Wedding photographers—talented ones, with professional credentials and gear, education and insurance and experience—charge a lot. As well they should: I recently second-shot a wedding where the photographer functioned as planner, people wrangler, bride consoler, schedule rearranger, and general keeper of the peace, all while artistically documenting the event for posterity. For 10 hours. In a venue that was one dim light away from pitch black.
It ain’t an easy job.
Those who do it well deserve to be well-compensated, as argued here and here. (Seriously, Nikki Wagner’s piece on the photographer’s cost of doing business should be required reading for every kvetching bride.) Photography is truly one of those ‘you get what you pay for’ services, as this cautionary tale signifies.
But that’s beside—or perhaps adjacent to—my point. Pay or don’t pay for excellent photography services: that choice and its consequences are yours to reconcile.
What I want to discuss are the requests that absolutely, under no circumstances, will a professional photographer entertain; the rules that they will not break; and the impossible tasks that they cannot perform. Miracles? They might happen, but not in our cameras on your wedding day.
Fix a Fug Face
The fug face is a bonafide phenomenon. As the advice columns on our website have belabored, a wedding is a charged event that brings every best and worst emotion families and friends have about each other to a seething, messy boil. And that can register on your mother’s or sister’s or best friend’s face. Some people—myself included—are exceptionally expressive, and that reads as unfortunate facial goofs, such as the agape mouth or the unflatteringly large laugh. We can’t fix sneers in Photoshop, nor is it our job to. We are tasked with photographing what is there, to capture the day as it truly unfolds. Ugly faces and all. We’re sorry if Aunt Helen’s sour face didn’t like the bespoke-brined pickles on your buffet, but there’s nothing we can do about it, or the fact that in the background of every shot, your mother-in-law looks completely miserable.
Readjust Magical Moments
Speaking of moments: during the course of a wedding day, so many tiny, spectacular things are happening at once. We’re trained to constantly be on the watch for the reunion of the two college friends who haven’t seen each other in 8 years. When that happens, it might be right in front of an exit sign, or behind a cluster of beer bottles. Imagine how ridiculous it would be if we jumped in to say, “Hey guys: that hug was great, but can we stage it again a few steps over?” We do our best to position ourselves away from emotion-obscuring objects, but sometimes the venue just gets in our way. (Note: this issue doesn’t apply to the major, planned events, like the ceremony and toasts and first dance. Pro photographers plan for and maneuver into a direct sightline to get those shots.) And unless you paid for significant retouching in your wedding photography contract (hint: most people don’t), we’re not going to remove that pesky exit sign for you. Most photographers have retouching fees that cover significant rearranging of a venue in Photoshop, as that work is significantly time-intensive and usually outsourced to an editing professional.
Redact Your Back Fat
This issue has nothing to do with size, and everything to do with fit; thin brides can have just as many illusions about their lack of arm jiggle, and are often the most upset at the mere hint of flabbiness. So here’s the truth: if a bride–size 4 or 14–is stuffed into a corset or flopping out of a bodice, then her photographs will reflect that sartorial decision. As artists trained in the art of the flattering pose, we can turn and contort and reconfigure to place a bride in her best, most flattering light, but we can’t mask the insecurities she harbors about her own image. Bodies? We photograph them as they are, not as the bearer wants them to be. Again, we can retouch a photograph upon request (and on a paid, per-image basis), but Photoshop can only do so much; 10 extra pounds are possible, but certainly not 50.
Release Your RAW Files
I can do almost anything for a client, but I won’t do that. In laypersons’ terms, RAW files are the giant, straight-out-of-the-camera images that can only be opened with a specialized program (with the extension .nef or .cr2, depending on whether your photographer shoots Nikon or Canon). RAW files are like clay, the literal raw materials we mold into the JPGs that are delivered as our clients’ final product. It is our job as professionals to color-correct, exposure-tweak, and otherwise finesse those files into a remarkable collection of images. As a rule, RAW images lack contrast and sharpening, and are downright dull. If you peeked at my RAW files–or any other professional photographer’s RAW files, for that matter–you’d see underexposed, overexposed, blurry, and otherwise unacceptable files mixed in with the tack-sharp, white=balanced portraiture and photojournalism. Look at all the images from a wedding in RAW format, and you might wonder what sort of hack you hired. We dump the bad stuff through a process called culling, and keep the rest. The rough drafts of an article? You wouldn’t want to turn those in to your editor for publication, which is much the same concept. The RAW files stay in the vault; the edited JPGs are yours to share with the world. (And no, you’re not going to own the copyright to that.)
It’s easy for me to say these things. I’m now a semi-retired photographer, with some distance from the miscommunications and peccadilloes of my profession. I can look back at all the moments when I should have been vocal and specific about the integral tenets of our practice (see: every scenario above). Because at the end of the day, your wedding day, and our working relationship, we just want you to be happy with your photographs. And no matter how awesome your photographer, only communication, education, and honesty can get us there.