Real Questions To Ask A Potential Photographer

Forget the bridal magazines and their list of questions to ask a photographer during the interview process. They have no idea! There are some questions suggested by the magazines that have no bearing what-so-ever on the real world of wedding photography, and others that are hopelessly out of date.

Here’s some questions that actually matter. Take it from a working wedding photographer.

What makes you different from other wedding photographers? This is one of the single most important questions to ask, and I’ve never seen a magazine suggest it. Photographers are not identical grains of sand. Photographers are all different. If a shooter can’t adequately define what makes his or her work or style different, they don’t really have a handle on it themselves.

How would you describe your style of photography? Don’t settle for a simple one or two word answer like “candid” or “traditional.” Ask them to elaborate. “I specialize unplanned moments and emotions. I’m drawn to great expressions and interactions between people.” I’m not talking about advertising tag lines, but they should be able to define their style with some degree of detail. This shows that they have a handle on their own priorities and aren’t simply shooting at everything that moves.

What’s your professional photography experience? Not necessarily how long they’ve photographed weddings, but that’s good to know too.

Why do you photograph weddings? You’re going to have to read between the lines with whatever answer you get, but it’s certainly an interesting insight into the photographer’s motivations. No photographer is ever going to say, “Because I thought it would be a good way to make some weekend cash,” even though that may actually be the truth for some. Instead you want the answer to show some real passion and drive. You want someone who’s going to say something like, “I love people and telling stories of an amazing day in their lives.” Maybe even, “It’s such an important day, I want to do create photos that are meaningful and lasting.” A bit self-serving, granted, but at least there’s some real motivation beyond a paycheck. Regardless of the exact answer, you want to get the feeling that this person is genuinely passionate and motivated to do the very best job possible.

If a CD is included, are the photos enhanced or are they straight out of the camera? How much enhancement is done? Nobody ever asks this, but it’s very important. Many photographers who offer digital images simply give you whatever comes out of the camera, good, bad, and ugly. All photos benefit from some degree of enhancement. The fact is, cameras simply don’t see the world the same way our eyes do, even when everything is captured perfectly with just the right camera settings. Abandoning a photo after it’s captured is not a sign competency. However, a photo can be over-processed. The right balance is important. the degree of enhancement depends on the look the photographer is trying to achieve.

How many photos are typically included? Now, bear in mind, this is not the same as asking if you get all the photos. A good photographer will not give you everything. A wedding may generate between 1000 to 3000 or more actual exposures, depending on the individual photographer, but they are not all fit for consumption. There are doubles, people blink, and some photos simply don’t turn out. Quality photographers base their reputation on delivering good photos, not all photos. This is similar to movie making. How many hours of footage ends up on the cutting room floor to deliver the absolute best two hours of the final film?

Remember, a good photographer is interviewing YOU at the same time you’re interviewing him or her to determine whether you’re a good match for their particular style of work. For instance, if a couple is looking for a day full of posed photos, a candid or documentary photographer knows this isn’t the best couple to work. Likewise, personality plays an important role in how well everyone can work together on the big day. A poor match means unhappiness all around.

Be very honest and upfront about what you are looking for. But don’t be afraid to keep an open mind. Some couples have conflicting needs, such as wanting a day full of posed photos but also wanting the photography to be unobtrusive at the same time. A good photographer will be honest about what can and can’t be done, they won’t simply nod and promise anything and everything just to get the booking.

So there you have it. Some slightly unconventional real-world advice that can help you get some real insight into the photographer you’re interviewing for your wedding.

Favorite Photos of 2015

2015 was a really busy year for me. I had a lot of fun, worked with some great couples, and created a lot of photos. It’s always hard to distill thousands of photos taken each year into a handful of my favorites. While the bold dynamic portraits always get a lot of attention, some of my favorites are much smaller, more subtle moments that are full of emotion.

 

For 2016 I plan to really step up the cinematic feel of the dynamic portraits while continuing to capture those great candid moments and emotions throughout the rest of the day.

I’m looking forward to a great year!

Intimate Sunset Cityscape

Patrick_Pope_Photography_2014_26

I did a number of sunset photos last year, some far more grandiose. However, this one stands out as a bit different. It’s more intimate feeling despite an entire city spreading out behind them.

Sunsets actually require some technical shooting to get right. In this case I had a flash off camera to the right to give us strong directional light (and to avoid turning them into silhouettes due to the fact that all the sunlight is coming from BEHIND them). I put a warm color gel on the flash to match the color of the setting sunlight.

