Are you really a pro photographer?

Recently I was reading an article from Scott Bourne that really got me thinking about pricing and educating our clients on photography. You can check out the article here: And you call yourself a photographer

One of his main points really struck a nerve with me (in a good way) and also confirmed a lot of what I got out of WPPI this year. It was changing our viewpoint of the weekend warrior photographer, the craigslist people that are out there shooting $500 weddings. I used to think about them like a lot of you do, “who cares if some joe blow goes out and shoots $500 weddings on the side, the work is poor quality and if brides can’t see that there is nothing I can do”. I never really spoke out to brides against these cheapo photographers or other industry people. When I used to advertise with bridal magazines I never spoke to the editors about this problem to get them to write up about it. I basically just ignored it as something that was going on but wasn’t really a problem.

But some of Scott’s points in his articles I think we should all take to heart and start to advocate against these amateur photographers. Really the worst part about part wedding photographytime photographers working weddings is that the client is the one that gets hurt. They are having one of the most important days of their lives and are going to have bad photographs to remember their day. When their grandkids look at their photos on the computer (if they have backed up and archived that DVD they got) they will be poorly lit snapshots of the day. There could be a entire generation of brides that have bad wedding photos and because of that also have a bad view on photography. They might never want to have professional photos taken again because they don’t know how amazing a true professionals work can be. Bad photographers do put a stain on this industry and should be something that we all work to educate our clients and the industry about.

And I am really talking about part time photographers that don’t know the art of photography yet, they haven’t learned the true art of lighting, composition, etc… I don’t mean for this to be about part time photographers who have learned the art of photography and are committed to producing great work. I know we all start somewhere and when I finished up my degree in photography I didn’t go full time right away. I had a job to get by and did weddings on the weekend. But I didn’t take on my first job until I knew a lot about photography, I had multiple camera bodies, lenses, flashes. I have learned a lot since that first wedding over 11 years ago and will continue to learn every year, but I did have 6 years of training under my belt already.

Another thing he mentioned that we should all pay attention to is that these cheap photographers are dragging down the industry. They aren’t just effecting the clients they shoot for but as more and more $500 photographers come into the scene the pricing of wedding photography will go down. Sometimes when pricing goes down due to competition that’s a good thing for the consumer and the industry but in this industry it really isn’t. The main reason it isn’t is because most photographers don’t know anything about pricing and how to run a business. Full time professionals start to drop their prices because they feel the pressure to do so and the next thing you know they are running their business at a loss. They close down shop and open the way for more part time bad photographers to enter the scene. There is a very big reason why wedding photography can be expensive, it’s an art form that takes a lot of skill and creativity to produce great work. It also takes a lot of money to run your own business. Once you take into consideration your own insurance, cost of goods, equipment, computers, employees, you quickly realize that $3000 for a wedding doesn’t mean that much in your pocket at the end of the year. So the more that pricing is pulled down by cheap photographers the more real professionals that are trying to run their business legitimately are hurt.

I care way too much about the art of photography to see it suffer any longer. Any chance I get I will speak out about bad photography in the wedding industry and am going to be contacting all of the magazine providers. They always write up editorial content that sometimes hurts our industry. Speak out against it, if you advertise in a magazine suggest an article to them that shows the artistry and creativity in our industry. Maybe write an article about why clients might not always need a CD, something that shows a new perspective to some of the garbage that is out there.

I am an artist, always have been always will be. I will always promote the art in photography and will now be much more vocal about it.

And for those of your weekend warriors out there again this isn’t written to slam you. I want you to be inspired to create amazing work, take some classes before you take on a new wedding. Take a workshop, read a book, learn the art of photography first then shoot as a professional.

Also check out our other article on pricing here: Pricing your wedding photography

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Author: Mark

Mark is a fine art wedding and portrait photographer from Northern California. He has been passionate about photography since childhood and started his studio 12 years ago to bring a fresh style of photography to the wedding and portrait world.

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23 Comments

  1. Great article…I am still in the beginning throws of my photography biz. As of now I am concentrated on headshot, portrait and event photography. Many of my friends have been contacting me asking if I could do their weddings for them (and you can see how many people post on craigslist for cheap photographers). I tell my friends I am not a wedding photographer….”I am sure you will do great, and will be much cheaper” they tell me.
    I am sure I would do a good job, but not a great one. I usually tell them to hire a pro wedding photographer and I will come and second them if they like (and they have to discuss it with the main photographer).
    When I was starting my mentor told me something that makes me a better photographer, and businessman. Don’t undercut another photographers bid just to get a job, cause it will start a never ending cycle of people undercutting each other and then what will our service be worth?

