Engaging engagement shoots

3P5A3939aHanging out with couples who are buzzing with affection with each other and getting psyched for their upcoming wedding may not sound like your idea of a fun way to spend an afternoon, but as a wedding photographer it is actually kind of interesting and very helpful in getting to know your clients before the big day.

I’ve done a few engagement shoots this summer with a few more planned for the fall (also a surprisingly busy time of year for weddings) and I’ve found that the main advantage (besides getting some relaxed time with a couple before the stress of wedding day creeps in) is the opportunity to really get to know who your clients are. While taking photos may look simple from the outside, all good photographers understand that the key to truly spectacular images is capturing the personality and mood of your subjects – and doing so means you need to intuit/feel/understand them.  An afternoon hanging out and photographing them in places meaningful to them as a couple can help you gain this insight and yield not only good shots from the engagement shoot, but help you get even better shots on the actual wedding day.ab

 

A few tips for making your destination wedding a success

Getting married here?
Getting married here?

Planning a destination wedding? Here are a few ideas to help you get the best wedding photos possible, regardless of the weather.

One of the best things about having  a destination wedding is that you have time to get a great set of photos using a variety of backdrops in natural settings and different lighting throughout your week or two at the resort.

  1. Take advantage of the early hours to get down to the beach and have a photo session with you and your beloved before the other tourists get down there and start filling up the horizon. Early mornings are also good in the tropics as the weather tends to be windier, so a bit cooler, and the sunlight will make you look spectacular. If you can, try to schedule this shoot on the second or third day of your trip so you’ve already got a good baseline tan to really capture the feeling of the beach wedding.
  2. Similarly, try to also schedule a shoot in the evening as the sun is setting. This “golden hour” is a photographer’s dream as the light waves from the sun are at their longest and most flattering, giving everyone a gorgeous glow. You might want to do the morning shoot mentioned above in your wedding clothes, and this sunset shoot in your informal beach wear to give your photos variety.
  3. Use the fun times as opportunities for candids and for your photographer to circulate amongst your guests and capture their best moods as well. While formal photos are critical in any wedding party, often the most memorable shots are those taken when you are your guests are enjoying yourselves and not worrying too much about the photography.

Having a destination wedding is a great way for you to have a turnkey wedding experience and get an early start on your honeymoon. You can gather all your friends and family in a comfortable resort, have all meals and plans easily taken care, and don’t have to worry about anyone driving home drunk.  Don’t forget that your wedding is YOUR wedding so enjoy it as much as possible and have fun with your photos using as much of the natural setting and architectural features of your resort as possible.

What’s an engagement photo shoot?

weddings-past 5Are you getting married this spring, summer or fall? If so, you may still be looking for a photographer to cover your wedding. As you search and meet with wedding photographers in Montreal, you will certainly be offered an engagement shoot in addition to your wedding shoot. So what is it and why would you want to do it?

As a wedding photographer in Montreal, I like the idea of an engagement shoot. One of the main benefits it yields is a great opportunity for you and your photographer to get to know each other and work together. As well, as much as it is important and fun to get wedding photos on your actual wedding day, it can also be a hectic and stressful day for bride and groom. Having a day or an afternoon to just focus on yourselves and maybe revisit places around town that are important to you as a couple can be both rewarding in and of itself, and yield some fun and truly memorable photos.

Engagement shoots can be done with studio lighting setups, but they are also fun to do out in the wild. By that I mean in places that hold special meaning to you as a couple. That may be a walk along one of Mt. Royal’s beautiful paths, or a drink at a cafe or bistro where the first sparks between the two of flew. You may even want to wander around the grounds of your soon-to-be wedding to help de-jitter the place for you and scope out areas you’d like to revisit in your full wedding clothes.