The perfect position for the sun lasts only seconds, so it takes a little preparation and a lot of fast shooting to make something like this happen. It’s no time to be fiddling with the camera.

Favorite Photos of 2014

2014 was a fantastic year for wedding photography. I captured a lot of weddings, recorded a lot of memories, and come away with a LOT of finished photos. Selecting just a few finished photos from the whole year is not an easy task, but here are a few of my personal favorites:

Kicking the year off right just four days into 2014. We did a few photos at the arch grounds on a cold evening, but it was this photo on the way back to the bus that really resonates with me. It was such a spur of the moment thing, too.Patrick_Pope_Photography_2014_01


Another winter wedding downtown. We hopped out of the bus and took advantage of the perfect evening light. Sometimes it just takes a couple minutes to make something special.Patrick_Pope_Photography_2014_02


This is typical of how I prefer to work. After discovering a beautiful location I told the couple to just have a couple romantic minutes on the bench. No intense direction or posing, no trying to force some Pinterest shot or work off a list. Despite looking isolated, we were surrounded by at least three other wedding parties and I had to be very careful about how I framed the shot.Patrick_Pope_Photography_2014_03


This is one of my favorite toasts of all time. Notice how the scene looks very natural? No flash to ruin the ambiance of the colorful up-lighting or leave a dark background. I’m very careful about making sure the light looks natural.Patrick_Pope_Photography_2014_04


I love the city feel of this image. This also shows how I like to set up groups in a staggered, casual arrangement.Patrick_Pope_Photography_2014_05


Just a great moment. We see our lovely bride as the calm among the storm of activity as everyone gets ready.Patrick_Pope_Photography_2014_06

In contrast, the guys are often ready quickly and enjoy just hanging out for a while. Again, casual and candid.Patrick_Pope_Photography_2014_07


St. Francis Xavier is one of the most beautiful churches in the area.Patrick_Pope_Photography_2014_08


Another shot downtown at night. More and more I’m avoiding the “look at the camera” mentality, even in a clearly posed image. I pulled the flash off the camera and set it up to photo-left to add a bit of direction and depth. Had I left it on the camera this would be a very flat and lifeless image.Patrick_Pope_Photography_2014_09


Black and white isn’t just for candids. Done right, it can make for a dynamic and timeless portrait.Patrick_Pope_Photography_2014_10


We were at a golf course, getting ready to head back to the clubhouse, but I wanted to get just one more group shot. Something different, though. I had the party climb the hill, told them to arrange themselves however they felt comfortable, and then put the bride and groom in the front. Very relaxed.Patrick_Pope_Photography_2014_11


Infrared photo in St. Charles at the riverfront. We specifically headed for this tree for this IR photo. Romantic but also artsy and different.Patrick_Pope_Photography_2014_12


Patrick_Pope_Photography_2014_13Patrick_Pope_Photography_2014_15Patrick_Pope_Photography_2014_14

This is the smartest thing I saw anyone do all year! After hair and makeup, Taka ushered everyone out of the room (nicely) and took a few minutes for herself with a glass of wine. Sometimes just a few minutes to just completely relax and collect your thoughts can be a lifesaver. Photographically there was beautiful light coming through the windows giving the perfect feel to this great moment.Patrick_Pope_Photography_2014_16

Patrick_Pope_Photography_2014_17 Patrick_Pope_Photography_2014_19 Patrick_Pope_Photography_2014_18

This is an example of where having an assistant can make the day flow better. I was working with the bride and groom a hundred yards away while Carol ushered the wedding party to the “ruins” at Tower Grove Park and got them set up. By the time they were in place, I had arrived with the couple and we just stepped in place. Meanwhile I handed the flash to Carol who had now become my lighting manager. We were set up and got the shot in just a couple minutes. Had I had to do it all on my own it would have taken three times as long.Patrick_Pope_Photography_2014_20


Just a crazy, fun shot a little later. I stood on one of the statue pedestals in order to get the right angle. The fish-eye lens gives just the right feel for this type of image.Patrick_Pope_Photography_2014_21


Patrick_Pope_Photography_2014_23Patrick_Pope_Photography_2014_25Patrick_Pope_Photography_2014_24

I love ending with a sunset. I did a number of them last year, some far more grandiose. However, this one stands out as a bit different. It’s more intimate feeling despite an entire city spreading out behind them.Patrick_Pope_Photography_2014_26

I’m excited to see what 2015 holds.

Louie

Patrick_Pope_Photography-9252189-2

To say Louie and I had a rough couple days is an understatement, but I have no doubt that it’s been a lot rougher on him.

