Back in 2009, we ran a hugely popular post called “Hiring a Wedding Photographer,” with advice from some of the top wedding photographers in Washington D.C., Baltimore and Annapolis. We don’t know if it would ever be possible to include all the best talent in our area in one or even two posts, but we’re giving it another shot – here’s some fantastic input from a bunch more amazing wedding photographers! Same questions; different perspectives!
If you’re in need of a wedding photographer in D.C., Baltimore or Annapolis, and aren’t sure where to begin your search or what to ask in your interviews, look no further!
What are the differences between the major styles of wedding photography?
Rodney Bailey, Wedding Photojournalism by Rodney Bailey: “This is such an important question and one that I have spoken about to photographers and engaged couples all over the country and throughout Japan. I could write pages on this, but I will keep it simple. While there are thousands of wedding photographers out there, most fall into two major styles of wedding photography: traditional or photojournalism. A traditional photographer focuses on portraits, with a hands-on approach with the bride and groom, posing and staging them for the various events throughout the wedding day. A photojournalist focuses on storytelling and documenting the wedding day as it unfolds with a hands-off, unobtrusive approach. Both are art forms and beautiful in their own right. It's up to the bride and groom to determine not only which final product or art form that they want for their wedding photography, but also to think hard about how they want to interact with their photographer on their wedding day. So, make sure to ask yourself if you want to be posed and staged throughout the day to have beautiful portraiture of your wedding day. Or, do you want to stay in the moment and have minimal interaction with your photographer, resulting in documentary-style wedding coverage that tells the story of your wedding. It is also important for engaged couples to ask the photographer about their approach and make sure that what they are selling is reflected in the work, albums and images that they are showing you. I have found that most photographers today want to wear all hats and market themselves as everything to everyone. Be cautious of this! I personally have stayed true to my photojournalistic approach throughout my 22 years of documenting weddings. In fact, I feel that specializing in one photography style has led to my success: top voted wedding photojournalist by Washingtonian Magazine for 13 years now! So, my advice is to meet with the photographer in person, see their work and the quality of their albums, ask about their posed session and how you will interact with them on your wedding day. Good luck and congratulations!”
Paul Morse, Paul Morse Photographs: “When choosing a wedding photographer it’s usually best to choose a photographer that takes photos that suits your personal style of how you want your wedding to be captured. Knowing what you want is really important. This way the couple can get the most from their photographer’s talents. While there are trends in the way wedding photographs look, there are a few styles that stay constant.
Fine Art photographers make each photo look like a work of art with each image carefully composed and finished with a very distinct style unique to the photographer’s vision. These shots may take more posing to achieve the perfect image and the couple needs to let the photographer do their thing. There tends to be more collaboration between the couple and the photographer to get these images.
A classic wedding photographer is great at capturing events in a traditional way with a mix of captured images and posed shots. They tend to not use available light and rely on strobes more which can be a problem in venues like churches, which tend to have rules against the use of strobes during the ceremony.
Photographers who have a photojournalistic style like to capture the wedding as it happens and tell a story through key moments. They tend to rely on available light at the venues and work to capture story telling moments as they happen with less direction from the photographer. They strive to be unobtrusive and capture the emotion and atmosphere of the wedding.”
How important is it to meet the photographer before you hire them?
Eli Turner, Eli Turner Studios: "In this fast-paced digital era it can be tempting to try and search for and secure your wedding photographer online or over the phone. Admittedly, everyone has a hectic work schedule and some popular photographers book-up quickly, but it’s important not to rush through the process. After doing web research and getting referrals from planners and friends, I believe that scheduling an in-person meeting with your top three photographers before signing a contract is a must. This meeting will give you a much more accurate picture of who the photographer is as a person as well as an artist. By communicating and interacting you’ll be able to determine whether their personality is a good fit for you and your family. Viewing and holding albums, prints and proofbooks will allow you to get a sense of the photographers consistency and will also prepare you for what to expect after your wedding. In the end I think it’s absolutely crucial to find a photographer you both personally like and whose photographic style you love. Your wedding is important and you should have both beautiful pictures and an amazing experience."
Kelsey Thompson, k. thompson photography: “I usually highly recommend that you meet with your photographer before hiring them if at all possible. This is because, more than almost any other vendor, you will be spending a lot of time with your photographer on the day of your wedding (and also afterward working on your album(s) and prints) and it's especially important to make sure there is a mutual personality fit. You should feel comfortable working with them and, in my experience, that can mean different things for each couple. One couple may really work best with someone very outgoing and talkative, while another couple is more comfortable with a quietly assertive photographer.
