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