In Support of the Wedding Photography Weekend Warrior


I’m probably not going to be winning any friends by sticking up for the undercutters, but I just don’t think that they’re hurting you as much as you think they are. In fact, I think they might actually be helping you.

I’m a wedding photographer. I make my living doing it; I've shot countless weddings over the years, had the opportunity to travel the world through my camera, and generally had a pretty awesome time. It’s not an easy job, but then again, I don’t know of any job worth doing that is, and I think that this is where the problem begins.

Let’s say you’ve spent years honing your skills, developing your eye, learning composition, and building a collection of gear that you know inside and out and can rely on to not fail you. You run a photography business; it pays your rent and puts food in your child’s mouth. You may even have a team of people, all of them trying to pay rent and eat, all dependent on your ability to take a decent photo and charge an appropriate amount of money for the act. So, when you see some young punk offering to do the same job for a tenth of the cost, it’s a swift punch to the ego, and like a haemophiliac paintballer, the ego bruises easily. But why should it hurt so much? Are these photographers actually your competition? Do they really do the same job as you?

I’d be willing to bet that the Uncle Bobs and the weekend warriors don’t charge as much as a “professional” photographer because they don’t take the job as seriously, and whether we want to believe it or not, there are a sea of couples getting married this year to whom the photography is just an afterthought. All the couples want is one shot of all the wedding party that includes both their heads and their feet; anything else is just gravy. In their wedding budgets, the price column next to photography just says, “whatever we have left.” They don’t want to pay your price, and you don’t really want to shoot their wedding, so leave them to the budget guy.

Imagine if you woke up tomorrow and everyone who was getting married in your city this year – regardless of their budget - had emailed you for a quote. By the time you’d dug through all the enquiries to find the ones that you thought best fit with your style and price, they’ve either already booked with someone else or their wedding date has come and gone, and it was beautiful — such a pity you couldn’t be there. Now, think of the budget photographer like a shark clearing the reef of the weaker fish, so when you come to dip your toes, all that’s left are the strong, healthy, beautiful fish. There might not be as many, but these are the ones you came to see.

It’s been a couple of days and that budget couple from two paragraphs ago have got their photos back from their photographer. They’re not much to look at, but they didn’t want to look at much, so they’re happy. Their best friend is getting married soon; she hasn’t put much thought into her photography either, but she’s been looking at lots of dresses and decorations online, and somewhere deep in the darkness of her mind, the beauty of those images takes root. Then, she looks over her friends’ photos, and she’s not impressed. She starts to think that maybe the photos are something that is important to her, does a little research, and learns that you get what you pay for. Suddenly, she’s looking in your price bracket, and there’s one more potential client than there was yesterday. Thank you, terrible photographer.

Now, there’s always going to be a small number of budget photographers who are producing amazing work, but for whatever reason, they’re undercharging (maybe they’re just starting out and building their portfolio, maybe they’re trying to break into a new area). Sure, these guys are harder to forgive, but this is where you need to show you’re about more than your end product. How well do you perform when you’re pushed out of your comfort zone? If you’ve shot weddings professionally for any length of time, chances are you’ve shot in every possible situation. I’ve shot weddings at sunset, sunrise, midday on beaches, in rain-soaked forests, on desert mountaintops, in Mediterranean heat, and Scottish snow. You have experience and you can adapt. Brides might want a photographer that’s not going to run inside, sheltering their camera from the gods at the first sign of a little rain. Show them that’s you, and you build your value.

So, stop worrying about how many weddings that guy on Craigslist is stealing from you. You didn’t want those to begin with.

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gabe s's picture

Good article and valid points. I'm in the cheapo dept right now because I am trying to build my portfolio. Even doing the cheapo stuff, its hard to get clients.

I do have an issue with your hemophilia comment. It is a deadly condition, and simple bruising would just be the beginning of a hemophiliacs issues. Just so you are aware.

Sorry, but as someone with severe hemophilia A (that is, the "bad" kind- with less than 1% of normal clotting function), I take exception to this ignorant statement even more than the one in the article. In college, I was captain of the fencing team for 2 years. When I still had time to go to the gym, I would run for 6-7 miles a day. I have founded, built and sold a startup, and currently work in a tech leadership role at a major bank. I have a full and beautiful life.

My point here is that hemophilia is basically as treatable as diabetes, thanks to the wonders of modern medical science. I'm 29, and the state of treatment has been basically where it is now since shortly before I was born- replacement clotting factor has been available since well before that time, but I'm discounting a few years because of the tainted blood products that were on the market in the early/mid-80's during that particular phase of the AIDS crisis. Mercifully, I was born after those products were off the market- most of the living hemophiliacs in the US did end up with HIV from tainted blood products in 1-2 years in the '80's.

