Why I no longer pursue wedding photography

Why I no longer pursue wedding photography

I’m still a photographer but no longer pursue weddings. This is knowledge for both the wedding photographer to be and wedding couple. This may sound like a rant but it really isn’t. I want to shed some light on how hard the job of wedding photography is. I’m a workaholic and love the arts, so it was never really hard for me. Not everyone will be able to handle being a wedding photographer. The wedding day moves really fast and you must be there, covering all points quickly. There is no time to relive a moment that is gone forever if you are trying to figure out how to use your camera. I say this to all the photography newbs who buy a camera at the store and set it to full auto and forget it.

One of my favorite times as a wedding photographer was 5 minutes before the bride was about to walk down the aisle. She would be hidden away in a back room, waiting for the signal. We sat together, during her last moments of single life. She would become a wife, then mother, etc. I was at that crossroads in those last seconds and that was pretty cool.

I’ve been into photography since the 110 camera days in the 1980s. Cameras used film cartridges and flash cubes. I’m not that old, take it easy.

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110 camera that took film cartridges. That flash cube was for flash photography. After 4 flashes, you needed a new cube.

I took photos of everything in creative ways as a kid. I was really good at photography and that’s because I loved it. Photography found me, I did not find it. High school photography classes taught me how to develop film. Taking photos was only half the art and the grocery store was ruining my prints once I saw how they should have been developed. Yes, back in the day, you took your film cartridges to the store for developing. 24 or 36 exposures were your choice. It was expensive buying the film then developing the film, only to find out only half the photographs were to your liking.

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Canon digital rebel. First digital SLR camera

Years later, in 2000, I got the first digital DSLR camera by Canon, the digital rebel. It was an amazing upgrade. No more film to purchase and develop. You could also see the photos you took right away on the color screen. What an amazing breakthrough! Most photographers of today have no clue what it was like to shoot on film. That’s sad. Same goes for technology. I remember no internet and even no cable tv! The largest cinematography calling was when i saw Star Wars episode IV in theaters when it first came out. I have been into video production and editing since 1988 on VHS tape. Yeah, I’ve been around.

Moving to my first apartment, I wanted / needed an additional source of income. What better way to get side money than with wedding photography or video? Being in Chicago, I thought I would clean up. Hundreds of brides get married in Chicago every weekend. I started with wedding video production in 1999 and added wedding photography a few years later. For the record, I didn’t want to photograph weddings. I thought it would be too much pressure and stress documenting someone’s huge day. I also thought being called a wedding photographer would water down the art in me that was the creative artistic photographer. I was wrong. There is a lot of art to be photographed in weddings and I loved it. An important tip to all you wedding photographers starting out: photograph everything the couple spends money on. Will they want an 8X10 of the beautiful table setting? No, but, it is part of their day. For this reason it is important to arrive at the reception hall before the bridal party to photograph the reception hall empty. I allowed 20 minutes at least, to photograph some tables, flowers, cake, ice sculptures, etc. in the reception hall, before anyone was in it. Your job is to document their wedding day and not just them. You need to document the memories and please do it artistically.

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Chicago wedding photography by Steve Rotter

Starting a wedding photography business

It’s hard starting out a business when you have nothing. No clients, no leads, no portfolio to show. A friend of a friend was familiar with my photography work and wanted me to photograph their wedding. Although I was nervous, I did a great job. I just followed where the action was and my instincts. I didn’t fear “ruining” their wedding day but missing important shots. Do the best you can and it will turn out great. I used my canon digital rebel with external flash and stock lens. The photos looked great. I had one wedding to show in my portfolio and was lucky enough a few months later to tag along as a 2nd shooter to a wedding. I didn’t get paid but I got to keep the wedding photos I shot. Some studios will not let you keep the photographs you take, as they see it as their property. With these photos I started to advertise in the KNOT. The KNOT is a huge Chicago wedding magazine brides use to look for wedding vendors. I was spending $450 a month to advertise there, if I remember correctly. That’s a lot of money but I knew this was my best bet at entering the Chicago wedding photography ring. Spending money creatively in advertising was only getting me so far. I needed to attack a larger market and it worked. At this time I didn’t have kids or a crazy mortgage so all my money went to the knot magazine. I got calls and emails every week, averaging one wedding every other month and then every month.

I photographed weddings on weekends once a month and had a full-time day job as well. Photography was never my full time job. Late into the night, I rehashed the website I built, redoing prices, photos and anything else to make it better.  I was always researching. I loved it but hated it. I was doing more business building and maintenance than wedding photography. I logged hundreds of hours building the wedding photography business and didn’t get paid for it. That’s how it is, as you know. No one will do it for you and I certainly wasn’t going to pay anyone to build my website and market for me. I’m not complaining, it was fun, just very time consuming. I knew that’s how it would be.

