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Thank You, Uncle Bob

Thank You Uncle Bob for Our Amazing Wedding Photographs

This is a fictional story, but a true story nonetheless. We hear this story a lot. We've had couples inform us of their decision to hire a close family member or friend who may an avid hobbiest when it comes to cameras. So, we'd love to share a story with you..

Here's how it begins.

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"We really enjoyed meeting with you, and you have an amazing portfolio. However, we've decided to go with a close family member to photograph our wedding. He is our uncle and he is very good at taking pictures."

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If only this led to a happy ending. But recent studies have shown that in over 70% of cases, hiring an inexperienced family member or friend ends badly for the couple. It's not that simple. Wedding photography is about 20% having a nice camera and 80% everything else. And chances are it's that everything else 80% is unfortunately what your uncle (or close family member, or good friend, or whoever) is less than accustomed to.

So, we'll give your uncle the benefit of the doubt. During the week, he is a corporate executive and has a great, six figure job at his Seattle job. This job funds his passion, which is photography. He has a nice camera, the latest. It's a Canon 5D Mark III. He has great lenses too. He's got two or three of those Canon lenses with the red ring on the end (The L-Series Glass - the best lenses money can buy). And you can find him at the local arboretum taking pictures on his day off. Needless to say, he's got a lot of gear. And he's willing to come take pictures at your wedding.

You can judge by his daytime job that he is well prepared. He's more prepared than 95% of the people out there. His pictures....absolutely stunning. He's taken a lot of urban landscape shots, and there are some people in them for whom he captures them in a stunning light. Candid - camera unaware. His work looks like photojournalism. And he's even had some of his work published in the local paper or another magazine.

Your wedding day comes, and your Uncle is confident in what he is doing. He shows up early, bringing with him all his camera gear. He finds a spot to put it where it will be out of everyones way. Seeing this, you are so happy he is there. But since you aren't quite ready, he decides to start outside by taking pictures of the ceremony site. He pulls out his macro lens and takes close up pictures of the flowers lining the aisle. He then puts on his EF 24-105mm lens to take pictures of the chairs, from both the front and the back. Then, he moves to photograph the tables inside your wedding venue. So for him, he's ahead of the game. He has pictures of your wedding venue, chairs and tables, flowers and cake, handmade trinkets and more. One thing we forgot to mention earlier. The florist wasn't completely finished with the ceremony site and the tables were missing a few items because the caterer was waiting for the opportune time to put them on the table. You see, chocolate truffles melt or become soft at room temperature, so the caterer had them in the refrigerator and was going to put them out during the ceremony. They didn't have them on the table when he came around to take pictures. But we'll come back to that.

Now, you're almost ready. Your makeup is finished and you have your dress on. Your Uncle comes into your room where all the preparation is taking place. You feel a little sorry that he missed you getting into your dress. But in all fairness, you didn't want a man in the room when you were partially clothed, and especially right before you have your dress on. But we'll let that go for now. Your dress on, he's ready to get what he can of you getting ready.

Just a quick note here - not to scare you though. There is one key difference between landscape photography, which is what your uncle is used to and candid portrait photography is how the images are captured. Uncle Bob isn't used to spot metering, and he really doesn't have photographing in manual mode down yet. But he has the latest Canon camera... the one that costs over $3,000. The camera takes great pictures, so he can put the camera in P mode and take the pictures so he doesn't have to stop and reset the settings (which are changing by the second, depending on where he is in relation to the light source). Not to worry, he has a great camera..but the camera is only so smart.

Uncle Bob starts snapping away, taking pictures of your getting ready shots. He notices that his lens isn't wide enough, so he goes back into his camera bag to swap out lenses because he wasn't anticipating this issue. In all fairness, it isn't his fault. And you shouldn't be mad at him. After all, things in the preparation room are constantly changing. But when he gets back from switching his lens out, the touching up of your makeup is done and now they are finishing up your hair. He's in a hurry because he already missed some of your getting ready shots, so he snaps away. He fails to check his camera settings and after a few minutes into it, he realizes that his lighting is off, and that the pictures are very dark, even with your white dress. He didn't have time to set up his off camera lighting to ensure the getting ready area was properly lit. He compensates by bumping up his ISO super high so he can capture enough light so the pictures don't look too dark. Did we mention that the higher the ISO, the more grainy the picture is?

