Cheap wedding photography lives up to its name

A fellow professional photographer and I were chatting and a topic that always makes the blood pressure rise is the "photographers" who advertise on Craigslist.

This is not to disparage Craigslist - more and more, people use it to sell and barter, and as a believer in the capitalist system and a fervent supporter of that great American tradition, the small business, I am all for it.  But to advertise your services on it is free and with that comes the need for the consumer to be quite, um . . . discreet when choosing a vendor.  And especially so for wedding photography.

A quick search for "wedding photography" on my local Craigslist showed a lot of offerings.  I was surprised to see some that are very good.  And some are horrible.  I am not going to link to any of the offerings, but I can see how a couple with a limited budget might think "$500?  And we get all the photos on a disk?  Sounds like a deal!"  

And that is what my friend sheepishly admitted to me - he was one of those guys who said, "Hey, not bad - $300 and that's another thing checked off the list."  The price was right,a  photographer was needed, and so what could go wrong?

As it turned out . . . a lot.  He told me the pictures came back to them after several months and were not simply awful, but pretty much unusable.  Out of focus.  Bad lighting.  Weird poses. So oddly composed that you just look at them and say, "I . . . can't even . . ."

I did not believe him, so I asked him to send me some, assuring him I would keep his and his lovely wife's anonymity protected and use them for a blog post to warn others.

And here is the train wreck, in all the glory as it was delivered.

Bridal prep.  Such a happy time.  It's amazing how they make those "professional" cameras shoot just like cheap cell phones, ain't it?  And the angle of the shot - high to low - tells me the photographer likes to take his pictures one way: standing up.  Maybe a different photographer would clear some clutter and come in low over the bride's shoulder to focus on just her, thus avoiding all the rest of the stuff in the area.

Bridal prep.  Such a happy time.  It's amazing how they make those "professional" cameras shoot just like cheap cell phones, ain't it?  And the angle of the shot - high to low - tells me the photographer likes to take his pictures one way: standing up.  Maybe a different photographer would clear some clutter and come in low over the bride's shoulder to focus on just her, thus avoiding all the rest of the stuff in the area.

Here comes the bride!  Unbeknownst to her, the church was located over a major fault line, because clearly an earthquake is in progress to explain why the images is out of focus and tilted, right?  The "exit" sign may or may not be allegorical.  BTW, another photographer - in addition to focus and proper exposure - may have photoshopped the sign out, or may even have instructed the people to close the doors after she enters and eliminate both the sign and the light.

Unity candles have such meaning.  Which is why it is important to photograph the couple with their backs to the camera and hiding the candle.  Imagine if the photographer had used a wide angle lens and stood in front of them, to capture an image of them with their guests watching on happily.  I wonder if he bothered to attend the rehearsal and know this was going to take place?

Unity candles have such meaning.  Which is why it is important to photograph the couple with their backs to the camera and hiding the candle.  Imagine if the photographer had used a wide angle lens and stood in front of them, to capture an image of them with their guests watching on happily.  I wonder if he bothered to attend the rehearsal and know this was going to take place?

Uneven lighting is always attractive - not.  See that hose in the background?  10 seconds in Photoshop and it is gone.  But, maybe it's a metaphor or sumthin' . . . But note, the ground must have shifted in the earthquake because the picture is tilted.  Sometimes photographers employ a technique called a "Dutch angle" where the camera is tilted to emphasize, say, a strong diagonal in the image.  But to tilt a picture just to do so is a bad use of it, as are things like crappy filters and heavy vignettes.

Uneven lighting is always attractive - not.  See that hose in the background?  10 seconds in Photoshop and it is gone.  But, maybe it's a metaphor or sumthin' . . . But note, the ground must have shifted in the earthquake because the picture is tilted.  Sometimes photographers employ a technique called a "Dutch angle" where the camera is tilted to emphasize, say, a strong diagonal in the image.  But to tilt a picture just to do so is a bad use of it, as are things like crappy filters and heavy vignettes.

Somewhere in that gloom of shade is the maid of honor and the bride . . . I think.  The pose on the maid of honor suggests Victorian post-mortem photography; the poor dear done died of the heat and they propped her up, bless her heart.  Bright, sunny days do present certain challenges to photographers because unlike human eyes, the camera cannot adjust easily between extremes of light and dark.  And I am willing to bet that the photographer kept his camera on "auto" so that it just took an average for the exposure, resulting in very dark faces.  The solution would be to use a flash and underexpose the background . . . or find a different spot.  Based on the shadows, at least one side of the church was in full shade.

