Monthly Archives: March 2011

We’re Featured on Once Wed

03 | 31 | 2011

Love this wedding, with perfectly quirky design and myriad personal touches, including a ring of succulents (prominently featuring one of my most favorite varieties – the echeveria afterglow!).  It’s over on Once Wed today {here}.  Some of you know I’m packing and moving right now, but I have my (probably over-ambitious) fingers crossed that I can post a bunch more of my favorite images here … soon.

photo: Gia Canali


A Tale of Two Brides (with One Marvelous Shared Monique Lhuillier Gown) Featured on Style Me Pretty Today!

03 | 14 | 2011

We have our zillion favorites from these weddings and we’ll be sprinkling them into upcoming blog posts, but to see the images all together all at once, and to hear their real-wedding stories, view the back-to-back features on Style Me Pretty today {here} and {here}.

photos: Gia Canali


S + E: Secret Garden in Wine Country Wedding

03 | 13 | 2011

S & E’s wedding embodied all the most elegant and magical things about wine country and we were thrilled that it was featured in this year’s C Weddings. So we thought we should offer a closer look at the wedding in its intricate and well-designed detail. Below: the bride’s ceremony-ready updo; bouquet of peonies and garden roses by Sharla Flock (complete with mint and dusty miller Sharla plucked from her own garden!); ceremony set in the ruins of an old winery. During the recessional, the bride and groom were followed out by a New Orlean’s style jazz band (!).

A ceremony design note: wide aisles are wonderful, and afford excellent vantage points for photographers and guests alike.  If you have the space, make a wide aisle.

During cocktails, Stacy McCain and her crew oversaw the transformation of the ruins area into a dining area.  We love the centerpiece design by Sharla Flock.  (I also worked with her on this inventive wedding last spring).  Meanwhile, the bride was transforming her look, too.  The bride and groom had a busy schedule, but we were happy to catch them here and there, in between the various parts of the day.

Dessert, dancing, and self-portrait-taking in the barn followed dinner.  If you look closely above and below, you’ll see some of the many musical ensembles that contributed to the festive mood of the wedding from beginning to end. One thing we loved about the wedding was how very different each part of the day looked and felt.  Musical cues were as important as visual ones.  We also loved how personal the food felt.  The groom’s family contributed produce from their farm, including almonds for badam kheer, a traditional Indian dessert drink (that I am now mildly obsessed with … and have started making regularly on my own!).  The couple departed the reception in a vintage Packard. I love the grand exit as a photo op (even if I am, as I was here, the only one there to witness it).

photos: Gia Canali; planning & design: Stacy McCain Events; floral design: Sharla Flock; music (!!): Ed Ivey, Bay Area Booking; bride’s gown, Vera Wang; stationery, Hello!Lucky; lighting, Got Light; venue: Annadel Estate; catering: Paula LeDuc Fine Catering


Decoding and Evaluating a Wedding Photographer’s Fee, Part 2: What’s in the Package That’s NOT Stated

03 | 09 | 2011

Nevermind talent (we’re assuming that you’re looking at hiring someone talented! With passion! And artistry!). And nevermind the staggering cost of gear (cameras, computers, etc), insurance, work space, self-employment taxes, education, and all the other things that go into running a legitimate business, here’s what is implied in a wedding photography fee (though you’ll never see it on the contract or invoice):

I. Your Wedding Photographer’s Time (and lots of it!)

Before the wedding, your photographer will probably have spent a considerable amount of time getting to know you and your fiance and learning the ins-and-outs of your wedding as it takes shape.  There will be phone calls and planning meetings (or phone dates if planning from afar).  Your photographer may drive to the locations to do some location scouting, in hopes of finding the best spots and the good light.  There will likely be a flurry of thoughtful emails composed, and more phone calls, and some sketching-out of your day, as far as it relates to photography.  If you have a wedding planner, some of this collaboration will be done with the planner instead of with you. Before the wedding, your photographer will do everything she can do to set herself up to give you the best photographs possible. And that includes getting to know you and what’s important to you.

Right before the wedding, your photographer will order film and supplies, check and prep gear and film for the wedding, charge batteries, clean lenses, dust sensors, and definitely double- and triple-checking packing lists!

On the day of the wedding, even if faraway travel is not involved, your photographer might have already put in twelve hours or so on your wedding before even picking up a camera.  She will arrive early to the event (we often double or triple driving time … just in case!).  There will be more scouting, setup, then the shooting that’s stated in the package (see Part I), tear down of all the gear, and travel home … in time to put on some really comfortable shoes and start post-production.

Post-production usually begins just after the wedding, with downloading and backing-up digital cards.  Then there are trips to the film lab, an organizing of images, editing and color-correcting digital images and film scans, posting images online, archiving the images to multiple locations and media, telling you and your spouse all about it, then printing the proofs, and—finally!— working on the album.  Most of our clients also have some custom handmade prints or vintage photographic processes as part of their package, so we’re usually busy working on those, too.  Many of those sorts of prints require studied work over a course of days or even weeks to complete.

