I’ve noticed I get a lot of hits from other wedding photographers crawling around this site, even getting calls where they pretend to be someone getting married just so they can hear me explain what I do, I guess so they can copy what I say and say the same things to their prospective wedding clients who call them.
And so I thought maybe they could use a little help, just in case they didn’t quite catch everything. So I’m going to tell you how to photograph a wedding like I do and deliver top notch wedding albums.
First, if you want to be a knock-off of me, one of the first things you need to do is forget just about everything you’re doing right now because chances are you’ve been a photographer for a few years or you’re brand new, and all your ideas of what constitutes a proper wedding photo comes from copying the photos you’ve seen other wedding photographers do, many of which they’ve copied themselves from others.
But that’s exactly what’s made your photos look like everyone else’s. What you need to do now is imagine what a wedding couple would want to see when they open up their wedding album in twenty or thirty or fifty years. Me, personally, I don’t think they want to see a photo of a couple each looking off in a different direction with a super serious expression on their faces. Or pretending to be fashion models vamping around in overly exaggerated poses. Or doing some stupid shtick for the camera’s sake. I know you think that’s what wedding photos are made of, but in my opinion all that looks hokey. No hokey wedding pictures are allowed when you’re imitating me, OK?
So the first thing is you have to capture real moments not manufacture faux moments. I don’t manufacture moments. You need to develop a deep reverence for other people’s meaningful, significant life moments. Let those happen and learn to photograph that instead of doing stupid routine poses. You need to focus on what a wedding’s really about.
Now this brings up a serious issue for photographers bent on imitating me. Let me help you here with that. You know and I know that when real moments happen, they’re lightening fast, unscripted, the best ones usually come without any warning and they don’t repeat themselves so you have to get them as they happen. Notice I said “as” they happen, not “when” they happen. And that’s the hard part, I know. Because if you wait until “when” they happen, and take the photo, you’ve obviously missed the moment. I completely sympathize with you there. That’s why you have to get them “as” they happen. I know you not being able to capture those fleeting moments as they happen is exactly why you get all those near misses, almost moments, fire a ton of shots off in a row hoping to get something, and resort to making up the slack with lots of staged photos where you stop people and ask them to do over what they just did simply because you missed the shot the first time. Or resort to making the wedding couple do a bunch of silly juvenile antics for the camera or take duplicates, triplicates and even quadruplicates or more of anything and everything (like a gazillion shots of the bridal shoes) to make up the quantity.
I know you explain this mass quantity of photos to your couples by trying to spin it into a sales feature by saying, “we’re going to take two to three thousand photos!” But to come off more like me to your prospective clients, don’t spin. Be genuine, be honest and be upfront. When what you’re creating for your couples is golden, you don’t need to spin anything to make it sound palatable. And remember, the right quantity’s important yet it has to be quality. You can’t simply dump a ton of images on clients where only a few may be any good. Not if you’re going to be like me.
OK, so what you need to do with your photography is two things. One is, anticipate what could happen, what may happen, and when and if you see it start to happen, get the photo. I know, I know: this takes experience and skill. Don’t worry, there’s a chance you’ll get better at that skill as time goes on IF you dedicate yourself to it as I did. You know it takes thousands of hours of practice to get good at anything, and at ten hours or so per wedding, it could take you hundreds of weddings to get good at capturing split second spontaneous moments. It took me years to really nail it. So be patient with yourself. Don’t kick yourself too hard every time you miss a great moment.
The other thing you need to do is to stop thinking the entire wedding happens in front of your nose. Here’s something that never dawns on lesser advanced photographers. While you’re looking and anticipating what’s right in front of you, something really cool’s about to happen behind you or to the left or twenty three feet away off to the side. So you really have to develop the ability to anticipate moments and be ready with the camera, and yet also at the same time be in the moment, observant and open to everything and anything 360 degrees around you. I can’t stress that enough. I know it’s easier said than done but again, practice, practice, practice and maybe you’ll get there.
Now, ever since I can remember, from like the age of four or five, I could draw. By ten, I was painting in oils, watercolors and acrylics and by 17 had already entered the commercial art field as an Illustrator. That natural talent plus honed training shows in my work. People notice it. That’s not something I can show you how to do because it’s part of me, but maybe if you go to art school and take classes in composition, painting, drawing the human figure, art history, then you could pick up a thing or two and anything you pick up would probably be an improvement to the aesthetics of your photography as it exists today.