  2. Thanks for the comment Mark and so right on! That is the best way to think about things, you know you might be able to do a good job but not a great one so give your friends the best advice they will thank you for later. Soon when you are ready then you will be able to do an amazing job for your friends and clients and make everyone happy.

  3. Kudo’s on a great article Mark! Couldn’t agree more and is the precise reason I will not shoot a wedding. I was offered two of them this spring so far! I declined for the express reason that, while I might do a half-assed good job, it would not be great! The Bride and family would be disappointed to say the least.

    Cheers
    Gary Paakkonen

  4. Thanks for the comment Gary!

  5. Hi Mark,

    Good article and some interesting points raised. I know that recent public youTube stoning of a low-cost wedding photographer certainly caused ripples across the industry.

    I’d be interested to hear your opinion on how to get the kind of experience that shooting weddings entails. It’s not something I’m particularly interested in, but I’m sure the same problems would occur in any line of photography. As Mark Manne has said above, he didn’t think he could do a great job so he avoided it, however without trying who’s to know if he could’ve done a great job? Albeit, wedding photography isn’t something Mark was looking to get into, but if it was he couldn’t endlessly turn down weddings for fear of doing a bad job?

    I’ve been asked by a friend to be the photographer of their college ball, now whilst I am studying day and night to become the best photographer I can and now feel I am pretty handy with lighting and portraits, as my first real paid gig it is incredibly daunting. I know if I’m to progress as a photographer it is a great opportunity to get my name out there and provide a great service.

    There is however a nagging doubt in the back of my head that says, what if you do a crap job? What if it isn’t good enough? I haven’t actually had the experience of shooting something like this, but surely the only way I can get experience is to do it?

    I certainly wouldn’t be undercharging, but charging a lot of money doesn’t necessarily equal a great photographer. I would just be interested in your thoughts on my situation.

    Thanks,
    Chris.

  6. Thanks for the comment Chris and really good questions. You are totally right everyone has to start somewhere. I think the question of whether or not you can do a good job really has to be answered honestly by yourself before taking on a job. If you are asked to do a real paying job but in your gut are a little bit scared that you might not have the skills to take on the job that might be a good indication to wait a bit. Granted you might always get a little bit nervous before a shoot but there is a difference between a little bit of nerves and not knowing deep down if you can do a job you would be proud of.

    When I first started out I jumped right into shooting weddings. Never assisted for anyone or 2nd shot (even though I do think that is a great way to see if you are ready by helping assist someone). But I had studied photography for 6 years in college and had finished up a degree in Fine Art. I started in the photojournalism school and had a really diverse training. Weddings felt somewhat natural for me and I felt on that first job that I could do a very good job. I was nervous still and even today get a little nervous before some weddings but knew I could do a good job.

    And if you still aren’t sure what your gut says, try and walk yourself through shooting a wedding. Do you know how to handle different lighting conditions, can you capture fast action, are you comfortable posing people, can you light a dark reception hall, the list goes on and on. Look at some of the best wedding work online and see if you could try and get a shot similar to that. Or are you totally in the dark about how a photographer could get something like that.
    Also ask other photographers you know to look at your work and give you an honest critique. Find someone you know and trust will give you honest feedback and ask them if they think you are ready. Email me your photos and i’ll always give you honest feedback :)

    Hope this helps,

    Mark

  7. Thanks for the response Mark.

    Yeah, I think it’s a difficult one for me to answer honestly having never had any experience in that field. But it’s certainly something I feel I could pull off. Deep down I think the nerves are mainly because it’s my first time doing something like this, and that fear is always going to be there, now and in a few years time.

    Good advice on walking myself through what would be involved in shooting anything I’ve been asked to shoot. I think I’ll write down everything I feel I will be doing then do a dry run through with some friends and see how well I cope with it all. Again, it’s difficult to get experience in something you need experience to fully do justice to haha! I don’t know what I don’t know so to speak.

    I’ll give the trial run through a go and I may just take you up on your offer, I’m eager for any advice I can get! Perhaps looking into assisting might be a good avenue to garner some insight into what I don’t know.

