the winter of our wedding discontent

It's been a while since I opened up a can of worms here, and I figure I'm long overdue. So here it is, and here we go. Pardon me for being so honest and blunt - it's something that seems to have gone out of style.

For many years now there has been an ongoing battle between brides and photographers. Disgruntled, stressed, upset, and feeling misunderstood, both have, over the years, taken to blogs, forums, and craiglist to voice their frustration. Why can't we all just get along?

On the one hand we see photographers writing posts explaining their prices by making detailed accounts of all the equipment they own, in some cases equipment that they don't even own or use anymore. They cite things like business licenses and give laundry lists of all the things they spend time and money on like gas, packaging, internet, and conference fees. They talk about paying taxes. They call this disclosure of expenditures "educating brides" which is really a fancy way of saying, "I feel like I have to justify my price!"

Some prefer using something that I can only liken to bullying. They alternate between bullying other photographers and bullying brides. If they are trying to squeeze out the competition they might do so by promoting their particular style of shooting and photography as being the right or correct quality a bride should look for - two or three ~insert brand name and model~ camera bodies, a throng of staff to carry and set up lighting equipment, particular types of posing and post-processing that of course highlights how the pictures will look if they shoot your wedding; at the other end of the spectrum, some promote a more organic hippy stance by stating that a true, passionate photographer needs little and actually shoots with their heart and shows up alone with their trusty camera in hand, thereby offering intimacy and consistency that could not otherwise be obtained by the intrusion of multiple shooters and eliminating the wasted time required to set up portable lighting systems. Horse crap, all of it.

When educating brides, some photographers will suggest things like cherished memories being put at risk and generations of children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren being denied the pleasure of enjoying photographs. They tell you that you get what you pay for, implying that paying less than (approximately what they charge) is irresponsible. They frighten stressed out brides into worrying that someone under qualified will not take a picture of the unique handmade Etsy pen with humanely acquired flamingo feathers that coordinates perfectly with their bridesmaids' earrings and the groom's shoelaces and their precious pen (that they actually keep in the same box as the guestbook right beside the wedding album you created) will be forever forgotten if they don't hire the right photographer. Yes, a person dropping the price of a car on a wedding wants a detailed pictorial spread of their wedding, but that doesn't mean they should be scared of failing to provide adequate images for their offspring.

In response to hearing that they are being irresponsible, uneducated cheapskates, brides get angry, and rightfully so. Yes, some might not understand why wedding photography is so expensive, and others might genuinely not care. Some might only take into consideration hard costs plus one day of work and add that up in their head to way less than what most photographers, even newbs on their first wedding, can afford to work for without actually losing money. They feel like (or have been told by planners/friends/family) they should haggle for a discount like they did with the linen company and the bartenders. Wedding sites feature has-been brides giving will-be brides tips based on their limited experience (really, most of us plan one, maybe two weddings if we screw one up if we're not on the Liz Taylor wedding plan) within their limited circle, which leads above all to some pretty serious misunderstandings and unrealistic expectations. Try and remember that when brides start looking at the bill for even a simple wedding for under 100 people, their heads are spinning and their bank account is taking as much of a hit as yours is when you upgrade your camera body.

It longs to be stated that brides and photographers need to be aware of the economic environment they are in. If you live in a time or place that is financially stable chances are good you will be charging/paying higher prices than living in a time and place where unemployment rates are high and the real estate market has bottomed out. Understanding this basic principle might allow both sides to understand how photographers in one area seem pretty affordable while others seem to be able to make money hand over fist, and why it might flip flop the next year.

A photographer who wants to target high-end clients isn't likely to recruit them by placing free ads in Kijiji any more than a bride on a shoestring budget is likely to be able afford someone who is so renowned they have an entire line of camera doodads named after them. Competition gets more and more fierce the higher up the totem pole you want to go - you are vying for more dollars from fewer clients - and the lower-priced photographers might not charge as much as you but are making as much or more money because they have their pricing in the right range to attract clients. There' a fine balance we must each find along that spectrum where we feel we are being paid "enough" with a clear understanding that "enough" is relative and therefore not the same for everyone. ***This of course excludes people who conscientiously underprice themselves in an attempt to undercut the competition, which does as much damage to that photographer's future success as it does to other photographers' immediate success.***

The outcome of all this is that brides accuse wedding photographers of being crooks and wedding photographers accuse brides of being stupid, neither of which is representative of anything more than sheer frustration and stress.

