I correspond with hundreds of Los Angeles area wedding photography clients every year. And over the course of that year, one or two folks will share that they didn’t select me because a family friend offered to photograph their wedding. Although I can only speculate as to a client’s motivation, I’m hesitant to agree that hiring a family friend to photograph a wedding would be the good choice.
I photograph an average of 35 weddings every year. And, over the course of my career, I’ve photographed hundreds of weddings. This means that I’ve worked in hundreds of different locations, in challenging lighting situations, under all kinds of weather conditions, and all the while living and working through countless wedding day “emergencies.” Although a family friend may be quite good at holiday photos or family photographs or even fashion photography, can they cope with a wide range of rapidly changing situations and still capture amazing photographs of the hundreds of special moments that are your wedding day?
I’m an experienced camera operator. Over the course of a single year, I’ll take over 75,000 photographs. And, on a typical wedding day, I’m changing equipment settings constantly. After my many years as a professional wedding photographer, my cameras and lighting equipment have become extensions of my body. I no longer consciously think about camera adjustments or lighting situations. I simply view a scene and adjust my equipment automatically. And because of that skill, I’m able to capture rapidly evolving wedding moments as they happen. Without those skills, important wedding moments can be missed—moments that can’t be recreated. You only get one chance at weddings.
I invest heavily in equipment. For example, my primary wedding equipment includes two Nikon D3 cameras (carried at the same time), a 24-70 f/2.8 lens, a 70-200 f/2.8 lens, two SB-900 flashes, and 32GB high speed memory cards. And in addition to my primary equipment, I also have a backup camera (D3x), four backup lenses, four backup flashes, and a host of other lighting gear. To put this in perspective, at a typical wedding I arrive with over $25,000 in camera equipment with about $15,000 carried on my person at any one moment. This equipment allows me to create amazing photographs in extremely challenging lighting conditions—conditions where lessor cameras and lenses struggle to keep up. Has your family friend invested in the professional cameras and backup equipment necessary to ensure the best possible photos, even when the lighting is horrible or when something goes terribly wrong with one or more pieces of gear?
Good professional photographers carry insurance. My insurance coverage includes general business liability ($2M), equipment insurance ($100k), and professional liability insurance (aka errors and omissions). If the unthinkable happens, I want to be prepared. That means peace of mind for me and my clients. As an aside, did you know that many venues won’t allow photographers on-site unless the photographer carries adequate liability insurance? Is your family friend insured? Are they underinsured?
My reputation is on the line every time I photograph a wedding. Therefore I have a strong incentive to do an amazing job—especially in the age of the Internet where every aspect of customer-service is a matter of public record. My livelihood is at stake every time I photograph a wedding. Is your family friend similarly motivated?
When you a hire a professional to photograph your wedding, we are typically focused on one thing—capturing excellent photos of you and your fiancé. If you hire a family friend, then one may assume that they’re going to be friends with several of your guests (or perhaps many of your guests). In those situations, that family friend may sometimes end up distracted by those guests. It’s only natural to spend a few minutes chatting with friends at weddings. And it’s only natural to share a drink when offered. And it’s only natural to photograph people you know more frequently and with greater enthusiasm than people you don’t know. But, if you hire me, I’ll be focused on the single task of creating beautiful photos of you and all of your guests and working every second of the day (except when I spend a few minutes to grab a quick bite during your reception) doing the job you’ve hired me to do.
As my business is photography, I’m relying on your patronage in order to meet my financial obligations. As such, it is in my best interest to provide good service before, during, and after the wedding. This service includes providing deliverables (digital negatives, albums, proofs, physical prints, etc.) as well as using my experience to advise you on a wide range wedding related planning considerations. This is my job. It’s what I do every day. Can your family friend say the same thing?
I’d like to admit that I fully realize, that for some clients and for a variety of reasons, a family friend may be your only choice. However, I’m hopeful that this brief essay will empower some clients to ask pertinent questions of that family friend before making their final decision.