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FM Weddings FAQ

Evan Baines
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Upload & Sell: Off
p.1 #1 · p.1 #1 · FM Weddings FAQ

At the request of the forum moderator, I have undertaken to revise and repost a FAQ I generated in 2009 to facilitate a higher quality of exchange here on FredMiranda’s weddings forum. The post begins with a general tip section that I would encourage everyone to read, followed by a FAQ that addresses common questions. I have added a few segments in response to a handful of recent threads.

Please feel free to let me know if you have any additions or modifications to suggest!

Table of Contents:

1. General Forum Tips
Sections I-IX, recommended for all.

Frequently Asked Questions
2. So my friend/relative is getting married, and they've asked me to shoot the wedding. Should I do it? What should I charge?
3. What sort of gear do I need? Is my gear good enough?
4. I'm ready to start a really-real grown-up photography business in the US. What do I need to do?
5. Now that I'm a real business, how much should I charge?
6. Do I offer a CD of printable images with my packages?
7. Should I shoot RAW or JPG?
8. Should I shoot primes or zooms?
9. How do I become a second shooter?
10. In what mode should I shoot?
11. I am concerned about my business! What should I do?
12. Do I have to get permission to use someone's music for my website?
13. What about Bob? AKA, how to deal with overzealous guests with cameras (GWC’s)
14. Should I use 99 Designs or a similar site for my logo creation?
15. I'm getting married and looking for a photographer here on FM. What information should I post when I solicit interest in shooting my wedding?
16. What about FILM?

1. General Forum Tips

I. This forum is dedicated to professional wedding photography. Most of the regulars here are professionals, once worked as professionals, or aspire to become professionals. We WELCOME the participation of amateurs and hobbyists, but you will be better received by the shark tank if you are respectful of the fact that it takes a great deal of time and effort to become a good professional wedding photographer. If you are posting images or asking for help with taking pictures, you should be clear on whether you are shooting the wedding in any professional capacity (primary or second), or if you are simply taking pictures for fun, as a guest.

II. In the wedding photography industry, overzealous guests-with-cameras (update: including iPads!) are a frequent problem for professionals, to the point where I have included a section on this very topic in the FAQ. If you are asking for tips or advice on the best way to "Uncle Bob" a wedding, you should probably anticipate a lukewarm response from the membership, and “make yourself unobtrusive” will be the primary guidance offered.

III. Questions that demonstrate a lack of familiarity with the basics of focus and exposure will inevitably be heckled. They may be answered, but they will be heckled. I don't condone this, but merely caution you to expect it. This is magnified ten-fold if you claim or imply any "professional" status. Shooting a wedding is frequently very demanding of one's technical abilities, and it is the general consensus that anyone shooting a wedding in a remotely "official" capacity should already be thoroughly grounded in the fundamentals of focus, exposure, and other basic camera functions.

IV. If you are asking for help troubleshooting your images, it is imperative that you include the images (or a link to them), leave the exif intact OR post the exact settings used (mode, shutter speed, aperture, ISO, flash, etc), camera and lens used, etc. We can't tell you what went wrong if we can't see the images and know how they were shot.

V. Soliciting and receiving true critique is hard. While most people who post images say that they are interested in feedback, the reality is that many desire and expect unqualified praise. Further, offering quality feedback requires both skill and a teacher’s heart. Unfortunately, not every forum member has developed both of these qualities to the utmost. Many of the most acrimonious threads on this forum involve some combination of photographers unprepared for genuine critique coupled with feedback that may not have been carefully worded or very thoughtful. Therefore, I would make the following suggestions:

Critics: You should not post if you do not have the best interest of the artist at heart. The only legitimate purpose for offering criticism here is to help the photographer grow and improve. If you cannot say that you hope and believe your feedback will help the photographer, it does not need to be posted.

Photographers: If you post your work for feedback, you should receive that feedback gratefully, even if you do not agree with it. Arguing with critics regarding your work is seldom productive, and attacking the critics reflects poorly on you. If you receive criticism that you do not like (even if it fails miserably in the criteria described above), either ignore it or thank the critic for his/her time. This will result in the best quality of feedback and the best social climate on this forum overall.

VI. NEVER critique the clients. FredMiranda.com is VERY Google friendly. This means that many of our clients ultimately end up finding this site, and the posts contained herein. You should always maintain professional decorum when posting, but be especially careful about any negative comments about the people in the photos. Making "funny" remarks about image subjects could be seriously hurtful, and is never a good idea. Make sure that any critical comments are clearly directed at the photographic technique, and try to be sensitive of what it would feel like if the client discovered the post.

For example:
Bad: "The bride looks fat in #5"
Better: "Your choice in posing #5 made the bride look larger than she needed to."
Best: "You should have chosen a more flattering pose in number 5, given the bride's body type. Consider trying...."

You might also consider a PM to the photographer if your critique might touch on an issue expected to be particularly sensitive to the client.

Further, it is strongly advised that you consider whether or not your clients would be happy upon discovering and reading your posts. Many photographers have frantically appealed to the moderators for thread deletion upon realizing that publicly badmouthing clients is a bad business decision. Never forget that the internet is forever.

