Wedding Photographers - 3 Ways to Stop Sucking Today

Please hear me out. I am not saying you suck at this. And I am by no means excluding myself from that title. But I am about helping other photographers in this industry filled with megalomaniacs who care little about your success. And these three things have helped me TREMENDOUSLY over the last 4 years grow as a photographer AND as a business. (I keep them written down in a little moleskine notebook) Plus let’s be honest, I am not super clever and this was what i wanted to write about so it’s as clever as I get! 

1. Be Prepared - You have heard me say this so many times! BE PREPARED! This starts well before the wedding day. It starts with your gear, your timeline, your contracts and your interactions with the bride and groom.  I am incredibly regimented about this. And I am, generally,  not regimented about anything. Let me give you an example of what I mean; 

Last year as I was getting ready to start shooting a wedding, I pulled my gear out of my bag, strapped my cameras around my shoulders, bent down to start shooting some details and I heard and felt a pop right around my zipper region/area/whatever you want to call it. I looked down and sure enough my brand new suit pants had ripped at the zipper. I had been there for maybe 5 minutes and this was how I was starting out the day. FANTASTIC. So I stood there for a second, in a room full of bridesmaids, staring at my wide open zipper thinking to myself, "I want to punch a kitten right now."  It’s moments like that, that make me so rigid about preparation. And I am not rigid about anything! But had I not had an extra pair of pants in my car it may have thrown me off the whole day. 

And this just doesn’t apply to pants.  What if that was a camera or a lens? This applies to back up bodies, multiple cards, multiple shot lists, recorded emails... basically EVERYTHING. Bottom line, prepare yourself for the day. Assume the worse things could happen on that day and correct whatever you can to fix it BEFORE it happens! 

2. Asking for help - This is a big one. There are so many photographers who have gone before you and have struggled through all of the things you are about to struggle through this year. Ask for their help! Some offer mentorship programs. Some offer workshops. Some will slam the door in your face. Screw those guys, we don’t want their help anyways. But find someone you respect, it doesn’t matter who it is, and ask for help!  

3. Comparing yourself to others - This is another one you will hear me preach and preach and PREACH. I know for me, I don’t even look at wedding photography at all. There are some I follow on Instagram, and some I am friends with on Facebook. But generally speaking, I just stay away from the industry as a whole because I know I can begin to slowly go down that rabbit hole of wondering why I suck and they don’t. You may be able to, thats fantastic. I can’t. I look at a lot of other things for inspiration. You should to! 

There are a lot of other things we could add here. But these are 3 big things that helped me so much over the last few years. You may of needed this you may have not. But I just want to encourage you to keep at it! Keep working hard, keep putting in the time and remember we get to do what we love!  Let’s DO this!  

 

For more info on our mentorships and workshops check us out at http://www.samstroudphoto.com/mentorships/

 

Card to Cloud

One question we here a lot is "what do we do about backing up our images?” We often get a surprised look when we talk about the lengths we go to on the day of to protect our images but in my opinion it is paramount to what we do; protecting the images! I mean i bring two shirts, two suits, and to pairs of shoes to me to every wedding JUST in case! 

I preach process, process, process! If any of you know me the slightest bit you will know that I am not a detail oriented person. So a process helps me get through from point A to point B. Otherwise I’d lay my camera and card down in two different places and never find them again. Hell, I can’t even begin to tell you where my camera is now… damnit. Regardless, process, process, PROCESS is the key!

Think about some of these things;

a. Where are my images stored? 

b. How many cards to I shoot with on the day of? 

c. How am I transporting my cards on the day of or after? 

If you don’t have a definitive answer for this every single time I would encourage you to make a change!

SO, I am going to go look for my camera. And while I do that, here are three things you can do TODAY to ensure the integrity of your work after you have shot the wedding.

1. PROCESS PROCESS PROCESS - I already said it annoyingly enough but I can’t stress it! This begins before you book or show up to the wedding. Stop what you’re doing right now and think about what is your process for delivering the image? Now work backwards. For me when I get home my images go in two places. I store them locally, and then I store them on my Drobo. (4 4 TB hard drives) and then a background process runs when I go to bed that backs them up to the cloud. And when I delete things, and move files all depends on where I am in the process. Figure out whatever it takes, step by step, to ensure you are maximizing both your effort and efficiency!

2. Stop Shooting on 1 Card and Use 2 Cameras -   Ugh. this one is super annoying. But I do it. 8 or 16Gb cards is all I shoot with. And they are labeled, Pre Ceremony, Ceremony, Reception, Portraits. But the purpose is if you lose 1 card, you don’t lose the whole wedding. Just a select few images from one camera. 

