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Mar26

The Wedding Weekend Warrior and the Wal-Mart Effect

some comments on the wedding industry

There was an article today online at DeviantArt.com called “Photography Is Dead” that caused a bit of a stir on Facebook which got me thinking : something that happens every third week of the month. In a nutshell, it spoke of the idea that the quality of  “photography these days” is dying due to all the ‘newbies’ out there buying digital SLR’s. There has been much said in the photo community about this idea aside from this article – the concept that all these new folks running around willy-nilly with cameras that rather easily produce ‘good’ photos, are diluting the market. That these folks are single-handidly devaluing the photography business. That they are stealing work from the ‘rest of us’ by undercutting prices. These Weekend Wedding Warriors and Photo-Mommies want to steal our business and shut us down.

What I took away from this article was that they were suggesting that a lot of people get into photography now assuming it’s ‘easy’. The days of learning how to really expose (film) and potentially have to even develop it in a smelly darkroom, are gone for the most part. Back then, if you had a camera and really knew how to use it, there was a lot of craft and background knowledge necessary. It was impressive when you whipped out that Hasselblad and actually knew how to wrangle it. Personally I got into photography because I felt a passion for it and enjoyed it, not because I thought anything about it would be simple. We all had to start somewhere,and nobody comes out of the gate charging $5000 for a wedding. (I think for my first wedding I charged something like $1,200 with $600 in expenses)

Today the presumed ‘easy’ part at it’s most basic, is that you can immediately see your images and exposure and make corrections etc on the fly, with no real skill necessary. The article suggests that everyone and their Mother can run to a Target, buy a basic camera 101 kit and open a successful business. Those people then in turn, post their images on Facebook and thrive off of ‘likes’ and positive comments which only fuel the vicious cycle.

To a certain degree this IS a phenomena that is occurring. And we long-time Pro’s are indeed feeling the result, as Brides struggle to find ways to pay for their weddings in this economy (I hate that expression as a blanket excuse, but do believe it is a factor) often shopping strictly on price and not quality. I call it the Wal-Mart Effect: I can get a lot for a little and I don’t care much about the quality–all I know is i’m getting a LOT!!   But if you think about it – this is really nothing new: there has always been a market for The Dollar Store, as well as Neiman Marcus. The popularity and ease of iPhone photography and Instagram type sites hasn’t helped, as that encourages a ‘thats good enough’ disposable mentality which unfortunately trickles down into a lot of things. (although i’m the first to admit I often carry my iPhone as my only camera!)

This is not to say that many, many couples are still appreciative of great photography and what it offers them in the long term. Those photographers who have been at it for many years know there’s an art to what you see and when you press the trigger. An art to dealing with and directing often uncomfortable people in front of the camera. An art to producing an image you know the client EXPECTS to see. As many have said before – it’s easy to take a PICTURE, but difficult to take a PHOTOGRAPH.

And YES – while those ‘weekend warriors’ may be saturating the market and offering their wares at rock-bottom prices, will they last the long haul one they realize how much REAL work is involved?  Will they be around in 2 years once they discover how little they are actually making per hour, after all of the time needed to really do the job right? WIll they discover any profit whatsoever after calculating the cost of all the bells and whistles added to make their packages look appealing? Will they still be around once a few people have poor experiences? I doubt it. And will there always be brides simply looking for a bargain? YES…

I don’t know if there is any easy answer to this other than to stick to your guns and the the best work you know how to do. Never do a ‘just good enough’ job, as that’s a disservice to you and your client. If you’re charging a certain price, you had better believe in yourself enough to be able to ask for that fee and know you can deliver. If you’re starting out – take the time to learn from people who have been doing this for awhile. Ask to go on some weddings simply for experience. You may find you love it–or hate it. Don’t misrepresent yourself online making a month old business appear to be long established. Be honest (when I started out I was REALLY clear with couples that I was new at it!)

You can call me naive, but I still believe the cream will always rise to the top.

And it does so with good reason.

