Thoughts on modern wedding photography: the wrong way, and the right way

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Disclaimer: I’m not a wedding photography professional, I never have been or claimed to be at any point, nor is it likely that I ever will be in the future. So take this with the intended grain of salt as written from the position of an external observer. The images illustrating this post were shot as a guest at the various weddings I’ve attended in the past.

It seems that in the last twenty or so years – perhaps even less than that – wedding photography has moved from ‘capturing some memories of your (hopefully) once in a lifetime event with family and friends’ to ‘create an overprocessed hollywood epic composed of thousands of pictures with you and your other half in unlikely, impossible and completely out-of-charachter poses in which none of the protagonists at all resemble each other!’. How? When? Why? More importantly, doesn’t anybody who’s actually paying for the images realize that in twenty years, if you look at the images again at all, the first thought entering your mind will probably be ‘ugh, what was I thinking?’

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One from my own wedding. I grabbed my friend’s M8.

This opinion piece aims to deconstruct the modern wedding photography genre, and figure out whether there’s still any room for somebody who wants to do it right – the best term I can use is honestly.

I have actually shot my fair share of weddings over the years – once or twice as primary photographer, nowadays under the condition that the couple hires somebody else, I’ll bring a camera along to the events I attend, and I’ll shoot like I normally do. Invariably, their print album and the images they share land up being the ones I shoot, not the ones they paid for. Why is this?

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Firstly, I make sure I don’t get in the way of the proceedings; in doing so, I’m forced to find unusual angles or work from the point of view of the guest as observer – so the documentary takes place from a slightly different viewpoint. I shoot as a photojournalist, not an event photographer; I look for emotion and context. Finally, I don’t shoot weddings commercially. I recognize that isn’t one of my strengths, and it wouldn’t be fair to any potential clients to do anything less than a perfect job on an occasion which simply isn’t repeatable. (“Excuse me, could you walk down the aisle again please? My flash didn’t fire” doesn’t quite cut it, does it?). I do them for very close friends and family; instead of buying a gift that might well be your fifth toaster, I might as well give you something unique and which actually requires some effort and thought to produce – and I know will be appreciated later. But I digress.

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The reason why I don’t shoot weddings is threefold: one, they scare the crap out of me: I can’t be in twenty places at once, capturing each and every single little emotional moment – there are bound to be many – but at the same time, I can’t hire secondary photographers because I can’t guarantee quality. And having assistants in itself brings up a whole new set of issues, which I’ll get into later. Secondly, the market is dire. Either you compete on price – a thousand shots for just US$200! Or you compete on extravagance – pre-wedding shoots in a hot air balloon at dawn shot from a helicopter over the Himalayas! And neither market is sustainable, for obvious reasons.

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However, the most important missing element for the hired gun is almost always the emotional connection: as a friend of the couple, or family, you probably know most of the other guests – that being the case, they feel comfortable around you (and know you’re a photographer); this means that what you get to capture are genuine, unguarded emotions. This is the ideal of the serious wedding photographer, and something that almost none of them manage – because they’re looking for the significant action, or the interesting perspective, or some technical showcase, not the emotion. And I know that it’s nearly impossible to do this when you don’t know the guests personally – they just don’t open up to you.

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I can understand the desire for a couple, and their families, to have the big day properly documented for posterity. I went through the same issue of trying to figure out who would shoot my own wedding several years ago – in the end, a photojournalist friend and my brother did the bulk of the work, and I provided first-person filler thanks to a compact in my suit jacket and a borrowed camera. I edited the 8,000+ raw files down into a storyline of about 150, and did the processing myself. The result was a remarkably consistent look and feel; most of it was processed in a traditional B&W photojournalism style (which I may later come to regret, but at least I have the raw files) which fit the way the images were shot, and the style of the photographers.

