Review: FStopper’s How To Become A Professional Commercial Wedding Photographer DVD
NOTE: A couple weeks back, we received the FStopper’s How to Become A Professional Wedding Photographer DVD. It is a great resource, and we wanted to review this resource providing our thoughts. Since our very own Managing Editor, Pye, is interviewed in the DVD, we thought it would be a conflict of interest to have him do a solo video review. So, we thought we would add two more review opinions to get a more clear picture of this educational product from each of our career perspectives. Here are the reviewers:
Joe Gunawan (Myself) – Lead Reviewer
Primary Focus: Fashion and Commercial Photography
Years in Fashion/Commercial Industry: 2yrs
Perspective: Aspiring Fashion/Commercial Photographer
Leo Hoang – Secondary Reviewer
Primary Focus: Wedding Photography
Years in Wedding Industry: 1.5yrs
Weddings & Events Shot: 25
Perspective: Aspiring/Part-Time Wedding Photographer
Pye Jirsa – Third Reviewer
Primary Focus: Wedding Photography
Years in Wedding Industry: 4 Years
Weddings & Events Shot: 250+
Perspective: Established Wedding Photographer
With each of the topics below, we will be including thoughts from each of our perspectives.
The Quick Conclusion
For those of you that are feeling a bit impatient, here is the pre-review conclusion. For the complete review details, please continue reading below this section.
Joe Gunawan (Aspiring Fashion/Commercial Photographer) – “I have to admit that I am NOT a wedding photographer. I am a fashion and commercial photographer first and foremost, although I do keep tabs on the other genres of photography.
But in a way, this is a great perspective to have someone like myself who has little experience in shooting wedding photography to review FStopper’s How To Become a Professional Commercial Wedding Photographer. A large portion of the target market for this DVD consists of photographers who are fairly new to wedding photography and would like to know what it takes to get started and succeed in this genre.
With a running time similar to that of the entire Lord of the Rings Extended Cut Trilogy, this 14-hour tutorial DVD is long, and without a doubt, this is as comprehensive as it gets when it comes to learning about wedding photography. But, at no time did I feel like it got boring due to the pace and amount of content included. Practically everything you can think of when it comes to shooting weddings and running a wedding photography business is covered in great detail, and the closest equivalent to this DVD would a week-long intensive workshop that would probably cost 4-5x more, as well.”
Leo Hoang (Aspiring Wedding Photographer) – “This DVD is jam packed with information. I can 100% confirm that if I had seen this DVD early last year when I was beginning my journey as a wedding photographer, it definitely would have helped moved things along much faster. Without a doubt, I would recommend this DVD to anyone starting out or considering a career in wedding photography.”
Pye Jirsa (Established Wedding Photographer) – “For photographers that are considering wedding photography, or are new to the wedding photography industry, this DVD is a MUST HAVE. The DVD includes 14 hours of education which will jump start your career faster than any workshop. Not to mention, at $300 it will also cost less than most workshops as well.
This DVD will help new photographers avoid the costly pitfalls of starting out a new photography business. New photography businesses are constantly wasting time and money on unnecessary gear, ineffective marketing techniques, business and tax topics and so forth. The amount of time and money saved from these topics alone will far exceed the cost of the DVD.
Those with established and successful photography studios may still benefit from seeing how others can successfully run their businesses with different practices. However, you may find that you are already beyond a lot of the information presented. But, given that this product comes with a 100% money back guarantee, there is no reason not to purchase it. If you find that the information wasn’t helpful to you, simply request a full refund.
In short, this is an educational product that belongs in a wedding photographer’s educational library.”
Video Excerpts from the DVD
The 8 Chapters in the DVD
The 27 topics spread out over 8 chapters.
- Chapter 1: Intro – What is “Commercial Wedding Photography” – Mandatory Gear – The Importance of Assisting – Composition, Exposure, White Balance
- Chapter 2: Advertising – Bridal Portraits: Lighting 101 – Pricing
- Chapter 3: Meeting With Potential Clients -The Engagement Session – Designing Your Website – Music – Slideshows – The Importance of Video
- Chapter 4: On Camera Flash – Getting Ready and Details – The Ceremony – Fusion
- Chapter 5: Formals and Groups – Interview with Pye Jirsa
- Chapter 6: Four Ways to Light a Reception – The Cake – The Rings – The Departure – Taxes, Write-offs, and Accounting
- Chapter 7: Interview with Cliff Mautner, one of the top wedding photographers in the world
- Chapter 8: Post Processing – Creating a Photobooth – Photo / Video Slideshow, Smugmug.com – Delivering Your Final Product – Final Words
The Background of the Photographers in the DVD
To give a little background behind the two main photographers in the DVD, Patrick Hall started out assisting for Lee Morris after Lee has been in the wedding photography business for several years. Patrick became Lee’s best assistant and quickly started his own wedding photography business within a year of picking up a DSLR for the first time.
