Another Business Failing To Adjust: The Wedding Photographer

from the nice-try dept

While most of the stories about businesses failing to adjust to a digital and computer age focus on things like the music or movie industry, there are some other, smaller, industries struggling against the tide as well. For example, the business of the wedding photographer is facing certain challenges. Traditionally, the wedding photographer retains the copyright on all photos he or she takes. Of course, these days, with the easy ability to scan and print new copies of photos that look just as good, many people are starting to route around the high fees photographers charge to get access to reprints. And, then, just think how wedding photographers are going to deal with it when newlyweds simply want their photo albums online, rather than in expensively bound books?

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Comments on “Another Business Failing To Adjust: The Wedding Photographer”

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A pro wedding photog says:

So charge upfront!

This is a problem?
Professional photographers are just that – professional. When a professional is hired for an event, professional results are expected. The photographers fees are for his or her services and results, not necessarily for the finished prints or reprints (while they may be part of a package deal).
So …. I know my clients want the pictures. They want to share them online with their friends and via email and whatnot. Why pay me $5 each for 25 4×5 reprints for their friends when a 1024×768 pixel digital image is more resolution than most people can use, and can be emailed to a few hundred friends and relatives “for free?”
The days of counting on reprints for a large portion of sales are over. (Not sure how many of those days ever were.) My clients have choices for wedding-day packages: most include proofs in some form (increasingly CDROM over 4×5 album), a wedding album in a range of sizes, and large (16″ x 20″ and above) portraits. I know my clients want to be able to share images digitally, and I know it’s folly to try to stop them. Give the customer what they want! The number one item in all my wedding packages is: my time. My fees simply include the usage rights for low- to mid-resolution digital images and my time up-front. Problem solved.

schleifnet (user link) says:

my photog was with it

just got married july 1st, my photog used a high mega pixel slr camera and had been all digital for a couple years now, also does almost all his work in photoshop (latest version) plus there is a specific program that photogs use to format that ungawdly expensive book and then he hands off the image files and the format file to a person who carefully goes over each image over the course of a couple of months and adjusts and cleans up even image… plus
my proofs were on two different type cd’s (one with adjustable thumbs and one with an animated slide show plus
we got a huge proof book printed on photo paper of course plus
you pay for professionalism (like the guy said)
my photog had an online album but found the cost of letting another company run part of his business a little to high, especially considering the cdroms he gives out

Andy says:

another industry I would like to welcome to 2005

Why can’t a doctor’s office have a web site that explains to me why I should use their service? I want to know their average wait times, their education and experience. I also want to send me doctor an email and to schedule appointments electronically.

A pro wedding photog says:

Re: No Subject Given

Of course there are the high-end, highly artistic works that many photographers offer — and price accordingly. Studios that offer such services start their fee structure upwards of $6,000. Not everyone can afford that level – there’s enough business to go around. True, just about anyone can pick up a camera and start shooting weddings – you do get what you pay for. Some of us, however, in mid-career with a decent but perhaps not yet to the level of the master studios in the $6-8k range, do quite well in our market segment. There’s no need to bash that valuable market, nor the skills of new or mid-career photographers. In any case, no matter the level of the work – it would seem to me that you could still price the usage fees into the contract. Client wants a CD and email/self-print rights? Sell it to them. They’ll go around you with the scanner if you don’t, and who does that help?
That, and register you work with the copyright office, and persue infringers – as a busy studio owner has time. Professional Photographers of America is where I turn –
If you have other suggestions, I’d be glad to hear them.

Johnny Marr says:

Re: Re: It's the skill

You’re missing the point. You’re paying for the photgrapher’s skill in composing and shooting the pictures. I’m perfectly happy to pay for that.

All of the boring stuff, copying files, putting them on a CD etc, tough luck photographers, I’m gonna do that, and you’re not goign to make any money off it. Just give me copyright free TIFFs, and I’ll pay for your service.

DV Henkel-Wallace says:

Re: Wedding Photos -- don't sweat 'em

I had a great time at my wedding, and think of it almost every day. It was 15 years ago. But the marriage is even more fun! Frankly a blurry snapshot a friend took is just as good since it provides us a common memory anyway. And those stilted, quasi-formal pix? Never look at ’em.

Who spends more than a minute or two looking at other peoples’ wedding photos anyway? Even if you were there, it’s the snapshots that are more fun and more interesting.

Chomper says:

Re: Re: Wedding Photos -- don't sweat 'em

Have you ever seen a wedding album with all snapshots?

