Category Archives: Full Articles

The Why of Weddings (& Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and Other Celebrations)

02 | 22 | 2012

for EG

I photographed a bat mitzvah a few weeks ago.  This is not something I get to do very often, but I always relish the chance.  Bar and bat mitzvahs are so fun, unabashedly celebratory, and I think that age 13 is just about the perfect time to remind a young adult that of the love and support of family and community.  The clients for this bat mitzvah were particularly wonderful and I could tell from the first moment I met them last summer how much they loved their daughter and wanted this bat mitzvah to be a really affirming expression of that love.

The party was exhilarating—a whirlwind, really—and at the end of the night, after all the guests had gone home and I had packed up most of the cameras, I went to say good night to the bat mitzvah girl and her parents.   Her father began to tell me how people had complained to him before the bat mitzvah, “it’s so much money to spend” and “it’s just a party” and  “you’ll never remember it.” He continued on to tell me how happy he was with how the party turned out,¹ detailing how meaningful it was that his people had come all over the world for this party and he concluded, “you know, I think we will remember it.”

And something clicked.

He had paid the money and thrown himself headlong into the planning of this event not just for the daughter he and his wife love so much, for her birthday party or to honor and welcome her into a tradition, not even for the guests to have an incredible experience (which they certainly did), but so that he and his wife could have the privilege of gathering their people. From all over the world.  Into one room.

What good sense.  What clarity.  No one has ever articulated the why of a celebration so well to me.  (Also maybe it’s harder to see with weddings, perhaps because we kind of hope it’s really about ourselves when we get married).  You gather your people.  You gather your people at these singular moments in your life for the joy of being together, all together, all at once.

So often my wedding clients talk about how incredible and humbling and overwhelming it is to see their people all together.   One of the keenest memories of my own wedding is turning around during the ceremony and seeing the faces of my loved ones all together.  I think I’ve talked about that here on the blog before. But we don’t always or easily anticipate that, plan for it in the planning of the wedding.

I’ve seen some pretty crummy comments around the web, even here on this blog, about how much money people spend on their weddings.  Although there are lots of reasons for not spending money on a wedding (or anything else), folks might be missing the point.  It’s not about a dollar amount.  It’s about why whatever money people choose to spend is worth it to them.

photo: Gia Canali

¹ Let me just interject that it was one for the books as far as these things go.
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Interviewing Photographers: Why “How” Doesn’t Matter in Choosing a Wedding Photographer

08 | 12 | 2011

I get asked pretty much the same questions by each new couple I meet.¹  One of those questions is being asked with increasing urgency and is about how I work (and by this I mean how I work mechanically—with my camera gear, not relationally—how I work with people).  People want to know if I shoot film or digital and what cameras and lenses I carry around with me and how and when I choose to shoot what I shoot.

I.  Beware the Marketing Plugs

The curiosity about how I work doesn’t bother me.  I’d be curious, too—and not just because all the camera-gadgets are so fascinating.  It’s that it sometimes is asked of me—and all my fellow professional photographers—with judgmental weight behind it.  There’s information swirling all over the web about what folks think is the “best” way to go at making photographs.  And not surprisingly, everybody says “hooray” for his or her own way of doing things. (Translation: beware the marketing plugs).  There are lots of best ways of doing things.

II. It’s The Artist Not The Medium That Matters

What worries me is that couples might discount working with a digital photographer whose images they really admire and whose style they really love because they think they’re supposed to like a film photographer better.  Or vice versa.  There are great photographers making great images with all sorts of cameras, regardless of brand or medium, with fancy-schmantzy lenses and with plastic toy lenses … or even with no lenses at all.  And that’s why I don’t talk about cameras or lenses or image capture very much around here on the blog, as much as I can help it.²  This is an exciting time to be a photographer, and we have more choices about how to make an image than ever before.

