I hate my photos. They look like photos a five year old could get.”
– Anonymous bride on a wedding forum
Unless you really don’t care about your wedding photos, you don’t want to end up with unflattering pictures that look like your cousin could’ve taken them.
Since so many wedding photographers are literally learning on the job at people’s weddings, would you like to know what to look for when you’re looking through a wedding photographer’s portfolio that will give you an early warning alarm to whether they’re any good or not, or risk being very disappointed after your wedding?
(Of course a great way to sort the bad from the good is to simply have them photograph an engagement session. That way you’ll know if they’re any good or not before they take on your wedding. Look here.)
Because I’ve photographed about a thousand weddings throughout my career (plus hired, fired and evaluated photographers) I think I’ve seen enough by now to spot these mistakes a mile away.
There are lots of Tell Tale Clues the wedding photographer you’re looking at has low level photo skills. Here are 17 of them.
WARNING: Once you know what to look for, you’ll never look at wedding photos the same anymore:
1. The photos are overexposed.
It’s most noticeable in the gown. All the fine details you love on your gown are overexposed and blown out – so you can’t see them anymore in the photos. That makes you look like you’re wearing one big white sheet. The photographer doesn’t know how to expose properly for all the elements in the photo.
2. The gown is tinged blue.
That’s because digital photos cast a blue cast and that needs to be corrected when processing the images. Thing is, lower level photographers either don’t want to invest the time on every photo to get that done (it would drive up their costs as well), don’t care to, or they simply are so used to seeing the blue cast that they don’t even notice it.
3. There’s stuff in the frame that doesn’t add any beauty or value to the image. But sure takes away from it.
The garbage can right next to the bride, the guy in the background digging the wax out of his ear… extraneous stuff in the photo is a sure sign the photographer hasn’t carefully looked at the scene, considered the composition or the design of the image, and is simply taking snapshots – same as your guests would.
4. There are photos looking up from a low position
There’s no way to make it look flattering going right up the bride’s nose. You’ll also see the groom’s shoulder blocking his face like some sort of monster movie hunchbacked mad scientist assistant. Those photographers confuse being “creative” with photographing people at an angle, which is like looking at a Rembrandt painting straight on, with lying on the floor of the museum right under the Rembrandt and looking up at the Rembrandt.
As if that’s not bad enough, because the lower part of your body is closer to the camera when they shoot that low, it makes the lower part of your body loom larger in their photos.
As in the next example, which also makes the error of showing…
5. Crotch shots and bottom of shoes.
You’ll notice in their portraits when they have couples sitting, there’s typically an obvious bead right into the groom’s open crotch because 1. The photographer didn’t refine the pose so that the groom isn’t sitting in front of the camera with legs splayed wide open and 2. the photographer’s camera angle isn’t considered for the most flattering view. Again that’s all part of what happens when the photographer doesn’t consider their composition or give thought to what they’re seeing right in front of them.
You’ll see the scuffed up, dirty, bottoms of shoes when the photographer has people sitting on the ground or on steps for the same reason. And what also happens is that since the shoes are facing the camera, their feet appear out of proportion… making the bride and groom’s legs and feet appear huge and way bigger than their heads. Are your feet bigger than your head? Then why pay a photographer to make them look bigger than your head?
6. Lamp posts, telephone wires, tree limbs or street signs coming out of people’s heads.
Since a photo is two dimensional, not three, there isn’t any depth in a photo. Everything is flattened. So anything in the background will look like it’s on the same plane as the people in the photo. So when the photographer doesn’t take into account what’s in the scene, tree limbs, traffic signs, phone wires and lamp posts come out looking like they’re growing out of your heads. And that tightly pulled jacket looking like it’s two sizes too small? We’ll talk about that some more in a bit.
7. Everything but everything’s in focus.
Speaking of backgrounds, even when there isn’t the obvious tree limb growing out of your head, when the photographer doesn’t understand photographic principles such as aperture settings and lens compression, and how that affects the image, they’re usually letting their cameras react automatically and everything in the image ends up in focus. That contradicts the way we normally see things, and so it looks bizarre.
Normally, when you look at something, everything in the background goes out of focus. The camera doesn’t know what part of the photo is foreground and should stay in focus and what part of the photo is background and would look more natural being out of focus. The photographer has to manipulate the camera to do his or her bidding. Those photographers aren’t aware of that.
So since everything stays in focus, those tree leaves on that tree 60 feet behind the couple are just as sharp and in focus as the details on their faces – which makes the entire image very busy to look at and distracts from the people in them.
8. The Pulled Jacket
So the groom wraps one arm around one person and the other arm around another and the photographer takes that photo… but look at the groom’s jacket. It’s being pulled and stretched in two opposite directions. And that also by the way hikes it up and so then you’ve got his shirt at the waistline making an obvious appearance. All this makes the groom look sloppy.
It takes only a few seconds to adjust the jacket so the groom stays looking good in the photo. But those photographers miss that. Or they overlook it.