So, you're done. You'd love to see your groom, but in all fairness, you need to give Uncle Bob time to get some of the groom and groomsmen getting ready pictures. Since they are most undoubtedly already dressed, he can stage some of those getting ready shots. So when you look at the pictures, you'll never know they were staged. Fair enough. But did we mention that the bride was wearing a white dress, and the groomsmen were wearing black tuxedo's? The camera was over exposing all the shots to compensate for all the black in the scene with the darker groomsmen attire. He didn't realize this so he keeps shooting away.

It's ceremony time. Your uncle scopes out a great spot and pops on his zoom lens. It's a Canon 70-200mm. He pops it on and sits off to the side and waits. The groom enters and your uncle wants to make sure he gets this right. He starts snapping away, snapping over 50 pictures while he is walking down the aisle. The problem is, he had his camera on AI Focus instead of AV Servo mode. The shots are all out of focus because the camera was set to focus on a stationary object and not a moving object.

Then, the rest of the wedding party enter along with you and your father. Really not wanting to mess this up, he fires away another 50 or so pictures. Again, none of which are in focus.

The wedding ceremony is going great, and Uncle Bob grabs several great shots. The look on your face, how your groom is looking at you. Exchanging your vows. All these are great shots and you can't wait to see them. You're about to kiss for the first time as husband and wife. But Uncle Bob realizes again, that his camera lens isn't wide enough, so he runs to his bag to grab a different lens. On his way back, he sees you just as you kiss your husband for the first time. He missed it. Come to think of it, he also didn't think to shoot any of the bride or grooms family during the ceremony since he was so focused on getting you. In all fairness, he was trying not to miss anything in the ceremony, and there is so much to cover in a short period of time. As long as he got the key shots, you'll be happy. But later on, you find out that your dad (who never cries) had a tear in his eye. That would have been nice to see.

After the ceremony, it's time for the family formals. Your uncle knows just the spot. It's a beautiful spot that overlooks the valley to the south and the sky is breathtaking with its the clouds and blues. Since the valley is to the south, he is able to face everybody away from the sun so they won't be squinting. It's a perfect shot. The family with the beautiful valley in the background. But what your uncle doesn't realize is since the pictures are being taken in the afternoon sun, the camera is underexposing the entire scene, and the nice beautiful sky is whitewashed. The valley is nothing but a haze. He didn't do anything wrong and there's nothing wrong with the camera. The camera is simply taking the pictures the way the settings are set.

Wanting to get back to your reception, you ask your uncle to hurry up. He only takes one picture of each family set, which by the way are completely underexposed.

It's reception time and your uncle has been on his feet for close to six hours. It's time to relax a bit and enjoy the wedding too since he is part of the family and he hasn't had a chance to socialize. He gives his camera to his younger son who also loves photography and tells him to take some pictures. He's exhausted and really doesn't want to shot the rest of the hight. After all, he's helping you out and you really aren't paying him money, so what harm is there. It shouldn't matter anyway because the ceremony is finished and by all means, the wedding is over. It's time to socialize.

Again, not to bring anything up, but 60% of the pictures taken at a wedding take place after dinner. Your uncle is finished, yet you still have toasts, cake cutting, dances and the fun bouquet and garter toss, not to mention the fun dancing shots of the guests on the dance floor. But it's okay. Everybody has a camera nowadays. You can just get the pictures from them.

The during the reception, you mingled with your guests. You danced. Your guests were having fun, some of whom you haven't seen in years. Since your uncle is finished, you ask a friend to take a picture with your new iPhone. It's the latest version of the phone and it has a really nice camera. You won't have a full size version of the picture (because iPhone pictures don't enlarge well or print well above a 4x6 print). But at least you'll have it.

Fast forward to after the wedding. Your uncle doesn't have the software, or even know how to post produce images. He simply gives you a thumb drive with all the pictures he took. You sit down with anticipation and look at all the hard work he did. The first image comes up...then the second..then the fifth.

