The 8 Types of Wedding Photographers

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Finding a Wedding Photographer

Finding a San Francisco Bay Area Wedding Photographer can be a daunting task — there are so many qualified individuals, and an online search will yield literally millions of sites. So you’re probably only going to click through the first few pages — who are you going to pick?

One thing you should do to help narrow your choices is to get a few recommendations from people you know who recently got married. That, along with those websites that grab you, can make up your short list. You can then proceed to interview with a few photographers before making your final decision.

The 8 Types of Wedding Photographer

As such, as you compile your short list, here are 8 types of wedding photographers you will encounter. It’s a good idea to know the pro’s and con’s of each as that will help you choose a photographer that’s in your ballpark (at least in style and pricing).  (I’ll have a future article that expands on the hiring process in the future.)

Here’s the list of the 8 types of wedding photographer you’ll encounter, along with my thoughts following:

  1. Full-Time Professional Wedding Photographer
  2. Weekend Warrior
  3. High-End Boutique’r
  4. Shoot and Burner
  5. Aspiring Amateur
  6. Profession Photographer (non-wedding)
  7. Uncle Bob/Aunt Betty
  8. Old School’er

1. Full-Time Professional Wedding Photographer

Description – the full time wedding photographer shoots weddings “only”, with at least 75-80% of his or her assignments being weddings. Of course, in today’s economic climate, the savvy wedding photographer may prefer not to have all his or her eggs in one basket, and may do event or portrait work. Successful wedding photographers may also offer workshops to share their knowledge and experiences.

Pro’s of the full-time wedding photographer:

  • Experience – typically shooting anywhere from 15 – 30 weddings a year, the full-timer has experienced many different situations that arise from weddings. The full-time wedding photographer is nimble, quick to adapt to changing and challenging lighting situations and prepared for shooting key events in the given and/or changing time constraints. He or she can anticipate moments before they occur, easily adapt to last minute schedule changes, and plan for (and execute) plans “B” or even “C”, etc.
  • “Up to speed” – today’s full-time professional wedding photographer is aware of the vastly changing landscape of wedding photography. From camera technology (higher and higher ISO, HD video-capable) to the latest in social media, from digital negatives to magazine style flush mount albums, he or she uses all the latest tools to give clients the best wedding photography experience possible. Today’s professional wedding photographer is (most likely) NOT your father’s photographer.
  • Consistency – anyone can take a breathtaking photo in any given instance on any given day — the same idea goes for your favorite cherished (but perhaps incompetent) local sports team. However, the full-time wedding photograph will be able to show you numerous weddings with a consistent quality, making it more than likely that the quality of your wedding photos will turn out to be something similar.
  • Eye – depending on the style of wedding photography, the full-time shooter will have developed a certain eye for capturing images. A well-rounded photographer will be able to shoot a combination of documentary, editorial and artistic images, while others may have a stronger emphasis on one or two areas.
  • Back-up Equipment – the full-timer will have adequate back-up equipment, knowing that photographic equipment failure or malfunction is not an “if” situation, but a “when” — same as with your computer hard drives. Speaking of computers, the full time wedding photographer also employs a back-up system in the home or office, saving off the files from each wedding in more than one location.
  • People skills – the full-time wedding photographer cheerfully handles requests from guests and clients and communicates effectively with other vendors at the wedding site(s) to ensure the best experience for all subjects. Success at this means a higher rate of word of mouth referrals.
  • Pricing – the prices you can expect to pay a full-time wedding photographer will be fair — not cheap, but enough so that he or she can make a living. That said, prices will range all over the map, from “too cheap” to “quite expensive”, and what kind of prices will determine the number of weddings a full-time wedding photographer shoots as well as the quality of service he or she offers.