Now here’s something you really need to hunker down on. It’s not just about the photography. The entire experience for the couple and their family and guests, from start to finish, has to be absolutely primo. You can’t let anything slide. Your manners, your speech, your appearance, every contact you have should be handled very, very well. Go into Tiffany or Nordstrom and see how they treat you. See what they look like, sound like, act like. That’s the gold standard you want to strive for and attain. Sure, it means you can’t slouch anymore, make crude jokes or dress down on the job and you’ll absolutely have to think before you speak or act, but you’ll learn to upgrade yourself. It’s a source of pride. This is mandatory. If you’re going to knock off my style, then that’s what you need to do.
Your customer service also has to be nailed down, on target. Here’s a little secret of mine if this helps: nothing happens in my business that I personally wouldn’t be happy with if I were a client. Nothing but nothing goes out of my studio with a “that’s good enough.” I’ve got to be very well pleased with it. If I’m not happy with it then I can’t expect my clients to be happy with it. You’ll need to be that rigorous.
This also means your product has to be stellar. Not just the style of the photography but the production values of your photography items, such as wedding albums. Yes, it costs more to make finer wedding albums. Yes, you’ll have to charge more to cover it but your wedding clients will directly benefit from it. In fact, that’s what makes it possible to create finer work for your clients. No business on earth can sustain itself putting more time, work and materials into creating higher caliber products and services without the funds to do so. So don’t dismiss using the better materials to make your albums simply because they cost more.
The cheap stuff, those ink jet printed paper books with the thin vulnerable papers the cheaper labs offer, with the faux photo printing, they offer it to people like you who in turn sell it to wedding couples who either don’t know any better or who don’t want anything better. People like the groom-to-be who called me today who all he wanted to know was a price, couldn’t care less if it was the best work or not, not even knowing anything about what level of work I would do for that matter, not knowing a thing about what to expect in return or what difference it would make between me and the next guy. Hearing his budget I had to tell him I was out of his price range but still wanting to help him, I offered up a few sensible tips on what to look for in case he didn’t know, so he wouldn’t misspend his money, but he didn’t want to listen. Rushed me off the phone, actually. Here I’m taking time out of my busy day to help him out, some guy who’s not going to put a dime into my pocket but I’m going to help him out anyway by steering him right, and he can’t invest one minute to listen to some helpful suggestions. You can’t help people who don’t want to be helped, you know? They’ll get whatever low grade quality is out there and it’s good enough for them and they won’t be any wiser as to how much better it could’ve been. Quantum leaps better.
But if you want to deliver on the caliber I do, then you really have to care more about what you deliver. And you’ll find better clients care and want that value in their photography, so you’ll have to learn how to take care of them because they won’t be the kind of consumer you’ve been used to dealing with, the consumer who doesn’t think much about the photography they’re purchasing and doesn’t mind paying to get average service and average photos.
Back to the wedding album. That album has to last their lifetime, plus several more lifetimes. And that means the materials have to be the better materials. The album not only needs to look stunning when you deliver it, it needs to retain its good looks through the years. The album binding has to be the most permanent kind to retain the shape of the book and to keep it from falling apart with age, the papers have to be archival photographic prints so they last over 100 years and not fade or change color. They also need to be mounted on rigid substrates to prevent creases and tears throughout the next century’s worth of people looking through it. You can cut corners by going the cheap route like you have, but I feel that’s not the right thing to do for something like this that’s meant to last so long.
You need to have the mind set that we’re actually in the business of creating heirlooms, because simply put, we are. You need to have a deep respect for meticulously crafting and refining photos and creating a work of art that will outlive all of us, existing as a legacy piece of a family’s history. I know this may be very different than how you’ve looked at it before, seeing yourself as simply someone with a camera who “takes pictures” and albums as mere casings to put photos in, but it can be done far better than that. Yes, it’s more work to have the album remastered as a separate, stand alone work of art, which is probably why you’re not doing it now but I fully understand I and only I put it on myself to go beyond the call to take all those additional steps.
But it’s kind of how my wedding clients and I see it should be done.
So I hope that what I’ve shared with you today makes it easier for you to pretend you can offer up the kind of photography I do. It’ll be awesome because couples love their wedding photos to death. Unless it’s cheaply done and an imitation of the real thing.
**G.E. Masana (portrait artist and Huffington Post contributer) As Seen In HUFFINGTON POST | MARTHA STEWART WEDDINGS | THE KNOT | NEW YORK MAGAZINE | BRIDAL GUIDE | BRIDES | STYLE ME PRETTY | ELEGANT BRIDE | GRACE ORMONDE | WELLWED | TOWN&COUNTRY **
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