Who should you blame for your lousy wedding photos?

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.

chung2

$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.

36 Replies to “Who should you blame for your lousy wedding photos?”

  1. hi ian,
    $350 for 900 photos.. regardless how its taken,
    a standard wedding photo package i took up 5 yrs ago was like $2k for 30 photos of various sizes (the book, print out , soft copy) .. i go thru the 200s taken on that day..and select together with the photographer and i have to pay extra for every piece i wanted… $100 per pc etc..even for soft copy.

    nowadays ppl wan $350 (ok they din know $350 goes to the photographer) and get everything…. my thought if u want all then its expected to have some lousy shots. hence this whole issue have to depends on the contract, and what actually happened…

  2. I think there’s nothing wrong with wanting to save and getting not-so-good-quality photos, splurging more on good food and giving friends and family a really nice dinner to enjoy! I mean the 3k package showed them sample photos and they were of excellent quality – I think that’s fraud! I think it’s more about the company’s professionalism. Anyway I think the fact that ‘you cannot choose your photographer’ from the company already sounded many alarm bells I guess.

  3. Totally agree with your POV. When I was planning our wedding, hubby and I spent hours going over photos in magazines, on the internet, curating the shots and styles that we like, which we then presented to our photographer to convey the style of photography that we were hoping to have for our wedding album. We spent over 2 hours consulting with the photographer, giving her and her team a detailed itinerary for the full day, and a list of ‘must-have’ shots that we wanted. This was over 6 years ago, and we spent over 15k on our photography by the team from Yervant International which included raw files of all the images, and Italian bespoke wedding album and parents’ albums. We ended up with 2 proof albums and spent another 6-8 hours in total deciding on the shots that would make the final wedding album. All up, we spent over 12 hours with the photographer just on consultation and finalising the details of the wedding album. Too extreme? Absolutely not b’coz to this day, we still get little gasps of delight every time we look at our wedding album and photos.

  4. Unfortunately many bridal studios do that
    I have shot under one of the famous bridal studios before too.
    they offered a price much lower than what i would get if i sourced for my own clients and expect a huge quantity of photos for a full day AD

  5. i’m a friend of the bride and she never meant for this to go viral. She simply shared the hilarious photos of her friends on her Facebook wall (her rights, yes?). while you’ve made valid points about the fact that she should’ve chosen and paid for an actual photographer, she did leave the agency anonymous when she posted it. on her Facebook wall. for her own friends. She didn’t send it to mothership or whatever hard-up-for-“news” publications.

    And as for the photographer, well, never do a job that you wouldn’t be proud of having your name tagged to. social media or no.

    1. ????????????once you bring anything under the scrutiny of social media, you will then be left with no room for reconciliation. Your friend probably earned a day of fame but at the expense of other’s downfall. Luckily the 55yo is taking it well…

    2. I agree with you that it is her rights to post photos on facebook but don’t forget that whatever you liked or share posts, everybody in her friend list can see it because of the profile has a ‘Follow’ function and also the album setting is set to ‘Everyone’ not ‘Friends Only’. If the setting is set to the latter, then the ‘Follow’ function will take its place in her profile and pass around via her friend list. Eg. She like/share –> appear on your wall/newsfeed and you like/share –> appear on your friend’s wall/newsfeed –> the list goes on and will at some point someone will share to SMRT Feedback / The Vigilanteh and KNN page.

      Back to the main point. Let me ask you a question. Would you in a right mind upload any unglam photos of yourself or friends or family on social media just to let the people in your friend list have a good laugh on the post wedding event?

      Sure it is a good laugh but don’t you think you guys should share among yourselves via messenger or whatsapp (if it is also taken from iphone/samsung from your phone or the bride’s) instead on facebook?

      If I were to “blame” someone, I would “blame” both of them as to be fair. Here’s why.

      1) The photographer should have done his part on QC which “bad” photos have to be deleted from his memory card/CF card and which “good” photos should stay and to be submitted to the agency/client.

      2) The bride/couple or your friend should not have post the unglam photos of themselves online for others like SMRT Feedback and KNN to make fun of and spread them like wild fire.

      3) The bride/couple or your friend is making the whole lot of you and herself look stupid and it is very embarrassing when you head out and everybody will look at you and laugh since it has gone viral or maybe it has featured on newspapers like Wan Bao/Sin Min (evening papers) tomorrow (14 April). Then all the aunties at the market will gossip and gossip. And also I feel it is an indirect way of photo shaming herself/her husband and her friends for the public.

      Lastly, give it a thought whether it makes sense or not. I’m not here to give lectures or anything. Just wanna share my very very honest opinions on this saga.

    3. “And as for the photographer, well, never do a job that you wouldn’t be proud of having your name tagged to. social media or no.”

      To be able to give such advice, wow, your life must be pretty amazing and successful – to never have had to face any setback and to have every single thing you do be something that you are proud of. You should write a book. And let me know when it’s published – I want to buy it.

  6. Absolutely agree with you!! its just not about wedding photography, but events & other activities as well. There are concerts / events running into 100 thousands of dollars in set-up costs, but when it comes to photography, the organizers expect the cost to be below a few hundred only.. or for free. When the organizers don’t compromise on quality of onstage equipment and bear the cost for it, why not pay respectable amount to photographers and encourage good quality work. Unfortunately, the very people who know that just to humm a song does not mean you are a great singer, just don’t realize that just wielding a DSLR doesn’t mean you are a good photographer. Experience, knowledge of lighting, post editing skills – all come at a certain premium.

  7. Thank you so much for speaking up!!! I really agreed what you have mention and it hurts reading all that. Cos I have been through the down time n finally stop doing wedding shoot. Sad to say but this is reality. I’m really glad I’m not alone facing all this. Thank you once again!!!

