The Top 5 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Be a Wedding Photographer

The Top 5 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Be a Wedding Photographer

You read that right: shouldn't. Wedding photography is a field that many photographers work within at least once or twice in their budding careers. Is it for you, though? Do you have what it takes? Even some of the most seasoned professional wedding photographers have thrown in the towel and moved on to other forms of work. Why is this, you inquire? I asked several of my colleagues – wedding photographers and other professional shutterbugs alike – their thoughts on why they think shooting weddings for a living sucks. These are the top five responses I received.

Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love being a wedding photographer, and that’s really the point of this article. You really have to love weddings in order to be successful at it and get any personal satisfaction out of your work. And isn’t that the point of being a professional photographer and taking pictures for a living – to be able to love what you do?

This list assumes a few things about you as a photographer: most importantly, that you are proficient at taking properly exposed in-focus, well composed photographs. That’s the most basic starting criteria. However, a quick search on Craigslist for budget wedding photographers will reveal how many people skip this step entirely because they bought a $500 camera and read somewhere that all they needed to be able to do was “spray and pray” to make it in the wedding industry.

Craigslist discount wedding photography ad

So if you’re at least more than a novice photography enthusiast looking to make the jump into being paid to photograph a wedding, here are the top five reasons you might want to still reconsider that idea.

5. You have to have personality plus.

If your general outlook on the world is that everyone is stupid and that you want to punch most people in the neck meat to keep them from blabbering on about their ugly child or what have you, you might not make it in a job that requires you to smile a lot and keep the energy fun and exciting for your clients for ten hours or more.

I’m very lucky to have the best clients around, but a lot of my colleagues who answered me mentioned terrible brides or mothers of the bride as being a real headache in how they’ve worked. So what does that mean for you? You have to be the kind of person who can turn that frown upside down for people and that means you should be great at customer service and issue resolution. You are running a business in the end, so your real skills are often tested without a camera in hand.

Another point brought up is the difficulty in balancing what you want to create as an artist with what your clients might ask you to do (i.e. selective color, weird cropping, and cliché Pinterest reenactments). You have to be great at educating your clients on what your style is, what you want to create for them as a photographer, and what you don’t do. That said, you also need to sometimes be able to swallow your pride and just get the photos your clients and their families want. That’s the compromise: pleasing people and pleasing yourself.

The last point is about being sociable and outgoing – or at least faking it. You’re who the bride and groom and their families and friends look to for guidance. If you want happy looking people, you need to project happiness and that means compliments, positivity, confidence, and saying yes to everything! You need to be the person who everyone says, “Wow! That photographer was awesome.” Even if you’re not feeling well. Even if you’re going through a break up. Whatever. If you can’t bring the outgoing personality (or if you can’t put on the front) that a wedding needs, you’re going to find yourself with less and less clients, and becoming bitter and resentful at each wedding you’re at until you can’t take it anymore. I don’t mean you have to be the center of attention. Quite the opposite, actually. You need to be as good or even better with people as you are with your camera and that's what often draws the line for some folks.

4. You have to be ultra-responsible under pressure.

A lot of photographers mentioned the pressure that comes with a wedding day – it’s a one-time event and you need to capture everything as it happens and not miss the big moments. Wow! That’s a lot of responsibility. So unless you’re willing to do your research, arrive early, create a timeline, and prepare, prepare, prepare, you’re not going to do well winging it. There’s a lot of care that comes with putting a wedding together and you need to be able to capture all of that, and find creative ways to do it. It’s near impossible to be everywhere and see everything, but if you set the bar any less, you’ll miss those one-time moments: the kisses, the laughs, the crying, the emotions, and the dancing. That’s the pressure you’re constantly under.

Did you take photos of everyone? Hopefully you have a shot list of the family your bride and groom want photos with. You can’t rely on them with so much going through their heads. They’re relying on you that day, so make sure you photograph everything and everyone. Remember that Pinterest folder she emailed you? Did you find a few shots in there you can put your own creative spin on? Are you an off-camera lighting kind of photographer? Well you better have all your gear working and batteries charged so you deliver the style of photos your clients hired you for. Have you backed up all of their images in several locations? All it takes is one stop from the wedding reception on your way to your studio for your car to get broken into and everything stolen. What will you do then? You can take your time in a studio and reshoot headshots, but not with a wedding.

