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 is. Not everyone will be able to do it.

One of my favorite times as a wedding photographer was about 5 minutes before the bride was about to walk down the aisle. Most of the time she would be hidden away in the back room, waiting for the signal to come out. My photos were done for the moment and we would wait together. I was with her during her last moments of being single. She was about to step into a new chapter of life: a wife, then mother, etc. I was at that crossroads in those last seconds and I thought that was pretty cool.

I have 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 good and that’s because I had so much fun. High school photography classes taught me how to develop my own film. I realized that taking photos was only half the art and the grocery store was ruining my prints once I saw how they should have been developed.

canon digital rebel
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. 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 so what better way to get it 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 photo you took? No, but, it is part of their day. For this reason it is important to arrive at the reception hall before them to photograph the hall with no one in it. I allowed 20 minutes at least, to photograph the tables, flowers, cake, ice sculptures, etc. in the reception hall, before anyone was in it.

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Chicago wedding photography by Steve Rotter

Starting a wedding photography business

It’s hard starting out when you have nothing. No clients, no leads, no portfolio to show. I managed to find a friend of a friend who was familiar with my work and agreed to have me photograph their wedding. Although I was nervous, I did a great job. I just followed where the action was. I used my canon digital rebel with external flash and stock lens. The photos looked great. Now I had one wedding to show in my portfolio. I 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 what I shot. With these photos I started to advertise in the KNOT in Chicago. The KNOT is a huge Chicago wedding magazine where brides look to for wedding vendors. I was spending $450 a month to advertise there, if I remember correctly. At this time I didn’t have kids or a crazy mortgage so all my money went there and it was worth it. I got calls and emails every week with an end result of one wedding every other month and then every month.

I was photographing weddings and working full-time at a day job as well. Photography was never my full time job. After work I spent hours rehashing the website I built, redoing the prices, looking at the work of others in the area, checking out their prices, etc. I was always researching. I loved it but hated it. I was doing more business building and maintenance than photography. So I was working all these hours and not getting paid for it. I’m not complaining, it was fun for me, and I knew that’s how it would be.

Wedding photography PRICING

Either I was too low or too high. Wedding photography studios are all over the map. I saw many websites with the sappy happy husband and wife photography team 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 kind sucked. That’s not jealousy talking, as I’m not a jealous person. 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 prices 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 good lens. I shot with all Canon gear, using L-series (the white pro lenses.) A new camera body goes for around $2,000 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 to travel to meet potential clients. There is gas 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), and the list goes on and on.

If you are hired to photograph for 8 hours, you will spend 10-12 hours away from home if you include driving. 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 them to view. I photographed anywhere from 1500 – 2500 photos per wedding and only got rid of 100 photos due to duplicates.

One wedding from start to finish takes SO LONG! SO MANY HOURS! I loved it but hated it. Meanwhile, my kids are playing and I’m not with them. I’m glued to the computer making no money after the expenses take it all.

Photography forums said to raise prices to be taken seriously. That didn’t work. I got a noticeable decrease in calls after trying it. Then there were the craigslist people charging $400 or $500 for the day. Flat out, just a simple photographing of your wedding day. These are the people (in most cases) who buy a camera off the shelf 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 the $300 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.

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. 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 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. There was no other reason I could think of. 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.

I missed meeting families and being with them all day. People who started out as strangers at the beginning of the day always turned into comfortable conversation by the end of the night. I miss that. I was a part of it. I got to see all the important parts of the weddings up close. I had a front row seat at the ring exchange and cake cutting and vows. It was a lot of fun. 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.
  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 10 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 and you and your price 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 is so tired after being on the go constantly, lugging gear, that I can 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 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. 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. It was worth a shot.
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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 those pursuing a wedding photographer to know that it is a very hard job. Wedding photographers just don’t show up and leave and that’s it. There are hours of planning involved and not just the 8 hours we spend with you. This is if you run your own business of course. Some 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. 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 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, I would do it, but with so much 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. All other studios had crazy prices they charged for the actual images on a disc. They wanted to charge for all the images 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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