An Open Response to What It Means to Be a Professional Wedding Photographer

By // April 15, 2014 // Posted in Featured Articles, Industry News, Photography, Wedding

Couples face a balancing act when looking for the perfect wedding photographer, most simply between cost and esthetic. As we’ve seen time and time again in many realms of life, cost increases as quality goes up, and vice versa. This morning, PetaPixel contributor Cheri Frost wrote a lively response to a budget-saving suggestion made by wedding planner Francesco Bilotto on Good Morning America. The wedding planner’s suggestion went as follows:

Rethink your wedding photographer. ‘The best thing to do is contact your local school—find somebody that wants to build a career with their skills,’ Bilotto said. ‘Nine out of 10 you’ll save $8,000 just paying for the cost of their camera, their developing and their time. You’ve made a college kid happy and you’ve got some great photos.'”

In response, Frost wrote, “Here’s the thing that I think Francesco might not understand: saving a few bucks by hiring some student from a local school who has little to no experience photographing weddings will most likely result in photographs that look like they were taken by some student from a local school who has little to no experience photographing weddings.” Simply put, you get what you pay for—low cost, low quality.

The writer continues, “The people in our industry who do it well have spent years and years perfecting their craft. They know that when all is said and done—when the flowers have died and the cake has been eaten and the guests go home and the dress has been cleaned and boxed and put away—what a couple is left with are the photographs.”

All in all, Frost’s response is a positive testament to why professional wedding photographers are so important, and while we fundamentally agree with her thoughts, she does bring up an interesting point that’s worth discussing.

On the one hand, we can all agree, for the couple’s sake, that photographers shouldn’t “practice wedding photography on an actual wedding,” as Frost writes. Shooters with years and years of experience can generally be trusted to know the ins and outs of photographing a wedding, which, as wedding photographers know, isn’t just about knowing how to shoot great-looking photos—it’s shooting within the hectic and emotional setting of a once-in-a-lifetime ceremony, whose photos, unlike those coming from a staged photo shoot, can’t be redone once the night is over. As Frost writes, “A bride and groom are not homework; they aren’t models, nor are they test subjects.”

But on the other hand, photographers’ ability to cover an event and cover it well doesn’t always exclusively depend on their years of experience in the industry. Our annually nominated 30 Rising Stars of Wedding Photography, for example, wow us and our readers every year with their amazing work, and every one of them has been in business for less than five years. Take a look at some work from a couple of the 2013 Rising Stars below.


We chose this photo by 24-year-old wedding photographer Pat Furey, who started his business at 19 years old, for the cover of our November 2013 issue. © Pat Furey


© Pat Furey


© Pat Furey

This exceptionally well-timed and composed shot was taken by Logan Cole, 20, who began his business at age 17. © Logan Cole


© Logan Cole


© Logan Cole

© Logan Cole

While that doesn’t mean they have less than five years of experience taking photographs period (nor does less than five years equate them to student status), they are certainly newer to the world of shooting weddings than those who’ve had longer to perfect their craft, and that is something truly remarkable. Why? Because this industry is unpredictable and exciting. We enjoy being equally delighted by the 20-something sharp-shooter with a fresh perspective who opened up shop two years ago and the hardworking veteran photographer who never checks out and continues to surprise the industry with his or her constantly evolving work. Both of those people could produce work with a high level of comparable quality.

So the lesson to brides and grooms? Don’t just pass over photographers with less experience and skip to the veterans; do your homework. And photographers: don’t let your years of experience define your quality of work or your drive to out-do yourself. We all know that this industry—from the f-stops and light metering to the balance between cost and esthetic—isn’t always a perfect, mathematical equation.

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Libby Peterson

Libby Peterson

Libby Peterson is the Features Editor of Rangefinder. A Minneapolis native, she moved to New York after graduating from Indiana University’s School of Journalism in 2013, starting off as the magazine's editorial intern.

Previously from Libby Peterson:


  1. Why does it seem like you guys keep choosing photos that are over exposed, washed out, and generally stuff that I would scrap as poor quality because of the above issues. I don’t get this fad of washed out photos. It’s not what we see with our eyes and doesn’t create accurate memories for the couple. They will look at these photos in 20 or 30 years and wish they would have hired a photographer who could have properly exposed and lit the images.