Sure the occassional snapshot is fun, but a lot of them are dark, blurry and almost worthless.

I don’t want to remember my wedding from the view of a drunkard. I would like sharp, well lit pictures composed with an artistic eye.

There is a market for both.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Wedding Photos -- don't sweat 'em

Hmm. It seems a lot of people are commenting on a very different issue than the one I raised (perhaps because Gizmodo raises the issue in relation to this story). I never said that the professional wedding photographer would go away. I think there’s absolutely a place for a professional in this situation.

The *real* issue is how they deliver those photos, and whether they’ll still be able to make so much money charging for reprints.

Chomper says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Wedding Photos -- don't sweat 'em

Agreed, no one takes issue with Gizmodo and Techdirt, you guys are just reporting what the Inquirer has said.

However, the tone of the Inquirer piece also seems to say that pro photographers are irrelevant now which is not the case at all.

I have already addressed this on my blog before and with friends.

The really laughable part was comparing our industry to that of the MPAA.

Bottom line, it was a poorly written and researched piece that will be used as ammo against photographers.

Chris says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Wedding Photos -- don't sweat 'em

I take a ton of digital pics every year. 99% are utter crap 🙂 Power Saws and Laser Guided Levels have not hurt the income levels of builders or remodels, I don’t see digital cameras doing a whole lot to damage to the income of good photographers.

toby (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Wedding Photos -- don't sweat 'em

ahoy. I am a newspaper photographer, and shoot occasional weddings ( Someone mentioned it before earlier in this link, but I would like to touch upon it a bit more. Even before digital technology was widely used I would often here these sorts of comments: “wow, that’s a great picture, you must have a really good camera”, or the old gem ” i used to be able to take really good photos, but my great camera broke, and now I just have this little cheap one”. Now, with the prevelance of digital this sort of mentality has been kicked into overdrive -but the fact of the matter is the same now as it was 5 years ago; a rookie having the greatest camera in the world is still not going to compare with my having woken up everyday for the last 10 years and taken an average of 300 pictures a day, in all sorts of situations, lighting, Weather inclement and fine, and various states of equipment repair. I have had a bullet pass through my shirt (an experience that translates better to shooting weddings than you might expect), I have felt my arms go numb from holding my camera up for too long, I have been jostled and kicked, and well, my point being that, for the time being at least (until everyone just shoots some super high resolution video for everything and grabs stills, probably at least 10 years away) I wouldn’t be too quick to marginalize experience when it comes to trades and the arts alike (would you want a plumber to paint a portrait of your puppy, or vice-versa?). Or, conversly do marginlize it but be ready to look at a bunch of blurry crappy out of focus photos your uncle Ted took at your wedding since you didn’t wan’t to hire a professional.
Finally, I have never really raked in the geld from reprints, I and a growing number of pro’s whom I respect charge a package fee and that’s the deal.

Michael D.Robinson says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Wedding Photos -- don't sweat 'em

Not completely true ! A large portion of wedding photography is not that good ! Many customers can’t tell and only shop price or are taken in by marketing. Right now there are a lot of “digital weekend warriors” and “digital wonders” who shoot over a 1000 digital shots at wedding hoping to score a few fair ones that can be “photoshopped” to be passable.

Some go out of their way to make themselves look better than they are by giving digital slideshows, showing up, almost hounding the couple with unnessary time before and after the wedding, etc. What next: a promise of a threesome with photographer on the wedding nite, with porno stills included.

A lot of smoke and mirrors because there is the smell of $.

Michael D.Robinson says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Wedding Photos -- don't sweat 'em

This is nothing new for the informed. I’v given negs and/or CD’s for years. People stopped ordering lots of prints years ago, since the indroduction of scanners at Wal-mart etc.

I’m making more now than ever, except that there is more competition for everyone.

And the ones saying bla, bla, bla, about the competition are the new “digital wonders” who spread the jobs thinner.

M.R. says:

old joke about pro v. amateur photogs

In the days of film, an amateur was someone who shot 36 and kept 35. A pro shot 36 and kept 1.
So, arm every table with a cheap digital camera (a new idea for a rental business?), and you end up with hundreds or even thousands of wedding photos. Instead of wedding photogs, maybe a new business idea would we wedding editors who cull the crap, and photoshop the rest.

Chomper says:

No Subject Given

Haha, I love the assumption that with the prevelance of digital cameras, that people can take a good photo in the first place.