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But it seems that today’s trend is to go for the most over the top production you can find – the output shown (usually on a slideshow at the wedding banquet) is often so ridiculous that if you know the couple, you also realize that the photos are in no way representative of their personality, or even physical appearance, most of the time. Perhaps this is only a trend in Asia; I don’t know. But I’ve seen enough ultra-wide-from-the-tail-of-the-gown-in-forest-ruins-with-studio-strobes shots to suggest that this may be an international thing.

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I think what bothers me the most is the lack of integrity about it all – I do know that a lot of couples select options like this because it’s either what’s socially acceptable, or because they don’t know any better (and it most certainly isn’t in the interests of the photographers to educate them otherwise). What has become a relatively minor expense in the whole scheme of things has now turned into something that can consume 10% or more of the entire wedding budget. What I don’t know is how many of these couples are actually happy with the output – Asians tend not to complain unless something is vomitoriously bad – but I do know that a lot of the wedding photographers don’t actually care, because repeat customers usually aren’t an issue – there’s always somebody else going to get married.

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One of the biggest sins that almost all wedding photographers commit is getting in the way. At a recent family wedding I attended, the photographer and his two assistants continuously hovered in front of the couple, machine-gunning away with flashes. The problem here is that a) quarters were pretty tight, as with Asian weddings a portion of the ceremony is traditionally at home, and most homes can’t easily accommodate the hundred or more invited guests; b) as a family member or guest, you can’t see anything. For starters, this pisses off your family; not to mention feeling like you’re being mobbed by paparazzi. As a couple, ask yourself: is this wedding for us, for the family, or for the photographers? Because as an external observer, it sure as hell feels like the latter.

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And that’s not the only trespass. Over the top airbrushing, or use of hideous filters – think applying the entire Instapop or Hipstagram or whatever repertoire to every image – to hide fundamental compositional sloppiness or focusing errors at critical moments – is de rigeur. In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen a single wedding banquet slideshow which contained anything approaching a natural looking image – and I’ve attended dozens of weddings in the last couple of years. Do you really need thousands of crappy photos instead of perhaps fifty, or a hundred, perfectly-timed, natural, emotional ones?

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Of course not! But that’s difficult to produce, and thus makes for a very poor business model, so nobody does it. Which is a shame: the ideal wedding photographer could exist, and with some customer education, do pretty well. What attributes should such a mythical creature have?

1. Don’t get in the way. The wedding is for the couple and the family, not the photographer and his assistants.
2. Don’t miss critical moments – you don’t need twenty cake cutting shots, you just need one or two well-timed ones.
3. Look for emotion, and capture only emotion. Preserve the atmosphere and the feeling. We are human. Your audience is human. Your clients are human. They’ll look at the images and instantly feel that connection to the subject when looking at the images afterwards.
4. Less is more: spend some time curating, and you’ll find that you now have time to process each image individually instead of running them all through the SuperSoft-Crayolamatic-HDR filter.
5. Know who the key players are: you don’t have to get headshots of everybody, but if you miss the tearful mother of the bride hugging her daughter because you thought it was her kindergarten teacher, your clients probably aren’t going to be happy.

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6. Be prepared! Don’t miss a shot because something wasn’t set right or malfunctioning or you weren’t paying attention. Get the program beforehand. If in doubt, shadow the bride. Doing otherwise is a cardinal sin.
7. Images don’t take a month to deliver, especially if you’re running them through filters or delivering JPEGs. There is NO EXCUSE! If a guest can find time to process each shot individually and deliver in a couple of days, and it isn’t even his job, then as a ‘professional’, it’s just embarrassing.
8. Break out of your stylistic silo occasionally – there are a lot of big-name society wedding photographers here who have a compositional repertoire that can be counted on less than the fingers of one hand.
9. Don’t overdo the output.
10. Be reasonable about what you charge – this goes in both directions. If you’re good, don’t kill the market for everybody (and yourself) by undercharging. Similarly, if you’re crap, don’t rip clients off. Steer them towards quality instead of quantity and location productions if they can’t afford it – ultimately, they’ll be happier, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that this will in turn be good for your business.

