How much time should I plan for around-town photography?

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. If you’re not enjoying the experience you’re not getting value from your photography.

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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.

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Remember to give your photographer the time and attention required to get groups set up and make any adjustments to equipment. Typically every new spot will require some adjustment to settings and lighting.

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Does Enhancement Really Make A Difference? Heck Yeah It Does!

Most inexperienced photographers and almost all friends-with-a-camera do little or no enhancement to the images after they’re shot. Enhancement takes a lot of time and is an art in itself. They typically explain it by saying they “get the shot right in the camera.” Yes, you can expose carefully and get a pretty decent image without doing any additional work after the fact. But do you get the BEST result this way?

Let’s look at a quick example. Two versions of the same photo. The photo on the left is exposed well with a good range of tones from bright to dark. If it was exposed any brighter we’d lose subtle details in the bride’s dress.

The photo on the right has has some careful enhancement by bringing out details in the shadow and highlight areas and adding some contrast. I took it further and cropped it to remove wasted space and finally manually “painted” areas (such as faces) brighter or darker to draw the eye and adjust for uneven illumination.Image Enhancement Sample 1a.jpg

Enhancement can actually change the way an image is captured in the first place. Ever notice how popular those blown out skies are in portraits these days? It’s done because it’s easy, not because it actually looks better – although tastes differ. The photographer can simply expose for a face and let everything else wash out.

However, when you have enhancement in mind from the start, you can expose the image for the sky or a white wedding dress, retaining details, and bringing up the subject for a nice finished image that looks very natural.

In the first image the photo was exposed for the couple’s faces. Notice how washed out the church and sky look in the background. This is a best case scenario out of the camera. But when you know you’re going to enhance an image – using it as a tool rather than as a fix – you can expose a darker image that keeps detail in the sky and then brighten the couple afterward for a very nicely balanced image that looks better than the best case straight from the camera.Image Enhancement Sample 2a.jpg

Yes, you can add flash to the mix to get a well exposed subject and blue skies – and sometimes that’s the right solution – but there are plenty of valid reasons to shoot natural light and enhance in post. Enhancement is just one more tool in your kit.

Even when the images are exposed as well as can be in the camera it doesn’t mean that it gives the best photo. Careful enhancement brings out details and gives a more finished look. Only you can decide if better photos are worth the additional cost of a higher end photographer. To couples who value the quality of their wedding photography it is.

Four Things Couples Want From Wedding Photos

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When stepping away from discussions of style or additional items such as albums, most couples have just four actual needs from their wedding photography.

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Photos to show off to friends and family – Though most don’t want to flat out admit it, when being painfully honest most couples want dynamic photos they can show off. Facebook, prints, albums, even showing co-workers a digital image on your phone during a break; couples want images that generate “oohs” and “ahhhs.”

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Candid memories for a lifetime – Candid photos of real memories and interactions that capture the essence and feel of the day are what most couples value years after the wedding. There is a huge difference between photos that capture emotions and tell a story and photos that are “random” candids.

Good enough quality – Let’s face it, it’s easy to say we all want the very best that can be created, but to many couples the large extra cost doesn’t justify the additional quality they get in return. At some point, we all reach a point of “good enough.” Only you can decide where that point is to balance your needs with your budget.

A price they can reasonably afford – Not specifically a cheap price or what a couple might want to pay, but a price that is livable within the budget. An experienced, quality photographer will cost more. A cheap photographer won’t deliver the quality you want. Find a balance that works for you.

These four needs are met in slightly different ways or to differing amounts. For example, one couple’s threshold for quality may be much, much higher than what another couple would consider sufficient, but at some point it will be “good enough.”

Only you can decide your threshold for each.

The Difference Between Affordable and Cheap

Some people see the word “affordable” as being the same as “cheap.” It really isn’t. You can classify something as “affordable” and still get good quality, while “cheap” just sounds . . . well, cheap. Inferior, low-quality and poorly constructed.

An “affordable” car generally implies a decent, somewhat smaller vehicle that does a good job getting you to and fro, albeit without a lot of superfluous frills. Meanwhile a “cheap” car conjures up visions of an older, more weathered car with questionable running capabilities.

Wedding photography is the same. Too often a couple on a tight budget will scour online classified sites such as Craigs List, or better yet they know “a friend with a good camera,” all in a quest to find an “affordable” photographer.

In all honesty, what they’re really looking for is “cheap.” They’re basing their photography needs entirely on the number after the dollar sign—and the lower the better, it seems. Especially true in situations where photography is given a lower priority than the bar, cake or flowers, there is the temptation to shave some of the wedding cost by lowering the photo budget. If cost is truly the only deciding factor in hiring a photographer for your wedding, then your needs are best served by the hoard of cheap Craig’s List shooters of questionable quality and integrity.

