Uncle Joe vs The Pro

written by Carolyn Pongracz, In Bloom Photography – – April 1, 2011

We all know them:  the relatives or friends that show up at family holidays and events with their large cameras, ‘snap-snap-snapping’ away at everything.  They love tinkering with the settings on their cameras and revel in showing off their latest landscape shots or their most recent vacation photos.  And that’s great!  Everyone likes to have a hobby.  But is “Uncle Joe” the right choice for your wedding photographer?

This photo is from “The Celebrations Game” blog, featuring awkward wedding and engagement photos.  

Is this what you’ve been dreaming your wedding photos would look like?

Or are you looking for something different?

Let’s face it — the thought of hiring a friend or relative to shoot your wedding is tempting simply because the price is right!  Who wouldn’t want to save thousands of dollars?!  But before you give in to that temptation, consider these top 3 reasons why Uncle Joe isn’t necessarily the best decision over a Pro.

1.  “It’s Not The Train, It’s The Engineer.”
A great camera doesn’t always produce great images.  A great photographer does.  I’ve seen novices with the most expensive equipment possible, and yet they have no concept of composition, artistic flair, or creative lighting techniques – and their photos prove it.  And then I have seen Pros with not-so-great equipment and they manage to take phenomenal images!
Basing your decision on the type of equipment a person owns is like choosing a wedding cake based on the type of oven your baker owns.  Yes, better ovens, just like better cameras, have unique features that make creating masterpieces a little easier.  But without the right basic ingredients (creativity, understanding of lighting, ability to work under extreme pressure, etc.) no single piece of equipment will create photos that will take your breath away.  Uncle Joe might have a great camera – it doesn’t mean he’s a great wedding photographer.

2.  “Wedding Photographers Are A Different Breed.”

Unlike landscapes, portraits, or even fashion photo shoots, weddings are an extremely stressful and ever-changing challenge for photographers.  Think about it:  you’ve got an enormous cast of characters all playing different roles during the day.  You’ve got bridesmaids giggling, a nervous groom, proud parents, goofy groomsmen, an elegant bride, and hundreds of wedding guests — and they’re all doing something different, at every second of the day.  So a wedding photographer has to be constantly moving, watching the crowd, looking for special moments that are happening in the corners, listening for cues as to what’s coming up next… the action truly doesn’t stop!  Does Uncle Joe know the best place to capture your tears coming down the aisle, as well as being in position to get great images of your groom smiling back at you?  Can he get incredibly detailed shots of the bride and groom holding hands during the ceremony without being intrusive?  Is he going to be in position in time to get that incredible (but fleeting) shot of your first kiss?  Meanwhile, as all of this is happening, a wedding photographer has to be evaluating changes in lighting and composition as people move from one place to the next — a bridal party is like shooting several moving targets all at the same time!  Churches and reception halls are extremely difficult in terms of getting adequate lighting, and it takes a lot of hands-on experience to get it just right.  (I cringe at the thought of someone blasting a giant flash directly into a bride’s face – nothing is more unflattering!)  Can you be sure that Uncle Joe is prepared for these situations?

But if that’s not enough, your wedding photographer needs to be able to quickly shift gears and efficiently organize people into creative, well balanced portraits at the drop of the hat.  How do you get creative in a park with family photos — will everyone just be standing in a straight line saying “Cheese”?  Or will Uncle Joe be able to quickly organize people where they look most natural, creating different levels or visually interesting positions?  How will Uncle Joe capture true romance and happiness between the bride and groom, and not stiff, awkward snapshots?  Look online at wedding photos that really appeal to you artistically and ask yourself if Uncle Joe will be able to create that style of image under pressure.

Taking great landscape shots or portraits is one thing:  those photographers have time to stop and think about how he’d like to compose the shot, and what camera settings are best.  He can take his time, trying 3 or 4 times until he gets everything just right because his subject hasn’t moved.  But in wedding photography, it’s all about making split-second decisions intellectually (to ensure proper camera settings for changing lighting and focus), while at the same time, constantly moving, crouching and climbing to ensure you’re making excellent decisions creatively.

Unlike landscapes, if you miss the moment, that one split second, it’s gone forever.  No amount of photoshopping can fix pictures taken incorrectly from the start… and it certainly can’t fix photos that weren’t taken at all.  Wedding photographers only have one chance to get it, and get it right.  Will Uncle Joe be able to handle that stress?  Will you?

3.  “What if…?”

Still not convinced?  Then consider these questions.

– What if Uncle Joe’s camera or battery dies mid-way through the ceremony?  Does he carry a second set of equipment just in case?

– What is Uncle Joe’s back-up plan if he is sick and can’t come to your wedding?

– Will you be stressed feeling like you need to “direct” Uncle Joe to get the type of shots that you want (instead of enjoying your wedding day)?

– Will Uncle Joe be distracted by other friends and family at the wedding and potentially miss special moments?

– What if Uncle Joe fails to give you the pictures in a timely manner after the wedding?  Will you have a contract or agreement on what you’re to receive and when?

– What if you hate your photos after the wedding?  Will there be tension forever between you and Uncle Joe?

Yes, it certainly can be tempting to save a large sum of money by hiring a friend or family member to do your wedding photos.  Everyone likes a bargain!  But in most cases, the risks outweigh the benefits.  You’ve spent so much on your gown… your flowers… your reception.  You’ve trusted those important aspects of your wedding to professionals.  And yet the one thing that you’ll continue to look at for the next 50 years will be your photos.  Only you can decide if it’s worth choosing Uncle Joe… or the Pro.

~ Carolyn