The wedding photographer often has to wear many hats which drives many photographer away. You’re never just the photographer. You’re often the wedding coordinator and planner when it comes to the schedule of the day and working with the other wedding vendors involved. So that means extra phone calls, planning, meetings, and preparation outside of what you’ll be doing with your camera and soft box. Most brides and grooms want to make as few decisions as possible on their wedding day, so that often leaves you in charge. If you haven’t already planned ahead for rain, you’ll be who everyone looks to save the day when you can’t take photos at the park. You don’t just need a plan b, you need a plan k.

3. You will work many long hours.

So many people think that wedding photographers show up to a wedding and document the party and live the lives that songs are sung about. In truth, the average wedding photographer spends about ten hours at the wedding, plus four to five hours of preparation (if the wedding locations are familiar, longer if they’re not), a couple hours driving, and anywhere from two to ten hours of editing, uploading, and delivering the final images. That’s roughly 18 – 27 hours per wedding if not longer. That’s for one job. This doesn’t even account for the time you spend with emails, phone calls, meetings, website and social media updates, education, and everything else a photography business requires throughout the rest of the week. I just recently started putting aside one day a week where I don’t do anything work related because 60 – 80 hour work weeks are quite the norm.

The wedding day itself is one of constant movement with very few opportunities to sit a moment, eat, or use the restroom, so being in shape, hydrated, and able to snack on the go is crucial. So are having comfortable clothes and shoes. Even still, I’m exhausted after a wedding. My back aches, my feet are busted, and I’m usually soaked in sweat in the hotter months. If you’re more of a slow-paced, stay cool and comfortable kind of person… weddings are definitely not for you. You’re going to bust your butt at most weddings. Be prepared for that.

2. You give up your summer weekends.

I book weddings one to two years ahead of time. Do you realize what that means? I miss most of my own families’ and friends’ weddings, graduations, birthday parties, and the like. Weekends are gone. Are you willing to give up all of that along with the fairs and concerts that run from May through October (the busy season around me)? Will your loved ones grow tired of being without you? It’s a huge tradeoff to celebrate with everyone else and have to make up time with your own family. Sure you’ll have a weekend day here and there to do things, but what if someone wants to book it last minute? Do you take the job because you’re a business, or do you miss out on the income so you can have a date night with your husband? This is where the concept of charging more and working less comes into play. If you limit the amount of weddings you take, you’ll have to increase the amount of money you receive for each wedding to balance things out. The business side of maintaining a healthy family, friend, and love life is very difficult to manage.

This of course is the same deal when planning vacations or trying to add any spontaneity to your schedule. Usually these types of luxuries will have to wait until the off-season.

1. You need to deal with the feast or famine complex.

Number one here is the largest concern with shooting weddings full time. Wedding season around the Chicagoland area is busiest from May through October. Unless you’re hustling like no other, and discounting the off-season to fill those winter months with weddings too, you’ll generally be working and getting income for approximately six months a year as a wedding photographer. So what do you do?

You have to anticipate the slow months and make the income from six months spread out all year long. That means budgeting and saving and planning ahead. It sounds a lot simpler on paper than in reality though. Even the established successful photographers have to plan ahead for the rest of the year. The temptation to spend money when it comes in and not think ahead can get the best of anyone. So knowing that and making an effort to budget your income throughout the year, you can also take other jobs.

What’s this? Other jobs? Yes. Of course. You have an opportunity to do something completely different in the off-season months, which for me is great. I get to focus on personal projects, work with bands, take portraits, and book commercial work. You could go bartend somewhere too, but instead of doing that when I started out, I shot nightclub photos. The sky’s the limit, but I guess you could do astrophotography and ruin that fun saying too. The point is that you probably want to supplement your income with other work unless your business is thriving to the point where you can travel and enjoy the down time. I’d like to get closer to that someday, but it certainly won’t be a realistic goal for those of you who are just starting out right now.

Wrap Up

These are the top reasons so many photographer friends of mine have either quit the wedding industry or don’t want to anywhere go near it. It looks like a sexy job, but it’s a hard grind.

There are thankfully many, many, reasons why I love wedding photography and that’s why I remain in the industry and love what I do. I’ll go over the top five reasons why you should be a wedding photographer next time!

Did I miss any? Do you disagree? Have anything to contribute? Please add to the conversation below in the comments. I’d love to hear what you think!

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25 Comments

Peter House's picture

When I first started my goal was to become a destination wedding photographer. On paper it seemed perfect. I love to travel, I love people, I love a good party, and there was potential for good income.

Then I did a few weddings and I learned more about myself in those hours than I cared to know.