9. They stop short of giving it their best.
It gets tiring photographing weddings because it’s a physical task. You’re on your feet, dashing around, carrying pounds of camera and lenses, hoisting them up continually, incessantly, to your eyes throughout the day. Some photographers slow down. If it means spending a few more seconds to walk a few more feet for any particular shot, they don’t do it. If it means, spending a few more seconds to get the shot exactly right, they don’t do it. If it means running up the stairs right now to get that cool overview or angle, they don’t do it.
They stopped short of giving it their best.
But considering the photo is going to last over 100 years, a few seconds more, a little more effort to get it just right, is worth it. At least in my opinion.
But they don’t care. Their feet hurt. They don’t want to walk the extra ten feet to get the best view. They’re tired. They feel they don’t get compensated enough for it. The wedding couple irritated them so they don’t exert themselves. It’s good enough.
Hey but sometimes good art and customer service requires a little sacrifice or more of a commitment.
They’re simply not that committed.
10. Bad choice of camera angles
You’ve probably heard the camera adds ten pounds? That’s because it renders you in two dimensions without depth, as I wrote about in #6 above. A photographer who’s mastered the art however knows to compensate for this and manipulates their camera to flatter the person they’re photographing. How? By selecting the best lens for your face, the best angle to photograph you at, and “sculpting” the mask of your face using light and shadow contouring.
In effect a good photographer knows they have to trick the camera into making the image look more three dimensional to make up for what the camera optics do to a person.
If you ask lesser advanced photographers what lens they think would flatter you, they’ll look at you as if you’re speaking a foreign language.
11. The photographer keeps photographing everything from their own eye level, skewing the perspective.
Speaking of camera angles, ever watch a parent take a photo of their little child? Very often the parent stands there aiming the camera downward, tipping it toward the child. This creates a photo of the child from a skewed perspective which makes their forehead appear huge and out of proportion with the rest of their face and body. Wedding photographers do the same thing with brides, grooms, bridal party and family photos. Especially when the photographer is taller. They point their cameras downward to the bride and groom, tipping it at an angle towards them, which makes everyone’s heads appear big and the rest of their bodies small by comparison.
Good photographers know that the better, more flattering images come when the camera is parallel to the person being photographed, not tipped toward them, and around the subject’s chest to eye level. Not a foot above (or below) it.
12. The Wide Angled Group Shot
Take a handful of people and make a group photo and uh oh, need a wider lens to get everyone to fit in. Or so they think.
So they slap on a wide angle lens and snap away.
Thing is, wide angle lenses distort, especially around the edges. They give the photo a stretched or curved look. If you’re one of the people not smack of the center of the photo then you’re stretched and curved into twice your width. Like that guy on the left with the extraordinary large shoulder. Whoa. Not too flattering.
13. Light Clips on Faces
Many photographers simply don’t see what’s right in front of them. They take a portrait of the wedding couple or a family photo at a wedding and the sunlight’s peeking through from the side and touches bits of people’s faces causing uneven lighting. The edge of someone’s nose or their chin or their cheek now has big bright spots.
You may wonder: how come the photographer doesn’t see that?
As strange as it sounds, they haven’t learned to see WHAT’s in the photo they’re taking. Instead, they get caught up in the moment yet overlook what they have in front of them.
14. Nose Squish
Photographers pose couples close together and when the photographer has your faces press into each other parts of your face get mashed up. Your cheek bunches up against your partner making it look like you’re storing nuts for the winter, or your nose gets squished or your chin presses down so much which causes you to look like you have a double chin even when you don’t.
15. But even when your faces aren’t squishing into each other, having your faces unnaturally too close is awkward and looks awkward when two people’s faces are a mere few inches away from each other but their eyes are wide open staring at each other. Who does that in real life?
It looks unnatural because it is unnatural.
16. Hands Like Claws and Thumbs Sticking Out Everywhere
What’s in his pocket anyway?
Fingers seem to have a life of their own. Everything else in a photo can look right but then the fingers look weird. Fingers go wherever they land and so we’ll see thumbs straying from the rest of the hand, sticking out like a, well, sore thumb. The guy’s hand in his pocket with his thumb sticking out, is a good example of how photographers commonly overlook this detail.
Or her hands with fingers stiff or arched, which give her hands the appearance of claws.
17. The Stiff Awkward Pose
Not everyone’s a born model with graceful moves and finesse. I understand that. Then when a photographer starts with adding “hold her” “turn toward each other, more” and a slew of directions that somehow still don’t create a graceful natural look and people look like they’re two deer caught in the headlights, well, like I said, not everyone’s a born model. But is it really their fault or maybe the photographer doesn’t quite know how to bring it out? What can you do?
At the very least you can scratch that pose and try something else. Simple enough. But you DON’T have to pull the trigger and and actually get the stiff awkward looking photo.
The bottom line
There are a lot of photographers today. There are some great ones, some bad ones and everyone else is obviously somewhere in between. Naturally, you want to avoid the bad ones which I hope just got easier to do now that you have a better idea of what to watch out for. It’s what I’d watch out for.
A special thank you to all the anonymous photographers whose images on Google provided examples for this post. It shouldn’t be inferred they’re not good photographers. I’m sure they’ve all gotten better by now.
©MASANA | (646) 543-1321 NYC PORTRAIT ARTIST | EMAIL