Let's take a step back and look at this from both sides so we can seek first to understand.

First, photographers, let's remember that your bride has to pay for her venue, her dress, her favours, her bridesmaid gifts, her wedding commissioner, her food, and her flowers. She doesn't care what you spent on your primes, your taxes, or your annual camera cleaning fees any more than you care about how much her napkin rental and pedicure cost. In whole or in parts, it costs a lot of time and money to put on a wedding just like it costs a lot of time and money to build up your business. So quit bringing that up - it's an ineffectual argument which sounds more like a pissing contest than a practical argument.

Second, nobody has the same taste in photography. I like Ansel Adams images but would not want him shooting my wedding. I love the style of images created by Lisette Model and Dorothea Lange but I'm pretty sure their stark approach appeals to few. (Yes, I picked non-wedding photographers on purpose.) The point is, there's no accounting for taste, so putting it out there that checking to see if post-processed images feature creamy, flawless skin or implying that people who choose to shoot natural and available light over strobes are "unprofessional" is attacking your couples' personal taste as much as other photographers' styles. There's no need to go there.

Third, trying to guilt potential clients into thinking their entire day will be ruined if they don't spend enough on their photographer is just plain mean. Brides are stressed enough as it is. Casually tossing out things like how much they will regret not spending more on their photographer causes unnecessary panic. For starters, not everyone gives a damn about their pictures - as much as we like to tell ourselves that we are the bomb, entrusted documentarians of history and chosen recorders of fleeting moments (and yes, I tell myself this all the time) really, some people are totally not. into. pictures. Hard to believe, but it's true. On the wedding day, some people are much more concerned with making sure they can afford to serve an amazing meal and have an open bar than have artsy pictures of them and their new spouse necking under a bridge that their grandkids will probably point at and laugh saying, "What was with your tacky dresses back then and what's with the bridge - wasn't there a nice flower garden nearby?"

I think it's absolutely reasonable and necessary when promoting the value of our skilled services on the wedding day to point out that hiring a photographer who specializes in documenting the day and all its details is a sound investment, but saying that not spending top dollar on a photographer will damage their own and their family's ability for possibly generations to come to properly commemorate one single day in what is ideally a decades-long relationship filled with love, laughter, births, graduations, travel, and an entire mosaic of other shared experiences that normal couples might encounter in addition to (or in spite of) the wedding itself is... ridiculous. It's a high-pressure sales tactic that (yes) works, and if you wan't to use it, go for it, but don't get mad at brides who choose to go elsewhere and claim they are stupid or uneducated - accept that you aren't the right photographer for everyone and move on.

At the end of the day, I feel like this subtle (and not so subtle) kind of bullying and fear-mongering are inconsiderate of both your peers and a brides' aesthetic or personal preferences and financial considerations. They are marketing tactics that will work sometimes, but not always. It's not the most dramatic or flashy thing, but if we stick with stating facts like, "This is my style and I am like this and my prices are as follows," brides will make their decisions accordingly. Putting it in expert *I* context like, "I would look for this and that and if you don't hire me you're great grandchildren will need therapy," still doesn't change the fact that you're putting yourself in the spotlight by making sure you cast a shadow of fear, doubt or disrespect elsewhere. In short, it should be more than enough to toot your own horn and highlight what's great about you and your style and your services, and leave comparisons to the rest of the industry out of it.

Brides, when it comes to hiring a wedding photographer, there are (really) only 4 things to consider. This should translate not just to your wedding photographer but your planner, caterer, and florist, too. If you want the most from your wedding vendors, making your first question if we offer discounts, telling us why you refuse to pay more than $X, or publicly bashing our profession on our Facebook Fan page is probably a sure way to ensure that when you come a-calling, we will all find ourselves suddenly busy on your wedding date. Whining about how much your wedding already cost and asking us to cut you a deal will be met with us rolling our eyes - we are businesses and have no more sympathy for you based on how expensive your hair piece was any more than you care about how much our last professional development workshop cost. Here's how it should go down for you so you aren't bankrupt, disappointed, expecting miracles, or getting unnecessarily angry:

