Near disaster, interesting learning experience

Discussion in 'Wedding and Event' started by john_ashby|2, Oct 29, 2013.

  1. I joined this site years ago as a photographer and have recently had a very bad experience trying to hire a wedding photographer. My portfolio here is pretty out of date, I've done quite a few engagement shoots for friends of friends in the past few years with good results and I've been lurking in this forum for ages, so I think I have an interesting perspective trying to be a customer.
    I went with a larger company because I spent a lot of time speaking with the owner he really understands the craft, showed excellent samples, talked about how he maintains consistency among his photographers and is an impressive sales person. His prices are quite high, about $2500 for an 11 hour day, $300 more for a 90 minute engagement session. He's pretty clear he's making his money there, his enlargement and album prices are quite reasonable. He also agreed to sell me a DVD of raw images from all the non-culls for an additional $200 because I shared my own level of experience and made it clear I wanted to do my own editing.
    So we did the shower shoot about a month ago. I'd expected the turnaround to be about a week given they just had to do some culling. It took three weekend and a few emails from me to get the pictures, which turned out to be low-res jpgs, because they forgot I was supposed to get the raw, which they promised to get to me soon. They made a comment that the shoot went well because they're giving me over 300 pictures instead of the usual 75-80 for an engagement shoot.
    The pictures are absolutely awful. It looks like they were grossly over-exposed and pulled back down from the RAW file the highlights and most of the mid-tones were completely blown. We were outdoors near noon in bright full sunlight, and they were shooting with the camera in manual, iso 800, f5.6 at 1/200 - 1/800, so that explains why the look the way they do.
    Besides that, the framing is awful, the photographer cut half way through our feet, vertical along arms, missing elbows, etc. There's pictures with flags and things growing out of heads, etc. In all there's nothing usable. They included obvious culls, shots with eyes closed (they claim that's in case I can use elements to edit another shot)
    The camera angles, posing, etc is bad too, They look like candid snapshots which caught us at our worst (they claim this is a photojournalistic approach rather than "fine art" meaning posed shots), but they really are incredibly unflattering. My fiancee won't even show them to her friends or family.
    The photographer offered to refund my deposit minus $320 for the engagement shoot since that service was performed and walk away. That was interesting too since up front they said the engagement shoot is a trial run for the wedding and if we don't like it they'll do a free reshoot with another photographer to see if we click better. At this point I'm tempted to take it since there is no way I want them at my wedding. I don't like that idea either because it acknowledges the pictures have some value. I guess I should consider myself lucky they didn't do this with my wedding photos.
    I did bring my camera with and after the engagement shoot, my fiancee and I took some pictures of each other, these came out quite nicely but of course there's no shots of both of us which kind of defeats the purpose.
    I see so many threads here complaining about the craigslist hack for $500 taking away their business. Photographers are wondering how they can convince the client of the quality they offer over some guy with a camera. I'm in the opposite position, I know good photograph from badMy question is how do you separate the good salesperson with no photography skills like i ended up with from the great photographer who may or may not have sales skills?
    Thanks for taking the time to read this long posting.
  2. Get refferences and ask to see the last 4 weddings they have done.
    Check out the references by LOOKING at their pictures. If you like what you see then hire the photographer.
  3. John, I don't think there's really any way to guarantee a wise decision; there is only your best judgement that will hopefully bear fruit.
    This sort of problem applies across the board any time you need to entrust in the honesty, competence and integrity of others, so whether you're a corporation hiring an employee, an individual shopping for an attorney, a physician, a contractor, a mechanic, it's a crapshoot and you won't know until they deliver proof of performance in fulfilling their mandate.
    Unless, of course, you have deep enough pockets to hire someone with an impeccable reputation within their industry, but even that carries risks.
  4. Anthony,
    The thing with a large studio is they have plenty of good weddings they have done as a company and I trusted the owner when he said his people are up to his standards. I actually spent a lot of time discussing his portfolio with him, so he knew the level I was expecting. Going with a single person makes it harder when I want 2 shooters and a 3rd person running a photo booth as well as 2 videographers (the prices I mentioned were just for the actual wedding photo part though). It may still be better to go for the smaller business, I'm just saying why I went with the big studio.
    You're right and attorneys and physicians have certain qualifications and professional organizations to make sure they do have the qualifications. There are plenty of fantastic wedding photographers on here, and yet there's a lot of really bad ones too. There has to be some way to know what you're dealing with or any slick sales person with a cheap dSLR will put the good photographers out of business. The guy I dealt with never stopped insisting his images were amazing work and the problem was obviously that I didn't know what I wanted.
    I suppose even though I paid for the shoot, I'm not allowed to post some samples here because it's not my work?
  5. Anthony is on the money. Salesmanship is one thing, but thoroughly vetting the 'tog, that will take your (once in the lifetime)'s something that should be done. OK, at least that's what I'd do....and for far lower price. Anyhoo, you've been burnt need to do it again. Good luck.
  6. With any service provider, it makes sense to get to know them over a longer period of time, whether it is a dentist, doctor, carpenter, teacher, or photographer. Otherwise you just don't know what you will get, since many people are working just to get by to live another day instead of trying to do their very best to satisfy client needs. If you use the same photographer for all the photography tasks in your family then you get to know him or her, support local business, and learn to know what to expect when the big day of your wedding comes. The photographer that you regularly use also learns to know what kind of results you like, so they can better work towards a goal that both of you know and understand. It is similar to medical doctors; they need to learn to decipher what is on your mind and what it means when you say that you have this problem (they'll also know your family history and can be prepared to expect certain conditions to arise as you age) so they can then effectively treat it without guessing.
  7. John, what did you expect talking to the sale person who knows best how to sell and not to photographer who actually was going to do the shoot. Did you even know ahead of time which of his photographers were actually going to do it and did you see their particular portfolio. In my opinion, you should consider yourself lucky that you got burned early, you could've gotten good photographer for the engagement and the bad one for the wedding. So to answer your question how to peek a good photographer - talk to the photographer and ask to see his portfolio.
  8. I went with a larger company​
    Why anyone who supposedly knows anything about photography would do this, I am not sure.
    His prices are quite high, about $2500 for an 11 hour day​
    Your perspective is out of whack I'm afraid, sorry to inform you. This is not high.
    Going with a single person makes it harder when I want 2 shooters and a 3rd person running a photo booth as well as 2 videographers​
    Good lord why? It sounds like a circus. But yes hindsight is a wonderful thing, and you undoubtedly would have been better going for a small business rather than a huge studio where you don't know who the people will be on the day.
    I find it interesting to read such a story from someone who supposedly has some experience in the area of photography, I'm quite surprised. But it's an eye opener for everyone, for sure. If someone who likes photography can't pick a good photographer, then what is the general public to do? I guess I'm over simplifying it, as it's probably just a matter of poor decision making and nothing more.
    Sorry you had this experience, but a GREAT photographer can give you something you'll love and want to share with your family, so it's not the end of the road. Where are you based? I may be able to recommend someone to you.
  9. "His prices are quite high, about $2500 for an 11 hour day"