I realized I was too methodical of a shooter. I couldn't work with the linear approach of weddings. I hated the structure. I hated the timing. I hated the pressure.

I honestly admire wedding photographers and I believe it might just be the most difficult genre of photography. Good on you folks for taking up the challenge. You are all better photographers than I.

I don't think they are better photographers than you or I for example.......I just think they are better "people" people..that's all.

Justin Haugen's picture

I love the clients I work with and the challenge of pulling off creative photos under duress, but I've come to really appreciate commercial clients who know the cost of doing business and don't put me under so much pressure.

Mostly I'm surprised at how many novice wedding photographers there are with websites. That's scary for brides.

Spy Black's picture

6. You need to deal with drunks/psychopaths.

My hat's off to all wedding photographers. You have my up most respect...

Lee Christiansen's picture

Compared to what commercial companies want to pay (and succeed in paying) for their corporate events, weddings actually make good sense.

True, the corporates don't seem to care what they get, and there are no pre-wedding meetings to do - but I'm consistently offered between £400 - £600 for a 12hr day on site with full res JPEG delivery.

Comes to something when the big blue-chip companies say they can't afford as much as a couple of 20 yr olds setting off in life together...!

I've pretty much given up on the corporate events market. I'm now looking towards the wedding market and having to build up new sites and a plan for marketing. 5 reasons not to do this isn't enough to put me off.

Bogdan Condor's picture

I only shot weddings in my photography career, so for me, this is the norm.

Manuel De Haro's picture

Great post! although I am a wedding Videographer I think every principle applies.

I have to admit that sometimes I think I am insane to be a Wedding videographer but honestly I love it, and you really have to in order to be successful.

Weddings may seem pretty straight forward but people don't realize that weddings have many variables that can drive you insane if you don't prepare.

Erin B.'s picture

This article didn't even touch on the infrastructure part of it. Insurance, backups for all your gear. This stuff is a non-issue for someone that is already established, but for someone just starting out, having 2 of almost every thing is a tall order. Insurance? Whats that? If the unthinkable happens, you can refund the couple of thousand dollars you charged, but what about the $50k that was spent on the rest of the wedding and you get sued?

Brian Dowling's picture

Your variables apply to all sub-contracted photographers(commercial, event, etc..) and not just wedding photographers though.

Rex Romero's picture

Like Brian said, that applies to all businesses.

michael andrew's picture

What's wrong with the budget photog? Why can't there exist a service for broke couples? Do they not deserve to have some level of photography for their potential modest, likely courthouse, wedding?

And what's with the elitist attitude, that's what I can't stand about this article. You have no idea what financial or socioeconomic predisposition this photographer may be in, maybe it is a single mother just trying to learn some thing new. Maybe they are handicapped, or a veteran, or any number of things that may inhibit their confidence to run a complete market competitive business. Did you even look at their website? Maybe they are brand new to photography and are just trying something to make ends meat. Did you email them a link of your article so they could learn from their "inferiority"

I'm sure anyone who pays 300$ for a photographer is likely well informed of the expectations they should carry into that level of product.

Why do wedding photographers (more than any other type of photographer) feel the need to always belittle less experienced competition.

There is nothing wrong with budget photographers. There are a handful locally that will shoot an 8 hour day and you get all photos they take, unedited, for $200. What my issue is, is that those photographers will more than up sell their skill level that they simply cannot match. For example, I knew a couple who went with one of these photographers. The lady was really nice and they got a good vibe from her and the price was right. Every time they asked to see samples of her work there was some excuse as to why they couldn't, "oh I left my portfolio at home", "my website is down this week". Anyhow they went with there and they said she showed up with a lower model Canon with pop up flash and a 50mm. Needless to say they were unimpressed with the photos and ended up booking me to take some of them in their suit and wedding dress so they would have at least some decent photos to show. While it was their fault they didn't ask some of the questions that should have been asked, a lady whose Craigslist ad is titled "High Quality Professional Wedding Photography at a Budget Price" is very misleading and I believe the fact that she couldn't/wouldn't show samples of her work leads me to think she knew she couldn't match what she made them expect.

Aaron Brown's picture

Michael,

A. Trying to learn something new is one thing. Charging money to try to learn something new is another.

B. The elitist attitude is from watching innocent couples get burned by such careless action. Yes, I looked at their website. It was created by a charlatan.