Oh, and also, I've only gone paintballing once (a week after I went skydiving, actually), and came away bruise-free. Though I couldn't say the same of my ego, after getting lit up due to me not understanding the crazy advantage that expensive markers had over the rental ones. I swear, it was like storming Omaha Beach with a flintlock.

Hemophilia being "deadly" today is more a function of economics and human-driven ignorance. Big Pharma is a parasite. The medication that I've taken (for 15+ years, so don't talk to me about "recouping R&D costs") still costs my insurer $600k annually, and the manufacturer has even brought out a more expensive, newer-gen product. I remember when I was in Ireland about 10 years ago, and there was a story in the news about a hemophiliac who died after the NHS took too long to approve his medication. Approvals in the US, under the ACA, have gotten quite difficult (and the copayments and premiums have been a major problem in the hemophilia community), and obviously Republicans just want us all gone. So, it's only deadly if insurers are cheap.

gabe s's picture

My statement is not ignorant. My father in law had hemophilia with less than 1% clotting. He was a very severe case. He had both hips replaced, twice. He worked on cars and his house, he rode motorcycles till he got into an accident and the hospital didnt drain the fluid from his knees which locked them up for the remainder of his life. He had cats that would scratch his legs so bad he would have to call the nurse to give him Factor. He took more risks than you going paintballing once. He lived through Factor not even existing, he lived through the HIV 80s, without contracting the disease. He ultimately passed because he had a stroke with a brain bleed they could not stop because of having such low clotting. If his clotting was better, he would have lived. He went to every national Hemophilia conference, and after talking to people across the country, he was the second oldest known person with the disease. His brother died at 9 months old from hitting his head and bleeding to death, which is how they found out about hemophilia in the family.

So no, my statement is not ignorant. Hemophilia is deadly. Its something I have been a part of first hand.

gabe s's picture

Hey, guess what?

My father in law was a hemophiliac, with less than 1% clotting. He rode motorcycles (till he had an accident and had fluid build up in his knees which locked them for the rest of his life). Beats paintballing huh? He had both hips replaced...twice. He lived through the 80s AIDs scare, without getting it. He ultimately died from a stroke with a brain bleed they couldnt stop because of his low clotting level. If he had higher clotting, he would have lived. Ooh, and he was the second oldest known hemophiliac in the US.

My wife is a carrier as well, and says she hopes you have a lot of clotting factor on hand.

So no, my statement is not ignorant.

Justin Haugen's picture

As a former weekend warrior, I know firsthand there is a level of experience and preparedness and deliverable that I would never have achieved had I remained there.

Lee Ramsden's picture

Makes me laugh the local full time wedding photographers moan about budget weekenders,
and it was only 12 months ago, they were in the same place!

Zoe Larkin's picture

I think this is absolutely spot on. There's a world of difference, so if you're an established professional, let the Craigslist wannabes and the cheapies and the Uncle Bobs do the bottom feeding. They are, I'm sure, doing a great job of weeding out the clients you don't want.

As for me, I'm a wedding photographer in training. I go to practice-shoot at weddings, but I am not permitted to use those images for my website, as the photographer holds the copyright. It's a bit of a catch 22, no use of images, so no images of weddings on my website, but I'm cool with that. I would rather shoot for free for months or years to build experience, rather than charge budget and be stuck at that level forever.

Rob Mynard's picture

For my wife and I, we worked under an excellent photographer for our first year in a similar situation (couldn't use those images in our own portfolio) So when it was time to set up on our own we offered to do a month of free weddings, that gave us a quick portfolio to move forward.

Zoe Larkin's picture

Amazing idea, Rob! Good to know I am on the right track, too. I also heard about a training school near me specifically for wedding photographers. Part of the weekend course is the chance to shoot a couple of models masquerading as a couple tying the knot complete with idyllic landscape and expert instruction. For a small fee, you get the chance to add genuine wedding photography to your website. I would suggest this as a great idea for anyone looking to get into wedding photography and struggling even to get those first 'free' clients that you mention. (People have been conditioned to think that if something's too good ot be true, it is. I wouldn't be surprised if many are sceptical).

Also, be creative - could an already-married couple of friends don their wedding gear and recreate the big day, and in exchange get the images that they really want, but for whatever didn't come to pass on their actual wedding day? Perhaps those who used a photographer that did a botch job on the day itself...

