This guest blog is by a good friend and fellow Connecticut wedding photographer, Richard Esposito. In addition to being a photographer, RE as he is known, is also called upon to teach efficient workflow systems to other photography studios. To some lucky ones, he plays mentor. His Emmy (yes, that EMMY) not withstanding, RE is starting to reconnect with his video side and bringing true fusion to discerning clients getting married all over the world.
Needless to say, a lot has changed in the world of photography over the last 5 or so years. Remember film? Using the same camera for more than 3 years? Just about every professional photographer is using a digital camera that gets replaced with a newer, better, version after one year of use. It's become a rather expensive hobby for amateur's and a financial burden for some professionals. With technology getting better and especially cheaper, we've all seen a new type of photographer emerge. Call them what you will, uncle Bob, cousin Carl, or “I have a friend that took a photography class in college.” This is the new competition. And they are getting cheaper than the cost of the camera. I've heard of a number of professionals that have sold everything they had and closed their doors for good. We can't compete with free, or “I'll shoot your wedding and hand you a disc for $500. I know I seem to be getting off topic, but it's leading to our newest issue. You are not the only photographer at a wedding anymore.
Gone are the days of capturing a sea of guests with genuine emotion on their faces. Now you have to give an elbow to Aunt Clair who's blocking the aisle with her Digital Rebel in hand as the bride makes her grand entrance. I used to love capturing guests emotion during the first dance, parent dance, even the toasts. But now my subjects are a handful of guests with point and shoots held up blocking their faces, or the tops of everyones head because they are looking down at the back of the camera to check the photo they just took. My favorite moment so far was a photo of the bride going down the aisle from behind. Everyone in front of the bride has their cameras up, everyone that the bride has past is still facing the back of the church with the heads down looking at the back of their camera. Very few people stopped to enjoy the moment of a father walking his daughter down the aisle on her wedding day. I did have a beautiful photo of a bride coming down the aisle with great emotion on her fathers face. However there were hues of red and green across them both thanks to all of the focusing beams from guests cameras. That's an instant black and white! The cake cutting has become my favorite time now that I have no room to move around thanks to the crowd of people and cameras. It's amateur suffocation.
You are not the only photographer at a wedding anymore.
Just when you feel good that you are getting the job done, you're in the zone, there's a tap tap tap on your shoulder. It's Aunt Clair again, Rebel in hand, suggesting “that’s a nice photo of the flower girl over there. Look she’s spinning around! Hey girls look over here!” Well Claire, if you didn't just interrupt me I would be photographing that, but now i missed it so you can talk to me about it. While trying to capture an emotional father daughter dance, someone will walk up close to them and say “Hey, over here!”, completely interrupting the moment just so they can get a photo with their faces smiling at their camera. They completely missed the point. Welcome to a world where lighting, composition, creativity, and emotion don't matter to a wedding guest. All you need is a persons face looking at the camera.
Many of us put out a little slideshow of images at the wedding reception. It's been a great way to show guests your work and generate some business, especially with the reception venue. It also satisfies the instant gratification generation of guests. I've gotten home from a wedding and checked a clients Facebook page to see that she has already been tagged in photos that Uncle Bob took at the wedding. I can't compete with that. I hand out event cards at the reception with the website and password to see the photos “approximately 8 weeks after the wedding.” One night, after seeing the slideshow at the reception, the grooms step father comes up to me with his iPhone and has my online viewing website loaded. He said he couldn't get the wedding. Hello! I'm still photographing it! Really?! Many times I have guests say “Great! I'll check them out tomorrow.” Tomorrow? Let me hand you a few thousand photos, have you review and edit them and see how fast you get them all up. Let’s factor in that it's the end of the wedding season and you've just done 2 weddings per weekend for the last 8 weeks.
It's no wonder that professional Photographers are having a hard time competing with amateurs. We get in their way, we don't know what we’re doing, it takes forever to get your images, and we really expensive! If you think it's expensive to hire a professional photographer for one day, the emotional cost of hiring an amateur lasts forever.
The Price We Pay
So how do we convince an engaged couple to spend $3-10k with a professional? According to Market Watch, wedding photographers are the most overpaid jobs in America, saying “Total work for each wedding is generally a sit-down consultation combined with a single day spent following the happy couple. While equipment costs and film development must be covered, thanks to digital technology such costs have been heavily reduced. Unfortunately for the consumer, photographers do not offer any reduction in price for missed photos, amateur shots, or other mediocre work product.”
So let’s talk briefly about what it costs to be a professional wedding photographer. My second photographer here was looking to buy his own equipment. Just to start off with the basics he was up to $8,000. Imagine the cost of what I carry. Oh, and I have to insure all of it. Then there’s vehicle expenses, commissions for running credit cards, equipment repairs, I spent $1200 on postage this year (postage!!!), continuing education, computer and software upgrades, hard drives, hard drives, hard drives, it costs to make albums, some of us pay staff… I really could go on. Oh wait! providing for my family? Putting food on our table and the discount outlet clothes on our back? A professional photographer doesn’t have a “real job” during the week so we have to pay our own health care for our family, save for retirement, and hope for a weeks vacation that comes out of our pocket. I did 25 weddings this year and my expenses were double the average 2 person family income in Connecticut (according to census.gov).
For the other side of the story, the International Society of Professional Wedding Photographers did an awesome survey of photographers recently. I know when I started my business, everyone I knew thought I just worked weekends and did nothing during the week. We have a great lifestyle of taking photos, traveling, and partying.
Here’s reality: 70 hours a week through our 6-7 month season and 40 hours a week off season. There is no mention in here regarding time with family, charity work, and taking any time off. Only 12.2% off our time during business hours is spent taking pictures.
If I didn’t have the expenses that I have, or spend this much time getting everything done, I’d be out of business. I’d have to get a full time job and just do photography on the weekend. I’d be your Uncle Bob.
Update from Seshu: Since publishing this blog post above, there have been other similar posts out in the interwebs: