The Wedding Photographer – an endangered species?
I’m posing that question because of events I have experienced in the past few weeks. Taken individually, they are of little significance. Taken as a whole I think there is cause for concern.
As usual, these are my opinions and mine alone. I have no doubt some will find them a great bone of contention and that not everyone will agree with me.
The first was coming across the scene depicted in this photo which I took whilst in Australia.
I’ve posted this photo before and the feedback I received is that some do see it as the future of wedding photography because the cameras built into today’s mobile phones are already pretty good and they are constantly improving.
I’m not going to debate that subject in much detail here because it has been covered in other blogs elsewhere, but I would like to mention the camera element. Whatever form the camera takes, it is just a tool and the shape of told does change over time. The end of the wedding photographer was predicted before with the advent of digital over film, a time when the “tool” changed..
As with that period of change, the Photographer, regardless of the tool they are using, still needs to possess all the other skills (people management, organisational skills, lighting skills, their creativity and so on) to be an effective wedding photographer.
The next event that got me thinking was a comment my neighbour and friend made. He works in insurance and twice in two weeks he has told me about insurance claims being made by newly married couples against their wedding photographers.
Now I have known this neighbour over 10 years and he has been in the same job throughout that time yet he has never mentioned this problem before. You might think it’s just some couples “trying it on” but in these instances, that’s not the case. He has seen the photographs and the standard of them has given him cause for concern.
Talking to him, there does indeed appear to be a rise in the number of claims being made. I can’t help but wonder if this is another example of the “where there’s blame, there’s a claim” culture we seem to be going through, or has the general standard of wedding photography gone down?
Let’s face it, pricing for wedding photography has come under a great deal of pressure in recent years. I’m not criticising any individual here but there are a lot of “cheap” photographers out there and a lot of consumers who are hiring purely on price.
To me, simple economics dictates the following. You have to earn a certain amount of money to be able to live and stay in business. If you are not charging very much for your services, you need to get more bookings. If you have more bookings, you cannot spend too much time on each one otherwise you will fall behind.
This means, just my opinion remember, you take “short cuts”. You spend less time preparing for the weddings ( I carry out venue visits with clients and spend a lot of time getting to know them and exactly what they want ) and you spend less time on editing. I believe it’s inevitable that the quality of the images will suffer as a result.
Also, if you haven’t had the time to “get to know them”, you may not be providing them with the images they were expecting and that can ( in fact I know it actually has ), prompt a “claim”.
This brings me on to the third event which I think is worth mentioning. I learned just yesterday that a very well known and respected photography training company has gone into “voluntary liquidation”.
This company has trained a lot of well known and very successful wedding and portrait photographers over a period of decades and it has gone out of business. It will be a great loss to the industry and it has made me wonder, after such a long period of success, what has changed to make this company fail?
Could it be bad management? Well, the same duo have managed the company successfully for a long time and I don’t think they would suddenly become “bad” managers overnight. Personally, I suspect they were unable to generate sufficient revenue in a changing market place.
Put another way, when the world has reached the stage that using a camera phone is ok for wedding photography, that “cutting corners” is ok to keep your prices down, then the chances are people starting out in this industry don’t think they need any training. Either that or, because they are having to keep their prices down so low, they simply can’t afford it.
I can’t help but think the industry is in a dangerous downward spiral. Most people are quite simply used to seeing photos on their phone. That is what they have come to expect to see when they look at photos and a growing number seem to be satisfied with that.
Because of this, with the photos being on such a small screen, I personally believe most people don’t know a bad photo from a good one. Following on from that, people don’t value photography any more and will simply hire the cheapest photographer they can find without realising there is more to taking a good photograph than pushing a button on a mobile phone.
Following on from that, photographers who are trying to earn a living are having to keep their prices unrealistically low. They simply have to “cut corners” and don’t have the money available to invest in good training.
With no training, the standard goes down and you end up with insurance claims. I can’t help but think the three events I have mentioned are all connected.
So is the wedding photographer an endangered species?
Look at artists, musicians, footballers and so on. All have a few “super stars” who earn a very good living at their chosen profession and I think Photography is no different. Whilst a few will do very well, a lot will find it impossible to earn a decent living from photography on a full time basis.
I believe there are simply too many photographers in a very crowded market place. I also believe that, with the advent of the “camera phone”, photography has become devalued. As I pointed out earlier, most people don’t know a good photo from a bad one.
Because they can take a snap on their mobile phone they think taking photos is easy and end up shopping for their wedding photographer on price alone. After all, they are only paying someone to push a button on a phone for a few hours, aren’t they!
Most wedding photographers are already “part time” with their earnings from photography being their “secondary” source of income. (By the way, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being part time, in case you were wondering. That debate has already been done to death! ).
When it comes to training I can see other problems. As I’ve mentioned, an established company with a great track record has gone out of business, and what do we see? “Photographers” with relatively little experience suddenly becoming experts and advertising “cut price training days” to try and earn enough money to pay their way in life because they can’t earn enough from weddings alone.
I’ve been photographing weddings for over eight years now and been on several training courses during that time ( including successfully completing a “judges” training course ), yet I’m still learning and I don’t consider myself qualified enough to charge for “teaching” wedding photography effectively. How someone with only a couple of years experience can really think they are an “expert” and qualified to teach is beyond me.
I don’t want this blog to be all “doom and gloom”, rather just point out a few things that have recently given me cause for concern. A bit of a “reality check”, if you like.
In general, we wedding photographers are a very positive bunch but it’s no good putting our heads in the sand. Whilst I know most of us photograph weddings not to “get rich” but because we genuinely love doing it, we do have to strike a balance and earn a living.
The end of this wonderful profession has been foretold in the past, yet we are still here. It is my hope that we are going through a temporary “phase”. When “digital packages” came into “fashion”, people stopped buying wedding albums. I have found people returning to wedding albums because they are now learning the limitations and shortfalls of the “digital only” wedding package.
With a lot of people now just looking for “cheap” photography, in time it’s limitations and shortfalls will become apparent as they did with “digital only” packages. Then it may go “out of fashion”.
Until then, I like to think that those photographers who are able to meet the challenges presented by this changing and challenging market place will survive, but it isn’t going to be easy and don’t expect to get rich doing it! At least not until the “fashion” for cheapness changes!!