Groom’s Guide: Sharp Shooters
What it takes to take—and make—great photos, and how to get images you’ll love for a lifetime | By Dan Engler
Having been something of a pro-am photographer in my younger days, I occasionally shot a few weddings. One client made the grave mistake of having his bachelor party two nights before the big day. Stumbling out of a strip club, he did a face-plant into a parking meter, and his raccoon eyes became the standout feature of the wedding photos. Common sense goes a long way toward making sure your photos are a record of cherished memories rather than an online meme. As you consider the advice that follows, repeat this mantra: you only get to take wedding pictures once, but the Internet is forever.
You’ve probably been told that you won’t be seeing too much of your freshly minted spouse on your wedding day. In fact, you might feel like you’re married to your photographer, who is easily the person you’ll be spending the most time with.
Referrals and research are great ways of generating a list of photographers to interview. “Ask friends and Google-image search your location,” suggests photographer Airika Pope, who emphasizes getting specific with online searches. “A lot of people contact us because they found pictures we took of their venue and they like our style.”
In addition to obvious nuts and bolts, it pays to get personal and open up when you chat with a potential shooter. “I love it when couples inquire with a bit about themselves and the elements of their wedding that they’re really excited about,” says Seattle photographer Kip Beelman. “The cut-and-paste ‘Dear Photographer’ e-mail doesn’t make it past the front door at my house.” (That’s right: it can depend as much on them choosing to work with you as the other way around.)
In the end, of course, it’s about the pictures. To that end, do your photo research. “If you see a ton of experimental compositions, unique or strange processing, and anything hyperstylized on a photographer’s site, ask if you can see a full image gallery or two from their proofing site,” Beelman says. “This will give you a very clear idea of what they deliver to their clients and whether they also provide ‘normal’ images.”
Behind the Scenes
And although weddings are often an exercise in indulgence, you’ll be thanking yourself for the restrained use of filters and stylizations when you crack open your album on your 25th anniversay. Be sure to talk with your photog about the following:
Film or digital “The reality is that digital photographers can make images that reflect film qualities with software now, so the benefits of shooting with film keep shrinking. But that being said, I still love it,” says local lensman Gabriel Van Wyhe. On the other hand, Seattle-NYC destination photographer Bryce Covey still shoots on medium-format film, switching to digital only at night for it’s low-light capabilities. “I think film is better with light and digital is better in the darkness. They each have their strengths,” Covey says.
Natural light vs. flash “Find a photographer who is comfortable with both. I think most photographers would say they prefer natural light. We all love to capture moments and have them feel real, but many venues are not conducive to a fully natural-light approach,” Pope says, suggesting couples ask to see examples of nighttime work.
Venue Van Wyhe points out that “a good wedding photographer is going to have enough experience to get great images at any venue, but some places will be more conducive to photography: venues with large windows with natural light streaming in, venues where the textures and spaces draw you in, venues that, by their very nature, allow the photography to go to a new level.”
Retouching Says Van Wyhe: “If the bride wakes up and she has a huge pimple on her forehead, that’s not a permanent part of her. That’s unlucky timing. I’m going to go through and edit that pimple out of every single image.”
My approach to posed shots is to make it simple, quick, and painless. Keep everyone chatting, laughing, and moving in and out.
– Barbie Hull
Style Me Pretty
Unless you and yours are professional models, you’ll be relying, at least to some degree, on direction from your photographer. And that’s OK; it’s part of what you’re paying for. Here are some tips to make your shoot a success.
Posers “These shots are a necessary evil—everyone’s least favorite part of the day. My approach is make it simple, quick, and painless. Keep everyone chatting, laughing, and moving in and out of the photo quickly,” says Seattle photographer Barbie Hull.
Prop it up “Only use props that actually mean something to you; otherwise it could be a regrettable or laughable choice a few years down the road. If your first date included a walk in the park with ice cream cones, then that would be a great wedding-day portrait-session idea,” says Hull. In other words: let authenticity be your guide.
First things first More couples are shooting before the main event, and Pope supports the trend. “If the only reason a couple doesn’t want to see each other before the ceremony is that they want that moment to be special, I often suggest that a first look is more special because it’s private. And this way they don’t have to miss their cocktail party or any of the reception in order to take photos.”
Base packages from most Seattle-area wedding photographers hover around $3,000, with most couples spending $4,000 to $5,000 when it’s all said and done. Your hard-earned cash typically nets you six to eight hours of coverage and may include an assistant. Delivery of the finished product varies, but digital downloads are the way of the future. Most photographers hold copyrights of the images and bestow varying levels of usage rights upon the customer, which may or may not incur additional fees, but some do hand you the files and say “all yours.” Add-ons may include travel and photo booth services. Your photographer should provide a timeline for the availability of edited photos, but four to 10 weeks is typical in the busy season.
In an era in which it’s considered normal to share the drab minutia of everyday life with the entire world, many of you will consider publishing your wedding pics for public consumption. Aside from well-worn social media outlets (Facebook et al.), photo-specific services such as Pinterest, Instagram, and Flickr are a great way to share informally and can be integrated with wedding-specific photo-sharing apps that bring the idea of a disposable camera on every table into the 21st century.
If you’re more Gutenberg than Zuckerberg, Covey offers a tip for getting your photos published in wedding magazines. A great photographer is essential, but the camera operator alone isn’t going to make it a magazine wedding. Covey suggests carefully picking your other vendors—not only so things go off without a hitch, but to create a more photogenic package. “What that does is make for a wedding that’s really beautiful and a great experience for everyone,” says Covey. “If everything’s beautiful and it’s shot beautifully and it’s in a beautiful place, then that’s it.”
Why should you consider a wedding videographer? Probably so you can remember what happened that day after all the dust settles. Here are things to think about before anyone presses [REC]:
Selecting your filmmaker Referrals and cruising the work of videographers online will narrow it down. “Visit blogs and watch their work. You’ll know quickly which work speaks to you,” says Mitch Mattraw of Cabfare Productions.
The bottom line Videography will add $2,000 to $6,000 to your budget, but you’ll get what you pay for. Says Mattraw: “The better wedding filmmakers in the Pacific Northwest produce work that can match anyone, anywhere in the world.”
Adding to the entourage Ask how many camera operators your videographer brings to the party. “I usually work alone,” says Mattraw. “For years I always had a second camera operator, but I could sense a perceptible shift in the energy of the couple with two videographers, plus two—and many times three—photographers hovering around all day making the couple feel on guard and not able to truly relax.”
Movie magic Mattraw says many videographers have a “guy thing” about having all the latest gadgets, but in one department it’s a must: “solid audio gear to record pristine audio.”
Instant gratification Many videographers offer same-day edits which can be screened during the reception. But get ready for sticker shock: this service can almost double the bill.