Most couples are far better served by photos of good quality at a reasonable, aka affordable, price. What good are “cheap” photos when they aren’t even worth looking at? Wedding photos are the most lasting part of the day. Long after the cake’s been eaten and the flowers wilt, the photos remain as fresh as ever. An “affordable” photographer delivers the quality and service a “cheap” photographer simply doesn’t bother with.

In other words, you can have a “good” photographer or you can have a “cheap” photographer. You’d be hard pressed to find a “good, cheap photographer.”

For your once-in-a-lifetime images, would you rather take a gamble on the lowest bidder or pay a little more and know you’re getting quality?

How to Properly Use Your Wedding Photographer

Weddings are happy times that usually bring extended families and far-flung friends back together to celebrate the union of a loved one. Your photographer is there to capture these moments and allow you to remember them for years to come. A single photograph can bring back a flood of memories that a simple bout of reminiscing can’t.

As your photographer zips about, snapping away while you and yours happily party-hearty like it’s 1999, don’t forget a few key thoughts about dealing with this professional.

Do:

  • Do be cooperative – nothing makes a photographer’s job harder than an uncooperative subject
  • Do be courteous – yes it’s your wedding day, but don’t become a Bridezilla!
  • Do provide water – a photographer’s job is very strenuous and physically exerting, and an overheated photographer who passes out can’t capture your precious moments
  • Do provide food – photographers can’t photograph if they’re passed out from low blood sugar
  • Do seize control of the crowd – bridal party and guests alike can often ignore a photographer’s requests or suggestions – help out by asserting your authority and letting the photographer do what you paid good money for

Don’t:

  • Don’t go “snap-happy” – your photographer is there to capture the feel of the wedding day, not take a “quick photo” with everyone from Uncle Ralph to 2nd cousin Mildred
  • Don’t let Mom take over – no disrespect intended, but sometimes “Mom” can become more of a hindrance than a help in the photography department – see above as an example
  • Don’t let guests take photos during posed formals – when guests hover behind the photographer to snap shots of a carefully posed formal, the subjects of said photo don’t know where to look and you end up with everyone looking in all different directions
  • Don’t expect an all night shoot – if a photographer’s contract lists “unlimited” time, remember that this does not mean you should expect him or her to stay through the entire length of the reception. After a while, all dancing photos start to look alike

Most photographers detail what is and is not included in their contracts before you sign, and any specific questions should be discussed before the big day. Having a “plan of attack” before the day arrives helps make sure everyone’s on the same page and avoid any unnecessary surprises and frustrations.

What Makes a Photographer a Professional?

With the availability and relative affordability of digital SLR cameras—those big bodies with the interchangeable lenses—it may seem the line between “photography enthusiast” and “professional photographer” continues to thin. When everyone and their Uncle Joe is claiming to be a “photographer,” how do you separate the professionals from the wanna-be’s?

Knowledge and Fundamentals

A true professional photographer knows the ins and outs of photography, and never stops learning. ISO, aperture, white balance, composition, shutter speed, f-stop . . . all terms a professional photographer knows and understands. A firm and thorough understanding of these basic fundamentals allows for greater use and control of the equipment, making for better, higher quality images. That cannot happen if the photographer is relying on the camera’s “auto” mode.

Gear

While a professional photographer typically has higher quality gear than a hobbyist, this cannot be taken as a given. Digital SLRs, or DSLRs, are becoming more affordable with almost every release, meaning that anyone with the money and interest can purchase one.

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More importantly, a professional knows what gear to use, and when, to get the job done right. Which lenses are best for capturing a tight shot of the first kiss or to throw the background into a soft blur to make the bride stand out? An experienced pro knows how to balance the flash so it lights the scene evenly and looks natural. And a pro will always have a backup for everything because cameras and lenses will always break when it’s the worst possible time.

Speaking of gear, having it is only part of the equation—the photographer must know how to USE it, too. Professionals don’t fumble with settings or menus, or struggle to find the solution to a particular photographic challenge. They know their equipment inside and out, and use their photography knowledge to adjust their shooting style and camera settings with barely a thought.

Dedication and Professionalism

Wanna-be photographers generally see any photo job they get as something to do “on the side.” This part-time attitude shows through in their behavior. “Sure, I’ll shoot your wedding for only $200, sounds like fun and I could use the extra money! Just tell me when to show up!”

A professional photographer makes ALL of their income by taking photographs. Photography IS their job and not just something done when they feel like or or have time. Unlike “Uncle Joe” who’s already “doing you a favor,” a professional is dedicated to making your photos look the best they can. A pro puts his or her reputation and livelihood on the line with each and every shoot. As such, a true professional photographer generally meets with you before the actual photo session to discuss the schedule, expectations and services provided.

And most professional photographers possess a passion that most hobbyists lack. They are photographers because they can’t see themselves doing anything else.