Both photographers may seem similar at first, but they do differ in their approach to the business and marketing aspect, so it is good to hear from both perspectives. Additionally, Pye Jirsa of Lin & Jirsa Photography and Cliff Mautner were interviewed in the DVD to provide their own unique take on the wedding photography business.
There are many topics to cover, so let’s break this down into four major categories: The Basics and Starting Out, Shooting and Lighting, Running Business, and Guest Interviews.
The Basics and Starting Out
For those who are just starting out in photography, Lee and Patrick spend the first part of the wedding photography DVD talking about the essential and recommended gear needed to be a professional wedding photographer. Of course, they do advise that instead of spending $10,000 to buy gear right away, focus on the essentials and work your way up in your gear as your business grows. Your gear is your investment and shooting several weddings can help pay them off.
Too often, photographers start a career in photography with the idea that it is mostly about their images and their shooting ability, and forget that the business side of photography is just as critical. Assisting other established wedding photographers can help aspiring shooters learn how to run a photography business, how to deal with clients, how to market, how to manage the logistics of a wedding shoot, and so on.
The DVD also extensively covers the basics of shooting in natural light, as well as how to balance natural light and off-camera strobes. The Bridal Portraits: Lighting 101 section alone covers about 50 minutes of lighting fundamentals.
Joe’s Thoughts – “The wedding day is definitely not the time to start learning the fundamentals of lighting, so it is important to get your lighting locked down. Patrick and Lee are very thorough with going over the gears needed and their approach to lighting.
I really appreciate Patrick and Lee taking their time to explain how they started out and what lessons and mistakes they experienced in the beginning. Most importantly, they stress upon the kind of mindset that can help you establish a profitable career. Patrick’s time as Lee’s assistant is a good example of how one can develop quickly from never having shot a camera before to becoming a great assistant and finally to starting his own photography business.”
Leo’s Thoughts – “Even though I felt I already knew what Lee and Patrick were discussing, at no point was I bored. They covered topics such as basic gear and the importance of assisting, which I personally have gone beyond this stage with my wedding photography career; I still gave this portion 100% of my attention. That was not even because I was given the task to review the DVD, it’s because they both present in such a positive and passionate way where it keeps your attention, and you’re somewhat compelled to listen.”
Pye’s Thoughts – “Taking your first steps into the wedding photography industry are going to be the toughest. The advice given in this portion of the DVD is absolutely spot on. From their recommendations on gear, to their guidance in first approaching the industry; if photographers follow these steps they will be able to quickly leap into the wedding photography industry.”
Shooting and Lighting
Once the basics are established, there is no shortage of tutorial when it comes to shooting everything from the engagement session to the wedding day. There is a lot of attention to the logistical detail, including what you can and cannot do during the ceremony, and what types of shots you need to get for the detail photos and the family portraits.
Wedding photographers do have to deal with a variety of lighting challenges, so the wedding photography DVD also discusses how to tackle some of these challenges. This will help you prepare for the next time you have to shoot in harsh midday light for an outdoor wedding or when you have to deal with multi-colored DJ lights during an indoor wedding reception.
Additionally, Patrick and Lee talk about their four different methods of lighting a reception in order to add a more professional studio-quality look to your images. They even demonstrate how to properly light the all-important wedding cake, as well as the wedding rings.
Joe’s Thoughts – “Once again, the thorough walk-through of the variety of scenarios that one can encounter during a wedding shoot is not only appreciated but also necessary. There is a lot of information to digest, so it is good to take your time to absorb all the information. It appears that Patrick and Lee covered all their bases for at least a Christian/Catholic wedding, and while it would be nice if other types of ceremonies are included, given that the DVD is already 14 hours long, I can see why they can only cover the Christian wedding.”
Leo’s Thoughts – “I have assisted 3 different photographers before flying solo and none of them lit the weddings the same way as Lee and Patrick.
For the wedding reception as an example; all 3 photographers that I had assisted either shot high ISO, or just used their speed lights as an on camera flash which was bounced into the ceiling with a diffusion dome. I personally was never keen on this look as it kills ambient light and the subjects are lit up in such a way where it looks like direct flash was used.
As before, even though I had assisted 3 other photographers, and that’s not even including the photographers I had seen as a guest at a wedding, I had not seen any of these setups before. So the information I am taking away from their shooting and lighting techniques is invaluable to me, and I will strive to attain that professional level they have achieved. Although, it does now mean I am suffering from G.A.S once more as I now crave the need for the Profoto that Lee has!”
Pye’s Thoughts – “There are a lot of resources out there on lighting techniques. While the principals of lighting hold true for wedding photography, the techniques vary significantly from studio and editorial lighting simply due to speed and time constraints. Lee and Patrick cover a variety of intermediate to more advanced shooting and lighting techniques that are quick to deploy. This DVD focuses on these types of quick and effective setups, rather than teaching the basics of lighting from the ground up (as doing so would be its own 14 hour workshop).
