I Hired a Professional Photographer – Now What?

When I started wedding photography, about 15 years ago, I really didn’t know what I was getting into. I really didn’t charge much for all of the work I put into it, film and processing was expensive, and it was a real time consumer. Really, as many aspiring photographers, I was just happy to be working. New, inexperienced photographers often find that they are ‘watched over’ by clients more than when they become more established, as couples tend to trust more experienced photographers with their day.

So, assuming that you have hired a seasoned pro- how much should you expect from them, and how much should you watch over what they are shooting? From being in the business for many years- and having worked with all sorts of couples, here is my strategy for getting the most out of your professional photographer- and in turn, the best photography possible.

Let’s break this up into 3 sections- pre-wedding, the wedding day, and post wedding.

Pre-Wedding:

Read over the price list in detail, and ask…ask…ask so you know what you are getting into. This is critical to make sure that what you want is offered, and at what price. Do you want the full resolution images? Do you want full coverage? What about albums? I have seen some photographers charge little for the day- and then charge thousands for the images and/or albums. Know what you are getting into.

Plan the timeline for the wedding day in detail including driving time. This really helps me when I photograph weddings so I can help keep the couple on time. Nothing worse than being told halfway through my session that “we have to go now”- before I have what the couple and I discussed. The photographer should be willing and able to help you with the itinerary of the day- use their experience! If the photographer wants 2 hours with you and the party, family etc- give them the time. Guests expect to have a break while this is done so do not sell yourselves short on photography time.

The style of photography should also be discussed. Sure I have a certain way of doing things- but this does vary depending on what I think the couple wants. Just because you see photos you like in the photographer’s portfolio does not mean he/she does that every wedding- let them know what your likes and dislikes are!

Wedding Day:

Number one advice- keep smiling! I cannot remember a wedding where absolutely everything went according to plan- there are just too many variables! When I see brides get ‘hung-up’ on small things like ‘the hall has the wrong center pieces” it can really kill the wedding shoot. The best images come from couples who brush off the problems of the day and roll with the issues. (You can always deal with the problems of vendors after- do not let it spoil your wedding. This can really cramp any flow to the photo session- the worry and anger on couples faces really comes through in the photos. I tell my brides “go into the day knowing that you did all you can- and once it starts just enjoy the ride!” Positive attitude plays such an important role for your wedding day.

Do not spend ‘all day’ on the family photos. Don’t get me wrong- I do take plenty of family photos- but the number of times I have couples asking for every combination of family photos to be taken, with every mathematical variable of relatives possible, until everybody is photo exhausted before the couple and party photos have even started! Parents, immediate family, large extended family- keep it simple!

Be willing to try what the photographer asks. Sometimes what I have wedding parties or couples do does not feel ‘natural’, but then it shouldn’t! What is common about being at a photo location dressed up in expensive clothing for 90 minutes! Many unnatural actions are to bring out the expressions that we need to get the shots we wanted- so roll with it and you may be surprised what the results are. For example, if the bride and ladies are not giving me the fun expressions that I may want, I may ask them to drop their flowers, and run across a field holding hands- then stop and move in close together. This can be a great way of getting laughter and great expressions out of the bridal party. The worst thing you as a couple can say to your photographer is “this is stupid- can you take some fun photos and make us laugh?”. That is usually when the crickets come out and the fun of the photo shoot shuts down for good.

Post Wedding:

Once the images have been taken, work closely with your photographer to get the images, albums etc. So much can be done with photography after the images are back in the studio- but this can also be a curse. Try to narrow down a theme or a certain style that you are looking for in your photographs, that is the way that they are presented. Even great photos will look poor if they are laid out or over edited with special effects etc. Do not try to ‘get it all’ with your album- be consistent for a cleaner looking album. Just as in successful advertising, a strong clean message usually delivers better results than a ‘mish-mash’ of ideas.

If you would like more advice on wedding photography- feel free to contact me. I only book one wedding per day, so if you are interested lets book a relaxing, no pressure meeting to go over what you want in your wedding photography. Remember, have fun- it’s your day so enjoy it.

