Saturday, June 30, 2012

Afterthoughts on Wedding Photography

I had originally put these thoughts in my earlier blog post outlining the list of things I wish I had a do-over with during My First Daughter's Wedding.  But, that list was really meant to be more of a summary, and my ramblings on about it grew too long and detailed.  Since quality photography is something that I now realize I am very passionate about, a much longer discussion of what I learned about visually documenting a wedding is in order.

I am somewhat of a shutterbug myself, and I am visually oriented.  I come by it honestly -- my father was a good photographer (and an excellent artist as well.)   My daughters also seem to be gifted in art and photography, so we are passing down the torch.  Coming from a background like this, it is no wonder that the wedding photos were so important from my perspective.

I am not alone.  From my browsing of wedding literature and websites, and real-time communication with other Mothers of Brides, the wedding pictures are the wedding aspect that many MOB’s are the most disappointed with.  I learned a very important lesson through my experience.  If quality photos documenting a wedding day are important to you, the photographer choice is something you should take your time with and be very selective about. Don't just look at the bottom line. When my Second Daughter gets married (or any important occasion for that matter) if I am paying for the photography, it would be so worth it to me to spend more, if it meant having the type and quality of visual memories I would prefer.

I really hate to write anything less than positive about the photographer we used for My First Daughter's Wedding (who has since retired from the business).  He and his wife who assists him were professional, honest, reasonably priced, dependable, hardworking, and really nice people – those are all important, and I have no complaints in those areas. They did an absolutely awesome job of the outdoor formal bridal portraits, taken a few weeks before the wedding, and the posed pictures of the bridal party and families at the wedding were decent.

Having said that, I have to honestly say I was underwhelmed with most of the wedding day photos, especially the candid shots and images of of the wedding decor.  Maybe I have just looked at too many gorgeous wedding magazine and wedding blog spreads, but the end-product just did not have the hoped for wow-factor for me.We waited for nearly 3 months to get the photos, which turned out to be a bulk collection that did not appear to have been edited much.

The main issue was with the actual style and content of the photos, and then to a lesser extent the "unedited" quality of how the finished product came to us, and the frustration and inconvenience of actually putting together a nice collection of wedding memories in our new high-tech world of do-it-yourself photojournaling.  I blame myself partly, for not communicating more with the photographers ahead of time, conveying our wishes and expectations, and for not doing more research ahead of hiring them as to the type of work they generally do.  But then, the last time I had to hire a wedding photographer was 25 years ago, and the industry has definitely changed.

Gone are the days of the big coffee-table album of gorgeous retouched pictures that the photographer puts together for you.  Now, it must be ironed out before hand if the photographer will retouch/edit the pictures for you and put together an album, or will he just hand you a massive high-resolution digital collection of photos which you are expected to edit and photo-shop yourself. Because we opted for a lesser priced photography package, an unedited collection is what we got.  I found this to be... well...overwhelming.

I think I actually prefer the old fashioned way, when the wedding images you bought were a finished product, not a work in progress.   After we finally got our disc containing hundreds of shots, we still had hours of our own editing to do to select the "keepers" and make the shots more to our liking. (This is not necessarily a negative to the younger tech-savvy generation, it seems they would rather edit the photos to their own liking and put together their own albums using photobook services like Shutterfly, as my daughter did.)  Over a year now post-wedding, I have yet to make my own hoped-for wedding slideshow or memory album with my own favorite pictures, although I did order a copy of my daughter's Shutterfly book.  I just have the basic photo-editing software that came with my computer; it is not user friendly and it is slow, tedious, and time-consuming.  At this point, I don't know if "my album" will ever happen.

Now, I'll move on to the discussion on wedding photography subject matter and style, which is really what I am passionate about.  Yes, the wedding is mainly about the bride and groom, but I think it is about the families and guests, too, and to a lesser extent, they should serve as a record of the events and how the venues looked.   I suppose this was really important to me also because I was highly invested in putting the wedding together, both monetarily and emotionally.  I wanted a decent visual record of all those hours and dollars spent planning for this event!  Here are a few examples of the questionable photo style and content, and "missed shots" that I perceived:

- The bridal dressing shots were taken in the church bathroom - not exactly the most appealing backdrop, and not much attempt was made to "disguise" this venue.
- For the ceremony, most of the photos were taken at the back of the church, so they were all distance shots.  There were few closeups of the couple.

- At the reception, we have the usual traditional photos of the bride and groom, numerous candid shots of the younger crowd (mostly strangers to us) out on the dance floor, but where were the nicely-done photos of some of the older guests (including many close family members and long-time friends) who remained at tables? We get a glimpse of them (sometimes in awkward poses) in crowd shots, but that's about it.
-There were no professional photos taken of the pre-function area for the appetizer time, and only one messy shot of the ice cream sundae bar, after most of the guests had already gone through it.  We have no photographic history of the appetizer spread, and the sundae bar was one of the top special features of the wedding - and we also have no pictures to show for it.

-Isn't the couple waving goodbye in the limo a standard wedding shot?   Didn’t seem to get one of those either.

-For many of the photos, it seems to me the crowd or unattractive backgrounds could have been blurred, or edited out the focal point of whatever the shot was about would stand out.

And, this is my biggest regret -- as the Mother of the Bride, I would have loved a pre-ceremony, sweet,  "just the two of us" shot of my daughter and me.  The only nice photo of my daughter and I together that day was taken by the wedding planner's daughter, and the wedding planner was also in the picture!  (At least, there is a shot of my husband and daughter together as he walked her down the aisle.)

My First Daughter had a college friend who is an amateur photographer, and she had the foresight to ask this friend to go in and take photos of the hotel reception venue before the guests arrived, knowing that our professional photographer would be tied up at the church wedding venue.  Those are actually some of the nicest photos we have of the reception decor. (However, the amateur photog had left for the wedding ceremony by the time the hotel staff set up the appetizers.) 