Price

While this is a strongly debated point—even among the professionals!–you can generally tell how serious a photographer is about his or her career by the prices they charge. Professional photography fees range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, depending upon various points such as job details, location and experience. These fees pay for the photographer’s insurance, equipment replacement, studio maintenance, knowledge, experience and labor. And taxes. Can’t forget those.

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An all day event such as a wedding requires weeks of preparation and after-the-fact processing. Professional photographers price their wedding packages accordingly to provide the client the very best service and photos possible, while still keeping their expenses and bills paid. A photographer who only charges a few hundred dollars for wedding photography isn’t taking the job seriously, and is only doing it “on the side.”

A Professional Photographer Is Still a Professional

Contrary to popular belief, a professional photographer doesn’t have an “easy job” because “all they have to do it show up and snap a few pictures.” For every hour behind the camera, there is an average of 5 to 10 behind the scenes, between backing up, preparation and refining each image to look its very best.

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If you’re looking for a photographer to capture your important moments—from your wedding, family reunion, birthday party, etc—keep in mind that you’re looking for a reason. You want quality images, from a professional who knows how to take them. Simply owning a camera doesn’t automatically make someone a professional photographer. It takes knowledge, experience and dedication, and you won’t find that on Craigs List.

Wedding Photography on a Tight Budget

As much as we hate to hear it, times are tough lately. Finances are tight, and a good number of those getting married must make sacrifices in their big day. All too often, however, photography services are the first thing on the budget’s chopping block.

While some couples simply go without a photographer, many take alternate routes to still get images of their wedding and save a few bucks at the same time. While logically these may seem like perfectly viable solutions, they may not provide you the type of images you want to commemorate your marriage, and may actually hurt you in the long run.

Option 1 – Asking a Friend

Many brides think they can avoid the expense of a wedding photographer by asking a friend with a “good camera” to shoot their wedding instead. This friend may have taken good images in the past of their vacation or their pets or kids, and it stands to reason that s/he would make a great stand-in as a wedding photographer.

Why this is a bad idea:

First of all, this is false logic. By the same token, if your friend has good handwriting and a really nice, expensive pen, does that mean they can write a compelling story?

No? This is really no different.

Secondly, wedding photography offers many challenges to even the most adept and experienced professional. Lighting conditions are ever changing, meaning the photographer must know their equipment inside and out and adjust the settings on the fly to capture the scene without fail. (Yes, adjust the settings. Wedding photography is NOT for the “auto” mode user.) Additionally, a professional will have invested in higher quality equipment.

Third, wouldn’t you rather your friend enjoy your big day instead of working? Photographing a wedding is hard work, and a continuous job for the entire day, not something that can be done between chatting with friends. In order to do a good job, your friend would have to be on their feet all day long, moving around and snapping images continuously. Why not let them simply enjoy the day and be happy for you?

Lastly, what if you don’t like your images? What if you actually hate them? Will you still be able to be friends with the photographer?

Wedding photography is a professional service and not something to be taken lightly.

Option 2 – Hire a Cheap Photographer from Craigs List

In addition to the “I have a friend” brides, there are brides who scour the Internet, looking for cheap wedding photographer listings. The most popular site to find cheap photographers is Craigs List, although there are numerous other sites and ways to find these inexpensive shooters.

While some professional photographers do advertise on Craigs List, you should be wary of someone advertising wedding photography at a substantially discounted price.

Why this is a bad idea:

“I’ll shoot your wedding and give you all digital negatives for only $300!!”

Sure it gets your attention. What a deal! Get a wedding photographer for less than a decent laptop. Sounds too good to be true . . .

And you just mentally finished that cliché, didn’t you? That’s because it’s right. Most cheap “wedding photographers” on these types of sites don’t have the experience, the knowledge or the equipment to adequately shoot a wedding.

Many, if not most, Craigs List photographers are “weekend shooters”–people with regular 9-5 jobs the rest of the week and only shoot weddings to make a little “extra money” on the side.

Odds are this $300 wedding photographer doesn’t have much, if any, previous experience or work for you to look at. Odds are that any portfolio this $300 wedding photographer has to offer is very sparse, and offers images that are more snapshots that actual wedding images. And, odds are this $300 wedding photographer uses a consumer level camera with only one or two lenses and has no backups to cover equipment malfunction. (Which can, and DOES happen.)

Price should be one of the LAST things you use to choose a wedding photographer. The images are the most important—they have to look professional and be of a style and quality you like and want. Above all else, they have to look like the photographer knows what he’s doing behind the camera.

Shop Carefully – “Cheap” and “Quality” Rarely Coincide

St. Charles Wedding Photography offers professional level quality at a budget-friendly price thanks to years of experience, working efficiently, and a focus on what really matters without a lot of expensive add-ons.

Remember, there are no do-overs for your wedding. You only get one chance to get images that capture your joy, your excitement, your nerves and those quiet moments between them all. All photographers are NOT the same, and picking one on price alone could leave you disappointed afterwards.