The Inspiration For This Post Is You.
I have had drafts of this post floating around my computer for nearly a year and floating around my brain for much longer than that. One of the driving reasons for starting this blog is that I want to help or coach people into getting the best photography that they can possibly get, from me or from any other photographer. I want folks to be educated consumers (hmm … let’s say “patrons” or “commissioners”) of photography. The truth is that everybody wants to get the most out of their wedding photography, and out of their wedding. And each and every couple deserves an inspired performance from all their wedding vendors, right? But sometimes—surely unwittingly—brides and grooms can get in their own way of making that happen. I want to be delicate about this, but also truthful. Nearly all of my clients are so thoughtful and considerate of us that it hurts my heart (really!) … but small considerations (or—gasp!—mistakes) can really make an impact, whether or not the client is really aware of it in the end.
(Okay, let me back up and be clear on this: the term “vendor” does kind of make me gag. I’m used to it, after eleven years, but not happy with it. Meg over at A Practical Wedding has kindly suggested a reconsideration of the terminology, maybe wedding elves. It’ll do. It at least describes the work ethic and energy most of my colleagues and I put forth at weddings. But you could just call us artists. If you want to.)
I. The most important thing is TRUST. Hire artists you truly trust, and then trust them to do their jobs with excellence.
Hire artists you trust, and then trust them. Nothing is more morale-busting or inspiration-deflating than micromanagement. You want artists who share your vision, obviously, but keep in mind that they’ll do their jobs how they do their jobs and not how you’d do their jobs. Listen to your wedding elves; we promise to listen to you. We want to get you what you want (and then some!)—whether or not you know exactly what that is and whether or not you can articulate it—and we know how to do that. The adage “expectations are premeditated resentments” fully applies, though. Allow yourself to be surprised and delighted with our interpretations of your secret hopes and wishes. We work so hard and consider our efforts a labor of love. We are soulful about what we do. I think there are probably folks out there who aren’t, but you don’t need to hire them, right?
II. Give them what they need to do their jobs with excellence (e.g., time, space, resources).
This is a huge and, unfortunately, very common mistake we see. For instance, so many weddings run behind because of hair and makeup (despite our often-repeated and LOUDEST advice for folks to pad the hair and makeup schedule). I’ve previously always held an ill-founded vendetta against stylists themselves, but now that I have produced a short film (since I don’t have enough to do during wedding season), I can see how the makeup artists might feel flustered or set up to fail. That’s not a good way to go into a job. I know I can get flustered when folks step in and try to tell me how and how fast to work.
And I can’t tell you how disappointing it is when I have clients claim that portraits are so very important to them, how they’re envisioning all these set ups, lots of variety, and then they schedule fifteen minutes or less for portraits of themselves. Photographs are actually moments in time. So we need time to make them. Other artists need other things to do their jobs well. Producing a wedding and producing a film are probably not all that different in the end. You might want to think of yourself as a “producer.” On a film set, the producers (who put out all that money) make certain that everybody there—all the artists, all the talent, and all the so-called help—has what they need to do the best work possible.
III. Keep your artists, vendors, wedding elves performance-ready: well-fed, well-hydrated, and as rested as possible.
These considerations are of course much-expanded with a destination wedding, but the same principles apply to one-day local weddings. My suspicion is that people can sometimes forget how really human we are. I have heard this complaint voiced most often by the wedding planners themselves. We need nourishment, water, and a little appreciation (see below). Keep in mind that you want your planner and photographers and videographers to be working their best all day long and after dinner, too – if you give them a crummy meal, not only does it literally leave a bad taste in their mouths, they’ll be running on empty and their growling tummies will be begrudgingly ticking off time until they can leave and get some real food … if that’s even possible.
- Maintain a human pace to the day. Your vendors will have a good sense about what’s realistic. You want your day to be humane for you, too. Harried and joyful might actually be mutually exclusive.
- Keep water and other non-alcoholic beverages accessible throughout the day. In California, with all our 100+ degree weddings, heat stroke is a real and serious concern.
- A good vendor meal is nourishing, timely, balanced, and absolutely necessary. A few years ago, I kept hearing people say, “a vendor meal is a courtesy, not a requirement.” Seriously? We know catered food is costly and we aren’t saying you have to give us the filet mignon unless you want to (!), but remember that we are human: we can’t run on empty and we can’t go anywhere else. You don’t want us to. It’s one thing to be a band member and come at five o’clock (hence the ubiquitous bandwich), but for those of us who have already been running around for eight or ten hours before dinnertime with twenty five pounds of gear swinging around our necks, it’s nonsensical. On my contract, I say “feed us whenever you eat,¹ and feed us well. Warm, nourishing food is a good idea. Wedding photography is a lot like marathon running.” And so it is. I have to prep for my job with running, hiking, and lots of pull-ups.
- Respect dietary restrictions. There are a lot of reasons people eat the way they do, whether out of religious or ethical belief, allergy, or preference, but it is always personal. I, for one, am allergic to the United States of America. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate sitting down to a meal I can actually digest. It’s a matter of consideration and respect at the most basic level.
- Some things don’t count as real meals: pasta with no meat, salad with nothing in it, sandwiches with dried nasty chicken, just to name a few. Think nourishing, timely, and balanced: protein, grain, and something that would feel good in your tummy. Our favorite vendor meals are always from the folks at Lucques but we’ve had lots of good same-as-the-guests meals, too. Lucques gives us a complete meal. My last one was a beautiful, tasty, and nutrient-packed nicoise salad; my husband had a giant holy pilgrim sandwich with lovely thick slices of roasted turkey; we also both had an apple, a dessert (chocolate-covered honeycomb for me, chocolate chip cookie for him), and homemade sweet potato chips (still dreaming about those and Matt swears he’d give up Doritos if I could offer him a steady supply of them). I know I’m going on and on about food. But it’s important. All of this is to say: be sure you know exactly what your caterer is feeding the vendors, whether it’s the same food as your guests are being served or not; don’t assume the caterer will just get it right. You may be charged the full meal rate while your vendors are eating terrible cold sandwiches. Not that good cold sandwiches don’t exist. Your caterer might be trying to feed ham to folks who keep a kosher diet. Eeps! There are no hard and fast rules here, just a gentle call to attention to detail. A good meal is a good meal.
IV. In the same way that actors perform better with a little applause, your vendors will perform better with a little appreciation.
I’m not talking about gratuity; I’m talking about gratitude. We’ll do our jobs either way (with gratitude or without), but we’ll do it better if we know you’re thankful for our efforts and creativity. We’re human. We’ll work to our own high standards for anyone, but we can’t help but go that extra mile for the couples who love us.
That’s me! With my Leica! On a (rare) bathroom break!
¹ If you feed us when you eat, all that you’ll “miss out on” are photographs of folks eating. Which you don’t want anyway. Feed us later on, and we’ll be missing the real moments. You might need to make this point to your caterers if they are providing the vendor meals. Sometimes they won’t feed the vendor-folk until after the dinner service is completely completed. This seems counter-productive because we’ll be eating when things are getting going again …
photos: Gia Canali