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.