Morning Coffee with an Instagram Wedding Photographer

instagram-wedding-photographer-diyphotography

I’m not entirely sure, but it is quite possible that I witnessed a sign of the rapidly approaching Apocalypse this morning. There was no plague of locusts descending from the heavens. No fire. No brimstone. The earth continued rotating on its axis just fine. I’m sure nobody else even noticed. Regardless of its subtlety, it still came at me out of nowhere like a brick to the side of the head.

Personally, I’ve never seen the appeal of conducting business at Starbucks. Between the noise, tripping over a dozen or so laptop cords, the person next to you practically sitting in your lap, and the fact that I don’t even like coffee, it’s never struck me as a locale all that conducive to getting work done or transacting business. But there I was, at my client’s insistence, to deliver her wedding album. We’d been talking for a bit, when suddenly…

“Excuse me– I don’t meant to interrupt, but…

are you a wedding photographer?” I confirmed that I was– as well as other types of photography– and politely tried getting back to my conversation.

“Me too!” came the excited reply. “Of course, I’m a more modern kind of wedding photographer.”

Here we go. Despite the voice in my head screaming at decibel levels I’ve never experienced before, pleading with me to leave it alone, begging me to walk away, I just couldn’t help myself.

“What do you mean by ‘more modern?’” I ask, regretting it even as the words were leaving my mouth.

“Oh– I’m an Instagram wedding photographer.”

“You’re a what?!?”

“An Instagram wedding photographer. You ARE familiar with Instagram, AREN’T you?” (Apparently being an Instagram wedding photographer requires a bit of attitude as well).

“That’s really a thing?”

My client and I were done. I could have left. Still ignoring the shrieking sirens in my head, however, I turned to the hipster with the silly hat beside me and plunged deeper down the rabbit hole. I had to know more.

As it turns out, “Kevin’s” two iPhones are the only cameras he owns. He’s never touched a DSLR. He’s never shot a roll of film. Doesn’t know what a light meter is or what it does. He does have a point-and-shoot (“A Canon or Nikon something or other,”) but feels that it’s just too complicated and slows him down. I’m sitting there, trying like hell not to judge, but I just can’t help myself. My only hope is to keep my disdain for what I’ve just heard to myself, and not channel my inner Samuel L. Jackson.

Not the same old debates

Let me clear about something– this is not about the age-old debate over who is and who is not a “professional” photographer. I know that everyone has their own definition of the term, and I’m okay with that. This is also not about the Canon-Nikon wars, the DSLR-mirrorless skirmishes, or even the battles over “the best” camera for the job. To me, this entire overly caffeinated encounter boiled down to the question of whether Kevin really is or isn’t a photographer– professional, wedding, or otherwise. The bigger problem, however, was when I realized that my knee-jerk reaction to Kevin’s niche and lack of “real photography” experience was in direct conflict with some of my long-held beliefs about photography.

I’m a firm believer in the adage that “It’s not about the gear. It’s about the results.” I have a 36″ x 12″ print hanging in my living room that came off my phone. I’ve embraced Instagram right alongside the millions of other retro-filtering, dinner-making, cloud-watching, sunset-searching users in the world. But there’s a part of me that holds onto the fact that I have years of “real photography” experience under my belt. Surely that counts for something, right? I mean, what’s Kevin ever done other than point and tap? I’m not being a snob. At least I’m trying to not be a snob. While Kevin’s target client and my target client are totally different people, I can’t help but feel that a small part of what makes photography so special to me has been lost to Kevin and his phone-tapping minions.

Time to take off the filters?

To be clear, I don’t begrudge Kevin his “specialty.” Okay…maybe just a little. But I get it. Digital photography changed everything– maybe a little too much. Obviously, professional-grade cameras and lenses are a big expense, but the advent of digital sent the overhead for professional photography plummeting. For the most part, I believe that to be a good thing. I don’t know if I would have had the guts or drive to leave my career as an attorney behind for photography ten years ago if it had required more of an investment than what I had to spare at the time. The fact remains, however, that I took the time to learn the elements of exposure and how they relate to each other. I spent years learning how light behaves and how to bend it to my needs. I experimented with composition. Studied the work that came before me. Got inspired. Failed. Succeeded. Failed again. Found my voice.