The total amount of time your photographer invests in working on a wedding will vary from couple to couple, depending on the parameters and complexity of the shooting and what kind of album the client gets.  But it’s safe to say that a regular wedding, without any travel involved, is no less than a forty hour project.  Some weddings, and destination weddings for sure, often add up to much, much more than the forty-hour figure.  I think this is important to keep in mind when you’re looking at a wedding photography package or fee.  It’s anything but a day rate.

II. Your Wedding Photographer’s Experience (Which Equals Your Peace of Mind)

Your wedding photographer’s experience includes, but is not limited to, those weddings—and some of us have shot hundreds—where we’ve refined our eyes, our skills, our empathy; our performances, our shutter-fingers, our hearts, our blisters, and our minds so that you know and don’t just think you know that what we did for those other couples we can do for you.

Experience, and certainly not just what we learn “on the job,”¹ helps us as artists to make—to yearn to make—the images we know you’ll want to see in six weeks from now and in sixty years.  By our experience, we not only use really good product (like prints and albums!) that will last a lifetime,² we set ourselves about making images that are going to last a lifetime.

Just because someone is good with a camera, doesn’t make them good in the high-pressure, once-in-a-lifetime, action-packed, emotionally-wired, pressure-cooking, performance-driven, moment-after-moment-after-moment situation that a wedding is.  (Of course, we wedding photographers love that about our work! Weddings are an exhilarating challenge.).

You want to find a photographer with longevity—a long-standing, savvy business.  The longer someone’s been at this, the better they’ll be.  They’ll have learned from their experiences.  They’ll be smarter and better for you.  I wish I had known what I know now about making wedding photographs for people when I first stumbled into this, eleven years ago, snap-happy and indignant that nobody was planning to document my friend’s wedding, to show it for its hugeness.  For the momentous occasion that it was.  I wish I’d known these things at any of the zillion weddings between that one and the one I shot in December on the fair island of Anguilla.  And I wish I already knew what I’m going to learn this year and in five years so I could be that much better for my clients right now.

Longevity is also important because someone who’s been around—and done good business!— is likely going to be around and keep doing good business.  The ubiquitous starving artist is perhaps not quite what you want – rather, find someone who knows how to make a living making their art.   That kind of savvy and know-how speaks volumes without saying anything.

The consumer adage “you get what you pay for” is wholly applicable when it comes to wedding photography, but if your taste and budget don’t align, there are a few options at the expense of peace of mind.  There’s always a fresh crop of up-and-comers on the wedding photography scene (probably partially fueled by their misguided assessment of the lofty so-called “day rates”).  You can get someone with lots of talent but not a lot of experience for a relative bargain rate. But, as I said, you do get what you pay for.  So as you search for a wedding photographer and begin sizing up packages and photographer’s fees, try to look at the information holistically.  Remember that saying? “Cheap isn’t good. Good is good.”

*If you missed Part I yesterday, find it {here}.


¹ Truly, I think our wedding-day shooting experience is only the beginning of what shapes our artwork.  We photographers spend countless untold hours shooting on our own, roaming around with cameras, tinkering, learning to coax from them the sorts of images we want to make.  We bury ourselves in piles of photo books and prints, art books.  We wander museums.  We travel.  We take things in, sometimes with a camera.  We try things with the cameras, with the films, with printing, and editing.  We try them again.

² Really good photographers also invest time to cultivate a good working relationship with their album-makers, their labs—with all their collaborators.

photos: Gia Canali (the photographer and subject pictured are these guys!)


Decoding and Evaluating a Wedding Photographer’s Fee, Part I: What’s Stated in The Package

03 | 08 | 2011

I’ve always had a distaste for the term “day rate” when it comes to wedding photography.  Not only does it woefully misrepresent what we do, I think it actually devalues it.  So, in the interest of helping you guys evaluate wedding photographer package rates (at the time of year when everybody seems to be looking), I thought we should discuss here what actually goes into a package rate or fee.  Forgive me the long post.  I think this is worthwhile information.

Here, we’ll discuss what’s in a wedding photographer’s package that’s stated or listed (tomorrow, in Part II, we’ll talk about what’s in a photographer’s fee that’s not stated).  Stated items are the services listed and the tangible goods (photographic prints and products) that are included in a package.  I’m breaking them down into their most probable parts.

1. Wedding Day Photographic Coverage

Packages or photographer’s fees will likely vary by hour, but may alternately be a flat rate.  You may have the option to add time or additional photographers to your package.  But basic coverage may be for one photographer or two, or for a photographer and an assistant. A second photographer takes photographs at a wedding, of course, but a photographer’s assistant generally does not take photographs.  A photographer’s assistant usually is someone who helps carry bags and equipment.  So: don’t confuse a two person team for a two photographer team.