Whether you choose to include an engagement shoot with your wedding package is up to you. As usual the decision will entail balancing the additional costs against the additional gains you will make in terms of creative and highly customized photos of you and your beloved in those heady days leading up to THE BIG DAY. Whatever you decide will be the right choice (stay zen especially when making decisions about your wedding) but keep it in mind as a fun, and worthwhile option if your budget and time allow.

Getting married? 5 tips for saving money on wedding photography

letsgetmarried3

Wedding photography accounts for a hefty chunk of any wedding bill, but I don’t think it should.

It makes sense to hire a professional wedding photographer to capture as many moments as possible on your wedding day, but are photos really worth the price of a small car? I make my living from photography, but not by ripping off my clients. I believe I offer a value in my wedding photography services and price my work accordingly, but I also believe that clients shouldn’t pay more than they have to for something and it grates me the wrong way when I look at all the myriad ways couples in love get fleeced. I’ve already written about ways you can save on wedding photography here, and have elaborated on the theme in this post as well as the early months of the year are when a lot of couples are starting to meet with and book their wedding photographer for the summer and fall season in 2013. I hope you find the ideas I’ve developed over the years to help couples save big on their wedding photography bills helpful:

  1. Know what your real budget is and offer a fixed price. If you don’t like the off-the-website pricing, offer your budget and see what the photographer can do for you. If you have a realistic budget that is not too far off the mid-ranged pricing you’re seeing online, you can probably find a good photographer to agree to it without compromising too much on what you get in return. For example, an easy way to save is to have your photos retouched and edited by a student or someone who only does photo editing (or do it yourself). While it can take a little longer to find another supplier, photo editing rates are usually half or less what a photographer will bake into the price. By accepting unedited files from the photographer (if one is willing to hand them over) you can save a bundle as editing images often adds a lot of post-production time the photographer needs to building into the price.
  2. Meet in the middle: Most wedding photographers offer packages. These are tiered offers, from bare-bones basic to a some kind of deluxe all-in deal. As with any kind of retail offering, your best bet is to take the one in the middle. The lowest one may suit some couples but will usually entail some compromises from the couple in terms of what they will get (my basic, for examples, entails just the ceremony and 1 hr afterwards for couple shots). The mid-priced package will probably reflect the mean and should cover the basic plus additional time at the reception. The highest end will be an exhaustive offering of everything the photographer can do for you. If you have the luxury of not having to worry about the cost of your wedding, and you want the peace of mind of knowing you will get more images from your wedding than you will ever need then take this one, but if good enough is good enough, you can probably cut your wedding bill in half by just shooting for the best mid-ranged package you can find.
  3. Put your wedding photographer on your gift registry: here’s an innovative solution to the pricey wedding photographer conundrum. Ask your friends and family to pay for it! Put a link to your preferred wedding photographer on your gift registry and ask for a pre-wedding gift from your friends and family. Pooling resources can lighten the load on any one gift giver and you can then likely get the top end package complete with photo books and engagement photos.
  4. Ask if you can pay in instalments: while everyone likes to get paid quickly, it can sometimes be hard on a couple to have to lay out all that cash in one shot. Wedding bills mount quickly with venue rentals, catering, flowers, DJs, hotel stays, The Dress, not to mention the honeymoon costs. If you are willing to wait for access to your full set of high res images, you can probably ask your photographer to accept a payment in installments over a few months to help ease the pain. You can offer post-dated cheques or some other kind of fee arrangement while agreeing to wait for final release of all high res images until the payment is cleared.
  5. Pay for value, not trendy wedding photography: while some people will not be satisfied unless their wedding photography looks like a fashion shoot for Vogue (and are willing and able to pay the premium for that kind of work), there are many other everyday people who just want to capture the real life beauty, romance, and truth about their wedding day. Sure you want the beauty shots and the creative angles, but you also just want to relax and know that you have someone experienced on the job capturing the moments, eliciting fun reactions from your guests, and who will be easy and accommodating to work with. You don’t have to compromise on quality to get a good price, but you may need to look a little deeper into a photographer’s portfolio to assess what he or she is really capable of offering even if they haven’t packaged themselves up in a glitzy, wedding photography exclusive site.