3. Day of Storage - PROTECT YOUR CARDS! On the day of I carry my cards around in a super hard thick shelled card carrying case. I use this. It’s both shock and water proof. DO IT. BUY IT. 

4. Use External Hard Drives - I use this one. For me, it works. We go through hundreds of weddings a year. So for me this is necessary. However, some of you can get away with 1 single 4 or 2TB hard drive. Buy whatever you need to make sure you aren’t storing images in one place. If your images are on your iMac only and your iMac crashed what will you do then? 

5. The Cloud is Your Friend - As creepy as that sounds, cloud storage is a way to buy (cheaply) off site storage for “just in case” peace of mind. There are so so so many options. I use Crash Plan. It’s cheap and easy to access and store offsite. It takes a little time to setup and back up. But its well worth it! 

Alright that’s it! Let me know if you have any questions, or let us know what services you use OR what works for you best!  

Telling Their Story :: It's in the Details

I get asked a lot about my approach to shooting the details on the day of.  I think it’s easy for us to view the rings, the shoes, the flowers etc. as singular objects that the bride and groom pay for or use to “pretty things up”. And while that may be true to some extent, it could also be that they are key elements that they use to tell a greater story.

Mark Twain once described the ability to tell a story as an art, both “high and delicate”. And I totally agree. The details of the day of are describing a resounding character or quality our couples possess that can be easily overlooked as we plow through our damned shot lists. And when we do that, we miss the point and purpose of what we are doing. So here are a few things that I try to consider each wedding day, that may help you as well;

1. Stop and Explore - The first thing I do when I get to a wedding is drop my camera bags (with my cameras left in them), and go explore. I look at the venue, and the reception site. I look for what is setup. I look for colors, and I try to determine some kind of theme that will help me better understand my bride and groom. Is it rustic? Is it Classic? What is that one theme and how does it fit? 

2. Don’t ignore the small - I don’t mean this in the sense that "there are small objects, so go photograph them too”. I mean thematically don’t ignore the small! If you have a bride a groom, and you have them in a field and you have the sun setting behind them and you have this incredibly beautiful image, yes take it. Use all of the environmental imagery to create that once in a lifetime image. Those are details too! But there are also smaller details you can work down to. Their hands, how her hair is moving when the wind picks up, the detail in his suit. It helps me to think big, and work my way down. 

(Images like this are as much a portrait as they are a detail shot! His and her shoes, her earrings, and dress!)

3. Be present without being present - I am going to admit a HUGE mistake I have made in the past 2 years and it pains me to say it. I place a HUGE amount of weight on the relationship I have with my bride and groom. I have for so long preached that you are what makes them comfortable so play that card. I have though, at times, used that to my detriment. There is a comfort level or relationship that exists that allows me to interact with them in a way maybe another vendor can't. And then I will see a beautiful moment unfolding between the bride and groom, or the bride and her father, only to recognize quickly that they know I am there and are in some small way still interacting with me. So this year I have had to pull that back a little. And when it comes to viewing these moments as little details in a bigger story, its paramount that you are seen without being noticed. 

 

4. Stop being objective - Journalists and news photographers have to be objective. And to some degree we are too. We shoot what we see. However, put yourself in that moment or in their shoes when viewing the details. It changes how important photographing something really becomes when you personalize it. I have had some strange requests to photograph some strange details. But the reality is, what becomes absolutely strange and odd to me means the world to someone else.

 

So what do you do when you approach the details? What can you change? Remember the details are a bunch of small pieces that by themselves just seem unimportant. But when you begin to put it all together, the begin to give us context and help us tell a bigger, more greater story about the people we get to photograph!

Shooting The Exit

Shooting the final exit or departure at a wedding can be a real bitch. What I have found is that it can be the most unpredictable, most volatile, and most difficult moment shoot. And when I first started shooting weddings I didn’t even want to begin to think about taking a stylistic approach to it. I wanted to turn my flash on, fire away and hope I got it. 

One of things I preach in our workshops is “know the gear you’re shooting with”. The only way you can really do that is to practice, practice and then practice more. Fortunately I am at the point now, 4.5 years in, I have seen and shot the exit 200+ times! And at this point for me I have seen every variation so it’s become about paying attention and just expecting that something will go wrong. And with a fast moving exit, fire and drunk people, lots of crap can go wrong. 

(For the sake of this article we are going to focus on the sparkler exit! There are so many ways the bride and groom will exit, however we MOSTLY see them exit to sparklers)

The Approach 

As the night begins to come to a close, I will generally slip outside and take a look at where the exit is going to happen. Even if I have shot there numerous times, I still want to see what the path they take will look like. I want to see what will be my background, and if I have any ambient light to work with. I then will almost always communicate with the coordinator on a couple of things.