Additionally, I personally believe it is very important to see a photographer's printed work. Online resolution can sometimes be misleading and what looks crisp online is not always a sharp photograph that will print well. That said, I do understand that there are many circumstances that make an in-person meeting impossible or impractical for some couples. I work with a number of couples a year that are out of the area yet want to reserve their date before they have a chance to make a trip to the DC area. If it's just not possible to schedule a meeting, a phone call can be a good substitute for an in-person meeting to at least get a sense for your photographer's personality and approach. You won't be able to see their printed work, but never feel afraid to ask to see more than is on their website. I always send several extensive wedding slideshows and/or full galleries so that a couple can get a good feel for my work from any single wedding -- not just a selection of favorites from many weddings. In the end, it all comes down to comfort and trust when working with your photographer and it's up to you to decide what works best for you and your wedding.”
Michelle Frankfurter, Michelle Frankfurter Photography: “Most of my bookings now come from word-of-mouth referrals. Increasingly, I find that people hire me before we actually meet, although we almost always do get together at some point before the wedding. I think you can get a good sense of a photographer's personality through the images they show on their website, through phone conversations and by the tone of their email correspondences.
That said, there is nothing like meeting your photographer face-to-face. Photography is an intimate experience. Unlike most wedding vendors who are busy working behind the scenes, your photographer arrives early, when everyone is in various stages of undress, and will be there shadowing your every move until the end of the night. You may like a photographer's work, but it's probably just as important (or maybe even more important) that you like them as well, or at least that you feel good enough about them to have them in your orbit for eight to ten hours. A face-to-face meeting is a good opportunity for getting to know a photographer and for letting them get to know you as well.
Before you meet, though, do some research so that you are already aware of your photographer's rates and have some understanding of their particular style and approach. Virtually everyone is working with some kind of budget, and there’s no point in battling D.C. traffic and potentially squandering an evening meeting with a photographer whose rates are significantly higher than your budget allows.”
How important is it to find a photographer that’s a good match in terms of personality, or is liking their photos enough?
Lisa Marie O’Quinn, Sweet Tea Photography by Lisa Marie: “The longer I photograph weddings the more I realize how important it is to book clients who have similar personalities and taste. We are fortunate that Washington, D.C. has so many amazing photographers with all different styles and personalities. Initially you can figure out if you're a good match through viewing their website and overall business branding. After you find a few possible matches, make an appointment for a consultation so you can make sure your personalities jive. Usually you can figure that out fairly quickly. You should not only love their work but love their personality and demeanor!
You will spend more time with your wedding photographer than with anyone else on your wedding day, so make sure you love them! You should feel really comfortable voicing your opinion to them and brainstorming for ideas with them. I've been really fortunate to attract some amazing clients that often become my close friends. You should certainly find someone who puts you at ease because there are a lot of emotions on that big day and you don't want your photographer to add to that.”
Wendy Hickok, Wendy Hickok Photography: “Personality is essential when hiring a photographer. A photographic eye is composition, lighting, posing and personality combined. Meet with photographers and get to know them before officially booking. Ask yourself: Does this person make me laugh? Do they make me feel comfortable? Do I trust them? Will they fit in with my guests? Their portfolio should show their skill, style, and professionalism in the industry, but their personality is the part you have to interact with in the planning stages, on your wedding day, and after the wedding when designing albums/receiving images. Listen to your gut feelings about how you both get along with the photographer and it will lead you in the right direction.”
Michelle Lindsay, Michelle Lindsay Photography: “Wedding photography is so incredibly personal and, often times, intimate. The ability to capture the dynamic of a relationship between two people is something that is worked for - that trust has to be earned by the photographer. So, while liking (hopefully loving!) a photographer's artistic styling and creative vision is very important in your selection, taking personalities into account is key as well. Your wedding photographer is often times the vendor you spend the most amount of time with throughout the entire process: from the pre-planning, to the engagement session to the wedding day and then designing and finalizing your wedding album for months afterward. They will be with you during some of the most emotional and intimate moments of your wedding day. For us to be able to fully tell your story, we WANT and NEED you to feel comfortable around us. And most importantly, to trust us.
The truth is, if you are not comfortable with your photographer; if you cannot loosen up, be yourself and truly just be in the moment and enjoy your wedding day as it unfolds, than that stiffness will show in your wedding photographs.
So listen to your instincts. You don't have to be best friends with your photographer, but you do need to trust them fully. So make sure to ask yourself: could you easily spend 8-10 hours on your wedding day with them, and feel comfortable just being yourself?”
Are there any advantages of digital photography over film? Are there any disadvantages?
Sarah Hodzic, Blink: "I think a few years ago the answer to that question would have been a resounding YES, and the yes would be accompanied by arguments about the advantages of film.
