Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Booking the Photographer

In case you are worried, this is not becoming a wedding blog. There are already tons of talented people out there who can provide you daily inspiration on the matter. But between all of the beautiful photos and inspiring ideas, I realized there isn’t a lot of information on the actual process of planning a wedding. Sure, there are checklists and budget tools, but I have found very few personal accounts of everything that comes along in this crazy, rewarding process. So, today I am happy to introduce Wedding Wednesday, where each week I will feature my experiences, lessons learned, or just progress in planning our day. I hope this helps someone in their own days of wedding planning!  Enjoy!

From the beginning, I viewed booking our wedding photographer as one of the biggest, most important decisions of our day. The major details – date, location, venue – must already be in place, at least roughly, before starting the search for the photographer. And all of those details take some time to finalize.

For me, the photographer is the person who will capture one of the best days of our lives from start to finish. When Mike and I sat down to tackle the not-so-glamorous task of establishing our budget, it was one of the few parts of the day on which I wanted to plan to spend a good amount of money. (Keep in mind that this is relative to both our budget and how much you consider to be “a good amount of money”.) There were plenty of other parts of the day where we were happy to cut costs – my dress, for example – but I really wanted our photos to be something we would treasure forever.

In my mind, I have equated the experience of booking our photographer to the experience of finding “the one” (Hi Mike!). Except in this case, each photographer not only emotionally led you to the next photographer, but was also extremely friendly and provided the contact information for their recommendation. No emotional break-ups!  Minimal tears!  No eating Ben & Jerry's straight from the pint!  Hooray!

High School Lust
When Mike asked me to marry him, I already knew exactly who I wanted as our photographer: Sarah Cramer Shields. I waited patiently as we discussed and decided on the important details; as soon as we had a rough idea of the date and location, I emailed her, so excited to book her for our big day. She responded almost immediately to say she was already booked. I was devastated. Reduced to tears. I felt like I had just been stood-up at the homecoming dance (yes, that happened).

Okay, not really.  But since my dream photographer was actually not a reality, I decided to take a chance and email an incredible photographer even though I knew she was out of our price range.  But the amazing Katelyn James was, not surprisingly, already booked as well!  But she also sent me a list of the photographers she recommended and while I looked through a sampling of the list, I quickly started to grow frustrated and worried we would not find someone to capture our day.  I started to panic that every photographer was already booked for our wedding date.  (Side note: as I was thanking Katelyn for her time and recommendations yesterday, I revisited the list she had sent.  The photographer we happily ended up selecting was actually on her recommendations, I had just been too disappointed and overwhelmed at the time to thoroughly review each portfolio!)

Aimless Searching
I wasn’t quite sure what to do next. Mike and I were busy planning our wedding in Virginia and I knew very few photographers in the area. I reviewed the recommendations of our venues. I searched for “Best Virginia Wedding Photographer”. I looked through countless portfolios; they all started blurring together and no one was blowing me away. At my lowest point, I said to Mike, “Apparently finding the groom was the easy part!” I don’t think he appreciated that very much. Oops.

I sent out tons of emails to the photographer’s work I enjoyed. I made a spreadsheet – inputting the information for the photographers who were available on our date and in our price range. One of the parts of the planning process that I was most excited about had now been reduced to just another Excel document.

The Blind Date
Finally, I decided to email Sarah to ask if she might have any recommendations. I figured it might not be customary for photographers to recommend each other, but perhaps she would take pity on me. Turns out, photographers are a very tightly knit community and they are more than happy to recommend their colleagues when they aren’t available! So through Sarah, I was directed to Lucy O Photo.

The One
I skirted the emotional breakdown when Lucy told me she was also booked and asked if she might be able to make a recommendation. She sent me three! Of the three, two were available on our date and, since Mike and I both really liked their portfolios, I spoke on the phone with each photographer. We talked about things that would help the photographer – how Mike and I met, where we live, what we do, what we enjoy doing when we aren't working, details of the wedding – and I was able to start to get an idea of how it would be to work with this person on our wedding day.

We took a few more weeks to review each photographer’s blog, website, and full galleries; with Mike’s blessing, he left the final decision to me. In the end, I chose the photographer who I felt would capture the day in the way I might, if I were able to be the bride and the photographer at the same time. It also came down to trusting my gut – booking the photographer who I felt like I really clicked with during our chat. And while blog stalking, I knew I had found someone I would really be able to connect with when I read this line, “I am a weird blend of Type A and Type B. I know that I probably lean more towards one side (coughtypeacough) but I also have this “lets lounge around all day and eat cheese and watch TV” tendency.” Amen.

Today, I am ecstatic to say Lauryn Galloway will be the incredibly talented lady behind the lens of what are sure to be our phenomenal engagement and wedding photos. Check her out, she's amazing!


What I Wish I Had Known
*I’ve heard the average engagement length is something like 18 months nowadays. Do not be surprised if your “dream” photographer is already booked. And be confident there is another “dream” photographer out there!

*If the photographer you want is booked, ask for his/her best recommendation(s). Photographers are almost always willing to help you out!

*Take the time to thoroughly review the website for every recommendation you receive from photographers who are otherwise booked.  If you are feeling overwhelmed by the thought of looking at another portfolio, wait until you are relaxed, comfortable, and excited to view their work.

*Don’t feel that you are “wasting time” in the planning process by looking through the portfolios and blogs of potential photographers. Especially through blog posts, you really start to get a sense of both the photographer’s work and personality. Both are important on your big day!

*Ask potential photographers to send full galleries for your review. Blog posts and portfolios are wonderful, but only highlight some of the best photos of the day. Reviewing full galleries will allow you to get a feel for the entire day and ensure they are able to successfully capture big moments – first look, first kiss, etc. – on a consistent basis.

*The process of finding the right photographer unconsciously became an incredibly valuable business lesson.  Even if you don't have dreams like me of one day establishing your own photography business, there are lots lessons to be learned along the way.  Keep track of things you liked or hated and try to apply them to the way you do business each day.  I am truly amazed and inspired by the lovely community of wedding photographers. 

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