1. Please please please PLEASE check with me right before you give the couple the go ahead. I just want to make sure, again, I am totally ready for them to come out. Also side note, don’t be the reason they are being held up. Get out there before everyone else and get your head right! 

2. I will also ask that once they have the couple exit, have them stop and either wave, kiss, or whatever. This gives me a brief moment to shoot, and while shooting I can see my meter and know that I am ok. If I have not for some reason set up my camera to shoot correctly, this gives me a chance to fix it and get back to shooting

The Gear - The Setup

I’d be lying to you if I said I nailed it every time. Really, in that moment I am hoping to get it close enough. Sometimes I crush it a couple of times I have totally blown it and blamed it on the drunk uncle getting in the way. (totally kidding... sort of) This is where having the right gear helps. Some will tell you that you need an off camera flash or an assistant holding this over there and this and that. Some of that might be true. I think most of the time it’s over kill.  Ultimately it comes down to personal style. For me, I like the consistency of using natural light. 

You absolutely can set up a flash and get fantastic images every time. If you care to, set up an off camera flash to the side, roughly 5-10 feet away, (off to the side angled towards them, use an umbrella to soften the light)  set your camera’s ISO anywhere from 400-800, set the shutter speed to 125, shoot at 2.8 to 3.5 and call it a day! Again I LOVE the look of using the sparkler and other natural or ambient light to help style the image. I shoot the exit just like I shoot the wedding day. Exclusively with my Canon 5D MK3 and my 50mm 1.2... all day every day 

I use this setup for a few reasons;

1. The Autofocus is fast - and I mean blazing fast. I can’t imagine to try to do that with my Leica. I love my M, but the payoff isn’t there. 

2. The MK3’s low light capability It's ridiculous. (Nikon users i am sure the D800 and 810 are great too) While I rarely find the need to, I could shoot up to 6400 with zero issues.

3. The 50 1.2 is the greatest lens that has ever walked this fantastic planet we live on. Well if it had legs, and was a living/breathing thing it would be. Regardless, the 50mm 1.2 has the ability to shoot fast and sharp in any condition. And in the dark that is crucial. Over time I have found the 85mm 1.2 to be too slow (focusing), and the 35mm 1.4 a little soft (in low light) at 1.4 for my liking. 

To recap - I shoot almost exclusively, again, in Aperture mode and my ISO is always set anywhere from 800-3200, I spot meter, and always shoot wide open at 1.2

A Few Examples

Here are a few examples, before and afters, of sparkler exits I have shot in the past with some commentary

ISO 1600 :: Shutter 125 :: 1.2

Here you can see not much of an exposure and white balance adjustment. You will notice a little bit of a chromatic aberration in the sparklers themselves. That is the downside at times (rarely) with shooting wide open. However, That can be fixed in LR

ISO 1600 :: Shutter 125 :: 1.2

ISO 2000 :: Shutter 125 :: 1.2

You can see a bit more of an exposure and white balance adjustment here. Also, there was a incredibly drunk guy right behind me with 7 sparklers or so and when I stood up, he almost set me on fire. Whatever it takes for the shot right? RIGHT? 

ISO 6400 :: Shutter 125 :: 1.2

This was exit was a little bit more difficult as there was almost ZERO light before they lit their sparklers. This is at Sundara,  a favorite of venue of mine, and where they generally have them exit is just a really dark area. So I had to bump up my ISO here, and you can see in post I adjusted the WB and exposure. 

 

 

 

I hope this has been helpful for you guys! Again, knowing your gear and practicing is so crucial to getting it right! You can free yourself from trying to get it right technically and start focusing on developing your voice in your work! 

 

 

 

 

 

SSP Workshop

We are so excited about our upcoming workshop next week. Make sure you are signed up because we will be closing registration soon! Seats are limited and we only have a few left! For more information check out http://www.samstroudphoto.com/ssp-workshop/

!@#$ I GOT A BAD REVIEW

It’s happened. Your absolute worst nightmare as a wedding photographer. You’ve shot the wedding, you’ve done the post work, and you’ve handed off your images. You wake up a few days or weeks later with an email waiting for you from your favorite “insert wedding blog/website where you take people to read reviews written by past clients that overflow with words of kindness and your greatness”. Except this time, it only has 1 star, not 5. 

"Wait, maybe they changed the rating system. Yeah that has to be it. What used to be a 5 star rating is now 1 star. Makes total sense. Because 1 is better than 5. Yeah that’s it.”

No. You now have your very first bad review… "!@#$.” You’ve read it 100 times and it still says things like;

“missed this shot"

“Wasn’t attentive"

“poor lighting” 

“Smells like a hobo"

So now what? Well, first things first. Turn it all off. Take a step back and let’s forget it ever happened for a few hours, maybe a few days. Go get some coffee, go to the gym, or go do something that completely takes your mind away from it. Forget the fact that your business will come crashing down on you, and everything you have done over the last year or two to build something that will sustain you for the next 10 years is all coming to an end. This article will be here when you get back.