    But I hope my nerves are mainly down to taking the plunge with my first paid gig, and I’m going to have to take that step eventually. I think I’m caught at a crossroads that I’m nervous about moreso than my ability to do a good job.

    Thanks again,.

  8. keep us updated on how it goes Chris! And like I said I would be happy to review your images and give you feedback just let me know!

    Thanks, Mark

  9. i read some good points but i think badmouthing someone because their prices are cheap is pretty low. you don’t know for a fact that every photographer who charges a low amount for a wedding is a bad photographer. where i live, weddings are hard to come by because people want their cousin or uncle or whatever to shoot it with their new digital camera for free. even uncle jim bob can get some good shots when he shoots a bajillion images. that’s what’s really hurting the industry, if you ask me. the ease and relatively low cost of digital now a days. just remember when you’re talking bad about others to magazines, brides, etc…karma can be a you-know-what.

  10. Hi Rachelle,

    I actually agree with you that badmouthing someone isn’t productive. I don’t mean to badmouth people ever but do think there is a difference between badmouthing and being honest with someone. I do disagree with you that an “Uncle Bob” can shoot a bajilion images and get a few good shots, I think an uncle bob can shoot a bajilion images and get a bajilion bad images. I think the problem is that the standards for what is good has been lowered sometimes and some people don’t want to be honest with others. Some people no matter how much they love photography just don’t have it in them, they don’t have the eye that they need to be good. It might be a perfect hobby for them but just not the best profession. I want to talk good to magazines, brides, etc and show them what the standards should be for the industry so they can see the difference between good and bad. It’s all about elevating the art of photography and making everyone a better photographer so our clients can have the absolute best images of their day!

    Thanks for the comment
    Mark

  11. i have to agree with what you said about standards being lowered. i have an account on a modeling site and a couple of “photographers” that have befriended me are no more than GWC (gynocologist with camera)…they have soooo much CRAP on thier page, yet they continue to get praise all because the models they hire will get nekkid. so they think they are flippin’ awesome photogs and it’s really just because they happen to have some decent looking nekkid models on thier pages. yikes. so yeah, i have felt like just letting some of these “photographers” know what the deal is. but, i don’t. i just let them have their moments and hope they will one day take a good long look at thier body of work and realize it for themselves.

  12. Mark, I have been in the business 50 years. It seems there is a SBM “scrapbook Mom” on every corner. To me a professional earns theri living from photography. These people do not. They have a husband who has a good job and gives them his credit card and they walk into the camera store and ask the clerk if it will work on P. P for Professional. They know nothing about lighting or comp. usually have no working knowledge of the equipment and will go out and advertise themselves as Professional Photographers. Most have only one camera. NO lights. Oh Yes, They say “Ido everything with natural light” I had the experience of a SBM who I have know all her life , ask me to show her how to set up and use her Profotos. I did twice. Showed her how to do the proper light ratios. For a great Rembrandt light. She told me that was the old way. She would rather sell lime green grass purple skin and yellow blown out hair and face. She called it “Art” I am sorry. I simply can’t after spending all the years of my life learning how to do this correct. Embrace the trash that these wannabe’s are turning out. I have even know them to move in and shoot a town sports photos and run off with 5.000 dollars. The people never ever got the photos or their money back. I now do that town and everyone is happy. I am a Professional Photographer.

  13. Thanks for the comment Norman! You are right the excuse “I do everything with natural light” isn’t a reason to not know about light and learn it first. Even if you love that look and that is your style what if you get stuck at a wedding where there is no natural light and you are forced to use lights? Lighting is such a key to photography and is one of the things I have seen new photographers not pay as much attention to as they should. First step with any art is to learn the rules and then break them if you want to. Thanks for your comment, keep them coming!

  14. I took BIG offense to your attitude towards ‘weekend warriors’ and ‘part time photographers’. YOU had to start as an amature like all of us. Not all of us live in an area where you can charge more than $500 for a wedding because the local population is generally lower middle class. And don’t suggest I move either. If you can get away with charging $10,000 for a wedding, good for you. Just because some of us are forced to charge less does not mean we are not professional in our work ethic, skills and talent!! You are an arrogant and pretetntious putz if you do. I have seen some high quality wedding shoots for under $1000 that rivals ANY ‘professional’. And yes I DO consider myself professional because 100% of my income is drawn from photography and digital imaging services. I am a Certified Photographic Consultant, Certified by the SPFE and PMA. I may not shoot weddings as my mainstay but when I do I charge $3000 minimum. The only reason I do not charge less is because I do not think all the work is worth less than that. THAT is the difference between a pro and an amature…knowing WHY you charge more….and it has less to do with image quality than economics. I have seen a lot of point and shoot amature shoots that look like they were shot by a master.
    Get off your ‘higher than thou’ platform. I think you’re attitude warrants an appology.