But—and this is important—we photographers make the images we make because of how—and what—we choose to see.  The camera is, and always will be, no matter how many bells and whistles it may tout in its limitless incarnations, a box with a hole in it.  Whatever medium we use (film, digital), it’s just a medium.  It’s the artist and his or her own very personal vision that matters.*

III. Go With What You LOVE

What you want to find is work that really connect with.  Keep in mind that WYSIWYG, for the most part. There are certainly limitations to an online portfolio site, but once you’ve seen enough of a photographer’s work, on- and off-line, to feel like you “get” it, you probably do.  And then: go with your gut.  Don’t get caught up in the trappings …

photo: Gia Canali

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¹ When I first started this blog, I talked a little bit about interviewing photographers {here} and, in a way, also {here}.
² Except, of course, for the very occasional mournful salute to discontinued film stocks.  And sometimes I can’t keep my mouth shut when I’m excited about a new camera.  But I do try.
³ This is a good reminder for us photographers, too, who are kind of gear-junkies and always, always want at least one more new camera to play with.
*Of  course, “how” I work does in fact matter, in a “big picture” sort of way.  I believe in my process; I am constantly refining it.  I want to give folks the best art and the best products and the best service I possibly can.  But the way I do things most certainly isn’t the only “best” way to do things.  And I don’t think how I do things (how I make my images) actually matters in evaluating my portfolio or any other professional photographer’s either.  It’s how that work hits you in the heart that counts.
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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}.

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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!)

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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.
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Collaborating With Your Wedding Photographer, 113: Planning for a Picture Perfect First Dance

02 | 18 | 2011

The first dance is such a sweet moment in the wedding day.  It’s a challenge for shy brides and grooms (since all eyes are on you!), but I think it’s a particularly lovely tradition, one that can yield some fantastic photographs, and one that deserves some thoughtfulness in the planning of your wedding day.  Here are a few easy tips to get you started:

1. Choose that just-right song.

Emotion in real life = emotion in your real photographs.  The song can be magical or meaningful, sentimental or just plain fun, but definitely choose one that makes you two dance.


2. Consider the lighting and space you’ll use.

Lighting can add drama, but it also shows off your faces.  And I know I’m always reminding folks about their grannies, but your grannies will be glad they can see your faces, too.  This might mean planning your first dance just before or after sunset if you are planning an outdoor reception.  Or it could mean bringing in lighting to accent the dance floor if you’re planning an indoor or late night outdoor reception.

3. Practice!

I don’t necessarily mean you have to take dance lessons, though I have seen—and thoroughly admired!—some spectacular choreographed and rehearsed first dances.  Practice could simply mean slow dancing around your living room a few times before the wedding (which you’ll probably love anyway at that point in the planning!).

photos: Gia Canali

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Collaborating with Your Wedding Photographer, 109: Planning Your Engagement Photographs

01 | 11 | 2011

There are lots of different reasons people want engagement portraits.  Some people want to get practice in front of the camera.  Others want prints to display at the wedding.  Some folks want nice images to use for their save the dates.  Or they just want a few nice photos of themselves together in—if not regular—at least non-wedding attire.

In any case, planning engagement photographs is just like planning other sorts of portrait sessions, with a few special considerations, mostly in the interest of timing your session out before the wedding.  So these tips are also good for people looking to plan a bridal session, a family portrait session or a children’s session (well, except you want to keep in mind kids’ naptimes and happy vs. grouchy times in mind, too, not just lighting).

I. Imagine a Concept

I always think the most successful sessions have the simplest concepts.  Choose somewhere meaningful, like where you had your first date, or re-create your proposal, or take photographs at home, particularly if it’s a home you’ve built or remodeled together.  Choose something fanciful (you know, I’ve had a few couples choose underwater photographs).  Choose something you love doing together – my twin sister, Meghan, just did a portrait session with a couple skiing (so cute!).  Your photographer might be able to help you get your ideas flowing, so definitely ask for help if you need it.  She may be floating an idea around in her mind, just waiting to match it to the right couple.