As with any big-ticket item, it pays to shop around when you are looking for a wedding photographer in Montreal. If you’re reading this blog post you may also have visited the Salon de la mariée exhibition in Montreal this weekend. Hopefully you can benefit from some of the tips on how to save money on your wedding photography I’ve written about here. If you have any other tips please feel free to leave a comment below.

 

A gem of a church in Montreal – Église Saint-Charles

Église Saint-Charles

This fall, while shooting a wedding, I was surprised by the beauty of the St. Charles Parish (Église Saint-Charles). While I’ve covered weddings all over Montreal (and away from Montreal), I had never been inside this particular venue and I was truly awestruck. I do not follow any religion but am respectful of all, and I do have a fondness for old churches. Often when I am travelling I will find myself taking a little break sitting in a pew of some cathedral just to feel the silence and beauty of the space inside. It is not surprising that Quebec has many such beautiful churches, but I am still amazed at the detail and effort that goes into nearly every aspect of the interiors, even if they are a little worn and run down in places.

While the lighting is tricky as a wedding photographer I prefer to go with the natural ambient light in such large spaces to avoid that flattening flash lit face that shows nothing of the surroundings.  Sometimes this risks losing a bit of sharpness in exchange for a warmer image that, I think, more honestly captures the sense of place where the wedding is occurring. 

Stop getting ripped off for wedding photography

Stop to the madness. Why are you paying a 30 to 50% premium for photos for your wedding day?

It happens with everything from the flower arrangements to the venue rental fee, and photography is no exception. Call a photographer and ask for an event fee and you will be quoted a price, either by the hour or an all-in fixed price. These rates can vary but they can also be negotiated to ensure they meet your needs as a client, fit within your real budget and leave enough profit for the photographer to make it worth his or her while. Call the same photographer a day later and ask for a quote for the same event, only this time, say it is a wedding and see what happens. 99% of the time, you’ll be quoted a higher price – for the exact same service. Why?

I understand the thinking – a wedding is a big day, very important, requires special attention, etc. etc. But isn’t that what you pay a professional for on any job you hire them for? Does a professional give a lower grade service to a corporate client running an event? That shouldn’t happen. Your wedding is important and does deserve top quality service – just like any other event a professional photographer is working and you shouldn’t have to pay through the nose to get it.

Here are a few tricks to use when looking for a wedding photographer:

  • Be realistic about your intentions for the photos: Most couples want a small collection of edited, top photos (25-30 images), a key shot they will use for the thank you card, and a few real winners to frame and put up in the new home. When shopping for a wedding photographer, if you know in the end you will only want a reasonably sized set of images, than say so. It cuts down on the amount of work the photographer has to do and should therefore reduce the price you are asked to pay.
  • Be fair: no one can afford to do work that pays no profit. Maintaining professional equipment, software, computers, and skills training as well as managing a small business takes time and effort. These are all factors that go into a photographer’s price. You can always find a budget-friendly photographer. Everyone has a camera these days that can take very good photos. If you want to save as much money as possible on your wedding, don’t hire a photographer at all – just ask your guests to send you their picks. It will of course be hit and miss, but it won’t cost you anything. If, however, you want a dedicated, professional photographer with experience and  who will deliver on the shots you want to get – then hire a pro and expect to pay a fair price.
  • Think of your wedding as a special event: while it really is a big day for you, for most professionals working events, a wedding is really just another event that requires all the same level of organization and professionalism as say, an association banquet dinner or a gala fundraiser. This does not mean you get lower service, on the contrary, you should be getting the same high level of service a real professional provides regardless of the job.
  • Be honest about your budget: if your budget really is $500, say so. But if you are comfortable spending upwards of that ($1500 – $2500) than don’t be afraid to say so as well. It can save a lot of time and hassle simply stating up front what you have to pay then turn your focus on what you want to get for the money you will be spending. For $500 you can expect someone to cover your ceremony, the immediate before and after and deliver a dvd of the images. For higher value service, longer coverage, more elaborate shooting setups including things like photo booths, multiple locations and additional shooters, you can expect to pay upwards of $1200.
  • Be timely: booking your photographer well in advance of the date is always going to get you a better price. Professional photographers live and die by contract work which comes and goes. Everyone likes to know that there is a predictable amount of money to be earned at a fixed date in the future – and if you can offer this and are willing to commit with a down payment, you can ask for a better price. It may not always work but it is worth a try.

