Tuesday, April 27, 2010

How do I know when it's love?

Stephanie commented on my last post asking how to find a good family photographer and I figured it deserved a post of its own.  I'm sure the Internet has made this task a LOT easier, because most pro photographers have nice websites with portfolios of their work, and you can browse at your leisure (or at 2am when everyone in the house is sleeping!).  I thought I'd also include some other helpful tips for the shoot itself.

The Search
When I was searching for a wedding photographer, I had no idea what to look for or how much it would cost.  I started with one of those local wedding resource pages and just started browsing other photographers' work.  I found one I completely fell in love with, but alas, they were already booked for our date. 

However, I found out the style that I liked so much was called 'photojournalism' - less emphasis on posed pictures and more on just capturing the event and the unexpected details.  So I started using that term in my web searches and found more photographers, and also found a site for the Wedding Photojournalist Association - bingo!  This site gave me a lot more options in my area, within the style I was looking for.

I then browsed a LOT of photographers' sites.  My method isn't scientific - it couldn't be, because what I was looking for was *art*.  So I simply sat back and browsed.  Looked to see whose pictures jumped out at me. 

Some photographers had a style that just didn't do it for me.  Others had a few pictures that caught my eye.  But there were a few where nearly every photo in their portfolio was a WOW shot.  Of course, these portfolios are heavily edited compilations of many events, but I felt confident that if nearly the whole portfolio wowed me, then that was a pretty good bet that I'd like their work at our wedding.

If forced to articulate what I was looking for, here are some of the characteristics:
  • Interesting small detail shots, like trim on a dress, or a closeup of a shoe
  • Capturing shots with a definite "vibe", almost like you can *feel* what the subjects were feeling
  • Few posed shots, but if there were posed shots, ones where the subjects look like they're having fun with each other and not looking *at* the camera.
  • Both black and white and color shots, but more importantly, choosing which shots looked better in b&w and which were more suited to color
  • Pet photos that capture the "dog soul" 
Since this is an artistic judgment, it's like trying to outline what I like about a piece of music. I can't say for sure, but I know I like it when I hear it.
Some photographers have the gift of being able to capture pets well on film, and some don't, even those with mad skills with people-pictures.  So if you want to include your pets in a family shoot, make sure the photographer you pick has samples of pet photos in their portfolio and that you love the style of those too.  This is why I love Nicole's work.

First Contact
So the next step was to review the prices (if posted) and then reach out and contact the short list.  Because I'm lazy like that, I eliminated anyone who didn't have a way to email them. I asked a few key questions:
  • Rates (if not posted clearly) and whether there was a print order minimum $
  • Availability for the dates we were considering
  • Whether we could get all of the pictures on a DVD and if that was an extra charge
Surprisingly, in this digital age, there are photographers who *won't* give you the digital files or charge ungodly amounts to give them to you.  You need to order all prints through them, and you don't have copies of the pics to share on Facebook, websites, etc.  We're social networking kind of people, and we don't print a lot of photos so this was a deal-breaker.  Obviously, I respect intellectual property and copyright, and try to give credit to the photographer, but I want those pictures in digital form.

Making the Decision
Once I got the answers back and have narrowed the list based on availability and budget, we had to make the big decision.  For things like weddings, or family portrait shoots on weekends, you need to book early and decide fast because the good photographers are BUSY.  We got around this for our family portraits by booking them on a Friday afternoon and thus could get Kristi on relatively short notice.

That first wedding photographer whose work I fell in love with sent me a short list of other folks with similar styles, which was super helpful. In the end, I chose one of those and we were REALLY happy with our pictures.
Depending on the significance of the event, you may want to *meet* with the photographer in person before deciding who to hire.  After all, for a wedding, this person is going to be following you around for most of the day, and it's a pretty big responsibility you're entrusting them with.  There are no do-overs. 

We did this for our wedding photographer, and meeting with Bradley was what really sealed the deal for us.  He and TJ talked about motorcycles, he talked to us about his philosophy of work, and showed us some recent wedding photos he'd taken.  We liked him, and really got the sense that he was a professional.  We also felt he wasn't going to be intrusive, which was a big deal for us.  We didn't want to be constantly aware of the photographer, or worse, interrupted by him to "look here at the camera!" or "hey, can we recreate that moment?  I missed it."