Con’s of the full-time wedding photographer:

  • High Number of Weddings – one thing that may be worth watching out for is if the full-timer shoots too many weddings (logic: there are 52 weeks a year, so anything above 40 means the photographer is shooting on most weekends, or more than one per weekend, since there are usually more weddings from May through October than in the wetter, colder months). This may result in burn-out after a period of time.
  • Pricing – when first researching photographers, you may receive “sticker shock” when you first see the fees a full-time wedding photographer charges. Oftentimes, they may seem very high, and they might be, compared to the regular, everyday items and services the average person purchases. (I’ll have more on this topic in a future article).

2. Weekend Warrior

Description – the term “weekend warrior” has come to apply to anyone who does something only on the weekends. Whether it’s working on an addition to the house, restoring a classic automobile or tending to the garden, there’s a weekend warrior somewhere who’s working on these activities.

A weekend warrior wedding photographer, of course, shoots weddings, which, coincidentally and conveniently, usually take place on weekends. Oftentimes, the weekend warrior is shooting for fun (rather than just for/in addition to profit).

The other single most important aspect is that the weekend warrior has a full-time day job (usually in a non-photographic capacity).

Pro’s of the Weekend Warrior

  • Experience – the weekend warrior may shoot the same number of weddings as the full-time photographer, and if this is the case, then he or she is probably looking towards jumping into the profession full-time. In many cases, however, the weekend warrior is happy with his or her day job (which provides not only steady income, but health benefits as well), and prefer to take on weddings as they come.
  • Consistency – as with the full-time wedding photographer, a weekend warrior may have more than adequate experience with weddings if he or she has shot for a couple of years.
  • Enthusiasm – here, with a full-time day job, the weekend warrior can perhaps be more selective in whose wedding he or she shoots, without worrying if a wedding is turned down, where and when the next one might come in.
  • Pricing – because the income of the weekend warrior comes primarily from his or her full-time (or even part-time) day job, the cost of shooting a wedding can be lowered, and the savings passed on to the wedding clients.

Con’s of the Weekend Warrior

  • Post-processing Time – because the weekend warrior has a full-time day job, the amount of time he or she spends on post-processing must be spread out over a longer period of time in order to achieve the same quality provided by the full-timer. If not, then the image quality will suffer, resulting in less enhancement or attention to details. Perhaps certain images will go uncropped, or color densities will be inconsistent.
  • Lack of other services – again, because of the weekend warriors full-time day job, he or she may not offer options such as slide shows or albums as such products require additional production time (and results in more income — again, which the weekend warrior may not need).

3. High-End Boutique’r

Description – the high end wedding photographer is akin to a boutique located in an expensive shopping district. He or she may appeal to you if you are expecting an above-average photographic experience: from client telephone/email communication, in-person interview, actual shooting of engagement/wedding/after sessions, post-wedding image post-processing, album image selection and manufacture, and follow-up communication. You’re going to pay a premium, but you’ll expect premium service.

Pro’s of the High-End Wedding Photographer

  • Experience – as alluded to in the description, the experience with a high-end photographer is like the difference between staying at the Four Seasons compared to the local Hyatt. Both locations should give you a good night’s sleep, but at the Four Seasons, you expect (and are) pampered.
  • Eye – depending on the style of wedding photography, the high end shooter may often work with clients who can afford to “de-pack” their wedding day schedule, resulting in less a hectic pace that allows the photographer time to get great shots. His or her focus may well be in a particular genre such as photojournalism, or artistic shots. The discerning client who selects a high-end wedding photographer knows exactly what she wants.

Con’s of the High-End Wedding Photographer

  • Pricing – expect to pay a premium (perhaps $10-20K) for a well-known high-end wedding photographer. It is possible that he or she will be shooting less weddings — in order to provide the high quality service — and so will charge more to generate the same amount of income as any other photographer. (Alternatively, with the higher fees, such a photographer can hire and maintain an in-house production staff: office manager, post-process person, album designer, etc.)