In the end, you can spend $20,000 or $200 on wedding photography. It is up to you. In my opinion, the whole wedding industry is structured to suck as much money as possible out of two (usually young) people who would be better off keeping more of their dollars in their pockets so they can make a downpayment on a house or add an extra layer of luxury to their honeymoon.

Be realistic, be fair, think of your wedding as an event, be honest about your budget and be timely in your booking and you will save hundreds, possibly thousands of dollars on your wedding photography.

Tricks for a great group photo

Whether you are a professional portrait or event photographer, or managing a public relations or communications project, you will at some point require a good group photo. Having worked for more than a decade taking hundreds of group photos of corporate management teams, wedding parties, graduating classes and countless ad hoc groupings of people having a good time at an event, I’ve learned a few tricks on how to make sure the group photos come out well.

  1. Take control: whether it’s a grouping of just two starry eyed newlyeds, or a mass of 75 recent graduates, the moment when you are setting up to take that photo is when you need to step up and take control. Make sure everyone in that photo is listening to your instructions and doing what you tell them to do. If there are other cameras getting in on your set up, that’s fine, but be clear to your subjects that they need to look into your lens at all times until you are done. Most of the time, the people in group photos want to get the photo over with as soon as possible and they will value your leadership and professionalism in helping that happen while still getting the best possible shot.
  2. Use common sense & stay cool: Putting tall people in the back and shorter people up front seems like an obvious suggestion but if the group is large enough to need two rows, it can also be large enough to be difficult to manage and in the heat of the moment a photographer may be tempted to just snap away at any configuration. Resist that temptation and make sure everyone is organized as well as you can according to height so that no one is blocking the view of anyone else. In many groups there is someone or some smaller grouping that is more important – place them centrally.
  3. Keep all eyes on you: make sure you can see everyone’s face in your lens and tell everyone in the shot to make sure they can look straight into your lens. If they are looking at the back of someone’s head, you need to reposition people until everyone has as clear a view of you as needed to make sure they get their smiling faces in the shot.
  4. Take more than one shot: while this is true for nearly all important photos, it is especially true for the group photo. No matter how charming, organized and clear you are in communicating what’s required to get the perfect group photo, inevitably someone will blink, or turn their head or otherwise be the person who ruins the shot. It’s your job to catch it when it happens, take another shot, and then another to be sure that your final deliverable is what everyone is expecting. A great group photo with everyone in focus, looking happy and with their eyes wide open (see images 1 and 2 below).

I’m sure there are other tricks of the trade out there and I’d be happy to hear about them from anyone else working as a Montreal portrait or event photographer. Add your comments or send me an email with your tips on getting the best group photo you can get.

An eventful 2010

It’s been an eventful year working both a full time job running an art startup, ArtAnywhere, and working as a Montreal photographer.  While I don’t know where I found the time, I managed to fit in a total of 73 different photo assignments in events, weddings, portraits and real estate. Here’s a quick run down of the range of photography work I had this past year:

  • Several high-society events at some of Montreal’s finest venues all over downtown and Old Montreal for clients like HSBC, KPMG-MSLP, the Invest in Kids foundation (where I got to meet Dolly Parton – YAY!) and others.
  • I covered five large weddings ranging in style from the truly luxurious in a gorgeous Mont Tremblant condo, to an elegant affair in Montreal restaurant Aix, at the Hotel Place d’Armes; I worked with a promising new photographer, Celia Lavinskas at a sunny outdoor wedding on St. Helen’s Island, as well as travelled to Ontario to cover weddings in both Guelph and Ottawa, at the National Arts Center.
  • I carried on my commitment putting my photography skills to good use with as much pro-bono work I could fit in, providing photography services to Exceptional Family, maintaining an annual tradition covering the Cancer Institute of Montreal‘s annual Concert contre le cancer (I’ll be there again this coming February 4, 2011), and donating family portrait sessions as a prize in the Haiti Tweet up fundraiser organized by Flow Ventures (we raised over $10K); and a major fundraiser portrait session at my child’s daycare (25 young family portraits in a single day!)
  • My portrait practice grew this year as well as I zipped across town to provide onsite, in-office portraits for executives at Rio Tinto Alcan, Purves Redmond, Global Prime Office Network, Financial Research Solutions, professional artists, and real clowns(!) with my brother and fellow photographer, Daniel Francis Haber, from the upcoming production of MöcSplot put on by Geordie Productions in Montreal (show runs from February 4 – 13th)
  • Industrial photography and portraits for one of my favourite Montreal companies, Enerkem (a company that turns garbage into fuel)
  • Several beautiful properties for real estate agents including many for Stacy Bouchard-Burns, whose wide-ranging business had me shooting condos, duplexes, and single-family homes throughout Old Montreal, downtown, Point St Charles, Westmount and NDG.
  • (I even had the good fortune of selling two of my fine art pieces to the CSA Group headquarters in Toronto where my work is now part of their permanent art collection.)

I’m grateful to all my clients and want to thank you for trusting me with your photo work in 2010. I look forward to working with you again this coming year (note to my wedding clients: I love doing baby portraits!). Thank you and I wish you all success in 2011

What Makes a Great Wedding Photographer?

Bride in windowlightAs a Montreal wedding photographer I have had the opportunity to photograph many weddings in and around Montreal in churches, hotels, restaurants and parks. I have photographed both traditional weddings, as well as more personalized, unconventional weddings of couples from many different backgrounds and religious beliefs.

Whether the couple is young and getting married for the first time, or it is a second marriage later in life, whether it is a same sex marriage, or a marriage between a man and woman, certain underlying themes recur.  Real feeling and true emotion happen spontaneously and if you are there when they happen ready to capture the moment your job as a wedding photographer is 90% done. I am often in the most privileged position to see and observe what is happening throughout the entire wedding party, not only in the key moments between the bride and her groom.  I love feeling almost invisible, blending into the crowd and witnessing real moments of human love wherever and however they occur. Being there and being ready when the moments come is one of the most important things I have learned as a Montreal wedding photographer.

When shooting wedding photography, I believe it is my responsibility to do these moments justice and document them as they happen, where they happen, capturing the light and atmosphere in which they transpire. These moments, when the bride’s mother wipes an unexpected tear from her eye as she suddenly realizes her baby girl is getting married, or when the whole rooms bursts into laughter at some witticism the best man reveals in his speech about his lifelong friendship with the groom, are really the basic elements of the memories your client will hold onto. A wedding day is a special day because there is such a density of these moments, textured and coloured with emotion and they can happen right in the heart of the action – the expected yet always satisfying kiss between bride and groom – or off somewhere in another room or in a hallway. As the couple’s wedding photographer, it is up to me to provide them with a true portrait of their wedding day, sewing together all these beautiful moments into images that unfold throughout the course of the day and into the final, late hours when the dancing is in full swing and the relief and relaxation is as abundant as the flowing wine and multi-coloured lights.

Over the past ten years working as a Montreal wedding photographer, I have learned a few things that every wedding photographer, particularly those starting out in the business, should keep in mind which I would like to share here. If you are a  bride reading this, you can use this as a handy guide to query your Montreal wedding photographer about how he or she works. If you are a fellow photographer, consider how these tips could be worked into your own style (and feel free to share your own tips and feedback in the comments section below).

