When I was searching for a wedding photographer, I posted an ad on Craigslist stating what I was looking for and what my budget was. I got well over a hundred responses (and I’m still getting them, albeit at a much slower pace, maybe only one or two a day), and I sorted through all of them. Some of them were good (although most of them who were good were still way outside my budget – I put my budget in the ad, why respond if you can’t meet it? Why waste my time and yours?), but the vast majority of them were just terrible. Here are some of the pet peeves I ran into while looking through all these photographers.
Grip and grins. A grip and grin was a term we used in the Army for any photograph of two people standing, looking at the camera. Usually, they are shaking hands or both holding some award one is giving to the other. These photos are posed, forced, awkward and worst of all, boring. Most of the wedding photography I saw was basically nothing but a bunch of grip and grins, only instead of hand shakes, it’s arms around each other in a insincere hug, or people standing in a row. Any twelve-year-old can shoot a line of people standing on a church altar in fancy clothes and turn it black and white in Photoshop to make it seem more ‘classic’. I know some of this is going to take place at every wedding, but if these are the only photos you’re posting on your website, there’s something wrong. I wouldn’t pay a penny more than $20 for that kind of work. Unfortunately, most photographers do just that, then have the audacity to charge four digits for that quality of work. Please, I did higher quality stuff in the Army and didn’t make in a month what some of these photographers charge for eight hours of coverage, even when I was deployed. I lived in a tin shack for a year and ate out of Navy chow halls (which, to be fair, are at least significantly better than Army chow halls), and I was constantly subject to sexual harassment from 400 New Jersey infantry men, and about the same number of Detroit MPs. But even under these conditions, at pay that equaled out to $7.50 an hour after tax, I still did better work than some of the photographers I looked at. And I was not the best photographer in my unit either.
Inability to focus a camera. What really amazed me is how many professional photographers can’t seem to focus. I know focus can be a little tricky sometimes, but come on! For the prices you’re charging, I expect a sharp focus. And these are the photos they’re displaying on their website, you know it’s their very best. If their very best doesn’t even have a good focus, what does their average work look like? Seriously, if you can’t do it manually, at least use the autofocus (not that autofocus always does a good job either, but it’s better than nothing). And I can tell the difference between somebody who knows how to use their shutter and aperture to convey depth of field or motion in a photo, and somebody who’s just trying to pass off a blurry photo as something they did intentionally. Apparently the average consumer cannot, however, because there are a lot of photographers out there doing just this.
Overuse of black and white. Sure, black and white can be nice some times, but most of the time when I see it, I think it’s just an attempt to cover up lack luster work. So many people think black and white pictures are automatically better, and that’s easy to take advantage of. Black and white does not automatically mean classier or better photos. It usually means you’ve got a photographer who can’t do color (or can’t do much of anything). Not always, mind you, I’m sure some photographer is going to find my blog and leave some comment like “I choose to shoot in black and white because it’s more raw and real, but I can kick ass at color if I wanted to” or some other hipster jargon, and that’s all well and good. But that doesn’t change the fact that I still see an awful lot of shitty photography out there that, once converted to black and white, idiots think is art. And I know there are a lot of not very good photographers taking advantage of all these idiots that think photography is automatically artful if it’s in black and white. I’m sure that’s not at all what any photographer who visits my blog does, though.
Not to say all black and white photography is lame, hipster shit (and even if it was, I would be hypocritical to suggest that hipster shit never appeals to me, it most often does). Some of it is very, very nice. What I hate to see is bad photography being passed off as art just because it’s black and white. Even when I saw a photographer do awesome black and white, black and white probably isn’t going to be the best choice for my wedding anyhow. I am having a bright and colorful wedding that just wouldn’t be done justice if it were shot in black and white. Furthermore, I think it’s a crime to put beautiful red hair like mine in black and white. So I need a photographer who does awesome color work, and that is just few and far between. Why is this? Because of this stupid, hipster, black and white trend! Everyone thinks black and white is classier than color in every situation, and that’s simply not true! Ever looked through a National Geographic and thought “Gee, if only all these pictures were in black and white, then this magazine would be beautiful”? No! But very few photographers seem to even bother with color, because all these idiot people think only black and white is classy. Frustrating!
