03 December 2007

Wedding photographers: overpaid?

I was following Elaine on one of her meetings with various tailors and designers, inquiring about the cost of making a wedding dress. And it seems that the average wedding gown costs about RM2000 in this day and age.

When you think about the amount of time to make a dress (about 2 months or more) and all of the effort it takes to measure, sew, fit, alter and whatnot a dress, it definitely seems worth it.

Yes, it's a dress you'll probably only wear once in your lifetime (unless, like me, you're a guy, whereby it would be preferable to never have to wear one, unless you're a drag queen. Or weird) but the craftsmanship that goes behind a dress isn't something to be taken lightly.

Don't believe me? You try making a dress...

Now, the point at which I'm getting to is this: A wedding photographer gets paid about RM2000 (sometimes more) for a day's work.

This involves snapping about 1,000 mostly identical photographs of the bride and groom during the wedding ceremony, the various customs (tea drinking in Chinese weddings, for example) and during the wedding luncheon and/or dinner.

Once he goes home, he uploads all of this into his PC or Mac, uses custom software to sort, compare and shortlist photos, and later sends a small selection to a photo printer, burning the rest into a DVD-R disc (nobody uses CDs anymore...).

And by the end of the week (once he's gotten off his arse), he'll hand it to you in a lovely, wrapped package. All for a princely sum of RM2000.

Incidentally, the price of a wedding dress and a day-long photography service are the same: about RM2000.

While no one will ever doubt that dressmaking is a skill, any monkey can pose as a professional photographer these days.

And looking at the sort of quality people are getting from wedding photographers, they may as well pay peanuts too!

What's annoying is that are many so-called professionals with almost no understanding of exposure, lighting, basic composition or even common sense.

These are the pros who insist on using a bounce flash in a ballroom with a 30-foot high ceiling (that's almost never white in colour to begin with - thus diminishing its reflective properties further). And without any white card or diffuser!!! And sometimes, these idiots forget to re-align the direction of the flash when they're switching from portrait to landscape, thus blinding the person standing directly to their left, who was wondering "What's this big thing pointing at m.... *ACK!*"

These are the pros who don't use a fill-in direct flash (with or without a diffuser) when shooting indoors, and in poor lighting conditions. They normally 'fix' their mistakes in Photoshop by playing around with levels and curves, until the bride's gown becomes a mass of white rather than textured cloth - and until the people's faces end up being a contrasty shade of orange, simply because of colour banding and incorrect white balance to begin with.

These are the pros who don't check focus, constantly having distant background objects in focus instead.

These are the pros who are spending too much time finding a use for their expensive new, telephoto 300mm prime lens (with constant f/2.8 aperture) rather than just sticking to a lens that's suitable for the occasion. Take note: this is fine if the pro is using the lens for just a couple of shots with shallow depth of field. But if he's using the same lens for more than 15 minutes, he's just using the lens for his own entertainment - cumming over the shallow depth of field.

These are the pros who get in the way of priests and/or other important people during church weddings - just to get 20 shots of two wedding rings being doused by Holy water (shots which you'll probably not notice as you flip through your wedding albums in future). The same idiots will also stick their camera in continuous shutter burst and take 10 identical shots every time the bride/groom poses for about 2 seconds. Take note: they're posing, not running through a finish line.

These are the pros who also insist on NOT using a flash AT ALL when shooting indoors because the available lighting from the yellow tungsten/halogen bulbs "looks more natural." True, but because of the limited dynamic range of photographs, everyone will end up looking like a panda, with harsh shadows cast over their eyes. If that's what you're looking for, then good for you.

These are the pros who shoot with the camera's small image settings (i.e. If it's a 10-megapixel camera, he'll shoot at 2.5-megapixels) so that they can store more photos on their CF cards. If you're only going to make 4R (4x6in) prints, then fine. But if they're taking a big group shot which is likely to be printed on A4-sized enlargements, you're screwed.

Now, I'm not saying you shouldn't pay a photographer RM2000 or more if he's really good. The problem, however, is that most people won't know if a wedding photographer is good or bad until after the fact. In fact, most people can't even tell that a picture is badly taken unless there's a side-by-side comparison with a good one.

The problem is that anybody can buy a digital SLR, some lenses and flashes and instantly look like a pro.

Which means that problem is that you won't really know if there's a problem until the problem has happened.

The problem is that it's now 2:30am and I'm feeling cranky. And Ranty. And why the hell are there ants on my desk???

Erm. So yes. The moral of the story is this: If you're getting a wedding photographer and are fussy about whether or not your pictures look great, make sure you've seen his/her prior work before agreeing.

The other lesson of the day is that wedding dresses are better value than some pro photographers. Goodnight.


Tan Kit Hoong said...

Now THAT'S a long rant! LOL. Yeah I've seen some so-called pros take some really bad shots.

Winnie said...

Indeed. We used senior photography majors--cheaper, enthusiastic, and we have beautiful pictures. :)

Plus, I made my own wedding dress. The labor that goes into it is definitely worth the cost. I happen to be a seamstress and could afford the labor more easily, but it was tough some days. I also made a friend's as a wedding present, which was even harder. But she couldn't afford anything nice and we're good friends so she bought the fabric and I made it.

Weddings, on the whole, are two expensive. I think it's mostly the brides and grooms trying to meet expectations. (In my experience with 3 weddings last summer)