On the way to an appointment Tuesday morning I had to swerve to avoid a kitten in the middle of the road. At most it was four or five weeks old, just a tiny little guy. The poor thing was frozen in fear in the middle of the street. I stopped, got out, and went to fetch it even though we REALLY don’t need another cat at the Pope household. Meanwhile the car behind me also stopped to keep from hitting it and it immediately ran up in the wheel well of the other car where it got caught in the brake pad with a terrible shriek. (Seriously, guy, you have a cat in your engine compartment, don’t move the car until it’s out!)

We both thought it was dead, so he drove off and I stayed for a minute to see if I could bury it on the side of the road. It was a sad enough story already without leaving it to the scavengers.

To my horror, as soon as the car drove off and I bent down to get it, it starts moving and trying to crawl away. It was so badly hurt, I thought it would have been a mercy had it died quickly. Now in a near panic, I picked him up and dashed to my car with the idea of taking him to the closest vet I knew of in Wentzville, Animal Medical Center of Wentzville.

Let me be clear, at this point my thinking was that he had almost no chance of survival, but there is no way I was going to let the little guy die slowly on the side of the road hurt and terrified. At least the vet could put him to sleep mercifully, and who knows, maybe there was still a chance to save him.

I had no box in the car to put him in. No bag. Nothing. If I put him on the floor he’d just crawl under the seat and I’d never get him out. So I wrapped him in a washcloth I had beside the seat and held him in my lap, bleeding all over me for the twenty minute drive.

When I got to the vet I set him on the counter and saw that, as bad as I already thought he was hurt, it was actually so much worse than I realized. It was the first time in my adrenalin fueled dash that I’d had a chance to really look at him. I don’t want to make it sound like this is about me, but honestly that very moment has traumatized me for the last two days. Flashback moments.

He was cut open all along his right side from his ribs down the back of his right leg. Worse, I saw he’d completely lost his right front leg. Turns out, he lost his tail too.

They immediately took him in the back and I left knowing he was in good hands, but he was so badly hurt I didn’t feel there was any hope. I realized later that I didn’t even leave my name or phone number. I’ve tried for two days to tell myself that I can only do my part and trust that he’s in the best place now, whether alive or otherwise.

I know. Big tough guy traumatized by a hurt kitten that I didn’t even know existed before that morning. Pretty weak. But no innocent creature should have to suffer like that, and that really bothers me.

So Thursday, two days later, I decided to stop by the vet’s. Really, I just needed closure and needed to hear he didn’t suffer needlessly. I gave it a 90% likelihood that he was too far gone to try to save. As soon as I opened the door I saw the Janell, who had met me at the counter when I brought him in on the day he was hurt. She looked up and said, “I know who you’re here to see!”

I could barely believe it. He’s still hanging in there? Not only is he hanging on, but he seems to be doing remarkably well. He was in a carrier on the counter, alert and bright eyed. He’s even been moving around, walking and eating. And, of course, he’s been just soaking up the love.

Patrick_Pope_Photography-9252189-3

Here you can see where he lost his leg, but yet just two days later he’s already walking around and barely slowed down.

Bear in mind, he’s still not out of the woods yet. He’s a very hurt little cat, but the fact that he’s been moving around and active, interested in his surroundings and the people around him, is very encouraging.

The best part of the whole thing is that he has a waiting home. Janell has already decided to take him home when he gets better. She named him Louie and everyone there has been showering him with love. He seems more than happy to soak it all in.

Patrick_Pope_Photography-9252201

So, while a happy ending isn’t assured yet, I’m at least very hopeful. And both Louie and I are feeling a whole lot better than we have for the last couple days.

I want to thank the Animal Medical Center of Wentzville for taking in this poor little guy and giving him such good love and care completely out of the goodness of their hearts. They didn’t hesitate to do all they could to help Louie, even when it seemed like there was no real point in trying. This is my completely unsolicited shout-out and recommendation.

Background Blur

Getting that beautiful background blur isn’t a Photoshop trick, it’s done by using the right lens and knowing how to take advantage of it for the effect. The result is an image you simply can’t get with a phone, point and shoot, or even a DSLR and the kit zoom. It makes the subject stand out and can blur away the mess of a busy background.

Patrick_Pope_Photography_Blur

Too often even professional photographers use the wrong lens or setting because it’s a lot less work and a lot less expensive. These two examples show the difference that can be achieved with a typical lens that came with a DSLR and a specialized optic. This is done in the camera – NOT Photoshop.

