How to Spot an Unprofessional Wedding Photographer

With the recent surge in DSLR sales many “fauxtographers” have begun flooding the market. As a result, it has become increasingly difficult for clients to sift through the web of professional photographers and amateurs looking to make a quick buck. Thankfully, one of our very own PRO Photographers has created a guide to help you through making an informed decision, because unlike your money these moments cannot be replaced.

Christina Bentheim is a proud member of the Professional Photographers of America, Wedding and Portrait Photographers International, and National Association of Professional Child Photographers. Based in Las Vegas, she specializes in engagement photography, creative wedding photography, and lifestyle portraiture of children.

Photos by Christina A. Bentheim, Red Corduroy Media Group {Photography}, L.L.C.

Wedding Photographer v. Wedding Fauxtographer
As a Las Vegas wedding photographer, I frequently get inquiries about my services from individuals wanting everything for virtually nothing. This is a result of the market being flooded by “fauxtographers” who do not operate legitimate businesses. They offer sub-par quality and service for the lowest bottom dollar. It’s illegal and it’s harmful to the client. Thus, my 10-part “Running A Legitimate Photography Business” blog series was born. (See the entire series about legitimate wedding photography studios).

[A note for budding photographers: This is meant for information only and not to give business advice. Always check with your lawyer and CPA prior to starting a business.]

“Photography is part art (and) part science… You can’t effectively run a legitimate photography business having one without the other”

Las Vegas wedding photographers are in abundance. However, there are a select few who truly create artistic stunning wedding photography that clients treasure. Typically it is simple to spot the differences between a professional wedding photographer and a “fauxtographer” for seasoned professionals, but because there are so many people holding big consumer cameras, many amateurs (or hobbyists) think that the pictures they create are just as good as those of a pro. A wedding day is a one-time deal. When it matters, clients need a trained professional wedding photographer to capture each moment as it unfolds and to create new moments between the happy couple.

Every photographer starts somewhere. Please don’t misunderstand that I realize that. However, if a photographer is charging for sessions and NOT using professional equipment with creative vision–-or using professional equipment without knowing how to operate it, quality will suffer. Photography is part art (lighting, composition, storytelling), part science (technical skills and proper equipment to capture the composition). You can’t effectively run a legitimate photography business having one without the other.

The Experiment
At a recent wedding, I asked someone who LOVES photography and LOVES to take pictures to follow me around and take pictures as a sort of second shooter. I wanted to be able to show you the difference between what I, as a professional wedding photographer, did versus what this person photographed. The results are very telling. Which photographs would your clients rather have?

Notice that the left image is of virtually the same moment in the ceremony when the bride held up her bouquet in a type of victory! The “photographer” who took the image on the left missed the moment. Gone. The image on the right is crystal clear with perfect light and tells a story.

Not only is the image on the left poorly composed, blurry, and blown out, it doesn’t send a message! The image on the right, though is clear, the subject (the bride) is well lit, and authentic emotion is captured. Instead of using flash pointed at the couple as the photographer did in the image on the left, I used ambient light cast from the videographer’s light.

The image on the left was again taken by the amateur photographer and is blown out (details from the gown are not there), angled at a non-creative angle, and distorted from a wide-angle lens. The image on the right, taken by me, is composed and lit well, and captures a sweet kiss between the new husband and wife.

Professional Image Enhancement and Workflow After the Shoot
Professional wedding photographers have the ability to get the images right in camera. However, everyone has no doubt heard of Photoshop, which is used for image enhancement. Photoshop isn’t the only piece of software out there that professional photographers use. Fauxtographers, though, are known to use tools like Picnik, which is NOT professional editing software (or really strong Photoshop actions that overpower). The reason professional (read: expensive) software must be used is because a lot goes into color balancing images, preparing them for print, and then sending calibrated files to the lab. This cannot be done in Picnik or other web-based imaged editors. Period. (Microsoft Paint doesn’t count either.)

“a terrible photographer with a fantastic camera will take terrible images”

Now on the flip side, if a photographer doesn’t edit photos at all-–saying that they don’t need to, they are cheating the client. No matter how stunning a wedding photographer’s work is SOOC (straight out of the camera), it is unfinished. In some of my blog posts I’ve given examples of SOOC images versus those that were enhanced (another one is posted below). It’s clear which ones the client prefers. Many fauxtographers will take a bunch of pictures and burn them right to a CD or DVD–-and hand them off to the client. There’s no editing. There’s no completion. It’s half the job. You can count on the fact that the final images will be just pictures–-not pieces of finished art. (Those are also called shoot-and-burn photographers.)

Powerful Computer Equipment to Produce Final Images
The professional wedding photographer needs to have computer equipment capable of batch processing large image files, as well as uploading them to on-line galleries for clients to view. While I choose to work on a PC, many pro photographers work on Macs. The platform doesn’t matter–the ability of the computer to process, does. The quality of monitor also matters. Color calibration experts recommend not editing images on laptop screens because the calibration is never spot on. They also say that any monitor that costs less than $500 is not good for image editing and calibration. This calibration is critical for professional delivery of images.

Additional Peripherals to Finish the Job
In addition to the software, most of us have physical calibration devices, too. The one I use is the Spyder 3 Pro. There are also a plethora of other devices such as high-dpi scanners, professional large-format printers, etc. that are necessary depending on what products the photographer delivers to his or her clients.

What is the Bottom Line?
If a wedding photographer with pro (or semi-pro) equipment doesn’t know how to use it, it’s just as bad as hiring a really great 757 pilot who doesn’t know how to fly a 777 jumbo jet across the ocean. Both will end in tragically bad results. You can also think of it like this:

  • A terrible photographer with a terrible camera will take terrible images.
  • A mediocre photographer with a terrible camera will take mediocre images.
  • A fantastic photographer with a terrible camera will take fantastic images.
  • On the flip side, a terrible photographer with a fantastic camera will take terrible images.

A fantastic photographer doesn’t just take pictures-–or even just capture things. He or she CREATES MOMENTS and turns them into masterpieces. Are you faux? Or a pro?

Christina is also a volunteer portrait photographer for families and children touched by cancer through the F.I.L.M. Project, a participating child photographer for children with disabilities through Inspiration Through Art, an affiliated baby photographer for parents suffering from impending or recent bereavement through Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, and a wish-granting wedding photographer for couples experiencing the magic of love while facing terminal illness through Wish Upon A Wedding. Additionally, Christina offers complimentary portrait sessions to adoptive parents for the preparation of their adoption agency portfolio and birthmother scrapbook.

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