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Most importantly, as a photographer, make sure you have integrity in what you do. It might just be work to you, but it is a once-in-a-lifetime day for somebody – you’ve been hired to do a job, don’t mess it up. This is the number one reason why I probably won’t ever shoot weddings – playing it safe doesn’t deliver that something extra; but at the same time, taking risks is also a no-no in case you miss the shot. And I wouldn’t want to fall short on either count for the client.

As a consumer, be educated: know what you want in terms of style, deliverable, and how much it should roughly cost – see the work of many people and get quotes before you make a decision. Ask a photographer friend for an opinion if in doubt. The more informed you are, the better a product you’re going to get. Don’t be bridezilla, either. MT


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  1. I enjoy your articles, Ming, especially the mild humour which runs through even the most jaded ones!

    I had a former PJ shoot my wedding and the results are amazing. We gave no direction at all, which is pretty much exactly how I would want it to be if I were shooting it.

    Last weekend I was strolling through Melbourne and came across a wedding party getting their (numerous) posed photos with an army of no less than eight photographers/videographers/assistants. They all had cameras, which made it hard to tell who was doing what. This seems most prevalent among Asian weddings here in Australia, but there are often relatively large contingents accompanying western weddings also.

    I will only shoot for friends, and only casually. A Fuji or two, or my old M3. I tend towards black and white processing unless the image begs for colour. It’s quite relaxing, when there’s someone else doing all the “must-get” shots.

    • I wonder how their shots turned out 🙂

      I’ve done the shoot for friends thing before – the dilemma is when they see your images are better than the hired guns and then expect everything for free…including prints. I just try to avoid attending too many weddings these days.

      • I must admit I’m always a bit curious about the results from armies-of-digital-imagers at weddings.

        Expectations management is important, and if I have any doubts I just don’t take a camera at all.

  2. Wei Li Jiang says:

    Great post – I stumbled upon this after searching for a photographer for my own wedding next year. It bugged me that the majority seemed to focus on a drawn out posed portrait session between the ceremony and reception – I can get posed portraits in a wedding outfit at any time! I want somebody with a documentary focus to capture the once in a lifetime occasion.

  3. I got married earlier this year and didn’t want to shell out on the £3k package that most wedding photographers offer here, so found a young chap doing pro photography part-time and got him to shoot the important pics (group shots, church service etc.). The rest was taken care of by disposable cameras on the tables, which worked well apart from plenty of people didn’t use the flash on them so many of the pics were too dark and un-salvageable. Two enthusiast photographer friends were there with their cameras and got some cracking shots – without them I wouldn’t have such a good shot of the rings being put on and the first kiss. The pro chap did as well as he could, but of course he couldn’t be at the front of the church and the back at the same time.

  4. bills8091 says:

    This has a lot of information. I have a friend that is looking at options for wedding photography in Brooklyn, NY. She needs to read this.

  5. that might be the best wedding shooter article ever. I just hate the so called pro s who stand around as if they are the main event and miss the basic shots like the lifting of the veil, all the time sniffing at the likes of me cos of my “crap/ amateur” D7000
    It is bloody hard work and all the time at the back of ones mind is the thought “we cant re shoot this tomorrow”
    Thanks mate
    Great and wise article

    • Thanks Tim. Screw them, it doesn’t matter what camera you use – it’s the output. Sometimes I turn up to events with a random P&S for the hell of it 🙂

  6. Ming, Jeff Ascough already is the ideal wedding photographer. Check him out and his philosophy, you will see what I mean.

    • I didn’t say they didn’t exist – they’re just extremely few and far between.

    • Steven, Jeff is only ideal for the clients that like that sort of work. In the UK, I’m finding more and more couples are harking back to some PJ style and some traditional. There are a lot of good, in my opinion, wedding photographers around, there are also a lot of “Celebrity” photographers around that have a style. Photography runs in trends, look at fashion from 7 and 14 years ago. As always, Ming’s opinion is interesting.


