So You Want To Be A Wedding Photographer

You’ve bought yourself a nice camera and in order to justify the thousands of dollars in gear you decide you should try to make some money with it. Well what’s easier than shooting a few weddings right? You walk around, take some shots, give them a disk of images, and collect a fat fee right? How hard can it be, advertise on Craigslist and let the flood gates open.

I am not one for writing editorial commentary but things are getting a little crazy in the wedding photography business right now and you need to be aware of what you are putting on the line whenever you shoot a wedding.

Let’s Get Redundant For a Second

If you have been around Camera Dojo for a while you have seen lots of content and podcasts about contracts and insurance.  If you are going into business with your camera, these are essential and critical parts to your business. Without a written and signed contract, you could shoot the entire wedding, deliver images, and never get paid. Without insurance someone could trip over your camera bag and sue you into bankruptcy. We have also covered the issue of making sure you have backup equipment because your gear WILL fail someday and it won’t fail sitting on the shelf, it will fail while you are using it so you better have a backup. If you do not have these things in place, you are simply not ready to be in the wedding business as you are putting yourself into a serious financial risk that is simply not worth taking. I am not going to dwell on these things, I have discussed them in the podcast more times than I can count because they are so important.

It’s a Sue-Happy World

Let’s face it folks, we live in a world where some people make a living by suing other people and usually getting a settlement out of it. When you are talking about a wedding, you have a very expensive event that is extremely high on emotion, and is undeniably one of the most important days in someone’s life. You screw this up, and you are a ripe target.

Let’s add to this mix that if you do not have experience shooting weddings, you are likely not to do a very good job. It takes years of experience working with a seasoned professional to learn all of the nuances of wedding photography such as where to be, how to light it, how to focus in dim light, what shots to make sure you get, how a wedding flows, the right angles, what details to get, and the proper workflow. What happens if you aren’t prepared? This UK Couple posted some of their wedding photos. The photographer was forced into bankruptcy by having to refund theirs and several other couples payments.

Last year a photography studio was sued for $48,000 when a divorced groom wanted the photographer to fly in all of the guests and reshoot the wedding…SIX YEARS after the event, and even though he was now divorced from the bride.

But I take great images

If you think that doing a great job, providing awesome images, and having great customer service will save you from a horrific lawsuit, than think again. Nelson Tang recently shot a wedding, he sent the images to the couple as requested. The couple posted 1,000 images on Facebook with very positive comments from everyone. And then the s**t storm happened. The groom, who claims to be a lawyer has sent Nelson a very threatening letter asking for almost $40,000 in damages and unless they settle, he will be suing for $300,000.  Prior to the letter there were no complaints, the customer obviously liked the images, and other photographers have raved about the work, and yet, he is still being threatened with a lawsuit that could ruin him financially for the rest of his life.

The following is a video clip from Gary Fong, one of the most respected wedding photographers of all time, talking about this specific situation. **Warning, there is foul language and rude gestures **

Update: Gary says the lawsuit was filed now, things are going to get ugly.

What Can We Learn From This?

The first thing to learn is that no matter what you do or how good you do it, you are not safe from a lawsuit. An actual lawsuit is often never filed because the photographer is usually better off refunding the money rather than pay attorney fees which can quickly cost more than you earned on the wedding. If it does go to court, you had better be able to defend yourself and your images.

What went wrong with Nelson Tang

Nelson Tang did not have a written contract so there was no definition of what the deliverables were to be. The verbal agreement was to shoot-and-burn and this is exactly what he did. He took the images right from the camera and sent them to the client. if you want to follow what is happening with this case, follow Gary over at http://soyouwanttobearockstarphotographer.com.

Mistake #1 – No Contract

Because this was a shoot-and-burn, the contract should have specified what Nelson was going to give to his client. What he delivered were unedited and unculled images. A contract should have specified what was being delivered and detailed what an “acceptable image” is.

Below is another video from Gary Fong where he talks about defining a usable image in the contract as one that is in focus, properly exposed, and has believable skin tones.