  2. I sure hope those images aren’t examples of what you consider good wedding photos. The blown out highlights blinded me to anything else going on in them.

  3. I agree with the three previous comments. Most of the above images have exposure issues. Many of the leading mags in the industry today present this type of imagery as acceptable. If this is what the industry considers quality imagery, well then…. really anyone with a camera can call themselves a professional photographer. Oh, what that’s already happening.
    There is much,much more to photographing a wedding than the ability to point a camera and fix it later. MUCH more.

  4. Faces unnaturally close nose to nose, his arm visually dividing the bride in half, her arm limp straight down dangling, overexposed portions of the image, poor lighting, the bridge tower cutting through the head, lack of interesting composition, the lens selection and camera angle making the whole shot look more like a snapshot – – –

    – Geez, I remember RF 20 years ago when you published articles from great photography teachers who pointed out these ERRORS and how photos vastly improved when they were corrected.

    Now you tout amateur level snaps as up and coming.

  5. While I do agree that one must not offhandedly discount the ability and creativity of up and coming talent, I also am not blind to the fact that RF is not in the business of narrowing its base of freshly minted followers with “Rock Star” ambitions who contribute greatly to its industry status and monetary success.

    In my personal opinion Rangefinder has simply followed the paradigm shift in our professional industry and selected to help foster the myth of youthful celebrity success as opposed to the former model of helping support innovation built on a solid educational foundation as a means of elevating our craft.

    I know that former leaders in the industry, like Monty Zucker and Rock Gunn, were not everyone’s rhetorical cup of tea. However, one thing you could not accuse them of was a lack of practicing, understanding and appreciating the technical and creative foundation of professional photography and the solid business practices to keep it viable and respected in the eyes of the public the client and up and coming talent.

    I’m left wondering what other sage advice our wedding planner in question might give in regards to the caterer, DJ, florist, venue etc? I wonder what sort of working relationship the planner expects to have with other professionals in the wedding industry? Or would they prefer to work with non-professionals? I’m sure their job would be so much easier if they did.

  6. I agree with all the above. I used to covet receiving Rangefinder. Even reviewed old issues for inspiration. The magazine has outlived its usefulness and not worth my time. It’s basically a vehicle for the publishers to sell advertising.

  7. Something else that the professional understands about wedding photography that is rarely understood by the amateur or the “newbe” and that is the liability of photographing a wedding. The professional knows that, most likely, this is a once in a lifetime event and must do everything reasonably within his/her power to make sure the photography comes off without a hitch. The professional most likely carries liability insurance that covers “commissions and ommissions.” He/she understands where he/she needs to be at any given point in the ceremony and reception to get the photos needed. He/she needs to be there. And, in addition, the professional photographer is loaded with redundancy – having backup cameras, lights, batteries, memory cards, backup drives (notice the plural), etc. The photographer must be prepared for the absolute worst case scenario, because, believe me, sooner or later it will happen. When it does, how forgiving do you think the bride will be?

  8. I respect the drive and creativity of young photographers entering the business. I’m sure that the photographers you featured here have some great work. I do have to agree with some of the previous comments. The images you selected for this post are quite uninspiring and will most likely not impress any working professional photographer.

  9. “Rethink your wedding planner!. ‘The best thing to do is contact a newly married bride who had just planned her own wedding—find somebody that wants to build a career with their skills,’ ‘Nine out of 10 you’ll save thousands of dollars. You’ve made a young lady happy and you’ve got some great wedding day disasters to remember forever!

  10. Disagree — this is an Instragram style action or filter which kids in their 20s and 30s (think: wedding photography business customers — preferably whose parents are paying for the photog.) favor nowadays. You can talk blue in face about “proper exposure” but, ya know, kids these days…

  11. Thanks for the article guys!

    Also – to those who doesn’t get it, you’ll never get it. No sense in arguing over someone else’s style on the Internet.

  12. It sounds like much of these comments are from a bunch of 50yr olds that are losing jobs to 20yr olds cause they can’t seem to change with the times.

    Don’t be haters.

    Proof – JLGPhotos