Photography:  What Is The Difference Between An Experienced Professional, a Photo Mill, and a Hobbyist Photographer?

Lakeview Golf Resort Wedding

You’re getting married!  Although this is a great time of celebration for you and your fiancé, your mom and dad, and your friends, it is also a time of decision making.  Wedding planning can seem overwhelming at first.  You have to decide on the dress, the rings, the photographer and the venue for the wedding.  And oh so many more decisions!  How do you even start?  

This article will help you understand the difference between different photographers, how to choose the best option for you, how to avoid being scammed, what questions to ask in a consultation, and how to ultimately receive the wedding portraits of your dreams:  portraits that you treasure, portraits with which you can decorate your home, portraits that are conversation pieces, portraits of loved ones, and most importantly, portraits that capture the romance and tell the love story between a husband and a wife. 

Most who call themselves professional photographers are hobbyists who make money on the side by photographing weddings illegally not paying any sale’s taxes, venue insurance, municipality taxes, etc.  Hobbyist attach the word “professional” to their name on their facebook page, but don’t be tricked!  The word “professional” is self proclaimed! Be wise as a fox and understand the terms.  Don’t be scammed into hiring someone who says they are “professional” but their work shows something opposite.  A wedding photographer’s work will always tell the true story to tell if they are truly professionals or scam artists.

Wedding photography at West Virginia State Capitol Building

What Is A True Experienced Professional Photographer?

A True Experienced Professional Photographer is one who has successfully photographed with consistency beautiful portraits for 21 or more weddings. Not only that, but his sole income is by photography.  He knows how to create beautiful art, how to enhance his portraits, and how to create beautiful light when there is no natural light available.  He knows how to bring out the natural expression of his subjects without making them look posed.  Most people when they are in front of a camera for the first time, don’t know where to look or what expression to have.  That awkwardness may come through and inhibit beautiful facial expressions in the portraits. A true experienced professional wedding photographer knows how to get relaxed natural looking expressions from the bride and groom.  He will understand how to light portraits in all lighting situations.  A true professional will understand the poses to use in order to enhance the best qualities of his subjects and deemphasize the less attractive qualities.  He understands the angles to use to make people appear thinner, younger and appear their best selves.  He will understand how to make your venue, your details, you dress, and you look spectacular.

WV Church Wedding

What Is A Hobbyist?

A Hobbyist is one who works another job as a main source of income.  His photography work is supplemental.  He is not registered with the state as a professional, does not pay taxes, is not accountable to anyone to make sure consumers are safe. Many hobbyists are public school teachers, or work some other type of job.  They are not true wedding photography professionals, do not provide the quality of work a true professional provides, can charge a cheap price because all the work is “under the table”.  They may not have good equipment or back up equipment, they may not have external light sources or understand how to photograph in different lighting situations.  A consumer will not be able to enlarge these portraits because they may not be enhanced, they may have poor composition, or they may be blurry. A Hobbyist is one who photographs for fun and may even give away photographs.  He may have photographed 1 to 10 weddings, none of which provide consistent quality to the newly married couple.  A hobbyist most likely will not use flash, or use too much flash so that the subjects look pasty and the venue is unevenly lit.

Weddings and vintage cars

What Is An Assistant Photographer?

An assistant photographer is one who has worked with a registered experienced professional photographer on a regular basis in order to learn.  He is an apprentice of photography.  He may have photographed 6-10 weddings on his own.  He may not provide consistent quality if he was photographing a wedding alone.

Black and White Wedding Portraits
Black and White Fashion Wedding Photography

What Is A Photo Mill?

A Photo Mill is a wedding photographry scam.  We have had many brides and grooms tell us in the past that they made the mistake of hiring a photo mill agency who promised to provide nearly everything for their wedding from DJ to wedding album. But all their pictures were low quality. And by the time they received the final product, so many fees were tacked on that they actually could have hired a slightly more expensive experienced professional photographer – in many cases they wanted Tim Ray to be that experienced professional. These photo mills have a website that portrays lots of beautiful images.  However, what the consumer doesn’t understand is that these images come from many different amateur photographers.  It’s easy to get one photograph from a series of a thousand to look good.  Many of the good images you see on the website is one good portrait out of a 100 per wedding of terrible, blurry, dark, and poorly composed images.   The photographs from each wedding are not consistently good.  Their prices may be initially cheap, they may even tack on additional services to use as bait to get a bride and groom to hire.  But when the wedding is over, the consumer may find that there is additional fees (traveling fees, retouching fees, print release fees etc.).  The photographs may be in a low res/low quality form which may inhibit enlargements.  By the end, the bride and groom are left with nothing of value from their wedding.

Ask The Right Questions:

Here are some questions to ask!

  •   How many years have you been photographing weddings, and how many weddings have you  photographed?
  •   Can I see complete weddings that you have photographed?  You should see consistency in their work.
  •   Can I view entire weddings?  Also can I view weddings from my venue or church?
  •   Can I read reviews of your work?  Do you have reviews on your website?
  •   Do you do this full time?
  •   What kind of equipment do you use?  What kind of back up equipment do you use?
Church Bridal Portrait

Why Is It Important What Type of Equipment A Wedding Photographer Has?

A professional camera body perform better in low light.  Professional lenses focus faster, are sharper, have crisper images, more beautiful colors, and are vibrant.  If a camera focuses faster, the professional photographer will be able to catch the fleeting moments of a wedding.  If a camera fails to focus, he misses those moments.  Other professional equipment is professional external lighting systems, backgrounds if the wedding day is rainy, and reflectors to capture the sun.  

Stonewall Resort Wedding

Understanding Professional Wedding Photographer Verses Hobbyist

  •   1-5 weddings – inexperienced hobbyist
  •   6-10 weddings – amateur (could quality as an assistant)
  •   10-20 weddings – experienced amateur 
  •   21-30 weddings – experienced
  •   31 plus weddings – professional wedding photographer
Fall Wedding

Tim Ray Photography has photographed over 1000 weddings.  He has never missed one job.  

Why Hire Tim Ray Photography?

Contact us today for our wedding specials!  We would love to show you around our studio and help with any wedding ideas you have!  We would love to capture your fairy tale wedding for you and give you portraits you can treasure for a lifetime.


Stefanie Ray is a professional photographer, owner and operator along with her husband, Tim Ray, of Tim Ray Photography. She is highly involved in all the color enhancement of the wedding photography. Tim Ray Photography is a family owned and operated business and has been in the wedding photography business for more than 30 years.

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