We, the wedding photographers are exactly like the zebras in Madagascar 2. Likewise striped, all talking at the same time, all saying the same thing. Our online presence is so overwhelming, if you dare use online search services you’re promptly bombarded with tens if not hundreds of replies and quotations, all of them pretty much identical.

So, how do you choose?

The following is glimpse into our world which, at the very least, will help you understand what makes most of us, (wedding) photographers folk, tick. Or tok.

We, the pro photographer bunch, are first and foremost people like everyone else. When we’re sitting across the table from you, trying to negotiate packages and prices, we look like adversaries locked in a fierce battle of wits and services, however, in reality we’re very much the same: we have mortgages, bills to pay, dogs to walk and all that jazz, therefore we’re guided by the same “roof overhead, food on table” rules like everyone else.

It may appear our profession makes for a glitzy, rewarding occupation but when we strip the glamour and take a peek inside, it’s still a job, very similar with most of them out there. Certainly, we don’t have to look at the same cubicle walls all day long but we still need to do our job the right way in order to survive. Just like you.

So when you sit across the table from us, it is worth remembering we all put the pants on one leg at a time (with variations) and look kind of silly in the morning in our nighties. We’re more similar than you think.

We’re not the adversary. Actually we’re on the same side, and when you think of hiring one of us for your big day, think along the lines of “hiring help” or, better said, of finding a good business partner.

Nothing turns us off more than you shopping for price only. It won’t really give you any meaningful answers while making us feel like just another non-descript product on shelf at WalMart. You would feel the exact same in a the same situation. Think of someone telling you: “I don’t care who you are, to me you’re just a piece of meat I will compare against other pieces of meat.” Really makes one feel special, doesn’t it?

Here’s a few things to help you along:

1. The Big One : We tend to avoid “tire kickers”. They represent a phenomenal waste of our time (and theirs as well but they don’t realize that). Besides if they had to deal with themselves they would start avoiding themselves as well…

2. So, in light of #1, take a few moments to see if you actually LIKE the person across you. Chances are if you’re NOT taking the time, the person across will kindly return the favour. It’s pretty hard hiring someone helpful, someone who you feel comfortable working with, unless you go beyond the simple “package” inquiry. Get us to like you as well… see where that leads…

3. Knowledgeable, nice people can be found at any price point. Same with a-holes. If you use price alone in your screening process you might miss this really nice photog, $150 more expensive, you would have otherwise loved. Keep in mind that buyers remorse could come from both spending too little or spending too much.

4. Once set on a short list of who you’d like to hire, seek to find out what they could do for you within the confines of your budget. There’s a very good chance to get preferential treatment once you sit down and show an honest interest in that photographer’s work. Chances are you click with the right photographer and that’s a world of opportunity for you to explore.

I know THIS photographer has a particular soft spot for young, nice, hard working couples who simply find it difficult to stretch their budgets (happens when you’re young and mostly penniless). To my business partner (who’s also my wife BTW) dismay, I always find a way to accomodate them…  But… I have to like them first…


I really hate photographers sometimes…
The kind who take your money and then leave you high and dry.

Last night I had a meeting with a prospective client. At the end of our conversation she mentions one of her friends might also have a look at our portfolio, being in need of a wedding photographer. “Well that’s great” I think to myself while proceeding to inquire a bit further. It turns out the photographer with whom the couple signed a contract and gave a $900 deposit, simply dropped off the face of the Earth after their engagement session and less than three months before their wedding. The emails and phone calls simply go unanswered so her friend is obviously upset and thinking of getting the photog into the small claims court.

After a pause to think it over, I’ve offered to shoot this couple’s wedding and postpone payment until they get their money back from the no-show guy.