Somewhere in that gloom of shade is the maid of honor and the bride . . . I think.  The pose on the maid of honor suggests Victorian post-mortem photography; the poor dear done died of the heat and they propped her up, bless her heart.  Bright, sunny days do present certain challenges to photographers because unlike human eyes, the camera cannot adjust easily between extremes of light and dark.  And I am willing to bet that the photographer kept his camera on "auto" so that it just took an average for the exposure, resulting in very dark faces.  The solution would be to use a flash and underexpose the background . . . or find a different spot.  Based on the shadows, at least one side of the church was in full shade.

How many things can you find wrong with this picture?  Notwithstanding a tree line in trhe background where there seems to be enough shade to fit the group, let's try to get them all into that one patch of shade.  Oops, little Butch in front on the right didn't quite make it and has to shield his eyes.  That's okay, because there is a lady behind him in the witness protection program hiding her face while completely blocking the woman behind her.  Nice catching the bride in mid-nose rub.  Not quite sure where people are looking - I get the impression that standing behind and to the side of the photographer are people with cell phone cameras, so the folks in the picture don't know where to look.  Another photographer might have taken some command and told those people, "Let me get my shot and then you can take your pictures," then told the people in front of him or her, "Okay, folks, all eyes on me, please!  I will take a few shots consecutively so I can fix 'blinkies' so don't move until after I say I am finished.  Ready?  1 . . 2. . . 3 . . ."  Group pictures are a challenge, but you would expect your photographer to be up for it.

How many things can you find wrong with this picture?  Notwithstanding a tree line in trhe background where there seems to be enough shade to fit the group, let's try to get them all into that one patch of shade.  Oops, little Butch in front on the right didn't quite make it and has to shield his eyes.  That's okay, because there is a lady behind him in the witness protection program hiding her face while completely blocking the woman behind her.  Nice catching the bride in mid-nose rub.  Not quite sure where people are looking - I get the impression that standing behind and to the side of the photographer are people with cell phone cameras, so the folks in the picture don't know where to look.  Another photographer might have taken some command and told those people, "Let me get my shot and then you can take your pictures," then told the people in front of him or her, "Okay, folks, all eyes on me, please!  I will take a few shots consecutively so I can fix 'blinkies' so don't move until after I say I am finished.  Ready?  1 . . 2. . . 3 . . ."  Group pictures are a challenge, but you would expect your photographer to be up for it.

Egad.

But you don't have to make the same mistake.  Here are a few pointers when looking for a photographer:

  1. Know your venue first.  Your photographer must be aware of limitations and be able to accommodate them.  So, if you are going to get married in the perfect little chapel, but it is dark inside and there is a strict policy that no flash can be used during the ceremony, you need someone who can work in low-light situations, which means having professional grade cameras and lenses.  Knowing the venue allows a photographer to do some scouting to find spots for photos, rather than just "running and gunning" on the day of your wedding.
  2. Ask to see samples of a wedding they have shot, from soup to nuts.  How do they handle all points in a wedding, from bridal prep to the final exit from the reception?  Also, ask to see samples of albums they have designed.  Are pictures placed randomly or is there a flow that tells a story?
  3. Know your style and expectations.  When you're viewing a photographer's portfolio, and you want high-key, very bright almost-fashion photography and they shoot with warmer tones and prefer traditional poses . . . then there is a mismatch.  Don't expect a  photographer to match your style.  Find the one who does.
  4. Look for signs of professionalism.  Do they have a nice website?  Can they offer a contract for you to review?  Do they have insurance?    Are they a member of a professional organization like Professional Photographers of America or Wedding and Portrait Photographers International?  A professional photographer understands the cost of doing business and should be willing to meet to answer your questions, as well as allow you to get a chance to know them, even if it results in no sale.  Avoid egos.
  5. Be ready to do some work on your end if professional photography is not something you've looked at since your high school yearbook picture.  Attend bridal shows.  Look at the ads in them.  Contact several photographers.  Meet them.  If they are too expensive, ask if they can recommend other photographers who don't cost as much - or look for ways to afford them if you really like their work.  As an example, maybe you really want them for a few hours to do your bridal portraits and you'd be content with letting your brother's college buddy "try his hand" at shooting the rest.  The more you can define what YOU want and expect, the easier it will be to shop for a wedding photographer.

Fortunately, this couple are the type to be able to laugh about it, but maybe you wouldn't.  I can tell you, I have "fixed" wedding photography for other photographers where they messed up, but the images above cannot be helped in any way.

So, do your planning.  Give me a call, I would be happy to sit down and talk about how we can work together to make your wedding photography great!