“We like to plan ahead.” Geoff’s email query began with these words, and as they were booking nearly a year in advance, I believed him! Michael and Geoff chose San Francisco for their destination wedding as a ‘halfway point’ for both families gather, Geoff’s parents are based in New Zealand while Michael’s family resides in and around Toronto. They booked the stylish Clift Hotel for their stay and wedding location to host a personal, intimate ceremony and celebration diner for their close friends and families.
Travel, family, and long-term friendship connections are clearly a theme in this couple’s lives – they met in London, and their decorations included a photo wall made entirely of snapshots from their global travels.
Lilith and Michael planned a small ceremony with some of their closest friends witnessing and participating. We met on a perfect bay area day near Stern Grove, surrounded by redwood and eucalyptus trees, while a family of hawks hunted overhead. Michael told me later that he timed the event to coincide with golden hour – which as you can see worked out very, very well.
Some advice and tips on what to look for when booking a wedding photographer.
You’re engaged to be married! It’s a thrilling, joyful thing. Next stage – planning your celebration. Also very exciting, but this can also be stressful; with a ton of details to juggle, people’s opinions to field, and financial issues to consider.
First steps include choosing your date, venue, and of course, deciding what to wear (my personal favorite part). Locking in your vendors is a big part of these early decisions – good photographers, florists, and caterers often book a year or more in advance. I’ve had clients contact me up to a year in advance, and I honestly love it when people plan this far ahead. It isn’t always possible, but I do recommend not leaving things until the last moment to ensure you have as much choice as possible. For cases where I’m pre-booked, I have a small number of local photographers who’s work and professionalism I feel confident about recommending in my place.
But what to look for in a wedding photographer? And once you find someone you like, how do you proceed? In no particular order, here are some tips I recommend. You’ll notice most of these aren’t about the quality of images, but of the business of photography. There are a ton of extremely talented shooters out there, but you only want to work with someone who is organized.
Look at a lot of websites, and choose someone who’s shooting style matches your aesthetics. It can help to keep an ‘inspiration’ folder on your computer of photographs you really like from other people’s weddings. Collect these, and sit down with your partner to figure out your personal style. Do you like a more photo-journalistic approach, or are portraits more your style? Color or black and white? This will also help you articulate your goals to the photographer you choose – I love it when clients come to the table with even a basic idea of what they’d like. An example might be: “We really like a photo-journalistic style for the ceremony and reception, but since we have so many family members coming from out of town, setting aside time for a large set of formal portraits is extremely important to us.
Work out your budget for photography, and ask yourself how flexible you are to work with a person you really like. There are all levels of pro photographers, at all budget ranges. I personally do my best to try to make sure people can afford my services, and I also have to charge a certain amount based on the time I spend shooting your wedding while factoring in post production time. I also host your images on my site, back them up, and spend a lot of $$ on gear to make sure that I capture the highest-quality images that I can. While you might find a more affordable photographer, it’s also important to take a look at that person’s post-production set up. They might not have a site you can order prints through, carry insurance, or use high enough quality camera gear, or be able to back up your files!
See if it’s a good fit
If possible, meet up face to face for a conversation and planning session. I like to sit down with people and really talk about their wedding documentation goals to see if we’d work well together. Everyone has their own shooting style – some photographers are more ‘fly on the wall’, others like to direct. My own style is a mixture of the two – and I take my cue from the people I’m working for. If you meet up with someone and don’t feel comfortable talking with them at a cafe? Chances are you won’t feel comfortable with that person photographing you getting into your wedding dress.
Book a test shoot
Schedule an engagement session or test shoot. I offer a free ‘save the date’ or engagement session with every booking, but will gladly discount the cost of a test shoot off the wedding package if you wind up booking me for your wedding. Most photographers welcome the chance to get to know you before the wedding day, the more comfortable you and your partner are, the easier it is for everyone.
Lock it in
Contracts. Always, always, always sign a contract with your vendor! I seriously cannot stress this more. Contracts protect everyone involved, including you! I am constantly editing, improving, and revising contract as people’s requests and needs change, or as I add on services. I use my contract to lay out everyone’s expectations for the day, give clients a hard copy document they can refer back to to understand what they’ll be getting, and to provide a record of our business agreement. I’ve heard too many horror stories about how a photographer took months and months to deliver wedding photos, disagreements about final invoicing, or file delivery formats… all of which could have been avoided with a contract. Don’t sign a contract you aren’t comfortable with! If a vendor isn’t willing to work with you to craft a contract you feel comfortable with, consider working with someone else.
And now that you’ve decided….
A few more tips for the actual ceremony day….
Don’t hesitate to tell your photographer if something special is going to happen! Of course, we’re always prepared for random moments of amazing, but it never hurts to give us a heads up.
Drink water and remember to eat! Sounds crazy, but you’d be surprised how easy it is to forget!
Relax, have fun, and trust your photographer. You’ve chosen well, your vendors will take it from here.
Anything I missed? Leave a comment and let me know what advice you’d offer to someone looking to book a photographer or vendor for their wedding.
Radiant, and rainy. Two adjectives which describe my first wedding of 2012! It’s always an enormous honor when a friend asks you to shoot their wedding, in this case I was very touched when Kelly and Greg decided to book me for this day at city hall. We began with the appointment for their license, and in no time at all were standing in the Rotunda, surrounded by their closest friends and the officiant (who was absolutely lovely!). After, we headed up to the 3rd floor to take advantage of the incredible light up there for some portraits of the couple and their attendants.
I love Kelly’s 1930’s inspired dress and hat so much that I couldn’t resist processing a number of their images in velvety black and white – some of these shots remind me of my grandmother’s wedding album images, which were a big inspiration to me growing up.
Wrapping up the year, two days after it ended. That’s what happens when you have a commitment ceremony on the 21st, drive to Arizona with your partner’s mother, spend a few days with family, then take a couple more days driving home. You fall a little blissfully behind. We stopped at the Salton Sea on the way back and camped overnight, it was cold, smelled like dead fish, and we were woken by the howling of Coyotes around dawn. It was perfect.
Joshua Tree is our traditional stop on the road home. We shot photos at sunset, made a quick dinner, then hit the road for the insanely long drive back to San Francisco.
This year was a good one. I photographed some incredible weddings, worked with great new clients, and even traveled a bit. I hope you all had a fantastic year, and am looking forward to seeing what 2012 will bring.
My good friends Nick and Ingrid were married last summer in San Anselmo, and while they opted not to book any of their friends in an official photographer capacity, I couldn’t resist snapping a few candid images of their beautiful wedding.