4. Shoot and Burner

Description – quick and dirty, the “shoot and burn” wedding photographer is usually found on Craigslist, with the idea that he or she shoots your wedding and then mails a you a disc (or two) with either untouched JPEG’s or even RAW files (though that would take up many discs). A shoot and burner may appeal to you if you prefer to spend your own time post-processing images or create your own album.

Pro’s of the Shoot and Burner

  • Experience – to be successful shooting in this manner does mean a certain level of competence (but see the Con’s section)
  • Pricing – because there is little to non-existent post-processing, the pricing for shooting and burning should be considerably lower than that from other packages.

Con’s of the Shoot and Burner

  • Less Hand-holding – at their low price point, the shoot and burner needs to shoot many, many weddings to generate the same income as a full-time photographer who shoots 15-30 weddings. Shoot and burners may book upwards of 60-100 weddings, shooting multiple weddings per weekend, shooting for “wedding mills”, sometimes even more than one wedding per day(!). As you might imagine, there is no way such a photographer would be able to perform any “hand-holding” in terms of service. It’s simply not physically possible. The alternative is to outsource everything, including communicating with clients. Thus, one employee/contractor handles the phone calls, another the post-processing, another the album, etc. The client then becomes a number in a corporate-like entity.
  • Question about Quality – this goes hand-in-hand with the above con, but the thinking is like this: shooting and burning means paying very little (or next to none) attention to the photos after the shoot (because the photographer does not have the time; the next wedding is coming up!) Oftentimes, looking closely at one’s photo during post-processing with a critical eye will often help the photographer improve for future weddings. Every wedding is unique, and each wedding can provide new photographic challenges that are either met and overcome, or come across as creative impasses. A good photographer wants to continually improve his or her craft. Being a shoot and burner means that motivation is most likely set at a lower priority.

5. Aspiring Amateur

Description – the aspiring amateur is at a stage of photography which most wedding photographers go through. The ones that will eventually become successful professional wedding photographers need to know their equipment, develop their eye and people skills, and gain “battle” experience shooting actual weddings, all the while staying enthusiastic and passionate about weddings.

Pro’s of the Aspiring Amateur

  • Enthusiasm – I know that when I first started shooting weddings in 2003, I found the whole experience to be very exciting. There’s a lot of adrenaline flowing on wedding days, and I even find that to be the case today. Shooting a wedding can be a scary prospect to a new photographer, so finding an aspiring amateur who’s excited about your wedding is important.
  • Pricing – the amateur is not a professional for many reasons, with one of them being that he or she is usually not paid (or paid very little) for their services. The amateur’s primary reason for shooting without pay is simply to gain experience.

Con’s of the Aspiring Amateur

  • Lack of Experience – the aspiring amateur, again, is an amateur for a reason. Most likely, he or she may have shot one or two weddings, or even none, prior to being hired. However, he or she may possess a good eye. Still, the amateur should not be expected to capture all of the most important shots of the day. I’d say if he or she gets 30-40%, that’s really good.
  • Hit or Miss Quality – clients who employ amateurs should not expect a high level of consistent image quality or even certain “must have” images. The saying, “You get what you pay for” truly applies to most wedding photography. At the same time, if the client is lucky, they should get at least a small number of good shots if the amateur knows his or her way around a camera.
  • Lack of Back-up Equipment – the amateur may only have one camera body, one flash unit, and one or two lenses. Weddings are a series of uncontrolled events, and photographic equipment usually gets banged around. Eventually, something breaks. Without back-up equipment, there’s a great risk of missing whole chunks of the day.

6. Professional Photographer with a Different Focus

Description – landscape, product, travel, fashion, commercial, portrait, astronomy, news — there are photographers for all these fields and more, and some of them become celebrities themselves. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean these professionals would shoot weddings well.

Pro’s of the <INSERT NON-WEDDING SPECIALTY> Photographer

  • Know Equipment – you can certainly expect the successful professional photographer to know his or her equipment, although some equipment would not be applicable to weddings
  • Is Professional – you can expect a professional photographer to meet deadlines, be clear in communications, etc.

