Uncle Bob Vs. A Professional Wedding Photographer

Posted by ISPWP Admin on August 21st 2010

We like Uncle Bob. We really do. He’s a great guy and everyone loves being around him. He tells great jokes and can even do a few magic tricks at parties. He’s the guy we all look forward to seeing at Thanksgiving.

Uncle Bob rocks.

But what do you say if he offers to photograph your wedding?

It sounds pretty good. He has a really expensive camera, and he says that he won’t even charge you. It will be his wedding present!

Awesome. It sounds too good to be true! And it’s totally understandable to consider it. After all, who wouldn’t like to shave a few thousand dollars off their wedding budget?


The problem with this scenario is that many clients have the same expectations of Uncle Bob as they do with the professional images they see in the wedding magazines. After all, anybody can be a photographer, right? And if that’s true, why not save the money and put it towards something else?

It’s true that anyone can press a shutter, but it’s a wholly different thing to have them deliver professional quality images at a wedding. Wedding photographer is considered by many to be one of the most difficult, challenging, and high-pressure photography jobs. You have to be master of multiple photography disciplines, and you have no luxury of a re-shoot if things don’t turn out.

So what are the REAL differences between Uncle Bob and a professional? Why should you have much lower expectations from hiring Uncle Bob? What advantages does a professional have?

We decided to outline, in a lighthearted way, the differences between what to expect from Uncle Bob vs. a professional wedding photographer:


Uncle Bob:

Takes wonderful pictures of flowers and his kids at the playground.

Brings his camera on vacation.

Took a community college photography workshop about 5 years ago.

Favorite camera setting is “Auto.”

Enjoys discussing the comparative merits of various cameras on internet message boards.

Doesn’t see the need to spend $450 for an external flash because his camera has a pop-up flash.


Averages 3,000 to 10,000 images every week.

Knows how to shoot in all situations: dark caves, sunny beaches, large churches, in the rain, and in the snow.

Can quickly adjust camera settings blindfolded.

Adept at using ambient light, bounced flash, fill flash, and off-camera lighting.

Understands the principles of photojournalism, portrait photography, creative posing, and composition.

Is up to date on modern wedding photography styles and techniques.

Enters wedding photography contests.

Belongs to professional wedding organizations.

Lives, breathes, and sleeps wedding photography.


Uncle Bob:

Has attended a few family weddings.

Loves dancing to “We Are Family.”

Tends to takes snapshots only of friends and family that he knows.

If the wedding pictures don’t turn out, oh well.


Shoots 30 to 50 (or more) weddings per year.

Can show you multiple examples of wedding galleries from past clients.

Has enough experience to help your whole wedding day run smoothly.

Has dealt with a myriad of wedding scenarios including churches, backyards, castles, ballrooms, beaches, and parks.

Has shot small weddings, large weddings, traditional, modern, unconventional, offbeat, and everything in between.

Knows the flow of a wedding day and can anticipate where to be, what to capture, and can adjust to the unexpected.

Can provide valuable advice on your timetable and recommend family group shots.

Realizes future livelihood relies on delivering high quality images.


Uncle Bob:

Oftentimes will have a new top of the line pro camera, but hasn’t fully explored (or understood) all of its features.

Has one or two consumer grade zoom lenses.

Might have a flash, but always uses it pointed straight ahead, set to Auto of course.

Has shot a couple of hundred images with it.


Has invested $10’s of thousands of dollars in multiple pro camera bodies, an extensive collections of lenses, flashes, battery packs and other peripheral equipment.

Has shot hundreds of thousands of images and knows the equipment inside and out.

Refreshes all equipment on an ongoing basis. Has all equipment cleaned, adjusted, and calibrated on an annual basis.


Uncle Bob:

Cell phone camera.

Could borrow a point-and-shoot from another guest in a pinch.


Carries at LEAST one complete pro-level backup kit (camera/lenses/flash) in case of equipment failure.

Most pros carry triple or more redundant systems because you just never know what could happen.


Uncle Bob:

Uploads the images to his Flickr account.

Some of them are crooked or not exposed properly.

Burns the images to a CD.


Has invested thousands of dollars in high end computers and image editing software.

Through years of experience has mastered the end-to-end workflow including capturing, downloading, culling, editing, uploading, burning, printing and album creation.

Attended workshops on perfecting the image, removing blemishes, adjusting exposure, enhancing colors and contrast, and final presentation.

Dedicated to creating heirloom quality images for your family to enjoy for generations.


Uncle Bob:



Carries the proper business insurance including liability insurance.

Some venues will not allow your photographer to shoot without a Certificate of Insurance. Even if they will, should a guest trip over a piece of the photographer’s equipment, without proper liability insurance you could be financially responsible.


