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Don't Ask Me to Shoot Your Wedding

For obvious reasons, most of my friends know I'm a photographer. At least some of my friend's friends also know, probably at least some that don't even know me personally. Every now and again, I get asked to photograph a wedding. After all, I am a photographer.

A camera is a tool. A photographer is the name we give to someone who has experience in using that tool. In a reasonably comparable way, a carpenter is a person skilled in building things out of wood and other construction materials. But not all carpenters are equally skilled in all typed of building and construction. A person with years of experience in framing houses may not be the best choice for fabricating the body for a guitar or violin, even though they are made of wood. A master craftsman cabinetmaker would likely be a poor choice for framing a house. While both use woodworking tools to ply their trade, there are significant differences in the challenges each faces to create their respective products. This same distinction can be made in most any broadly defined craft. It definitely pertains to photographers and what they photograph.

My primary interest is in landscape and nature photography. Shooting in the outdoors brings with it more than a few exposure challenges. The subject brightness range between full sun and deep shadows is more than a single exposure can record with detail, even with modern cameras. Wedding photographers also have exposure challenges, but not often from the same source. Wedding dresses are typically pure white, and the groom's tuxedo is most often black. Over or underexposing a wedding would likely result in either a burned out white wedding dress or a groom blocked up with no detail showing. Either way, the net effect would be a dissatisfied client.

Wedding photographers and nature photographers both have other lighting challenges too, but from different causes. Shooting early or late in the day, the foreground will probably be in shadows while the background is still lit by the sun. Traditionally, the solution was the use of graduated neutral density filters, but this has given way to techniques involving high dynamic range (HDR) merges. Wedding photographers often work indoors where lighting challenges are amenable to the use of additional artificial lights. I really can't light up an entire valley floor, but the inside of a church can be. The typical professional wedding photographer travels with several thousand dollars' worth of lighting equipment and has the skills to use it. While I do have a modest lighting set up, I wouldn't consider myself the best choice for lighting up a church on what could be the most important day for the couple getting married.

And it's not easy catching just the right moments in any type of photography. But whereas I might be bummed out by flubbing a sunset, there will other sunsets in the days to come. Weddings, on the other hand, are hopefully once in a lifetime, or at least few and far between for any particular bride or groom.

Perhaps my biggest reason to decline offers to shoot weddings for friends and acquaintances is that the subject is generally broached in the first place to potentially save money. Professional wedding photographers aren't cheap, so why not ask a friend to take on the duties as a favor? Easy answer: it's not worth risking a friendship over. I may do a good job, but from a probability perspective, I might not end up with top quality results despite my best efforts. Someone with more experience shooting weddings would have a better chance than I would.

There's a reason why good wedding photographers cost money. They've invested years in learning their craft. They've invested their own money in buying the equipment needed to do a good job. And they invest their own time not only in shooting the event itself, but also in optimizing the images they shoot. You often really do get what you pay for.

I consider myself fairly skilled at what I do, I recognize the limits of my experience. I also don't want to sour a friendship or make a bad impression by failing to live up to the expectations of the bride and groom and their families. Prospective clients may not understand the difference between types of photography, but it's incumbent on photographers themselves to realize there is a difference. And it's incumbent on them to set appropriate expectations.

If you're a skilled photographer in a specialty other than weddings, don't let yourself get talked into shooting a friend's wedding. Even if it seems like a good idea, there's at least the chance that something could go wrong. It's just not worth risking it. If you search online, you'll find plenty of first time wedding photographer horror stories. Think long and hard before you potentially put yourself in that predicament.

Anyone can shoot photos these days. All it takes is a smart phone. But you wouldn't ask your friend with his iPhone to serve as your wedding photographer. Just because I have a bigger camera with interchangeable lenses and experience shooting other subjects doesn't qualify me to be a wedding photographer.

Date posted: December 11, 2016


Copyright © 2016 Bob Johnson, Earthbound Light - all rights reserved.
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