wedding. They learn their skill, practice their art, and even then they don’t jump head first into a wedding. They apprentice with a more experienced photographer for many weddings or they practice at many weddings as an unofficial photographer where there is no pressure to get it right every time.

You are not just paying for a set number of hours coverage on your wedding day.

Proper photography equipment is expensive. You’re not talking about an amateur level camera kit body and lens.  You’re talking about a professional level camera body with multiple high quality lenses for different situations. There are also other items such as professional flashes, mobile battery packs, and more. My equipment insurance covers nearly $30,000 of camera and computer equipment alone. On top of all of that, there are advertising costs, business insurance, business supplies, printing, studio/meeting space rental, web hosting and design, software, travel, self-employment taxes, personal health insurance, and much more.

All of those expenses aside, for every hour of time I spend photographing a wedding, I will spend two to three hours processing those photos.  Two photographers shooting an eight hour day is sixteen hours of photography.  Multiply that times two to three hours and you’re looking at easily thirty hours of processing time.  Take into consideration the capitalization of equipment costs, business costs, and take that away from the amount being charged.  Now divide the remainder by the number of hours it takes to capture and process your photos.  It’s not nearly as high an hourly rate as you might think.

The importance of contracts

One summer I gave my photography services as a gift to a friend of both me and one of my second shooters (who also graciously agreed to donate his time). There was no question we were going to do this for free, because she has always been such a wonderful friend to everyone at our church. I’m a very responsible, accountable person. She’s a very responsible, accountable person. There was probably no need for us to make a contract. Regardless of this, we had a contract. Expectations were set, and she was given peace of mind knowing that despite the fact it was a gift, her wedding was going to get the same professional treatment I give to those who hire me.

For all of you who are reading this and who have friends who are trying to save a few bucks by having a friend or family member shoot their wedding, please encourage them to read this and to consider these very important ideas:

  1. Get it in writing. Friendships and even family relationships have been ruined having an unqualified person agree to photograph a wedding. Don’t take my word for it – look it up. Wedding forums are full of horror stories when this very arrangement is decided on. Even if that person is your sibling, get a contract. Set expectations in writing that you both agree on.
  2. Hire a professional. If you want peace of mind knowing that the person photographing your wedding isn’t going to flake on you because they’re not getting paid and aren’t taking it as seriously as you are, then hire a professional in the first place. Planning a wedding is stressful enough. Having that friend of a friend email you the week before your wedding to tell you they’re not going to make it isn’t going to make your wedding planning any less stressful. And in a worst-case scenario, you might find yourself without a photographer to capture one of the most important days of your life.
  3. Research your photographer. Your friend of a friend is going to shoot your wedding? Do they have a portfolio? Have they photographed a wedding before as a primary photographer? What experience do they have? If your wedding day photos are of any importance to you, is this person qualified to capture your wedding properly? Do they have proper equipment to deal with any difficult lighting situations? Ask a LOT of questions, and if you’re not sure about the responses, see #2.
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