  15. I think you missed the entire point. It’s not about how much you charge, it’s about knowing the art of photography before taking on a professional job. It’s about knowing that you have the skill to do a great job for your paying clients before saying you are a professional and taking on that job. LIke I said in the article “And I am really talking about part time photographers that don’t know the art of photography yet, they haven’t learned the true art of lighting, composition, etc”

    I took on my first wedding when I knew I could create amazing images for my clients. I had 3 bodies, many lenses, many flahses, reflectors, etc… and knew how to deal with different types of lighting situations, knew how to handle fast action, portraits and the many other things that come up in a wedding. Have I learned a lot in the 11 years since? YES, I have leaned and grown tons over the years but back then did I know I could do a very good job? Yes, I knew that brides could trust me with one of the most important days of their lives. I knew that I had the ability and skill to create some amazing images from them and knew my craft very well. I see people all the time that want to come out and 2nd shoot or assist for me that say they are ready to do weddings on their own but just don’t have enough business yet. After talking to them for just a minute I realize they still have a lot of the basics of photography to first learn before even 2nd shooting for someone yet along doing weddings on their own.

    Photography has been a passion of mine all my life. Being in the wedding industry for 11 years I have seen the average quality come down a little bit the last few years. There are some amazing talent out there but the average shooter isn’t as good as they were a few years ago in my opinion. My goal with this site is to help everyone (myself included) be inspired as artists and improve our art. I don’t think I am better than anyone just someone with a passion and a drive to share what I know and always speak my mind.

  16. Sadly, I saw an ad on Craigslist in my area. 800.00 for the wedding,2 photographers and to my surprise, the images were good,qite good actually. How in so-in so’s name do they operate only charging that is beyond me.
    I try to share and educate clients on Craigslist,with brief articles on ” How to choose a photographer” and I recieved hate mail from other photographers. Sadly too,this seems to be the attitude of alot of up newbies to the industry, a complete disregard for the industry and people in it.

    Yes,we need to educate the public,but we need to look at our industry as a whole. We share all over the net,our resources,our techniques etc etc. Camera companies are beginning to remind me of the companies that make the speed devices for law enforcement and then turn around and sell you the newest radar detector!

  17. I understand what you are saying however I believe that trully it is our job as professionals to sell our product on something other then price and by doing so the not so good photographers, because lets face it there are some bad fulltime photos too, will be run out of business because we educated our client on quality (versus pricing) and value.

  18. It is up to professional photographers to educate brides of the value they provide and let them be aware of what can go wrong. You cannot blame the amateur for simply fulfilling market demand for cheap photography. The perception that digital is “free” from cost is a large factor in driving our profession down.
    The photography most witness at a wedding is merely the icing on the cake and the experienced photographer makes it look easy.We must account for the fact that brides have no experience in purchasing such services,therefor we must advise them on the benefits that an experienced professional wedding photographer have to offer, guaranteed results, good back up equipment and most of all the ability to manage people for groups pictures within a tight time frame.

  19. I am, unashamedly, one of those photogs of whom you speak. And I did 2 weddings last summer. The results were good, and I knew they would be good, but they weren’t great. I have been shooting for a while just for the love of it, and have learned quite a few things over the years, and I have as served as 2nd shooter for 2 weddings. But I’m not great; I’m pretty average.

    But you know what? Neither of the couples were the type to notice or care if they were good vs great. I know what’s great, but they don’t & neither had the budget to pay for great. If I hadn’t agreed to do their wedding it was entirely within the realm of possibility they would’ve had poor instead of good.

    One couple was a missionary couple from Africa with almost no money to spend on a wedding. Their reception was a potluck. Sound awful to you? It wasn’t! It was one of the most joy-filled weddings I’ve ever been to in my life, and I’ve been to a LOT of weddings. I was priviledged to even be at their wedding, and humbled to be asked to do photos for such an amazing couple. It was my joy to serve them.

