Why you don’t want all your wedding photos

Shirley Stonyrock fashion photography contact sheet
Typical contact sheet with selection of the best shots

“Oh, can I just have all of them?” or “Just put them all on a memory stick” have become strange yet common pre-wedding negotiation phrases used by couples when meeting with potential wedding photographers. Becoming worryingly common, too, is the: “can we just have all the  RAWs?” This is an awful prospect for all photographer because, even though we try to get as much right in camera as possible, edition and post-processing is a fundamental part of the process. We’ll deal with this later.

“Oh, can we just have all of them?” Of course the logic is there, the more photos you have the better the chances are of getting THE photos, the ones that you want to print huge, and send to friends and family, and plaster all over the internet etc. However, for a couple of reasons, that’s not as smart a decision as it sounds.

Firstly, because you are effectively taking on a mammoth task that you paid your wedding photographer to do. Editing (selecting images) is the hardest and most arduous part of the photographic process. Deciding which photos are not only photographically stellar, but also represent the moment and the subjects of the photo best isn’t an easy task.

Secondly, because having all the photos is going to give you a quantity over quantity dynamic. Let’s do an analogy. Calvin Klein makes jeans, really nice jeans. In fact, Calvin won a bunch of awards for being awesome at designing stuff. However, Calvin (not personally any more) also carefully selects the jeans; the cut of the fabric, the consistency of the stitching, and the colours. If the jeans don’t measure up, they don’t get the label, and you can buy them in Walmart instead. Wedding photography is the same.

Wedding photographers often take duplicate moments or slightly change angles as a moment is happening to improve the overall look and feel of the shot. It may be the light, the crop, or even someone blinking, but small changes occur, and an almost identical shot is produced, but not as good. Sticking to the analogy, if Calvin Klein stocked all his outlets with every single pair of jeans, regardless of quality, and just let you hunt for the best ones, pretty quickly you’d start wondering why CK is so expensive. Your wedding photographer has the same standards as Calvin Klein. As professional wedding photographers it’s very important that we maintain as high a standard of image as possible, both for each individual client, and for all potential clients to know what to expect. There is no bigger horror for a wedding photographer than to imagine the “cull” images being released for all the world to see.

Let’s have a look at these images, they’re nice, but they’re really similar. I took them so that I wouldn’t get a single blink-shot, so that the position of the legs would be as easy on the eye as possible, and so that their facial expressions was as lovely as possible. Choosing between them as a client is not only really hard, it also dilutes the impact of the image and feels disappointing.

“Can we just have all the RAWs?” is like that nightmare where you are suddenly in high school P.E class naked. Just me? Well, the point is that the RAW file that your camera spits out is just the rough draft of the shot, it collects all the information possible from the environment, and gives you all the choices to play with in post processing. Even the image you see on the back of the very camera that took the photo is not a 100% accurate representation of the photo. The RAW file is like a victoria sponge mix, all creamily mixed together and in the greased tin, but not cooked. If you ordered a birthday cake for a friend and when you turned up they gave you the dough in a tin you would not be a happy bunny. Asking for the RAW files is the same thing.

We have been spoilt by modern technology. Now you can take photos of everything, all the time, with your phone. Don’t get me wrong, I love having a camera with a phone hidden inside it, but it creates an unrealistic perception of how really good photos are created. If I wanted to, I could shoot with the iPhone until the memory was full, just clamping a thumb down on the ‘shutter’ button will machine-gun hundreds, and then thousands of photos onto my phone’s internal memory. That’s a whole lot of photos. Professional photographers often talk about how many ‘great’ shots they get, and usually it’s a very low number, something like two or three a year. Imagine trying to find those shots amongst all the noise of the thousand and thousands of other photos. It must be like finding a really nice piece of hay in a haystack.

So, let’s hop in the Delorean, and zip back to the 80s; mullets, shoulder pads and animal print, what’s not to like? Back in the 80s there was no digital, cameras were all analogue, loaded with 35mm or, commonly, medium format film. That gives you a grand total of 12 shots per roll of film, and photographers didn’t have sherpers or donkeys loaded with cases of film, the lucky ones got six or eight or maybe ten rolls at the beginning of the day, and then shot very slowly and carefully to produce maybe 60 perfect wedding photos. And that was a nice big total. Often the price for wedding coverage wasn’t too high, but that was just for the photographer to turn up, shoot, and go home. When the photos were developed, things got serious; each print had to be purchased separately and they were beautiful professionally developed and printed photos and cost an arm and a leg.

Times have changed, now we can shoot more on the day, and edit more after the fact. This approach has lead to two things: a lot of overshooting on the part of wedding photographers because if you can make sure you have that moment 100% by shooting three very similar photos better for you, and a basic loss of appreciation and trust in the idea of working hard to the THE photo, rather than just pull it out of the heap afterwards.

In general, wedding photographers try NOT to use this method. The ‘spray and pray’ approach leads to a massive amount of unnecessary photos that will have to be edited out of the collection, and wear to your horribly expensive camera that you will have to pay for. A professional wedding photographer still employs the 80s methodology, just without the shoulder pads. On the day we will look for the best light, the best angle, the most authentic moments and we will work hard to capture them perfectly. The only difference now is that we can shoot a two exposures without worrying that we will use all our film.

The takeaway message is this: Let us do our job. Trust us to do what you are paying us to do.

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