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Amateur or Professional?

Want to do some interesting reading? Do a Google search: “should amateur photographers charge a fee?” There is obviously a lot of expertise around the English speaking world on this topic – Google returned “about 2,760,000 results.”

Some of those results are so naive they are absolutely funny. For example: “I have a digital camera which takes pretty good pictures…” and “Call a photographer in town and see what they say for advice on how much $$$…” and a classic “You won’t incur (in) any expenses by using your digital camera.”

As a professional with more than 20 years experience there are several things I have learned over that time. In order of the above statements I would respond with the following:

• Cameras don’t take the picture, it is the person standing behind it,
• Yes, I’m certain every professional photographer in town would be delighted to tell you how to establish a fee over the telephone; and
• What a wonderful day it will be when we can get our equipment and learn our skills for free.

This question of “how much do I charge” often revolves around the topic of weddings. The interesting point remains that one of the most difficult and high pressure disciplines of the entire practice of photography is … wedding photography. It is a one shot deal – bad pun intended.


Amateur or Professional?

  © Can Stock Photo

Is this the work of an amateur?

I know many photographers, myself included, that have tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment and the knowledge to use it, know what we would have to charge to cover overhead costs even if we were doing it for free by not charging a creative fee, and know precisely what we pay in equipment costs every year; but, we wouldn’t touch a wedding job with a ten-foot barge pole. Simply put, it is not within our skill set. Wedding photography is very specialized.

What I really don’t understand is why folks would either ask, or offer, to photograph a friend’s wedding. Don’t they understand that by working at their friends weddings they will not enjoy the ceremony or festivities that follow the ceremony?

What happens when that well intended gesture goes south? Not only are you going to feel bad, your friend won’t have any pictures, and you run the risk of even losing a friendship from your well intended offering.

Equally as bad, or even worse, what happens when a guest catches a toe in the strap of your camera bag, trips and falls and suffers a personal injury? You will no longer be considered a friend of the bride, but the wedding photographer who is ripe for a lawsuit.

Another most likely scenario is that you decide to change lenses to capture that key moment; let’s say signing of the registry. In your haste to be ready you drop a lens, a lens you purchased just three months ago that cost $950. You want to cry as you look at it lying in pieces at your feet. Is your bride-friend going to pay for a replacement? Probably not. And because you are an amateur you most likely don’t have all-peril equipment insurance that would offset the replacement cost.

Before offering your services it is paramount a review of the costs and liabilities that will be absorbed. There is a multitude of what if scenarios that has to be explored. Beyond the cost of equipment, beyond the cost of liability insurance and even beyond the cost of losing a potential friend, there are also questions regarding taxation and industry ethics.

After reading all the above arguments suggesting why you should charge a nominal fee for your services you will have then entered another scenario. In most countries this fee will be considered income, and will be taxed accordingly. Should you decide to not report the income another topic enters the discussion. I suspect tax avoidance would not only come with potential legal consequences, but at its most basic form it raises questions of ethics.

Professional photographers contribute to the local economy. They hire local students (most often aspiring photographers who desire to learn the profession before hanging out their own shingle), they pay various taxes, they pay studio rent, they pay insurance to local brokers, and a host of other expenses that most often support local service industries and overall economy. If enough weekend Rebels (they all shoot with Rebel’s, don’t they?) start shooting weddings for free that professional photographer will eventually have to close shop and the community loses the local jobs and economic spin-off the professional photographer supported.


Amateur or Professional?

© Can Stock Photo

Professional wedding photographers today often bring a reportage style as opposed to the traditional and formal approach.

As I mention, I do not photograph weddings as I do not feel qualified. I also strongly believe that each of us has a moral obligation to ensure we do not undermine the capacity of our neighbour to earn a living, regardless of occupation.

Before you agree to photograph that friend’s wedding, be honest with yourself, your friend, your neighbour and your community.

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Dale Wilson
Dale Wilson

is a freelance photographer based out of Halifax, Canada. He has been a regular staff writer for a variety of Canadian photo magazines for 18 years. Wilson has also published or co-published four books and was the photo-editor on the Canadian best selling Canada’s National Parks – A Celebration. His practice concentrates on commercial work and shooting natural history images for four stock agencies. After a 10 year hiatus Wilson will once again be offering eastern Canadian workshops with his teaching partner
Garry Black.’

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