Like many brides and grooms, your wedding could be the first time you’ll be hiring a creative professional. You might think the ins and outs of working with a wedding photographer are as simple as writing a check. What could be so difficult, right? But just ask any talented pro, and you’ll get a grateful explanation of why it’s so important to truly understand their creative process.
How you manage your relationship with a wedding photojournalist can have just as profound an impact on the photographs as the day unfolding before the camera. Luckily, you and your photographer both want the same outcome: amazing photos that capture the feeling of the wedding day.
“One of the best things about being a wedding photojournalist is that....one can capture life as it happens without restraint,” WPJA award-winner David Crane says. “At a great wedding everyone wants me there, wants me to capture those fleeting moments, and will appreciate them for years to come.” Learn how to be one of those couples. Our award-winning wedding photojournalists offer their best advice on getting the most out of your photographer.
Wedding photographer Dave Cheung recommends focusing less on the business process and more on the creative one when you’re working with a wedding photojournalist. Of course, you’ll both sign a contract, and ultimately there will be details relating to the types of packages purchased, the number and format of proofs, schedule, costs, and possibly album design, but that should all be secondary when it comes to selecting and working with your creative professional.
Cheung advises that when it comes to hiring a wedding photojournalist, one should not get bogged down with comparing the details of various packages. “It doesn’t matter how many pictures you’re going to get if you don’t first understand how he or she is going to capture your wedding day,“ he states. After all, what difference does it make if you’re getting 100 proofs or 500, if you don’t love the photographs?
Once you’ve made your decision, remember to take care of all those pesky business details before the wedding day arrives. Your photographer needs to be truly present, prepared to capture your moments, and not preoccupied with tracking the types of photographs he’s taking or worrying about collecting payment.
Even the hardest working photographers need to eat. You know that woozy-can’t-think-straight-lightheaded feeling you get when you haven't eaten, and you’re on your feet all day? One of the last people you want feeling this way at your wedding is the person with the responsibility of capturing your most special moments for posterity.
Of course, you’re busy with all of the planning, but remember that your photographer will be with you all day, capturing every graceful move, and unless you think ahead to arrange a hot meal, he or she, or an assistant, may have to physically leave the premises in order to eat. It’s just another tiny detail among hundreds, but this one is worth remembering.
WPJA award winner Matt McGraw feels so strongly about this point that he designed his contract to clearly state he needs time to eat. “I’m with you all day long,” says McGraw. “You might as well give me some food…some good food. Not a croissant sandwich and some chips.” (See “How To Starve Your Wedding Photographer: A Field Guide,” in the September/October 2006 issue of WedPix.)
This is the biggest pet peeve of wedding photojournalists far and wide: brides, grooms, parents, reception coordinators, bridesmaids, DJs and various other guests who give constant direction about what, when and how to photograph the wedding. “Of course I’m going to photograph the flowers and capture the beautiful sunset,” McGraw says. “It’s my job.”
No photographer likes to be given constant art direction. Remember: you’ve hired a wedding photojournalist, because they don’t style photographs. Not only is it annoying, but perpetual third-party direction also takes away from the creative element of documentary style wedding photography. Directing is the antithesis of the natural, unscripted moment. And, as McGraw adds, the more art direction brides and grooms are giving, the less they are enjoying their wedding—and the fewer natural moments there are to photograph.
When there is too much direction, Crane admits to missing moments. “I approach each wedding with no pre-conceived ideas. I let the day unfold before my lens and capture what happens. If I am backed into a portrait-a-thon it never fails that I see real images unfolding out of the corner of my eyes and there is nothing I can do about it. The clients hired me for my ability to capture those honest fleeting moments and I am missing them because I am shooting every possible combination of bride, groom and family,” he says.
Often times, brides and grooms don’t think about coordinating the styles of all of the other creative pros they’ve hired to cover their wedding. “Make sure all the creative individuals you’re employing are on the same page. If you like your photographers because they’re behind the scenes, and that’s why you hired your photographer, then make sure that approach is also going to work with your videographer,” McGraw suggests.
If the videographer has a style that involves a lot of direction (like making you put on your dress five times), that may not create the best situation for a wedding photojournalist who doesn’t take any staged shots. The creative pros, says McGraw, don’t need to be able to work together, per se, but they should all have a shared understanding of how the day is going to unfold. He suggests asking your vendors direct questions about their process, such as “Are you going to ask me to button up my dress three times?
He also recommends letting all of your other vendors know about your photographer’s style. That way, they won’t be interrupting or trying to pose shots for her.
“We’re not selling a product, we’re selling a promise,” says Cheung, who considers trust the single most important part of wedding photojournalism. “If you don’t trust your wedding photojournalist, then why did you hire them?”
If you’re constantly worrying about the photographers—are they getting good shots; taking enough pics; Do I look good?—then you’re not living in the present. “When you let that go,” says Cheung “the imagery is much more confident, because you’re not thinking about it the entire time. You can’t worry. If you’re being primped and prompted at every turn, you’re not going to enjoy your day, and the photos will reflect that.”
Cheung says you have to be comfortable enough in front of your photographer to cry, and trust them to document that in a beautiful way. After all, he says, you don’t have to look good every second of the day. “You just have to trust that wedding photojournalists are artists and thereby trust their vision of your day,” Cheung says.
Trust is also closely related to giving up control. Part of trusting your photographer is being able to hand over the reigns. Accept that you cannot control everything; that’s why you hire professionals to carry out a shared creative vision. Realize that when you try to control too much, you’re actually hijacking the creative process.
For example, McGraw is not a fan of the list. “The family list is fine,” he says. “But not the lists of all the moments: the candles, the garter toss, the bride walking down the aisle.” McGraw once received a four-page list, down to the silverware on the table. “It was beyond duty,” he says, “And I was just going down, checking off the list.”
If you give a wedding photojournalist too long of a to-do list, it distracts them from what you hired them to do in the first place: shoot spontaneous, once-in-a-lifetime moments that can’t be predicted, and therefore, could never be included on a list.
"I don’t want to think about all these expectations,” says McGraw. “I just want to tell the story.”
— by Meghan McEwen for The Wedding Photojournalist Association