Our own wedding photography nightmare

December 09, 2012  •  10 Comments

Back in 2004, I married my girlfriend of 6 years. We are now happily married with three triplet girls.  We planned out our wedding.  When I say “we,” I really mean she.  We picked the Inverness Hotel as our wedding venue.  It is a beautiful venue with many locations to take awesome photos.   They also handled the food, wedding cake, and the rooms.  We also picked out the Perfect Petal as our florist.  They both did an excellent job.  Unfortunately we were not as lucky with our wedding photographer selection.  We went to a local bridal show in Denver and found this one photographer.  He had a solid portfolio, and we set up an appointment.  We met at a The Market in downtown Denver, and we were convinced he was the right choice.  Back then, photography was not yet a hobby of mine.  I wish it had been.  I could have easily differentiated between a good and a bad wedding photographer.  But that did not matter.  If he could have produced close to the quality of photos he had shown us at the coffee shop, we would have been happy.

The wedding went great and everything was perfect!  A few weeks later we saw the proofs of our photos and we were speechless.  They were just horrible.  Until this day, we are still very bitter about it.  It is so bad that we did not even print a single photo to display in our living room.  I don’t think we have more than 3 photos of us standing together looking at the camera.  I just want to share my experience to general public so all of you can learn a few things.  Whether you are planning your wedding, are an aspiring wedding photographer, or other photographer, you may learn a little bit from my experience.  Unfortunately wedding photography is one of those things that you can’t do over.   I blamed myself for not being more involved with the wedding planning.   I wish I already picked up photography as hobby back then and perhaps we could have hired an awesome photographer.  I can only hope that nobody else experienced what we did.  Here are a few photos I want to share.  I am posting a few photos that I think were the best of the bunch and a few bad ones.   To be clear, these were taken with film camera.  I understand wedding photography has come a long way since the digital age.  We had the option to decide between a film or digital photographer.  We chose the film photographer.  2004 was around the time when photographers were transitioning from film to digital.


Here is the only photo of my wife that is somewhat decent although nothing about it suggests it was shot by a professional.   

horrible bride portrait


Nice snapshot of the bridal party.  Notice the horrible shadow on the background and how flat the flash is.  Nothing looks professional here.

horrible wedding group photo


Synchronized rose smelling

smelling the flower

Awesome posing with tilted horizon

I am starting to think the photographer has a shorter right leg


It is a beautiful hotel, and the photographer pretty much overpowered the ambient light with his direct flash.  It looks like the hotel had no power because the hallway looks extremely dark.

horrible flash work at a wedding

The ISO is way too low.  The room was not this dark.  The photographer had no idea how to use a flash.  In fact, the photographer could have gotten away with shooting this without a flash.

horrible wedding ceremony photo


A picture of us together.  Horrible focal length for this type of shot.  Horrible direct flash.  It looks like it was taken with a point and shoot camera. We only had 3 posed photos together, and this is the first one.

horrible wedding photos Photo of us together #2!

horrible wedding photos

Blurry photo of us #3.  Yes folks, that is all the formal photos we have of the two of us.  They all have the same pose! Just one taken horizontally, one taken vertical but closer, and one taken vertical from far away but blurry.

horrible wedding photos

This is the photo of my big family.  My siblings live all over the place - Indonesia, California and France.  We have not all been together in one place since my wedding.  This is all we have.  Blurry with chairs in the foreground.  Why didn't he move the chairs?

horrible wedding group photos

My side of family group shot isn't any better.

horrible wedding group photos

Her side of family.  Mom isn't looking at the camera.  Dad had his eyes closed.

horrible wedding group photos

See the dark area on the left?  The photographer used a shutter speed faster than the flash sync speed.  There are many photos with this mistake. For those of you who are not photographers, basically the photographer just does not know what he is doing.  He should not even need to be close to the sync speed under this dark condition.  He could have shot it at much slower shutter to brighten the whole photo.

horrible wedding photo


cool looking trick

cheesy double exposure


Ok cool, he had a b&w film.  Why shoot the details with black and white?


This is basically the best shot he took.  He photographed this at the same time the other camera snapped.  This was the only off camera flash he did (photography joke).

horrible wedding photos

Our first dance photo.  The photographer totally killed the ambient light.  I was not looking so hot either.

horrible wedding photos


Did you see enough bad photos?  Can't get enough?  You can go to this gallery to see the full set.


Here is what I think went wrong.  Like I said, I cannot blame the photographer fully because it was partly our fault for not doing our homework.

What was wrong with the photographer we picked?

1.       He just did not have the experience even though he was running a legitimate business.  He was even one of the vendors at a popular bridal show.  Being a vendor at a big show like that probably had cost him around $800.

2.       He was pretending to be something he was not.  He made us believe he was an experienced photographer.  I understand everyone has to start somewhere.  Earlier in my photography career, I did a few weddings to get my feet wet.  Never once did I lie to my customers.  They knew exactly what they were getting.  They knew I had not done many weddings, and they based their decisions on the budget they had to work with and on my non-wedding portfolio. 