However, in the last 5-10 years digital photography has grown leaps and bounds, nipping at the heels of film in terms of quality. Black and white film still has the market cornered on tonal range and depth, giving it an edge over digital; but the margin is slowing getting narrower and narrower. Digital is advancing while film remains largely the same. One disadvantage to film is the cost. The cost of processing film and generating high quality prints tends to deter people from using it. And as digital becomes so much more popular, it’s becoming harder and harder to find good quality film labs at a reasonable cost.
Despite the cost, I still prefer film to digital. Though I shoot mainly digital for weddings and corporate work, film is my go-to for any fine art work I am creating for myself. Simply put, shooting a roll of 12-exposure medium format film makes me slow way down and think more carefully about the images I am creating, why I am creating them, and what information those 12 frames will convey. It’s a much more thoughtful way to shoot. The limit of frames puts me in a mindset of being much more present; I am less worried about documenting every single moment that is happening around me and pulling out the very most important one.
Digital has an immediate gratification factor, and it is extremely useful for teaching people the beginning concepts of f-stops, shutter speeds and ISO. Having that immediate feedback has been revolutionary. But at the same time, that immediacy of digital has lead to an over-saturation of the market in the photography world. The access of digital is so great, that anyone feels like they can call themselves a photographer.
So when it comes to talking about advantage and disadvantage, film vs. digital, I am not sure if there are really strong arguments to be had over one vs. the other. That resounding YES of a few years ago does not resound so strongly now. I look at all the different ways to take a photograph as tools in my toolbox, which aid me in communicating my vision through an image. Each of these tools has its own purpose, and the advance of digital has brought about a new age in which neither film nor digital is a bad option. At the end of the day, the choice lies with the photographer."
Jennifer Domenick, Love Life Images: “Photography has changed dramatically and quickly in the past 10 years with the introduction of digital imaging. Film was replaced with little disks and images became pixels. Most of the change happened with the behind-the scenes process that photographers went through to develop images. We no longer spend time in a darkroom, surrounded by chemicals, instead we edit images using software including Lightroom and Photoshop. While I look forward to the day we are using our hands to move and edit photos like in the movie ‘Minority Report,’ we’re pretty close to that now. Often clients ask what I spend my weekdays doing since I only shoot on the weekends, and I paint a picture of me sitting in front of a computer weeding through thousands of images from the weekend’s events. We shoot a lot more now that we don’t have to pay for film developing and processing for each image.
What’s best about digital imaging compared to film is that editing software has given us more options to let our unique style and voice shine through in our images. We start with ‘raw’ images and give it our special touch and editing tools – and the editing tools are updated often, giving us more control each time. Different filters are introduced almost daily, each with their own look and feel in both color and black and white. If you look at a photographer’s work and can’t really nail down what exactly it is that you love about the images, it probably is something the photographer has done in editing the image to fit their style. At Love Life Images, we use a distinct editing recipe for our images and are constantly updating and tweaking that recipe.”
What are some recent innovations in techniques or technology that have advanced the field of wedding photography?
Tracy Timmester, Timmester Photography: “There are so many impressive innovations in photography that it’s hard to list them all, but the ones that aid me regularly, as a wedding photographer, are fast lenses and super high ISOs. Both of these things help me to shoot in dark situations where I’m not allowed to provide any additional light- specifically churches. This is especially crucial in the DC area because there are many historic (and gorgeous!) churches and cathedrals that are dimly lit. I also love my fast lenses because they allow me to shoot ‘wide open’ with a very limited depth of field. I love drawing the focus in to my subject by letting the background go out of focus, and fast lenses give me that ability, which I use a lot! Another innovation I use regularly is the hot shoe flash. As wedding photographers, we have to adapt and light a variety of situations, and we have to do so quickly while maintaining mobility. These flashes are lightweight, easy to pack, and surprisingly powerful for their size. With the help of other wonderful innovations, such as radio transmitters (for communication between my camera and flashes), light modifiers, and lightstands, I’m able to light everything from family portraits to reception dance floors – and I’m able to do so quickly, which is key. And then, finally, it comes down to the behind-the-scenes stuff: the post-wedding day workflow. Adobe is the leader when it comes to editing software, (most people are familiar with Photoshop, of course), and their latest editing beast, Lightroom, is just phenomenal. It has sped up every aspect of my workflow with quick one-step edits and presets that I use daily. I love Lightroom because it has given me the one thing I was lacking in the past, which is free time to spend reading and hanging out with my hubby.”
How important is it for a photographer to be familiar with the ceremony or reception site?