Experienced wedding photographers with strong backgrounds in lighting should already know these techniques. However, those new to the field will find these lighting techniques to be invaluable as they teach how to quickly create professional photos in a variety of situations.”
Running the Business
Almost half of the How to Become Professional Wedding Photography DVD tutorial deals with how to run a wedding business from the ground up, and both Patrick and Lee are experts in running a successful business. Pye and Cliff also add their different approach to running a business; whereas Pye runs Lin & Jirsa with two other partners and employs around 10-15 photographers/retouchers, Cliff is more of a lone wolf who works with only one assistant and no second shooter.
There is a lot of information to cover and Patrick and Lee did a great job covering every facet of the wedding photography business.
- Marketing: How do you take advantage of Facebook’s localized advertising, as well as how to use maximize your Google ranking
- Pricing: The perceived value of high vs. low prices, and when to offer packages vs. a la carte
- Negotiating: Not publicizing all your prices online allows you to negotiate your higher-end services
- Website: A polished, professional website is important – even if you’re only charging $1,500 per wedding, your website should look just as good as the website of a photographer who charges $15,000.
- Branding: Invest in a logo that not only looks memorable, but also matches the design of your website
- Client Relationship: The bride that is booking you is more than likely to be an uneducated client because typically it would be the first time that she ever needed to hire a wedding photographer.
- Taxes and Business License: There are a lot to cover here from income, sales, and online taxes to licenses and business entity decisions (of course, how it applies to you may vary country to country, state to state, and city to city)
Joe’s Thoughts – “Many photographers do not spend enough time focusing on their business. It is important to spend just as much time learning about the marketing and managing of the business of photography, as it is mastering the techniques of photography.
The business aspect of wedding photography can be daunting due to the large scope and complexity of the subject, but Patrick and Lee did an excellent job breaking everything down to well-thought-out segments. There is enough information to get you started, and even for a non-wedding photographer such as myself, I can see how many of the lessons here can be applied to my business.”
Leo’s Thoughts – “When I first began wedding photography, I had assisted other photographers to see how they worked on the day, how they communicated with the guests and so forth, but I never got to see how they handled the business side of things.
When I decided to fly solo and started picking up my own jobs, I spent a lot of time looking into how to build a website, web developer costs, how to market etc. This was all time consuming, and by the end of it, I wouldn’t even say they were all the most effective ways I could’ve done things. However, it got the job done and allowed me to move forward to the next steps, and since then I have invested more time researching into alternatives and better ways of marketing myself.
Lee and Patrick are sharing their already proven methods for making a website, designing a logo, marketing, negotiating etc.
Looking back over my journey as a wedding photographer, I can safely say this DVD would have saved me from making several costly business mistakes. In addition, where my website is now at a point where I’m quite happy with it, it has been through some changes, and those changes did cost me a lot of time which could have been better invested elsewhere.”
Pye’s Thoughts – “99% of struggling photographers that I have met, struggle not because of the quality of their work, but because of their knowledge of running a business. It would be impossible for this DVD to cover every aspect of running a studio. So instead, this DVD focuses on knowledge and information that are crucial to starting and running a new photography business.
Once again, from the marketing information to the tax advice, this DVD offers enough business advice to make it already worth the price of admission.”
The two interviews are invaluable as it shows how two completely different studios can run two completely successful businesses. Along with Lee and Patrick, this wedding photography DVD shows 3 very different models of running successful wedding photography studios.
- Interview with Pye Jirsa
You may or may not know it, but our very own Pye (AKA Post Production Pye) is also one of the three partners of Lin and Jirsa Wedding Photography (LJP), one of the largest and busiest wedding photography businesses in the Los Angeles area. Lin and Jirsa Photography has developed a distinct style of photography. Utilizing various off-camera lighting and post production techniques, LJP has become quite well known for the high-production-value look in their images.
LJP is a great example of how you can build a systemized business format that can be personalized, polished, and capable of shooting over 200 weddings per year, while still providing a differentiated and highly sought after product.
Pye also demonstrates how to use the SLR Lounge 4 Preset System to create a consistent look and style throughout all of the images. It is an efficient and effective way to edit and process through a large volume of images from a shoot.
Finally, Pye explains how LJP creates their wedding albums for print. Neither Patrick nor Lee focuses on this part of their business, so it’s good to have the album creation process covered.
- Interview with Cliff Mautner
In my opinion, Cliff Mautner’s collection of images is a true testament of the power of natural, directional light. Yes, Cliff’s style is not for everyone, but for the brides who seek this look, few photographers do it better than Cliff.
