Why Hire A Professional Photographer?

A Fictional Story Based on Real Facts

While the names and locations in this story are fictional, it is based on real and unfortunate wedding photography horror stories that we've heard first hand from friends, client's wedding guests, colleagues, etc.


“My friend Sara is great at photography and has a really expensive camera and we’ll have her take our wedding photos to save money. She said she’d do it free.”

While your friend may be good, here are some reasons to choose a pro.

Wedding photography is way more than the camera. Sara may have a nice camera, in fact Sara’s camera could make us jealous. Sara is an attorney whose “free-time” passion is photography. Her camera is not only nice, it’s one of the best cameras money can buy, the Canon 5DS ($3,700 without lens). Sara loves shooting so much that she even purchased the luxury line of Canon lenses and accessories ($18,000).

Now, let’s assume that Sara (like me before I got my photography degree) is so passionate about learning photography, that she’s attended and watched lots of nearby professional photography seminars and professional photographers’ webinars over the past five years. She goes out once or twice a month and shoots landscape and urban scenes with all of her great equipment. She’s even been featured in an online photo communities, yourshot.nationalgeoggraphic.com.

On the day of the wedding Sara was confident that she would do a tremendous job. She started with some outside shots of the location. Then Sara went inside to get preparation images. She doesn’t like the manual settings on her camera, so she shoots with the auto settings. (This means the camera determines what setting is correct for the situation, and a camera is only so smart.)

As Sara shot preparation images she noticed that her lens wasn’t wide enough, so she quickly ran out to the car to swap lenses since she wasn’t anticipating this problem. When she gets back the bride’s makeup was finished and they were doing her hair. She didn’t check her images while she was out at the car so she didn’t notice until then she needed more lighting, and she didn’t have any flash or off camera lighting. So Sara decided to raise her ISO settings super high so that she can capture enough light to properly expose the scene. This works, however, little does she know, that every picture shot will be too grainy to blow up beyond a 4×6 print.

Next Sara went over to shoot the groom. She remembered to check the light for this scene and adjusted her camera settings based on what the camera read. Unfortunately, the black suits absorbed so much light the camera was over exposing all of the shots to compensate. Sara didn’t realize this and just kept shooting.

Then came time for the ceremony. Sara set up near the front of the aisle, put on her zoom lens and waited. She focused on someone standing at the rear door, so she’d be ready. The groom started down the aisle and she snapped off 50 shots as he came forward. The only problem was that 49 shots were out of focus because the subject was walking towards Sara, and her focus settings were not set for moving subjects. The one shot in focus the groom was looking down at his foot. The bridesmaids enter soon after, then the bride and her father, and again, Sara shot them all way down the aisle. Unfortunately, none of the images are crisp and in focus.

The wedding ceremony was going great, and Sara got several great shots. But Sara again realized that her camera lens isn’t wide enough, so Sara hurried to her bag just outside the sanctuary door to grab a different lens. As she turns back to the sanctuary, she sees the couple just as they kiss for the first time. Sara missed it.

After the ceremony Sara tried to guide everyone to her favorite spot outdoors where she has a beautiful shot of the view. The subjects are facing away from the sun, so that she can capture the grandeur of the scene. Because the formals are being shot in the bright noon-day sun, Sara doesn’t realize that the camera is under exposing the entire scene since the background is so bright. For a few shots where Sara zoomed in to get close ups the camera exposed the scene correctly for the people, but their eyes looked like black holes, so dark you could hardly see any detail. Sara took only a few family formal shots, and only one shot of each set. She didn’t realize every shot was too dark and completely underexposed.

By the reception, Sara had already worked 10 hours! She figured she should be able to enjoy the wedding also since she’s a close friend. Sara was so exhausted that she hardly shot the rest of the night. She got up to take a shot of them cutting the cake, but didn’t take time to frame it well or make sure she could even see both bride and groom. As a result, you saw more of the guests, a little bit of the cake, and the bride is almost totally hidden behind the groom. She didn’t catch shot of them feeding one another or of the toasts. Sara gave her camera to her boyfriend who loves photography, and told him to shoot. He took more images of their friends doing stupid things than of the activities of the bride and groom.

