When you walk into a corporate restaurant like the Olive Garden, you are greeted with reliable service, standard unchanging menu and predictable dining. Now walk into a chef-owned restaurant. The menu is small, particularly curated, the service is personal and the entire experience is more hands-on, high touch. The owner has so much more invested in you and your experience. You, personally are valuable.
This is similar to the difference between Big-box Studios and boutique photographers.
By "boutique" I mean, a small artisan based business over a high volume studio. Studios who choose 20 weddings a year vs 250. Larger studios tend to actually outsource their shooting to their staff of full-time photographers. Is this a problem? No. Nothing is wrong with this model from a business perspective, it is a natural progression for a thriving studio. They do bring several valuable things to the table: Security, Reliability, reputation. These are important to a bride. You feel like you can "trust" them- they are a large company, fully- legit right? When the trusted recommendation of a confidante is lacking -we gravitate towards "safe" options. And big companies typically mean safe right?
Here are a few personal observations that I have encountered both in myself and others while working in the wedding industry in Portland.
1. Quality. While the Prices are roughly the same, the quality is not. Why? Because if your photographer is only a cog in the wheel of a larger company, the temptation is to not invest as much in bringing you the best photos possible. Their personal reputation isn't at stake, they're not building their own business. There just isn't as much drive to excel, plain and simple.
However, a large studio WILL produce quality product and safely capture all of the important moments of your day. They have shooting weddings down to a science, so there is little fear of "missing a moment", but my fear is that in the science of it all- they lose the art.
2. Know You Are Important The flip side of the "cog" mentality is that to a small business owner, you are incredibly important. They treat every client like gold because their very business relies on these brides. They aren't just earning a paycheck, they are investing their life and passion into your day. Emails get answered faster, they tend to over-communicate and really walk with you step-by-step up to your wedding day. Boutique studios often rely on word-of-mouth referrals vs. google search engine ratings or bridal shows- this creates an incredible desire to make sure your day is perfect in every way.
Does this mean a large studio doesn't value you and your day? Of course not, they are good about communication and clearly professional- but sometimes, you're seen as a replaceable "client" more than a personal relationship.
3. Personal Investment. Speaking of relationship, when you're working with a personal small-business photographer you are building a personal relationship, a friendship really. That relationship will continue as you have your first child, capture your family portraits and your 10 year anniversary at the beach. They look at a wedding collection as more than just a punch-card for 8 hours of shooting, it's the springboard for many shoots in the future as well.
4. Get Your Wedding Published. Every bride puts in so much love, creativity and countless hours into making her day unique and personal. If you're a bride who wants to see the beautiful details of your wedding day published on the world of bridal blogs- then I would recommend you choose a private photographer. Large studios often don't have the time or motivation to see your wedding get published.
Now Granted, I'm not saying go with a newbie photographer who doesn't even have you sign a contract- eep! By no means. Simply consider well the photographer you choose and know the pros and cons of your choice. Do your research, figure out what style you love (yes there are many different styles of wedding photography) and find a photographer or larger studio that leaves you ecstatic with the results.
I'm glad to say, that there are large-scale studios that have found a balance and really strive to keep that "high-touch" mentality. I'm thankful for the studios who push-back and really emphasize personal relationships and supreme quality over the "commodity" mentality. Again, it all comes down to: Be an informed bride- do your research :)