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How does a hospital stay relate wedding budgets and photography

So it’s been a while since I’ve made a new blog post, and with good reason. It was only a day or two after my last post I spent a few days in the hospital with a pretty bad case of pneumonia. Don’t worry I’m doing much better know and expect to be back at 100% soon.

But something that happened at this time made me decide to get off the fence and write a blog I’ve been thinking about for some time.

Being a professional photographer I have several friends who are also professional photographers and once a few people found out how sick I was I had offers to help cover any events I had scheduled. Fortunately I didn’t have any weddings on the books while I was sick, but it made me think of how nice it was to have a few such friends, and how much that also makes a professional photographer stand apart from a “I’ve got my first SLR camera and am ready to make a fortune shooting weddings” type of photographers.

If you had just “a person with a camera” hired to cover your wedding at a super cheap price and they where hospitalized, what do you think the odds are they’d know other people qualified to step in and cover the event in an emergency.

It’s no great earth shattering news that the general economy right now is in a rough spot, and a lot of people are doing what they can to make ends meet. One professional report I saw estimated that the average cost of most weddings dropped by over 20% in 2008 as budgets get tighter and it’s not expected to climb much until 2010.

Now I’m all for people doing what they have to do to stay within a budget, and even your photography budget. However while I’m in full support of cutting a few extra’s I’d urge extreme caution before cutting the budget to the point of hiring a “person with camera” to cover the event. Your photographs are one of the few aspects of your wedding that will last a lifetime, and beyond. When I’m shooting a wedding I’m not just shooting for you, but for your children and grandchildren who will someday sit on your lap and look at how wonderful your wedding was all those years ago.

A few ideas for cutting costs:

  • Find out if your photographer offers out of season, mid-week, or any other special discounts. Scheduling your wedding on any day besides a Saturday can often save you on venues as well.
  • Consider paying by credit card if you get points or miles bonuses and use those towards you honeymoon or first vacation. Just make sure you pay it off right away, starting off a married life with maxed out credit cards is not a good idea.
  • Ask for a custom package – only take what items you consider important.
  • Consider less than full day coverage. You can always increase it later if things are looking good closer to the wedding, it’s unlikely any photographer is not going to accept more money. ?  In my case I only have a full day coverage cost, but if someone really only needs me for 5 hours I’m still going to keep the base day charge, but will likely offer some other value to their package. Print credits, extra album pages, etc.

When shopping for “bargain” photographers keep in mind a bargain is only a bargain if the level of quality for the service or product is comparable.

There’s no licensing through the state to call oneself a “professional photographer”. Pretty much anybody can put up a website in a matter of hours and claim to be a professional wedding photographer. Sometimes the photos they use aren’t even their own but stolen from other websites and/or stock photos. I shoot commercial stock photography recognize a lot of the models that other stock photographers use on a regular basis. It always makes me sad when I recognize stock photography on a so called wedding photographers website being passed off as an example of their work.

Why do they do it. Maybe they think it’s easy money. “Heck, I can make $500 on just a single Saturday”. “Besides, all my friends say I take real good pictures”, and all those people who try out for those talent shows on TV have friends who say they are real good singers/dancers/etc.

Here’s a list of things to help tell the difference between “person with camera” and professional photographer and why the differences may be important to you.

  • Do they have a sales tax license? Most (but not all) professional photographers are registered with the state to collect sales tax on tangible goods. Most people looking for quick money never register with the secretary of state or department of revenue.
  • Belong to one or more professional organizations?
    WPPI – Wedding and Portrait Photographers International
    PPA – Professional Photographers Association
    BBB – Better Business Bureau
    Local Chamber of Commerce
    All these organizations cost money to join and their benefits are aimed towards people serious about their business.
  • Has liability insurance.
    This is a HUGE importance for any of your hired vendors. Some venues wont allow you to have other vendors on site if they are not independently insured. In the case your photographer isn’t insured remember that as the event organizer you might be legally and financially liable for anything that happens at the event, be it someone who trips over the photographers equipment and injures themselves or if the photographer breaks something at a venue.
    You need to make sure you’re protected by making sure your vendors are insured.
  • Uses professional level equipment and has back up equipment.
    This is another area that really separates the professional from the “gee I takes some purty good photos” crowd.
    When it’s how you make your living most people tend to only use the best tools available to them. I would never trust a professional mechanic to work on my brakes if I saw he had the same crappy dollar store socket set I do.
    Most modern digital SLR camera’s are of excellent quality, but most the “kit” lenses that come with the consumer grade gear is marginal at best. Some of the extreme shallow depth of field looks can’t be shot on such lenses under any condition. Most professional grade lenses cost on average between $1000 and $2000 and most “professional wedding photographers” have more than one such lens.  

    As for backups, cameras are mechanical/electronic devises and sometimes they fail. If your budget photographer has 1 camera, and two lenses and something breaks how do you think this is going to effect your wedding coverage. A professional is going to have backup equipment so even if the main body fails (or is dropped and broken) they are ready to keep going.

So by all means be budget conscious stretch your wedding dollar as far as you can, but but be careful about cutting costs to the point you’ll regret it later on.

No this doesn’t mean there aren’t some great shooters out there who are offering great work well below normal pricing.   There’s also many part time professional shooters who may not match everything up above but whose quality (and price) are right up there with most full time professionals.  The point is to be educated on your choices, there’s far too many people out there more than willing to take your money.  

If $800 is all you can afford just be aware that not all photographers at that price point are worth even that much.   Spend your money wisely, shop around, and keep hunting until you find your perfect photographer for your budget.