  7. The problem with looking at other people’s wedding photographs, is that you have to guess at the rapport and narrative of the situation. A picture of a person with a tear in her eye, without the context or back-story (which the Bride and Groom will have), is just a picture of a person with a tear in her eye. Capturing “moments” which illicit emotions in the B&G is the key to good wedding photography, not simply capturing emotions alone. I’m enjoying your blog 🙂 Si

    • Agreed. But they have to stand on their own as good photographs too – often with photojournalism there isn’t as much context as we’d wish, either. Same situation here.

  8. hi Ming Thein,
    Stumbled across your article and as I’m a wedding photographer in Australia if you allow me may I add a little bit of my opinion?
    I have to agree with you on a lot of points about wedding photography and they are partly the reason I guess wedding photographer (both historically and even nowadays) doesn’t get much respect from the general photography industry but I also think it is a common problem with anything to do with the wedding industry in general where they are excel of making the most money out of the bride and groom with their vulnerability. Sadly as the result many wedding photographers are simply savy businessmen with cameras at hands as for them taking picture on a wedding day is simply another day at work and nothing else, regardless of what they say on their promotional materials.
    On the point about overly processed images – I believe the issue is 2 folds. Firstly it is definitely the result of many years of influence from the advertising industry everything has to look clean, sharp and slick and superficial. Look at all the fashion magazines as example and many brides are simply got “brainwashed” and want the similar treatment when they get married. Secondly, I see it as the issue of photographer lack of confident of their work. Many of them believe they cannot justify their fee by giving a straight image to their client.
    Lastly, you mentioned people on the wedding day is almost impossible to open up for the photographer. You are correct to a certain degree, as my view is a great wedding photographer will have to power to allow people at the wedding to let off their guard and confidently be themselves. After all, wedding photography is a people business and from my experience “photography” is only represent a tiny part of the whole process. Definitely it is not a job for everyone and it take a certain personality of being one, well – being a good one may I say.
    ~ jackie

    • Absolutely – multiple points of view are always valuable.

      As always: I think you can tell the true artists and people with integrity from the shysters simply by looking at the quality of their output. Same goes with anything – internet reviewers, especially.

      It could also be because they simply lack the ability to produce a natural image that looks good enough and is compositionally strong enough to stand on its own without resorting to gimmicky processing.

      Good points!

  9. Thanks for this post Ming. Great blog and I love how you post so often.

    I was at a wedding on the weekend, and there were two photographers there. When it came time for the couple to have their big dance, one of the photographers was holding up a light behind the couple while the other one took photos, but he kept moving the light erratically really close to them, and all the guests were laughing at him, instead of focusing on the couple’s special moment. It was really distracting and a good lesson of what not to do I thought.

  10. Timely blog – I have a cousins wedding later this month and it will be the first ‘close’ family wedding I will attend as a keen photographer. Thankfully they are blissfully unaware of this and so hiring I guess will be an awful/standard run of the mill photographer.

    What it will though is allow me to do however is to shoot unhindered without any pressure – I want to be able to produce a decent series for the couple also in a photo-journalistic approach (the style I’m most comfortable with and as you say, mostly keep out of the way). It will be an interesting experience for me but like you would not be something I’m interested in doing.

    To keep it simple I’m going to go with two cameras with primes lens – the X100 and probably a micro 4/3rd camera with the 45/f1.8….

    • I think you’re going to use the 45 more, especially if it’s at night. The X100 might be a bit slow to focus.

      • Possibly will use the 45 more purely because it maybe hard getting close enough for the X100. But I’ve got rather used to the X100 and working with it and and with the latest firmware it really isn’t that bad getting focus quick enough in low light….regardless will be fun as a creative challenge 🙂

  11. There are a couple of organization around the world but one in UK especially who award Master Photographer status based on portfolio review and number of weddings the photographer has shot. This is truly ridiculous. Then there are the local organizations in Malaysia set-up by the wedding photographers themselves to award each other with truly ridiculous sounding awards.
    I fully agree with what Keith wrote.. ‘Integrity. Bottom line is, a great wedding photographer in my opinion are the ones that have the integrity to turn away a client because they know they are the best person to be with them on their wedding day.’
    Anyway, truly great work will always stand out. Jeff Ascough is one the most impressive and from what I’ve read about him, he does not shoot with an assistant and is all about being unobtrusive during the event.