I think the reason I’m okay with filtering my photos from time to time is that I know I can create good images without the filters. I don’t need the crutch. One of the points I try making with my students is that the best Photoshop is the Photoshop you don’t even notice. I want them to use it as a tool, not a crutch. I think the same thing applies to the millions of app-ified photos filling their ever-increasing corner of the internet every day. I honestly don’t think it’s too much to ask that people throw down their crutches once in a while and show that they can take a meaningful image without slapping Amaro, Hefe, Hudson, Sierra, or Valencia on top of it first. Where are we when my first reaction to a photo is, “That looks like X-Pro II,” and not, “Wow- great shot!”?

And maybe that’s analysis I’ve been looking for. It’s not a question of pro vs. non-pro. Anybody can make money taking photographs. It’s not a question of the gear, because a good photographer can create solid images with a throw-away film camera and a flashlight. So, maybe it boils down to WHY someone captures their images in a certain way. Kevin doesn’t use an iPhone for his photography because it’s the camera he has with him all the time. He doesn’t use it because he’s stretching himself creatively, or because he’s looking to introduce a new facet to his style. He’s using it because he’s made a conscious choice to limit himself.

Kevin takes pictures. His “primary camera” is an iPhone 5 and his “backup” is a 4s. I suppose that makes him a photographer of sorts, so why am I so appalled that someone is theoretically making at least part of a living by shooting weddings exclusively with an iPhone and processing them exclusively with Instagram?

Hell if I know. What I do know is that I need to stay away from Starbucks.

Photo Credit: Simon Pollock– the most caffeinated photographer I know.

  • Zamfirescu Vladimir-Alexandru

    Next time, perhaps don’t ignore the alarm bells?

    • Jeffrey Guyer

      Perhaps…but ignoring them is usually much more interesting. :)

      • Frank Nazario

        Yeah… you adrenaline junkie… there is always the 50-50 chance.

  • https://www.facebook.com/andrew.sible Andrew Sible

    OH MY GOD.

  • Ryan

    I think it bothers you because it devalues the product and the industry. You’re hearing the conversations with future clients about how “Kevin” doesn’t need all that fancy gear and gets them their pictures for instagram/facebook/whatever so charges far far less money. While missing the point of the value of your product and how you go well above and beyond what “Kevin” offers.
    I’ve had that conversation with clients many times (I’m in the print & design industry) and it’s only getting worse and more frequent.

    • Jeffrey Guyer

      Good points, Ryan. Thanks!

      • Zamfirescu Vladimir-Alexandru

        But to quote the great Jerry Ghionis: do you really think an iPhone photographer can compete with a half-decent wedding photographer? If the married couple doesn’t see the difference between the iPhone shots and your wedding shots, they’re not your clients.

        It really makes sense, and I think it’s as simple as that – no point fighting for business from the crowd that doesn’t appreciate the subtle nuances pro togs bring!

        • Frank Nazario

          Touche!!! with the Ghionis quote… but being an ultra fan of his work there is NOTHING suttle about him his work is absolutely off the charts when it comes to quality, composition and light. And a client would definitively see the difference…
          The true question is does the client wants as his memory of the wedding a bunch of Polaroids or a beautiful recollection of photographs that will preserve the beauty of the event.

    • Frank Nazario

      I think it does not devalue the product … on the contrary it forces you as the main camera to excel in your composition, quality of image and presentation.

  • http://yngvethoresen.com Yngve Thoresen

    Thank you for a good read and bringing some smiles to my face. :)

    I’m quite active on Instagram. But I don’t take the pictures with my mobile, unless I have nothing else (and then I seldom use the pics for anything). I use my CSC, an Olympus E-M5 with various lenses. Instagram is a great place to share images without too much seriousness for me.

