Category: generic stuff

Do you shoot weddings?

Katie and Alec

“Hey, Jim, we’re getting married next month and we’re just starting to think about getting someone to take pictures. Can you recommend a local student? And do you think $500 is OK?”

OK, there’s a lot to cover here but first let me say: photography has changed and wedding photography has really changed.

It used to be just expected that you hired a professional with years of experience and lots of gear. He (it was almost always he) dressed reasonably well, often had a studio downtown where he’d shoot your engagement/announcement portrait, show you a bunch of albums of weddings he’d shot.

You booked him 6-12 months in advance. Heck, you might have planned your wedding date around his availability.

After the wedding, he’d show you a stack of numbered proofs, from which you would order the prints you want. His package would come with a certain number of prints and maybe an album. And you could order more prints any time. (I have a friend with file cabinets full of negatives, still waiting for orders.)

And the photographer was second only to the caterer in wedding expense, often charging into the thousands of dollars. And people were glad to spend it.

These days, people don’t crave printed photos as they once did. Some are fine with just getting images on a CD or thumb drive. Some are fine with editing themselves. Some only want to share to Facebook and hardly look at the pictures again. A Blurb book might get done, often by a random wedding guest who likes to fiddle with pictures.

All of this makes wedding photographers sad and only partly due to lost income. They know that the art of capturing precious moments and preserving memories has real value. They know that of the millions of cell phone pictures taken at weddings, only about 2 or 3 have any value and get edited and printed properly.

And they know that handing over digital files means that they have even less value. It’s easy to lose a CD or thumb drive. It’s easy to forget to get that Blurb book printed.

Don’t get me wrong. I love digital photography. The quality is on par with 35mm film and often exceeds it. It makes editing and printing images easier. Blurb books are a great way to organize pictures, tell a story, and have a physical thing.

But our relationship to pictures has changed and continues to change. As we take all these selfies and cell pictures, we value good images less. It’s like we have a constant diet of lollipops and donuts and we don’t value vegetables and protein any more. It’s a tragedy.

So back to the original questions:

  1. Don’t put off looking for a photographer until the last minute. The good ones will be booked.
  2. You could get a local student/kid/hobbyist to shoot your wedding. You will be disappointed with the results. He/she will miss pictures of your most treasured relative who flew in for the event and died a week later.
  3. Price? Who knows? It varies by market. There are still wedding photographers charging thousands. They’re rare but they’re also usually really good. But think about how important the pictures are to you and budget accordingly.

Advice:

I’m not a wedding photographer. I’ve shot weddings professionally but I got tired of it. I take pictures at weddings I’m invited to. I’m the “Uncle Bob.” That’s what wedding pros call the wedding guest with lots of photo gear. Wedding photographers talk amongst themselves and one of their complaints is: “Man, I had a terrible Uncle Bob last week. Kept getting in my way, asking me what gear I was using. He even asked if he could use one of my batteries.”

But I’ve learned some stuff about weddings and here’s some advice:

View Online Portfolios

My friend Katie, in the photo above, says, “I would add, as a wedding photographer hirer, look at photographers work online. You can get a sense of the style you like and want, and photographers who can do it for you in your price range.”

Be Happy

An unhappy wedding makes for unhappy pictures. The best photographer in the world can’t make a family (or two families) look like they’re having fun when they aren’t.

Communicate

The couple and photographer should meet in advance and talk about what is expected: when to show up, when to leave, what pictures are important, how and when to deliver pictures, and on and on.

Who is the Client?

For me, figuring out who I had to please was always the first mission. Usually (like more than half of weddings) it’s the bride’s mother. So no matter how much the happy couple says, “We just want candids, no posed portraits,” GET THE PORTRAITS. The bride’s mother wants portraits. Do them quickly and painlessly but do them.

Get Pictures of EVERYONE

Wander around at the reception and shoot each table. Posed or not posed. If there is someone you miss, it will be the ONE person that really mattered to have a picture of.

Don’t shoot them eating.

OK, except for the obligatory picture of the couple stuffing cake into each other’s mouths. But Aunt Martha has lobster all over her. Don’t embarrass her.

Editing

A good photographer these days spends almost as much time editing pictures as shooting. The process begins with separating the good from the bad and ensuring that only pictures he/she is proud of will see the light of day. Then every picture is checked for exposure, cropping and any flaws that can quickly be fixed. The last step of serious retouching is reserved for a few important portraits.

While it might seem sensible for some couples to do their own editing, it’s almost always a bad idea. You’re not as good at it as someone who does it all the time. You have better things to do. You’ll put it off and forget about it. Just hire a pro and let him/her do it right.

Editing can’t make a terrible photography good but it can make a good photograph great. A pro can do that quickly and efficiently.

File Delivery

In the old days, photographers never delivered negatives. That was their gold and they hoarded it, so they could continue getting paid whenever someone wanted prints. These days, there are still some photographers who won’t hand over digital files. They watermark all their proofs with obnoxious copyright information and your order prints/books/albums from them only.

Some photographers will sell files for an extra fee, but usually only after editing.

Another option is mixed: photographer holds onto high resolution files but gives up a share-able gallery.

In any case, get this sorted out before the big day.

