Friday, July 31, 2009

Why Pay a Pro?

When it’s time to cut costs, a lot of folks who are planning life’s special occasions look at their photographer’s contracts and costs and wonder if they really need to spend all that money anyway. I have to confess that I get calls all the time from friends who know I have a big, black camera and some cool looking lenses and some nice pictures on my walls. They want me to come and shoot their special days. If these are birthday parties or quick Christmas card portraits I’ll usually say yes, but on the occasions when someone has asked me to shoot something more important I say no. Here’s why.

If you are hiring a real professional here’s what you’re getting. Some of this you know, some of it you don’t. It’s all worth considering…

Your professional has taken thousands upon thousands of pictures, in almost any setting and in almost any circumstance, so they’re never seeing something for the first time when they shoot your special day. They know their equipment so well that they don’t have to think about how to make their camera do what it needs to do to make sure your face looks beautiful in direct sun, shade, or near total darkness. They know how to get the whole group in focus and they know when the only thing that should be crisp is the tear under your eye. They know what you will want to see in the images before you do. They know that at a certain distance in certain lighting and with certain lenses, cameras, etc., that if they’re not careful the tip of your nose may be in focus, but your eyes won’t be and they know that when you’re looking at an 8X10 of a special moment, your eyes are the only thing that matters.

In many cases, but not all, your professional went to a school for photography. Even if they didn’t, they’ve attended workshops costing thousands of dollars offering hands on training in extremely advanced techniques for everything from how to use an on camera flash for dramatic results (rather than the flat, over-cooked, red-eye prone images we see all the time) to editing workshops covering the features of professional editing solutions such as Aperture, Lightroom or Photoshop. They’ve studied and practiced framing images on the fly. They can see what is special in a moment, and they have the tools and experience to capture things you may not notice until you see their proofs. They’ll give you new angles for the memories you carry from your special day.

It’s not all about equipment, but equipment matters. Having a “blurry background button” on your camera doesn’t ensure a blurry background. These images we all love, where your hand pops but the fabric it’s resting on is out of focus, are not happy accidents. “Uncle Bob’s” big black camera and lens may look like professional gear, but chances are it’s not. (and if it is it only matters if he knows how to use it!) Why? The glass in professional quality lenses and the processing power of professional cameras costs much, much, much more than hobbyists are willing to spend. Most professional lenses cost over $1000. Knowing that in your photographer’s bag there will be three or four of those along with a camera body that averages over $2000 kind of brings it home. (Then consider that they carry at least two camera bodies, two flashes, etc., because they KNOW they can’t miss an important moment due to equipment failure.

Why pro gear is worth the price ..

Consider this situation. You’ve just emerged from the Limo and you’re getting your first look at the venue you chose for your special day. You don’t notice your professional photographer standing by the door, 15 feet away. You also don’t notice your limo driver picking his nose right behind your shoulder, but your photographer does. With uncle Bob’s ‘kit’ zoom lens, (average cost around $500), his minimum depth of field (area that will be in focus) is determined by the light gathering capabilities of the glass in his lens. It’s not GREAT, so he’s unable to get you “in” and the driver “out” and you end up with a crisp image of the two of you on this special moment. The professional on the other hand has positioned herself in advance to shoot this moment. She will see you emerge from the limo and notice the driver in the background and she’ll “open her lens up” so your face, captured in perfect sunset light is in perfect focus but everything else, including the driver’s finger filled nose, are so far out they’re indiscernible, even though the driver’s standing right behind you. Is this luck? No way. Your photographer knows that at 15 feet, their lens (wide open) has a maximum depth of field of 4 inches and they’re using that to create a memory you’ll cherish instead of just another snapshot.

Your professional photographer also doesn’t go to the party. When the open bar opens up they stay away. They don’t dance, they don’t toast, they’re rarely apparent, but always there. Uncle Bob may be regaling the bartender with stories of his fraternity bartending days, but your professional photographer is scoping out the best lighting angle to capture you dancing, laughing, cutting the cake or sharing a private moment with a friend or loved one. In an average shooting day they will capture literally thousands of images. (on average a wedding professional will shoot ~5000 images, an average portrait session several hundred). They don’t drink because they are working. With a technology as complex as a digital camera, that matters.

Midway through the reception, right before the toasts, the kit camera, or even the pro camera that Uncle Bob is using, fails. Now what? Do they have an extra battery? Is it charged? (Pro Camera batteries cost around $100. You can shoot hundreds of images on one, but when you’re going to shoot thousands, you need spares). What about spares for the flash? And what happens, if God forbid, they drop their camera? Your pro has a spare. Spare batteries, spare flash, spare lenses … everything.

Ultimately, the question is simple. How important to you are the memories you’ll have from your special day? How important is the day itself? Will you want to share it with your kids, your grandchildren? Do you want to look your absolute best? The answers to these questions will lead you to an answer that works for you. Hope it helps.


Jeff said...

Well said :) Thanks for clearly articulating the thought process behind hiring a pro!

Jules Bianchi said...

Sigh. I wish everyone thought this way!!