Tag Archives: hiring a photographer

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


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.

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!)


What Wedding Photography Has In Common With Taking Photographs on Your Cell Phone

05 | 22 | 2010

iphone-heart1 iphone-heart2

What I have come to love most* about taking photographs on my various cell phones is its (my) almost unconscious reaction to a moment or a scene. Point and shoot (nearly without thinking)! These are not relatively technologically advanced—or even competent—camera-machines. Serendipity prevails. Instinct prevails. My ability to make great photographs on my phone is proportionate to my ability to make great photographs period. And so, come to think of it, is yours. (These levelings-of-the-playing-field are good for the art; only when anyone can do it—not just those of us who can afford cameras—will photography become about those who can see … and about how they see the world).

One’s readiness to take a photo (on a cell phone or at a wedding) is essential. And like the world at large, a wedding is a now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t kind of place. Wedding photographers are hired for their readiness, an eagerness to see the picture and take it before the moment has flown away.  Cell phones make recording that everyday magic accessible to all of us. Obviously we choose to use sophisticated cameras—for the most part anyway**—to record people’s officially magical moments. But that instinctive reaction to life, to the world—just as in taking photographs on your cell phone—is what sets a good photographer apart, whether or not the person is a “pro,” and whether or not they photograph weddings from time to time.

The other thing I love about taking photos on the phone is that they are inherently and undeniably personal. ***Look at your phone—look at mine—it is filled with the daily joys: my doggy, my husband, my garden, the nieces and nephews, and the lovely bits of the world I take in as I go about my life and work.  Sometimes, however, I get the impression from folks  that wedding photos are supposed to be somehow not-personal (like: not as though they could be from my cell phone). But how is that even possible, much less desirable?

Of course the wedding photos I take are particular and personal to me, almost like they came straight from my phone, if decidedly a little fancier. It is my perfectly subjective point of view, my various passions and excitements that are represented in the photographs I take wherever I take them, on the job or in my back yard.  And that’s what you want!  You hire us wedding photographers for our empathy, for our sensitivity to your beauty, happiness, and love!  (Otherwise, we’d all save the money and have surveillance cameras or robots take our wedding photos, right?)


* Of course, before you can love it, you have to make peace with the vast and charming/maddening limitations of the camera phones.

** Those of you who know me well know that I have a devoted love of sh—— toy cameras. I can’t help myself.  Memories sort of flicker.  A lot like toy cam pictures.

*** Strong inspiration for this post came a few months ago, when I saw photojournalist David Guttenfelder’s iPhone photographs from the war in Afghanistan.  News photos seem so much less personal than cell phone photos from the news photographer.   I’m not sure why that is, but I was taken aback to realize it …

photos: Gia Canali


WYSIWYG: What You See Is What You Get (or Getting What You Expect) – Some Thoughts On Selecting a Wedding Photographer.

01 | 27 | 2010


WYSIWYG (what-you-see-is-what-you-get) is something we photographers talk about all the time when we’re printing our photographs.  We want our prints to precisely match what we see on our computer screens.  Obviously.  We want to get what we expect.  And with wedding photography, so do you.

So how does that work exactly, when you hire a photographer—or, now that I think about it, when you hire any vendor or artist?  Well … we do what we do: what you see is what you get.  So when you’re thinking about hiring someone, see enough of her work that you have a really good feel for what she does—a representative sample.  This could include images on a website or blog, some albums, and perhaps a client gallery or run of proofs.  By that point, you should feel like you “get” the scope and style of her work.  If you like what you see in that photographer’s portfolio, chances are that you’ll like what she can do for you.  But if you don’t, or if you yearn for something altogether different, no amount of direction, coaching, or unrealistic expectation is going to change how that photographer works or sees.  You aren’t going to get something different.

Two stories to highlight this point:

Once I was at a meeting with a potential client.  She kept pulling photographs out of my portfolio, dropping them on the coffee table, and pounding her forefinger on the photos,¹ asking over and over again, “Can you do this? Can you take photos like this?”  I was boggled.  What a query!  I had, of course, taken all the photographs in question, and there were dozens of them.  She had a whole, ever-growing pile of photographs she wondered if I could take.  What she was really asking, of course, was whether I not I could take photos like that for her. But still.  It’s ridiculous.

In another meeting, a potential client asked me, no less than twice, if I could take photographs like the ones taken by another well-known local photography studio.  Um … why not just hire them? (I hope they did!  Otherwise, they were surely and sorely disappointed.)

Neither one of these potential clients understood the principle of WYSIWYG. And I’m sure it’ll be no surprise to know that neither one of them hired me.  Nor will it be much of a revelation to know that I’m relieved they didn’t.

So … hire a photographer whose work makes your heart go pitter-pat.  Someone whose eye you trust.  And then let her do her thing.  (Why in the world would you want to interfere with what you trust is going to be marvelous?)

photo: Gia Canali


¹ Yes, yes, she was smudging them to death.


Decoding Wedding Photography Lingo, Part V: Post-Processing :: Editing, Retouching, and Color-Correction

01 | 14 | 2010

bride-color bride-bw bride-toned

Nowadays, there’s so much being said about photography and digital photography and digital wedding photography, that it sometimes makes my head spin.  And I’m on the inside!  So I imagine it’s quite intimidating to feel like you have a handle on what you are actually getting when you invest in professional wedding photography.  The advent of digital photography has changed not only how we photograph weddings, but also how we talk about photographing weddings—and especially how we talk about “post-processing” them.  In the olden days, I’d photograph a wedding, then wait with breath held and fingers crossed for the film and proofs to come back, toss out the few proofs I didn’t really like, and give them to the client.  Now, it’s much, much more involved.  There’s a workflow.  And although I don’t want to get into the whole long-drawn-out process right now, I do want to highlight some of the lingo that goes along with it.