    There is a great community on Instagram, in the right parts of it at least. I see many photographers using it to share some of their work, but none that uses the mobile as a primary camera. Most edit their pictures as the rest of us, and then upload them to Instagram without any filters. In my experience filters generally do more harm than good to pictures on IG – some exceptions if used properly on the right images. :)

    There is photography and there is photography. For the untrained eye, they are the same. Anyone with a camera and a lucky moment can get a great picture. But a good photographer can get a great picture without relying on luck. And perhaps even with a mobile, but a chef likes his knives sharp as well.

  • https://www.facebook.com/mark.cann Mark Cann

    I get married next year and will be encouraging guests to take images with Instagram as a digital version of the Polaroids that will be available on the day, but I’d never give up my “real” wedding photographer.

    • Frank Nazario

      I think this is the most accurate, point in this conversation … Mark I totally agree with you… Instagrams are like the Polaroids… while the main photographer is taking the shots the beautiful shot that will be part of the album … you have 20 friend taking candids and showing off how cool of a time they are having … genius.

  • http://google.com/+TanjaPetri Tanja Petri

    Oh boy. Apocalypse alright. I know exactly how that feels.
    I had a job as a photographer in a photo studio / camera store combination from 2005 to 2007. The owner was not a photographer; he was trained as a camera salesman in that same store 17 years before, and when the old owner (a photographer) retired, my boss bought the business from him and hired me because he needed a full-time photographer. He didn’t know squat about the work that we did in the studio. Then he had his wife join us — she had had a butcher’s shop for over 10 years, but he wanted us to train her in the studio. So much for background.
    Then one day, not long before I left, our trainee came out of the studio with the camera and asked me about a setting. I answered her, she went back to her client, and then my boss asked me: “Why don’t you shoot on automatic in there?” For a few seconds there I was stunned into silence. Then I patiently explained to him why that is not possible. I thought at the time I was very clear about it. But of course the fact that he even asked should have told me everything I needed to know. Anyway, a few months after I left one of my former coworkers told me a story of how one day, when nobody else except him and his wife were there, a couple came in for portraits, and he had her shoot with the camera set on full-auto (the little green box on Canon SLRs.) Which of course meant that they didn’t even have the RAW files to salvage the pictures at least partially.
    That was my very first firsthand experience with the deterioration of the photography business. And one thing is for sure – it hasn’t gotten any better since.

    • Frank Nazario

      but the question begs to be asked… is he still in business? as a photography studio … forget the store, as a studio do people go there to have their photos taken… if that is the case then…. something has to be being done right either light, props, the sales pitch something because there is no way that if the photos suck he would still have the studio… HELL EVEN good photography and photographers struggle just to keep the bills paid… my 2 cents.

  • https://www.facebook.com/margus.kulden Margus ‘Maku’ Kulden
    • Steve Pellegrino

      Nice! They have some excellent photos there.

    • Jeffrey Guyer

      Thanks, Margus! I’m not saying it can’t be done. It’s obvious that the photographers who took those photos, however, know their photography and applied that knowledge to the iPhone. They weren’t relying on it out of ignorance.

    • Omar Salgado

      Those photos could be improved by correcting perspective and point of view: by not taking the shot at the same point of view (the photog did not care to knee to find a pleasing perspective; don’t forget that perspective is a symbolic form); and by finding the relationship between proportions: the subjects are too minute in respect of the whole scene; context overwhelms the subject. Also, highlights are burnt. And square format doesn’t suit the dynamic composition most of the photos intend to show.

      Yes, applying a filter does not make them a work of art. The average shot.

    • Scott

      I guess if that’s what the client wants but I’m not impressed at all. I can’t help but think of how the filter looks on their skin. How all the fine detail is lost. How there is no subject isolation in any of the shots.

      Pretty much how an SLR could have done a much better job :(

      These photos are going to look so dated in 5-10 years. And not in a good way.

      • Heinz Bratwurst

        Agree, they really do look like shit, don’t they…

      • Frank Nazario

        Yuuuup… you nailed that one.