Blurb Book

Blurb.com is an online service. You download their software to design a book, then upload and pay them and a book arrives in the mail a few days later. It’s great. The quality is good and having a physical book to look at makes it more likely you’ll revisit those memories more often. And you can get multiple books, so Mom and Uncle Bob get copies too!

Oh and: there are other services. Blurb is the one I use most.

Ceremony

I shot a wedding once where they wanted the ceremony to be really special so the pastor announced at the beginning: “We have a professional photographer who will take pictures during the ceremony but we ask that everyone else please refrain from taking pictures during the ceremony. Thank you.” It made the ceremony really nice without all those cell phones. People were in the moment.

So in summary, the way to get the best wedding photographs:

  1. Find a pro with experience and a package to suit your needs. Ask to see samples of weddings he or she has shot before.
  2. Communicate fully what you’re expecting from them. A real pro will have a contract that itemizes what is expected from both directions.
  3. Even if you think you don’t want lots of posed pictures, get them anyway. Maybe tell the photographer to do them but do them quickly and as unobtrusively as possible.
  4. Do those portraits between the ceremony and reception. I know that’s a nuisance but it’s when you look your best. Do them quickly but do them.
  5. Get the pro to do an edit. Find out beforehand how long that will take but you really want the pictures edited.
  6. Get the pro to do at least a first round of prints. It’s likely part of the package and they’ll be good. Pick a few pictures to get multiple 8x10s or 5x7s to send to relatives and wedding party.
  7. Arrange beforehand for at least some digital files to be available for social media sharing. And ideally, they’d be available quickly.

And enjoy the day. Don’t let pictures get in the way of a good time. But if you’re having a good time, the pictures will be good to have to remind you.

Planning a web site: Tips to a friend

Ran into a friend at the supermarket last night. He was headed out and I was headed in.

“Do you still do web sites?” he asked. We talked for a bit and he gave me a business card. I promised to email with some advice and we may get together to talk but it occurred to me that the email I sent him is general information, applicable to everyone. So I include it here. The names have been changed to keep it generic:

As you plan your web site, here’s some basic info to consider (some of which you may already have done):

I started to write this at the end of the email but it occurs to me it’s important and basic enough to move it to the top: What is the mission of the site? And very much related: How will you judge success or failure of the site? What do you offer that’s unique? How will you get the word out to drive traffic to your site?

This might seem obvious (mission: to make money; success judged on whether it makes money) but there’s usually more to it. Lots of business sites succeed based more on customer experience and full service than just the quality of the product. Think of amazon.com’s ability to know pretty well what each customer wants. Think of zappos.com’s way of letting you try on shoes with no risk.

So planning:

Make an outline. It doesn’t need to be fancy and it will not be complete (web sites are always changing and if they aren’t changing, they’re dying). But figure out what your basic pages will be to start and what features you’ll want to have. And as you do this, you will naturally get the pieces together:

Start gathering the parts of the site: text, logo, graphics, photos. In digital form, so you can email it to me or send on disk.

Start planning for commerce: Products, sales tax, shipping, etc. Will each product have its own page or put a few products on a page? Shipping charges are one of the most difficult things to figure out so start early. Paypal is a good way to test the waters of ecommerce and for some is a complete solution. Research Paypal and sign up for a merchant account.

Who is your audience and how will you get them to your site?

Right from the start, you need to plan how to get people to your web site. Here’s some basic advice on that: basics of search-engine optimization.

But you can’t depend entirely on Google or other search engines. So:

Your URL (universal resource locator: yourbusiness.com) is the most important thing to tell people. Just as I told you yesterday: JimDugan.com is how to get hold of me, find out about me, see my work, etc. My phone number, email, etc., is all there. Your URL should be as prominent as you can bear to make it on your packaging, business card, bumper stickers, whatever. Get it out there that this is your address. Call it branding if you want. There are people who see me on the street and say, “Jim Dugan Dot Com” as if it’s my name. Perfect.

Plan for keeping your site current. A site that doesn’t change regularly fails for a few reasons but most simply put: both Google and human beings like sites that are fresh and new, not static and stale. For organizations that have weekly staff meetings, I recommend that a standing agenda item be: What should we add/change on our web site this week? For individuals, I recommend a clipboard with pen on your fridge with the heading: Changes to Web Site.

Design ideas: I ask every new client to come to me with some sites he/she likes and/or would like to emulate. I do not copy other sites but I do like to have some idea what the client’s expectations are. Do you have logos, color schemes, etc. that are already starting to define corporate identity?

Not a complete list but a start.

Funny Story

Our delivery man always talks sports:

“We had softball playoffs last week. Church League, not the Adult Men’s League.”

So you don’t get to drink beer at Church League?

“We still drink beer. We just have to do it quietly. One guy was sitting in the dugout and got out a beer and just as he cracked the top, there was a lull in the noise. PISSH, real loud. So the ump stops, puts his hands on his hips and turns and looks at him.”

“‘I could throw you out for that’ he says. And my buddy with the beer says, ‘You’re just mad because you want one.'”

“And you would not believe this Church League. The Adult Men’s League, we just have fun, you know? But these Church League people fight over every stinking call.”

Does every player think God must be on his side?

“Maybe that’s it but I have never heard such language.”