(Note: I had the pleasure of participating in a press escort of National Geographic during my deployment to Guantanamo Bay in 2004. Here is a link to the article. In the photo “Clear Warnings”, you can see my ear, right next to my former first sergeant. If you can find the print article, there is another picture of me eating in the community kitchen. A friend told me, upon seeing it, that I looked like an anorexic getting ready to puke myself. In actuality, I had just popped a fried plantain into my mouth. This was my 15 minutes.)
Also, I don’t like the whole, all-black-and-white-except-for-a-single-rose-in-color style either. I know many people do like this, and that’s a matter of opinion. It’s not for me. Maybe some photographer can change my mind about this by sending me some wedding work done in this style that looks modern, but all of it I’ve seen looks really 1992 to me. It’s just way over done. Like black and white. And white gold. And diamonds.
Out of state photographers. Okay, there’s nothing wrong with being a photographer from another state. What irritates me is how many photographers from out of state responded to my ad for a wedding in Denver. A lot of them came in with bids under my budget, but didn’t include travel costs, which put them over budget again. Furthermore, I can’t justify flying someone in from out of state to take pictures at my wedding when there are photographers right here in town. To be fair, I didn’t put in my ad that I am passionate about supporting local economies and that I’m trying to keep the carbon footprint of my wedding as low as possible, but I didn’t think in a million years I’d get so many photographers from all over the country responding to my ad! I thought that my ad for a photographer for a Denver wedding would appear only in the Denver Craigslist listing. Apparently not.
High prices without offering much. I ran into a few photographers, not many, but a few, who were so outrageously priced I wouldn’t pay for their services even if I had a million dollars to spend on my wedding. This is because even if you’re very, very rich, there is still a line where once you cross it, you feel like you’re just throwing money away, and any rich person who habitually just throws money away is not going to stay rich for very long. There is just no way I’m going to spend $2500 to $3000 on 8 hours coverage with one photographer and a disc of photoshopped images, when for the same price I can get similar style and quality, full day coverage by two photographers, wedding albums, prints, and a disk. I got schooled by a professional photographer about costs of running a photography business the last time I complained about photography prices on this blog, but there are some people out there crossing the line. Especially ones who I know have full-time jobs that pay well in addition to their line crossing photography business (specifically, a photographer recommended to me who happens to be a friend of a friend).
Bad lighting. Lighting is hard. The flash is tough to get the hang of, and there is a bit of math involved with getting the aperture and shutter speed just right, especially in challenging lights. I have sympathy for that because I always had trouble with lighting when I was doing photography. A lot of times my photos were dark or blown out. I didn’t usually publish those pictures, though. I worry when I see a website full of really dark photos (which seems to be more common than blown out), especially if the photos were taken during the middle of the day outdoors. I worry when I see photos of people with flash face, you know, that really obvious, I-just-had-a-flash-go-off-in-my-face look. I worry about this because when I see this on the website they’re sending out to potential new clients, I know that the majority of their work is going to be even worse than this. I mean, I understand that some photos come out like this, and sometimes, it even kind of works. But if all photos are like this, there’s a problem.
Look, I know that photography is hard, it takes a lot of skill (which must be learned) and an artistic eye (which is a talent one is born with, but can be honed and advanced). But surgery is also hard, and most of us would not choose a less than good surgeon because we can sympathize with how hard their job is. When given the choice, we choose the best our money can buy. I certainly was not the best photographer in my unit, I got into my MOS to write, not to take photos, so I don’t really want to be passing too much judgement on other photographers out there. If you guys look at the GTMO newsletter, The Wire, from 2004-2005, most of the photos are mine, you will see I’m not a good enough photographer to meet my standards for hire. I can admit that. But this is my money I’m spending, and I want the best my money can buy.
This post is mostly just bitching about what I see out there, what people expect me to cough up my money for. I feel like the wedding industry thinks I’m stupid enough to pay thousands of dollars on things that suck, not just photography, but everything. It’s not to say that all photographers out there suck. I had a pretty long list of amazing photographers after sifting through all the responses I got, and I’m really, really excited about and happy with the choice I eventually made, Clara Images. I feel like it is the best quality for the money, and I really like the women who will be my photographers personally too. I guess I was just amazed at the ratio of crap to good stuff in the professional photographer world, and wanted to vent about it.
I am very, very glad that I’m no longer looking through photographers.