Thursday, July 03, 2008

[B]Business Day Thursday: Is Professional Wedding Photography Dead

Good Afternoon Everybody,

Today, I want to talk with you about something serious and an issue that should concern us all.

Priests, Ministers, and Rabbis have just about had it with wedding photographers - that is - since the advent of digital. Last week, we were having dinner with a group of photographers from the Lexington, Kentucky area. The subject of weddings came up, and then things really took off. One of my buddies made a remark about many of the churches in the area were instituting much stricter guidelines for wedding photographers because of the gross miss-conduct of so many of the new breed of shooters. Folks, those are their words, not mine.

Let me also be clear at this point, that I am not referring to the majority of shooters out there. Most of us know what we are about and are constantly trying to do our best job for our clients. I'm referring these comments to a much smaller element of wedding photographers whose non-professional roar is having an impact on our businesses.

Here is the story - it's scary, makes me embarrassed for my profession on one hand, and angry on the other. The photographer shoves the minister out of the way to get the shot of the bride and groom exchanging rings. Another minister sees a wedding photographer crawling along the floor on his elbows "marine like" getting in position next to the wedding couple to get his shot from the floor. Rabbi's are complaining about obnoxious behavior from photogs at wedding ceremonies. Photographers dressing in a less than professional outfits. These are not made up incidents. I have personally been told these stories from clergy I have worked with here in Cincinnati, Ohio.

What is happening these days? In so many cases it's a total lack of professionalism from a newer crop of so called professional photographers that think it's more important to get the shot at the cost of total disrespect and irreverence to the location, the Priests, Ministers, and Rabbis, the guests and wedding clients. Well, they've got it all wrong. They should be kicked out of the church and in many cases the churches are setting policies that will cause that to happen. The down side is that the clergy are lumping true professional photographers into this same insidious group of non-professionals.

So many of these photogs see themselves as the "artiest" and heck be darned if they can't get their shoot. What's the problem here? The problem is clear - it's about the photographer and not about the client, the event, or the location. My suggestion to those photographers - leave your arrogance at home and perform your job with the professional manner it demands. If that's a problem for you, change jobs - we don't need you or want you in a profession that always has demanded the best professional demeanor possible.

We need to interact with all sorts of personalities on the wedding day - from a stressed mom, frazzled bride, nervous groom, etc. and it behoves us to be the physiologist of the day helping it be a wonderful occasion for all concerned. If we take on a self-centered attitude like we are the most important person of the day, we are taking the non-professional approach to the shoot.

We always need to be looking at the big picture and working diligently and pro-actively to make the day go the best for all involved. And, wait there's more, we need to leave the affair with the most positive impression of ourselves with all other professionals in which we interact with during the wedding day. That means no arguing with the bridal consultant, no removing of floral arrangements, no flashing of the videographer, no removing of the church lady into the closet...... Is there anybody other than me that thinks that might be good for business? I hope so.

I once had an event in a church only hours after another photographer had worked in the same location. As per my custom, I checked in with the priest at the rectory and when I met him, I was "reamed a new one" if you get my drift. He proceeded to tell me how the previous photographer had brought his little dog into the church to accompany him with the shoot. I was horrified. The minister was fit to tied.

I wish I could find the issue of Cincinnati Magazine featuring the wedding pros in the city. Florists got a good wrap, jewelers got a good wrap, but wedding photographers were referred to as overbearing and obnoxious. Can anybody else see the writing on the wall? It's too bad we have this "element" operating in our profession. We must constantly guard against it in our own behavior, and continue to remain a true professional to the core.

How does the true wedding professional counter such an ugly wedding photographer's impact in our market. I suggest being totally pro-active in approaching the Priests, Ministers, and Rabbis in your community. When we book a wedding in a certain location, then let's contact the Priests, Ministers, and Rabbis and coordinators, and notify them that we are going to working there in the upcoming months. Send a PR packet guaranteeing your professional behavior/decorum. It should list who you are, your list of credentials and references - be sure to include references from other priests, ministers, and Rabbis, too. It should spell out your commitment to working with and respecting the location where you are working and the people you will be working with. You get the idea. This assures and relieves the churches of some of the angst they have built up against some of these "jerk" photographers.

Folks, this is an important issue and we all need to stay vigilant in stemming the negative tide of what is happening in our recent times in wedding photography. It's always about being a true professional all the time - no exceptions. Take a peek at this nicely written article on the same point with many suggestions on how to conduct ones' self during a liturgy. Here is the link right here.

End of rant #61.