What kind of pictures do you NEED? While most of us photographer types like to try and shoot something a little different every now and again, if you need professional headshots for your real estate company, asking someone who specializes in risqué stripper posters might not get you very far. Therefore, taking the time to find someone who actually does wedding photography regularly as part of their services is a huge step in the right direction. If someone with a solid portfolio of nothing but peacefully sleeping newborns and cute kittens with lolz captions wants to break into the wedding photography biz
or your sweet but slightly unreliable Cousin Sue offers to do it for free with the brand new camera she has asked for her birthday and will receive the week before your wedding, be aware of the potential risk you are taking towards not getting the pictures you want OR need.

What kind of pictures do you WANT? Photographers have very different styles not only of shooting but of post-processing (Photoshopping.) Your number one defence against getting pictures you don't like is to look at the photographer's portfolio - the whole thing, from babies and models to grasshoppers and flowers. Whether you prefer casual, romantic, natural light pictures or glossy, posed, polished glam shots, weird angles and funky lenses with heavy textures and trendy colourations or simple, classic portraiture, there is a photographer out there who does that. Find one whose style you like and you are much more likely to be pleased with the results than if you send us the portfolios of 5 other photographers you admire and ask us to shoot like them. (That actually makes us feel bad and unhappy, by the way - please don't do that...) If a person has only strobe-lit in-studio shots of babies or images of gerbera daisies on their table which sits beside a north-facing window in their portfolio, it's prudent to assume they might not have much if any experience shooting high-glitz weddings in full sunlight or pulling off usable images in a dimly-lit church. And. If their entire portfolio is full of jaw-dropping wedding images, you should expect to pay a price that reflects that, which leads us to:

How much are you WILLING to/CAN you afford? If you love the style and talent of a top photographer, then you must be ready, willing, and able to spend top dollar for the years of training, skill development, and experience that have gotten them where they are - don't haggle them on their price or badmouth them as crooks or whack jobs. They've built up to their price by providing superior products and services and shouldn't have to justify or explain to you why they charge so much. Be happy for their success and don't take it like a personal insult or intentional gouging. If you only have $1000 to spend, chances are good that someone who has a minimum investment of $5000 for their starter package will not be willing or able to accommodate your budget. If you REALLY want them, you *might* ask them if they will shoot just your formals for that price, and if the answer is no, don't get mad... keep looking. Now. If you are looking for savings and choose to give a newcomer a chance, that's awesome - we all start somewhere and are truly grateful for those opportunities. But in that same token, you need to be aware that you may or may not get consistent or professional results and products. Someone might cut corners by using discount vendors or provide inferior products to pad their profit margin if they are undercharging and/or may not have all their business licences and insurance in place if they are just starting out. This might be why you are getting such a great deal but as more and more venues both in North America and abroad require proof of both it's something you need to at least be aware of, because it affects you even if it's just Cousin Sue or Uncle Bob doing you a favour.

Regardless of what your budget is though, the biggest thing is to make sure you check out your photographer's portfolio (refer to previous point) so you have a crystal clear idea of what you are signing up for and have realistic expectations. Some brides (1% of the population so I hear) have no ceiling as to what they can spend, but really, most do. If your pictures are really important to you or you want bragging rights to having a celeb shoot your big day, then you should probably reconsider your lobster. If you just want some pictures to scrapbook and prefer to be able to pay for your bridesmaids' dresses, then you can't expect to afford just any photographer. Simple as that. As a side note: Often you get what you pay for, but if you luck out and get a great deal AND get amazing pictures, chances are that your photographer won't stay at that price so be sure to tell your friends how awesome they were not how cheap they were ;)

Is your photographer someone you LIKE? If you call and they are rude on the phone, if their website reads like a telephone book, if they don't respond to your questions in a timely and efficient manner, or if they seem too eager to take you on as a client and BFF, then you may need to start back at Step 1. Whether your pictures are wonderful or horrible, a photographer will likely be with you for the entire day and you will always remember them and the experiences you shared with them as much as the day itself when you look at the pictures. If you sense a lack of professionalism, see a personality clash coming on, or feel uneasiness with them for any reason whatsoever, keep looking or your ability to enjoy your pictures will be tainted regardless of how much or how little you spend.