  12. This is a great article and lovely wedding Photographs by you Ming! I am so much attached with these photographs. The skills you have shared in the article will definitely useful for me to improve my photography skills.

  13. First time reader 🙂 It’s interesting reading the comments. My feelings and reactions changed throughout the article. The list is well put together and I agree with many if not most of the points, but I can’t help (especially with the disclaimer in the beginning) that there is some biases against the need for wedding photographers to begin with.

    I’ve been privileged to work with some shooters who are very talents and some clients who valued the final results of the work. I love the point about integrity, with DSLRs being so common now a days, there are a lot of shooters that don’t deliver what they promise. Shooters that don’t make connections and have no idea what the bride or the groom wants. But the good ones, the good ones are the ones that know their clients. Not through some profile form…but those that can illicit emotions by chatting. Those that ask their clients to tell them not just what they want to see but to tell their love story. Those that know how to get the best of the bride and groom to come out on what is often a very long and tiring day. Those that can anticipate the emotions surfacing.

    Just because you are family or friends doesn’t mean you have those skills, those abilities to capture emotions. And as a wedding photographer, you build on that ability. You pick up on those interactions. And you scan the room constantly and watch faces. And experience with different clients, with different families you get better and better at not missing these key moments. You post not because you are looking for a shot, you post to get the couple more natural, to relax.

    “Hollywood-eiques” with an implied negative tone makes us think of the movies that had no substance and all fluff. But for every bad Hollywood movies…there are memorable Hollywood movies that couldn’t have been done without the resources.

    Integrity. Bottom line is, a great wedding photographer in my opinion are the ones that have the integrity to turn away a client because they know they are the best person to be with them on their wedding day.

    Thanks for your article, very thought provoking 🙂 will be back for more on this site.

    • Thanks Keith. Yes, it’s about integrity: what I see nowadays is precisely zero in the vast majority of cases. Yes, there are a few good ones left, just as there are a few very competent guests in the party. But both are rarities, sadly.

  14. Great article and you articulated well, my thoughts on the dismal state of wedding photography these days. Most of the practitioners are too busy pounding on their \’claimed\’ international awards or Master Photographer status. In my opinion, Malaysia must have the most number of international award winning photographers including Master Photographers! At a friends wedding recently, the photographers were in the bloody way throughout the ceremony. It got to a point where it was just annoying. It didn\’t help that they quoted based on 4,000 exposures. In order to reach this stupendous number of exposures, they had to throw in 3 photographers or should I say \’camera operators\’ who pretty much shot the hell out of the whole wedding… and you may quote me on this One of the camera operators did nothing but shoot everything \’expertly\’ without even looking through the viewfinder from a low, middle and high camera position. Admittedly, he had pretty long arms!

    There are a few photographers left who take good wedding photographs but for the most part, it\’s just shoot as many exposures as possible, edit the hell out of it with tacky filters in Photoshop and rush it out on a CD with elevator music. Sweet!

    • Thanks Kenny. It’s a destructive cycle: the body giving out the awards can’t change their criteria and promote a different style suddenly, because that would be hypocritical. So the only way forwards is to go more and more over the top!

      Why do you need 4,000 exposures? No client is going to look through them. It’s almost stochastic photography: spray and pray and hope like hell something interesting comes out of it.

      Yet there are clearly people who don’t want this style of photography for their wedding: who serves them? Surely there is a market here.

  15. Exception article capturing exactly what I have been doing for family and friends for years. I’m going to make this mandatory reading for all of my friends and family with approaching wedded bliss…

  16. Trankilstef says:

    Thanx for this great article Ming ! Exactly the way I like weddings to be shot. It’s the way my favorite wedding photographer shoot every time, like Cartier Bresson or Elliot Erwitt. I’m sure you already know him :

    Thanx again for the article and keep up the good job.