It always irks me to no end when I hear stories like this (and it seems to happen more often nowadays). The damage these kind of people do to our industry reaches much farther than the simple anecdote. In an age of instant social networking and free wedding blogging the anecdote travels far and hits hard. It puts unnecessary question marks over our profession in the minds of our clients. Yes, in case anyone wonders, I’ve been asked a number of times what guarantees we could offer so the couple is confident we will actually show up come wedding day. How the heck can you answer that? Of course you will show up and do a good job, of course you will deliver the goods but in your client’s mind there will be always a sliver of doubt, until the day you finally deliver their albums. That day you will be loved and recommended to everyone they know which is absolutely fantastic from your individual point of view but generally your clients will still think they were lucky to find you. That’s simply not true however. Rather the opposite actually. Every single one of my peers I came to know and respect, take great pride in their craft, staking their reputation on their work ethic.

It takes only one of us however to pull a stunt like the one above and the label gets applied to all the remaining great mass of photographers. This is what’s rubbing me a long way, the wrong way.

The not so many freakin’ bad apples.

The digital SLR crowd makes for an unmistakable and at times unavoidable presence at any event nowadays. Yes, it did grow over the past few years to a full crowd. Just a very few people at “posh” events used to have dSLRs. Now there are many, many, many more.

Thinking back to the 2009 wedding season it is impossible to recall the number of people, some using really nice pro or semi-pro gear I’ve encountered. As entry level dSLR kits venture deeper and deeper into the inexpensive compact digicam territory, they are quickly becoming the prevalent tourist neck ornament.

Our tools of the trade have reached a new, lower, more “democratic” price point to a degree where $10000 can buy you a full set of photographic gear capable of taking pretty much any type of shot you need to take. The Yesteryear’s Pro could separate himself from the fore-mentioned crowd, by proudly displaying and using his big cameras and lenses complete with menacing looking hoods affixed bayonet-like. Not anymore. I remember being greeted recently at a wedding by a guest holding a Dicke Bertha sized camera, while having something looking like one of the Guns of Navaronne casually slung over his shoulder. Aside of making my gear look…umm… portable, his presence left me quite a bit perplexed.

I’ll cover this bit in a minute, just after making a quick point about the least of my worries. Yes, gear prices continue to go down every season and brisk pace technology steps make properly exposed, sharp pictures almost a non issue, yet, quite contrary to some people I know in this business, I’m finding this trend positive. My hardware related capital costs are going down every year, and as a business owner you got to love that.

Even though today everyone has the means of honing their craft to almost perfection, craftsmanship is only part of the equation. Being proficient in your chosen medium is essential but mercifully not enough. It never was and it will never be. Without the spark of talent, no amount of effort can help the creative process leave the realm of comfy average mediocrity. Anyone can buy the exact brushes and colors Michelangelo used, study, practice and hone his craft to the n-th degree yet the results will never go beyond a perfect copy. Conversely buying a Leica and learning how to use it (obviously much easier than painting) will never make one a Cartier-Bresson or Salgado nor buying a Stradivarius will transform someone in Menuhin overnight. Creativity, talent, originality are not for sale anywhere and camera kits do not bundle any of it either.

This brings me back to my original point. People sometimes buy pro gear hoping for massive improvements in their photography but frequently they are disappointed by the results and by that time it’s a bit late to back down. Pro gear does absolutely NO hand-holding and tends to be rather complex yet people gladly add this layer of complexity on their pre existing struggles. Really perplexing indeed.

There are no cameras pre-packaged with “perfect moments” at least neither now nor in the foreseeable future. That does not keep people from trying though…

Well, in the end it is worth remembering that if one sincerily believes doubling the efforts can compensate for a lack of talent, there’s no limit to one can’t do.

A cure for anger?

Every once in a while the blogs or forums I sometimes visit pops the bitter question of “newbie” photographers “under cutting” the “established” status qvo. And it becomes bitter alright every single time. More to the point is the question of why we even give advice (free or otherwise) to “those people” (business and technical alike) when they turn around and steal “our bread”.

The actual degree of bitterness never ceases to amaze and it strikes me as somewhat hypocritical when quite a few of my peers make a very decent living of selling instructional books and holding up workshops and seminars. Blogging became increasingly profitable as well for the “free advice” dispensers out there. It’s a bit hypocritical because everyone basically dips into this big pool of knowledge, “outsiders” and “complainers” included.

