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The “Top 10” Wedding Photographer Lists

…and why it’s dangerous.

Earlier this week, many photographers across India received an e-mail from a popular wedding portal – an event which in itself is fairly routine. What wasn’t routine about this e-mail though, was the fact that the email in no uncertain terms, offered to list the photographer as one of the “Top 10” photographers in his or her geography, in return for a fee. One of the forms of the e-mail is reproduced below.

The e-mail reads:


Hope you are doing well.  We are going live with the blog on top 10 Photographers of Delhi. Some vendors have paid exclusively for this and the rest are our Empaneled Vendors. If you want to be featured in this, it will be priced at 10,000 inclusive of all taxes. Please let me know ASAP if you are keen on this. Would need your starting price for 1 day for candid, traditional and cinematography and some great images to put.  http://XXX.in/blog/7-best-candid-wedding-photographers-in-delhi-you-need-to-check-out-now/ We will be changing all the names tomorrow. Awaiting confirmation on the same soon.  Regards, <Redacted>


This e-mail is just one part of a largely very popular trend; that of industry websites to create various forms of lists and rankings, all in exchange for a fee. This is alarming for a variety of reasons, some of which are:

1. They set wrong expectations

If you are a bride or a groom reading this, or you happened to be getting married and chanced upon these lists on Google, chances are you would trust these lists at face value. This would lead you to assume that the photographer you’re about to hire is at the top of his or her game, and by virtue of being so – will deliver to you outstanding results. This may or may not happen (we hope it does!) – but the fact is that you’re expecting a photographer who is indeed amongst the “top photographers in xyz city” but in all probability is actually someone who’s just started out in wedding photography and is still learning.

2. They set a wrong benchmark for wedding photography

Apart from the personal ramifications to an individual bride or groom, the bigger problem with such lists it that the photos showcased to support the “Top Photographer” is viewed as the benchmark for what good wedding photography is supposed to be. This is extremely dangerous – because at the end of the day, art is in the eyes of the beholder. As an industry, we cannot allow shoddy or “templatised” imagery to be viewed as the standard. We WANT photographers to think outside the box, to go where nobody has gone before…and to be fearless.

3. They lead to bad blood

Over the last year there has been great camaraderie in the wedding photography industry. Aided by photography festivals, workshops and contests, photographers are coming together and collaborating like never before. Never before have photographers supported each other like they do today (and this is wonderful). In fact, within the entire wedding industry – it’s safe to say that it’s the photography community that is now the most tightly knit. However, false accolades (being ranked on top lists) in exchange for money leads to bad blood. No matter how well you may get along with other photographers in your community – there will inevitably be questions raised. This will lead to cracks and fissures in a young and diverse workforce – and lead the industry back to the days where everyone worked in silos and didn’t collaborate with anybody else.

4. It leads to confusing lists

At last count, it is estimated that there are over 120 wedding portals in operation, about to begin operations or just about starting operations in India. The portals view creating lists as easy ways of generating revenue. Doing the maths, a portal that lists ten photographers per city at the rate of INR 10,000 per listing generates 1 lac rupees per city listing. Considering there are at least 5 important metros in India, a simple listing exercise generates a cool INR 5 lac rupees to each portal. Now if all 120 portals come up with their own lists (and if one were to assume that each photographer doesn’t pay for more than one list) there will be at least 1,000 photographers in each city – all of whom are the Top 10!

5. Everything loses authenticity

If this trend continues, it’ll lead to a negative fallout for everyone involved. To-be brides and grooms will realise that all content online isn’t to be trusted, and will look at other sources of information going forward. For instance, today everyone knows that both Hindustan Times and The Times of India are Number #1 in New Delhi – because they’ve both been screaming it from the rooftops for years now. No amount of independent awards and citations will ever make a subscribe believe in one or other. Similarly, if paid awards and lists continue – our clients will lose faith in authentic industry awards, like the WPAI Awards and Fearless Awards. It’ll all seem commercialised!

Recommendations

  1. If you’re a bride or a groom about to get married and are in search of a photographer, do not wholly depend on wedding portals as your source of information. Almost ALL wedding portals list photographers in exchange for money in the form of preferred vendors, top 10 vendors, black book of vendors and so on. Do your own research, select an artist you like based on their style – and go with your gut.
  2. If you’re a photographer, you should view joining these lists with caution as they will inevitably lead to your own standing in the community being called into question. Not just that, you’ll be indirectly supporting an industry that only looks at where money can be made in return for endorsing anyone. You’ll be rubbing shoulders with all sorts of artists on that list – is the return on investment worth it?
  3. Alternately, look into investing these funds into alternate promotions – like Google AdWords, Facebook marketing and so on. YOU control these ads, and control the narrative of what you’re trying to say.
  4. If you’re a wedding portal, or work for a wedding portal – understand that your job as a content curator is to present options to a bride or a groom in as unbiased a view as possible. This is what leads to authenticity and trust. Everybody understands that at the end of the day, business is business – and you need revenue to pay your bills. Hey, nobody understands this better than artists! However, seek income generation streams that keep you in good standing, and help cement your position as a thought leader, and not a paid receptacle for every Tom, Dick and Harry.
  5. As a community, we need to help the promoters of wedding portals understand what’s good for everyone in the long run. It is inevitable that a technology solution WILL help the industry at large, and portals will have a very important role to play. After all, photographers and other artists and wedding portals are partners – and a proper symbiotic relationship helps everyone succeed.

Do you agree that wedding portals should not charge for Top 10 lists? Or have you paid to be a part of these lists? Let us know in the comments below.

(Disclosure: The WPAI was founded to help bring about excellence in wedding photography. Though membership to the WPAI is paid, admission into the association is strictly based on merit, something that is evaluated by a panel of senior advisors. The WPAI will NEVER charge for awards, features or any such promotion.

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