Category Archives: Planning

Honoring Mothers

05 | 05 | 2011

{click for a closer look!}

With Mother’s Day coming up this weekend, I thought I’d share a tear from Brides magazine, which just came in the mail. It offers some great ideas for honoring your mother on your wedding day.  I, for one, certainly wish that I’d walked down the aisle with both my father and my mother.  (Honestly, my husband and I agree that if we had one thing to do over, we would have honored all of our parents more at our wedding.  It seems sometimes like the father of the bride is the only one who comes with “built in” moments in the spotlight.)  And I love this mother-daughter dance tradition (suggestion #15), though I’ve seen it only once … at the wedding pictured above.

If you’d like to see more photos from this wedding, we featured it awhile back {here}.

photo: Gia Canali

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Getting Great Wedding Photographs, Tip #20: Know When To Adjust Your Expectations (Like If The Weather Goes Wild)

04 | 12 | 2011

It rained all day and all night at this wedding, without ever letting up.  We made some of our only real outdoor portraits under the canopy of this stand of redwood trees, which was somehow dry, even after two solid days of driving rain.  I love how the bride looks like she’s floating above the forest floor (and also kind of glowing!), like a wood fairy or a nymph.

The truth is that you never really can do anything about the weather.  Just be ready to go with it.  This couple had envisioned lots of portraits in the fields and forests near the reception venue. (And I had, too!)  The weather, unfortunately, made that pretty impossible, not to mention totally impractical.  Plan B was to run outside during a break in the rain.  It never happened.  So … we all adjusted our expectations and made the best portraits we could in the few spots we could reasonably get to.  Although I absolutely love all the photos that show the rainy day for what it was, the images from this series that seem to transport the bride far from her rainy wedding day seem extra special.

photo: Gia Canali

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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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Things I Like: Two Looks For The Bride

02 | 20 | 2011

{click any image to enlarge}

Two looks are better than one!  This bride had her hair redone during the cocktail hour.  I love how something so simple as letting one’s hair down really makes for an entirely different look (and a relatively budget-friendly one, compared with buying two frocks, for instance).

photos: Gia Canali; hair, Dano Abriol

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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, 112: For Savvy Couples – Why Two Photographer Coverage Is So Smart

02 | 12 | 2011

Two photographer coverage of your wedding day might sound like a nifty luxury, but in fact, it’s darn close to (or, frankly, is!) a total necessity.  Some photographers, myself included, work exclusively with a second photographer/assistant.*  And because it’s our job, as the professionals, to watch out for you guys, to set you up to succeed—and, truthfully, to set ourselves up to succeed on your behalf—I thought we should talk about why savvy couples book two photographer coverage of their weddings and why I require it for the weddings I photograph.

I. You Want Better Art

Two pairs of (trained) eyes are better than one.  Two photographers will see the same wedding entirely differently.  One of the reasons I love working with my husband is that he continually astounds me with how he sees what I see, but he sees it differently.  The coverage we offer together is more varied and more unique than what I could offer alone.

II. You Want a Better Wedding Day

Your day is better because we are efficient. When we’re working together, we can wrangle the zillion cameras and zillion people involved in a wedding day smoothly.  My shooting style requires two necks (at least!) to wear all the cameras I rotate through while I’m shooting.

And two pairs of hands mean I can keep shooting even when a roll of film needs changed or a new battery needs to go into a camera.

Plus, all the “organized” formal group photographs move along quickly and easily, which spells more time for you and your beloved with each other and with your guests.

III. Most Importantly: You Want To Protect Your Investment (And We Do, Too!)

The other reasons aside, the one that makes two photographer coverage of the wedding day a non-negotiable as far as I’m concerned, is that we all want to protect your investment in photography—in us. Sometimes a photograph of mine is better than my husband’s.  But sometimes his is better than mine.  Sometimes the shot or angle we thought would be the best, for some reason, isn’t (an overzealous aunt walked into the shot, say). But the other person got just the shot.  And that’s only thinking of normal shooting conditions.

What if a roll of film came out badly? What if one of the photographer’s shots were just slightly out of focus? What if something went wrong with a camera card? What if one of your photographers got sick at the wedding? Or hurt?  It would still be your wedding day. And, with two photographer coverage, you’d still have beautiful heirloom photographs of the entire day.**

Destination weddings, of course, up the ante on all these concerns because so much can happen when travel is involved.***

In the end, I’m talking about you making sure we all get it right (and get it best!) the first time because there’s only one go at your wedding day.

photo: Gia Canali

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* Some weddings are more logistically involved than others.  So with really big weddings, I’ll bring a third person, just to assist me and expedite what we do.
** Okay, that’s not to say that we don’t still miss something every once in a while.  We aren’t robots, after all.  And we can only be where we can be and do what we can do.
*** Not to mention that my cameras don’t all fit in one person’s carry-on luggage.  But that’s a story for another day.
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Collaborating With Your Wedding Photographer, 110: Optimizing For A Limited Hour Package

01 | 25 | 2011

{click any image to enlarge}

Sometimes, getting the photographer of your dreams means going with partial day coverage instead of full-day coverage.  And if that’s what you need to do, do it.  But—if there’s any way you can help it—don’t skimp on coverage early in the day.  Unfortunately, photographs of getting ready are often the first thing to go with limited photographic coverage.  Not only is the getting-ready time a beautiful ritual in and of itself, but it’s one you and your fiance generally go about separately from each other.

Adding time on the day of the event won’t necessarily give you time earlier on in the day when you’d have really needed it. So it’s a good idea not to rely on adding coverage on the day of the wedding.  In any case, proper advance planning should tell you how much time you should budget for.

photos: Gia Canali

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