As I speak with couples who are planning their wedding, I find that more and more are no longer interested in print products, albums, or any other form of viewing their photographs other than “digital files”. This could perhaps be the biggest mistake they make.
Basically, they want to take their files, with print rights, and go down to their local 1-hour Photo store and print their own photos, or order a photo book from an online book maker, or simply keep them for later viewing on their computers.
So let’s examine each method carefully and see if these are viable options or perhaps the biggest mistake you can avoid.
First, digital files are great. They take up whatever space that a DVD, CD or USB thumb drive offers and can be stored in a small area of your home. However, there are drawbacks you should consider before you settle for just digital files or using your 1-hour photo printers to preserve your wedding day memories.
Today, you can’t find an Apple I-Mac or a Toshiba laptop that offers an optical drive as standard equipment. Getting your photos on DVD is going to soon be obsolete since few computer makers are offering drives capable of burning or viewing DVD’s or CD’s. Then you have the USB drives. Few (or none) of your Apple tablets have USB ports and a few of the lower end I-Macs don’t have them either. Everything has become “Cloud based” for storage. Microsoft, Adobe, and a few other software companies are almost totally cloud based for access to their products. And, if technology continues to progress, even your USB drive or the “cloud” will be obsolete as well.
Now, you COULD store them on your hard drive, but even that isn’t totally preserving your wedding photos. Drives break and crash. Photos and other files get lost or corrupt and many a person has discovered all too late what happens when you have to buy a new computer to replace that broken one or to upgrade to the latest and faster machine.
Now, let’s say you take your digital files down to your local Walmart and print your own photos. Let’s look at what they offer for their $2 8×10 or their $.29 4×6. There are 2 ways to “print” your photos. The one you are probably most familiar with is what comes out of your inkjet printer. They use “photo” paper- which really isn’t true photo paper, but a treated paper that drys the ink really fast- and you get an image that may or may not look ok. Some, if not most, of your 1-hour labs use a similar method to produce your prints. It’s cheap, fast, and subject to the same issues all ink based photos offer. They have a VERY short “shelf life” and will only last about 1-5 years before they start to face, discolor, or become pretty much useless. Even the BEST inks and paper combinations will only last you 6-7 years at the very best. Add to it, any moisture or water completely renders the photograph useless.
So what do Professional level labs that your photographer is selling for $50 or more offer? A whole lot more than you realize.
Pro level labs only deal with professional photographers. Their methods of producing prints does NOT involve inks or pigments, but instead use real light sensitive photographic paper that is “developed” through a chemical process. They are usually coated to protect from UV light deterioration, and have a shelf life of 100 years or more. The paper is much heavier, is not subject to moisture damage, ink deterioration, and unless you set fire to them, are always there. Pretty much, these prints are made the way prints were done during the “old days” of film and paper. I know I have prints I made 30 years ago with film and paper and there is no loss of quality or fading or any other “color changes” from the first day they were made. These are truly archival photographs and will last you until your children are ready to get married and have your grand children. Even though “digital files” are great, none of the “alternative” methods of photographic preservation is better than the “old school” method of photographic prints using Professional labs.
Let me also add that Walmart doesn’t have a clue what my prints are supposed to look like, NOR do they really care. They almost always color correct my images, can produce inferior results, and you will come back to me with complaints that my photos have something wrong with them. The fact is, my photos are perfectly fine and with my Professional Labs, I can guarantee the exact photograph I see on my screen when I edit them- colors, effects, resolution, and any other factor that influences image quality- will be produced exactly when you purchase from me.
The same holds true with Professionally produced album products. Basically there are 2 ways to produce albums or photobooks. You can get “press printed” products really “cheap” and you get really CHEAP books. Again, these are ink based books and can and do fade and discolor over time. Your true Professional photographer will use their Professional level book binders and album binders that use photographic paper and NOT “press printed” pages for your photographs and will last you forever. The bindings and covers are not going to fall apart in 10 years either.
Over the years, I have seen so many so called “experts” give couples the advise that “professional photographers are ripping you off” by charging as much as we have to charge in order to “make a living”. Perhaps you can’t understand that $50 8×10 print price when you can get one at Walmart for $2 or less. The fact is, these “experts” are being paid a salary to tell you how to do things rather than actually DOING the thing and making a living at it that they are telling you to do! Would you listen to an “expert” tell you how to drive a Mercedes Benz if they were driving a 1986 Ford Escort?
So let’s examine the “real” income of that so called “cheapo” photographer and WHY they aren’t going to be photographing weddings for very long.