Uncle Bob:



Provides a contract which outlines all relevant facts on the services and products provided, and at what cost to the client.

A good contract will help to reduce any misunderstandings between what the client thinks is included (8 hours, prints, album, etc.), and what the photographer promises to provide.


Uncle Bob:

Gets his prints from Costco or Walmart.

Unlikely to provide an album.

If he does, his selection is limited because most high quality album produces only work with professional photographers.


Has access to the highest quality professional photo labs. These labs have professionally calibrated machines and use higher quality, thicker paper for their prints. They also offer more options for print finishes and surfaces.

Works with high-end album manufacturers who only sell to professional photographers.


ISPWP Member Comments

It’s always sad to receive emails like this: “I’m not really sure why I’m contacting you as it all seems a little late now. You may remember that Rob and I came to see you as a possible photographer for our wedding, but decided to let a family friend have a go in order to save a little money. I’m sorry to say that this was a huge mistake and we deeply regret our decision but fear that there is nothing we can do. Is there anything you could do for us in terms of rescuing our wedding photos?”
London UK Wedding Photographer Martin Hill

How long has the photographer been in business? Experience is really important on the day of the wedding. Knowing how to deal with difficult situations is a real plus for you.
Bloomington, Illinois Wedding Photographer Mark Romine

There are NO re-dos in wedding photography. None. Despite the percieved ease of digital photography, there is no margin for error when shooting a wedding. You have to anticipate moments over and over in uncontrolled lighting situations. You cannot recreate moments after the fact. You have to be alert and react and know your gear inside and out. Uncle Bob? He’s a nice guy with a good camera, but he’s not a professional photographer. Anyone can buy the most expensive cookware available, that doesn’t make them a Top Chef.
Milwaukee, Wisconsin Wedding Photographer Kimberley Anderson

They say it takes 10,000 hours of doing something before you become world-class. If an average wedding is ten hours, that’s 1,000 weddings. Perhaps not many of us have photographed 1,000 weddings, but no matter how many, I’m pretty sure Uncle Bob lags way behind.
New York Wedding Photographer G.E. Masana

Based on his/her experience a professional can handle unexpected situations and can give the couple advice prior to their wedding day regarding timetable, recommended family groups, etc. Uncle Bob (if he’s a friend or relative) isn’t very objective. An “outsider” is able to capture the day in the best objective way. A professional photographer can interact with everybody – from the small child to grandparents – often sensibility is required.
Düsseldorf, Germany Wedding Photographer Yvonne Zemke

oday’s top-notch wedding photographer has to be well-versed in almost every aspect of photography. For the professional wedding photographer, there are no do-overs. No weather-related delays. No reshoots. No reschedules. You have to know everything and be everything, and have it all in the bag by midnight, when everyone turns back into pumpkins. Period.
Portland, Oregon Wedding Photographer Fritz Liedtke


I’ve heard two stories this past week of brides scrambling to find last minute photographers with their weddings just weeks away. Why? Because they hired non-professional photographers who decided at the last minute they had better things to do that shoot their weddings. Professional photographers have contracts and agreements that protect BOTH parties. You are assured your photographer will actually show up for your wedding and not decide that because it’s a sunny weekend, they’d rather be hanging with their friends at a backyard BBQ drinking beers.
Portland, Oregon Wedding Photographer Randy Kepple

Other Sources

Here are a few other great resources that discuss the risks of hiring a non-professional.

The Offbeat Bride blog article that covers “What I Regret From My Wedding”
“…So, while I’d do a few aesthetic things differently if I was planning a wedding today, there’s nothing I’d go back and change … with one exception: I’d invest half our wedding budget in photography….Photography was about 10% of our $5k budget, and if I had it all to do over again, I’d make it half. That’s my only regret.”

The Every Last Detail blog article: “I Took the Cheap Photographer Route”
“…I made a mistake that I hope to prevent other brides from making. I took the cheap photographer route. I attribute this to the fact that when I was planning my wedding, I had no clue. The only resources I used were The Knot and Brides.com, because that’s all I knew about…Needless to say, I’m still pretty heartbroken about my lack of knowledge when I chose my photographer. Now that I look at amazing work from photographers every day, I know that my photos could have been so much better.”

The Seattle Bride article: “Pros of Hiring a Pro”
This is one of my favorite articles because the author is an advanced amateur photographer who tags along with Joey Hong of John & Joseph Photography (an ISPWP member) and finds out first hand the difference a true professional makes.
“…when those spontaneous moments that are here and gone in the blink of an eye happened, Joey caught them with lightning speed, while I lost many of them to improper focus or exposure.”

If you have your own comments on hiring Uncle Bob, be sure to leave them in the comments!

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