VII. If you choose to contact forum members directly via PM or email, don't be offended if they don't answer or are slow to answer. Many established forum members get a LOT of mail asking for personal critiques, advice, or explanations. In many cases, these FMers just don't have the time to respond to every entreaty personally.

VIII. If someone posts an image thread and specifically identifies that the clients/subjects are FM participants, unless otherwise noted, they are NOT looking for critique, but rather sharing images for everyone to enjoy of people who may be considered mutual friends. Don't be a jerk and spoil it.

IX. For those of you with established businesses, it is understandable that to a certain extent, self-promotion is a fundamental component of your participation in forum discourse. However, please respect the fact that the benefits that you derive from this forum should be proportionate to the value you return to our community. Beyond any specific rules about linking, posting workshops, or other promotional activities, understand that no one likes a parasite. Please consider this before commencing your advertising campaign in our community.

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: So my friend/relative is getting married, and they've asked me to shoot the wedding. Should I do it? What should I charge?

Answer: First off, don’t play that “they’re MAKING me” or “I have no choice” or “there’s no one else” card. The bottom line is that you wouldn’t be considering shooting the wedding if you really didn’t want to. People lead in with these sorts of “twisted arm” statements in an attempt to head off criticisms that they shouldn’t be shooting the wedding, and it never works. Leave these sorts of statements out if you’re going to post, as they will usually only make things worse.

Shooting a wedding is a big responsibility. This isn't the same as going out to shoot a portrait session, where if you mess up you can get a redo or simply offer a refund. These are some of the most important pictures most people will ever have taken, and you owe it to yourself and your potential client to be honest about your abilities. Weddings typically feature difficult and changing conditions, and require a high level of sustained quality throughout a long day. If you make a mistake, you may profoundly damage your relationship with these people.

A lot of responses to this question on this forum will amount to "you are better off telling them to hire a real pro." People will encourage you to think about the risks to the relationship and the potential legal risks. Few here will be truly enthusiastic about another semi-pro entering the industry, as downward pressure has been exerted on the industry by the constant supply of cheap photography. The more established and talented shooters won’t feel threatened, but barring unique circumstances few will be cheering you on.

Some will suggest that you try to find a local experienced professional to tag along with to get some experience before you go out on your own. Be prepared that some photographers will view this as creating their own competition and not be enthused about helping out. Additionally, be aware that many of the more experienced photographers get multiple "second shooter" offers every week.

If you decide that you are still going to shoot, just about everyone here would counsel you to actively seek out conditions similar to those you will experience on the wedding day (IE go scout the church) and PRACTICE under those conditions. If you've never been forced to shoot f/1.4 ISO 3200 1/50th before without a flash, then the wedding day is not a good first time to learn.

If you are absolutely set on shooting, good luck and good light to you!

Question: What sort of gear do I need? Is my gear good enough?

Answer: We had a saying in the military: "two is one, one is none." This means that if a given piece of gear is important enough that you would have a hard time shooting the wedding without it, then it needs to have backup. This means for starters that you need:
-Two Camera Bodies
-Two Flashes
-Enough redundancy in lenses that if you drop your 24-70 you're not stuck on fisheye the rest of the day
-A data safety plan with contingencies for card and HD failures

There are many other items that you may need, but the above items represent the most expensive and important. If your camera shutter fails, if you drop a lens or flash, there's no "sorry honey, I've gotta run to Bestbuy and buy a new piece of gear... could you hold off on that whole 'walking down the aisle bit?'" Argue all you want that you're a budget-oriented shooter with financial limitations: it probably won't help you one bit in litigation.

Further, the general consensus is that you will need f/2.8 or faster lenses to do a good job in difficult lighting conditions. These fast lenses will allow you to use less (or no) flash in low light and ALSO improve the autofocus of your camera bodies in low light. Many will argue that at least one fast prime (IE 50mm f/1.8) is an inexpensive but crucial addition to your kit, especially if you are shooting a flash-restricted ceremony. If you have no idea what I'm talking about with regards to these f-stops, then you may be best off reconsidering your plan to shoot this wedding.

While many admirable photographers maintain that it would be possible to shoot a wedding on only a 35mm or 50mm prime lens, the vast majority of professionals at least have available (even if they are not using them) a combination of lenses that covers wide angle, standard, short and medium telephoto. This equates to about 24-200mm in full-frame land: adjust depending on the size of your sensor. A kit that covers that range will stand you in good stead for almost any wedding situation, although you may not need any given lens at any given event.

As far as your bodies themselves, what you have is almost certainly good enough to do an adequate job in the hands of someone who knows what they are doing. I doubt many of the high-end pros on this forum would CHOOSE to shoot a wedding this weekend on Digital Rebels or D40x's, but its totally doable if you know what you're doing. That said, there are many image quality, usability, and reliability advantages of top-shelf gear.

You also need to start considering your data security plan for the images you create! A computer virus won't be much of an excuse when explaining to a tearful bride about why you lost all of her images. Off-site backup offers additional protections against fire and theft. It is further advisable that you develop a plan to ensure that no one corrupted flash card compromises too much of the coverage. Some strategies for mitigating this risk include cameras with multiple card slots, using multiple camera bodies, switching cards periodically, or having multiple photographers. Flash cards do fail, and can’t always be recovered.

Question: I'm ready to start a real photography business in the US. What do I need to do?