Cicely Procopio, Procopio Photography: “I think it is extremely important for a photographer to be familiar with the ceremony and reception site they are about to shoot at. Even if we have previously shot at a particular ceremony/reception venue before, we always do a site visit before the wedding. You never know when construction, use of additional space you thought you had, or unforeseen circumstances will alter your plans unless you physically stop by to confirm that the space is the same as it was the last time we shot there. If it is our first time shooting at a location, we make sure that all of the spaces we plan on using for portraits are okay with the management. We coordinate with the planner or venue’s event coordinator so that they know where and when we will be throughout the day. There are so many uncontrolled variables during a wedding. We feel that if we are familiar with the venue before the wedding, we can structure our day to use the best light inside and outside, the best angles, and the best use of our time to give our very best to our clients.”
Karen Lindberg, L.H. Lindberg Photography: “This question has a twofold answer. If the ceremony is held at a church I feel it is not necessary for a photographer to visit the site in advance. He/she will simply need to know the church regulations regarding photographers’ positions and the time schedule.
That being said, if the ceremony is held at a beautiful outdoor venue, then I feel it can be quite advantageous to have a pre-ceremony walk through with the photographer, if they have not been there. That way you will get a feel for the best photo locations and will have a better understanding of the timeline needed by your photographer. It's not a necessity – I’m just saying that if the venue is not too far from the photographer and they offer to do a walk through with you, take advantage of it. Not all photographers will feel they need to do this, as some are very creative without needing to know the lay of the land. If the venue is too far for the photographer, normally he/she will arrive a couple hours before they are needed, to familiarize themselves with the location.
At the reception site, I don't believe it's necessary for the photographer to make a pre-visit if the site is purely for the dinner and party. But, again, if that reception site is a beautiful venue, then you might want to go over it with the photographer or show them photos that you've seen that were shot there, so they have an idea of the possibilities and your expectations. If you've planned to allow that photographer additional time at the time at the reception site for photos (such as at a magnificent plantation or gorgeous hotel), that photographer can also visit it on their own if they feel it's necessary. Most experienced photographers can figure it out as soon as they do a quick walkabout upon arrival.”
What are the advantages of having a “second shooter” to assist the photographer?
Jess Latos & Jess Notargiacomo, Paired Images: “With two photographers we can be in two places at the same time covering the whole story. The client gets more images, two perspectives, two styles, which means more details and more moments creatively captured. For us, as photographers, it provides piece of mind knowing you have back up as well as companionship, someone else to bounce ideas off of, someone to eat dinner with, someone to help you keep those rowdy groomsmen in line while doing formal photos. Also, photography is only part of our job. We are often planners, stylists, the voice of reason and overall problem solvers (if the couple didn't hire a planner). We are able to wear all of these hats because we know that we have another photographer shooting while one of us is, for example, fixing the zipper on the wedding dress. With all that said, it isn't always necessary to have two photographers, but it is important to have the discussion with your photographer as to what they suggest for your wedding. Have them explain the pros and cons for your particular event before you make that final decision.”
Every couple has a “shot list” for family photos, but what are some unique things they can do besides that?
Kristen Gardner, Kristen Gardner Photography: “When you're thinking about the photos that you want on your wedding day, it's never a bad idea to give the photographer a list of all the family groupings that you'd like captured. (That way, you won't need to remember to grab that special photo with Grandma!) In addition to that, it's also a great idea to let your photographer know if there is a special detail involved that he/she might not notice. (e.g. your grandmother's brooch is attached to the bouquet, or you plan on wearing your mother's wedding dress.) Beyond that, try to refrain from listing out all the photos that you want. I know that bridal magazines and websites sometimes list out those "must have" photos, but if you tie your photographer down to a list, he/she will likely have a harder time capturing the beautiful moments that are happening in real time! So, do your research ahead of time. Make sure that you see an entire wedding (or a few weddings!) shot by your photographer, and if you consistently enjoy the style of the photographs and the content that was captured, you can leave the extensive list at home. If you want beautiful, artistic photos from your wedding day, the best thing to do is plan ahead! Talk to your photographer beforehand, and make sure that the schedule allows for plenty of time to shoot the bride and groom. You might want to even consider doing a "first look" before the ceremony! Couples always look their best, and they are able to focus on getting special photos together without worrying about missing the cocktail hour and reception. Additionally, include details on your day that are unique to the two of you! Your photographer will definitely take care to capture these special details, and those details do so much to tell the story of your day.”