Con’s of the <INSERT NON-WEDDING SPECIALTY> Photographer

  • Incomplete coverage – while certain photographic fields translate well into wedding photography, such as photojournalism and event photography, you should only expect perhaps 60-70% wedding coverage, in which case having a news photojournalist or event photographer “cover” your wedding is a viable option.
  • Inexperience – you cannot expect a landscape photographer (who’s used to trekking out into the wilderness, waiting an hour or two for sunrise — or sunset — to get a gorgeous, awe-inspiring landscape) to successfully shoot a wedding. A wedding day is a series of key events that are in themselves managed instances of chaos. Lots of things are happening, and lots of people are involved. This is entirely different than a studio setting, or the calm quietude of a rock ledge, etc.

7. Uncle Bob/Aunt Betty

Description – Uncle “Bob” or Aunt “Betty” are not so affectionate terms that wedding photographers may use to describe the enthusiastic family member or friend with a DSLR who basically gets in the shots, or are wanting to duplicate the same shots the wedding photographer is making. In some cases though, clients may elect to go with this family member or friend to shoot their wedding, based on their enthusiasm and/or insistence that shooting their wedding “would be easy — why pay thousands when I can do it for free?”

Pro’s of Uncle Bob/Aunt Betty

  • Pricing – free

Con’s of Uncle Bob/Aunt Betty

  • Lack of Experience – while perhaps well-meaning, Uncle Bob or Aunt Betty really cannot be expected to be prepared for the ebb and flow of events on a wedding day, as neither is usually prepared to be on alert and on his or her feet all day
  • Eye – because Uncle Bob or Aunt Betty is someone familiar, more than likely they will shoot people they know, and conversely, people they know will call upon them to take snapshots. Thus, it is more than likely the result imagery will be narrower in focus than those from a professional photographer who is trained to see the big picture.
  • Hit or Miss Quality – like the Aspiring Amateur, the Uncle Bob or Aunt Betty may get some great shots and perhaps some not so great shots, depending on his or her competency level.
  • Standing out – if Uncle Bob is the “exclusive” photographer, then more than likely he will not be in any (or just a very few) of your photos — you’d have to decide if that’s what you want.
  • Lack of Back-Up Equipment – same as in Aspiring Amateur

8. Old School’er

Description – this term applies to certain wedding photographers who shot on film, and perhaps with medium format cameras. He or she may have shot for 20-30 years developed a large base of referrals.

Pro’s of the Old School’er

  • Super Niche – in today’s digital age, the Old School’er is in his own niche, and because he or she might not put any images online, no other photographer would be able to get “inspired” (read: copy) those shots. In theory.
  • Tons of Experience – to have shot weddings for 20-30 years means tons of experience in dealing with clients, guests and vendors of all temperament types.

Con’s of the Old School’er

  • Stuck in Yesteryear – the thing that puts the old timer in the super-niche group can also be detrimental for today’s wedding clients. Does the photographer offer an online gallery? PDF proofing of the album design? Digital negatives? etc. Does this photograph communicate effectively in today’s age of “instant gratification” tools?

Conclusion

I have described the kinds of wedding photographers that I can see, and of course, these descriptions are stereotypes from having shot numerous weddings in the Bay Area, attended other weddings as guests, viewed wedding videos of (or with) photographers, read countless wedding and photography forums, and visiting photographer websites and reading their blogs.

More than likely, the photographers you’ll meet will have a combination of qualities drawing from one or more of these stereotypes.

In the end, choosing a Bay Area wedding photographer will most likely be based on a combination of experience, quality, personality and price.

What is Dave Wong Photography?

I would define Dave Wong Photography as definitely modern, with emphasis on quality images that capture the story of your day, and service that is “nigh” high-end, but with fair, competitive pricing. I hope you’ll agree.

Note: If you think I’ve missed a type, please let me know.