In the ever-changing market of wedding photography, where everybody with an iPhone or consumer-grade camera feels that the only thing separating them from the "big boys" is a catchy brand name for their flavor of photography, the advantages of hiring a true professional seem to be more unclear than ever. In reality, the advantages of hiring a professional wedding photographer are not any more complicated than with any other professional.
A Professional photographer is a person who, first and foremost, dedicates himself to photography as a full-time profession and craft. Particularly in the realm of wedding photography, the responsibility of the photographer is to be precise in creating photographs properly, under any circumstances and usually on the first attempt. There's no TiVo for life, no pause button and no rewind. If you miss a beautiful moment, you can't ask people to reenact it. Moreover, these moments rarely occur in a time or place where lighting and surroundings are optimal and it takes a mountain of experience and knowledge to handle any given situation at the drop of a hat. Many photographers can create stunning pictures in an open field under perfect lighting conditions but what if you aren't getting married in a field? What if you'll be spending the day in a poorly (or "intimately") lit chapel?
In short, a professional photographer has the experience to handle any situation that is thrown at him and still produce excellent results. A professional isn't going to come to you weeks or months after the wedding and explain that the reason the pictures of the expression on your spouse’s face the first they saw you coming down the aisle are blurry, out of focus and underexposed is because you picked a church that was too dark.
A thought about the word ‘Professional’ itself. When we think professional in terms of a photographer, we immediately think they do it for a living, not just as a hobby, but also think in terms of any other field. Professional also means businesslike. Being a professional means that you conform to the standards of not only skill and competence, but character. Whenever you hear someone saying "that's very unprofessional," they're not usually referring to how well someone does their job. They're usually making a comment about their behavior. Perhaps the biggest advantage to hiring a true Professional is that they will act like a professional.
Brides need to be aware there is always someone looking to create a niche for mediocrity and the perceived value of different services can be difficult to balance with actual value.
The price of photography services, like any other art-based service, is usually not based on the cost to the artist but on an arbitrary value and often the price of something can subtly affect the perceived value. In other words, take a great product and start selling it for 75% off and people will start thinking less of it, simply because it's cheaper and is on the shelf with lower quality products. Take a low-quality product and triple the price and gradually people will think more of it because it’s now comparable to something of higher value. Of course Buyer's Remorse always sets the scales back to zero. After you forget how much you paid, you have a clearer picture of the value the item as it actually feels to you personally.
In reference to our topic here, you can't judge a photographer strictly by their price and there isn't any magic dollar amount that certifies that you've hired a professional. Unfortunately, most brides base their search for a photographer almost completely on price. Two common methods of selecting a photographer (or other vendor) are the following.
Because of the fickle nature of pricing within the industry, neither method addresses the problem of actual value vs. perceived value and, unfortunately, Buyer's Remorse will be more of a cruel reminder than a lesson learned since most people only get married once.
To quote a brilliant colleague of mine - "[during a consultation] We always politely ask...'Are you making your decision solely based on price?' I then remind them that we work very hard on our craft to be considered one of the best in our field. We never had dreams of one day becoming the cheapest photographers in the world.'" Another local pro I know adds "competition based on price alone is ALWAYS a race to the bottom."
Photographers whose prices perfectly match what you expect to spend may not be the best match for you. The advantages of hiring a professional cannot be expressed simply by saying "If you pay a lot, you'll get what you want." The chemistry between you and your photographer is the key. Assuming all the criteria mentioned above are met, the compatibility of the couple and the photographer and that person's style of photography, (the pictures themselves and how they are captured) may be a thing that gives the client the strongest advantage in the end of getting pictures they’ll treasure and will help preserve the memories of their happiest moments.
So here's the formula:
First go to theknot.com, WeddingWire.com, bridal magazines, where ever you can find a directory of the pros in your area. Most of them will not have pricing right out in the open, so browse websites and make a list of the ones that have photography that you fall in love with. With that list, whether you made it a list of the top ten most expensive photogs or a mixed bag, at least you know that you love everything on the list. NOW, amidst that group of photographers start to make inquiries, get basic prices and then meet with the ones who are basically within your budget, seem to fit your personality and the tone of your wedding day. Don't immediately rule out someone if they're prices scare you. Many of them will be willing to customize a package to make it work within your budget*** Make sure they have the experience necessary to handle the challenges your wedding day may pose and have the tools and equipment necessary to enable full use of all their creative and technical skill. Judge whether they carry themselves in a professional manner and you will have made a great choice!
***This one tip is "worth the price of admission."
Spend. Money. On. Wedding. Coverage.
If you're on a budget, don't get your mind set that you have to have a wedding album, parent albums, 3 canvases a slew of prints and several extra sessions and a second shooter. You may work yourself into a corner where you're paying for 5 hours of wedding coverage, in which time you'll be stressed out trying to get all your pictures done and still get married, your photographer will have to make judgement calls on what he/she has time to do and what must be left out, and in the end, that gorgous album you spent half your budget on won't be even half full of pictures that you truly love. You have the rest of your life to have it all. The only thing you must be sure to get right is the wedding day. No Pressure, but if you make finding the right professional for your wedding day your top priority, you will have the right foundation to have photographs that you will cherish for a lifetime.
::about the author::
Brendon is a photographer in the Birmingham area, available worldwide for nearly any project or event. Visit his main website (linked below) to see his portfolio, resume, bio or to get in contact. Add this blog to your RSS feed and "like" his Facebook Fan page to receive fresh photos and content.