Why Bad Wedding Photographers Have Made The Industry Better

Why Bad Wedding Photographers Have Made The Industry Better

When most photographers stumble upon an ad on Craigslist for a $300 wedding photographer, they get angry. Not only is this "Craigslist photographer" claiming to to be professional when they are not, they are also lowering the value of wedding photography in general, right? How can us "real" professionals ask for thousands of dollars when there are others willing to do it for almost nothing? These are fair assumptions, but I believe bad wedding photographers have made the industry better.

Whenever I get asked what I do for work and I say, "I shoot weddings for a living," the response is usually something like this: "Oh my gosh, I wish I would have hired you to shoot our wedding, our photographer was terrible," or "You should have shot my friend’s wedding. Her photographer ruined her wedding." Without even seeing my work, most people assume that I am better than their wedding photographer or their friend's wedding photographer. How bad of a photographer do you have to be to bring out this type of emotion? The truth is that their photographer may not have been THAT bad. What’s more likely is that that their wedding day was THAT important to them and the photographer did something that didn't live up to their high standard.

Craigslist photographers are not your competition
I don't think shooting a wedding for $300 is a bad thing. We all have to start somewhere right? My first wedding was for a friend and I shot it for $250. I had no idea what I was doing but the pictures turned out fine, for what it was. Most brides spend about 15% of their wedding budget on a photographer and this wedding probably cost $1000 total. $250 for a wedding photographer was actually splurging in this case. Did I con this couple into hiring a nonprofessional? No, they knew I had never shot a wedding before. Did I lower the "value of wedding photography" by charging so little? I don't think so: they didn't have a penny more to spend. I didn't take away a job from the local pro that would have charged at least $3000 to do the same job; this young couple simply could have never afforded them.

My point is that if you are a true full-time professional photographer, a $300 wedding photographer is not your competition. A bride with a $300 wedding photography budget isn't going to suddenly find an extra $3000 if she can't find any $300 photographers. She will just find anyone with a camera and offer him or her $300. That's how I booked my first wedding.


What happens when a wedding photographer screws up
Photographers are hired for jobs and screw up all the time. I can shoot a family portrait, a commercial product shot, or the cover of a magazine and if I screw up I can easily re-shoot the job or the client can simply hire someone else to do it. That client may not ever hire me again, but if I give them their money back they will probably get over it. This is not the case for wedding photography. Chances are, the bride has been planning this day since she was a little girl and to her, this is the most important day of her life. This day will only happen once and there is no room for error because there is no opportunity for a redo. If a wedding photographer does something, anything, to mess up a wedding, their mistake will never be forgotten. Not only will the bride know, most of the guests at the wedding will also know how bad the photographer was. News of a nightmare photographer travels much faster than news of a great one. This includes some extremely small details like the way the photographer dressed or the way the photographer acted when it was time for posed pictures. I've actually attended a wedding where the photographer was so demanding that she made the bride cry during posed pictures. Do you think that bride will ever forget that? Do you think anyone who saw this occur will ever forget it?

I will never forget when I was a groomsmen at one of my friend’s weddings and the "incredibly talented photographer" (as he put it) showed up wearing jeans, cowboy boots, and a glittery tank top. Her pictures actually turned out pretty good but I don't remember the pictures, I remember a room full of tuxedos and gowns and a woman dressed like she was at a rodeo. I've told this story hundreds of time and I've never mentioned that her pictures were good.

Bad wedding photographers make people spend more money
If you have ever planned a wedding before, you know that all of your married friends will give you advice. They know what worked for their wedding and what didn't. When it comes to wedding photography, most married couples say things like "don't skimp on your wedding photographer, it's the only thing that you will have to remember your wedding." This statement is usually followed by a story about how their photographer or their friend’s photographer completely ruined their wedding or the memories of their wedding. These stories alone will make brides reconsider their wedding budget priorities. If she had planned to spend $1000 on a photographer but then hears a story about a bad $1000 wedding photographer, that bride will probably buy a cheaper dress, cake, and flowers, so that she can hire a quality photographer. If there weren't any "bad" photographers and there weren't all of these wedding photography horror stories, she would have probably just spent $1000.

