Why I’m Giving Up Wedding Photography
It's the end of the line for professional wedding photographers
So that’s it, after 20 years as a professional wedding photographer and having covered countless weddings across the North West and the UK, I’ve decided this will be my last summer shooting weddings. Bookings for next year are looking a bit thin, to say the least, and to tell you the truth the business has changed so much in the last three years that I just can’t be bothered anymore. The increasingly demanding clients, the exponential growth in the number of photographers competing for bookings and the subsequent rapid decrease in fees means it’s just not worth it to me anymore. I just don’t like weddings that much that I’m prepared to bend over backwards to stay in the game. Maybe I’m just getting too old for it!
Twenty years ago, pre-digital and pre-internet, photography was so different to today. I got my work mainly through reputation and a bit of advertising. I had a small high street shop in the local town, and pretty much anyone who was getting married would pop in to have a look at some albums. There were probably about 4 or 5 of us nearby with similar setups, and we all knew each other, and if we were already booked, we’d recommend each other. Wedding photography was the best-kept secret in the industry. Not as glamorous and exciting as some other areas of photography - but we all earned a great living and had a nice lifestyle. Other photographers wouldn’t touch a wedding with a barge pole. It was either seen as too dull or too complicated. We had assistants in those days, not ‘second shooters’, tripods, Hasselblads, film and light meters. Photographers spent their time taking photographs rather than blogging about how lovely weddings are!
Then came the revolution. Digital cameras and the internet. The two great time sapping Satans that have destroyed photography as a way of earning a meaningful living. At first it didn’t seem too bad. The cameras were rubbish and setting up a website was complicated, expensive and time-consuming. Clients still came via referral and popped into the shop. Everyone always wanted a wedding album. What could go wrong?
The pace of change has been frightening. My phone now has a higher resolution camera built in than my first digital camera - and it’s better in low light. You can set up a website yourself in the afternoon and start advertising your £850, two photographers, unlimited all-day coverage with a free engagement shoot. And a disc of 1500 images ready for printing packages [that’s a bit of a mouthful - but seems to be the standard offering these days] on Google Adwords the same day. And everyone and his wife are doing it!
I suppose the first significant change was the reportage, photojournalist, documentary crew. With news and editorial photographers feeling the pinch because of the dwindling fees and lack of work in their area. Hey they said - “book a photojournalist for your wedding! No more standing in lines and posing. We’ll tell the real story of your wedding unobtrusively and naturally”. It is a good sales pitch and worked well as some of the photographers are brilliant and do a fantastic job. Of course like all successful formulas it became easily copied, or so they thought. Every keen amateur who’d dreamed of being a professional photographer or never entirely made it in the editorial game jumped on board, as taking ‘casual’ snaps’ seems easy. Soon ‘natural, unobtrusive reportage wedding photographers’ were popping up all over the internet. Some good, some excellent - some just awful snaps. We used to call it candids. There are thousands of photographers claiming to be wedding photojournalists - in reality; there are probably only about 30 who are any good at it.
And so things changed. Wedding photography was no longer a well-kept secret. Other photographers saw that a top wedding photographer typically charged between £1500-£4000 per day and scrambled aboard the gravy train. Problem is there are only ever roughly the same number of potential clients every year and once the gravy train became overloaded it slowed right down to a crawl before eventually coming to a halt in a siding. A new trend started, and we all groaned. Vintage, rock ‘n’ roll, trendy cropping and washed out post-production. Lots of photos of bunting and shoes and details and details. Whereas the wedding photojournalists focused on the story and the people the new retro-style photographers focused on fashion, and it is just a 2-hour fashion shoot in the middle of a wedding. Yawn. Fortunately, because it’s fashion it’s probably already moved on, and I’m just waiting for clients to want 25 group shots on a Hasselblad - surely it will be back in fashion again soon!
Of course, it’s great for clients having all this choice, but the competition for the dwindling number of brides prepared to spend a decent amount on their wedding photography has meant only one thing - declining prices which ultimately means the end of the full-time professional wedding photographer. It is now becoming the domain of the keen part-time amateur living out the fantasy of being a professional photographer. The enquiries continue to flood in. “We’re looking for the cheapest photographer.” “Can you drop your price.” “We love your work but have found several others who are offering better deals”. “We’d also like a free engagement shoot, two photographers and all day coverage”. “Our budget is £250 can you help”. “Our friend was going to do our wedding photos but now he can’t, we don’t have any money left...” Sound familiar?
My advice to anyone getting married soon is to seek out the best professional wedding photographer you can afford. Borrow a bit extra to buy a top of the range wedding album - don't end up as one of the countless brides I hear about these days who is upset and disappointed after they receive their images.
So that’s it for me! I suppose I’m one of the lucky ones, I’ve had a great career and I’m coming up to retirement soon enough anyway - I don’t envy anyone starting out now because it’s going to be tough but good luck anyway. Anyone want to buy some second hand Canon gear?
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