**Other photographers may use these same words differently, so if you’re unsure about what any one photographer means, just ask!!

I. Editing

Editing is probably the most-used and least-reliably-defined word to describe post-processing.  For one thing, “editing” can encompass the entire process of getting images ready for a client.  When photographers say they’re “editing” a wedding, they could mean that they’re cutting out all the crummy images, or they could mean that they are color-correcting individual images or they could mean they are retouching individual images.  Or they could mean some combination of all of the above.

Personally, I like to stick to using these words how we used them when we wrote essays in grade school.  Editing meant organizing the whole piece, keeping the good stuff and cutting what didn’t work.  (Retouching is more like revising, but we’ll get to that in a minute).   So when I say editing, I mean organizing the images into categories that make sense, keeping the good images, and ditching the ones that don’t work (like accidental shots or ones where your eyes are closed).

II. Retouching

Retouching is kind of like revising an image.  The photographer alters the image in the interest of improving it.  Usually, we think of cosmetic retouching, like removing blemishes or whitening teeth (no, I’m not kidding!), but clients sometimes request other sorts of retouching, like removing extraneous people or shadows … or “exit” signs from the background of photos.¹  We do not retouch images as a matter of course, only by client request.  We’re all for beauty, but we’re also all for reality, however “imperfect,” being the beautiful thing.

III. Color-correcting

The great thing about digital photography is its flexibility and creative freedom.  I love it just as much as the next girl.  However, I do wish all the livelong day that I could have the creative control I get from my digital cameras with the picture perfect color I get straight-from-the-camera with film.  It’s just not possible, at least not yet.  I find images that come straight from a digital camera to be a bit dull.  They need a little color-correcting, a little pizazz, some finessing.  Some photographers really style their images a lot, others hardly at all, according to their own personal aesthetics.  There are no strict rules about color-correcting.  But images that are called color-corrected should look good and be print-ready.   We color-correct every image we show and give our clients.  As much as you want to look good, we want you to look good!

photos: Gia Canali


¹ Better yet, don’t plan the events of your reception in front of an “exit” sign.  Toasts are usually the culprit and it’s so easy to avoid it’s almost laughable.  But lots and lots of folks have their toasts in front of an exit sign anyway.  It baffles me.


Making A Proper Wedding Photography Inquiry

11 | 18 | 2009


I get dozens and dozens of inquiries for wedding photography at this time of year, nearly all of them by email; like most wedding photographers, I have an email query form on my website.  And although the form suggests the basic information I need to send couples correct pricing, folks still foil themselves (and me!) and I think giving a few notes toward good and sensible wedding photography inquiries will be helpful all around.  Couples want and deserve to get the right information up front.

I. The Essentials

Your Date

Finding out the photographer’s availability is the first step in any wedding photography inquiry.  Although much of the time we book six months to a year out, sometimes we’re still available for last-minute bookings just weeks before an event.

A side note: until a couple has booked their venue(s), their date is really still up in the air.   My advice is not to book any vendors until you’ve secured a venue and therefore, a date.  If your date switches, your photographer and other vendors may already be booked.

Your Venue(s). Be Specific.

Some people might interpret Catalina Island as a wedding location in “Los Angeles” or “Southern California.”  You don’t want to find out there are extra travel fees or mileage charges because you weren’t detailed enough when you inquired.

Your Email Address

Of course.

Your Phone Number & A Good Time to Call.

I can’t tell you how many people leave their phone number off the query form.  Not only is it sort of obnoxious (you ostensibly want me to photograph this intimate event in your life, but can’t be bothered to talk to me), it’s not sensible.  If the photographer’s email response ends up in your junk mail—which is likely since lots of spam filters pick up the word “photography”—you’ll never know they even wrote you back.  I know this happens because I sometimes get multiple inquiries from the same people who didn’t leave their phone number either time.  Or my emails to them will bounce back, but I’ll be helpless to make another contact.  We read phone number omissions as folks who are just fishing for our prices.

II. The Nearly Essentials

The Number of Guests You’re Planning For and Any Other Pertinent Details.

This actually isn’t a big deal for me most of the time.  A wedding with 400 guests isn’t that much different than a wedding with 150 guests.  For the most part.  But if you are planning a wedding on a Thursday morning with ten people, your photographer may have special small-wedding/elopement or off-peak packages available.

A Personal Note.

I’m pretty sure most photographers feel as I do on the following:  we don’t need to be flattered (although we don’t mind it either!), but we do want to know you are interested in our work specifically, not that you’re just looking to hire a—any—wedding photographer.  Writing a note that says “prices and packages please” sends a very different message than “I love your work and hope you can photograph my wedding.”

All of the above items comprise a proper wedding photography inquiry.  As much as you might not want to hear it, all inquiries aren’t created equally.  We’re more serious about serious inquiries—or rather, ones that seem to take our work more seriously.  If you decide to call instead of email, good for you!  We love to have personal contact right from the get-go.  Just be prepared with same information.

For those of you who are at other points in the process of hiring a wedding photographer, you might want to read our general overview {here}.

photo: Gia Canali