Answer: Business laws, codes, and regulations vary from state-to-state. However, in general you will need to get a business license and tax ID number. You may chose to incorporate in some way, or remain a sole proprietorship. Be aware that if you are hoping for the limitations of liability that are the primary benefits of incorporating, you must be prepared to fully segregate your business life and assets from the personal. The moment you start using business money for personal items, a savvy lawyer will find it and pierce that corporate veil to get at your assets if you are in litigation. For many small businesses, the level of segregation necessary may be difficult or impossible: speak to an attorney fluent in your local laws and regulations to determine whether incorporating is right for you.

Congratulations! Now you can start paying taxes! Remember to budget for this, and consult your helpful local department of revenue office to learn about your state, local, and federal obligations with regards to your tax burden.

MANY folks here would also STRONGLY encourage you to obtain insurance for your business. The most important part of any policy you purchase will be the sections that cover your liability! What if someone trips over your lightstand and breaks a hip? What if one of your lights shorts out the outlet and lights the venue on fire? You can keep on imagining nightmare scenarios... Will you ever NEED this coverage? Probably (hopefully) not, but if you need it and don't have it the situation has the potential to ruin your life. The industry standard is $1,000,000 general liability coverage. Other things to look at include errors and omissions (E&O) coverage and equipment coverage.

It is also STRONGLY recommended that you ONLY work with a contract that has been reviewed by an attorney that is well versed in your local contract laws. Verbal agreements just don't cut it. Period. This contract needs to explicit designate what services you'll provide in what time-line, and what are the terms of payment.

Also, this should be obvious, but KEEP A CALENDAR THAT IS UP TO DATE! Double-booking is not ok in this business: we're not running an airline after all.

Question: Now that I'm a real business, how much should I charge?

Answer: As stated above, the average price in the US for wedding photography runs just a hare under $2k, with some regional variation. There would have been very nasty arguments if you posted this question to the forum, so aren't you glad you're smart and reading this post instead!

Some things to think about:
-If you're actually paying your taxes and buying insurance, and you have all of that backup gear that you're supposed to have, then wedding photography is a little more expensive than you might have thought. Typical industry targets set take home as 1/3 of gross income, and that’s in a fairly well-run business.
-New photographers almost invariably underestimate the amount of work involved in wedding photography. Remember to calculate editing, client meetings, proofing sessions, etc...
-If you're actually planning on being successful, Craigslist probably won't cut it as a long-term advertising strategy unless you are targeting low-cost weddings primarily. You need to plan to purchase advertising and marketing materials, including sample albums and prints. Word-of-mouth is the best advertising, but it usually requires time and money to get to the point where you are booking most of your clients that way. And even at that point, there's a reason why Coke and McDonalds still advertise despite being ubiquitous market leaders.

The best policy is to sit down and as honestly as possible assess (in plain English):
A) How much will my fixed expenses (advertising, insurance, etc) be?
B) How much gear will I need to buy?
C) How quickly will I need to purchase new gear (or service the old) as my old gear becomes worn out or obsolete
D) How much does the stuff I'm giving the client cost me?
E) How many hours will this really take me?

Subtract your fixed and product costs from your price and divide by number of hours and you have your hourly rate. Figure out how much money you'll need to make in the short term to make your plan viable, and how much you'll need to make in the long term to make you happy. Only after you have done all of this should you even consider the pricing of the local competition. Most wedding photographers do not make a sustainable primary income, so focusing on price will often put you in a race to the bottom. Obviously, an understanding of your market (including your competition) should inform pricing decisions. However, the typical pricing strategy of trying to figure out which photographers are “as good” as you are and setting your rates at or below theirs will almost certainly doom your business.

Question: Do I offer a CD of printable images with my packages?

Answer: There are many ways to skin this cat, and ultimately if you are making enough money to provide for yourself and your family at a level you're comfortable with, you're doing it right. Some folks don't offer a CD at all, because their business model relies on sales of tangible products such as prints and albums. Retaining the images and rights also ensures that you can maintain quality control on your product. However, MANY brides these days expect and demand that they be offered the option of a printable CD. If you offer this, it may be included (and factored into the price) with a package or sold as an a-la-carte (read: upsell) item. As with your basic pricing decision, the best way to handle this decision is to do the math:
-Do brides in my market desire or expect to be able to print their own images? How many bookings will I sacrifice if I don't offer this?
-If I offer the disc, how many brides will actually order prints and albums from me? How much are those lost sales worth?
-Are there any compromises I can offer, such as medium resolution files, unedited vs. edited files, limited rights of reproduction, etc?
-Will the availability of a disc undermine my brand in other ways?

At this point, its not much of a stretch to say that most wedding photographers in the US are offering some sort of digital option in response to overwhelming demand from brides. However, any savvy business-person will be cognizant of the value of the rights and ability to print those images. NO ONE "gives away" such an asset and stays in business long.

Question: Should I shoot RAW or JPG?

Answer: At this point, most wedding photographers have embraced the RAW format, especially now that programs like Lightroom render RAW files to be little more work than JPG. However, many successful and talented shooters prefer JPG for a variety of reasons.

