A good rule of thumb is to plan about 1.5 to 2.5 hours in front of the camera for out-and-about photos. After that it gets old. Just because you have four hours between ceremony and reception doesn’t mean you have to use it all for photos.
Don’t forget travel time on top of the above mentioned estimate. You might be surprised how long it takes to get a wedding party on and off a bus, and traffic is always worse than you would otherwise expect.
Have a big wedding party (six or more per side)? Add more time. Big groups take longer to set up and get organized. Have a heavy drinking group (you’ll know if you do), add a little more time.
It’s a good idea to pick a couple good spots and milk them for all their worth rather than trying to hit every place you can think of. For example, consider two or three spots in Forest Park (MUNY, waterfall, Jewelbox) rather than trying to go to five, six, or more all over the place. You’ll enjoy a more relaxed pace.
Remember to give your photographer the time (typically every new spot will require some adjustment to settings and lighting) and attention it requires to get groups set up and make any adjustments to equipment. We all want to have a good time, and the photographer should keep it relaxed, but when it’s time for around-town photos it’s important to keep focused.
Black and white photography can be a powerful tool for cutting to the heart of a scene and conveying story and emotions in a dynamic way.
Here’s a quick example from a recent reception where the color image looks nice to my eyes – it’s a good moment and interaction and I like the framing – but I feel the black and white version is far more dynamic.
The eye is drawn directly to the father and sun and their interaction. Because you can get away with deeper shadows in a monochromatic image the background, curtain, woman on the left, and man on the right don’t attract the eye nearly as much and act as a framing device, leaving the real subject and story of the photo to draw our attention.
In this particular case I don’t feel color adds to the overall story being told. This is not universal and some images certainly benefit from color. This isn’t one of them.
I’m very passionate about my black and white work and put about twice the work into each as I do for the same image in color. I like a good range of tones from deep black to bright white – not muddy or washed out – but I also like to see subtle details and good tonality in the faces. It’s a lot of work to get right.
Capturing a feel of the venue is an important part of the wedding story. I don’t tend to set up detail photos, except maybe a hanging photo of the dress, but I enjoy capturing the general ambiance of the location as found. It adds depth to the story.
Let’s face it, sometimes the primary motivation for a ceremony or reception location is simply that it holds enough guests and is affordable. In my early days I’ve photographed my share of receptions in cinderblock Elk’s lodges and VFW halls where the venue is nothing but a building and, in fact, is better glossed over in the photos. However, when you pick a location like The Rocking J Ranch for your wedding day, you’re looking for the atmosphere that the venue offers. That’s when details really matter.
People, emotions, and moments are always my top priority, but I can usually find a few moments to capture some details of the location.
I prefer a much more natural, casual look for portraits even when the photo is staged or posed. To “pose” this photo I basically asked the groom to lean against the tree, asked the bride to stand close, and told them to “have a nice moment together” and ignore me completely. I had an assistant with me that day who I told to hold the flash to the left of the camera and then let the magic happen between two people who were very much in love.
I cannot bring the emotion to the table, that’s up to the couple, but I try to create an environment where their natural emotions can shine and I like to think that I’m more attuned to capturing it than many (I’m a romantic at heart).
Working fast is another thing I do on a wedding day. Primarily because I feel it’s my duty to avoid getting in the way of the couple’s day (a wedding is NOT a photo shoot!). Sometimes there are very technical reasons to work fast. As you can see, the sun is just about on the horizon. I had, at most, three minutes to stage, light, dial in the light, get the couple in the right mood, and finally shoot a number of exposures. Time is of the essence!
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I love the city feel of this image. This also shows how I like to set up groups in a staggered, casual arrangement.
Just a great moment. We see our lovely bride as the calm among the storm of activity as everyone gets ready.
In contrast, the guys are often ready quickly and enjoy just hanging out for a while. Again, casual and candid.
St. Francis Xavier is one of the most beautiful churches in the area.
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.
Black and white isn’t just for candids. Done right, it can make for a dynamic and timeless portrait.
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.
Infrared photo in St. Charles at the riverfront. We specifically headed for this tree for this IR photo. Romantic but also artsy and different.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.