Recently, I was tagged in one of those messages we all see on Facebook “I’m needing a wedding photographer that isn’t going to cost me an arm and a leg” type of messages. While I do appreciate my family, friends and fans alerting the public that I am in fact, a wedding photographer. But what I am not, is cheap. I get it, a young couple is getting hitched, they don’t have much in the way of resources to hire the absolute best of everything for their wedding, but going cheap on a photographer is more expensive than most folks realize.
In business, Opportunity Cost is a term that is frequently discussed. Basically meaning that you have a narrow window of time to offer a good or service to the public and if you miss it you have lost sales. For example, if you own an ice cream truck and decide to take a summer vacation you have paid for an opportunity cost. In wedding photography, customers pay an opportunity cost when they realize that they have hired a photographer that is not up to the task, or even worse not hired a photographer at all and some time later regretting this decision.
My “friend” is going to shoot it…
Recently on a flight from New York I had the honor of talking with a very interesting young lady who was coming up on her second wedding anniversary. Generally, when you tell people that you are a wedding photographer tasked with the capture (hopefully) of their happiest day, they will start telling you amazing stories of their wedding or a wedding they have attended. This trip didn’t disappoint.
But before I recount the tale of my travels, I would like to ask you, the reader, to think of all of the times that you decided to choose the inexpensive option. It might have been the inexpensive hotel on vacation, the too good to be true special at your favorite restaurant, or that cheap deal you found online. Almost always the phrase, “you get what you pay for” comes to mind. Most of the time good enough, is good enough. Other times we feel the pain of poorly researched options and because of imperfect information or blatant falsehoods we pay too much for what we thought was a fair deal.
Wedding photography is one of those you get one chance to get it right. A single opportunity to capture that moment the groom sees his bride cross the threshold of the rear of the chapel, arm in arm with her father. The unforgettable moment that the minister announces to the world that happy couple should be called Mr. and Mrs. All of those happy memories that will be forgotten unless there is a photographic record of the event to aid in telling the tale.
My travel companion told a story of hiring a family friend who had a nice camera, but no real experience shooting weddings. Her voice noticeably turned somber as she relived the results of her cost saving choice. She had an amazing venue, the perfect dress, a talented DJ, and many loved ones from both sides of the family. What she didn’t have were good photos documenting that it all had actually happened. Worse yet the photos she had were nothing more than digital pixels living on her Instagram account. My heart truly went out to her and wished that I was having this conversation during her engagement time instead of years after the wedding.
In our internet on demand world, consumers have been given the power to obtain almost anything instantly or have it delivered within a few days. It comes at no surprise that wedding photographers have attempted to mimic this trend. What has arose is what I call commodity photography.
If you are purchasing something that can be easily compared like AA batteries. They are easily researched on the internet giving the consumer an apples to apples comparison based on cost per battery. If you purchase the same battery from your local gas station convenience store you can expect to spend more. If you are purchasing them in an airport or your favorite theme park go ahead and plan on spending several times more than what Amazon has them listed for.
Photography is more of a service than a commodity. If you are in the mood for a steak you have choices on the level of service you want. At the bottom could be a Golden Corral, you aren’t expecting much for sub $20, but at least the soft serve machine works. A middle tier might be a Texas Roadhouse, the steaks are $20 to $30, the beer is cold, a good place to watch the game have a date night with your spouse or significant other. The top tier would be a Ruth’s Chris, this is a special occasion place, while I have never been there, but I hear the steaks are amazing and are well worth the price tag that are associated with the meals, make sure you bring a dinner jacket.
I use the example of the restaurants above to simply convey an idea that if someone opens a new restaurant that had the quality of Ruth’s Chris but charged less than Golden Corral you would find a business that would be busy for a short time, but would shutter the doors because the model is not sustainable. These businesses operate not just for love of preparing a fine meal, but are wanting to provide a living for themselves and their employees.
Wedding photography customers are over whelmed with options when they start looking for a professional to work with. They may attend a wedding show, search the internet, use a service like Wedding Wire or ask strangers in a Facebook group for recommendations. But to pick the cheapest alternative and expecting to get a Ruth’s Chris experience sounds like an expensive mistake. As the person that shows up may not have the experience and/or equipment to handle whatever situation they may find themselves in.
What do the pros recommend?…
I’ve always said that I am not the best photographer for every couple. But I am the best photographer for the couple that values what I bring to the table. When budgeting for things in a wedding, couples usually get their priorities all mixed up. I have attended weddings where the couple spent a tidy sum of money on food and drink and have most of the guests leave a few minutes after the cake was cut. I’ve been at others where a very talented DJ was doing an amazing job and have only the bride a few of her friends ever take to the dance floor. I’ve seen brides stress to no end over table center pieces that were not noticed by guests, expensive guest gifts not taken home and out of season flowers all but discarded at the end of the ceremony. Weddings don’t have to be expensive as long as you focus on the important things and leave out the unnecessary fluff. Even in my own daughter’s wedding we applied these rules in this priority:
- Venue – Find a venue that has the views, services, and space for what you want to do. A back yard wedding sounds inexpensive until the idea of rain or lots of guests parading through your house becomes unappealing.
- Dress – Pick the dress that expresses your dreams, but don’t be afraid to look for a boutique that rents them. Most likely you will wear it once and it will never ever be used again.
- Photographer – Hire the professional that you enjoy their work. Be sure to interview them, ask for references, see if they have insurance, if they shoot with professional equipment, and most importantly, do you like them. For a bride, your photographer will be with you more than your mother.
- Pastor/Officiant – There is actually a shortage of people available to lead the ceremony. They will book up popular weekends fast.
After this you can lump things together like guest lists, flowers, accommodations, etc. The key is, at the end of the day and the couple gets a couple of “I do’s” off and little bit of a kiss, then it has been a successful wedding. You are getting married, not putting on a show. Enjoy your day, drink a little too much, love on each other a little too much, and most importantly keep your photographer close, because they will be the one that will be there to document that the whole thing actually happened.