RAW pros:
-Easy to fix white balance if you don't get it right in camera
-More latitude to fix exposure if you're not dead on
-Slightly higher dynamic range retained than JPG

JPG pros:
-Smaller file size (less storage needed, and fewer memory cards)
-Potentially less processing and a faster workflow
-Less likely to fill camera buffer if shooting fast
-Some people really like the look of the JPG's certain cameras produce.

The bottom line here is that you need to shoot what you're comfortable with, and there is no completely wrong answer. However, for a beginner, shooting RAW is a safer option for when you make those inevitable starting-out mistakes.

Question: Should I shoot primes or zooms?

Answer: Primes and zooms each have their staunch advocates. Here is a highlight film of the pros for each:

-Primes are generally somewhat sharper than zooms of comparable quality (especially at larger apertures), although this may not be significant enough to show up in standard-sized prints.
-Primes offer the possibility of more shallow depth-of-field than zooms
-Primes are better equipped for extreme low-light shooting.
-Certain prime lenses are particularly prized for certain subjective facets of image-quality, such as color and bokeh.
-Some will argue that the mental discipline of working with a fixed focal length will facilitate better anticipation, a better tendency to move one's feet for a better perspective, and more creative compositions.
-When using primes, wider apertures can also extend the range of your flash.

-Modern zooms offer excellent image quality, and none can argue that zooms produce excellent images. Some special zooms (Nikon 14-24 , Canon 24-70L mkII) are now even generally accepted to exceed the quality of most available primes.
-With a zoom, composition is seldom a compromise
-The newest camera bodies offer amazing high-ISO performance, making it less necessary to rely on extreme (sub 2.8) apertures to facilitate low light shooting.
-Any sharpness arguments on behalf of primes are rendered moot if significant cropping is necessary to achieve a good composition.
-At the wide angle end, a few millimeters is a HUGE difference in field-of-view. For this reason, wide angle zooms in particular can be significant assets for composition.
-Buying one top quality zoom is often more cost effective than buying two or three top quality primes to cover a focal range.

My personal editorial addition here is that the best option is BOTH. As mentioned in the "what gear I need" question, having only one lens to cover a critical focal length is just as irresponsible as having only one camera body. Zooms and primes make natural complements that don't duplicate one another, but offer enough redundancy that a decent set of primes (35/85/135 for instance) and a decent set of zooms (16-35/24-70/70-200) are each independently capable of covering a whole wedding if necessary.

As far as what you should use more regularly, this is entirely personal and based on your artistic inclinations. Only experience can give you the real answer to this.

Question: How do I become a second shooter?

Answer: If you recognize a few facts before starting your campaign to become a second shooter, you will probably be able to tailor your efforts to be more successful.

-Any of the more successful shooters in your local market are probably getting multiple offers to assist every week. Many of these offers are to shoot for free. These offers are coming from shooters of a variety of skill and experience levels. So be aware that many of these positions are sought after, and placement is competitive.

-Most photographers already have a second/partner.

-Any photographer with common sense knows that he/she, when training a second shooter, is ultimately creating his/her own potential competition. Typically, the more secure photographers are confident enough in their talent that they are not threatened by this. However, be aware that "let me shoot just a few weddings with you to get some experience" doesn't sound all that appealing to even the most secure photographer. Personally, I would not be interested in working with anyone in my local area who wasn't willing to commit to an entire season, other than in the rare case where a "regular" second shooter was unavailable. Many pros will only invest in training you (and take the risk of subsequent competition) if they feel they are "getting their money's worth."

-Most savvy photographers will consider assurances that "I just want to give it a try, I'm not looking at doing this for myself as a business" to be disingenuous, even in the unlikely event that they are true. Personally, I would probably disqualify an applicant on that basis alone. The only exception would be if you have a REALLY good day job, such as being a doctor or senator.

-Some photographers will disqualify a potential applicant if they have pursued a "lowball" approach to their business in the past.

-Some photographers prefer to take on individuals as assistants before they are promoted to second shooter status. Assistants typically only help manage gear, and do not shoot.

When you are actually offered a position, here are some things that may be issues:
-The studio that employs you will typically own the copyright to anything you shoot for them.
-You may be faced with limitations on your ability to use images for your own portfolio. A common condition limits your "public" use of the images, such as on websites, but permits "in studio" use to show prospective clients.
-You may be forbidden to take outside work on your own
-You may be asked to sign a non-compete clause forbidding you from starting your own business in the area for a finite time period.
-You will almost certainly be forbidden from mentioning any outside business interests to clients of your employer (IE marketing your own wedding studio while on the job for your boss)
-You are probably going to have to furnish your own kit.
-Some photographers only work with seconds shooting on the same system (Canon or Nikon, usually)

Some of the above restrictions may make a given second-shooter position unsuitable for you and your personal goals. Policies vary widely even within your local market, so it pays to consider your options carefully.

Pay varies widely, but be aware that minimum wage laws typically apply in most states, even if the theoretical value of the training you are being provided exceeds the value of the work you produce.

Photographers prefer to work with people they know. Many photographers have groups and local get-togethers from time to time. If you can "get in" with a group and simply get to know them, they will likely make you aware of second shooter opportunities when they become available. Cold calls are, as in any business, a low percentage proposition.