    I agree with Richard. This is actually on the low-end for an 11-hour day, especially for two shooters. High enough that you should get professional quality work but not high by any means.

    Given the experience you've had with this outfit so far, I would cut and run. Get whatever refund you can and then forget them.

    Personally, I would go with an individual photographer/smaller studio where the person you're talking to is the person who is actually going to shoot your wedding. Even an individual photographer usually works with a second person and can bring in others if need be once you've settled on him/her as your main person for the day. That's what I did with my own wedding.
  10. I tried finding someone fora second cousin, because I was booked. It isn't easy, being on the customer side. Maybe even worse than shopping for a used car. I got lucky they hired someone before I referred anyone to them.
  11. Richard,
    I didn't want to be the one trying to manage that circus on my wedding day. Maybe you're right and I have no choice about that to get what I want. $2500 is not exactly cheap in the market I'm in, and don't forget the only "post processing" I was expecting are culling the raw files.
    You're right about the issue of what is someone who doesn't know much about photography supposed to do. The main reason I posted was to ask for help not repeating the same mistake (and the answer to that has been very clear throughout the thread), but I also thought it was an interesting issue. That's probably a big factor in why good photographers are suffering; separating yourself from the pretenders out there. I can look at a portfolio, tell what's good, what I like, and why something bad is bad. The average customer can just tell they like or don't like something and not really articulate why. What they showed me was very good work, my mistake was in believing him when he said he hired good people that were consistent in style. They actually used a spray and pray approach, of the pictures they gave me, there was a set of 22 over 46 seconds, and they were all in bursts of 10-15 over a short period.
    I did cut and run, it ended up costing me $322, but I guess in the grand scheme I should consider myself lucky.
    I did consider pros and cons of a bigger company vs a 1-man show. The 1-man show has its own risks, if he gets sick that day he's less likely to have a fall back, he'll call up a friend who may or may not be up for it, he's less established, harder to find reviews unless it's someone who's been doing it for ages, and why eliminate a guy who's only done 20 weddings in the past 3 years just because he doesn't have a lot of reviews?
    One photographer I rejected was someone in his 60's who said it he'd been doing it for 30 years. I believed him based on the work he showed me, and what he composed and captured looked great as far as getting what's important, but his pictures had some major issues that looked like he didn't know how to use his modern gear. (Scenes mostly lit by tungsten with a hint of flash and white balanced for flash for example). He said he shot jpeg and didn't do any processing on a computer because he didn't know anything about computers. I got the impression in film days he would just have the film processed and printed by whatever lab, and in the digital days, the jpegs straight out of the camera were his end product he could have printed.
    At least the larger studio I had the bad experience with said they make sure their people know what they're doing in terms of modern photography.
    The fact that I don't want someone who's just a shoot and burn type, but who will sell me the raw files is actually very limiting on my options.
    I joked it would be easier to find a 'stunt double' for the groom and let me shoot the wedding. Luckily the wedding isn't cancelled after that ;).
  12. Hi John,

    If you'd prefer to not post over an open forum (I know I probably wouldn't) would you mind posting me you details
    (location &date) as I may be able to find you someone good who's in budget.