It all seems to me like selling shovels to wide eyed prospectors, teaching them how to use them … no wonder when the occasional one strikes gold right under your nose. (Not necessarily) blind (but trained) squirrel theory. Worse yet, the ones failing to capitalize on the gold rush adamantly ask the ones who can, to stop (and that represents the core of the bitter bunch).

It is funny though, I’ve never heard any of the more dedicated members of our profession complain. They are too busy advancing their craft and spreading their knowledge to stop and bitch. And that’s good because what they do is the only way blood in our profession gets refreshed, the only way new trends and inspiring new work ever gets put out there.

The rest of us who can’t be that intrepid or innovative should do the other, equally important work of educating the world (and along the world, our prospective clients) about our profession, about what makes us tick, about our big struggles and little triumphs. Helping people understand what we’re all about makes everyone’s life easier and represents a better course of action than sitting on the sidelines with a big dark cloud around your head, complaining about how many bookings you’ve lost to the newcomers lately.

This just might be the cure for all our anger and anxiety about what lies ahead in our industry. It might even get our bookings up if we calmly deal with all the half-truths, misconceptions and bad folklore sometimes surrounding our profession.

Just my two Canadian cents…

Most of the times we start our sales “talk” with few very simple questions such as: Who’s your florist? Cake? Venue? We’re getting back answers ranging from “Oh!…those people…they are absolutely fabulous” to “…not a clue…haven’t booked/decided yet“. Well, if you’re not even remotely connected to the wedding industry, the “inconvenient” truth lies elsewhere. The actual answer is: strangers. Yep, if you think a bit about it, your florist, DJ, caterer, photographer and so on they are just people you don’t know. Strangers.

Here you are, planning a very important event of your life, yet you have to allow these strangers handle some essential parts of your day. This might be a bit of a “news flash” to some, however even the most stubbornly controlling bridezillias out there eventually have to relinquish control of that day, at least partially. Simply put, one cannot possibly coordinate the whole event AND get married at the same time. If you think I’m wrong then imagine standing at the altar while decorating your hall, cooking the entrees, setting up and checking A/V/lighting equipment and so on… not exactly realistic…

Essentially every one of the vendors you’re thinking of hiring will have to provide, pull through and help move along the event smoothly, with no hand holding from your part, this being the only way you will ever enjoy this day along your bridal party, parents, relatives and all the friends you invited.

Soon it will be pretty apparent whoever gets the final nod has to be knowledgeable, reliable and friendly, in other words you have to hire people you like and in doing that your own personal comfort is really what you’re looking after. For a lack of a better metaphor, a good wedding vendor is like a good pair of shoes. They are stylish and well made yet comfy so you can wear them the whole day without ever feeling bored, bothered or tired…

Continue Reading »

Just Another Photographer

Recently I’ve been part of the Canada Wedding Expo as a vendor with our studio, Studio Solaris Photography. It was definitely not the first time I found myself saying the same things over and over and over again and it got me thinking… You know, these poor souls we’re desperately trying to hook and sell our services to, have no idea how life does looks like on this side of the barricades. Most of the times this is their first such experience and by the end of it they are exhausted, confused and having more questions then before they started walking the show floor a good few hours back.
We as vendors offer a bewildering array of choices our prospective clients will have to wade through in their show post-mortem while desperately trying to recall a face to associate with the flier in hand.
“Honey… ? Who were those Studio Solaris guys ? Honey … do you remember?”.
As a side note, I’ve watched most of the “honey’s” out there being dragged thru the ordeal showing the same level of enthusiasm one contemplates root canal with and if the event organizers in their infinite wisdom chose running parallel with any weekend sports event, no matter how small, one will add invasive colonoscopy to the list.
So, how can I make everyone’s life (and implicitly mine) easier? A bit of insight into the inner workings of our way of doing business would most likely help somewhat, as explaining some personal pet peeves will as well (expect some ranting every once in a while…). How will I handle all this exactly? Umm…there’s no definite plan so far so, at times expect some disorganized ramblings.
To be continued…