Just when I thought I would have to think extra hard today for an article on how to be a professional photographer, or I might have to resort to talking about underwater knitting, I received a text message yesterday out of the blue from a young family acquaintance (a college student), which read:
“I got my arm twisted into shooting a wedding for a co-worker and she’s not paying me much. Do you have any tips for creative poses? It’s at the botanic gardens.”
If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you can imagine my initial reaction, especially if you’ve read such posts as “Mom With A Camera – Will She Kill Your Photography Business?”
But the question for me is, how should I respond to this question about wedding photography without causing any offense?
To Be Or Not To Be A Wedding Photographer
I thought it would be useful to start by analyzing the message to see what ideas we can get out of it, and then try figure out how to respond to each piece in turn.
Despite it’s brevity, the message contained no less than 5 clues that should have led the photographer to refuse the assignment:
#1: “I got my arm twisted…“
This sounds like he didn’t really want the job to begin with, for one reason or another, but he nevertheless succumbed to some kind of manipulation or emotional appeal from his “client” – kind of like a sales conversation in reverse!
#2: “…for a co-worker“
Obviously, this indicates that he felt a certain obligation because of their familiar relationship. I’m sure that turning down someone you work with and see most days could be a little awkward, but that’s nothing compared to what could happen if things go badly on the wedding day…
#3: “…she’s not paying me much…“
How many time have we heard this one? It certainly tells me that we either have someone who is on a really tight budget, or she believes she can take advantage of her relationship with our would-be wedding photographer to get a cheap deal. Either way, it’s not generally a good idea to take on any assignment where you’re not being appropriately paid for your time, talent and effort.
#4: “…do you have any tips for creative poses?“
This was the part that affected me the most, as I have a very strong belief in not “practicing” on someone’s real wedding, no matter how little the bride happens to value the wedding photography. This is a very strong clue that the photographer has little-to-no experience with photographing weddings, and is obviously concerned about how to approach it. I do know that he has some experience creating portraits, but I believe this would be his first wedding.
Jumping in at the deep end is not always the best thing to do – there may well be unexpected sharks waiting for you…
#5: “…it’s at the botanic gardens“
I guess this dispels the previous notion that his potential client is suffering on a tight budget – the botanic gardens is not a cheap venue for a wedding, so I think it would be fair to say she could probably afford to hire a professional wedding photographer if she really wanted (or cared) to.
So You Want To Be A Wedding Photographer
First off, I am not in the business of squashing anyone’s desire to be a professional photographer, no matter what their level of expertise.
If the love of wedding photography and the desire to serve others with true dedication are the primary driving forces for being a photographer, then bring it on.
However, there must also exist an equal understanding that there’s a BIG difference between loving the creative art of photography, and being a professional photographer.
This is not some conceited statement to scare people out of the business – it’s a simple and (to some) harsh reality.
But there’s no escaping it – and wrestling with the challenges of running a business can rob some photographers of their sanity!
Advice On How To Start In The Photography Business
With the above-mentioned qualifications in mind, here’s what I would say to anyone finding themselves in this position, not just this individual.
First, congratulations on having someone who thinks your photography is good enough to consider hiring you to capture the most important day of their life – her wedding! That’s a great compliment!
However, stepping into the role of a professional wedding photographer is not to be taken lightly. With it comes a huge responsibility, and there’s only one chance to get it right on the day.
Ask yourself, “how ready do you feel to take on this challenge?”
It’s very tempting to be fooled by the thought that, because she’s not paying you much, that her expectations will be lower and that she’ll be less critical of the results…
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Experience has shown that “cheap” brides are often the most critical, the hardest to work with, the most demanding, and can be merciless when it comes to meting out punishment for what they see as any shortcomings on the part of the photographer.
For example, if you listen to our recent teleseminar with wedding photographer Chris Cummins at “How To Engage More Brides And Book More Weddings“, you’ll learn that one of the few times that he had to honor his guarantee was with a cheap wedding like the one you’re describing. I can attest to the same.
Then there’s the technical challenges… if you haven’t photographed a wedding before as the lead photographer, or you don’t at least already have years of experience in some other genre, then I would strongly suggest that you intern as an assistant with another established wedding photographer in your area to learn what it really takes to do this.
You might even find that you don’t enjoy the experience at all, which will save you a whole lot of trouble further on down the road.
As I hope you can see, just coming up with ideas for “creative poses” doesn’t even come close to preparing you for the job of photographing a wedding.
Now I know that your potential client is a co-worker and that she’s probably applied some coercion or instilled a sense of obligation for you to do this for her, but I would strongly recommend that you turn this assignment down, for your sake and hers.
Explain to her that this is of critical importance, that it’s her wedding day (as if she shouldn’t already know that), and that she should consider some of the benefits of hiring a proper professional:
- Experience and know-how…
- Professional guarantee…
- Liability insurance…
- Capable assistants…
- Backup equipment…
- Timely post-production…
- Access to professional labs and book printing…
- Less personal familiarity makes it easier if there’s a problem…
- … and many others
At the end of the day, it’s your choice to do this, but you’ve been warned about the potential dangers. Trust me, nothing is guaranteed to put a crimp in your day more than an angry bride who’s unhappy with her wedding photographs. It won’t matter to her one bit that she made the wrong decision and hired someone because it was cheap – all she’ll care about is making a very ugly scene – with you taking center stage.
If you want some ideas on running a successful photographic studio, then take a look at my free “11 Days To Business Peace” photography business course…
How Would YOU Respond?
What did I miss here? How would you respond to this? Leave your thoughts and comments below, and do take a moment to share this with other photographers – they just might thank you for it.