3.       He did not utilize our beautiful venue.  Instead, he just took our photos in the same conference room where the ceremony took place.  It was too dark to take photos outside since we were married in the Spring, but we did not walk around the hotel and take pictures at different spots.   Maybe it was our fault for not telling him where to take our photos?  I do not know.  When I photograph a wedding, I always ask my clients to go to certain spots because I know it will look great even if they have zero input in where they want to take pictures.

4.       He did not know how to use a flash unit.  The way he used the flash attached to his camera really showed how inexperienced he was.  He did not mix enough of the ambient lighting. Most of the photos look like we are almost get hit by a train (very bright on the subject but very dark in the background).

5.       He was not in control.  Trust me! We were not hard to deal with.  We would have followed whatever direction the photographer had given us.  We received very little direction.


What did we do wrong?

1.       I did not put photography high on the priority list.  We tried to get the most "bang" for our buck.  If I am not mistaken, we paid $1500.

2.       We did not ask our friends for suggestions.   Instead, we just went to a bridal show.  The bad thing about a bridal show is that anybody can join and display their business as long as they pay for the space!  Picking a total stranger to be your photographer is fine as long as you do your research.  We picked a total stranger, and we did not do our research.

3.       We did not ask the photographer to show us a complete set from ONE wedding.  Instead, we only saw best of the best.  Trust me folks, we can all get lucky and get a couple of awesome shots from ONE wedding and the rest can be complete trash.  Always ask a potential photographer for a full set.  With only highlights from different weddings, the photographer could very well have stolen someone else's work.

4.       We did not check how good he was in dealing with low light conditions.  Everything on his portfolio was an outdoor shot during the day.

5.       Unfortunately we got married in April when the sunset was pretty early.  By the time we were done with the ceremony, it was already dark.  The photographer could still have shot a few photos outside using supplemental lighting, or he could have taken us around the interior of the hotel.  He could also have been more involved with the planning and could have suggested moving the time of the ceremony earlier so we have more daylight to take photos.  Or he could have suggested for us to see each other before the ceremony so we could have taken formal photos outside while the sun was still up.  Maybe we should have thought about all of this.


If you are looking for a wedding photographer, I hope my blog post will shed some light and help you find an awesome photographer.  Do not make the same mistake as we did.  If you are an aspiring wedding photographer, please be as honest as possible to your clients.  Do not pretend you are somebody you are not.  We all have to start somewhere, but please do it the right way. 

If you think your wedding photos are worse, please share them with me.  At least that will make me feel a little better knowing someone else hired someone worse.  


This is what my kids think about the photos:



A Photographer(non-registered)
I hate to tell you this, but I can tell from the photos that there is not enough ambient light at the venue. The photographer could have used a fixed lens, faster film speed and reduced his shutter, but then you would likely be complaining about how much grain is in your pictures. Yes, he could have bounced the light a bit more, or used off camera flash, but the blame is not his own. I do a lot of weddings and I absolutely HATE it when the ceremony, formals, and reception are done in extremely dark settings. It makes photos look like crap. Don't forget, you need light to be able to focus as well. These are not nightmare photos, they are examples of a photographer doing what he can with a venue missing very much needed light. That is one reason you have such a contrast between photos. To be completely honest, the photographer was as much a victim of circumstance as you feel you were of bad photography. I have shown up to many "sunset" weddings that go late and suddenly you are taking pictures in pitch black. There have been times I have to use my cellphone light just to focus on my subjects. Where the photographer went wrong, and hopefully learned to get the schedule of each wedding, research the sunset schedule, and visit the venue beforehand to be fully prepared for the day.
Ashley Dellinger Photography(non-registered)
If you dont mind me sharing I wrote an article about the same thing which gives sample questions for couples to ask the Photographer to get an idea of whether they are the right choice for their wedding.


Im a wedding photographer myself & you hear these stories so much! Good thing you guys were such a cute couple & photogenic so even with no skill you look good : ) Could you get the RAW files & try lifting the shadows & lowering the highlights to salvage some of these images? Or try doing a grainy B&W film sort of conversion so when you lift the shadows if it has noise it doesnt look bad.
Ian Ivey(non-registered)
@"somebody": Robin is correct about the ISO and shutter speed errors. The fact that the photographer was using film doesn't change the fundamentals of photography -- it wasn't "a different beast" when it comes to what makes photography work or break. The same techniques apply in the same way in digital photography. Amateurs today (even ones with nice equipment) make the the same errors this photographer made back then, with the same results. A competent film photographer would carry several speeds of film to a wedding, and would know to use higher speed film -- or to push and push-process lower speed film -- in darker indoor settings like these.

Robin, sorry to see these results. Thanks for posting them, if only as a warning to others.
Erika Tanith(non-registered)
That's terrible, I am so sorry you went through such an awful experience.

There is a big culture at the moment of saving and budget options (it's a recession, I get that), but after your wedding day is over the only thing you have left is your photos. People forget that so easily.

I know a few photographers on my local circuit who got into the business because they had a similar experience to yours and were determined not to have it happen to somebody else. I suppose in that way some good came out of it, and that your story helps others too, but this kind of thing should never be.
Tee (Tom)(non-registered)
Good blog post, Robin. With only 2 weddings under my belt your pictures are the scenarios that wake me up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat.
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