Taking a Shot at Photography: Professional vs Amateur

On a sunny Saturday in Southern California, I had a chance to meet up with a friend, Cherry Thomas, who was recently published in the Huffington Post. Thomas is a professional photographer who was honored with having taken one of the top photos in 2014 http://ow.ly/IEkOR. After congratulating her again, we both lamented that we had not been acquainted at the time of my wedding. We both laughed as I recounted the horror story of my wedding photographer who captured blurry pictures of the first dance, over exposed images of groomsmen, and stills of the wedding party with tree branches in their faces. I told her she can share my story whenever brides ask her, “Can I have a friend take my pictures?”

I then took our friendship to the next level and boldly asked, “So what exactly is the difference is between you and my friend who takes good pictures?” Thomas graciously answered my borderline rude inquiry, “Well, let’s look at the difference between hiring a friend, a photographer, or a photographer who specializes in weddings. Your wedding is a one-shot deal that you can’t recreate!” From experience, I had to agree with Thomas.

“Let’s look at the scenario where the hobbyist friend, with a nice camera happens to be in attendance.” Thomas began. “So why not have them take photos?”, I naively inquired. Thomas pointed out, “You’re expecting the person to show up and simply click the button. Have you discussed what you wanted captured? Did you let them know beforehand that there is a special detail/person/moment that they needed to capture? If you honestly don’t have any expectations for your photos and are fine with whatever they provide then this option is fine.”

Thomas then addressed the professional landscape/car/fashion/ food photographer and continued my ad hoc course in Photography 101. She enlightened me further saying, “All photographers and photography are not the same. Many studio photographers do studio photography because they like the controlled atmosphere, and they can spend as much time as they want setting up lights. Weddings don’t have that luxury; time is strict, and light is ever changing. Your photographer will be alternating between being a still/portraiture/photojournalist/ninja all day long. Not all photographers like to do that. Not all photographers are good at that.”

“Now, onto the friend who wants to shoot your wedding, and may actually do a great job. Great!” she exclaimed. “Understand the trade-offs. They’ll get potential portfolio photos and you’ll be happy. But, if you’re not happy with the photos will this affect your friendship? I have seen this happen a few times and it’s never worth it.”

Thomas went further, “Now compare the professional wedding photographer you’ve hired after proper due diligence. They will have consulted with you about images you want captured, family groupings decided, and locations will have been scouted. The photographer will arrive with backup equipment, the itinerary of the day, a vision of the photos, and ready to capture and anticipate moments; that is their sole responsibility that day. If you’re inviting a friend to your wedding, shouldn’t they be a part of the wedding and not experiencing it through the back of the camera?” Thomas pointed out. Couples who beckon their friends to “take photos but party with us are concocting a potential bad recipe”, she remarked. “When I have been the photographer for a friend, there is a specific cut-off time which is previously discussed. At that time, I touch base with the couple, and determine if there are any additional photos desired. If not, it is verbally agreed upon between us that coverage is over. And at that moment, my role as the guest begins!”

As if my first question was not brazen enough, I probed, “So how do I know if their price is fair?” and then pushed for insider’s tips on pricing. Thomas answered, “For most, keeping budget will be an issue. Don’t just look at price and make a decision from that. What’s the point of spending any money for photos you don’t like? Instead, ask yourself if you really love the photographer’s work. Look at their portfolio.” Thomas noted that many photographers are amenable when it comes to negotiating price and advised, “Many photographers are willing to be flexible with pricing if you let them know it’s out of your price range.” Thomas explained that rates for photographers can be less expensive depending on the time of year, day of the week, duration of shoot, and location (i.e.new venue they want to have in their portfolio, or better yet-a trip to the Bahamas!). And if you simply can not come to an agreement over cost with a photographer, ask them to refer you to someone else that they trust.

As if Thomas was not thorough enough in her responses, she sent me an article on a study conducted by the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA). The study found that viewers could decipher the difference between images taken by an amateur and images taken by a professional. The study further concluded that professional pictures were more memorable to viewers than their non-professional counterparts. In short, a pro can keeps your vision in focus, anticipates clicks, and make your memories stick.

Cherry Thomas is a professional photographer who is based out of Santa Barbara, California. In addition to being published in the Huffington Post, she has shot celebrity weddings and was the official photographer for Kim Phuc, who was featured in the Iconic Pulitzer prize winning photo, at the 40th anniversary of that photo.

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