Get a competitive portfolio! You would not believe some of the garbage that some applicants have shown me. Personally, I don't care so much about wedding experience if I see some great portraiture and photojournalism. Other photographers may want to see actual wedding work. Either way, you need to get objective peer review! Submitting your work on websites like this will give you a very good idea of how pros will react to your port. Further, savvy pros will probably not be all that interested in your "mad Photoshop skills" as either they or their in-house design will most likely be doing the post-work anyway for consistency's sake. It is more important to show good fundamentals than lots of bells & whistles.

Demonstrate a familiarity with the style and work of the person to whom you are submitting! No one likes mass-emails! I'd be much more inclined to look hard at an applicant who identified specific shots of mine they liked, or identified a stylistic quality they appreciate. Flattery (within reason) works wonders on most artists. If I receive an obviously generic form-letter asking to assist/second, it gets thrown away immediately.

The more effort you put into your application, the more likely your success. Sure, email is fine these days, but writing a REAL letter, perhaps with one or two high quality prints thrown in demonstrates how serious you are about the position. I'm not saying that you want to spend a fortune making a flush-mount album for every photographer to whom you're applying, but if you know a position is potentially open, and you're serious about it, being more creative and applying some real effort could pay dividends.

Be persistent but don't nag. As I said, most of us have regular assistants and seconds. However, many are probably like me in keeping a roledex of quality shooters who have applied in the past, in case the regular help isn't available. Periodically renewing contact in a polite way will keep you at the top of the list.

Question: In what mode should I shoot?

Answer: You'll probably see a lot of chest-thumping on the board by folks who are adamant that only hacks and losers use anything but manual mode. These are probably the same people who spend a good part of the day with their eyes glued to the LCD screen chimping the histogram

The fact of the matter is that there's no difference between a shot with the same settings achieved in AV, M, or P. Its also a fact that some of the top shooters in the game use some of the semi-auto modes regularly or primarily. We're talking shots that have won top scores (IE 99) at WPPI, from shooters charging well into five figures per-wedding.

The real issue is whether you understand how the camera's exposure works!

So long as you understand what aperture, shutter, and ISO do and how the meter REALLY works, then it should be entirely up to you as to the most efficient method of achieving your desired results. For some, all "M" all the time will simply be faster and more controlled. Some folks may find that the semi-auto modes allow them to pay more attention to the world around: after all, it was Avedon who said that he hated cameras for interfering with his ability to record a great picture. Many will likely find that some situations are better suited to M, others perhaps AV or P.

The moral here is that shooting in a camera-assisted mode should be a choice that you are making rather than a necessity. You should 100% be ABLE to shoot in manual without chimping incessantly before taking on a wedding. Whether or not you choose to do so should be entirely up to you.

Question: I am concerned about my business! What should I do?

Answer: Wedding photography is an extraordinarily challenging industry right now, and it is unlikely to become less so in the foreseeable future. Wedding photography is an unregulated industry with few barriers to entry, a very short training period to achieve adequate results (by most people’s standards), and an endless supply of new shooters who perceive photography to be a fun way to earn some money on the side. The general industry trend has been one of tremendous downward pressure on the middle of the market, while the upper end of the market is somewhat less affected. The average consumer of wedding photography typically lacks the ability to differentiate fine gradations of photographic quality, and the average wedding photographer lacks the ability to differentiate his/her business sufficiently to avoid the inevitable price comparisons. Further, the average consumer in many/most areas simply lacks the budget to provide a photographer with the rates necessary for a full-time income. Therefore, there seem to be three viable strategies for long-term stability in this business:

1. Go or stay part-time
2. Focus on generating high volume in value-based photography and grow large enough to reap benefits from economies of scale (IE become a chain or multi-shooter studio).
3. Focus on the high-end market.

For most independent shooters, this last is the most appealing in theory. However, most photographers don’t really understand the high-end market and the customers that comprise it. A thorough study of how other luxury industries and businesses work would be of supreme benefit, combined with an understanding of any prevailing culture of the wealthy in the area. While many photographers tend to have the mindset that they just want to “do their thing” and the world should not only beat a path to their door but also be grateful for having done so, this is unlikely to be a sustainable approach in most high-end markets, especially during the “breaking into the market” phase.

While I may sound like I am against “doing your thing,” that’s not really the case. What I am advising is that your business decisions should be a synthesis of what you would like to provide and what the market demands. Most photographers adhere almost religiously to the styles, approaches, and products that are already ubiquitous in the industry and then protest that they are actually offering something unique. There is a strong case to be made for being willing to consider approaches to wedding photography (both art and business) that are unorthodox. A business can certainly succeed by offering to fill customer’s needs that they didn’t even realize they had or radically changing the framework of the photographer/client relationship, but at the end of the day all successful businesses must offer clients something with which they are satisfied. It is regrettably common to see a photographer who mimics the style and practices of all his competitors and yet STILL refuses to adapt in response to the client’s stated needs or goals because of a perceived slight against his/her “artistic integrity.”

In summary:
-Offer something different than everyone else, in terms of product or process
-Make sure this difference fulfills the needs of a viable market segment with enough money to support your financial goals
-Ensure that you are communicating not only what you are doing differently, but how this difference better fulfills potential clients’ needs.

Question: Do I have to get permission to use someone's music for my website?