Rob Mynard's picture

Great ideas t build a portfolio as well, and you might be able to get closer to the style you're looking to shoot. I found we had no problems getting a bunch of free weddings very quickly but you don't get to pick and choose your clients.

Do a quick search of how many weddings happen in your area each year. Your local county may have the statistics. Now figure out how many weddings you can realistically shoot each year. That number will be around 52 or less per year unless you are crazy enough to be booked twice each weekend the whole year. Lastly, figure out how much photographers are likely in your area.

Now you can stop worrying. The only competition is at the top tier. There is plenty of work to be had for everyone and you should only focus on your own work and improving so you can move up your prices.

John Sammonds's picture

I was a weekend warrior I shot many hundreds of weddings over the years 90% film on medium format kit. Most of the weddings were for a company then run and owned by Kodak. They had hundreds of weekend wedding photographers working and only working Saturdays as that was the only time people got married. In the day you knew when you had a good wedding by the amount of prints ordered by the wedding party, many of my weddings the print sale count would hit 100 easy. Over the past couple of years I have been keen to see the results from weddings that my family and friends have had taken. the results from "professional" photographers has at best been rubbish and worst criminal, one photographer fired off 1700 pictures and I would say not one amounted to a reasonable picture. the craft of wedding photographer is no longer here the skill is the album creator.

Anonymous's picture

I think the article is spot on! I remember my Wedding days....

On a side note, when you guys call you pricing tab "investment" I want to push you off a bridge.

david squire's picture

haha, yup... I had to check really quick if my favorite wedding photographer was doing that, lucky for him he wasn't, or that bookmark was coming off.

Lee Ramsden's picture

who is your favourite wedding photographer out of interest?
Mine is Jeff Asough.
-Unrelated to this post but always interesting to hear others. :)

david squire's picture

Put me on the spot why don't you Lee... haha. This is the easiest question for me, and pretty easy to tell non-photographers, but harder to tell [actual] photographers. But, strictly favorite wedding photographers are...

My favorite (currently) is Callaway Gable and Studio JLK. They bring a good balance of bringing moments to life, gobs of technical details, and excellent shots. The Callaways are really cool people, funny, tell excellent stories, and love photography.

After that, I also admire and follow Eric Andrew Photography, Vanessa Joy, Ben Sasso, and Cliff Mautner. Vanessa is so charming and nice. At WPPI she answered all of our questions (me and my friend) and even peeked at our LCD screens to see what we had.

There's a ton of excellent wedding photographers, and the fact that you introduced me to Jeff Asough is proof of that. I like his stuff, really good. Hopefully there's a wedding photographer I was able to introduce you to, as well.

Zoe Larkin's picture

Agreed, it's an utterly pretentious term and the ordinary punter would have absolutely no idea what that means. Why would they? Let's be honest, it's going to amount to a significant dropping of the cash, so at least be honest and straightforward about how much you charge for your services - a ballpark range is fine. Saves a lot of time and nasty shocks down the road for both client and photographer. I don't like the way some wedding togs sort of leave out the part about pricing, like money is just so beneath them, they can't even possibly speak the actual figure. I know pricing can be complicated, but a potential client needs to know whether they can afford you and it's also a good indicator of your worth!

I wonder if the "pro's" started off at top dollar? Just sayin...........

Percy Ortiz's picture

probably not top dollar but certainly covering expenses adequately I'm sure. I know i did. I doubt the weekend warrior has adequate back up gear, or has it insured against theft or accidental damage, or has public liability cover, or pays business registrations and council permits, etc

Rob Mynard's picture

I know I certainly didn't but as I got better and more serious my overheads (directly relating to photography) rose so my prices had to rise too.

Richard Neal's picture

You say the quality budget guy is harder to forgive but in all honesty is usually the moroe expensive guy who has caused it

Agree totally with your article but sometimes its those at the higher prices who have created the drop in prices as it is. Where im from its very cut throat, noone wants you as a second photographer, noone wants to help you if your in their market so yours forced to go in cheap and build up. By the time your quality has reached or surpassed the expensive guy its harder to make the huge jump to their prices because you still dont have a huge portfolio and when you pop your head up to look around you find theres another dozen people in your area in the same position so suddenly the average expected price is lowered