Unlike his peers, in the DVD, Cliff shoots with directional natural light the majority of the time in order to add drama and intimacy with his photos. For example, in this photo below, a prospective bride commented how dark the image is, even though it is a stunning image. Cliff said to her that if he were to bounce a flash to the ceiling, everything would be bright and without drama.
On natural light shooting Cliff said, “I never stage moments, but perhaps, I can help set the stage for the moments”. Although Cliff does not stage and pose his subjects, he does move certain furniture, lower lights, and place subjects in location with a more flattering light.
“There are certain things that people have to do anyways (i.e. Attending to the dress, talking to each other), I just have them do it in good light.”
Another aspect that is different with Cliff and his style is that he does not have a 2nd shooter. His photographic style is so unique that for him, he does not feel that he can find someone whose photos will match what he offers.
Joe’s Thoughts – “It’s great to hear the different approach from Pye and Cliff because they show that running a wedding doesn’t have to be a cookie-cutter business. In a way, they represent the opposite extreme in how to have a successful photography career. What is great is that you can take all the ideas from Pye, Cliff, Patrick, and Lee, and apply the best ones that will suit your particular style.”
Leo’s Thoughts – “For me, the two guest interviews were probably the most enjoyable part of the DVD. There are varying styles to the way people shoot, and it’s evident amongst Lee, Patrick, Pye, and Cliff.
I feel you could look at an image from either one of these photographers, and just know they shot it as their styles are unique to them. These interviews are great because it allows us to get an insight into their mentality and their work ethic.
The benefit for me watching these interviews is that it was so refreshing and re-assuring to hear established pro’s discussing their own unique working methods, and they all work!”
Pye’s Thoughts – “Clearly, it would be strange for me to provide thoughts on my own interview. Let me just say that I loved Cliff’s interview and found this probably the most insightful portion for more established photographers.
For established photographers, interviewing and understanding how other people run their businesses is generally more insightful than learning photography techniques.
For the aspiring and established photographers looking to try out the FStopper’s How to Become a Professional Wedding Photographer DVD, I would highly recommend focusing on the differences between the three different business and photography models presented.”
Cons and Nitpicks
Joe’s Thoughts – “I’m not sure the decision to have the topics jump around so much is also the most effective way to watch the DVD. I understand that this was done to keep the experience more interesting. But for example, the topic of advertising is followed by Lighting 101, meeting with potential clients, and website design. Pye’s interview is right in between all the wedding shoot lessons and takes you out of that shooting mentality for a good hour. I much prefer the topics to be grouped together in order to make each category more cohesive and flowing.
Additionally, there are no bookmarked points for each topics within each chapter like you would see in a traditional DVD menu navigation, so if you are looking for a particular topic, you would have to fast-forward until you find it. This makes it hard to jump ahead because you have no idea when a particular lesson will finish.”
Leo’s Thoughts – “My only nitpick throughout this DVD is the consistency of image/sound quality. At times you can tell the editing is a little off throughout the footage as it skips and jumps between words at times. Even at some points, there are varying camera angles for each scene and they have different exposures for each angle.
The key nitpick that springs to mind immediately is the audio issues you hear during the interview with Pye. There is a subtle change in volume and tone, almost as if the audio for Pye was the on-camera mic, and the audio for Lee was an external mic. It was very noticeable when I was watching on my laptop via Beats Pro Headphones, however not very noticeable at all when I connected my laptop to my HDTV.
However, that being said, none of these minor imperfections in production detract from the overall quality of the product or the experience.”
Pye’s Thoughts – “I understand Joe’s point of the skipping in topics. I also understand why the FStoppers wanted to switch topics to keep the pace moving. My wish (which I think would resolve both of these concerns) would have been to have a DVD menu system that allows easy navigation between the various chapters and topics. While this does make for a slightly more challenging download and install of the DVD, it would provide a better user experience in being able to jump to the exact topic of interest. As is, it can be a bit tough to skip around within a 1-2 hour movie file to find the exact topic or area of interest.”
Without a doubt, all three of us agree that the FStopper’s How to Become a Professional Wedding Photographer DVD is an incredible educational resource. The sheer amount of information and effort to create this DVD reminds me of the epic Planet Earth DVD (yes, the one that spans 6 DVDs). Sure, there are plenty of tutorials on the wedding business, just as there are plenty of videos on the earth’s wildlife, but when it comes to learning the complete A to Z of the wedding business, there is really nothing out in the market that comes close to what Fstoppers are offering in this extensive workshop on DVD.
Regardless of your experience level in the industry, if you are serious about succeeding in the wedding photography industry, then we highly recommend that you check out How to Become a Professional Wedding Photographer. For those that are new to the industry, this resource will be invaluable. For those that are experienced in the industry, we still recommend you try it. Once again, if you feel like the information is not useful to you, you have a 100% money back guarantee to fall back on.
Kudos to FStoppers on another brilliant educational product!