You're not even 10% into the nearly 2,000 pictures your uncle took, but you are in tears. Every picture is either too light, too dark, blurry, eyes are closed, or they are cropped wrong. You skip ahead to the ceremony picture and you're appalled. There is no shot of your first kiss, and the only reception shots were those of your uncle's son and his friends playing around (which are taken at really weird angles and mostly out of focus).

While this story may be fictional or hard to believe, it really isn't. This happens every weekend. These outcomes are real and we, as professional photographers hear it all the time from potential clients describing what happened to their friend or sibling. In fact, during weddings we photograph, we are pulled aside and thanked because of our work ethic. Not just because our picture are great, but because we stage and choreograph as we go along. And people watching us just know that the pictures we are taking are going to turn out great.

So why, you might ask, do things like described in the story above happen? The bottom is this. Your uncle (or friend or family member) are great people. And we're confident their nature shots are second to none. But this extensive experience in photographing nature doesn't translate into photographing real people and real weddings. Traits wedding photographers have that take years to develop are:

  1. The ability to adjust camera settings on the fly based on our professional interpretation of different lighting scenes. In most cases, we have just 2-3 seconds to adjust settings on the fly, any more than that, and the wedding photographer is almost guaranteed to miss something.
  2. The knowledge of how the camera reads and interprets light in order to compensate for under or over exposure. The camera can only do so much, and there is no automatic mode for this. In situations such as this, the wedding photographer relies on experience rather than camera settings to determine the correct way to properly expose the picture.
  3. Anticipation is the key to being prepared for each situation. One camera won't do. Having a secondary camera prepped with a different type of lens avoids a lot of missed shots. Professional wedding photographers will have advance knowledge of a particular venue and in cases where we haven't been to a venue before, we always scope out the scenes prior to the wedding and plan ahead.
  4. The cases our camera gear are in always have the necessary equipment and accessories on hand to do the right job. This equipment is either on us or close by, ready go go.
  5. We've captured over one million images during our time in business. There are key moments you will only have one chance to capture, and we've seen these moments a hundred times before. There are sub verbal queues we listen for that identify when a key shot is coming up, and we prepare in advance for them.
  6. Experience and knowledge are required to anticipate and prepare for the best angles to photograph at in each scene.
  7. We know how to mentally and physically prepare for the rigors of working 10+ hours non-stop with minimal breaks. Our team stagger our breaks so there is no lapse in your coverage.
  8. We know light and how to channel it into our images. Each scene has unique lighting characteristics, and some scenes allow for supplemental lighting. Understanding light and supplemental lighting are skills we've worked hard to learn and understand, and we can bring it into your wedding.
  9. Experience in guiding and directing large groups of people during wedding formals. This is where our personality and tact are so important. How we interact with you and your family, each with different goals. To get great pictures and to get back to the wedding as quickly as possible, while being respectful of everybody's time. We have a system in place that allows us to take the best formal pictures with minimal disruption.
  10. The knowledge of shallow depth of field and lighting techniques, including high speed sync and off camera flash.
  11. The experience required to take additional pictures when necessary, and how to identify situations where additional work is required to get the ideal shot.

This is not an all inclusive list. There is so much more that any non professional hobbyist photographing a wedding as a favor needs to understand and learn if they are to do even a halfway decent job.

While there are a lot of areas in your wedding budget that you can save money on, wedding photography should never be one of them. If you want to have professional- quality, creative imagery of your wedding day that will be timeless heirlooms to be shown and handed down to your generations to come, you will need a professional wedding photographer, not a family member or close friend, even if they have a nice camera and say they can do a great job.

Now, to make it easier for you to have a professional photography studio at your wedding, we often work with clients in and around the Seattle area with smaller budgets in order to provide them with the best wedding photography possible. You can opt to purchase our albums at a later date, or opt to order larger fine art prints on your anniversary. We understand most newlyweds are on a budget and that the parents are paying less and less than than in the past. Our payment terms are very friendly. After all, when it comes to your wedding, you will remember less and less about what the food tasted like, or what card stock your invitations were printed on. But you will alway remember your wedding images. Wedding photographs are the one thing you definitely want to invest in.

You can alway have a great party, but you will never have the opportunity to redo your wedding pictures.