II. Choose a Location

Your concept may dictate a specific location, but if not, it’ll certainly help narrow down to the type of location you want to find.  In Los Angeles, be mindful of location permits and use fees (insert groaning and rolling-of-eyes).  Other places aren’t so strict.  Your photographer may have some ideas – you may have some ideas – and scouting is almost always very helpful, particularly if you want to use a location you aren’t familiar with.

III. Think About Time of Day

There are a few times of day that are generally excellent to take photographs: early in the morning, during that last golden hour before sunset, and, in some locations— think urban locations with lots of lights—just after sunset when the sky is deepening blue.

IV. Think About What You’d Like To Do with the Images

This might be counter-intuitive, but with engagement photos specifically, planning ahead for the output is important in case you want anything ready in time for the wedding.  Do you want a single stand-alone image to print?  Do you want a collection of prints? Are you looking to make a book? Would you rather have one or a few handmade prints? Does any of this need to be ready in time for your wedding?

V. Plan Your Wardrobe / Look

I think the best looks for engagement photographs are flattering and special.  I’m not crazy about costume-like looks, but you want to look your best for sure! Note: though both partners should look equally dressy.

VI. Schedule Your Session

With all this information gathered, all you’ll need is to coordinate with your photographer.  If you would like prints or albums in time for the wedding, be sure to ask how much lead time your photographer needs to put those things together.  With destination weddings, “engagement photos” might not happen until the day after the wedding.  But otherwise: give yourselves plenty of time before the wedding, if at all possible.  And once you settle on a session time, stick to it!  If you’re planning photos during the busiest part of wedding season, missing a session might make rescheduling tricky.

We’ll talk about getting great results at your session soon!

photos: Gia Canali

* This couple opted to take their photos on the Malibu hillside where he proposed to her!

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Collaborating With Your Wedding Photographer, 401: On Great Expectations

11 | 14 | 2010

Meeting your expectations is (relatively) quite easy.  Meeting our expectations is what you want to empower us to do.

(Don’t get me wrong: there are plenty of wedding photography expectations floating around from you and your parents and your grandparents, and while these expectations also are exceedingly important to us, we understand them easily and well.  We’re going to meet them and then some. We’re just saying: even so, do everything in your power to make sure we can also give you the photographs we’re imagining for you.  We’re not aiming merely to meet your expectations.  We’re going for extraordinary, one-of-a-kind, ethereal, take-off-the-top-of-your-head photographs. And that’s what you want to empower us to do.  If anyone has great expectations of us, it’s us. Learning to play that to your advantage is what I’m hoping to teach you to do.).

photo: Gia Canali

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Interview with Yifat Oren: Tips for Everyone from Celebrity Wedding Planning, Part II

07 | 17 | 2010

estate-party

We’ve got celebrity wedding planner, Yifat Oren, back with us today, offering one more expert wedding planning tip and it’s an especially good one to heed:

“There’s a whole art to the pacing of a party and the energy of a party.”

“If you create too many lulls, your reception will not be as great as it could be.  Waiting in between courses too long without giving guests something to do – like geting them up and dancing or listening to toasts – can really suck the life out of a party.   When creating your timeline, pay special consideration to timing.  A good rule of thumb is to serve a course and then have a couple of toasts.  After the toasts, clear the course and either get your guests up for some dancing or come out with the next course immediately.  For all this to run smoothly, your caterer/banquet captain at a hotel and band leader must work closely together with a well-thought-out timeline.  Ideally, you would also have someone there on the day of the wedding to manage this process and be the liaison.”

Thinking about the flow of your party when you create your timeline is essential, particularly in considering your guests.  But a well-thought-out timeline won’t help you if you don’t stick to it (or, at least, as much as is up to you). I’m not saying, don’t let yourselves be spontaneous. I’m saying: plan for the experience you want to have and share with your guests and then have it (don’t just think it’ll happen).  Your wedding crew will be busy doing the best job they can to realize that dream wedding day for you.  Poor planning and big deviations can impact what they can do for you and can halt the party you’ve hoped for and imagined.  Plus,  a lively party renders much better on film.  Thanks (again!), Yifat.

photo: Gia Canali

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