Across the United States, couples getting married are seeing tons of “professional” wedding photographers that have saturated the wedding marketplace. It seems with the advent of cheaper DSLR technology, those with a low-end camera are trying to take a bite out of the wedding industry with extremely low rates, some even too good to be true.
Today, I want to talk a little bit about the wedding photography industry, the changes I’ve seen over the last 20 years form a wedding videographers perspective and give you, the potential client, some sound advice on what to look for and what to be aware of if you hire someone that’s cheap.
You Get What You Pay For
I’m sure that you see it everywhere you shop, cheap wedding photography. I see it all the time on local wedding Facebook Groups all across Virginia and the Carolina’s when I’m connecting with clients or doing research on couples getting married.
A couple things that I tend to notice about these super affordable people, first they are new to the wedding industry. Many times, these are people that have a low-end camera and they’re just trying to do work, undercutting the true wedding portrait photographer that does this full time.
They’re usually armed with a low end DSLR, sub $1,000 range with some kit lenses and a flash. While these cheaper cameras might be good in daylight, they’re horrible in low light situations, often making pixelated, grainy images at the wedding reception or at the golden hour, when the sun sets. What might look good on your iPhone doesn’t always look good when printed or blown-up to make a larger print.
Couples that choose these types of people also have little to no experience in what they’re doing and many times it shows in the images they produce. As a wedding professional, we always have to be mindful of the time we spend with our jobs and we have to be creative as well.
Not your normal “Okay, now stand with dad and Uncle Bill for the next image” type of photograph.
I’ve seen it more times than none, couples that choose these budget wedding photographers will more times be disappointed in the quality of the images that they receive. You typically can’t print them in large sizes without making the image look pixelated and many times their lighting is bad.
It’s just poor education on the end user and the camera isn’t designed for weddings to begin with. Starter cameras are designed mainly for education and beginning to learn the art of photography.
Cheap Gear Equals Cheap Results
And that means when you use a cheap camera, you get cheap results. A professional photography camera is usually going to have a larger image sensor within it, more megapixels and much better (and expensive) lens with lighting. Typically, with wedding photography (not as much in video) the larger image sensor will produce clearer images, you’ll get better depth of field and much more control of the subject itself.
One of the major downsides to a cheap camera (Your Canon Rebel series or point and shoot comes to mind) is that they’re not really upgradable. You cannot change their lenses or mount external flashes (with the exception of some high-end models) and the number of external accessories is limited to the brand and make of the camera. Most point and shoot cameras have lenses that start at 30-35mm, which means that you cannot fit much of the scene and would have to stand back to capture more.
My point here is that cheap cameras will many times produce cheap results in many of the wedding venues and receptions here in the area.
Sure, it’s possible to make good images with a cheap camera, but not having the right type of lens, lighting or processing power that a high-end camera has, it’s just asking for trouble.
Not All Cameras are Equal
Now, not all cameras are created equal. Take mine for example. I mainly use Panasonic, the GH5 and G85’s as my B/C Camera. They’re great for video with build in stabilizers and a slue of video options to make it a great choice for wedding video. But, my GH5 with a Signa 18-35mm lens ($2,899) is no match for a full frame Nikon Z6 or Canon 5D Mark IV for wedding photography. That’s why I don’t do photography, first I’m a video guy and my gear is designed for video first. The GH5 blows these full frame cameras away when it comes to stabilized 4K video, but I couldn’t touch a photography is similar quality with it.
Some DSLR’s are made for video first, then photography, some are made for sports or action photography (Olympus OD E-M1X comes to mind), some are made for occasional point and shoot (Panasonic FZ-1000), some are weather sealed for rainy weather, and others are just starter cameras like the Canon EOS/Rebel series.
I will tell you that the image size is important as I spoke before. A Canon Rebel with a CMOS sensor (1/2/3”) just can’t produce the same image that a full frame (APS-C) or even a medium format camera can produce. That’s comparing a Ferrari to a Hyundai, there is just NO comparison. My Panasonic video DSLR’s all use Micro Four Thirds just to compare.
Just because they all look professional on the outside doesn’t always mean they will produce the same results. My advice would be to ask what model or models a wedding photographer uses and look up the details.
Experience is Key
Listen, everything boils down to experience. A professional can take a $500 camera and max it’s used to make the best image possible, but it’s taken them years of practice and learning to get that far.
A good key indicator is to see how long the photographer has been in business. Most data would suggest that full time wedding photographers make it on average 3-5 years before they burn out.
Because they’re charging $500 when they should be charging much more. When you combine the massive cost in gear, cameras, lights, lens, filters, computer systems, then your marketing, advertising, website, and finally your overhead just to run a business, they quickly realize that they can’t make a good living at it.
On average, a wedding vendor will only last 3-5 years if they undercharge for their services in the wedding industry. It’s not that they are bad at what they do, it’s they realize they can’t make a living undercutting the competition. That applies for both wedding photographers and videographers alike.
Those that outlast this range are truly great at what they do and they have mastered their work pretty well, at the artform AND running a profitable business, thus why they cost a lot more too. They’re simply good at what they do.
Someone with 7 years’ experience is generally going to be much better than someone with 2 years’ experience. It’s common sense.
If you want something done right in your wedding, hire a wedding photographer with good gear, good experience and someone that will be around long term, not someone looking to make a bucks and skip out on details using a cheap, yet pro looking camera. Many times when I start working with a wedding photographer, I can usually tell off the bat if they’re the real deal and genuinely care about their work or just in it to make some cash and get out.