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!)