Boom Cameron's picture

Good article. I think the biggest issue with the pro wedding photography community is that some people are resistant to change. Yes, years ago you would spend countless days free labouring your way next to an experienced pro because wedding photography was a special trade with a steep learning curve. Nowadays, it's become easy and affordable to purchase easy to use gear, learn to shoot amazing images for free via youtube and other resources. The weekend warriors, as we call them, are today's way to get established, build a client base, portfolio and network in the industry. The biggest mistake beginners make is continuing to undercharge once their work stands out. I was a successful wedding shooter and I had to be the craigslist warrior at first. Once my skills were honed, I quickly raised my pricing so that I no longer had to compete on price alone. Your work, your products and networking with vendors in your community is what will get you high paying clients - the ones everyone wants. The ones that set photography budgets high as photographs are very important to them. High end photographers have nothing to fear from the weekend warriors. There is a demand for this service at every price point.

Rob Mynard's picture

I remember having a client contact us after we'd been shooting for about a year, they loved our work and were considering booking with us but our prices seemed too low and they were worried that there was a problem with our work they couldn't see. We took their advice and raised our prices and our booking numbers rose along with it.

Michael Rapp's picture

Nicely written article, which touches off on two main points of photography as a business: Cost of doing business and Perceived Value.
Your cost to run the business and feed all involved, insurance and gear, wear and tear, divided by the number of weddings you shoot p. a. is the amount you've got to charge in order to stay afloat.
Simple as that.
On the other hand, you need to find clients who value weddings pictures enough to cough up the cash figured above. Those considering Uncle Bob certainly wont.
As Joe Buissink once put it: you can sell a comodity; then price becomes a competitive factor. Usually one that knocks off many pro togs.
Then, you can sell service. And this is, where many weekend warriors must take their chips from the table. And, you can sell an experience. Like Disney World, you don't come for the cheapes ride, but the whole package. And if you manage to pitch a client a once- in- a- lifetime- experience, price no longer is a competitive factor.

Stephen Kampff's picture

Might not be the place, but what lens did you use to shoot that last shot? I'm in the market for something longer with a decent aperture.

Rob Mynard's picture

I'm pretty sure that's the 135mm f/2, one of my favorites and the Canon one is crazy sharp.

Stephen Kampff's picture

Thanks! One to look out for - need a new doc lens you see.

So tired of these articles on Fstoppers, SLR Lounge etc...All of these are written just so the "pro" photographer doesn't feel so bad about charging a couple $6000+ on photography. As a "pro" myself, I really hope this culture changes. Until then, I love getting all the business from people who are sick of this kind of attitude...

Matthew Saville's picture

Iv'e been saying the following for almost ten years now:

As long as the quality of service and the final product is good, who cares whether or not you do the job full-time? The bride and groom sure don't.

My point is this: I'm sick of the memes and infographs that talk about how a photographer has to put their kids through college, pay for healthcare, and save for retirement. Clients don't care, if someone else can offer the same exact experience and final result for less. The market will steam-roll right over you, if that's your ONLY reason to be charging an arm and a leg for your services as a full-time professional.

Why? Because more and more weekend warriors are doing a damn good job. Creating gorgeous images, delivering on time, responding quickly to all correspondence, being reasonable and fair when clients ask for something crazy, etc. Because they aren't desperately clinging to each job to pay their bills and put their kids through college. They have a well-paying day job, so it's no sweat off their back if a client doesn't book, or doesn't buy that album. They're just doing weddings because it's an exciting challenge, a rewarding side-project that allows them to be creative and have a hobby pay for itself, and then some.

I'm not talking about the bottom-feeders who deliver crappy photos and do a shoddy, un-reliable job in general. I'm not talking about the guy who think they can charge good money and then show up with a rebel and a kit lens, or with some fancy full-frame camera but zero understanding of lighting or posing.

Those folks, for the record, need to crawl back into the hole they came out of and learn both photography and professionalism.

But the folks who are responsible about it, who have reliable gear and backups, a safe, expedient workflow, and decent images, ...If they're happy to shoot for less, then you're not going to stop them.

If that's the way the industry is going, then I'm sorry but we're not going to be able to stop it by pumping social media full of "here's what it costs to be a full-time photographer" infographs. The full-time game will wind down, (it already has been, for 5+ years) ...and the part-time market will show its true potential.

I say, bring it on. This is capitalism; there will always be innumerable ways for hard work to pay our bills. If we choose creative passion as our source of income, for all the personal reward it offers, we had better be ready for dramatic changes in our income streams, multiple times throughout our lives. I'd say that's a fair trade.

Chris Demadura's picture

If I recall, the Fstoppers commercial wedding photography course goes over this as well.

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