    • Indeed – thanks for the compliments.

    • Willi Kampmann says:

      Wow, thank you for the link – this photographer is really awesome! His style is really authentic and thrilling. Really surprising to see such a unique perspective on wedding photography! The only thing I’m missing are a couple of color shots …

      I have to say I also like Ryan Brenizer. Yeah, he is more of the glossy-style kind of wedding photographer, but still I feel his photos carry a lot of emotion and I think that’s a great combination. Of course I don’t know the people in his photos, but they don’t look out-of-character. Admittedly, I’m also attracted by his fascinating “Brenizer method” (using panorama techniques to create a 3D look) so I may be a bit biased there.

  17. Ciao Ming, great article , great shots, agree wholeheartedly in your assessment of ‘wedding’ photography. the only ones l have done have been a ‘documentary, pre wedding, bride gets ready, informal, shots. In my village the photographer has a window full of awful crappy staged bride groom shots, which whenever l pass make me cringe and vow never to get involved in such work.

    • I think every serious photographer would probably feel the same.

      I have to admit that the way wedding photography is done these days puts me off attempting it myself – even though it makes sense to do as a business: constant demand stream, every one is different (and challenging), and you’re helping people remember their big day, which I suppose is noble.

  18. I’m a professional photographer of 8 years with recent years of work primarily focusing in commercial and editorial assignments. Ironically, my career in photography began accidentally (that’s another story and it began with one wedding reception I had agreed to shoot for a friend. Images from that wedding went on to get me more bookings and so forth. Then came the pivotal point in that stint when I decided it was no longer worth the long hours and pain that’s inherent with the wedding photography business: I created my first ever blog post “REMEMBER REMEMBER THE 3RD OF NOVEMBER” so it continues to remind me why I got out of it all and looked at other genres that makes sense. I’ve since been turning away prospective clients who contact me to be their photographer. I’ve never been happier.

    • I think I wouldn’t mind doing it for the couple who appreciates how difficult true, unobtrusive photojournalism is – and not the type of couple who wants a ridiculous, over-the-top production. But yes, I agree – for the most part, it’s easier to say no. Doesn’t help that in Asia, the perspective is that if you’re a wedding or event photographer, then nobody will take you seriously for commercial work.

  19. Willi Kampmann says:

    Great article. What do you think about lighting, Ming? I’ve read that wedding photographers often carry big flashes and strobes and even have their assistants carry them around. I imagine this being very obtrusive to the event (especially the flashes) and think a more minimalistic photojournalistic* approach would be more appropriate. I think some obvious privileges set aside, a wedding photographer should mostly be acting stealthily in the background. But then again I have absolutely no experience in that regard.

    BTW, I’m really impressed by all the colors in asian weddings! In Europe you probably wouldn’t even notice whether the images were taken in color or B&W because the bride is wearing white and most other people black. I think bridesmaids sometimes wear colors, I’m not sure.

    *I have to say though, I think photojournalism faces similar problems. These days photojournalism especially in war zones is often staged, with the natives posing for the “photojournalists” to make for dramatic images. The photographers are happy about the impressive photos and the natives are happy about the free propaganda.

    • Thanks Willi. I’m an available light photojournalist, so what you see is what was there for everybody else to see on the day. I don’t get in the way, I shot through holes and gaps and waited for moments. I agree about being in the background though – but these days, it seems as though if you don’t ‘reserve your spot’ in front of the action, then 1001 other guests and family members with DSLRs will just jump in front and block the view for the rest of the guests anyway.

  20. Very well written. Here in Europe, lavish, over the top weddings are the order of the day. Some even hire film crews to follow the couple around all day with a huge fluffy mic hovering over their heads. They seem to want glamour, not reality. Its all turned into a show… and as photographers we are expected to make the event look like the marriage between David & Victoria Beckham. It’s so artificial…. and as the night proceeds you can’t help but wonder how on earth you went from becoming a creative photographer to a pseudo paparazzi. I suppose as long as there is a market for shallow, materialistic wedding couples, there will always be photographer ready to comply.