    I'm not certain, but I understand you've had the pre-wedding photos and have now cancelled the contract with the studio,
    so are looking for a knew photographer.

    If $2.5K isn't low in your area (maybe you're a little rural like myself), I would absolutely spend that on getting ONE
    GREAT photographer, than a bunch of who-are-they fauxtographers.

    By the way, I wasn't suggesting that figure isn't a large sum of money. Certainly is in my life. What I'm saying is for
    photography, it is low. As a general figure, most throw out double that for a single person to run a sustainable business
    (but I won't go deeper into that, whole other discussion).
  13. John, you seem to have a lot of opinions predicated on being an amateur photographer yourself.
    How did that work out?
    Photo-mill photography franchises are notorious for bait-and-switch tactics. They show you the work from some top shooter who may or may not even work there anymore, then "talk-the-talk" to get you to sign ... often followed by sending some lesser talent, or someone that may have talent but lacks extensive experience in shooting under pressure ... that gets paid a relative pittance for a long 11 hour day.
    You may have paid a decent amount for your area, but the photographer didn't get much of it. So, you get what you pay for.
    BTW, a "leisurely" engagement shoot or shower is hardly a measure of the relentless pressure experienced when shooting a full blown wedding. So, if they screwed that up, I can't imagine the same person shooting an 11 hour wedding. Good thing that you bailed.
    Asking for culled RAW files IS "Shoot and Burn" and doesn't depend on what file format is provided.
    Personally, I do not know any professional wedding photographers that'll just sell RAW files to any client. As I read it, you wanted RAW files so you could manipulate some other photographer's images. How'd you like that if you were the other photographer? IMO, that is the commodity mentality that consumers are applying to this craft to homogenize it.
    Digital RAW photography requires post attention to some degree or another ... and is often part and parcel of the photographer's approach or style ... especially when it comes to wedding photography. That style may well produce RAW files that will not look all that good untouched ... but were done that way for a reason. Heck, some cameras actually produce flat toned RAW files in order to maintain Dynamic Range.
    Oh, and age has nothing to do with it ... I'm 67 years old and can "out modern" my "20 something" second shooters any day of the week ... LOL!
    - Marc
  14. John -
    I have connections all over the US - if you send me a PM with date and location I can see if anyone I know is available.
    Depending on location - $2,500 may or may not be a lot of money. In my area it's slightly above average for a single shooter and below average for 2 shooters. But there are plenty of less experienced or low overhead photographers that will take on 11 hours with 2 photographers for that fee.
    As for the Raw images - I just saw a post on another board that I'm on - a photographer was negotiating with the prospective client over that very issue and added $1,000 to his package price for a destination wedding to include the raw. The groom ended up signing with another photographer, but he (groom) made a comment that I found interesting: "In the end we went with someone who includes the raw files in their package and doesn't bump up the price for it. In fact 90% of the photographers we looked at were at your base price or lower and ALL included the RAW files in their packages".
    I find that amazing - because giving out unprocessed raw files has been a banned topic for years in the wedding photo industry. I've also seen an increase in the number of clients asking for Raw files - so I'm curious as to why?
    The large company is hit or miss in terms of getting a good photographer. A lot of them that I know of are staffed with 20 somethings who want to get their feet wet in the wedding business before setting off on their own. They literally do shoot and burns - they maybe cull their images. And get paid on average 500-700 for a 10 hour wedding and nothing extra for the engagement session and client meetings. There are a few companies that I know of that staff like that, and supplement with seasoned pros who need to fill dates. I know of at least one $8,000.00 (12 hour day, album, 2 shooters, photo booth) wedding photographer who fills his open dates by shooting for a company where he does 7 hours, shoot and burn for $700.00. But the catch is that he is booked through his own business for the really popular times and dates and he does the company thing on weekends when his business is slow.
    The bottom line - whether you use a chain, larger company, group or an individual - ask to see the work of the person who will be there pushing buttons. Don't take it for granted that the work the sales person shows you is theirs. Ask to talk to the photographer. If the sales person won't do that, walk away. With the one / two person operation - yeah - that is a risk. But most of us that have been around a while know backups we can count on, and can get them quickly. I had a situation come up last weekend where I needed a fill in for a wedding due to a family issue. Within 10 minutes - I had it covered.