  • gtvone

    I resemble that remark :)

    *fires up another espresso*

  • Jim Johnson

    I don’t begrudge “Kevin” what he does, but he doesn’t really do much. Don’t get me wrong, I am a “not about the gear” guy, too, and that is my problem. Kevin is completely reliant on his “gear”. HE can’t do much. His gear does the bulk of the work.

    Ask Kevin to get beautiful images in low light. Ask him to make an image that shows details in the faces of the guests, but still shows the movements of them dancing. Ask Kevin to create a beautiful rim light in the reception hall.

    Kevin can probably take nice photos with his iPhone. I can too, but I can also use a wide variety of other equipment when the situation calls for it. It isn’t all about the gear, but owning a pocket knife doesn’t make you a carpenter either.

    • Jeffrey Guyer

      Great points, Jim. Thanks for joining the conversation.

  • http://dangerismymiddlename.com Paul Danger Kile

    He’s selling iPhone cult worship; his clients choose him so that they can say that all of their wedding photos were taken with an iPhone.

    • Frank Nazario

      If that is the case it’s sad. Your wedding photos from an iPhone camera. That is sad.

  • darylcheshire

    I think it should be illegal for anyone to charge money as a photographer or accountant unless they have an industry qualification. Photography is a profession.
    I have good gear but I know that to take wedding photos is harder than it looks and I would want an apprenticeship if I wanted to learn it.
    Hell, I found I couldn’t even take acceptable photos of a friend’s cat in available lighting which was a shock to me. Don’t give up my day job.

    • Gman

      actually photography is a trade.

  • http://www.khagta.com Himanshu Khagta

    I think what Kevin is doing is pretty cool. If people are paying and trusting him to shoot their weddings with an iPhone, its really nice for both of them. What i see here is another generation of photography. After film and bulky DSLRs, its the time for quick easy to operate cameras. We really need to embrace the changing trend. We have no other option.

    • Omar Salgado

      Get to understand what “tools” fit the appropriate task.

    • Anonymoused

      You are implying that DSLRs are not quick or easy to use — they are both, especially compared to an iPhone.
      Not only that, but if you’re going to downgrade to cheap tools for “ease,” even a micro four-thirds system would be a VAST improvement, at the same price or less than an unlocked iPhone.
      I don’t see this as a trend, at all. People who wish for quality will always go for the quality photog who uses the right equipment.

      • http://www.khagta.com Himanshu Khagta

        I don’t understand what is bothering you so much.
        Let people do whatever they want. No one is stopping you from
        using a medium format or a DSLR for quality. Why do you get so serious about all this?

        What about the people who are not looking for quality. If they want pictures from a phone. Does that make then really horrible people?
        Stop being judgemental.

  • Jake

    I want to see Kevin’s website and find out if he’s really worth of criticism or not.

    • timo musgrove

      website or instagram account :p

  • VSB

    Thirty years from now the couples will look at their photos and wonder what the heck they were thinking. Insanity!

    • Frank Nazario

      Totally agree.

  • Jared Lawson

    Interesting article, I am all for photographers embracing the mobile camera but I only use it for a fun shot here or there – nothing that will take over my DSLR at any time. Photography Tips / Gallery

  • gina

    i think they’re is much more of an art to it than just using an iPhone as a cheap and certainly convenient way to take photos!

  • Terry Clark

    “Obviously, professional-grade cameras and lenses are a big expense, but the advent of digital sent the overhead for professional photography plummeting.”

    It did? Really? How? According to my P&L statements and balance sheet digital did the exact opposite. I’ve heard the argument for years “all that film and processing was expensive!” Yes, it was, and it was an expense passed onto the client. In fact, it was marked up so we actually made money on it. A concept lost on my digi-babies who more and more include RAW processing in their fees, or worse, don’t charge for it, or worse still — shoot jpegs and don’t do a thing to the files.

