Before I start I should make a bit of a disclaimer. Everybody is entitled to have the wedding they want. To invite who they want, to decorate how they want and to employ (or not) suppliers and entertainment whether they be aspiring, professional or total amateurs.
With that said, this morning I saw a link on Facebook to an article published on the Female First site entitled “10 reasons why people are swapping the wedding photographer for a family friend“. The article attributes these reasons to Sarah Heath, the manager at Heaton House Farm who has been busy vehemently denying any such a link in the blog post’s comment section.
Articles like this are commonplace on social media these days. Click bait posts promising easy to read lists of ways to win the wedding race are everywhere. I’m amazed it didn’t have a tag line that said “You won’t believe number 9!!!”
Let’s look at these 10 reasons and see just how good the advice on offer is…
1.) Instant Results They don’t have to juggle clients so they can set to work on editing your photos straight away, so your wedding album will be ready in no time. What’s more, you can enjoy an informal coffee whilst selecting your favourite shots.
Well I can’t argue with words 3 through 8 but the rest is rubbish. I’m assuming that most of these friends have jobs, possibly partners or children. Why on earth this writer assumes that editing a set of photos in your spare time will produce results quicker than doing it for a living escapes me. When I shoot a wedding I know I’m going to be editing it after so I make sure I schedule time for this exact purpose following the event. Not only that but a pro photographer is going to be much faster at selecting, editing and finishing your images than a hobbyist and will have a high performance computer set up for exactly this purpose.
2.) Familiarity It’s likely that your friend or family member is already familiar with you and your loved ones, so won’t need to work at building that rapport. You may find that as a result they can easily achieve great shots which really capture individuals’ personalities.
Yes they might be familiar with your loved ones but that doesn’t mean they know how to frame or light a shot. Building rapport is a skill that photographers develop through experience. It’s also worth considering that sometimes guests can be tricky or bored (or drunk) and can be difficult to wrangle. Having someone independent of the group who can focus solely on the task is a plus, not a drawback.
3.) Convenience If your friend or family member was already a wedding guest, then it’s no extra hassle to have them photographing the event. Just be sure they are happy to be pulled away from socialising in order to get the job done!
This could not be more misleading. Just because someone will be attending it does not mean that it’s no extra hassle for them to be a wedding photographer. They might find it a hassle to scout the venue and research shot locations, to organise pre wedding meetings and draw up a contract (unless you thought a contract wasn’t necessary for the most important photos of your life). It’s possible they won’t be expecting to prepare cameras, lenses, reflectors and lights, co-ordinate assistants and guests, plan the formal and key shots and then when the day is finished, edit hundreds of images before backing them up and delivering the storybook album you wanted.
4.) They Know How to Make You Smile Both literally and in terms of the shots you want. They’ll have the best idea of the kind of photos you’ll love, as a result of their knowledge of you and your partner.
Apart from the fact that I don’t know any other way to smile except literally, finding out about the kind of photos you love is why a professional will meet with the couple, show examples of previous work and make sure they are shooting in the style that you want. Capturing personality is important and a good photographer will be able to do that but technical knowledge is important too. Being friends is nice, but it does not a photographer make.
5.) Cost Using a friend or family member could save you money. However, make sure you’re confident with their previous work, and even get them to carry out some trial shots to make sure they’re up to the job – our research revealed that 1 in 5 couples married in the past three years who didn’t use a professional photographer were disappointed with the results.
There’s no arguing about this one. Paying less or not at all will cost you less…. or nothing, which may be exactly what you get in terms of photos. You’re friend may not have a second camera, or even a full frame camera that can shoot in low light. They may not have wide aperture lenses that create that nice blurry background you like. They probably also lack public liability or professional indemnity insurance so if something goes wrong you’re on your own and your wedding insurance certainly won’t cover it. Yes it’s true. Hiring a professional photographer can be expensive but it’s all relative. You’re paying for someone who will bring thousands of pounds worth of equipment and years of training to your day. Would you consider having a friend make your dress? If so that’s fine but that’s not the right analogy. Instead consider having it made by a friend and them presenting it on the day without seeing the results first because that’s how your photography works. You have to completely trust the person behind the camera.
6.) Get Everyone Involved You don’t need to leave the job down to just one friend or family member, why not create a unique hashtag for the event on social media and encourage anybody sharing photos to use it? You’ll benefit from tons of spontaneous shots which you may never have anticipated.
I’m in two minds about this. If you don’t mind everybody staring at their phones all day then yes. Absolutely collect their photos as an added extra to your day but don’t expect them to be high quality printable images. Don’t expect them to have accurate colour or be well composed and in focus. On a bright day outdoors, mobile photography can be great. As soon as you get into a candlelit church or on the dance floor the quality is going to drop dramatically.
7.) Different Perspectives There are so many ways to capture a special moment. Why not task your loved one to bring their GoPro along to capture some unusual scenes? Our research into the wedding trends of 2016 highlighted how 1 in 3 couples are planning to use a GoPro to film or photograph their special day
Again, this is a nice idea but should be presented as an addition, not an alternative to a photographer. GoPro images can be fun but they look like what they are. Action cameras just do not produce the kind of images that can replace a DSLR.
8.) Editing is Possible Be prepared that not every photo is guaranteed to turn out brilliantly, however the accessibility of nifty editing apps and tools mean that altering and fine-tuning finished shots is easier than ever.
Editing is possible and maybe it is less difficult now to throw a quick filter on your mobile images but that’s not how editing works. This statement implies that editing apps are a magic wand but they’re not. The images have to be properly shot to get the best results. A professional will shoot in RAW format. I won’t get into it here but it’s a format that most free or consumer level programs will not be able to process. It’s not uncommon for me to return from a wedding with 50-100GB of files so don’t expect to be able to use a ‘nifty’ app to get through them.
9.) Honoured Tasking a loved one to carry out such an important job is guaranteed to flatter them, which is great especially if they aren’t already playing a specific role throughout the day. But beware of how you approach them about the job though – you want them to know it’s because you value their talents and not because you’re looking for a freebie.
This is essentially the same as when people approach me to say “Do you want to shoot my wedding for free, it’ll be great for your portfolio?”. You’re guest may well be honoured but but do you really understand the pressure they’re going to be under? Why would you do that to a friend? Talk to any amateur who has shot a wedding for a favour and I’ll bet they’ll tell you “Never again.” It’s hard work and it’s so much more just the day spent shooting. As suggested you should beware of how you approach a friend to say you value their talents but not enough to actually pay them for it. Try it our before your wedding by asking one of your friends to come and do 1-2 weeks of work around your house without pay. See how it goes.
10.) Value Having the most special moments of your big day captured by someone you love brings a whole new level of value and sentimentality to your photographs. You’ll think of that person each time you look at them and remember them fondly for their help and hard work.
Let’s rewrite this the way it should be:
Having the most special moments of your big day ruined by someone you love brings a whole new level of animosity to your relationship. You’ll curse that person every time you look at your blurry, grainy photos and remember a time when you were still talking to them.
With all this said. Is it possible that a non professional friend can capture your wedding the way you want and produce high quality images in a timely fashion?
It’s possible but it’s not very likely. There’s just too much preparation and experience needed to expect someone to get everything right first time round. I haven’t always been a wedding photographer. When I started out I charged accordingly. I made mistakes, I learned from them and I got better. There are professional photographers available to fit almost any budget and it’s fair to say that you get what you pay for.
The DIY wedding movement is great. I love shooting weddings that are full of personal touches contributed by friends and loved ones but I implore you, I beg of you, don’t let your photography be one of them.