  1. In grad school I was a wedding photographer's assistant and occasionally second camera. The photographer I worked with was a stickler for proper dress and decorum. It was nothing that my mother hadn't drilled into my head as a child already. I think sometimes the problem is just a lack of home training.

    I am shooting a wedding for a friend in two weeks. They asked me because as a fellow Catholic who regularly attends the Latin Mass at this parish I will already be respectful.

    The priests I have spoken with all have their stories of incredibly disrespectful photographers who ignore the fairly simple rules that are set out. It wouldn't surprise me if some Churches move to having 'approved photographers' the way that they have approved musicians and florists.

  2. Bravo!
    That's all I can say or I'll start ranting as well.

  3. I think part of the problem here may be what photographers are learning in school these days. In my yearbook class in high school, I was specifically taught, "During a pep rally, run out onto the floor if you need to to get your shot. You might look silly, but the picture will be worth it in the end." That teacher routinely instructed that the ends justified the means, as far as that went. These photographers may feel that even if they look silly at the wedding and bother a few guests, those things are not as important as preserving the moment in the picture.

    This of course, would be a silly idea to apply to a wedding photographer during a religious ceremony, but etiquette is no longer taught in schools, and respect for religion and its ceremonies seems to be at an all time low. Add all that up and you get exactly what you are talking about.

    I think we all need to just do the best we can and stand out as the type of professional photographer that will sacrifice an awesome angle out of respect for the importance of the event rather than vice versa.

  4. Hello David,

    After attending your school last year, it was clear to me that I did not want to be a wedding photog.

    After watching your "magic" and what it takes to be a "real" wedding photographer; I learned a lot from you, lighting, composition,etc, however I only want to be an assistant or a 2nd shooter in this wedding business.

    I have be a professional from my early days in the legal book business to now.

    I do a nice job in portraits, babies, families and autos.

    I will leave the wedding business to you and others like you who are quite remarkable, as you are too, in the wedding business.

    So, if you need an assistant backup or 2nd shooter, think of me in Lexington.

    My hat is off to guys like you and other professional wedding photographers.

    Sadly, I think the wedding business (photography) will suffer more before discretion and humility take hold.

    Ken in Lexington

  5. +1 on this David. I'm all for helping the eager and starting pro, but EVERYONE needs to focus on professionalism and service as a number one goal.

    If you think wedding photography is just an easy buck, then your in the wrong business.


  6. Wow! I always meet with the minister, priest, rabbi etc before every wedding to find out what the rules are. I let my brides know what these rules are as well so we are all on the same playing field.

    I had a priest tell me at one wedding that no flashes were allowed. Knowing that I will be the only one not using a flash I asked him if he would announce no flash photography before the ceremony. He did and there were no flashes!

  7. Well said! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

  8. David,

    Bang on with the comments as usually but, there is a flip side to this. I was recently at a wedding where the minister was so restrictive and obnoxious to the photographer I am surprise he got at shots at all. From what I saw the guy wasn't doing anything wrong. I'm not saying that wedding photographers should be professional, far from it, but IMHO the wedding party should do there homework on the church as well. At lot of folks don't get married in their 'home church' so they tend to treat it like any other 'events centre' when the reality is it ain't! Bottom line is everyone involved has to work together to make a great wedding shoot - that the way it should be.

  9. Spot on David! I cannot think of an article of late which I have agreed with more. I am sure you hear horror stories of "Photographer's behaving badly" at every event-I know we do.

    It is so sad people conduct themselves in this manner, then the very same will decry the restrictions put on them by the clergy!

    Proper decorum and proper dress are a must at ALL is about the couple and their loved ones-

  10. @steve a

    Unfortunately, you just made David's point...if we ALL are not being professional, those of us who are will pay the price. You never know how the photog was at the last wedding or the last few, and the photog at the wedding you were attending got the blunt end of it.

    I so agree with the bridal party finding out the rules, but its our job as well, especially with all the other planning the b/g have to do.

    I too can see the day when only approved photographers will be allowed to shoot in some religious sites, or all. But will this really be such a bad thing, then aspiring photogs will have to apprentice with those on the list, thats when everyone will learn a certain standard.

  11. Thanks for the link! Bye the way; I think that some flash should be allowed, but only if (a) the priest/minister explicitly okays it after being asked by the photographer, and (b) only the primary (professional) photographer uses his flash (and sparingly so!).

  12. Great article, we always get great comments from the officiants, Churches, etc. where we work... it's a bit funny - we consider our behavior "normal" and not really special but unfortunately the expectations are so low that a photog doesn't really have to be special to be noticed.

    Just think how many referrals a photog would get if he/she is even 10% above "normal" acting? And if he/she marketed him/herself using this angle?

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