Gary Rabenko

By Gary Rabenko

Photo-video pricing is all about labor. It takes many days of skilled labor once the event is shot to create meaningful albums and videos. We know there is nothing more costly than disappointment. Yet the cost of photography and video today are not the prices to produce the meaningful results most would love. At best they meet minimal standards for mass-produced basics. The price many decide to pay is a price that has been lowered by dozens of forces, none being a desire to produce excellent, inspired, or meaningful results.

The industry has become so competitive that for most it is all about price. Paying a lot can never guarantee excellence. But a price too low to cover time should lead you to question the production values you are getting.

Each month, ordinary folks become photographers and videographers, often arriving by plane to charge less while claiming to offer more and building a business on volume. They are selling only the mechanics — the outward trappings of photography, not what really is important. Their prices involve a superficial approach and understanding at each step. They outsource every phase of the project. Some storyboard all the creative aspects to mass produce your unique and special day. What is not outsourced is assembly-lined by a crew taught just the minimum needed to move things along.

Preparing for each shoot takes hours, as each shoot is slightly different. The photographer should prepare and pack accordingly, or eventually errors and oversights will mean disasters due to components or improperly configured settings that ruin expected photos.

Some clients only want to see the obvious action. If the action was a white grand piano being moved, they expect to see something large and white rolled into the room. But deeper expectation could include the movers and their body language — how they are leaning, how they are pressing, how their chiseled shoulders pitch forward in unified or at times opposing struggle, as their muscular legs work hard against the dead, heavy, reluctant weight, their knuckles whitened and their yellow chipped teeth clenched. Sweat drips off their brow onto the pure alabaster instrument, as an imperfect wheel scrapes what was a perfect floor. Still more exposition presents the viewer with contrasts in human nature. We see varying personalities and expressions ranging from concern to boredom to irritation, disinterest, and frustration as they labor through the task and through the room.

That was only an example of the enormous ongoing complexity that can play out between wedding participants and yet is rarely noticed by photo-video crews who mostly work by habit. Clients who might hope for imagery that conveys not only appearances but also emotion and feeling understand that in every photograph one must be sensitive to the subtle nuance of expression and how body language, shape, tone, and perspective all are meaningful. A single properly trained video artist can acquire most needed meaningful footage. Two of like mind can do a great job when action is split in two areas. But the hacks available only know wide or tight. Wide shots are a bore. Tight shots are too late, too early, too few, on the wrong thing, or at the wrong time!

The skill sensitivity and talents required for the human-interest approach to piano movers is so far beyond the simpler depiction and involves techniques requiring constant practice as well as a mentality that insists on substance. If you value emotion, expression, and feeling, then understand how the majority of professional picture takers won’t know what you’re talking about. They won’t relate.

At your event they will not sense in real time what is playing out even when right before their eyes. Meaningful results cannot possibly be expected from a crew of individuals who are not the very best technically, despite limited training. Meanwhile the clientele demand a sensitivity that isn’t there. A larger crew is not a better crew. Most are just there to get paid. Special results require a special thinking that does not develop from just doing a job. Thought and concern are beyond the pay grade of those charging what the last decade of price drops can sustain. Many of the best have given up, gotten out, or just gone along.

Not only does lower pricing mean less skilled people at the event, it means less skilled people in the dozens of steps involved in post-production — color correction cropping; image manipulation, which covers a host of parameters; album consultation with the client; and finally album design, which not only involves putting images into a book but arranging them so that they work together and so that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Today much design is outsourced to other countries. But work done here is no better, if as is mostly the case, it is purely mechanical, uninspired, and repetitive work that should be an insult to anyone’s intelligence. More often than not, it might be described as a whole that is less than the sum of its parts because juxtaposition of imagery is arbitrary.

There are album arrangement programs claiming designs in 15 minutes and there are album designs that I personally have spent more than 15 days on, from the image selection to the final retouching.

Party planners cannot be expected to care about photography the way you should. Party planners along with caterers very well need more record shots. They look at the tangible not the theatrical or feelings of the heart.

As more and more consumers dabble in making their own albums, printing and binding costs will continue to drop. Already gear is not nearly the expense it once was. So, what are you paying for? I think you should be paying for skill. That itself is rare because so few had good teachers, or even any teachers. Who has reason to teach new guys that think they can learn years of technique in a few jobs. That is a bad joke.

Photographers with the talent to interpret the visual, combined with lighting skill to sculpt it in real time, are harder to find than a needle in a haystack! One real photographic artist will do more for you than a bunch of picture takers at all angles rapidly firing at anything that moves.

Great simcha imagery has always been about personalities, passion, and people, or as I have always said, emotion, expression, and feeling. Yet in conversations among photographers those words are never spoken. It’s always about gear or about following some routine, and always about competing on price — how they can save here and cut there.

Image creation is a process. Skilled and caring people need to work on your project. This includes three days to fine tune the raw images, three days to design an album, three days to retouch all the images in the album, and three days to edit and mix the footage of each video camera to edit your video. Before that the project needs to be shot and the many versions of the files need to be safeguarded and backed up carefully. The right price should cover all that time. Paying a fancy price cannot guarantee talent, inspiration, or excellence. But never delude yourself into thinking that paying less than what is needed to cover all the time involved can possibly lead to meaningful imagery.

Rabenko Photography & Video Arts is located at 1053 Broadway in Woodmere. To learn more, contact, 1-888-RABENKO, 888-722-3656, or visit


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