  8. In my case, my bridal shop gave us a third party photographer for the actual day. Album photography was done by their in house photographer. Everything turned out great. So everything also depends on how the shop runs their business n for how long. I would find that for something once in a lifetime, take your time to look at various bridal shops or for me, I knew that the particular shop has years of history n people that used their services were satisfied, I choose them too n find them having great service.

  9. IIRC, the couple did mention that the sample portfolio they were shown before signing on the package was quite okay, so you can’t blame it on them like that.

    This whole fiasco is the fault of the bridal studio, for pulling a bait and switch with sample albums that aren’t even close to the actual quality of their photographer.

    If anything they ought to take legal action against the studio for misleading advertising or something.

    1. Maybe I didn’t make my article clearer – it’s always the couple’s responsibility. It’s their responsibility to find both a reputable photographer AND bridal studio. You only have one shot at marriage, don’t take any chances. They can sue the studio but they can’t re-do the marriage ceremony, can they?

  10. Isn’t it the studio’s job to provide a good photographer if they can show customers good photos?

    1. Indeed, and it’s also the couple’s job to ensure they double-check that the studio is reputable and they know who is going to shoot the photos before they sign the contract. There’s usually nothing in the contract that will state what quality of photos is guaranteed as part of the agreement.

      1. I have just done a pre-wedding shoot, and I feel that it is not easy to do that.

        1st the bride mentioned that the bridal shop is fairly reputable (so probably can trust a bit look at the photos).
        2nd I found that studios usually don’t assign photographers (unless maybe you ask for one that you know) until the day or just before the day, and they may or may not inform you.
        3rd not everyone is capable of doing research beforehand even if they really try hard to, and thus leading to the point about finding good wedding photographers (or the inability to).

        I just think if the fiasco can happen in a shop, it may also occur alternatively (see nice photos, get bad photos).

        I have not read your article on how to find good photographers for different events, and how to check for bluffs. That might help people later on.

        1. You’re right there. I know this may sound annoying, but I often ask myself : Do I take the hard route or the fast route? Research is tough, but I think we can agree that it’s a lot easier to do research today than 10 years ago, thanks to the internet. People often want instant gratification, but as with all good things, it takes time and effort.

          1. Just for the sake of discussion (and maybe later down the road we may want to take another set for 10 year anniversary, who knows?), what can we (as non-photography inclined.. yeah even my phone pic sux to the core) actually look for in a good photographer?

            Sorry in case you have a suitable article but I am not here to browse. I had this page opened in my browser.

          2. Melvyn, he or she first needs to be an honest and upfront person that comes with your friends’ recommendations. That’s really it. It is the most important step and you will then find out what he can offer you without worrying if you will get shortchanged. That’s the same rule I apply to everyone like renovation contractors, tailors and anyone providing an important service. Skill is subjective but integrity isn’t.

  11. They just screwed up their own wedding .
    Same like chicken rice shop case, no money then don’t eat or choose the cheaper one to eat but don expect will get the same taste.

  12. So if a couple cannot afford a $1200-3000 photographer (as per your market norm), they don’t deserve to get decent photos of their wedding?

    1. That’s what you said, not me. I don’t decide the market rates, and you can choose not to pay those rates. But you just have to accept the outcomes of your own decisions. Who knows, maybe you can find a great photographer who will do pro-bono work for you.

    2. Yes. If u cant afford the proper market rate, u dun expect to get decent photos shot by professional photographer. Pro photgrapher is working a job like everyone else, the low end of market rate is the rate that help keep photographer alive and pay the bills. If u cant even pay that, why would anyone work for u? Are u willing to work 10 dollar a day when u need 100 dollar a day to pay the bills?

      1. That’s alright, everyone learn from their mistakes. 🙂 Especially when you edited your comment on Josh after I pointed out your statement in your article.

        But what’s the point of having a comment section and deleting comments that disagree with your views when you already dare to post this article? Penny for your thoughts, Ian. A penny.

        1. I’ll approve this post just to humor you, nameless person. (deleted a line, did you notice?)

          Edit: BTW I have a policy not to bother with people who don’t name themselves. And I don’t edit my posts to defend against nameless people, just adding more detail. I edit my articles all the time, even years later, just because I believe in constant copy-editing. I’ve dared to put my name here on all my articles for 11 years, and I’ve deleted too many comments from nameless people. The whole purpose of comments moderation is to remove snarky comments and their authors. Talk is cheap, but I do pay for this server space.

  13. Good article. Thanks for the write up. As an artist, I truly believe the paid price must be equaling the effort, quality, experience and trust of the professional. How do we charge is entirely up to us, and the client can decide to take or leave it.

    But at times, there are amateurs take themselves as professionals. Thus if the client takes the bait, it’s truly their responsibility. But in this case, the wages vs quality & quantity of work is ridiculous.

  14. I have been a wedding photographer myself. What you mentioned about people perception is absolutely right on spot. But what many of us Photographers do not understand is that wedding photo aren’t really that important to a couple as compared to the rings that they be wearing and the gown that they be showing to the wedding guests on the actual day. Many married couples have shared and advised that it isn’t that necessary to spend that much in wedding photography because they never really take it out after a yr or two of their wedding. If it’s something that they placed greater emphasis on as compared to the rings and gown, they would have been more willing to get the best they can afford to rather than looking for cheap alternatives. As photographers we tend to look at how much money and effort we spent in delivering what we can and forgot about the perceived value we delivered to customers. Wedding photography as well as other commercial photography is more of a business rather than an art. Its all about reaching out to the right group of customers and provide them the right pricing where they felt justified by the value we delivered to them. It should never become a need for us to tell them to take our stand and be willing to pay for the price we felt justified. The market is fair and balanced base on demand and supply.

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