So, what did I take away from this experience?  I am willing to shoulder the bulk of the blame, because of the basic lack of communication with the photographer.  (And granted, there were also some situations that were out of their control.)

First, I should have vetted the photographer more carefully during the selection process to make sure that their style would fit the vision we had for the wedding.  Our photographer was apparently more experienced and comfortable with the posed genre of photography than he was with the candid photojournalistic style.   The group/crowd pictures our photographer took just seemed very similar to the reception images that guests took and shared with us.

Second, if I knew then what I know now, for a wedding of this size and held at two different venues, I never would have hired a photographer who did not work with at least a second shooter.  That way, the action at both venues could have been covered simultaneously, and we may have had some different choices of the same shots (i.e. different angles, or closeups.)

I never did make it a priority to talk to the photographer or give him a shot list of things and people that my husband and I would have liked to see in the photos, and I do not know how much direction he got from the bride and groom, either. There should have been better communication and planning beforehand on the logistics of how, where, when, and the subjects of the pictures that would be taken.

Thirdly, I never investigated or discussed in detail how the finished photos would be presented to us.  I really presumed the photos would be better edited before they were given to us than they turned out to be.

Most definitely, we should have come up with a way to include photos of more of the bride's and groom's extended families. (Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, etc...)  I shoulder the blame now that they were not asked, ahead of time, to stay behind at the church and participate in the "bridal party/family photo session"  before going over to the reception venue.  And at the reception, there needed to be some way to include guests in photos who remained at the tables rather than coming out to the dancefloor.

These are things to consider next time...At one wedding I attended, the photographer made his way around the room taking pictures of all the guests at the tables; the guests could even use "props" like dark glasses or mustaches if they wanted to.  Many people are doing photobooths at wedding receptions and they seem to be a fun activity for the guests, as well as another way to provide photos of a variety of those who attended the wedding.  Also, I have seen posed photos similar to the one shown below, which I think is a great way to show that those "Aunts, Uncles, and Cousins" were actually there at the wedding!

The bottom line is, I give our photography team credit because they were friendly, courteous and professional, they were great with the outdoor formal bridal portraits, and on wedding day they did the best they could, with one camera, and with little planning and direction. (But I will know better what to look for, and ask for, next time!)

Friday, May 25, 2012

One year later...

Well its me again...thought I'd post a few final thoughts and express some feelings upon the one-year anniversary of My First Daughter's Wedding! (And I really mean final this time!)

First I would like input -- if anyone is out there following this.  I am considering publishing this blog into an edited hard cover memento of the wedding for my family's eyes only, and "canning" the online version.  Is that a bad idea?  Is this blog really helping anyone?  My blog host statistics show me there have been considerable hits, but there haven't been an abundance of comments.  I never bothered to monetize the blog anyway; it was mostly here for me as an outlet.  And it concerns me when I see some of the search terms that people were using which landed them on my blog.  (Lets just say - there are some messed up people out there, and I don't necessarily relish the thought of them reading my blog or viewing my family wedding photos.)

So it's been a year or so since the wedding day.  I am happy to report that the kids are still happily married, relocated to Colorado, and are settling into a new apartment and new jobs.  They just completed a big trip to Europe (Germany and Austria), echoing what my husband and I did in the first year or so after we got married.  Jamaica was also one of the stops on their honeymoon cruise; my husband and I honeymooned in Jamaica too -- so there are a couple of travel bonds we have shared.

We got to visit with my daughter and her husband the day before their anniversary, and they said they planned to eat the top tier of the wedding cake, obligatorily saved from the wedding.  We talked to them soon after and they reported the same thing we experienced; the cake was so stale and freezer-burned that they could barely eat a few bites of it.  My daughter made chocolate chip cookies instead!  Maybe some old time-honored wedding traditions need to be reviewed....!!

Now that I have some time and distance and life has progressed in between, the majority of my memories of the wedding are still good.  There are a few things I still would have tweaked, but even the things I groused about have faded.  Looking at the wedding photos again as part of the 1 year anniversary observation, (at least the high-res versions rather than the low-res); I honestly thought..."Well they aren't THAT bad after all..."  I am sorry to say that we didn't get around to getting wedding photos made into prints until just before our kids visited us just a week ago; and the wedding slide show set to music and memory book that I had planned have never come to be.  (My daughter did publish a very nice memory book using Shutterfly and I simply ordered a copy of her book for us!)  Our photography team has since retired, and I still think the world of them, so I really hope they have a very happy ever after!

The wedding binder is actually still intact -- I haven't gotten around to filing anything away.  I did crunch the final budget numbers; and well...I'm just glad that part is in the past now and the Good Lord provided the means to pay for it. 

Now that our younger daughter has basically moved out for good though, we are truly Empty Nesters, and the house is in need of a "purging" and organization on a scale we haven't approached in a while.  The wedding binder contents will get filed away this year, I vow!   Some of our furniture has disappeared, bequeathed to the rooms need to be re-arranged, re-decorated and re-purposed.  I think that is what will be occupying my time in the coming years (other than my job, of course.)  I also have discovered Pinterest...and oh my, the time I can waste on that...

Retirement is not too far away; my DH and I are starting to kick around options for that.  One day I still hope to at least have a small part in planning the Second Daughters Wedding (utilizing Pinterest, of course), and grandchildren may come along in the meantime...I hope not TOO soon!  I want my First Daughter and her husband to relish these first few years of marriage, focusing on eachother.

I still have not started another blog. I'm still exploring my options there. But if and when I do, and if this blog is still up and running, I promise I will post the link!

I wish you, my Dear Readers, (if there are any) health and blessings!