Having two photographers is definitely better than one, but it’s also more costly.  A skilled artist needs to be hired, and more people shooting (or more hours of shooting, regardless of the number of photographers) adds up to additional expense, both in hard costs and in your photographer’s time on the back end, too.   These expenses may be a separate line item on the contract or invoice or your photographer may include the expenses in the base rate.  Either way, the price will reflect the expenses incurred by the photography studio.

2. Proofing

Proofing is the way you take in all the images from your wedding.  In this film-plus-digital age, proofs may be online in a private password-protected gallery or they may be physical proof prints, or your photographer may do a combination of both for proofing.  Both methods have their advantages and their limitations, and we use both methods in our studio.  All our clients get an online gallery and some amount of proofs.  Some of our clients elect to get all their proofs.

Online digital proofing is quick and the images can usually be very well organized, so it’s easy to find something specific when you’re looking for it.  It’s also easier for you to access images from a number of locations and to share the photos with friends and family.  Unfortunately, computer screens vary dramatically from monitor to monitor, so there’s no way, with online proofing, for your photographer to know if you’re looking at really accurate color.  (I mean: assume you’re not!).

Physical proof prints fix that problem easily— you can look at the image exactly as it’ll print because you’re looking at the print!  Really big events are cumbersome to look at online and understand their full scope, but physical proofs fix that, too.  And side by side comparisons are a snap when you can hold one photo up next to another.  Physical proof prints can get disorganized pretty quickly, though, if you’re not careful, and sorting through piles of photographs looking for a specific image can become tiresome.

Laying out albums can work well physically with proof prints or digitally with software, but some people, myself included, are more tactile and the physical prints do seem to help with the task.

3. Prints

Some photographers may include prints or print credits as part of their basic package. You don’t really have a photograph until you have a print of an image (right?! Your grannies and your grandchildren aren’t going to care about a disc of images. That’s just the shoebox-under-the-bed v. 2.0.  Out of sight = out of mind).  So even a small print credit is a big plus, and an added value.

4. Albums

A finished wedding album may or may not be included.  Be sure to ask if the credit is for a specific album or if it’s a general credit.   Consider the value of the album, and also ask what the costs may be for upgrading or changing your album.  You may change your mind about which album you want as you go through the planning process for your wedding, or after the wedding.

Not all albums are created equally, so be sure you’re comparing like-to-like with albums.  Beware the cheap, cheaply-made album and photo books on the market these days.  We use only high-quality artisan-crafted albums in our studio, and we work exclusively with local album companies, so that we can collaborate with them face-to-face. The really good photographers are in the business of making heirlooms and we all take that duty very seriously.

Note that a lot of photographers discount the albums and products inside of a package, as a buying incentive.  This is similar to the concept of the baker’s dozen, where you buy twelve bagels and your baker throws in a thirteenth.  This adds value.  And because of your total investment, your photographer can offer the album (or photographic coverage or prints or whatever) at a discounted rate as opposed to purchasing that same album or product or service on its own (a la carte).

5. Disc of Images / License to Use Images / Negatives

A photographer makes her living on the creation and use of images she creates.   A basic wedding photography package may or may not include image-use privileges.  People always used to talk about getting “the negatives,” but now “negatives” has become a generic term to mean a license to print or otherwise use the images. It’s good to inquire what image use rights, if any, are allowed as part of your package.

If rights to the images are included or are for sale, they are probably personal or family-use only rights (like: you can’t sell the images or use them for commercial purposes).  We retain full rights to our images, unless someone, usually a celebrity, does a very expensive, and almost always otherwise unnecessary, image buyout. (The image buyout removes our right to make money from prints and other duplication of the images.)

So when you look at a photographer’s fee, try to look at it holistically.  Get a feel for what’s included and for the caliber of what’s included—and I mean that all around.  It’s easy to get trapped in the shopping mode (“what do I get?!) without thinking about album-to-album or photographer-to-photographer comparisons.  A high quality album and fewer hours of photography from a fantastic photography studio might be a far better investment than unlimited coverage and three albums from another studio.

It’s just as easy to get trapped in the bottom-line-only mentality (“what’s the fee?) without regarding what’s actually included in the fee.  Some photography studios try to size up everything they think you need to make the investment worthwhile (so there aren’t hidden costs for you later).  Others offer a low fee, but then everything else is a la carte, and that might or might not cost you more in the end.  Most photographers fall somewhere in between.

It’s good to assess what you think you’ll want to have as your keepsakes early in the planning process.  Even if you don’t make the whole investment at once and even if you change your mind, at least you’ll be a smarter, savvier commissioner of wedding photography.*

Be sure to check back tomorrow for Part II.  We’ll discuss what goes into a wedding photographer’s fee that’s intangible, a very real part of what you’re paying for … though it never makes it onto a package price list or a contract.

photo: Gia Canali, from this adorable wedding

*Ultimately, I think you should hire someone whose work makes your heart go pitter-pat.  But that’s another story altogether.  We’re assuming you’ve found one and we want you to be savvy about sizing up the fees.