Let’s say you find a “photographer” who offers to do your wedding for $400, provides you with digital images, and print rights and sends you on your merry way! The rest is totally up to you as to prints, albums, etc. First of all, this “photographer” is NOT going to be around in 2-3 years simply because they are going to soon discover that they are making around $3 per hour for their time. Let me explain.
At any wedding I photograph, I can pretty well figure that I take between 100-150 photos per hour. A 5 hour wedding means I have 500-700 photos from which I must edit and compile into your image files. Yes, I reject a LOT of them-upwards of 1/3 of them- which will leave me with a solid 350-400 images from which to work. Rejected photos could be due to any number of issues like exposure off, people blink, distractions in the background or something else that just isn’t making it a good photograph. But because I have multiple images, I have a LOT to make a great visual story of your wedding day.
From there, let’s say I spend 15-20 minutes doing editing per photograph. This includes correcting exposure to perfection, color correction for proper skin tones, adding enhancements to make the colors rich and full and sharpening the images for great prints. Perhaps I have to take the photos into Photoshop to remove a distraction or edit a blemish from a brides skin. All of that is done to every photograph. 400 photos times 15 minutes average. That is a total time of 100 hours of editing time. Now, since I shoot in what is knows as “camera RAW”, each of those files must be first converted to jpeg format, have the proper color space embedded for the Pro labs to reproduce the images correctly without color correction, and then store those files on disk. I also have to upload those to my website which takes roughly 5-8 hours depending on the number of images. So assuming I don’t have to “babysit” the upload process, that adds another 2-3 hours of time to the workflow. So just in time alone to photograph your wedding, do the editing, and uploading to the website, that is roughly 105-110 hours of work I have actually done to your wedding images. Now take those hours and divide that into the $400 you paid that “cheap” photographer- he is making LESS than $4 per hour. Let me ask you- would YOU work at your job for less than $4 per hour? So why should I have to? And how long before your “cheapo” photographer figures out that he/she is making literally nothing for their photography?
Now, from that $400, I have to pay for my website hosting, the cost of a DVD, insurance, taxes, cameras, SD cards, software, computers, additional hard drives for archiving and back up of your images, online backup of your images, gas for the car, the car insurance, car payment, other lighting equipment I use to photograph your wedding, the salary of an assistant the day of your wedding, and any repair costs or replacement costs associated with having a viable, Professional photography business. IF I offer you prints for $2 apiece, like your “Walmarts” do, and that is my cost of those prints, I have actually spent more to get you prints than I would make selling them at their price. Unless I price my prints at a rate that keeps my doors open and my business viable, pretty soon, I will be like the REST of the “cheapo” photographers you are thinking about hiring- OUT OF BUSINESS FAST. Or sooner.
As Professional photographers, we are NOT out to “rip you off”, but to provide you something you can’t get from the “cheapo” photographers. We offer an experience that is fantastic from start to finish with products that we know will exceed your expectations and provide you the lifetime of memories we promise to provide. You have your family to feed, provide a home for, and to offer the nice things in life you want to have. Shouldn’t I have the same desires and ability to provide MY family the same things? Sure, many of us would LOVE to provide you great wedding photographs and would do it “free” simply because we love what we are able to create for other people. But reality sets in and soon enough, we MUST charge enough to pay the overhead and expenses of keeping our business viable and to provide for OUR family and income needs. I don’t think there are very many of you who would get up in the morning and head off to your job and tell your employer you are now working for “free” since you love doing what you do.
So what is the “bottom line” here? First, don’t mistakenly believe that you having your digital files is the all encompassing solution for your wedding photography. Technology changes and the day will come where you aren’t going to have photographs you can view. Don’t think because you have “print rights” and will get prints from Walmart is the solution either. Chances are, you won’t have much to see in 5-10 years. Nor will that $59 photobook be around for your grand kids to see before their wedding day.
But most of all, please don’t think that we are trying to “rip you off” by asking for $2500-3000 to photograph your wedding and provide you with images you will love and with products that will last you forever. We are no different than you are and want to provide for our families with a decent income that can provide the same things in life you desire. But more important, we really WANT you to come back to us over the years as your family grows, your kids graduate, and your grand kids start coming. And if we aren’t “there” because we just couldn’t make it doing “cheapo” photography, we won’t be around should you need access to your images in 5-10 years due to an unfortunate accident. But perhaps the “thing” we want to do more than anything is to see you really enjoy and cherish the photographs we have made for you and to see them displayed proudly for you and your family to value as keepsakes forever.
Hire a professional and budget accordingly. I have never had a couple tell me how much they regretted doing so, but I sure have had a ton of people tell me how bad their photographs are that went the “cheapo photography” route!