It was your big wedding day and everything seemed to be going great. Then you receive your wedding photographs and they look like amateurish crap. Who should you blame?
I am sorry but it is your fault.
Yes, you, the victim of bad photography, are to blame.
Because unlike the weather, this is one of several things which you actually have complete control over when you plan for your wedding.
Why, you spent hours choosing that pair of wedding rings, more hours doing clothes-fitting and spent days sending out wedding cards. You asked your buddy to loan you his daddy’s nice Mercedes. Heck, you even blew your precious savings on renting the wedding gown that other ladies have worn many times before.
But you had no idea the most important thing – apart from making sure you married the right person – was getting the best photographer you could afford.
Because nobody remembers what you wore that day. Nor whether you allowed the hotel to serve shark’s fin. Or if you had 20 or 50 dinner tables. Or if the bride had five costume changes. Nobody even really cares where you went for your honeymoon.
The only things that will remain from your glorious day of matrimony are your wedding photos.
Yet, lo and behold, so many people do not realize this critical point.
Some ask their friends who have been dabbling with dSLRs. Others leave it to their wedding planner (who may be planning for the first time). The worst is when you trust your bridal agency or relative to send a photographer you have never met before, and then you wonder why the results came out like that.
Do you know why?
Because many people in Singapore do not understand or respect the skill wielded by professional photographers, especially the great ones.
For the past fifteen or so years, there has been so much under-cutting by amateurs in the photography market, whether it is for freelance commercial photography, event photography or weddings. This was largely due to the rise of digital photography, first with dSLRs, then mirrorless cameras, and then super smartphones like the iPhone and Samsung Galaxys.
I don’t begrudge people becoming photo enthusiasts or even doing freelance jobs to improve their skills. I was an obsessed photo-amateur before I got a big break and became a professional photographer in The New Paper way back in 1998 until 2003. It was one of the happiest and most exciting times in my working career, but I left the photography line because it was not tenable trying to excel in both writing and photography in the pressroom (it still isn’t).
And even then, I had already gotten used to people treating photographers as second-class citizens, or photogs were just drones expected to get the job done on the cheap.
I may have photographed ministers, Hong Kong actresses, and other important people, but I also had to deal with sweaty Turf Club racehorses and dead criminals in my line. Most of the time, I had to play second fiddle to the journalists I was assigned to – they got all the attention and I was just hailed over to snap the photos when the interview was over.
But never mind my nostalgic rambling…
So how much should you pay for a good wedding photographer?
I asked a few friends who are still making a good living from photography and they said the market rate is about $2,000 to $3,000, and a good junior photographer can command $1,200 and up.
You might balk but really, you have no idea the amount of experience and skill it takes to produce high-quality photographs throughout a day shoot or studio session. And the ridiculously high cost of camera equipment and computers that will allow a photographer and his assistant to churn out your properly curated and edited photos within the week.
And please, the professional photography rate is still cheaper than your white-gold wedding rings or a few of your wedding dinner tables.
You might assume that just because you or your friends can take a nice photograph of a plate of food with your iPhone, and then apply Instagram filters and impress even more friends…that photography must be so easy.
Indeed, I love modern smartphones and how they have provided the masses with a great photographic tool I couldn’t even dream of in 2003. I always tell my friends that my phone is the best fixed-focal length camera I have because it fits in my jeans pocket.
And yes, in general, the standard of the average person’s photography skills has risen over the past decade due to cheap digital storage and better, lighter photographic tools.
But great photographers are still a rare breed and they deserve to be paid top dollar. Because they are disciplined, can work under tremendous time pressure, know which are the best angles to take, use the best gear they can afford, do not assume everything will be smooth-sailing, and most of all, they are artists who love their craft and want to make the least-photogenic couple look beautiful. They know how to put their subjects at ease and eke out the most natural smiles and loud guffaws.
They are like movie directors but how many people know that?
I wrote this tonight because I was dismayed by the latest social media hooha involving a young couple and their lousy photographer. The couple’s side of the story was that they paid $3,000 to a bridal studio for “several sets of outfits, hair and make-up sessions as well as 10 hours of actual day photography.” They were not given a choice of photographer.
The photos came out badly and the couple decided to post some of the worst photos online, and the whole thing went viral as people sought for something new to make fun of (after the Lee Wei Ling VS Straits Times VS Lee Hsien Loong fiasco died down on Sunday).
The photographer decided to defend himself by posting the more decent photos (which were still amateurish in quality) and then took down the post when the Internet Brigade pounced on him for outing himself. This evening, he apologized and said:
First & foremost, I would like to apologise to this couple for the 20+ bad actual day wedding photos that they have received. My bridal company & I could have done better by QC & removing them first before giving to you. I received $350 for this full day wedding photography & editing assignment, and I should have done better.
$350? Really? Now isn’t that clearer what happened?
To the newlyweds, I don’t know.
I do feel some sympathy that your big day has such poor photographs to remember by. Perhaps you did not know better, but the blame really lies on the bridal studio for its service standards, and then your decision to go with them. Perhaps it is a budget issue, but what would you expect for $3,000 for an all-in-one package?
I also got upset that over 15K people were happily sharing the your photographs that you hoped to provide some comic relief (and closure) but you should also know your attempts to keep the bridal studio and photographer anonymous were totally unrealistic.
The photographer foolishly outed himself but that did not mean he would not have been found out sooner or later by the sneering online crowd. They are happy to shame anyone from SMRT seat hoggers to people who slip on a banana. Why give them more fodder to make social media even more unpleasant than yesterday?
The bride said in the ST story that “she hopes to shed some light on ‘the industry practice of not letting wedding package couples choose their photographer based on their specific portfolio’.”
No, we need to shed light on the fact that you, the wedding couple, are ultimately responsible for getting the best person for the most important job of your biggest day.
Still, I do hope you get a full refund. And that the photographer will use his SkillsFuture $500 credit to go for some visual arts and photo-editing courses online.
PS: I just remembered I wrote this Wedding Survival Guide in 2009 for people prepping for their big day. It’s still pretty valid in 2016 and talks about the two other important people apart from the wedding photographer who will make the day truly memorable (for better or worse!)
Update 14 April: Some commentators have asked “So if you do not pay $1,200 to $3,000, then you do not deserve good wedding photos?”. Firstly, these are SG market rates for professionals that allow photographers to meet their operating costs and make a profit (so they can feed themselves, you know, just like any business), and your mileage will always vary. Obviously there are no official market rates for amateurs and hobbyists. Then again, even at $3,000, you might get undesirable results, so the onus is on you to make sure you get what you pay for – that takes hard work in researching, getting recommendations and understanding who you are dealing with. Second, you can always get a good photographer for cheap, or even FREE – but he’s either your best friend or somehow is feeling charitable towards you. Lastly, everyone deserves good photography, but they’ve gotta ask how to obtain it.