    • Thank you. I wonder though whether it’s something to be said about the whole marriage institution in modern times – it’s more of an excuse to fulfil a fairytale than actually sanctify a commitment. Note high divorce rates, too. But that’s social commentary for another time – instant gratification and ‘mass luxury’ are the way to go.

  21. Thanks for the great write-up. I do really wish everything you said could be true. I always advise my clients that the true value of their wedding photographs will be in 10, 20, maybe 30+ years from now when they’re sharing them with their kids or looking back. At that point, the trendy stuff won’t look so “cool” any more. But this is a generation that was raised on instant gratification and sharing. A wedding is the ultimate show piece for a new couple, so it’s natural for them to want the trendiest, “hey look at me” thing at the moment without any consideration for what is most timeless and honest.

    Much of the blame can also be attributed to the industry. We have wedding magazines/blogs showing trendy imagery of contrived weddings with no emotional significance. Then there are the flood of photographers in this industry who show very little concern for good composition, lighting, lens selection, etc. Then the images are masked with extravagant poses, over the top processing, irrelevant props and everything else to mask an otherwise mediocre image.

    • Well, we have to keep educating our clients – in every industry – else things will just get worse. It subjectively feels like we’re just stopping the tide at the moment, not reversing it.

      I’m pretty sure I’ll be happy with my wedding photos in 30 years, after all – classical PJ has looked good for far longer than that. But to find a real PJ who’ll shoot a wedding is quite another matter.

  22. I have been the main or assistant photographer at a number of weddings and agree with a lot of what is said here. The over processing and strange poses bother me the most. They really will look strange in 20 years. As an assistant I found it easier to look for the emotional pictures because there was a lot less I had to keep track of. And as the main photographer, there are a lot of pressures you can feel about doing what seems to be popular. Photography is just a side income for me, I can’t imagine the pressure to do what is in vogue when you depend on it. I did like the thoughts on the wedding being about the couple/family and not the photographer. As a photographer I can get over focused on the pictures I want and lose focus on my subject’s emotions/patience/enthusiasm. So I’ll keep that one in mind. I do firmly follow the not getting in the way, I’m always bugged by photographers being right up to the altar during the ceremony, seems to kill any notion of sacred. I don’t worry too much about missing shots. I do my best to be prepared and know that if I get enough good ones, any I missed won’t be consequential. Good post!

  23. Years ago (back in the film days) I shot a few weddings for friends and family. The photos turned out well but it’s not something I want to do again. Compared to film, digital would be so much easier … and perhaps that’s why comtemporary wedding photos do this crazy over-the-top stuff — to make it complicated again!

    Earlier in the year I was a guest at the wedding. There was no official wedding photographer, just some family members with cameras. I didn’t know how capable these people were, so to amuse myself I played the role of the first / second shooter. With no pressure of expectation, it was fun. And I got two dozen good images for the couple. Maybe this approach might be a new trend in wedding photography?

    A year ago I went to an exhibition showing the work of professional photographers. These was a good % of wedding stuff and although it wasn’t the crazy over-the-top stuff you describe in Asia (I’m here in Australia) there was too much ham-fisted over processing. Too much shadow adjustment, too much local area contrast, too much sharpening. Too much focus on the technical at the expense of the aesthetic / emotional elements.

    I walked away thinking can’t these clowns just take an honest photo of what actually happened at the wedding? i.e what was important to the people involved.

    Your post raises some good issues and I agree with your perspective.

    • I think the over-the-top stuff is to justify the pricing or differentiate from the competition in an obvious way for the uneducated consumer. It doesn’t add anything aesthetically and is actually not so good from a business point of view because of the huge amount of extra work required.

      Maybe it boils down to something much simpler: you need to care about what you do. This is especially important as a wedding photographer because you’re trying to capture fleeting emotion not poses or product. And that…is why a reasonably competent photographer member of the party, known to the protagonists, will always produce better work than 99% of the best hired guns.