For the technically minded: the image on the left is comparable to an 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens on a crop sensor body: 85mm f/8 equivalent (sadly, I’ve seen a lot of budget wedding “pros” use this exact setup). The image on the right is what comes from an 85mm f/1.4 wide open on a full frame body. It’s big, heavy, doesn’t zoom, and costs five to ten times as much. But what a difference!

A Little Reception Fun

The reception was winding down and not much dancing was going on. I had a few minutes before heading out that let me be a little creative so I used these crazy light fixtures at Heart Of St Charles. By themselves they look a little like jellyfish tentacles hanging down. My accompanying photographer, Carol, thought they looked a bit like Star Trek transporters. In either case, they’re just unusual enough to make me want to use them in a photo.

I asked Clara to just stand under one of the fixtures and raise her hands in pure bliss, just be excited. It wasn’t hard since she was having a good time at the reception anyway, so it gave her an outlet to express her current state of mind. I used the fish-eye and got in really close.

Now, bear in mind, this is still just a snapshot, albeit a more creative one. The background’s a bit of a mess. But it doesn’t really matter. She’s in the moment, and that’s all that counts.

Patrick_Pope_Photography-NIKON D800E-6242

The Line-Up vs. A Casual Approach

Line-ups are boring. There, I said it.

Admittedly the traditional “wedding formal” isn’t overly artistic – those come later during the creative run-around session. Traditionally “formals” are just record shots of who was there, like a yearbook photo of the drama club. But they don’t need to be. With just a little time and creativity it’s possible to make something more interesting out of posed formals.

Here we see Stephanie and Austin’s wedding at the Conservatory in St. Charles. After the ceremony we spent a few minutes in the garden (in admittedly rather harsh light). The first was the standard line-up. It does the job, little more.

Patrick_Pope_Photography--5867

The next, however, we moved all of twenty feet under the archway and spent about one minute getting into place, resulting in a far more interesting photo. The light is better too.

Patrick_Pope_Photography--5887

The moral of the story: don’t get caught up in the traditional idea of what formals (or wedding photography in general) must be. It doesn’t take a lot of extra thought and creativity to make something special, it just requires the willingness to turn off auto-pilot and think about the images that we want to create. It’s just too bad that so many wedding photographers and couples seem to be unwilling or unable to make that mental leap.

Wedding Day Tip – Reception Timing

Problem: The ceremony is at noon, the reception is from 6:00 to 11:00. That many hours with the photographer is going to get expensive!

Yes, that is a problem – if the couple wants every minute of the reception photographed. In reality most receptions are covered very well in less than three hours of photography time. If time is tight is can be done in as little as 90 minutes. At receptions you want to have the major events photographed (toasts, first dances, cake cutting) and get some photos of guests (dancing, talking, and generally having a good time). But after a very few minutes of crowd dancing it all starts to look about the same so spending hundreds of dollars on additional hours of reception photography really isn’t recommended.

Gregory_sm-626

Here are two great timelines for reception coverage that isn’t rushed and have worked really well. Obviously you’ll want to adjust for your own needs.

Under three hoursFirst_Dance

  • Arrive at venue, get lined up – 10 minutes
  • Intro – 5 minutes
  • Toasts – 15 minutes
  • Dinner – 45 minutes
  • Meet and greet – 30 minutes
  • Cake cutting – 10 minutes
  • First dance/parent dances – 15 minutes
  • Bouquet/garter toss – 10 minutes
  • General dancing

You’ll notice that this adds up to just over two and a half hours with general dancing filling an unspecified amount of time. It just depends on the crowd and how long it takes for the party to get started. This also assumes a buffet style meal. For a served meal you’ll want to add at least 45 minutes to the dinner time. If you’re having a dollar dance, do it after the photographer leaves. It’s not as great of a photo op as most couples think (the photographer is not going to get a shot of every partner you’re dancing with anyway) and they take so long any money you make will wind up paying for the extra photography time anyway.

Reception_Dancing

Now, if time is a factor – and sometimes it is – here’s a plan for getting most of the above in about an hour and a half:

90 minute coverage

  • Arrive at venue, get lined up – 10 minutes
  • Intro – 5 minutes
  • Toasts – 10 minutes (tell them to be succinct)
  • Dinner – 20 minutes (remember, you eat first so you can be doing your thing while guests finish eating)
  • Cake cutting – 10 minutes
  • First dance/parent dances – 15 minutes
  • General dancing
  • Bouquet/garter toss – 10 minutes

Leave the meet and greet and dollar dance (if applicable) until afterward.

Gregory_sm-768

I’ve photographed my share of LONG receptions. I could make more money if I said, “You want every minute photographed!” but it’s just not a good use of your photography funds.