9 Comments

  1. Melissa

    Robert, I have been studying your photography now for several years as I continue (and will forever continue) to learn about the wedding industry. Your advice is invaluable, even if some people don’t want to hear it. The difference in quality within the field itself is staggering and it is sad to think people are satisfied with so little. We all start somewhere. In my third year, I am just now starting to consider myself a little more seasoned. I’ve been lucky enough to shoot a bunch of weddings with three different pros and their advice can’t be bought or read about in a book.
    Keep doing what your doing and give us wanna be stars something to reach for.

  2. Jennifer

    Bravo, Robert! I always appreciate your take on these things. We will keep on doing the best work we know how to do and keep striving to improve.

  3. Patricia miller

    Totally agree. And you are with out doubt some of the ” cream” . It’s like anything in life you get what you pay for and honestly the couples who are going to go to the ” weekend warrior ” or Walmart photographer are not the same that are going to high end studios. I think the issue is finding truer stronger connections with your clientele and having a clear understanding of who those couples are. Just my opinion

  4. Marisa Balletti-Lavoie

    Great post Robert!! I started with them all too, maybe a little before the big kaboom of it, this is my 6th wedding season..my prices have gone up pretty intensely the past year, but it was a lot of hard work, and I do believe that in this industry, only the strong survive. One wrong move, ESPECIALLY on someones wedding day, one person to say the wrong thing about the photographer and it gets out in a review, or online, and that could can an entire business. There are many starting, but there are many not making it too…and for the people whose wedding photo’s look like THAT, well that’s what they get. BUT like you said, we all started somewhere. I admitted where I started at your house, with margaritas!

  5. Robert

    I’ll probably never be a pro, but I couldn’t agree more… Technology has lowered the cost of entry to the point where almost anyone can start a business. The bright side is there are so many more photographers, so there are many more GOOD ones and the artistic quality is so much higher. 20 years ago, did anyone ask what KIND of wedding photographer you were? No. You didn’t have to differentiate because there were so few. I like it this way lots better…

  6. Robert

    I’ll probably never be a pro, but I couldn’t agree more… Technology has lowered the cost of entry to the point where almost anyone can start a business. The bright side is there are so many more photographers, so there are many more GOOD ones and the artistic quality is so much higher. 20 years ago, did anyone ask what KIND of wedding photographer you were? No. You didn’t have to differentiate because there were so few. I like it this way lots better…

  7. […] very insightful blog article today which I felt was a good follow up to my last post about “wedding weekend warriors” In fact, MY post was inspired by a facebook posting SHE had made ( it’s a long story.) The […]

  8. Rachel

    This is a great post. As a new photographer myself (and one that can almost hear the audible eye-roll that admission seems to get from many seasoned photographers), reading article after article that seems to imply that anyone who wants to get into the business is ignorant and in over their heads is exhausting. And frustrating. Because every amazing photographer has to start somewhere– and why couldn’t I put in the work, “get there,” and be great too?

    What I like about your post is that you acknowledge what is happening without automatically seeming to assume that new photographer = hack. Or that anyone who is currently trying to break into the industry is a naive little dear.

    People who aren’t committed to learning the trade will weed themselves out naturally. And brides who aren’t willing to pay more than $800 for full wedding coverage were never going to be your (or my) clients anyways.

    Plus– anyone who thinks that buying a dslr will make them a great photographer is on for their own rude awakening. It’s easier to get a good pic on your iphone than on a 5dmii set to manual… just saying 🙂

  9. Rachel

    This is a great post. As a new photographer myself (and one that can almost hear the audible eye-roll that admission seems to get from many seasoned photographers), reading article after article that seems to imply that anyone who wants to get into the business is ignorant and in over their heads is exhausting. And frustrating. Because every amazing photographer has to start somewhere– and why couldn’t I put in the work, “get there,” and be great too?

    What I like about your post is that you acknowledge what is happening without automatically seeming to assume that new photographer = hack. Or that anyone who is currently trying to break into the industry is a naive little dear.

    People who aren’t committed to learning the trade will weed themselves out naturally. And brides who aren’t willing to pay more than $800 for full wedding coverage were never going to be your (or my) clients anyways.

    Plus– anyone who thinks that buying a dslr will make them a great photographer is on for their own rude awakening. It’s easier to get a good pic on your iphone than on a 5dmii set to manual… just saying 🙂

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