    Let’s talk cameras. My film bodies could be picked up for a few hundred bucks. I had, at one point, a drawer full of Nikon bodies, all in perfect condition, none costing more than $300. They were tanks and lasted forever. Digital bodies were, and are, thousands of dollars each and they remain current for 2 to 4 years. I know you can keep them longer. I have one that’s about 9 years old. It’s still great, under just the right conditions – bright, dead flat lighting. It has so little dynamic range it’s hard to imagine this thing was ever considered professional. And the color is horrible by today’s standards – after tweaking the file in PS. That little wonder cost me $8,000 back in its day. So digital sending the overhead of photographers plummeting? Do the math, it doesn’t work that way.

    Instagram Wedding Photographer? Why not?? There are several photojournalists who have used Instagram to cover the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan with tremendous success. Time magazine published a cover shot with a phone. Television networks have run cell phone video. It’s just a device. One that today is highly regarded among the masses. It only makes sense some would take it to the next level and offer Instagram wedding photography. What’s the difference between that and a photographer who comes in with one Leica and one lens? Who would do THAT! Oh, a guy named Cartier Bresson did it. He was pretty good. Google him and see.

    If the photographer is a professional and has a eye for images the tool he chooses doesn’t matter. Are Canon shooters better than Nikon shooters? How about those who use Leica, or Fuji? Would a drawing by Picasso made with a cigarette butt be any less valuable than one made with charcoal? I doubt it.

    So relax, it’s a trend, it too will be replaced someday with another trend. That’s life.

  • Les Dishman

    Has anyone ever tried to shoot something as dynamic as a wedding with just a camera phone? I personally have not, but it might be an interesting exercise (one that I might want to try a few times as a 3rd or even 4th shooter just to make sure I can produce before doing it as a primary).

    As a part-timer, I gotta be honest with everyone; if I were approached by a client with that request and the money was right, I probably would do it. No equipment to drag back and forth, next to no post production time, instant results. What’s not to like about that? I would probably be willing to do that despite having invested thousands in lights, modifiers, classes, books, lenses, computers, cameras, and other necessary gear. Gotta pay the bills, right? Kevin (we assume) has not had to do any of that and so his profit would (again … we assume) be even better than mine.

    Besides … what we do doesn’t always have to be about artistic integrity. I personally don’t think what I do is “art” anyway. I perform a service – one that I’m proud of, but a service nonetheless. If I get paid (even it it’s a less amount than what I would normally charge) I would probably be happy performing that service with a camera phone.

  • Liska

    We’ve all had these types of encounters; and, as professionals, it upsetting. Mostly because we know the quality, color, composition and other wonderful things us professionals offer won’t ever be present in those photos. However, for better or worse, the clients that hire people like Kevin really aren’t our clients. They also aren’t people that we should let worry us or be going after to get a gig, really. The market for a pro is those that see the value, and difference, a great photographer can make. We shouldn’t have to convince a business man that having a pro will help their business. I’ve been lucky enough to get clients that recognize my value and take advantage- we both benefit from it!

    But, hell, we can all still be amused at Kevin and photographers like him. Let them find their own way, and learn from their mistakes and pitfalls.

  • Ben Turner

    If this is truly the direction photography is going then I know how my father felt when 35 mm started to disappear. I do not claim to be a professional.I am just a guy who enjoys photography.

    This trend just seems lazy and cheap to me. You really don’t need to know anything about photography at all. I took the time to learn my gear and the art of photography. I continue to learn and improve my skills every day. To render it down to a point that a 15 year old, without knowing anything could point a phone, take a snapshot is rather disturbing to me. Then to say you are a professional for this seems odd also. It would be like the guy who has been in a few bar fights calling himself a professional bodyguard.

    There is so much more to being a professional than being paid for pointing some device and taking a picture. But that is for a whole other discussion isn’t it.

    I understand that it is just another style of photography and some people may actually enjoy the
    look and feel of this type of photo. I am not one of those people. I would really love to see what Kim Thomas could do with a better camera. She has a wonderful eye but her photos fell short for me because of the format she has chosen to shoot with.