Alright now that we’ve calmed down let’s start from the beginning. And I don’t mean from the point where the review occurred. A lot of times things like this happen because of some work you missed on the front end. Let me introduce you to Abby. A fellow friend in the Wedding Photography industry. She is a grinder. And I mean that in a good way. She works her butt off to create an experience as a business that separates her from her peers. And I am super excited to partner with her on this post.

I am going to let her walk you through some of things you can do right now to prevent this from happening to anymore future weddings. That’s right, the work you do TODAY directly affects the out come of weddings you will shoot years from now.

Thanks for letting me be a part of this, Sam! Ok, so no one wants to deal with this kind of situation, but there ARE some things you can be doing right now to help prevent conflict with clients in the future! For me, I’ve found that a proactive approach (vs. a reactive one) is often going to be what saves potentially sticky situations with your awesome brides and grooms. I don’t WANT it to get to the stage where we’re having to discuss refunds or legal action, so I do everything I can from the beginning to built trust and rapport with my couple and their families.

 1. Love the crap out of your clients. This is the best deterrent out there! When your clients know from Day 1 that you’re on their side they’re much more likely to give you grace for a small slip-up that happens along the way. On the flip side, if a client's initial impression of you is “you’re a vendor I’ve hired, not a person with whom I have a relationship,” it’s a lot easier for people to get caught up in something small. Love your clients as PEOPLE first, customers second!

2. Have a SOLID wedding contract written by an attorney (preferably an attorney who specializes in law for creative professionals). This is my first line of defense if there’s ever a conflict, because the contract is a solid, black & white agreement we’ve all signed. It’s explicit, and describes in no uncertain terms the conditions we’ve agreed upon, as well as outlines my responsibilities to my client. A solid contract will work to protect both parties; it protects you if your client fails to adhere to the terms of the contract, and it protects your client if you fail to fulfill the duties you were hired to perform.                                        

Sometimes a client's issue will be with something that was completely out of your control. For example, your bride might cite issue with something like “we didn’t receive as many portraits as we wanted.” But if the timeline was crunched due to a member of the bridal party being late, and suddenly I was left with 15 minutes instead of the 90 minutes I was promised, there’s not much I can do. There’s a clause in my contract that protects me from that kind of thing, and I can point to it in a situation like that to gently remind my couple I can’t be held responsible for the failure to take the portraits they wanted if I wasn’t given the time I require to do so.

3. Have a paper trail. Make sure anything that’s promised to either party is confirmed through email! If you casually promise them an additional hour of coverage, that needs to be written down. If they say they need an extra two weeks to make their final payment, that needs to be confirmed over email. If you ever have a phone call to talk about something having to do with services or responsibilities, follow up with an e-mail reiterating what was discussed and agreed upon. This will help clear things up if there’s confusion over what your obligations are.

Thanks Abby! So there you have it! Right from another Wedding Photographer’s mouth. And I completely agree. Set the expectation right away from the beginning so there are no questions on the back end. SO let’s fast forward to where we left off before Abby dropped some knowledge on us.  And hopefully you have had a chance to calm down and clear your head a bit so we can talk about 3 things you can do NOW about that bad review.

1. Contact the bride - maybe you can work it out with them and have them take the review down. Maybe you can’t. But the key is to begin to open the lines of communication to apologize and show some empathy. Remember you were commissioned to photograph the biggest day of their life. Maybe you didn’t screw up. But maybe you did. Regardless, listen to their concerns!. A lot can be resolved by just talking and taking the position of empathy.

2. Make it right  - This is an easy one. I am echoing Abby’s earlier point. Sometimes a bride just wants to be heard. Sometimes you can listen to them and then overwhelm them by giving them prints, and albums and other things. Its a tangible and substantial way to say, “I screwed up and I want to do my best to make it right".

3. Learn from it - Maybe you didn’t screw up totally. But odds are you did something wrong. And these opportunities are great platform for change. They can be used to solidified a process that needs some help. It can be a great chance to strengthen an area where you may not know you are weak! 

That’s it! And remember, it’s not the end of the world. If anything it’s the beginning of something incredible. It will just require a little bit of willingness to change, humility and the ability to do the work to make it right!


Abby Grace is an international anniversary + wedding photographer for the old-school chic couple in love. Abby is based just outside of Washington, DC, where she resides with her stud of a husband and two crazy rescue pups. Her interests include pearl earrings, not being a domestic diva, and anything Harry Potter-related!

You can find her on Facebook, Instagram or online