Published: March 22, 2013
For professional photographers, advancements in technology pose an interesting predicament. Camera innovations have enabled them to take better photos, but it’s lowered the barrier to entry by competitors.
“You get that instant feedback with a digital camera,” said Chad Redling, 30, a part-time wedding photographer in Rochester who was recently laid off from his job as a computer programmer and is now considering doing photography full time. “It shortens the learning curve.” He’s hardly alone. With unemployment still high, a lot of people, women in particular, are taking their fancy digital cameras and booking jobs shooting weddings, leading some long-established wedding photographers to brand them as “mamarazzis” or “digital debbies.”
Speaking about the broad availability of high-quality cameras, Michelle Nacca, who publishes The Greater Rochester Bride & Groom, a Web site and wedding guide in upstate New York, said, “The technology has gotten awesome, and they’re easy to use, so a lot of people are picking up a camera these days and thinking, ‘I can do this.’ ”
With little or no overhead, like the cost of studios, staff, backdrops and editing equipment, they can easily undercut the fees sought by professional photographers by $1,000, said Owen Kassimir, 52, the president of the Professional Photographers’ Society of New York State and a wedding photographer in Syosset, N.Y. Quality has become secondary, he said, noting that the arrival of smartphones is partly to blame. “All people need is for the photo to be ‘good enough.’ ”
Other veteran photographers contend that the newcomers do little more than take action shots, like photojournalists, while shying away from portraits. Portraiture, they claim, requires someone with a real understanding of the subtleties of lighting. But by clicking away, the laws of probability enable novices to wind up with some decent shots.
It also doesn’t help that most people don’t want photo albums anymore. Like alcohol sales for restaurants, albums were a high-margin piece of the package, with photographers charging about three times what it cost to produce them. Now, brides just want the photo disc — and the copyrights to their photos.
Some might reasonably argue that the introduction of new technologies has always resulted in a softening of prices and a lowering of the bars to entry across any number of fields. Wedding photography is no different, and those working in the field find themselves adjusting or leaving.
Daryn Backal, 49, did a little of both. He said he once had a thriving wedding photography business in Victor, N.Y., charging $3,000 to $5,000 a wedding and bringing in about $90,000 a year. But as some new faces joined the field, charging less than $1,000, he said he saw his revenues drop to around $60,000 a year. So he moved his business to Orlando, Fla. By doing that and by working a longer, warmer wedding season, he was able to recoup some of these declines. He also got rid of his studio and cut the amount of time he worked at a wedding in half.
“I’m earning about $230 an hour,” Mr. Backal said. “That’s about what an attorney makes. And all I have to do is burn a disc and give it to the bride and I’m done. You can make money in this industry. You just have to cut your costs.”