Levels of Photography

The Different Levels of Wedding Photography

About once every two months I have a bride call me up and want to know if person X can do their wedding for $1.35 cents why can’t we. So having just taken one of these calls I wanted to talk about the real value of wedding photography. But I think before I do that we have to establish that all photography is not created equal.

What I mean is that before you can talk about the value of photography you have to accept that all kinds of photography aren’t equally valuable. So I think I want to use this post to lay the groundwork, in a very general sense, of what the four major types of photography are.

What a great couple.

What a great couple.

The Guest Shooter

If you are old enough you'll remember that once upon a time in the 80s and 90s people used to stock disposable cameras at receptions for the guests to take pictures of the reception. The equivalent today is ask your friends to bring their pocket cameras and or cell phones and let it rip. 

I always thought this was a beautiful idea on paper, but poor in implementation. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people taking pictures of each other and no one taking pictures of the bride and groom. Or when the cake is cut everyone is standing in line for cake, no one is taking pictures of the cake. And so forth and so on. And let’s not even discuss the fact that most of those pictures are horrible, poorly lit and out of focus. Thats not exactly the way you want to remember your special day.

Lastly this approach calls for your guests to be working instead of enjoying themselves and celebrating your day.

Cost:Below $500

Typical Quality:Poor

Bottom Line:You’ll typically get a lot of bad or even useless pictures out of this approach with very few keepers.

The Family Member

Everyone has a cousin, uncle, brother, etc who fancies themselves a photographer. So you think to yourself why not save a couple of bucks and let them shoot my wedding. This one is a total crap shoot in that you could get a great photographer or you can get a crappy one. Wedding photography requires two things, knowing that if X is going to happen then Y is the best place to get that picture and knowing how to make a great picture quickly.

Really anyone with enough time can make a good exposure, The hallmark of the great wedding photographer is that they can get the great picture yet be completely unobtrusive most of the time. The more novice the photographer the more time and tries it takes them to get your picture and the less likely its any good.

There is also something to be said for hiring a party that you can force to be accountable for what they deliver. I mean if you “hire” Uncle Fred and he delivers pictures to you that look like he took them through a dirty lens with a glass eye you aren’t going to exactly sue him are you? At best you just get to look awkward around him at future family functions. I’m sure that will be fun...

Cost:below $500

Typical Quality: Poor to Great

Bottom Line:Treat this resource the same way you would treat a photographer you didn’t know, use the same process to decide if they are any good.

A beautiful clear night time picture.

A beautiful clear night time picture.

The Part Timer

The majority of “professional” photographers earn the bulk of their living doing something else. They just happen to like photography and they have had friends tell them “you should do it for a living” so they said why not. They bought a decent to great camera, printed some business cards and let ‘er rip.

They typically don’t have a website, or a dedicated gallery. The classic tell of this kind of photographer is they direct you to Facebook to see their professional “work.” As an aside whenever I find people that started a photography business because their friends said they should do it for money I always have to fight the urge to ask them how many of their friends actually ever paid them to shoot something.  

Anyway most of these part timers don’t have a ton of experience and have almost no references. Just like hiring a family member this avenue is a complete crap shoot. You could end up with the best wedding photographer ever or you could end up with a lot of blurry pictures.

Cost: $500-$800

Typical Quality: Average

Bottom Line: Screen this resource exactly the way you screen others.

I love flower girl pictures.

I love flower girl pictures.

The Professional

This is someone who makes the lions share of their living from their camera. Honestly it doesn’t even have to be that they earn it all from weddings, as long as they they make a living from the camera.

How do you know you have a professional on you hands?

  • They will have their own website, a dedicated email address (not a gmail.comor yahoo.comaddress) a business phone and the ability to take credit card payments.

  • They will have a portfolio of many clean crisp pictures. If there are pictures in a persons portfolio that are out of focus that means they take lots of out of focus pictures.

  • They will have pictures in their portfolio from many different settings. If a person has lots of pictures but they are all from three weddings that’s a good sign they’ve only done three professional weddings.

  • They will carry liability insurance.

  • They will have backup equipment.

These things are the simplest measure of a professional photographer in my opinion.

Cost: $1,000 plus

Typical Quality:Great

Bottom Line:Costs more but its worth it in the end which we will discuss next week. See you then!