Picture Perfect

By Frank Wagner

April 18, 2008 5 min read


Good questions help you find a great photographer

By Frank Wagner

Copley News Service

If you want professional images of your vows, you need to focus on pictures well in advance say experienced wedding photographers.

"The two things you need to book about a year in advance are the location and the photographer," says Sherry Gillespie of Village Studio in La Mesa, Calif. The better photographers have bookings well into the future.

A good first step is to consult friends and family and look at their wedding albums. Take note of what you think worked (and what didn't); get referrals. You can also check wedding forums to see if any brides in your area have had bad experiences lately.

"Know who you're working with and what you want," says Gillespie. That means you need to review the photographer's work. Inspect the studio's pictures of other weddings - do you like the look, the color, the poses, the detail? Most importantly, "ask questions. Girls come in here with a whole list of questions from a bridal magazine," she says. "It's good to ask."

Among the specifics to check on:

- Who will be shooting the wedding? Will the photographer have an assistant? What attire is the photo crew expected to wear?

- What locations will be used (the bride's home, church, reception site, etc.)? Find out if the photographer is familiar with the location.

- What are the exact times, dates and places the photographer will be working? What are the overtime fees?

- Is there a guarantee?

- What is included in the package? What are the prices for extra albums, prints, proofs? What is the deposit and payment schedule?

- Does the studio have any suggestions the photographers may have to help keep within your budget? (One way to stretch your budget and get different perspectives on the day is to place disposable cameras at reception tables and have guests take pictures of the festivities.)

An aspect many don't consider: "Know their cancellation policy," warns Gillespie. Some studios require three or six months' notice to qualify for a refund.

Experience is a big plus according to Gillespie, who has been in the trade for about 10 years, assisting her husband, David, a second-generation photographer who started working in the family business 35 years ago. According to her, a good wedding photographer should have at least two years' experience as an assistant. Such experience and the needed equipment does not come cheap. Village Studio's packages start at $2,695; in "high end" markets, packages can start at $5,000 and costs of $8,000 to $10,000 are not unheard of.

Given the investment, a signed contract is a must, "it protects both parties," observes Gillespie. A contract covers how many hours you have the photographer for, how many proofs you get, the album and other details. A contract should also cover any guarantees, contingencies and specific products and services you can expect.

If a price seems to be too good to be true, it just might be. "If it's $1,000 or less, ask a lot of questions," cautions Gillespie. She concedes, "You can get someone to shoot the pictures and hand over a disk for $800," but then you're on your own to sort through the images and get albums made. Sometimes the arrangement works, sometimes it doesn't. Recently, a bride approached her studio seeking help to organize the overwhelming number of images on her disk.

A typical package includes about eight hours of shooting, beginning two hours before the ceremony starts and lasting into the reception. "In seven to eight hours, we can shoot 2,000 images," says Gillespie.

A good wedding photographer not only snaps pictures, but also edits and organizes them to tell the wedding's story. Even with the technological advances in digital imaging, the process remains time-consuming. The studio culls the day's shooting to a workable level, weeding out redundant and unflattering images. "We get it down to 500 or so in a couple of weeks," says Gillespie. It takes about four weeks to get proofs, at which point, a proof album and online images are available to family and friends.

Once the selections are made, it still takes about six to eight weeks for Gillespie to deliver the final album. It's a down side of the digital revolution. All the high-quality color labs in San Diego have been driven out of business by digital; they must ship their work 100 miles away to Los Angeles to get high-quality prints. It's a situation that has affected a number of cities.

? Copley News Service

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