I’m known as what’s called a “boutique” wedding photographer. I photograph all my weddings, I work with all my clients personally, and I’m hands on every step from inception to completion to delivery of the wedding albums.
You’d think this is the way something as unique and personal as wedding photography should be done, and maybe so, but many couples have their wedding photos taken by larger volume studios juggling hundreds of weddings a year. Those weddings are photographed by various independent agents the studio hires to come in on weekends. Then other staffers, either full time or part time, complete the process, from photo finishing to album design.
Typically with those higher volume studios, wedding photography prices are lower because of the higher volume they do. It’s simple economics. If they have twenty weddings on a Saturday in June, they can make less on each wedding and yet profit more in total. Some of these higher volume operations do as many as 800 or 900 weddings a year.
But like anything else where price goes lower there are the corresponding compromises in service and quality.
Even the process for the wedding couple interviewing wedding photographers is handled differently than say if you were to sit down to meet with a photographer like me, look over my work and talk to me personally about photographing your wedding and designing your wedding album.
And that’s what I want to inform you about in this article so you know how to get what you want out of a high volume wedding photography studio if that’s where you’ve decided to find your wedding photographer.
For one thing, you’re probably not going to meet with your photographer right up front.
Because they’re not the studio owner, those wedding photographers are most likely working at their regular non-photography related day jobs during the week and are only paid to come in and photograph weddings on weekends.
Some studios may make some provision to have those photographers come in at some point to meet and greet the couples, but that’s not the norm. They would have to pay the photographer for their time but that increases their costs. Often the first time you meet your photographer will be on your wedding day.
So it’s more likely you’ll be meeting with someone other than the photographer when you first visit the studio. So be sure to check with whoever you’re speaking with and ask:
“Will you personally be the photographer for our wedding?”
Because you need to make sure you’re not merely talking to a sales rep but the actual photographer who will photograph your wedding. Anyone else may call themselves the “Studio Manager” or some other title, but if they’re handling the presentation, their object is to sell you a contract. And you don’t want to mistake the studio rep as being the person who’s going to show up to photograph your wedding.
You need to meet the photographer because you want to make sure you’re comfortable with him or her, because if you’re uncomfortable with the person, it will mar your wedding day experience for you. Your discomfort with the photographer will show in your wedding photos.
And that’s what you’ll remember whenever you look at the pictures.
It’s also that the photographer is the person who can speak about what they do more proficiently than anyone else may speak for them. So if you want to get a clear sense of what page your photographer’s on, speaking to them directly, asking them your questions, is key.
Never accept the blanket “we’ll assign a photographer to you based on what style you like/personalities, etc.” as an answer from the studio rep, even if they promise it’s their best photographer (it may not be). You want a friendly familiar face at your wedding because it’s difficult to be relaxed in front of a perfect stranger. You want someone you know you have good rapport with, someone with whom you know you can communicate with.
Since many high volume studios hire freelancers to photograph weddings, being free agents those photographers are free to stop working at that studio at any time, even if they’ve worked there for many years. Even if they have weddings coming up they’re assigned to.
There are many reasons they could suddenly quit the studio and leave. They’re not the studio owner so their commitment to work there is contingent on other influences. They could leave because they had a disagreement with the boss. Or they don’t like working with someone there. They may leave to go work at another studio they like better. They could get a better offer somewhere else for the wedding date. They may go start their own studio. Their regular day job may require them to work on your date. Their spouse or significant other may demand they spend more time on weekends with them – or else! Maybe they were working weekends as a photographer only for the extra income until a financial goal was met, such as for a new car, new baby or a nicer vacation. Or they may decide they actually don’t like photographing weddings at all – it’s not for everybody – and stop doing them completely.
This is why if you’re determined to book a studio that hires others to photograph weddings, you need to ask the studio:
“If the photographer we want no longer works for your studio when our wedding comes up, can we choose who the substitute photographer will be?
And if not, can we cancel?”
I think you’d agree we wouldn’t want to be in a position where we don’t get our choice of photographer and are forced to use whoever is swapped in at the last minute.
The danger is in the studio reaching out to find a last minute replacement and bringing in someone they hardly ever use (or never used before), someone who isn’t top talent (let’s face it, if it’s that close to your wedding date and the substitute photographer is still available… despite the fact they’re willing,able and ready to work at high volume studios, then maybe there’s good reason why).
Another concern to be aware of when dealing with those kinds of multi-photographer operations is that often the photographers are not full time career photographers but actually part timers with full time careers in other non-related fields.
The drawback, naturally, is that they’re only picking up a camera on weekends, not able to devote their full time attention to develop their photography skills, so their photography is typically a rehash routine of what they did the weekend before.
The only time they really can be photographers are at their clients’ weddings. Unfortunately, this also many times means they’re learning on the job. That is to say, at your wedding. Your wedding becomes their classroom in which they make their mistakes and learn not only what it takes to master a camera, but navigate as a professional through a wedding day.
Are you being shown that photographer’s recent work – or that of others?
Many times you may be shown someone else’s work instead of the actual photographer’s work. They may tell you something like, “these photos are representative of what you can expect from us.” But you may already know that since every photographer has a different eye, level of talent, skills and experience, that no two photographers are quite alike.
Since no two photographers are alike, another photographer’s work may not be truly representative of the photographer they’ll assign you. Unfortunately, many times they’re photos left over from a better photographer who no longer works there. That photographer was pretty good, their work gets the studio wedding couples to book the studio, but doesn’t get that photographer for their weddings.
So if you want a certain individual’s work, you need to have a guarantee you’ll get that individual.
Unfortunately, for the reasons I gave above, studios find it difficult to actually guarantee any freelancer will be the same person who shows up at your wedding. Some studios can get really shifty here if their ethics are low, and you can only imagine the shell games they play on unsuspecting couples when the wedding date rolls around but the assigned photographer is no longer working with them. From having photographers pretend to be someone else to making up stories about why the photographer they really wanted can’t be their photographer, I’ve heard all sorts of stories. Happily, those types of operators are few and far between. They’re very often found at the bottom of the price barrel because, simply put, that kind of business practice just isn’t done at higher price points.
So when dealing with a high volume wedding studio:
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