  1. Make sure you get all the key group shots early:  These group shots are tough to get right as they are best taken just after the ceremony but before the reception as everyone in them is in a hurry to be somewhere else and start the party. I’ve found that while these photos can be done quickly if you are well organized and have scoped out your background for the shots first, they should not be so rushed that you miss any of the important ones. One thing I always do is shoot the largest group first, that way if there are any extra people who will not be in any other photos you can send these people away as soon as the big shot is done so that you progressively whittle down the size of the crowd you are working with. The more people there are in a group shot the more likely it will be that one blinks or looks away when you snap the shutter, forever locking themselves into an album of memories with their eyes shut. It is the job of you, the wedding photographer, to get a great group shot with everyone looking at you and nowhere else, and looking good and in focus.
  2. It’s all about the bride, all the time: the bride is your client – if she isn’t happy with her photos it doesn’t matter if everyone else thinks they’re great – you failed. How do you know what makes her happy? You don’t; so take lots of photos of her. While it is a fine balance between being obtrusive and being thorough, your job is to make sure you have a zillion photos of the bride, posed and unposed, and she should look as fantastic as she feels in every single shot. Of course you can’t ignore the rest of the wedding party, but trust me, the bride is the star of the show and as a wedding photographer, you need to make her feel like one.
  3. Be there when it happens: if you learn nothing else from reading this, learn this. Moments happen quickly. And then they are gone. You need to be there when they happen. It sounds difficult – it is – but that’s what you are getting paid for. You literally need to be everywhere at once – this means learning the layout of where you are shooting, wearing really comfortable (while still presentable) clothes and moving around all day and all night long. You are a hunter and your quarry is on the move – you’ve got to move with them. Don’t stay in one place too long or the looks get stale and people stop enjoying themselves. Work the crowd, work through it, hang back on the edges, run up to a balcony and get some overhead shots, then run back down and work the room from another entrance, and on and on. You are paid to be there when the moments happen – don’t miss them.
  4. Be overprepared!: It can happen to anyone and it usually has happened to every wedding photographer at least once. The moment arrives, they are closing in for the kiss – I mean THE KISS, you pop up for the shot and…click. Nothing happens. Battery dead. Card full. Flash doesn’t fire. You name it – it can happen. Don’t let it happen to you. Have triple the battery power (fully charged and ready to go) and card capacity you think you will need. I can remember back in the beginning when I first started shooting weddings having my assistant cabbing it to the nearest pharmacy to buy up extra batteries and cards as I had maxed out on everything I had with hours left in the wedding. Lucky for me the store was open.
  5. Interact with the guests: While being the unobserved observer is great for some shots, for the candid but smiling full frontals of pairs, groups and other guests you will get much better results if you lightly touch their arm, ask for their attention, and tell them to look right at your lens. Take more than one shot.
  6. Don’t forget the wedding photographer “classics”: In nearly every wedding, even the most casual and laissez-faire, there are a few classic photos every couple wants (even if they don’t ask for it explicitly). These include:
  • bride alone (as many as you can – she is the key customer)
  • bride and groom together – position them on alternate sides and make sure the lighting is right on their faces particularly. It is usually far more effort working up lighting effects on the bride’s face in Photoshop then it is just taking the extra minute or two to get it right when you shoot.
  • bride and groom and bride’s parents
  • bride and groom and groom’s parents
  • bride and groom with both sets of parents
  • bride with maid of honour
  • bride with maid of honour and other bridesmaids
  • groom with best man
  • groom with best man and other best men
  • bride and groom and full wedding party

While there are plenty more tricks of the trade that I’ve picked up as a Montreal wedding photographer, I’ll save those for future posts. Thanks for visiting my site and reading about my work as a Montreal wedding photographer.