The Rise of the Fake Wedding Photo

Chicago photographer Kevin Weinstein’s recent blog post about “fake” wedding images is the sort of thing that educated brides would want to know, I think. Most brides may not be aware that some blogs are posting “wedding” images that may look outstanding, but are really a misleading phenomenon…

Kevin writes:

Over the past 7 years, workshops have exploded among the “names” in the industry holding 1, 2, 3-day and even week-long retreats offering newbies a chance to define their craft while shooting fake weddings with Ford models at workshops around the globe.  I have watched many photographers put these images on their blogs and personal web pages as if they shot these images at a wedding event on a Saturday.  Why is this problematic?  First off , it is lying and misleading your potential client.  False advertising.  And it is misrepresenting your ability to make pictures under deadlines and real time.  A bride is going to expect this level of imagery from her wedding.

When you have 1 day or 7 days to work with incredibly hot, gorgeous women whose makeup has been overly done for the shoot, the “bride” is a size 1, and the “groom” is also a professional model and both know exactly how to act, pose, stand, and be confident in front of a camera, you have an experience in front of you that is not equal to the reality of a wedding day.  A potential bride sees these images, and does not know how to decipher if they were a real couple from a real wedding or not.  When you have several days and all the time in the world to take pictures of models at workshops, you are doing yourself (the photographer) a disservice to your craft.

Think about it.   My clients are not models.  They have no idea how to pose.  They are rarely size 1, they are insecure about being in front of the camera, it is typically hot out in the summer, the groom is sweating due to his tux in July heat, we only have 1 hour to hit 2-3 locations because they don’t want to miss the cocktail hour, the wedding party is not cooperating,  I AM HOT, I am STRESSED beyond belief and can barely work myself out of this puzzle.  If I don’t get kick-ass images for my clients, then their investment of thousands of dollars, expecting compelling imagery, has gone to waste.  I will be in trouble.  You better be able to deliver.  You do not have days.  You have 15 minutes to a few hours.  There are no excuses on a wedding day.

Hear, hear.

The wedding photography industry has changed a great deal over the last 20 years. In the 80’s, the expectation of a bride and groom was to get 10-15 iconic posed photographs taken on their wedding day, printed professionally, and slotted into a nice-looking felt-covered book. One of my good friends, married just ten years ago, has an example of this very phenomenon in his home. It is beautiful, simple, and required technical savvy more than anything else. This is no longer anywhere near the standard. Today, a photographer must capture EVERY moment in some palatable way, hopefully with artistic ability. They must work in ridiculous time constraints to fit into a wedding day that wasn’t built with them in mind. They must have limitless energy, be able to solve domestic disputes, be able to entertain, notice EVERYTHING that happens, and create upwards of 1,000 final photographs for digital and print consumption, including editing. They must NEVER make the bride look fat. It is not a profession for the weak, shy, technically untrained, or introverted. And while for some low-budget couples the choice to get a friend of the family or hobbyist to take their photos may take a load off before the wedding, the percentage of disappointed couples I’ve talked to who went this route is far higher than I might have expected before I became a pro. Think carefully before making that decision, brides. You might lose a friend over it, more people have then you might realize.

So when a photographer posts an image that he/she has had HOURS to work out, that’s just not true. Sure, there’s lots of us who only post real wedding images and they come out amazing. But if you spend your entire engagement drinking in wedding magazines and blogs, you might be setting yourself up for disappointment thinking if you hire the right photographer, all your photos will look that good.

Though I have taken some images at my favourite photography workshop in Canada, Image Explorations, I took care only to post images that A) I was creatively responsible for, B) were taken under similar circumstances to a normal shoot. For example, one of my very favourite portraits of a good looking gentleman in front of a red door was taken at a workshop, but I found the door in an out of the way space, I pulled the guy aside, posed him, lay on the ground, and took that photo, all in approximately one minute. And he’s the owner of a home cleaning business, not a model. He’d never done anything like this before. So for all of those reasons, I don’t feel like posting that particular image online is a betrayal of my client base. All of my wedding images are from real weddings where my time was budgeted, and it’s going to stay that way.

My average “missed” important shot per wedding so far has been one image. Yes, that’s right, one. Once, my flash misfired at the throwing of the bouquet. Nothing I could do about that, but I did salvage a slightly grainy black and white image. Another time, the same thing happened while the bride and groom were hugging parents at the altar. Again, I salvaged those shots completely with super-editing. And at another wedding, I never got a photo of one of the bridesmaids coming down the aisle because her timing was really off, but I have tons of photos of her later, and I don’t think the couple even missed it. That’s the sum total of important missed wedding shots of my entire pro career. Sure there’s a few more moments that the photos probably weren’t perfect, but they exist and will be enjoyed despite the fact that they aren’t a perfect photograph. You want that kind of accuracy in your wedding – and it doesn’t come from workshops. Workshops are great places when they help you understand what you’re going to need in the real world – like Image Explorations, which strives for exactly that kind of education, calling in real-world people instead of models and creating short opportunities to shoot that at least somewhat mimic the real world. Much like graduating high school doesn’t prepare you for the real world, neither do photography workshops.

And so, when you see a good image here, it’s not a fake. The men and women aren’t models. This is the real world. And that’s the place where I like to collect beauty in images.

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