I recently moved back to Canada after spending six years in the UK and another year before that travelling in Australasia. The move meant many things: a return to family, space, a slower pace of life, and, perhaps most notably, to a decreasing job market for teachers. I had been alerted to the decrease in the birth rate several years ago, when it was filtering through the elementary schools; as such, I had some time to figure out “what I wanted to be when I grew up.” With my hometown teaching prospects limited and having minimal interest in returning to the days of supply teaching, I had some serious thinking to do. I noticed that what had once been a simple interest in photographing people—an interest borne out of time spent in parks, on beaches and in other public places whilst travelling, where no-cost people watching is a great way to pass the time—had become an increasingly important focus when travelling in Europe during school holidays. I decided to figure out if this was something that I would be interested in and, more importantly, capable of doing full-time. After taking some courses to confirm my interest and solidify my skills, Moment.us Photography was born.
Now that I’m back home and am in the process of establishing my studio as a noteworthy and reliable brand, I’m discovering the importance of sites like Kijiji for marketing purposes. While researching, I was aghast at the number of ads posted offering photographic services, especially wedding photography for as little as $400. This led me to a number of questions, the most significant being “How do you know who to book?” The more I looked, the more straightforward the answer appeared: you get what you pay for.
Every photographer has to start somewhere. It’s very difficult to jump into the business and convince a client to pay $1500 for a package if you have no portfolio to display. I recognise that photographers need to charge low prices to get started; I’ve done the same in the past and have had to re-assess my pricing now that I have moved back home and am once again an unknown entity. However, it’s also important that prospective clients know why they’re paying what they’re paying. So
here’s a look at where your money should be going…
Let’s face facts: cameras, particularly good cameras, are expensive pieces of equipment. Then there are the lenses, which can cost three times as much as the camera body itself, and every good photographer will have several on hand. When you hire a photographer, you should know that you’re hiring someone who uses high-quality, reliable equipment and who also carries back-up equipment in case of problems. This means that you’re dealing with someone who has spent several thousand dollars on their camera and accessories. How can this person be expected to charge $400? A portion of any photographer’s expenses is going to have to be set aside for the purpose of investing in their gear’s maintenance or updating aged equipment.
It’s important to note that, with the increase in the accessibility of D-SLR cameras and the decrease of reliable jobs, photography has become a popular second/third/ fourth career choice because anyone can buy a decent camera. That doesn’t mean that the person you hire is necessarily knowledgeable; it just means that they decided to try something new. The quick-thinking, rapid-fire pace of wedding photography means there is very little time to think about ISOs, f-stops or focal lengths. Your photographer should not only be able to act quickly and predict
what will happen, so that they are ready for the next frame before it happens, they should also be able to do all of this in a professional manner.
Photographers choose to work with people, so they should be able to deal with clients and clients’ family/friends/guests in a way that makes everyone smile and feel welcome, while still getting the job done to a high standard. Wedding photographers are paid partly to relieve the bride and groom of some of the stress related to organising people on the wedding day. It’s the photographer’s job to coordinate people so that the shot list gets covered, great frames are captured, and the bride and groom don’t have to worry about who’s needed next.
The primary expense I tried to cover when pricing my wedding packages was my own time. It’s easy to forget that a photographer needs to get paid not only for the time spent at the wedding, camera in hand; there is also editing time and the hours spent producing those show-stopping wedding albums that showcase your beautiful shots. The advantage to hiring a professional over paying a friend or family member is that the hired photographer isn’t there as a guest; they are working. As such, they will be spending their time making special moments happen or capturing ones that occur on the spur-of-the-moment. A professional is worth their weight in gold because they will spend all that time at your wedding and then also take the time to pore over your photographs and make sure that each one is as good as they can make it. How much time will $500 get you?
My main issue with cheap full-package photographers is actually a simple concern about quality. Most of these packages come complete with a CD of images. Awesome. I can print the photos myself. Except what’s going to be on that CD? How do I know that my photographer was willing to take the time to edit my photos correctly so that they will look truly stunning when I take them to some basic photo lab like Wal-Mart? I don’t know that. I also don’t know that Wal-Mart’s going to be able to produce quality prints. So what happens if the CD is full of mediocre – or worse—shots? Do you go to Cousin Al/Uncle Fred/your best friend and say you want your money back? I don’t think so. So once again, it goes back to paying the photographer to take responsibility for producing a complete, high-quality product from prints to album.
I’ve seen a wedding photographer shoot a wedding with what appeared to be an Olympus 35mm ‘point-and-shoot’; I’ve heard of a bride who hired a cheap photographer who promised a CD of photos and an album ready in two weeks—four months later, a CD was tossed at her, no mention was made of the album and the photographer disappeared. Choosing a photographer, particularly one who will document your wedding, is an important decision. Have a discussion and decide whether or not photographs are a priority for you. If they are, I would recommend being willing to pay the price for quality.