It always amazes me how with every technological revolution in any field that brings it to the masses, people assume that industries professionals will go by the wayside.

Photography is not easy. Sorry if you think that but the majority of amateurs I see just can’t shoot a pic. Only the really dedicated ones who are semi-pro can do it.

But then again, if peoples expectations are so low, then I guess it doesn’t matter.

However, I think the market for good work will always be there.

DaleM says:

Charge a Shooting Fee

I am an aspiring wedding photographer with a few friends who work for a major university as staff photographers and also shoot weddings a few times a year. They have collectively found more and more couples are tryng to be cheap when it comes to reprints or want to own the negatives/digital files and prints – obviously not understanding or appreciating copyright law.

Thier solution; charge a much higher fee. It used to be you would charge $1000-2000 for shooting the wedding and expect to make $1000-2000 on prints. Now they just charge $2500-3500 for shooting the wedding and give you an edited CD of images.

I have a slightly different take, I do not want to hand over my high quality, color corrected, edited images over to somebody who will print them on a $99 HP printer on plain paper – thus making my work look like crap. I instead will give the client a CD of low-res copies of the edited images that are suitable for email. They use this CD to determine the photos they would like printed then I send those images to a printer for them and the printer will send them directly to the customer.

I make absolutely nothing on Prints, I would rather hand that off to another professional who does nothing else in the world than print.

I am not interested in albums.

Mojo says:

Re: Charge a Shooting Fee

I appreciate your art, but ultimately you are hired to give a customer what they want – witholding hi res images because ‘they don’t know how to properly use them’ is pointless.

On the other hand, teaching clients ‘what they want’ is a more progressive approach. When they say ‘just hand over the digital files when you’re done,’ show them some before/after images of how your skill in Photoshop can yield much better final images… most likely they will be happy to pay for some post-production work IF you can show them the difference it makes!

Same goes for prints… show them the comparison between a home-printed image and what you get from a pro. Let THEM decide what they want.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Charge a Shooting Fee

“It used to be you would charge $1000-2000 for shooting the wedding and expect to make $1000-2000 on prints. Now they just charge $2500-3500 for shooting the wedding and give you an edited CD of images.”

Either way, the point is that there is still a market for professional photographers, but they need to change their business model to match their cost model.

My church just had a photo directory done, and the photographer is still doing the sitting for free and trying to recoup costs by charging $30 a sheet for prints. Which is stupid, and I won’t be at all surprised if they lose money on it. Part of the deal was that everyone who went in for a sitting got a free copy of the directory and a free 8×10. Which means every one of those people can get their photo scanned and print of as many copies in whatever size they want for a couple bucks a sheet.

Photographers aren’t going to go out of business just because digital cameras are cheap, because the type of digital camera an amateur can afford (even the super-sweet SLR’s like the Nikon D70) don’t have the resolution of even 35mm film, let alone larger formats. And they don’t have the know-how to take good photos. However, photographers are going to have to fix their pricing model and quit trying to hide the true cost by hooking you with a low up-front fee and then gouging for prints, because they no longer have the leverage to do that.

It should cost the same amount to get a print done by the photographer as it does to get it done at a photofinishing store. You don’t can even outsource that (if it isn’t already). However, there’s a level of service in between trying to monopolize the prints and just handing over a disk and letting the customer screw themselves. It sounds like you’ve found that middle ground at least, hopefully others will.

Edward Crim (user link) says:

Re: Re: image quality of digital SLR's

“Photographers aren’t going to go out of business just because digital cameras are cheap, because the type of digital camera an amateur can afford (even the super-sweet SLR’s like the Nikon D70) don’t have the resolution of even 35mm film, let alone larger formats”

I have moved from medium format film to digital SLR’s (6 & 11 MP) and can say that the new generation of DSLR’s are far superior to 35mm film. Sharpness and detail are equal, if not better, and there is NO film grain. They compare very favorably to medium format and are much more versatile. I have enlarged 6 MP images from my Canon 10D to 24×36 inches and 11 MP images from my Canon 1Ds to 96 inches x 24 inches (cropped) and clients are very impressed. In fact, so am I! I do still shoot 4×5 inch film, but only until I can justify a digital scanning back.

