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.