On the other hand, we met with another guy who was starting out in the business, and he was sort of timid and shy, and didn't give us that confident "I can handle this" vibe.  He might have done just fine, but our wedding was not a time for experimentation.

Most photographers have you sign a contract and put down a deposit once you've made your choice, and that holds the date for you.  This is especially important for weddings - you don't want to get close to the day and then find out the photographer wasn't really holding the date for you.  It's really hard to find a great photographer on short notice.  For a summer wedding in Seattle, the good ones book over a year in advance.  Crazy, I know.

Your Homework
So you've decided on a photographer.  Some people think the work is done, and you just wait for the day and look good, and get some pictures taken. 

But I picked up a tip from one of those ubiquitous wedding-planning magazines:  make a list of the shots that you want for sure, both candid and posed.  Now, you've hired a professional so you're not trying to micromanage their creative process, but if you want a shot of you in your wedding dress holding your beagle, you need to let the photographer know.  And on the big day, you might not remember the list.

For our family photos, I emailed a short list to Kristi, and asked for her feedback because I wanted to be clear that I wasn't trying to micromanage.  I made the list fairly vague and just discussed the subjects, not the style:
  • All five of us (people and dogs)
  • Baby and each dog interacting or at least looking at each other :)
  • One good chubby baby arms and legs and bare feet shot
  • Baby and mama, and baby and daddy
  • My husband and Peanut
It's also helpful to ask the photographer what you all should wear (unless it's for your wedding, duh!).  Typically solid colored shirts are good because they're not distracting, and Kristi recommended that we wear shirts in the same color family so they don't clash. 

We also asked her if she needed any 'props' and she suggested a neat idea where we'd all be wearing white, in our bed, with a white comforter and sheets, snuggling with the baby.  That worked out really well, even though it was the last set of shots so we didn't change T back into her white onesie:

For family shoots, ask your photographer for locations if you don't have your heart set on one.  Some people like outdoor shots.  We love our house and wanted to capture that as part of the photos, so we chose to do our family shoot at home.  It made it easier to change T into different outfits, and keep her happy, as well. 

We did my pregnancy shoot at a local park with our dogs, because the lighting was better outside that day (though it was 98 degrees, but that's another story!).
If you're getting pictures done at home, make sure the areas you're using are clean.  You don't want piles of dirty laundry or dog hair-covered blankets in the background of your shots.  Photoshop can only do so much :)

The Big Day
For our family shoot, Kristi advised me to choose a time when the baby was fed and well-rested.  (One out of two wasn't bad!)  This sounds obvious, but really think about it.  If your baby is asleep when the photographer shows up, do you really want to wake her?  How will she be if you do?

Have all the outfits and props, plus any additional payments ready to go.  Once the photo shoot is underway, you don't want to disrupt the "flow" by trying to deal with business details.  Of course, if a baby's diaper needs to be changed, or the dog needs to go out, you'll deal with it, but it's best to get everything else ready ahead of time.  Then again, I'm a planner like that.

And then just do your thing.  Try to ignore the fact that there's a photographer there and go about your business.  Eventually you'll stop noticing him/her, and that's when the magic happens!


  1. Really great photos (of the family and your wedding)! And what a great post to break down how to find a photographer and prep for picture day!

    I think having babyT in the black and white stripes looks awesome on the bed with you guys in white. In fact probably more artistic than if you had changed her back into a white onesie.

    My SIL actually does professional photography, so we got pics of the Pumpkin for free. We haven't yet gotten the Pookie or family photos because she lives about 6 hours from us. But you've inspired me to set up a time with her and bring props for the next time we go down to visit the inlaws! Thanks!

  2. Family pics are great! I like those in-the-moment shots better too. :)

    Thx for the comment on my blog today about The Best Dog(s) Ever. I joke w/ my husband that I'm going to make myself a t-shirt that says, "Best Owner Ever" and make the dog a matching one that says, "Best Dog Ever." He says if I do that, he will not walk around with me in public anymore. :)


  3. @caramama - how awesome that your SIL will give you free photos! And thanks for the compliments :)

    @Beast Mom - I love the shirt idea! Your hubby sounds like mine :D


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