  24. Among the many interesting posts you’ve written, this is one that I just *have* to comment; just to say that I totally agree with your thoughts.

    If I ever manage to finish assembling a selection of photos from my wedding I’ll be back with the link. I did not want the “hollywodian epics” and I was lucky to have a dear friend of mine who shot some good pictures; I’d like to share some of those with you. I also happened to have my GF1 handy during my wedding, something that all friends and guests were surprised to see!

    Recently there was a post on the Instagram blog showing the technically impressive work of a wedding photographer who shot for a Californian couple (no surprises there…) only with iPhones and Instagram. But the pictures were just ridiculous to me; all stupid and over-the-top poses like the in a terribly cheesy romantic comedy. But in the comments nobody seemed to share my feelings. So I guess people want to look like B-movie actors.

    • Thanks Alessandro. I suppose if instagram is the style you want (and it’s a pop culture thing – perhaps the chosen style says something about the couple?), then just make sure you won’t regret it 20 years later. At the same time, you’ll probably cringe at the Hollywood epic, though.

  25. Well done! I always think about these issues when I shoot weddings and avoid to be a trespasser at all cost.

  26. Wonderful article and certainly food for thought

  27. Really great post and you raise some very good points! It’s a difficult subject as there are so many variable that a wedding photographer who shoots full time has to contend with – both from the approach to the wedding and also from the business aspect. Here in the UK the wedding market is probably not that different from other parts of the world – though it seems that over the last 10 years, more photographers have come in at the lower end of the market and help to drive prices down. It does seem to be less about the quality of the photography or the creativity and more about social media – the ones who shout the loudest about what they are doing seem to get more acclaim – whether their work is good or bad. I think that a large proportion of our clients now are so used to seeing photographs taken with iphones and compact cameras on drunken nights out, that actually it’s not hard for someone to enter the market and produce work that is only slightly better – and a price point that from a business perspective is also unsustainable.

    Wedding photography is hard and there seems to be an ethos in wedding photography that leads wedding photographers to have a plan to enter the training market as soon as possible – it’s obviously easier to teach other photographers the handful of shots that you do than it is to keep developing and shooting weddings.

    From a business perspective, it’s difficult to mark what is a fair price – we all have to live and put food on the table and different photographers will have different plans and overheads – the cost of a high street studio or small office can easily be about £500-£1000 per month, meaning your monthly sales need to be either high in number or at a high price point to sustain that and taking a wage too (as well as paying for kit, insurance etc).

    It’s hard, because wedding photography is primarily a market driven activity and the market can swing quickly in terms of style demanded and also price – but, and for me this is the important part – it’s about our clients, working with them, given them beautiful images that will stand the test of time and being an unobtrusive part of their day!

    • Thanks John. It seems my expectations have to be reset though – I met a local photographer here who is apparently shooting 300+ weddings per year, not discounted, at premium rates – and he shoots with four H4Ds. So there must be definitely be a market at the high end. Whether it’s something I want to do or not artistically/ professionally is another question.

      Like everything else – I hope that one day the world will be overwhelmed with so much crap that the really good stuff will stand out; especially as more images are produced, photography grows as a hobby and the general level of market education increases. We just have to find a way to sustain ourselves until then; the high end pie is there, possibly moving higher, but at the same time also shrinking in absolute quantity of jobs.

  28. Lovely post, and some great shots. My biggest nightmare would be having the responsibility for someone’s wedding photos. When I got married (in the mid eighties) we hired the most trusted wedding photographer in town for the money shots, and talked a photographer friend into shooting the reception… he never turned up, so we missed out on those reception shots, except for a few copies of happy snaps taken by guests. I have always regretted missing out on those emotional shots of friends and family enjoying the day.

    • Thank you – it’s one of the reasons I’ll never be primary shooter (aside from the fact that I hate shooting weddings) – I’d rather be in the moment with friends and family and capture whatever I happen to capture without the pressure of having to work.


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