Last weekend I shot a wedding!
Why is this news for a photographer?
Because I hadn’t shot a wedding since 1995.
I used to shoot lots and lots of weddings. In fact, I shot my very first professional wedding solo when I was just 17 years old. I had been assisting my first mentor in photography at weddings for over a year, but I had to wait until I got my driver’s license to shoot on my own. So, I think like 3 weeks after my 17th birthday… I was shooting solo.
Back in those days we used to go to a wedding with 10 rolls of 120 film. That’s 12 exposures per roll, 120 pictures maximum. But, you were expected to bring 2 rolls back… they were for “emergencies”. So… 96 pictures is what you were expected to shoot. So you had to make each shot count. 96 pictures over a typical 10 hour day… do the math, there was a lot of waiting around for things to happen.
After the wedding, you would drop the film in a bag and wait for a professional lab to process it and make proofs. Then you stick the proofs in a little book, or tie them up with a nice ribbon and put them in a fancy box… and you were done until the bride and groom had time to make their selections. Those days are long gone.
After that, I shot weddings for a number of area studios, and later for my own studio, often shooting 2 or 3 weddings on a given weekend.
By the time I decided to retire from wedding photography, a typical wedding had expanded to around 200-250 shots.
Why did I quit?
A couple reasons… I had young children and I was tired of missing them growing up because I had to work every single weekend.
Also, I came to realize that even though I was one of the most expensive photographers in the area, when I factored in all the hours that go into the production of photographic wedding coverage, plus all the direct expenses involved, I wasn’t really making any money. In fact, unless I managed to get a significant additional sale in the way of extra parent albums, wall portraits, and additional print sales, I was barely making minimum wage.
So I quit. Just like that.
But last weekend, my niece got married in Florida, and we agreed that the best wedding gift we could give her would be her wedding photos. So I packed up all my gear, stuffed it into a bulging carry-on and headed for Southwest Florida.
I learned some stuff.
First, I learned that Southwest Florida in July in not the most comfortable environment to hold a wedding.
It was hot. Like 3 shirts hot. Like car air-conditioning can’t keep up hot.
Next, I learned that weddings themselves haven’t changed much. There is still the normal confusion, last minute changes, mis-communications and overall stress that there has always been. Photographers still need to be 1 part technician, 1 part psychologist, and 2 parts diplomat. And did I mention the heat?
I learned that it rains in SW Florida in the summer almost every afternoon. Not just a shower… violent thunder and lightning downpours. You can almost set your watch by them. 4:00, every day… deluge. Like build an Ark rainfall.
We had arranged to shoot formal pictures outdoors at a beautiful park on the way to the reception and hoped the rain would hold off. It did, but not for long.
We arrived to the sound of thunder in the distance, and I barreled through a set of formal and family photos in about 20 minutes…. and ended up running to the car with rain starting to fall. Without my wonderful wife acting as people wrangler, we would never have gotten them done. So, don’t try this alone.
Time for another shirt.
Next, I learned that wedding photographers today have no lives. Because, instead of 100-200 pictures, with digital it is very easy to shoot 10 times that much. You aren’t going to run out of film and it doesn’t cost you $2 in film and processing cost every time you drop the shutter.
So, you bang bang bang… but every one of those pictures has to be downloaded, culled, inspected, cropped, color corrected, exposure compensated, and processed. Nothing is insignificant enough not to be recorded.
All that work that used to be handled by the lab… processing, color correcting, cropping, is now back on the shoulders of the photographer. And, handling 200 exposures has now blossomed into handling 1000-2000 exposures on any given event.
Needless to say, the hours that I was unable to justify putting into a job 20 years ago have increased exponentially for today’s photographers. But, amazingly, it doesn’t seem like the average price charged by wedding photographer has kept pace. Makes me scratch my head when I see photographers offering full day wedding coverage for only a few hundred dollars! I guess that’s why so many burn out so fast. It’s insane.
If you are one of those folks that thinks wedding photographers are ridiculously overpriced… I have news for you. They earn every cent in ways about which you have no idea.
I learned that equipment problems have no respect, even for experienced photographers.
Two (or more) of everything is mandatory. And the backup gear does you no good in the trunk… you have to carry it with you so it is at arms length at any given moment. I suffered through a corrupt memory card, a lens that decided to die 30 seconds before the bride and her dad walked down the isle, and a flash that decided to quit in the middle of formal pictures. Not to mention a lens that fogged up instantly going from the air conditioned reception to the outdoors for the newlywed’s sparkler sendoff.
I can’t remember the last time I had an equipment malfunction during a portrait shoot. The worst you ever seem to get is an occasional flash misfire. For some reason, the fact of a time limited un-repeatable event of magnanimous importance seems to throw Murphy’s Law in overdrive. I have no idea why.
And the newest headache in the lives of today’s wedding shooters that I never had to deal with… well meaning friends and relatives taking cell phone pictures and getting in … every… single… shot.
So, I pulled it off, although I’m still editing the photos. My niece and her family have been thrilled with the sneak peeks so far.
I got all the important shots, as my first mentor taught me, “always bring home the bacon.” I kept the mood light and airy. I dealt with problems and situations without anyone really knowing… fix it or deal with it and move on. Because that’s what wedding photographs have to do.
I came away with a new found appreciation for those of our profession that do this week in and week out. Hats off to you, wedding professionals. You are under appreciated, and underpaid.
Oh, and I learned that the gasps, giggles, oohs and ahhs of a young bride and her family when they see the work you have done for them makes it all worth while.
So, there’s that.