    And they LOVE their photos – their good-but-not-amazing photos.

    Oh, and the 2nd couple…they were the type to notice a little more whether their photos were good or great. They were in college and also had precious little to spend on photos. But they love their photos as well, and tell me everyone they show them to loves them.

    I think some of what you write has merit. Some, well, leans toward snobbery and lack of information/experience with some types of couples. It’s worth noting that not every couple will see what you see, or care about what you care about. If they love their photos and those photos bring back a rush of wonderful memories of their special day, what else matters? Certainly not the opinion of the photographer!

  20. WOW, what an intense article and such powerful thoughts….on which i have to agree with. My husband bought me a DSLR camera about seven years ago and i was like “wth” am i gonna do with this….lol I was so used to the point and shoot kinds. So i took a class on how to use your digital camera. I got use out of the class and progressed as the months went on. Now im not saying i was shooting weddings or even portraits..it took time…years!! As people kept seeing what i can do “fooling around” with the camera, they complimented more and more…which made me feel like i can actually do a portrait session. So i practiced on a family member, after editing and a few trial and error shots they came great! Word of mouth spread and i was getting jobs here and there.
    I say “jobs” hypothetically speaking, i wasn’t charging them. As the next year went by i got a few more jobs and that led to a wedding. I knew i wasnt confident in doing it myself, so at that time i was working as a “second shooter/learning” for a PRO that i know and i offered the wedding job to her, she priced it and we both rocked it! I have to say i should have at the time given myself more credit, but i wanted to be “safe”.

    After a long learning curve, studying the art of other peoples work, asking questions galore, reading articles and actually enjoying photography itself and knowing its not “just a hobby” you find something that you love doing and you thrive on it more and more!
    So with that i can relate to this article hugely and admire you for writing it! It is photographer like YOU who make photographers like ME wanna learn more and more!
    Thanks again!
    Christine

  21. Hi Mark, Thanks for some really great posts; especially the detailed post on your backup methods. I disagree with a lot of your points in this one. Clearly there is a market for less-expensive wedding photographers, and since quality of technology constantly goes up while prices of technology constantly go down, non-professionals can fulfill that market. Think about high-end luxury cars—the Rolls Royce has its own target audience, and the Honda Civic has its own target audience with very little overlap between the two. Is the Rolls Royce a superior product? Maybe, maybe not, but it does appeal to the consumer looking for exclusiveness, luxury, and reputation. The fact is, someone able and willing to pay for the Rolls Royce (your photographic services) doesn’t even want the Honda Civic (the weekend warriors, as you say). And no amount of preaching is going to make the Honda Civic consumer able and willing to buy a Rolls Royce. The makers of Rolls Royce do not criticize Honda for devaluing the art of automobile manufacturing. As a Rolls Royce-like photographer, if you want that high-end market, you have to price to it and market to it. I think you’re fighting the market when you should be adapting to it.

    By the way, I am not a wedding photographer. I photograph because it brings me more personal satisfaction than anything else and I’ve been doing it for 11 years. When a close friend asked me to photograph her wedding I, naturally, did it for free. I’m currently studying for my masters in arts management.

  22. Ouch! Im glad im not one of those! Strong point of view, and I do have to say I agree with much of it. I would never have the nerve to shoot a wedding without enough experience under my belt, much less charge for it. However, Like Deb mentioned I know people that unfortunately dont know much about photography and im surprised to see how really happy they can turn out to be with their really cheap wedding photos :-/. Many do not have the means to pay for an amazing photographer and for some investing more on a cake or dress is somehow more important to them. Like you say, it is an art form, but not many see it that way.

  23. I am super late on commenting, but I just found this article. Very valid points, but on the other side of things I see a lot of schooled and seasoned wedding photographers that suck while I will at the same time see good photographers posting on craigslist.

    But I cant ignore the fact that there are way to many people jumping into the “business” because their friends tell them they are great. And without a will to become a better photographer (they are already great remember) they continue to suck and suck and just cant see how bad of work they are already putting out. This just isnt in the wedding industry, but also every aspect of the photography industry.

    But yeah..too many times I see people think because they went to school for photography and pay a bunch of money to BS pro photographer organizations then they should get first dibs at all of the weddings and if they arent chosen then its the bride and groom that just didnt understand how much money they have invested in themselves….money not ambition or talent or practice.

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