Who is covering your back?

Image by AMagill via Flickr

A wedding is one of the events much like a shuttle launch, it’s not really a “do over” type of event. Once the GO button is pushed, you are pretty much committed to it one way or another. Oh, with enough money and effort, you can fake it well enough afterwards but you will not have the “magic” of the real event.

With that in mind, it blows me away that “professional” photographers will shoot a wedding without backup equipment OR people. I’ve had electronics fail at all times and sometimes, just because they bloody well decide to fail for no apparent reason other than to piss me off. Or, someone hits and knocks something out of my hands like a flash, a camera body hits something just right and now the shutter is jammed and so on. And you, the photographer, you can fail too. Bad food, getting sick, injured (had a friend got a spiked heel nearly punched through his foot once), twisting an angle while running to catch the bride and worse can be your woes. And no second shooter? That my friend, is a lawsuit that will happen.

I hear it all the time, ” I can only afford one camera”. Really? So you can afford being sued instead? If you can not afford backup gear, you have no business shooting weddings. At the minimum, you cannot afford the two hundred dollars to rent a 2nd body and lens? Then you really have no business do weddings. You need to come back to the business when you have a bit more cash and equipment. Having a 2nd body is a must have as is spare batteries, spare flash, spare flash cards and for myself, a second shooter. It’s a  hard cruel world out there and people are lawsuit happy enough without giving someone a gold plated excuse to sue you.

And brides, pay attention, if you do not ask the questions like “do you shoot with a second shooter” or “can I upgrade to a second shooter”, you get what you paid for.  A wedding shoot is very much a  partnership between the bride/groom and the photographer. The bride wants really nice pictures and the photographer wants and needs the help of the bride/groom to get them.

As a bride, you have a vested interest in how the photographer prepares to shoot your special day and you need to make sure that he/she takes the precautions that will cover most of the normal wedding day chaos. Somethings to think about and find your own comfort level about are:

  • Do you shoot on small or large capacity flash cards? There are two sides to this story, one is that large cards means fewer changes but more risk to losing images if the card is lost or damaged. Small cards mean less risk of losing it all but the photographer does need to be well versed in when to change the cards on the fly
  • Does the photographer use a second shooter as a matter of course or do you need to ask for it? For myself, I never shoot a wedding without one but some will unless you as the client make a point of asking for it (and pay for it) Without the second shooter, it’s almost a promise that some pictures will be missed. It’s hard to shoot the groom getting ready when you are shooting the bride getting ready just as example. Of course, if some bad happens like I mentioned early, the second shooter can be the hero of the day.
  • Does the photographer have some type of insurance such as with PPA (Professional Photographers of America) where if something bad does happen, things can be done to help make it right or at least better. I know of one photographer who had a card failure which held the bride and groom formals and the PPA insurance paid for a re-shoot of the formals. Not anyone’s “fault” but still, it was nice to get to reshoot the formals even if it’s not on the actual day.
  • Do you “connect” with the photographer? This is a blatantly obvious thing but funny how many folks just look at the price tag and go with that. A photographer that you connect with can really make some special magic happen or you can just get some average pictures from someone going through the motions.
  • Do you like the photographer’s style? again, a very obvious thing but again, many potential clients overlook this till they get their pictures up in the gallery and suddenly realize they hate the style. This is very important and very much goes hand in hand with the previous comment about connecting to the photographer. If you dont like the journalistic style, then it is very important that you understand this and fully understand the potential photographer’s style. If they shoot in the journalistic style, there will be problems by the end of the shoot, that is a promise. So pay attention to the photographer’s book (portfolio) and see what seems to be the dominate theme in their images.
  • The little things really end up mattering a lot when the dust settles. By the time the wedding is over and the honeymoon is a pleasent memory, not having images ready for Facebook or an online gallery or pre-sized images for email  will be a big deal. Trust me, I know this one 🙂 Having a DVD with several hundred images at 3,000 pixels each is a daunting task when you want to email some out to friends. A photographer should as a matter of course, offer up presized images for you or at least a selection of presized images. It is always the details that can tell you a lot about the potential photographer. Are they a “run and gun” where they shoot and leave you a DVD with the several hundred images or will they take the time to give you a DVD with a mix of images ready for Facebook, Flickr, email or whatever? This may or may not be important to you but it is important to know the answer up front and not after the event.
  • Now this last one is a bit touchy for alot of folks. Does the photographer use current technology? Now, before the hate mail starts let me define this a bit first. I’m not talking so much the camera since a camera is just a box with a hole in one end. What I am talking about is the overall image of the photographer. Is he/she using a five year old cell phone? Is he/she using Photoshop 3 while the rest of the world is using at least version 4 or now version 5? Has the photographer embraced a real workflow that uses some kind of image management software like Lightroom or Aperture? Why is all this techie stuff important? Because, photography or more precisely, image generation is a moving target in today’s world and the more current tools the photographer uses, the better chance you have to get really nice images assuming the photographer can take a good image. Good tools wont make a bad image good but it can certainly take a marginal image and make it very usable. This is why the better photographers are shooting with high Canon and Nikon gear instead of the low end camera bodies and lenses. This is why some of the best photographers and staff use the newest software  tools to be more productive and more creative in their work. This is why a good photographer can offer you as the customer, a wide assortment of products such as online galleries, specialty albums, custom picture packages and more without blinking an eye about it. The photographer who is shooting with lower quality gear, printing at Walmart/Costco and behind on their software can not compete in quality or selection of final goods. Your wedding is more than just a box of 5×7 prints from Walmart or it should be as it is one of the most special days of your life.
  • Finally, a odd thing for a client to think about since you  are mostly concerned about wedding images right now. Does the potential photographer shoot anything else? Or are they a one trick pony?  Some wedding photographers are very, very good at weddings and that is all they do but a photographer who has shot other styles of images can bring a wealth of knowledge to your wedding day ranging from artistic choices to overcoming technical challenges. Does the portfolio of the photographer have just weddings or do they show a well rounded photographer who can shoot portraits, shoot studio work, shoot lifestyle or other styles? In my eyes, a well rounded photographer will always win out over the one trick pony of a single style photographer in 95% of the time. To be sure you want to see a heavy selection of wedding shots but some others can add balance and show that the photographer is adaptable to multiple situations.

As you can see below, the image is NOT a typical bridal portrait and is not for everyone. But it IS my style and the final result was very well received. The image was taken in a conventional manner but processed in a newer set of software tools which lets me expand the creativity of an otherwise ordinary image. This is why you want to poke around a bit with the photographer to find out how they shoot, their workflow and just how do they expect to produce your wedding images.

River of Love Bride and Groom

River of Love

I have not even covered things like contracts, deposits and other important items. Not to worry, I will  in a later post cover some of these items and few I bet you did not think of.

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