Photographing Children: Tips for Parents and Professionals

Photographing children may be more challenging than you at first realise! When photographing younger children you must be aware of ensuring that they feel comfortable and safe. If they are your children then of course this is not a problem but it can cause some difficulty if you are photographing a friends child.

A child will pick up on our discomfort much easier than another adult so if you do not enjoy children’s company then you may want to think again before you embark on this area of digital photography.

Top 5 tips for photographing children:

1. Just because you are ready to take the child’s photograph does not mean they are ready and willing! You may have to ‘trick’ them into thinking it is a fun game for them to play. Have some props to hand such as bubble blowing or soft toys. Often toys with some sort of movement or noise are the most useful as they will emote a reaction from the child which you can capture if you are quick enough!

2. Ensure you are comfortable with the settings on your camera. This may seem obvious but if you suddenly stop when the child is happy to play to sort out a setting on your camera you will lose the moment, perhaps for ever. So make sure you have set your camera up for the session and are happy to adapt if and when necessary. Initially you may just use the environment you are in to photograph children but as you become more advanced you may wish to provide a lighting setup. This could consist of three light setup – consisting of a main light fill light and a background light. If you are using a backdrop keep the child at least four feet from the backdrop if possible as this eliminates shadows and prevents the backdrop from competing with your subject.

3. if you are photographing a friends or clients child ask the parent what sort of things their child will respond to. You may only have a short period in which to photograph the child so all information will be vital to the success of the session. Provide some props for the child to explore, such as a box or some dressing up clothes

4. Remember children have a short attention span so you may have to break off for short periods for the child to be re positioned or placated with a favourite toy or cuddle from a parent. At all times you must remain relaxed or the child and the parent will begin to feel uncomfortable. This will not provide the best atmosphere for successful photography!

5. Try to use your camera as an extension of yourself rather than placing it formally onto a tripod. If you are willing to roll around on the floor making stupid noises and giggling your subjects may be more relaxed and provide you with fantastic shots. You could move outdoors to photograph the child such as the beach or play park. There is no other field of photography where you will witness so many moods, facial expressions and movement than when photographing young children.

The most important things to remember when photographing children is to be relaxed at all times, don’t be phased by their capricious nature, allow them time, space and even toys to play with and always most importantly be comfortable with your camera because if you are not the whole session will be very stressful for you and the child.

How to Find Your Unique Voice As a Photographer

It’s not just enough to be good – you’ve got to find your own unique voice. The question is – how?

This article will take you though several things that you can to do help you discover and carve out your own one-of-a-kind path as a photographer.

1. Take pictures of what interests you.

This may seem obvious, but there are still a lot of people who go about this all the wrong way. They ask themselves, “What field of photography has the most demand right now? What area will be the most lucrative?” And then they go out and try to fit themselves into that picture.

But you will never be as successful doing this as you could be taking pictures of what interests you.

Why? Because when you are interested in something, you will enjoy it more. You will go out of your way to portray it in a good light. You will be more creative and want to try new things. This is so important and yet most people don’t even think twice about it.

If you love food, take pictures of food. If you are an animal whisperer, maybe you would adore being a pet photographer. If there’s nothing in the world that feeds your soul like going for a hike, you would probably make an excellent nature or landscape photographer.

When you are passionate about what you do, it is a simple fact that your joy will propel you forward. You will not be dragging yourself out of bed, you will be leaping from the mattress full of excitement and enthusiasm, and that in turn will carry over into your work.

2. Ask Yourself Every Day: “How Could I Do This In Another Way?”

This powerful question will get your mind working on new possibilities. Though you may not have an epiphany each time you ask yourself this, you are always encouraging your brain to make new pathways and connections. And every once in a while, you will have an “ah-HA!” that makes it all worthwhile.

