This is a common (and reasonable) question. After all most households own at least one camera now and many people are very competent users of a dSLR. What can you expect from paying a professional that a family member or friend could not do for you?
The answer can be broken down into a number of elements:
Time spent on the day
Processing and presentation
Peace of mind.
Equipment – it is fair to say that most people know someone who owns a reasonable SLR camera and that they are competent in its use. However you should expect a wedding professional to arrive armed with two bodies. You may never see one of them, but should their main body fail (and it does happen) they will be able to continue taking photographs of your big day and you probably won’t even realize there was a problem.
Professionals also invest in high-quality lenses, flashgun(s) and possibly a tripod or monopod to cope with a range of conditions from a late afternoon winter wedding to a bright sunny summer’s afternoon. An average photographer is probably carrying £5000 to £10000 worth of equipment at a wedding and this means that they can produce stunning images in the most difficult conditions.
Time spent photographing the day – my favourite part of a wedding day is the bridal preparations. The details of dress, jewellery, shoes and flowers, the gradual build up of excitement, the visible emotions, donning the dresses and the arrival of the cars. Capturing shots like these really tell the story of your wedding day from the very beginning and set the scene for events later in the day. For me a wedding shoot is not finished until the cake is cut and the first dance has been danced. This may mean that I am working taking photographs at your wedding for 14 hours and I love every minute of it. You cannot reasonably expect a family member or friend to be “on duty” for this amount of time so key events and emotions may be missed.
Processing and presentation – everyone now expects images to be processed (photoshopped) before they see them, and a good photographer would never show you images straight out of the camera. The finishing touches can turn a beautiful image into something truly stunning, but the software and expertise to do this are not generally used or known by those outside the industry. I always present my bride and groom with a leather-bound folio containing a DVD slideshow of their images, set to music from their day (whenever possible). I also supply a set of print-ready JPEGs of the best images of the day. As I typically shoot up to 1500 images of a wedding I would not expect even the most patient of couples to wish to trawl through those for themselves – this is just one of the hidden services professional photographers offer.
End products – all wedding photographers have their chosen book or album product and this may be a factor in selecting your wedding photographer. I use a local company, based in Barkham and they produce the most stunning coffee-table books. They are hand-stitched and use high quality, heavy weight, sustainably sourced paper and they are just beautiful.
Peace of mind – so you have planned your big day and every detail is in place; nothing can go wrong. This should be true of your photographer as well – they should have public liability, professional indemnity and equipment insurance. They should be members of a professional body who can act as arbitrators should things not work out. They should also have a thorough and comprehensive back-up strategy so that your precious images are not lost through corruption or physical loss of or damage to their computer or equipment. I can say all of this because I would not dream of shooting the biggest day of somebody’s life without all of this behind me.
All of this equipment, computer capabilities, professional training, maintenance, insurance and so on comes at a cost, but more importantly it means that you will get the best possible record of your wedding day. After all the planning and organization that goes into the day it is the best way to make sure you can look back in years to come and still see the smiles and feel the emotion, the joy and the fun and share them with future generations.