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!
Documentary wedding photography is chasing me around the internet at the moment. No sooner do I leave one photography forum on Facebook because of a tedious argument than it turns up on another. You can’t escape it. The ‘Real’ documentary photographers get their lens caps in a twist over this one.
The issue usually starts with someone posting a link to a photographer’s website because they have used to term ‘documentary wedding photography’ but have featured images of people LOOKING at the camera. This is currently the biggest crime in the photography world. It used to be vintage post-production, but that seems to have disappeared now. Thank God.
These Facebook rows turn ugly for a straightforward reason - documentary wedding photographers are so precious about their ‘Art’, and anybody who uses the word ‘documentary’ in their marketing has to play by the rules or the self-appointed guardians of the term are quick to step in and proclaim their indignation. It can be brutal. I'm not sure when the Documentary Wedding Photography Police first appeared but they are everywhere and you'd better not mess with them.
There are numerous conspiracy theories surrounding the death of professional wedding photography or the exponential race to the bottom as it’s known in the office. I’ve mentioned a few reasons for the decline here on the Secret Wedding Photographer blog, such as free engagement shoots. Some will claim that the big camera manufacturers don’t care about us pros and much in the same way that Apple virtually ditched development of professional workstations and support for professional applications (farewell Aperture) the big camera companies are now focused on making photography easier and cheaper for consumers. Let's leave for another post!
There is another far sinister factor - the Second Shooter, lurking in the background. I’m old enough to remember life before the second shooter. The days of a now mythical creature - the photographers assistant. A useful beast who knew his place. I even employed one once who didn't want to be a photographer. He liked assisting. Having an assistant is great. They carry your bags. Make sure everything is working. Move lights around and hold reflectors. They were a fantastic thing. Unfortunately, they are rarely seen now. Commercially no one will pay for them. They have been made extinct by the birth of the second shooter. Another disastrous idea for the wedding photography business.