C. You're wrong.

D. They're not belittling competition. There is no competition with people like the one in the Craigslist ad. They, and I, are belittling those who falsely think being able to turn their camera on must equal being able to accept money for the responsibility needed to capture a one-time moment like a wedding... especially when they can't correctly spell the services they offer in their own ad.

Adam Sparkes's picture

Not to pile on, Mike. But since Aaron and I are sharing the same dialysis machine at the moment, I couldn't help but read his reply. Photography that caters directly to the "general public" allows for a level of entry that is beyond accessible to new photographers. It borders on downright dangerous, because of the reasons Aaron mentioned above. Shooting weddings (or babies) only requires the ability to get on craigslist. It is MUCH more difficult to do this with more commercial or editorial forms of photography. Because, at the very least, business and editorial outlets are more likely to have at least some form scrutiny in place for how they spend their money. More likely, they have something of a standard set before they hire? Wedding photography is really flood gate at the lower end, and people who splash on through without first establishing some understanding or ties within the community do need a little "Hey get off my lawn!" at times to realized who foolish they are behaving. I don't think its all sour grapes? I've seen WAY more harsh approaches to discussing this.

Aaron Brown's picture

Exactly, Adam.

I 2nd shoot weddings. No desire to do it on my own. Seen far too many bride/groomzillas to ever want to deal with that headache solo. I do enjoy meeting a new set of people nearly every weekend though. I also enjoy being able to take photos that are "outside the box" while the main photog does the safe/traditional images.

wait.......so do i need to buy the Fstoppers wedding DVD or not? ;-)

Aaron Brown's picture

Yes. You do. :D

Rob Mynard's picture

I've shot weddings for 4-5 years now and I've been lucky enough to shoot from Australia and the South Pacific to England and the around the Mediterranean, I totally love my job. I don't know any wedding photographers who haven't had to face the above Top 5 but if you're the right kind of person the job gives back so much more than it takes.
The day after a full shoot is a write-off for my wife and I, our backs are broken, our legs are cramped and our right hands are locked into a permanent claw, but you drag yourself to the computer and start to look through the images and all the excitement comes back.

Aaron Brown's picture

This right here is exactly what it's like, "backs are broken, our legs are cramped and our right hands are locked into a permanent claw" Lol - thanks for that. True words!

Elli Ghomze's picture

I start my carrier as a destination wedding photographer, recently working as a professional photographer with one of wedding invitation vendor 123WeddingCards. I think a destination wedding photographer have to work under pressure because have to face many climatic challenges and timing is main issue.

Yes, currently I am doing photo shoot of rustic wedding invitations that is also a typical task because gives a feel and touch of that wedding invites+ use the effective props that compliments your invites is tricky. http://www.123weddingcards.com/rustic-wedding-invitations

Jason Lanier apparently posted this on his YouTube channel over two years ago,
Our fotog friends are finally agreeing on a very distracting action on wedding days
http://youtu.be/tl0TOCMSYuc

Photography is really a tough job to do, You need to be extra careful and alert if you want to have nice pictures of yours and someone else specialy. And if you are thinking to have Wedding photography, it would be better if you do not try this.
As this requires extra professionalism. Better one hire a professional photographer for this. You can go to http://www.planyourwedding.co.in/ if you want to hire the wedding best and professional photographers. Lovely photography with best prices!

I have photographed around 15 weddings, and my highest paying gig was $1800 for 8 hours. The big problem I have with wedding photography is that there are way too many brides out there that are trolling for the cheapest cut rate photographer. I have talked to many wedding photographers out there and they are constantly running into brides that want there wedding photography for under $1000 bucks, and the bigger problem is that there are way too many people that are willing to jump at satisfying these brides for under $1000. I remember Gary Fong said that Wedding Photography industry has gotten so bad that what he is seeing is that the average going rate for a wedding photographer is $500. The other big problem I have is that if you count the cost of what is involved with wedding photography, you are a fool if you try to photograph a wedding for what some of these brides are willing to pay. Again, there is always a sucker that goes for it. I laugh at these wedding photography workshops that sell the pipe dream that "you to" can be a 10k wedding photographer. From what I have seen you have better chance of running into a unicorn than landing a 10k wedding gig. Finally, the last beef I have is that the top tier wedding photographers are showing examples of work of model type brides. Let me give you a reality check about wedding photography. 40% of your brides are on the obese side, and out of the 60% brides left over only a small percent are in the model category. There are other beefs I have but I will leave at that. Anyway, I prefer to doing fashion photography at www.kenblack.com

shaadi dukaan's picture

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