You’ve gotten engaged. Congratulations! It’s the happiest of times!
Except that now you have 1,784,261 details to manage between now and the Big Day. You secretly hope the “through sickness…” clause of your vows covers nervous breakdowns.
Soon after discovering that the cost of renting a reception venue is roughly equal to the cost of colonizing Mars, you find yourself pondering: do caterers charge so much because they serve endangered Bengal tiger meat?
Most people aren’t in a position to be handing out blank checks to wedding vendors with the reckless abandon of a Powerball winner buying free rounds at the bar. More likely, you’re looking at every penny like it just pulled a knife on you and plans to liberate all of its friends.
The fact is, weddings are expensive.
Meanwhile, as the bride-to-be, you’ve been looking through wedding magazines and imagining yourself in some of those amazing photos. You’re already planning the Facebook album.
As the groom-to-be, you’re astonished that there could possibly be a market for so many wedding magazines, meanwhile, what’s playing on ESPN-37?
This is when something dawns on you: Everyone and their pet turtle owns a nice camera these days.
The next thought comes easily. It’s so amazingly obvious. Your best friend/uncle/whatever takes some mighty fine pictures. Wouldn’t they just love to photograph your wedding?
You whip out your phone. Your thumbs fly across the keys: “Hey, how’d you like to photograph the Most Important Day of My Life???? (No pressure…haha!)”
Time to pause the story. I need to make a full disclosure. As a pro photographer I have a vested interest in your photography decisions. Of course you know that, or you wouldn’t be reading this blog. So I want to clarify:
Everyone has a different budget. I get this. My goal isn’t to try to get people to spend money they don’t have. However, I’m going to assume that if you’re here, then you’re looking for more than mere snapshots of your day. You’re actually interested good, quality wedding photography.
Side tangent done. Back to the story.
Since we now live in “The Future,” digital photography technology has exploded. A simple trip to the zoo these days looks like a paparazzi invasion. It’s only a matter of time before the primate building has a PR agent standing at the door.
It’s a good bet that you have a friend or family member who is “pretty good” with a camera. Maybe even “really damn fantastic.”
You might have a friend who takes a few portraits on the side and they all look amazing. Maybe your uncle shows up to every family gathering with a camera the size of the sun and snags really great candids for the family album.
You’re impressed. You’re inspired. You realize you can save a LOT of money if one of them can photograph your wedding.
In a perfect world, one of the people you ask has real wedding experience. Most likely they’re a hobbyist. Or maybe they do shoot professionally, but just not weddings.
What’s the big deal?
To paraphrase the great philosopher Han Solo: “Shooting a wedding ain’t like dustin’ crops, kid. Without precise calculations we could fly right through a star or bounce to close to a supernova and that’d end your reception real quick, wouldn’t it?”
Sure, you can dismiss that as hyperbole, but let me tell you, there’s nothing worse than a wedding that explodes in a supernova. Nothing.
Coming up is the Most Important Day of Your Life, and you’re asking someone with virtually no experience to photograph it. Remember: There’s only one chance to get the photos right. You might as well ask your friend who whips up a mean souffle to compete on Iron Chef.
No pressure or anything.
Pro wedding photographers have an advantage. This isn’t their first trip down the aisle. Weddings tend to follow certain patterns, hit certain beats. A pro is more likely to know to be in the right place at the right time. He knows that when the groom walks his mother to her seat, she’s going to give him a hug. He knows the father of the bride will choke up while giving his toast.
Wedding moments happen quickly. Experience helps to slow things down for the pro.
It also allows room for chaos.
It’s one thing to laugh when little Billy accidentally pulls down your sister Nancy’s skirt, or baby Stephie face-plants into the cake while sniffing the sugar flowers. It’s another thing to have photos that can be used for blackmail years later.
Don’t get me wrong. Barring a wedding at NASA, there’s no real rocket science involved. But there is a certain knack for the rhythm of a wedding that requires not just raw talent, but also experience.
Photographing a wedding is a lot of work.
That brings me to the next point. Photographing a wedding is a Big Commitment.
I love shooting weddings. But there’s a catch. Out of all of them I’ve shot, not once was I there to enjoy the actual wedding. Taking photos is always a blast in and of itself. However, to do the job I have to remain “on call” for the entire day. I have to be alert for shots. I have to stay outside of the events.
In other words, I’m not there to be a guest. I’ve got a job to do.
That role is a lot easier to fulfill if you’re a stranger.
A while back I agreed to photograph my cousin’s wedding. Do you know what I remember about the day? Taking photos. It was fun, to be sure. Except there were relatives I hadn’t seen in years and I had almost no time to talk to them.
Think about that for a moment.
When you ask a friend or relative to photograph your wedding, you are asking them to hide behind a camera for most of your Big Day. Even if photographing weddings is their job, and they are really good at it, you’re asking them to work. For the entire day.
Finally, what happens in a worst case scenario? Your friend or relative never actually gives you the photos. Maybe they don’t shoot professionally, so the sheer volume of shots from an entire wedding is just too daunting. Maybe they don’t think anything turned out well and are stalling giving them to you. If they shoot pro, but were doing you a favor, you may find your photos perpetually put behind their actual paying work.
A pro is contractually obligated to refund your money if he or she can’t deliver. You’ll be bitter and angry, but that will be directed at a stranger that you never have to see again.
But what if the photographer who never gave you your photos is literally your Uncle Bob who you sit across from every year at the family Thanksgiving dinner?
I said above that I’m not trying to convince anyone to spend money they don’t have. For some, the only viable financial option they have is to ask a friend or relative. My goal here is to outline the magnitude of the favor being asked.
Set your expectations accordingly.
Also remember: You won’t see that reception hall again as a bride. You won’t wear the dress again. The food and cake will have been long since devoured.
Your collection of wedding day photos will be one of the few keepsakes you’ll hold onto in the years to come. You’ll share them with friends. You’ll share them with family. Your kids will spend hours gazing at the albums.
Your wedding will be filled with irreplaceable moments. How those moments are captured is worth your very serious consideration.