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Pro Photographer vs Friend

MA wedding photographers
Credit : Kristin Griffin Photography

Lately, I hear a lot of photographers lamenting over brides choosing their friend or family member to photograph their wedding, instead of hiring a professional photographer. So, I thought I’d weigh in on the topic. Why shouldn’t you hire your cousin over a pro? Well, unless your cousin also happens to be a professional photographer (in which case, you won the wedding lottery), the pro has a few things your cousin may not.

  • Training. Whether it’s a formal degree, an intensive diploma program at a trade school, or a certificate from a professional organization, what the pros have is proof that someone other than their mom approves of their creative skills. Now I’m not knocking the beauty of non- or semi-pro photography – many people with little to no training capture breathtaking imagery! The training required of a pro just proves that they can do this consistently: at any wedding, in any weather, under any lighting, with real people. Proof of proper training will assure you that this isn’t a hobby – they know their trade and will be able to capture the beautiful images you’ll treasure.
  • This isn’t their first rodeo. While each wedding is unique, most have common elements, and the experience of a pro will help them anticipate those moments. You only get one chance to photograph the first kiss! Even better news, I’ve probably worked with most of your vendors before, and I may have even shot an event at your ceremony and reception. So, I know all the great locations for photos, as well as any challenges with lighting, timing, etc. Plus, if anything should go wrong (and believe me, I’ve seen it all), I can probably fix it. From missing flowers, to fallen hems, to stains on the train, I have a few tricks up my sleeve to help get back on track.
  • They can handle pressure. I know Uncle Bob takes beautiful photographs; I’m not knocking his skills. But wedding photography is a high pressure job. If your uncle misses a moment, has a corrupted memory card, or doesn’t manage his time well, there’s no opportunity to re-shoot. Wedding photography requires the pro to be good at portraits, landscapes, night photography, photojournalism, fine art, product photography and even food. Has your uncle photographed each of those subjects under the pressure of limited time, uncontrollable weather, and minimal changes to the setting?
  • Great photos require more than just a great camera. The best novels in the world weren’t written by a typewriter alone. The same is true for your wedding photographs. A pro knows that creating frame-worthy photographs requires more than just a top-of-the-line camera. A professional has studied lighting, posing, composition, and proper equipment use. Can he photograph at night and still capture your expression? Will he bring a backup camera (and lenses, batteries, etc)? When the wedding is over, how much retouching can your friend offer? A pro processes thousands of images each week, and is adept at removing blemishes, enhancing color, brightening dark circles, diminishing wrinkles and more. Retouching involves more than just filters and Instagram – it’s an art the pros are adept at and practice often.
  • You’ll have no conflict of interest with a pro. I’m not there as your guest; I’m at your wedding to work. I know your friend is well meaning and offering to photograph your wedding for free is a wonderful gift, but if they work your wedding, they won’t enjoy it. And if they enjoy your wedding (I’m looking at you, Mr. Open Bar), trust me, you won’t want those blurry photographs! Plus, you won’t have to worry about a pro chatting with aunts and missing the cake cutting. We aren’t there to socialize, which frees us up to watch the room carefully and capture all those moments you’ll treasure.
  • It’ll be easier to communicate your wedding photography needs. If you want corrections or additional retouching done, who will you have an easier time approaching: your friend or a pro? Pros handle requests, complaints and concerns all the time. Your friendship may not survive a complaint about the photograph (or worse still, your unexpressed disappointment over the results), but the pro won’t be at next year’s Thanksgiving dinner, so you can be honest.
  • Access. Pros have access to labs and album services weekend photographers just don’t. Believe me, when you see the difference between a consumer lab and a pro one, you’ll never want to go back. The pro labs will only work with your photographer – plus, how much is your time worth? Do you want to spend weeks working on your album, only to get a mediocre result? Or would you rather hand the reins over to the pro (ok, maybe with a little input on your preferences!) and get blown away by the end product? Pros are also on top of all the latest trends and can offer items you may not have even heard about before.
  • Insurance, permits and other legal documents. Here’s an item your well meaning relative may not even know they need, until it’s too late. Most venues require the photographer to provide proof of professional liability insurance to photograph on-site. Also, some public places (ie: Boston Common), will require a permit to shoot formal photographs. A pro will take care of all these items without your even knowing about it. Do you want to show up on wedding day only to be turned away by the police because your photographer was not prepared? Do you want your friend to be asked by your venue to leave their gear in the car, just because they aren’t insured? And if your great-aunt trips over your friend’s camera bag and your friend doesn’t carry insurance, YOU are financially responsible.

So, what do you say to an offer of free wedding photography?  I have a few options that should make everyone happy.

  • Look for a reasonably priced pro wedding photographer. Think about what else you’re spending on the wedding and how these photographs are the way you’re going to remember the day. I think you can expect to spend about 12-15% of your total wedding budget on photography. Great photography doesn’t have to break the bank, and if you fall in love with a photographer that’s over your budget, ask about payment plans.
  • Politely explain to your cousin that you really want her to enjoy the wedding as a guest, so you plan to hire another photographer. Then ask her to help you pick one out. Either take her to meetings, or look through websites together. Ask her to point out good things about the photographs you see, as well as any concerns she might have – she’ll feel included and useful.

  • If your budget just won’t allow hiring two pros, and your pro is on board, request that your uncle be the “second” photographer. He can photograph the guys getting ready as the pro is with the bride, and will give a second perspective on the ceremony, as well as be your “eyes” at the cocktail hour as you’re posing for formal photographs. Then he can relax at the reception, but still feel like he contributed.

  • If you have a relative that really wants to help with the wedding planning, ask her to be the assistant for photographs. She knows all the family, so she can help gather people for posed photographs and hunt down any strays. It’ll save you time and stress, plus it gives her a job.

  • Print “eye spy” table cards and ask all your guests to get in on the fun of photographing. You can either supply disposable cameras, look into renting digital camera card copy devices (Canditto), or just have guests use their own cameras/phones. I’m sure your guests will capture some really priceless candids to fill out your memory of the day. Ask your photographer about setting up a website or gallery where guests can contribute all their photographs.

    Picking out the perfect wedding vendors for your wedding day doesn’t have to be stressful.  Find someone you know you can trust, then relax and enjoy the wedding day.