Answer: "U.S. Copyright Law provides that to "perform" a work "publicly" means to recite, render, play, dance, or act it, either directly or by means of any device or process…(1) at a place open to the public or at any place where a substantial number of persons outside of a normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances is gathered; or (2) to transmit or otherwise communicate a performance or display of the work to a place specified by clause (1) or to the public by means of any device or process, whether the members of the public are capable of receiving the performance or display receive it in the same place or in separate places and at the same time or at different times."

"Musical compositions, like other intellectual property, belong to their creators. U.S. Copyright Law grants certain exclusive rights to copyright owners, including the right to publicly perform and the right to authorize others to publicly perform the work. Web Sites that publicly perform music must obtain a license from the copyright owner or their representative." (From http://www.bmi.com)

Bottom line is that its against the law to use music on your website without a licensing agreement. Its that simple. If you don't like it, go speak to your congress person. You can't use music on your website without authorization for the same reasons that a musical artist can't use your photography on their website without your permission.

If you don't believe me, you're welcome to thrill yourself with the page-turner that is Title 17 of the US Copyright Law: http://www.copyright.gov/title17/
(The Uruguay Round Agreements Act of 1994 was so exciting that I nearly wet myself, but if you want to cut to the chase Chapter 1, Section 106 is what you want. )

You can obtain a license through one of the links here:

Question: What about Bob? AKA, how to deal with overzealous guests with cameras (GWC’s)

Answer: One of the most common sources of frustration for wedding photographers everywhere is guests whose single-minded pursuit of their own photos can impede the execution of one’s duties. In my opinion, one of the best steps that you can take is prevention. I include a discussion of GWC’s as part of my consultation and planning with every client. I encourage them to consider and identify potential GWC problems before the wedding even occurs, and openly address the issue if a problem can be anticipated. However, that doesn’t always work, and so contingency plans should be established.

Obviously, the simplest method for dealing with these sorts of people is to work around them. However, some GWC’s are so aggressive that they will significantly detract from your ability to provide coverage unless the situation is addressed. I’m going to step outside of the world of photography, and draw upon my experience in guerrilla warfare in making suggestions on how to deal with troublesome guest-photographers. Some of the most important principles at work here:

1. Know your enemy
2. Understand their motivations
3. Win the hearts and minds (WHAM) where possible
4. Attack the enemy’s support structure and destroy their auxiliary network

It is vital first to recognize that these GWC’s are not a homogenous group. The first step in handling a GWC situation is to identify what manner of GWC you’re dealing with. GWC’s can be divided into the following groups:

The enthusiast
Typically, this guest simply loves taking pictures. They may only have a 1.2 megapixel point-and-shoot, or even a camera phone, but they have a massive enthusiasm for photography. Some may have advanced kits, but precious few will have any skill or training. This sort of guest will frequently be so focused on their pursuit of the shot that they frequently either wander in front of you, or wander into your background. They may also disrupt your operations with the use of their flash, especially if you are using any kind of optical triggers.

The motivation of this manner of GWC is pursuing their love of photography, and trying to get great shots for the family. This is crucial, because you can use both of these motivations to your advantage. This type of GWC does NOT initially view you (the photographer) as an adversary. Generally speaking, these types of guests cause problems out of ignorance and enthusiasm rather than malice! However, many photographers approach the relationship as adversarial from the get-go, which closes down many effective approaches to dealing with the situation.

Enthusiasts are a prime opportunity for “winning the hearts and minds.” My favorite approach is to proactively seek out these people when I identify them, and attempt to build rapport by offering photography tips, and even in some cases a quick chance to try out a piece of gear. For instance, I’ll frequently allow an enthusiast with a Digital Rebel to try out my spare 430ex and teach them to bounce flash while the guests are eating (and thus nothing important is happening). Most importantly, this makes this enthusiast REALLY like you, which in turn makes them WANT to help you by staying out of your way. This also encourages them to be aware of where you are (so they can learn by watching you work!), which actually decreases the likelihood that they will walk into your shots in pursuit of their own. A WHAM approach has the additional benefit of the fact that many of these enthusiasts are also consumers of photography, and may lead to follow-on work or referrals.

If the “winning the hearts and minds” approach fails, direct confrontation with enthusiasts may be counter-productive. I have found that it is generally better to go after their support structure in these cases. More details on this in the next two sections.

The portfolio-builder
Typically (but not always), the portfolio-builder is a friend or non-immediate relation who has recently started or dreams of starting their own photography business. This type of GWC has VERY different motivations from the Enthusiast. Frequently, this type of guest isn’t concerned with the pure joy of photography, nor do they really care about providing great shots to the couple as a service. This sort of GWC selfishly considers their friend/family’s important day primarily as an opportunity to enrich his/her website.

This sort of guest not only interferes with your shots by blocking you, excessive flash use, or appearing in your background... they will frequently follow you around the event and attempt to mimic your “setup” shots, even going so far as to shoot over your shoulder.

Despite this sort of guest’s selfish motivations, it is still possible to attempt a WHAM approach. Once you identify a portfolio builder, proactively engage them with an apparent openness to networking. “Oh you’re starting a photography business? We should hook up! Maybe I can send you some business for dates that I have booked!” Once this GWC starts to look at your favor as being a possible boon to their business, they will actively court it and seek to ingratiate themselves. At this point, you have the excellent opportunity to compliment them on what a great job they are doing at staying out of your shots, and how you appreciate that they AREN’T trying to rip you off. Obviously, this may be the opposite of the truth. Tell a quick anecdote about another GWC of the past who wasn’t so well behaved. This will put the seed in their mind of how they DON’T want to act without causing them to be defensive. They will hopefully consider your potential value in networking to be worth staying in your good graces by adjusting their behavior.