If you are serious about photography, you should always be taking pictures of what you are most passionate about. But it’s also just as beneficial to try new things and take pictures of different subjects, too. This doesn’t necessarily mean forcing yourself to take pictures of things that you aren’t interested in, but finding ways of taking pictures of anything in such a way that you find it interesting. It pushes you to always stay fresh and always continue learning and growing. Reading books and taking classes is fine, but I believe that the best teacher is firsthand experience. If you are continually searching for new subjects and new ways of photographing them then you are keeping yourself on your toes, and you work will never become stale.

Passion and excitement are the fires that fuel brilliance, and in order to keep that flame stoked you will need to look for ways to keep your own interest pulsing within you. I know from firsthand experience that when I go out and do something I’ve never done before with my photography I take a giant creative leap and everything that I learn carries over into each project I take on next.

3. Avoid the #1 Creativity Killer

Contrary to popular belief, reading more books and taking more classes does not always make you a better photographer. Don’t get me wrong; they can be incredibly helpful tools that help you learn and grow – to an extent. However, there is a point that most photographers reach where studying and learning stops being helpful and becomes counterproductive. How do you know that you’ve reached that point?

When you find yourself critiquing and criticizing your work more than you are simply enjoying it.

You might be thinking, “Now wait a minute. Hold on. Critiquing helps me to get better! That’s how I learn. I see what worked, what didn’t, and I can correct and improve.”

Yes, in an ideal world. And usually this works in moderation. However, I’ve seen more photographers shut themselves down long before they ever truly delved into their potential because of this #1 creativity-killer: perfectionism. They overanalyze all of the details of their photos, attempting to make everything in each one of them just right.

Photography is not supposed to be perfect. There are technical tools that we can use to improve our photographs, but they are only that: tools – not rules. Just like people, photos are technically imperfect – and yet that’s what makes them so beautiful. Each photo is an impression of a moment in time that will never again be recaptured. And only you, from your unique viewpoint, have the ability to take that picture.

Some of the most famous photos, considered by many to be the best of the best, have imperfections! In fact, most of them do! Not only that, everyone has different tastes. Something that one person might call a “problem area” might be the reason that someone else LOVES that exact same photo. Are you going to deprive dozens of people the enjoyment of your art simply because one person said “this part isn’t in perfect focus.” Screw focus! Seriously!

If you take the picture and you like it, then what anyone else says doesn’t matter. The “rules” are great to a certain extent, and then after that they start to hinder you. You may discover that you like those blurry abstract photos more than the ones in crisp, clear focus. And you might just find that there are a lot of other people out there who love this type of photography and would even hang it on their wall. But if you stop after that first blurry photo because some teacher or even just random person said that it makes it a bad photo, you may have just shut down the possibility of an incredible photography career because you limited yourself to the same box that everyone else lives in.

Stop trying to make your photos adhere to everyone else’s rules, and they will stop looking like everyone else’s photos.

The true “greats” in any field not only break the rules, but reinvent them.

4. Take photos every single day.

Most photographers believe that searching for the problems and imperfections is not just the best way to improve, but the only way to improve. I disagree. Although this can be helpful to an extent, it is way more beneficial to just go out and take photos.

In fact, this is the best way to get good at anything: do it. Over and over and over and over and over again. By doing it, you train yourself to see the beauty in things and intuitively find the best angles. You get to the point where you don’t even have to think about it any more because it comes so naturally.

Take hundreds of photos. Don’t limit yourself. Yes, you can ask yourself as you are taking the picture, “How can I make this better? How can I frame this in order to enhance the features that I want?” But in this day and age, there’s no excuse not to take a photo if something catches your eye. With a digital camera, there are no negative consequences for filling up your memory card (unless you don’t have another one and still need to take more photos.) The more you take, the more selection you have to choose from.

Some of my very favorite photos that I’ve taken were simply on a whim. I saw something and thought, “hmm, I like that. I don’t know if it’ll make a very good photo, but there’s only one way to find out.” Click, click, click, click…. click. I’ll take the same picture from a few different angles. I’ll zoom out, zoom in, try different things. And often the one that I took as an extra is the very best one.

