4 reasons to hire a professional wedding photographer

Marc and Sylvia Fisher got wedding photographs of decapitated guests, a ceremony hardly visible through the gloom, and random close-ups of... not the bouquet, or a snatched kiss, but of carriage wheels.

The three-year-old bridesmaid - caught in one snap without her clothes on - could have done a better job.

Nevertheless, it's still a common question. Why hire a professional photographer?

Professional wedding photographers can charge anywhere from £500 up to £3000 or even more, so why not just ask uncle Bob? He has a big camera and he posts some good photographs on Facebook so he can photograph my wedding, right?

Well, he might be able to, but there's a lot more to being a professional photographer than taking the odd good photograph.

It's something that I've had to understand as I've made the transition from enthusiastic amateur to professional in the past few months.

It's been a steep learning curve!

If you don't get the photographs right first time, you don't get a second chance

Why do professional wedding photographers charge so much when they only work one day per week? The answer is because it's more complicated than that. Let's break down how much time a wedding photographer might actually spend on a wedding before, during and after the big day. 

1. Time and money

Most wedding photographers will meet you well ahead of the wedding for a consultation, where they will begin to get to know you, and find out all about your wedding plans. They'll probably ask lots of questions about how the day fits together in terms of timings and, because they are with you through almost the entire day, will act as your unpaid wedding planner.

Your photographer might follow up the initial consultation with phone calls and e-mails to ensure your expectations are met and things go smoothly on the day.

Some photographers offer an 'engagement shoot' where you go out and have photographs taken before the wedding so that you both feel at ease in front of the camera and you can begin to develop some trust in the photographer by seeing his image results. Many couples use photographs from these sessions on their wedding invites and other stationery.

On the day of the wedding ceremony most photographers will stay with you from the bridal preparations, through the ceremony itself, through the speeches, up to and beyond your first dance. That can easily translate to a 10 - 12 hour day, especially when you consider travelling time to and from the venue.

After the wedding day, the real work begins.

Your photographer will need to evaluate and edit the thousands of images they took and cut them down to those that captured the day the best. Most photographers edit each image personally one at a time and this process can take at least a day and sometimes an entire week.

If you want a wedding album then your photographer will need to select the photographs that best tell the story of the day in the space available and design the album, which can take another day or two.

If you add all of this time up you can see that for an average wedding a photographer could easily work for 40 hours or more - a full working week to produce just one wedding!

2. Costs

As well as time, it costs a photographer to run their business. 

All professional wedding photographers will have at least two camera bodies, for example, in case one fails on the day. I have two camera bodies and five lenses to ensure that if there is a technical hitch on the day I can still deliver good quality images.

Here's a list of the typical equipment a photographer might take to your wedding:

  • 2 camera bodies
  • Wide angle zoom lens (plus backup)
  • Mid range zoom (plus backup)
  • Telephoto zoom (plus backup)
  • Tripod
  • Reflector & stand
  • Video light
  • Flash (plus backup)
  • Remote trigger
  • Studio lights
  • Softbox
  • Brolly
  • Spare batteries
  • Spare memory cards
  • Cleaning equipment
  • A large bag to carry all of the above

A photographer will also have this host equipment to ensure that no matter what the conditions they can get the photos you need.

My camera body cost almost £1000 alone, and just one of my lenses cost almost £2000!

If uncle Bob's camera breaks on the day, what will he use for a backup?

The expense doesn't stop there. All your wedding images need to be edited on a high spec computer with specialist software such as Lightroom, Photoshop or Aperture. The photographs will need to be backed up, preferably more than once and in multiple locations, and stored indefinitely.

Your photographer has to build and maintain a website, again utilising specialist software to design albums, let clients view private galleries and advertise his services. There are countless other little expenses too, such as branded USB sticks, print boxes and postage costs.

Wedding photography is not a cheap business to set up and maintain.

3. Insurance

All that outlay brings us neatly to insurance. Having invested thousands, sometimes even tens of thousands of pounds in cameras, lenses and computer equipment, your photographer will have to be insured in case of damage.

There's not just gear to consider, though. What if one of your guests tripped over your photographers' tripod and broke a leg? They might sue your photographer for damages and if they aren't insured they could go bankrupt.

Even if the photographer does a great job, they may get sued by unscrupulous clients as happened in this case where a photographer was sued for $300,000 despite delivering 'freaking awesome' photographs.

I am insured by a specialist photography firm Aaduki and pay them several hundred pounds per year for professional indemnity and personal liability cover. If I'm lucky, I'll never have to call upon it.

4. Experience

Of course, there's no point in having all of that gear unless you know how to use it. It's more than having an expensive camera. A good wedding photographer will have spent thousands of hours honing his craft. They can see the shot, compose it and execute it reliably, time after time. Your professional photographer will know his equipment inside out and be able to decide upon the settings to get the best result.

I had to apply exposure compensation by a stop and a third to get the exposure correct for this image

The image above from a recent wedding I photographed is a good example. Have you ever photographed someone standing in front of a window? Do the images invariably end up with the person in silhouette? If I had let the camera choose my settings, that's what would have happened here. Instead I manually set my camera to correctly expose the bride.

So if you want a dreamy, backlit photograph of you and your new husband or wife, with the background thrown out of focus, hire a professional, because even if Bob has the same camera, he probably won't know how to use it with skill and precision to get the results you want.

Consistent image quality is key, regardless of the light or the conditions. Anyone can take a good photograph now and again, but a professional will get a good result time and again.

It's not just technical competency, though. Your professional wedding photographer will anticipate the shot because of his or her experience. They will know just where to stand during the ceremony  to get that photo of the flower girl before she throws a tantrum. They will capture that moment when your mam sheds a tear during the speeches. They have acquired that knowledge through experience of attending numerous weddings.

Your photographer will be able to move your guests around without upsetting them for the group shots, and they will liaise with other wedding suppliers such as your wedding planner or caterer, on the day so that it runs smoothly.

They understand the flow of the day and make it work for you.

Could uncle Bob photograph your wedding?

Yes, he could. If he is serious about photography he will have considered all of the above and take it into account when deciding if he is capable or not.

But have a thought for Bob too. Most people want to help. He might say yes, when you ask him to photograph your wedding day, but actually he's terrified. Might it be better to let him enjoy the day without all that responsibility on his shoulders?

You may think you will save money buy getting uncle Bob to take photographs at your wedding but in the long run you will only be disappointed. Long after the wedding ceremony is finished, the cake is eaten and you can't fit into your dress any more, the only thing you'll have to look back on is your photographs.

I'll leave you with a quote.

If you think a professional is expensive, wait 'til you try an amateur.
― Paul "Red" Adair