If the WHAM approach fails, then direct confrontation may be extremely difficult here. This guest probably realizes deep down that they are behaving selfishly, and can quickly become defensive if they feel they are under attack. Rather, consider that these guests typically have a spouse, significant other, or family member in attendance who is probably already rolling their eyes at this misbehavior. Attack this GWC’s support base, who is permissively allowing this behavior to occur. Work through the wedding party, planner, or all-else-failing the bride and groom to put a halt to this person’s interference. An angry spouse has MUCH more authority over this GWC than you do. You may simply be viewed as a prima-donna vendor if you directly confront the offender, but they will have a very hard time ignoring the bride and groom’s wishes.

In any situation where you are forced to suggest behavior modification, whether through an intermediary or directly, it is a subtle but important point that you should NEVER couch the situation in terms of “so-and-so is getting in MY way.” The minute you make this person’s behavior about YOU, you limit the auxiliary’s willingness to help. On a wedding day, no one typically cares much about a vendor’s life being made more difficult. Rather, you should ALWAYS be scrupulous to couch your comments in terms of “this person is impeding my ability to give the bride and groom the best photos possible.” It may seem subtle, but this simple shift in phrasing has now shifted the problem from my-life-being-more-difficult to this-person-is-hurting-the-couple’s-photos.

The Pro
Most of us pros studiously avoid bringing our gear to weddings that we attend as guests. We shoot plenty of weddings to have our fill of “the joy of wedding photography,” and we typically have more than enough portfolio material. Thus, if you have a guest who is a real pro bringing a camera to a wedding, there are only two likely causes:

1. The pro’s family/friends have pressured them into taking a few shots.
2. The pro, for whatever reason, doubts your competence and wants to serve as a backstop in case your photos are terrible.

Fortunately, a real pro is really unlikely to be in your way very much. Pro photographers have better situational awareness, and are used to working around other shooters. Most would consider it a point of pride that they never impede another shooter. This is one of the few cases where directly addressing any impedance to the GWC is often the most effective course of action. If they are getting in your way, professional courtesy will often cause them to respond immediately to a tap on the shoulder, or a polite professional comment.

Again, this sort of GWC is the least likely to cause problems anyway, but your best defense in this situation is to demonstrate confidence and competence in your own work. If you’re doing all the right things, and obviously doing a good job, then the pro is far more likely to scale down any effort that they might be making, because, lets face it, they probably aren’t thrilled to have a camera at this wedding in the first place. If this GWC is still causing problems after the above approach has been attempted, then working through the auxiliary is still the way to go, especially since there is a good chance that auxiliary pressure is why this person is shooting to begin with.

I'll close by saying that no matter how deftly you attempt to handle a GWC situation, there are some that are just one-man-wrecking-crews that seem to intentionally attempt to destroy every one of your shots. They will ignore you, their family, the B&G, and even the Lord above himself in pursuit of their nefarious aims. However, these represent a tiny minority of GWC's, and the vast majority are easily dealt with through the means described above.

Question: Should I use 99 Designs for my business's logo?

Answer: 99 Designs and sites like it enable you to establish a prize for a logo or piece of design work, and then graphic designers submit designs for your review based on the criteria you establish. For some of these sites, you only pay if you find a design you like. This is referred to in the design industry as designers "working on spec."

The AIGA is one of the most important professional organizations for graphic designers. If you would like to see the AIGA's position on spec work, you can read it here:

Some photographers on this forum have used 99 designs for their logos, and have been happy with the experience. These photographers tend to advocate the use of 99-designs and the like because they feel that it offered savings vs. hiring a specific designer, afforded them a large number of choices, and they were satisfied with the quality of the work. Some of these photographers have a tendency to become very defensive when others criticize 99 Designs, because they feel that it is an attack on the quality of their branding, or on their decision making process.

Some photographers on this forum are highly critical of 99 designs. The criticisms
generally fall into one of two categories:

1. The quality of the design work

It is safe to say that while some talented designers may elect to participate in 99 Designs and similar sites, the majority of the designers such websites do not represent the pinnacle of their profession. Many feel that the work produced on such sites is frequently of lower quality, and also repetitive/generic. Professional organizations such as AIGA are prevented by law from forbidding members from pursuing design work on spec, but the practice is frowned upon heavily. It is highly unusual for any established, talented designer to participate in such a system.

2. Patronizing an on-spec design business may damage the market for designers.

Graphic design, as a field, shares many similarities with photography. It can be a field with low barriers to entry, and produces a highly subjective product. Patronizing a spec-design site reinforces a system where designers work for free, and no one is likely to achieve a livable professional wage. Photographers who treat design work as a cheap commodity are mirroring the behavior of clients who feel the same way about photography, about whom many of us frequently complain. At a minimum, photographers who purchase spec design work have lost any moral standing to criticize photography mills like Bella, which have some clear parallels to 99 Designs. Some photographers on this side of the debate tend to take their moral indignation a little far, however.