Try different things! Take the “technically correct” photo. Then break ALL off the rules! That’s how you step outside of the box and do new things.

Oh, and avoid those stupid forums where photographers sit around critique each others’ work. Well, you don’t have to if you don’t want to, but I’ve learned to stay away from them. People spend more time critiquing photos than they do taking them, and they’ve gotten so good at looking for problems that they see them everywhere. I’ve uploaded pieces of my best work to those sites, pieces are well loved by my agent, the design industry, my followers, and gotten critiques like, “Sorry, but there are parts of this that aren’t in focus. It’s just confusing and the photo doesn’t work.” Then other people rave over it and hang it on their wall and treasure it.

Just because one person says it doesn’t mean it’s true. Don’t let yourself get discouraged. Photography should be first and foremost, fun!

5. Don’t worry if you “miss” opportunities.

Every photographer experiences those moments when we miss that perfect shot. That rare species of eagle (so to speak) flies over our head and we weren’t ready, or the exposure wasn’t right, or we got the shot, but it was blurry, and so on. I’ve seen a lot of people spend hours, and even occasionally days, agonizing over what they missed.

Photography isn’t how many shots you get or miss, it’s about how many you take – and keep taking. I have missed thousands of great shots – and screwed up thousands more. I take more “bad” photos than good, and though I do feel disappointed sometimes when I really wanted to get something and it didn’t work out, I always shrug my shoulders and say, “hey, it wasn’t meant to be.” Then I get out my camera, and go take some more pictures.

I can’t even tell you how many times I tried to get pictures of a bird of prey feasting on it’s dinner, and the shots didn’t turn out. I had so many “missed” opportunities. And then one day I looked out my grandmother’s kitchen window and just two yards away was this hawk eating a mouse. Because of the window between us, I was able to get as close as I wanted without scaring the bird away. There are always more opportunities.

When you have the attitude of not worrying about whether you get a shot or not and just enjoy the process, you invite more opportunities in. Life becomes magical.

6. Take photos because you love to – and for no other reason.

The #1 most important thing you can do to improve your photos and find your unique voice is to HAVE FUN!

Is it really that simple? Yes, yes, and yes!

When you are having fun and trying new things and exploring and enjoying yourself, you are naturally more creative. Ideas will occur to you that you never thought of before. Things will naturally fall into place. Having fun is the key to being good. Seriously.

Taking beautiful photographs is something that comes from the heart, not the mind. So many photographers spend all their energy researching the perfect equipment and collecting fancy lenses and filters. They strive for the technically perfect photo, and if they don’t achieve it they criticize their own work and hide it away.

Before I started photography, I don’t think I ever truly saw what was around me. In a sense, I was walking blind through my world, never noticing how pretty the cracks in the sidewalk were, or just how many colors there are in a single flower. To me, that’s the gift of photography; not the end result, but the ability to see the beauty of the world around me in a new way, and have the chance to capture it and share it with others. I do it for the joy of it, and if other people can share in that joy then it is wonderful. Still, even if others don’t, photography has been one of the greatest gifts of my life.

Photography is a journey. If you are trying to create work in order to sell it, you are probably over-thinking it. If you do it because you love it, you are creating what comes from your heart and soul. Do it because taking photos makes you feel good, and people will see it and like it because it resonates with them, and makes them feel good.

7. Get inspired!

Being truly unique is about getting all of the other voices out of your head about what you could do and what you should do and how things are supposed to be done. It’s about quieting all your thoughts and then listening to the stillness and the silence where all of the new ideas are and getting in touch with your spirit. This is where you will hear the inspiration that will cause you to make uncommon connections and spawn new and great creations.

Do those things that feed your soul – eat delicious foods, read inspiring books, spend time with creative people, listen to music that transports you to a whole new world. It is often in those moments when you are simply enjoying life that the best ideas occur or you have the most wonderful photo opportunities.

Those very things that inspire you are often hints and nudges in the direction that you could take your photography to move it to the next level.