Mistake #2 – Shoot and Burn

I cannot stress how important it is to NEVER just send every image that was shot. The best photographers in the world will not have memory card full of perfect images. Things happen autofocus messes up, the flash doesn’t go off, someone jumped in front of the camera, a flash on another camera goes off, there is never a perfect set of images from any wedding. Any image that was not in focus or exposed properly should have been deleted from the batch and only the best images delivered. Anyone asking me to just copy the memory cards to their computer at the end of the day will not be a client, this is putting images out there that can be used against me. You ALWAYS have to have control over the final image set.

Summary

I am not trying to discourage people from shooting weddings to protect my own business nor am I against people getting into the business. However, you do need to know what you are getting into and what the ramifications can be and you need to be prepared for the worst. Talk to your lawyer about your contract, talk to your insurance agent about litigation insurance, and be as prepared as possible. If you aren’t ready, then second shoot for people until you are.

KerryG

Kerry Garrison lives in Castle Rock, Colorado with his wife and two dogs. With 10 years of experience shooting products and 5 years of experience in the wedding industry, Kerry brings a good deal of technical know-how and can explain topics in easy-to-understand terms.

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11 Responses

  1. Cory says:

    Certainly some valuable information here that I sure hope more photographers will pay attention to. I know several photographers right here in my area that aren't even properly registered as a business and paying taxes, much less properly prepared with insurance and good contracts.

    Thanks for getting some of this helpful information out there. One piece of advice I would like to share is this….

    NEVER tell your client that you will provide ALL of the images that you shot. Make sure they understand that they will receive XXXX amount or whatever, but never ALL of them.

  2. Seb. says:

    I had quite a few inquiries whether i'll shoot and burn cd or not. I always says 'no' as I'd like to be on the safe side and do it in proper way e.g. contract, job, post-processing, final jpegs.
    It's prefect idea to put into contract definition of acceptable images to be 100% safe.
    Good video!

  3. Dave says:

    Great post. We live in a world where you really have to watch out for number one. (Unfortunately)

  4. Nikon D3100 says:

    Wedding photography fascinates me. I will never go into it though. No matter how good you are technically, you must have the right personality. To be discreet, but also commanding when the need calls. Be regal and quick on your heels. And overall, to be able to withstand the pressure that there are no second chances and everyone expect you to get all the special moments.
    I’ve seen way too many “wedding photographers” who should never offer their services because they are too risky an option for such an important date. I’ve turned down one potential wedding and expect more in the future.

  5. Ian says:

    To enter into the world of wedding photography is an honour. You are being trusted as a professional, to capture the images that should be there for generations to come. It is only right then that we behave professionally, ensuring our contracts are correct and legitimate, that our businesses are legal and legitimate and that we have suitable arrangements in place should the unforeseen happen – this includes insurance. Whilst I agree that, in todays climate, there is an element of looking after number 1, if we do it properly, we are also looking after our clients too.

  6. Antonis says:

    The wedding photographer should be as good as a portrait photographer and faster than a sports photographer.
    Polite, very calm and thoughtful, not an easy job.

  7. Jimmy says:

    You cannot keep everyone happy no matter what you do. Photography-specific insurance is available that will cover you in the event that someone sues because they do not like the prints, or even if you are involved in an accident while on a shoot. My policy runs about $500/yr, and the peace of mind it provides makes it worth every penny. You can also (for about $1000 in Texas) have a lawyer set you up as an limited liability corporation, which hopefully limits any liability to whatever assets are part of the business (you camera, printer, but not your house). If you do that, be sure to ask about the rules regarding keeping your business legally separated from your personal life. If not, the suer still may have an avenue to your personal bank account. But in any event, there is protection. This may seem like a lot of money to an occassional weekend shooter. I'm not sure what to say about that, but for full time photographers, this money is peanuts compared to being sued.

  8. Great advices Kerry. With so many wedding photographers entering the market every day, it’s important to have a diverse marketing strategy to compete successfully. Most photographers agree that the toughest part of the wedding photography business is marketing — standing out in the crowd and getting bookings. And perhaps newer photographers have an advantage here with the rise of search engine optimization (SEO) and social networks like Facebook as marketing tools.

  9. Nate Hill says:

    I took a crash course in Photography and built my own studio. I started with taking class and id pictures until a friend hired me to cover for her wedding. And that's the start of my success story. My friend referred me to her network and my career boomed as a wedding photographer.

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