Even if you haven't heard wedding photography horror stories, you've probably seen terrible wedding photography posted all over Facebook. Each of these images is a constant reminder of the mistakes that your friends have made. When it comes time for you to plan your own wedding, you will remember all of the awful, spot color, HDR, direct flash, snapshot-looking pictures you've seen and you will probably be tempted to spend a bit more to pay for something you will be proud to share.

Why good wedding photographers charge a lot
Compared to other types of photography, good wedding photography costs a lot. I'm not going to every detail about running a business because that has been done to death, but I would like to point out the wedding photography has gotten so good BECAUSE the prices are so high. My rates allow me to show up to each wedding with over $20k in gear. In most cases I shoot with 2 assistants and 5 cameras. Because I get paid what I do, I can purchase the newest gear and I can bring equipment that helps me create images that would be impossible with a single camera and flash. Because I get paid so well I can afford to buy the top of the line software and I can afford to take classes that will teach me to use it. Instead of this just being a hobby for me, I can spend all of my time focusing on wedding photography because it is my full time job.

Obviously my wedding photography product may be seen as extravagant to some, but you must remember that other clients may view my work and think that my prices are cheap. My point is that there is a wedding photographer for every budget and that includes the $300 wedding photographers. As professionals we must remember that every client is different and we can't get angry with a bride to is looking for a $300 wedding photographer nor can we get angry with the photographer who is charging $300. If our product is really worth what we are charging for it then brides will find us. The fear of a bad photographer ruining their wedding will only help.

By Lee Morris

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GREAT post!!!!!

Great write up Lee! My wife and I got married on a small budget and did exactly what you described here. Two friends shot our wedding; both who were just starting out in wedding photography, but had a decent amount of talent visible in their previous work. We rented 3 or 4 nice lenses for them and provided transportation money for one who had to fly in. The pictures turned out great, though certainly not as though they were shot by someone who could demand $5k+ for a wedding. It's a hard pill to swallow at times, but it's true that every wedding has a budget and every photographer has a market. Even as my wife and I are just starting to develop our photography business in a new city, I've had to realize that the key is to be gracious towards everyone who is planning a wedding, and respectful to any photographer (beginner or pro) who is dedicated to doing their best with the gear and talent they have for a price they can reasonably demand.

Carlo Parducho's picture

Great post, Lee. One of the better ones I've seen on this topic/issue.

jesus, those are downright horrific. Good read though.

Jason Vinson's picture

they are so bad its hard to believe that someone spent time making them look like that...

Terence Pereira's picture

Unfortunate truth is, where I come from, people want it like this :(

Jason Vinson's picture

and for that i must refer you to a post by the great Zack Arias!


Thanks for that link!

Jason Vinson's picture

nice write up!!

Christopher Hoffmann's picture

Awesome post!!!

I read and agree with most of the horrible wedding photographer stories, but I always come away with the question: "What if you don't have five thousand dollars for a photographer? Have Uncle Leo shoot it on his phone?" I don't shoot weddings, wouldn't shoot one if offered, except for a friend in a financial bind, but sometimes you just have to go with the best photographer you can afford. You probably won't get a very good one, but at least you will have something.

and will will probable be better then the one time use cameras left on he tables for guests to shoot your wedding.

I actually quite enjoy that second to last picture of the couple in the champagne glasses. So silly!

Me too, I actually like that one too. I don't use Photoshop to edit anymore though, waste of time with the power of Lightroom!

Good and interesting post, a different perspective for what I've seen and read all over the Internet. I've been to a few weddings as guest and often do like to watch how other togs work on site. I do often question myself 'what kit they are using?', 'how is that softbox going to do anything for this occasion!?; and 'thats a different angle I've never thought about' I've been doing a lot of indian weddings and the one things that bugs me is that both the bride and groom have their own photographers. I use to snap away at what I thought was best but decided to hang back and get those shots that people wouldn't normally take. I do take the safe shots but as the B&G have two photographers, having two of the same family portrait is kinda pointless. Anyway as for your article, cheap is not necessarily better and I do wonder how much research a B&G look through to compare photos and style. Some of the friends wedding are at a satisfactory result, some are down right tacky but brides seem to love them ?????? [confused]. Lee, be interesting if you put a little Behind the scenes how you approach your wedding photography.