Ultimately, soliciting spec design work is legal and affordable. It is a free market, and would-be designers enter into spec competitions of their own free will. No one has any right to tell a photographer that they cannot or should not use such a service. Indeed, some photographers may have gotten quite a deal on a great logo through 99 Designs, in much the same way that at least one or two lucky brides scored a great photographer through Bella. It is highly unlikely that spec design systems will ever be put out of business in any case, and similarly it is unlikely that such mills will completely destroy the market for high quality independent designers.

Ultimately, one should consider:

1. Is purchasing an inexpensive logo the best long-term decision for building my brand? Will the quality really stack up?
2. How much am I really saving by electing to solicit spec-design work? Have I even attempted to obtain quotes for custom work from independent designers? Am I simply assuming that custom work will inevitably be much more expensive?
3. Is the system of spec-design work one that I feel comfortable patronizing?

Question: I'm getting married and looking for a photographer here on FM. What information should I post when I solicit interest in shooting my wedding?

Answer: You should include:

1. Event Date
2. Event Location
3. Preferred Budget
4. Are you willing to have photographers travel for your wedding
5. What stylistic preferences you have (photojournalistic, editorial, traditional)
6. Preferred contact method (email, PM, etc)

I will go out on a limb and suggest that posting more information than this in the initial post may NOT be to your benefit. Publicly stating additional conditions or issues may provoke a discussion that will send your thread off-topic fairly quickly (IE: "you want WHAT for THAT budget? You must be out of your mind!"). I suggest that you keep it simple, and discuss any other specifics privately with interested parties.

Question: What about FILM?

Answer: If you mention the f-word on this forum, the following will happen (not necessarily in this order):
-A bunch of insecure digital shooters will feel the need to trash film and/or lecture you on why digital is “better.” The most vehement will be the ones who used to shoot film and want to make sure that no one disagrees that they made the right choice to switch.
-A bunch of insecure film shooters will feel the need to trash digital and/or lecture you on why film is “better.” The most vehement will be the ones who have recently switched to film, and want to be validated that their work is somehow better and "deeper" now.
-Some people will argue that any format smaller than X is not worth using, because the most important criteria for art is how big you can make it.
-Some people will argue that film is inconvenient and or expensive, ignoring the fact that inconvenient to produce and expensive are hallmarks of any luxury item.
-Some people will argue that you can try to fake the look of film on digital if you like. Yes, you can make fake film.
-Some people will whine about how trendy film has become. The people who will complain most bitterly are either those who are unwilling to try it and are insecure about the recent popularity of something they aren’t doing, or those who have started shooting film recently and are sad that the gimmick du-jour is becoming less exclusive.
-The thread will degenerate into an argument between some combination of the above.

Some facts:
-Film will not make your pictures better. You will. Stop looking for a magic bullet.
-While use of film can be an interesting marketing tool, 99.9% of the world could not care less, and most of the people on FM are tired of hearing about it. Post your pictures, and feel free to discuss how they were made, but you won’t impress anyone by bragging about how you made them.
-Digital will almost certainly remain the dominant technology by a long margin until it is supplanted by something even newer. Film will always remain niche. Most photographers will get better results with digital, which gives instant feedback and lets you shoot many more shots to improve the odds of success.
-Trying to be "different" by following a trend is an exercise in futility. If you find yourself trying to be different by using the same camera, lens, film, lab, and style as another photographer or group of photographers... start asking yourself hard questions. One of the joys of film is that there are many types of camera, aspect ratios, film stocks, and labs still available to us, and in some cases for a very reasonable cost.
-If you start a thread that has anything to do with film, film stocks, film equipment, and so on... SOMEONE here is going to drag the topic into film vs. digital debate whether you like it or not.
-You may notice I've used the word "insecure" a lot. Welcome to the world of professional wedding photography.
-Don’t let anyone tell you what you should like. If you like film: go play with film. If you prefer digital, go play with digital. Be confident in your choices. Do what inspires you. Go make something beautiful.

Oct 15, 2013 at 02:25 PM
Steve Tinetti
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Upload & Sell: Off
p.1 #2 · p.1 #2 · FM Weddings FAQ

Thanks Evan for the re-post! Fred archived the original thread, so Evan was kind enough to revived it with some updated info. I will stick it for as long as Fred allows, but it won't stay forever. If you feel this is information you might refer back to on a regular basis, I suggest you copy/paste it to a document on your own computer for safe keeping. Subscribe to the thread and receive automated alerts whenever someone posts or Evan himself adds an update. Enjoy!

Oct 15, 2013 at 02:42 PM
• • • • •
Upload & Sell: On
p.1 #3 · p.1 #3 · FM Weddings FAQ

Evan Baines = Boss

Oct 15, 2013 at 02:42 PM
Steve Tinetti
• • • •
Upload & Sell: Off
p.1 #4 · p.1 #4 · FM Weddings FAQ

For starters, I will lock the thread in hopes that the information here spurs useful threads on the wedding forum, rather than from within this thread. The last time we did this, it grew to several pages and consequently some additional good information exchange was lost in the haystack. The thread will be unlocked for updates only, unless the general membership feels it best left unlocked. In this case, PM me with your ideas. Thanks!

Oct 15, 2013 at 02:55 PM

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