Neil Colton, Neil Colton Photographer: “With all of the changes that the digital revolution brought to the world of wedding photography, one thing has remained remarkably constant: The Shot List. For those of you who do not live on Planet Wedding, the Shot List is that treasured list of photographs that the bride and groom must have from their wedding day. Whether it is a well-conceived and thoroughly prepared document or simply a quick list written on the back of a spare wedding invitation, the success of the wedding photography may hinge on this collection of images.
To that end, here are my Top Ten Tips for making the shot list a wedding day success:
1. Create One Early! You would be surprised at how often I request a shot list, months in advance, only to find myself on the phone, a week before the wedding, asking a frazzled bride if she has any images to add to this non-existent list. The earlier shot list can be created, the better it will be, for you and for your photographer.
2. Be Kind – Be Brief: I was once asked to photograph 26 different family portraits in 45 minutes. I did it, but I was ready for it. Make a list and prioritize it in categories like ‘Must Have’, ‘Must Have If Time Allows’, ‘Would Be Nice To Have’, and ‘Only If There Is Nothing Else To Photograph.’ You get the idea. A tight list of the most important images will give your photographer the freedom to do what they do best: create compelling images with the extra time they will have.
3. Review: I suggest a final planning meeting, with your photographer, a month before your wedding. This can in person, on the phone, via Skype or through email, but it is one meeting you should not miss. This is the perfect time to go over all of the final wedding day and photography details, including the shot list. This allows enough time to make changes before the wedding day.
4. Give the Gift of Time: Every year, the wedding day timeline seems to shrink. Wedding photographers are doing more, in less time, than in years past. An experienced wedding photographer can work well under pressure and produce consistently good images. But given the time, some of those images can be great. Give your photographer the gift of time and you will be glad you did.
5. Appoint a Liaison: The wedding photographers I know are very talented, but few are clairvoyant. By appointing a Wedding Day Liaison, you will add to that Gift of Time. This should be someone who knows your friends and family, or at least who they are, and can organize the folks and groups who will be in the family and friends portraits. Supply them with a wedding day timeline and a copy of the shot list and you will see the gleam in your photographer’s eye.
6. Be Prepared: The more your photographer knows about your wedding venues and the conditions that they will encounter there on your wedding day, the better the opportunities will be for capturing great shots. Help them by providing accurate and detailed information about the wedding day venues and the interesting locations in between. A little leg work, here, can go a long way. Ask your photographer if they ‘scout’ the venues before the wedding day. If they haven’t photographed a wedding there in the past, this may be the right time to plan a visit. Gently make suggestions for locations, at the venues and on the route between the ceremony and the reception. These could be perfect spots for a series of images that you will always remember, for the right reasons.
7. Be Realistic & Be Flexible: Even the very best constructed plans for a wedding day can change. Weather, traffic and the unknown often play a part in the wedding day activities. Be prepared for that…and don’t worry. An experienced wedding photographer has seen this before. As good as they are at handling the expected, they are often even better at coping with the unexpected…effortlessly. If things don’t go as planned, a seasoned wedding photographer will get the shots you expect and surprise you with those that you didn’t expect. Be ready to run outside, with the bridal party, and capture some beautiful images as the sun is setting.
8. Find The Light: As beautiful as the interior architecture of that 17th century church may be, there is a very good possibility that the light at the altar may not be equal to the architecture. If the light isn’t brilliant there, move to a spot where the light is beautiful, even and natural. If there are no spots like this inside, move outdoors. Find a friendly spot, in even light, where the ‘must have’ portraits can be taken. If the portraits must be taken at the altar (or indoors), ask your photographer how they deal with bad interior lighting. It is a common problem in wedding photography, so chances are good that they will have a solution. I carry a portable studio lighting rig for just such occasions. That turns nearly any room into a small studio.
9. Get Out of the Box: ...And out of the room. The Shot List is often a series of family and friend’s images that may seem ordinary enough on paper. That doesn’t mean the photographs have to be. You’ve spent a lot of time looking at websites and researching your wedding photographer’s work. By now you know something of their style and how the photographer handles certain types of images. Don’t be shy. Tell your photographer you are ‘up for anything and wouldn’t it be cool to get a shot of the bridal party on that barn roof at dusk!’. Experienced modern wedding photographers are some of the most creative and talented photographers working today. They have to be. The competition is strong and their clients demand no less.
10. Relax and Have Fun! Easy for me to say, but the day will be a true success if you can. This is your day. Enjoy it and let your photographer weave their magic with the images that will tell the story of the day. Your smiles will tell everyone just how wonderful the day has been!”
If you've loved these tips so far, stay tuned as we have Part 2 of our advice from photographers ready to rock your world tomorrow! We did our best to keep this all in one post but were so overwhelmed with great advice from photographers generous enough to share their wisdom with us that we were forced to split this post in two. See you tomorrow!