Wedding photography PRICING

Either I was too low or too high in wedding photography pricing. Wedding photography studios are all over the map. Many websites had the sappy happy husband and wife wedding photography team. They talk about how much they love each other and how much they’ll make your wedding photos great and how they built their wedding photo business on love. Ugh, whatever. Good for them. Chicago wedding photography studios like that charged a minimum of $4,000 and their work kinda sucked. That’s not jealousy talking, as I’m not a jealous person. That’s me being honest with you. Most of them sucked. I charged $900 at the time. I didn’t want to freak anyone out with high prices, being that I was a smaller Chicago wedding photography studio. Finding the right wedding photography pricing was always hard for me. The happy medium never existed.

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Because my wedding photography rates were too low (I see that now), I never got paid. There are so many fees with this business. What if a lens breaks or you just need a new one? Depending on the lens you’re looking at $500 – $2,000 for a great lens. I shot with all Canon gear, using L-series (the white pro lenses.) A new camera body goes for around $2,000 on the low end depending on what you buy. By the way, it’s always better to get a great camera lens instead of a better camera body. There is gas money to travel to meet potential clients. There is gas money to travel to and from the gig. Camera cases, website hosting, paper, ink, iPad to show your work on (I had to make actual albums in the early 2000s before iPads were invented), business insurance and the list goes on and on.

One wedding from start to finish takes SO MANY HOURS! I loved it but hated it. While at a wedding, my kids are playing and I’m not with them. After the wedding I’m glued to the computer making no money after the expenses take it all. Not to mention the travel to the local starbucks or far away starbucks, to meet with potential clients to sell yourself in hopes you can get the wedding photography gig. Most of the time they love your work, you hit it off, drive home, never to hear from them again. That part was annoying.

Wedding photography means a very long day. You photograph for 8 hours, spend 10-12 hours away from home if you include travel. You are now half done with the job. You will spend many hours meticulously editing all photos (at least I did.) Once the photos are edited, you may have to put an album together and get their photos online for viewing. I photographed anywhere from 1500 – 2500 photos per wedding and only got rid of about 100 photos due to duplicates.

Chicago wedding photography pricing and craigslist

Photography forums said to raise prices for your wedding photography to be taken seriously. That didn’t work. I got a noticeable decrease in calls after raising prices. Enter the craigslist photographers charging $400 or $500 for the day. Flat out, just a simple photographing of your wedding day. These are people (in most cases) who buy a camera off the shelf at the local store and shoot in full auto mode, hoping to get good pics for some quick cash. I hated those people. They make this job look bad. Lighting and composition are off and it’s just not good with these types of photographers. Not to say all craigslist vendors are bad, but you know what I mean.

I can’t tell you how many times I heard a friend of the bride say they were upset for hiring someone for mega cheap to document their wedding day. They were excited to spend only $300 on their wedding photos but tears flowed after seeing their images. I needed to be priced between those guys and the high-priced ones. I thought $950 was good. It was good, for them, not me…I made no money.

Think about it like this. Not counting the hours spent building your business like website design, contract design, stuff like that, here is a quick break down of money spent.

  1. Monthly advertising was about $450
  2. Gas money on average to meet with clients to get jobs, about $50?
  3. Internet and website hosting let’s say about $100 a month.

You just spent $600 a month and you have $350 left. I forgot some expenses such as business insurance which was about $80 a month. If you need to live off this you better charge a lot more. If you charge a lot more you better be good and you better be a people person and your work better be able to sell itself.

A couple of years later I needed to hire on contract photographers. This was a lot of fun. They photographed along with me and I edited all the images for all weddings. I was the owner, photographer, center of it all. I always paid my people the day of the event, with the rest going towards advertising. I hoped to get more weddings so I could get paid. I relied on more weddings to I could make profit. That didn’t happen much at all, so I still was only making about $50 a month. Money went to my photographers or the business. I had 3 other photographers with me and one wedding videographer on call.

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Chicago engagement photo by Steve Rotter

After about 2 more years I was photographing one wedding a month and then the recession hit. 2008 was much slower and 2009 was worse. Wedding couples were cutting back it seemed. It got to the point I couldn’t afford advertising anymore so I stopped. The calls stopped. The emails stopped. Everything stopped. I wasn’t getting calls and I got mad A LOT. I wanted to photograph weddings but couldn’t afford to advertise since the market was drying up.