  15. Marc, I agree on putting images up against the crop of 20 somethings. Many cant figure out how I got some shots and when I explain it, still cant get the shot. It's mastering the craft with study and years of experience. Nikon calls RAW files NEF. I like RAW better because it really describes the nature of the file, raw, unedited. My cameras are not set to make an edit to the raw, ie get it close to the jpg, so what comes out of the camera is flat, mediocre color and unsharpened. Why, because my work is custom, if you want Uncle Harry, he's easy to find. I trained with the guru of photojournalism who charges 30-50k per wedding and does 40 per year. He shoots in jpg and the first thing after multiple backups is they are sent to a service for color correction. An editor is used in house and also some are outsourced for editing. There is no untouchable sacredness to what came out of the camera. I would recommend instead, going with a one or 2 man shop, and at the very least having them produce an album or disc with fully edited photos, perhaps 40-80. If the photographer is keeping all the fee, it may not cost any more or perhaps little more and you will have the quality of images you will wish you had otherwise. If you don't have the money for this expense, consider seeking photography as potential wedding gifts. You will cherish them longer than that 3rd toaster. If you were thinking of editing them yourself, do you have the portrait editing training and experience. I can guarantee Marc and I have spent tens of thousands of hours in front of the computer on people photos and more time than we want to remember in constant training. Its why we don't shoot like it's 1999 and some older folks do. Not that we are old. Some of us have aged like fine wine, others unfortunately, like milk.
  16. Marc,
    I know how much more difficult a wedding is all too well. I have already mentioned that to several people who saw the pictures. It also was a factor in why I wanted to bail if they couldn't even do an engagement shoot.
    Any photographer will give you raw files if you pay enough. I want to find one who is good enough and will sell them at a price I can live with. Personally I'd have no issue selling raw files if the price were right, but as you say, I'm an amateur, I've rarely grossed $1000 in a month from pictures and it is a hobby for me, so I do know my perspective is not the same as someone who takes pictures to eat. Everything you say about raws is right, which means manipulating them myself means I get my own style in the end. As long as the photographer isn't cutting off limbs, giving horrible posing instruction (I actually posed okay doing it my way, my fiancee hates how she looks by following the photographer more closely), and missing the exposure by 4 stops as this one did.
    I think the photographer adding $1000 for raws was basically his way of saying no unless he's got a reputation that puts him in demand. In wanting raw files, I don't want to deprive the photographer of income and I'm willing to pay accordingly, but I don't think many photographers make $1000 profit (after editing time and printing costs) on print and album sales very often.
    A lot of photographers seem to offer high res jpegs (not raws) at a fair price right on their price lists. The ones that don't, I assume don't get the modern reality where people prefer electronic to prints. And imo they have to be high res to still look good in the future. An iPad screen is already 3mp, and 8mp screens are already entering consumer mainstream. The days of people being happy with prints and 1500x1000 jpegs are over. Selling Raws to someone who's able to make use of them is not a huge stretch as long as they're comfortable I'm not just trying to avoid paying them as much. Yes, I'm going to edit their work, but it's not that big a deal to everyone.
  17. Yes, I'm going to edit their work, but it's not that big a deal to everyone.​
    It is if the photographers style depend on the post work. If they are "shoot and burn" it shouldn't matter.
    Still if they are worth their salt their processing will be better than yours and more importantly more consistent with their vision when they took the image. You can ask to get full resolution 16 bit tiffs in prophotorgb instead of the raw files. Ask for capture sharpening only. Then you have the highest quality processed file available to you.
  18. Any photographer will give you raw files if you pay enough​
    Wrong. I know many who will not entertain the idea, and will point you in a different direction.
    Honestly, I would forget this pursuit. Pick a photographer who's work you LOVE and then actually do something with it, rather than fiddle around with them on the computer. Their knowledge of how THEIR files should be processed will greatly exceed anything you can do. Perhaps your problem is you were looking at *not very good* photographers with weird processing ? Go with something timeless.
    I assume don't get the modern reality where people prefer electronic to prints​
    This will sound terribly condescending, but you have much to understand, it would be good to actually talk to you about this all but as we're in different countries not really possible. I think if you find a good photographer, they will be able to talk through such concerns with you and open things up a little.
    You can ask to get full resolution 16 bit tiffs​
    If resolution / quality is a concern, I agree with Pete here. Get someone who is GREAT and who processes with their vision, NOT a shoot and burn studio... then ask for TIFFs.
    If that's really what you want... but honestly, if you're pursuing the exercise of maintaining the files in storage for years to come and different devices, you have to question whether the photographs are worth taking at all. I think if you get a photographer you love, you'll want to do something worthy with the images.

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