Shane says:

it's about the brand

Here’s a modern way to view this: Protecting the Brand. A brand is as strong as its product, intellectual copyright, and marketing. If you hand over negatives or digital files to clients who print their photos on desktops or at wal-mart on those poorly maintained dye-sub printers – what’s your product? Crappy photos. For 100 years, photographers have been retouching, color correcting, adjusting and sweating over their prints because that’s the product and their actual name (brand) is on the line. Taking a photo is half the work, printing it beautifully is the other half. Presenting photo proofs in web galleries is acceptable, but as final product? The idea is horrifying since most people use 10 year old monitors at 600×800 with an aol connection; nothing looks good on those screens. I can hear the referral now- “My photographer took dark pictures with lots of jpeg jaggies- I don’t recommend him”.

aReader says:

The Wedding Photog article makes an assumption

The article on the wedding photography makes a valid main point but makes an assumption that is invalid. It says that anyone can print just as well as the photographer. This is not true, because a fully professional photographer has a properly color managed digital workflow and prints via a profiled printer. When an ill-informed user trots down to the mall kiosk, the prints are not color balanced or profiled, the process may not be archival, and other problems can occur.

aReader says:

Online Albums are no answer

Given the cost and the sentimentality of wedding photographs, only fools would entrust their pictures to some online provider who may got dot-bust, instead of have the physical entity in hand. The suggestion that Mike makes holds no water. Couples will not want to forgo owning tangible pictures.

Mari Presedo says:

Future of wedding photographers

I HAVE BEEN SHOOTING CD PHOTO ALBUMS FOR A COUPLE OF YEARS NOW. THE PICTURES ARE THEIRS TO DO WITH AS THEY WISH. I DO OFFER THREE SETS OF CDs on the initial package. If they want anymore at the initial order, I charge 10 bucks per set. I suggest them as bridesmaid/groomsmen favors- they are an easy sell. I charge $650.00 for a wedding. That’s an average price in Baton Rouge plus extra CDs.Formal bridal portraits or engagement portraits of the couple are $150. in additon to the wedding. Every once in a while I get folks that want extra CD sets so they don’t have to or because they can’t. Onhce the initial work is done, I’m not greedy. I include a letter granting permission to reproduce on each CD. Photo outlets refuse to print pictures from digital media that look “professional” without proof that the bearer of the images is the rightful owner, so my CDs state something to that effect along with my copyright mark, date, etc. I have sold duplicate CDs after an event- in fact, I just took orders on a wedding that I shot last year again. I save the files on my second larger drive. Haven’t had it all long enough to know how much hardware I will need for all this stuff. BUT it beats the endless files of negatives that people keep in the hopes that they may get reprint orders.
I STILL have some clients that want to order large (18 X 22) hard copies of the formal portraits (I sell those by the inch)but for the most part they are very happy with their digital albums- and yes, I can still make a lving
I was the second photographer in town to go digital- even though all the pros have much better gear than me now- very few do any editing. I’m still ahead on that one.

Mark Stagi (user link) says:

Digital has opened up many new sources of income

One being albums, photographers can now be so much more creative with album creation than they used to be and charge a premium for the finished product. These albums can be very time consuming and take the eye of a skilled designer to create but give a look unlike anything that a bride can create herself.

I have some examples on my site at:

Fine Art Wedding Photography

or online here

Magazine Style Wedding Albums

take a look at these album designs and you will see why a bride would want to pay good money for these.

Lou says:

We provide both paths for the customer

I’ll touch on a number of topics being discussed:

Our wedding customers are given the option of buying prints from us, or coffee table style wedding books (which are rather popular and aren’t as easily made by the consumer as straight prints) or they can get a DVD with all of the original and edited high res files suitable for printing, among other things. We still retain the copyright on the files but we provide them a license to reproduce prints from the files for their personal use – they even get a form they can take to the photofinisher. The only exemption on the license is that the images not be used for commercial purposes. The customers are totally happy with the license. They get to make their prints however they want – we keep the copyright so we can use the images for our future marketing efforts.

Someone on the board said give the customer what they want and that all they want are the digital files – that is easily said because you are ONE customer. Not everyone wants the same product, otherwise a WalMart store would be the size of a gas station and all cars would still be black. As a business you continue to carry products that are still selling. Not all of our customers want their digital files, some want the wedding books, some want straight prints, etc. Until such time as all of our customers are demanding we do nothing but photograph the wedding and give them files we will continue to provide other products.

We provide watermarked online digital previews because that is pretty much the expected method these days. Even though we offer a proof book we had ONLY ONE customer actually want a proof book this past year. Guess what? The proof book will go away for our 2006 season.

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