Great post! I had a $3000 wedding budget and I was TERRIFIED that I wouldn't be able to find a good photographer in my meagre price range. I spent nearly 25% of my budget on my photographer and she was worth so much more... but I knew enough of what to look for that I knew I could make an informed choice!

Kyle Iseminger's picture

Well said. I'm certainly no professional, but I've had some people approach me to shoot their wedding. I flat out told them my abilities (which I have to say are much better than the photos above) and they know what to expect. They turned out fine and they were happy with the shots. In addition to the $300 CL guys making people realize quality, I also think if you're good, your work will stand for itself.

Chris Newman's picture

Thank you so much for writing this Lee. It's a perfect bookend to the other craigslist related writeup from this week.

Rebecca Britt's picture

I have to agree. I don't shoot weddings, and would never dream of shooting one since that is not my niche market and I feel like wedding photography is one of the hardest to shoot, but I think this applies to all kinds of photographers. It is indeed a perfect bookend for my (I was super bored, inside-joke) rant about Craigslist, and Lee is 100% correct. That rant was the first thing I ever posted on CL, btw, because I knew I would never find the right clients there.

I love Lee's style of wedding photography and I believe his rates are very affordable, but he is in a different region of the country than I am in. While we have amazing wedding photographers here, as well, they charge about twice of what Lee charges, yet I believe Lee's work is much better. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder or in their checkbook to be precise.

Tam Nguyen's picture

Damn, you guys have been cranking out some seriously good reads. Thanks Lee.

As usual, I have nothing to disagree here. I too am never see anything photography on CL as competition. Some of our commenters on here said he'd rather shoot 1 job for $3k than 6 jobs of $500. That's true. That sad thing is though, some clients don't know any better; they don't know that spot color editing, HDR, and things like the "dutch angle" are bad. If in their life, they have seen those same pictures from their friends' weddings, they can only assume that's industry standard, while in fact it's far from it.

I personally don't shoot wedding, but there have been multiple occasions of people asking me to shoot their wedding, because they think I'll deliver. Obviously my work speaks for itself, and the *smarter* clients are shopping around for better options.

Just keep on clicking, showcase your best work, and the right clients will find you.

Dutch is bad? Says who? Art is in the eye of the beholder, or in this case the viewer. Wait, HDR is awesome if no people are in the shot, and sometimes with people too. I have to disagree with you. Here are four HDR examples my clients loved. We cannot forget we need to make the customers happy and deliver what they want.

Tam Nguyen's picture

Btw, Zack Arias posted a very good blog entry on the whole "cheap photography" stuff: http://www.zarias.com/cheap-photographers-only-kill-themselves-not-the-i...

Lee, fantastic post, thank you.


Name your price !!! ;)

What images are yours? Who stole them? If you posted them online, published them, and as long as they leave you a link it is okay to reuse them. People usually don't understand this but if it were stealing sites like Pinterest would not exist. I love it when people republish my images because I get more exposure! I would just ask for a link from your photo back to your website.

No, sorry, just because I put my images online does not give you the legal right to put them on your site or blog without my permission. You can link to the post, but, you cannot legally download the photo and place it on your page without permission.

I understand your point, and yes if you have not put them in a public forum or social media site, thenI would beg to differ, if what you are saying is true than people pinning on pinterest from other websites would be illegal. If you put them in the public domain according to law the become public domain. I have to look further into it but I encourage people to share my pictures, I just show them 900px so they could only get a good wallet size but no bigger.

Here is an interesting blog regarding this issue: http://www.blogher.com/bloggers-beware-you-can-get-sued-using-photos-you...

Here's what I learned about Fair Use:
It doesn't matter...
if you link back to the source and list the photographer's name
if the picture is not full-sized
if you did it innocently
if your site is non-commercial and you made no money from the use of the photo
if you didn't claim the photo was yours
if you've added commentary in addition to having the pic in the post
if the picture is embedded and not saved on your server
if you have a disclaimer on your site
if you immediately take down a pic if someone sends you a DMCA notice (you do have to take it down, but it doesn't absolve you.)

NONE OF THAT releases you from liability. You are violating
copyright if you have not gotten express PERMISSION from the copyright holder OR are using pics that are public domain, creative commons, etc.