My Response to “Help! ISO: A Good Wedding Photographer”

Oct 17

There’s a Photographer, then there’s a wedding photographer, then there’s a GOOD wedding photographer.

Because there are so many more photographers than ever before, you need to decide if you want to hire an amateur or hobbyist, a hobbyist turning into a business, or a real professional photographer. If you choose not to hire a professional, then don’t raise your expectations of image quality! Hopefully this article will help you understand the differences between professional and amateur photographers.

Some wedding websites tell you to give your photographer a shot list, like “please photograph the cake” or “photo of bride’s shoes”. PUH-Leeeezzz. Likely 95% of the shot list is what the professional photographer should already know to photograph, and maybe 5% of it the clients don’t really care. Kill the shot list! Your professional photographer should already be taking the kinds of images that you like, and shouldn’t need a shot list (unless there’s something specific and extra special to point out, of course!!!!). In addition, documentary/photojournalistic wedding photographers do not operate based on a loooong list of photos to get throughout the whole wedding day. For wedding photojournalistis, what you see is what you get! If you’re going to work with an amateur or hobby photographer for your wedding, then maybe that a shot list would be super-duper helpful for that new photographer.

3 Levels of Photographers, Compared

Every photographer starts somewhere! Obviously hiring an amateur is a risk. Yikes, I WAS one! I am SO THANKFUL for those early weddings I shot for a few bucks where these couples gave me a chance! I photographed those weddings with the intent of forming a business from those images, and treated those clients as if they were real clients! Bride and groom, look carefully at the photographer’s current portfolio of people!

Amateur or Hobbyist Photographer…

  • might have potential amazingness
  • may/may not have a website
  • has little or no reviews
  • may/may not care about your wedding
  • will charge less than $1000 for wedding coverage
  • does not own a business
  • does not have a brand
  • will not charge or pay sales/use tax
  • may accept only cash
  • may/may not do a wedding photography contract
  • may/may not have photographed a wedding before
  • may/may not have photography education
  • does not have liability or equipment insurance
  • would not be allowed to photograph at a venue that requires photographer liability insurance
  • may/may not have professional cameras or equipment, instead has consumer or semi-pro gear (although I have seen non-professionals with awesome cameras!) 
  • usually uses consumer kit lenses
  • has limited understanding of camera settings, so usually will shoot on Auto mode (letting the camera make its own exposure calculations)
  • may/may not have any lighting equipment
  • may/may not know how to use lighting equipment
  • may/may not back up images or take extra steps to protect images
  • may/may not have editing software or editing knowledge
  • may/may not know how to process
  • may/may not deliver your images (this can happen!)
  • typically does not offer printed product
  • typically does not know how to process a digital image into a printed product
  • may/may not have a desire to become a business
  • may/may not understand posing
  • may/may not show up at the wedding

Amateur-turning-into-Professional Wedding Photographer:

  • has some pretty good images!
  • may/may not have a website yet
  • should care more about your wedding
  • wants to build reviews
  • will charge a minimum of $1000 for wedding coverage
  • does not own a business, or has plans to start one
  • is starting to build their brand (which is a never ending thing, I think as a business!)
  • will not charge or pay sales/use tax
  • may/may not accept Paypal or Stripe credit card payment
  • should do a wedding contract, or at least a model release
  • has photographed weddings before as a second shooter, or assisted
  • needs to build portfolio
  • owns or rents semi-pro or professional cameras
  • owns or rents quality lenses
  • is learning a lot about settings, and usually shoots on Aperture-Priority or Manual
  • likely does not have insurance yet
  • has some photography education
  • is learning their equipment
  • should develop a workflow in backing up images
  • would love to offer printed product
  • has editing software and knowledge
  • should deliver your images
  • knows a little bit about posing
  • should show up at the wedding

The Real Professional Wedding Photographer!

  • value and quality of images stand out, or can be jaw-dropping awesome!
  • you and your wedding date is the highest priority
  • they will show up at the wedding!
  • owns a real business
  • has a website
  • has great reviews
  • aims for great customer service
  • may contact wedding vendors prior to wedding to double check your timeline
  • is usually priced starting near $2,000 to $20,000
  • you “get” their brand, personality, and can see their image style
  • they’ve obviously photographed a variety of weddings
  • requires a wedding contract that includes a model release
  • has an invoicing and bookkeeping system, or bookkeeper and accountant
  • has liability insurance, and likely equipment insurance
  • has workflows to ensure consistent results among every client
  • has a strong portfolio
  • invests in education at some point in the career
  • has costs of doing business
  • owns professional level cameras and lenses, and sometimes rents gear to try out, or for creativity
  • shoots in Manual or aperture-priority mode a lot, controlling the camera exposure
  • may/may not use light modifiers, diffusers, depending on the situation
  • has lighting equipment, and knows how to use it
  • should charge and pay sales/use tax (but you might not see it in the pricing)
  • accepts checks, money order, credit card for booking
  • offers digital and printed product
  • has editing software and knowledge
  • is under contract to deliver images
  • has lighting and posing technique
  • backs up images and invests in computer hardware and/or cloud to backup images

How to Find Professional Wedding Photographers

If you’re lucky, the wedding photographer might find you! A lot of times, it’s about who you know. Ask around at the places you go, people you meet, and, google, of course! Wedding venues also have a list of photographers.

Here are some online directories of photographers that are businesses:

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