Since Sara doesn’t have the software, or even know how to post produce images, she simply transferred them to a thumbdrive to give the bride and groom all of the images. The bride and groom, filled with anticipation, put the drive into their computer to start looking through their friends’ beautiful work!

100 pictures into the 2,000 pictures Sara shot, the bride was tears, as every photo was too dark, too bright, blurry, or just not that good. Furthermore, the bride and groom noticed that there was no shot of their first kiss, and the reception shots were mostly of stupid antics of nearly drunk friends. The cake image was a huge disappointment. You couldn’t even tell what the cake looked like, much less see the specially designed cutlery they held. The only images of them dancing was in the distance over tables of people. Their were no images of the bride dancing with her father, groom with his mom, or the bride with her grandfather who was recently diagnosed with cancer, an image the bride specifically requested.

While this story is fictional, each part is from a real situations that wedding photographers hear about all of the time. In fact, many of our client’s guests have approached us during a reception to tell us about their “Friend Sara” or “Uncle Fred” experience, and how they wish they had hired us to shoot the wedding. So, why does this happen? Because the bottom line is, while Sara had all the professional camera gear (which is unlikely in the first place), and had experience shooting landscape and outdoors scenes, she doesn’t have the following:

  1. The knowledge and experience to use manual settings where the operator has complete control based on different lighting scenarios. A wedding or event photographer usually has 2-3 seconds to adjust settings on the fly, anymore and they usually miss something.
  2. The knowledge of how a camera reads and interprets light and the ability to harness light both inside and outside the camera. In most situations this comes from the photographer’s past experience and not from camera readings.
  3. The foresight to know what equipment might be needed and be prepared with it on hand and ready to access. Most photographers check out the venue and lighting prior to an event to know what to expect and be prepared.
  4. Clothing and carrying cases needed to always have necessary equipment and accessories on self at all times. Sometimes this means having a knowledgeable assistant present.
  5. Experience capturing once in a lifetime momentary occasions so that you're in the right place at the right time and it is not only documented but shows the subjects most attractively.
  6. The energy to work non-stop for 12 plus hours without breaks. This is a wedding photographer's job. We work as a team, staggering breaks during non-crucial moments throughout the day, so that one of us is always on duty ready to capture whatever moment happens.
  7. The ability to control light, to create uniquely lit scenes with natural light, augment natural light with your own equipment, or create the light you want with your own. This is a skill that comes from study, training and experience. Controlling light is impossible unless you have experience using equipment necessary to shoot in every possible lighting situation.
  8. Experience working with people, guiding and directing large groups to create attractive formal poses rather than a snapshot of a group of people. Professional wedding photographers’ personality, tactfulness and experience gives them the ability to work with people even when difficult relationships exist, to make them feel comfortable in group poses.
  9. Knowledge and ability to use difficult and creative focusing techniques.
  10. Knowing how to avoid facial issues that ruin photos such as blinking, awkward expressions, and glasses glare.
  11. Knowing how to pose people to look more attractive.
  12. Knowing how to quickly and naturally pose a couple to elicit natural emotions and create romantic poses.

There is so much more than this that a person needs to know to take professional quality wedding photographs from start to finish.

There are a lot of areas in your wedding budget that you can save money, wedding photography should not be one of them. If you want to have professional quality and creative imagery of your wedding day that will be timeless heirlooms, you need a professional wedding photographer.

If you choose your wedding photographer based on budget, as is the case with most of our clients, choose quality over products. We, like most studios, can customize your package to fit your budget, but choose based on the ability of and quality you will get from your photographers, rather than the final product. Choose to have two photographers rather than one. If necessary, forgo the gorgeous album and large wall art for now. We understand that newlyweds are often on a budget as they are starting their new lives together. So wait on the products until later in your life. Three, four, even five years from now when your family is well established, go ahead and order those large prints and a nicer album. Better to wait to buy gorgeous product than to have low quality photography that no amount of money can make into a decent imagery. You can always order products later, you can never order better quality and more creative imagery.

(Credit to Pye Jirsa and Justin and Christ Lin for pulling together much of the previous information)

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