I missed meeting families and being with them all day. People who started out as strangers at the beginning of the wedding day always turned into comfortable conversation with nice people by the end of the night. I miss that. I was a part of it. I got to see all the important parts of weddings  (and the closeness they created between families) up close. I had a front row seat at the ring exchange and cake cutting and vows. Running my wedding photography business was fun and I enjoyed taking care of the couple from beginning to end.

What I won’t miss about wedding photography

  1. The stress of not getting gigs or wondering why my work isn’t being seen.
  2. The drunken groomsmen who won’t follow directions for me, the bride, or anyone.
  3. Leaving the house at 9am and getting home at midnight or later.
  4. Lugging really heavy camera gear for 8 – 10 hours straight.
  5. Feeling bad because they hired me until 9pm but dinner ran late, starting at 8pm. I never photographed during dinner so do I leave at 8pm? No, I was the sucker and felt bad, so I stayed until 10pm for free. Most photographers don’t care if your bouquet toss is photographed or not. That clock strikes and they’re gone!
  6. Many hours of editing photos after the gig is over. This takes away from family life.
  7. I worked a day job this entire time, for years, so I was always working.
  8. Rehashing and revamping the website and contracts till all hours of the night.
  9. Taking calls from tire kickers. They love your work but never ever call back for some reason.
  10. Feeling age creep up on me after 12 hours of hauling ass, photographing a wedding. My body was so tired after being on the go constantly, lugging gear, that I barely get out of the car when I get home. I left my gear in the garage and went to bed after taking a few ibuprofen.
  11. Dealing with bitchy wedding planners. I know a wedding planner’s job is difficult but most I have dealt with want you to know they walk on water. BS.
  12. Incompetent reception halls. Most don’t know what’s going on and each wedding is a dime a dozen to them. They run late in the schedule and that pushes you back. Again, what do you do if they’re 60-90 minutes late and you’re scheduled to leave in an hour? I got tired of their mistakes ruining my schedule.
  13. Florists or reception halls saying they love my work and would I mind taking photos of the flowers or hall for FREE! Why? Because it would “help me to get more wedding clients.” These places wanted free photos of their wedding vendor business in exchange for passing my name around. How do I know if they are passing my name around when I’m not there? Meanwhile, they got what they wanted. Free photos. I did that 3 times and never got referrals.
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chicago wedding couple by Steve Rotter

Again, I write this not to complain, but to let others looking at the wedding photography business know what it’s like. I left some things out but this is just off the top of my head.

I also wanted couples looking for a wedding photographer to know that it’s a very hard job if done right. Wedding photographers just don’t show up, take some photos and leave. There are hours of planning involved and not just the 8 hours we spend with you. Keep in mind some wedding photographers are hired guns. They get a gig assigned to them, they photograph and they leave. They may collect $300 to photograph an entire day, while the studio edits their photos and takes the rest of the money. I have thought about doing this. Being a hired gun would allow me to photograph weddings and not deal with the stress or hours required to run a business.

I will miss the bride and groom the most. Most of, if not all the wedding couples I worked with, were so ultra cool. I never had a bad experience with a bride or groom. I truly loved them all. That is the one thing I will miss most.

If someone wanted me to photograph their wedding now, I would do it, but with less red tape. I would have a simple contract and hand all photos to them on a usb drive. End of story, done. By the way, I was one of the first wedding photography studios in Chicago to hand over all images, edited, on a disc (CD or DVD.) All other wedding photography studios in the Chicago area had crazy prices they charged for the actual images on a disc. They wanted to charge for all wedding photos on top of the crazy wedding photography rate they were already charging. Crazy I say! I felt the wedding couple should have something and not just pay for labor.

A tip for wedding couples looking for a wedding photographer. Going with smaller wedding photography studios is almost always better. Due to their smaller size, they have less overhead which means lower prices. You will also more than likely see and talk to the photographer who will be at your wedding, since it’s usually the owner. I would hate to meet the photographer for the first time on my wedding day. What if you don’t like them? What if they’re a jerk? I was videographer at this wedding and they went with a larger studio…Fred Fox, oh no, I said the name…whatever. The couple never met the photographer. This guy was the poor man’s Italian Stallion. Overweight with a beard, shirt buttoned down, and yes, a thick gold chain. Yeah, that’s what they got. Hey, I’m sure he was a nice guy when he wasn’t eyeing the females at the party.

I still shoot photography and video mainly for myself. Along with the day job, I am running two YouTube channels with a possible third. It’s hard to maintain one YouTube channel but if you balance right, it can be done. YouTube is a lot of fun, I don’t have to leave the house and I actually make more money.

Take care everyone. I like writing about life and experiences. If you enjoyed this consider subscribing to my blog. I hate that word blog by the way.

Steve

www.steverotter.com

 

 

 

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