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.

Personalized family portrait sessions in your own home

Nan and her girls

Many people I know have had their portraits taken at a well-known photo studio that operates out of malls around the city. They often walk away from the sessions involving cutesy and unnatural poses that the photographer sets up, having spent several hundred dollars and having been forced to make a decision to purchase prints almost as soon as the last shutter closes on the shoot.  For some people, this kind of in-and-out studio service may be all they want even if it is a little expensive. However, few people realize that having an in-home portrait session done (either in your own house, or when the weather permits in a nearby park or in your backyard) is not only more convenient for the modern working family, but can also result in extraordinary photos that capture the real beauty of you and your family in a comfortable, familiar setting. No parking fees, no travel time, no big battle with younger children who have an uncanny intuition about being disobliging when you want them to look their best. Just you and your family, having your photos taken at your own pace in your own home.

Baby in playpen

A family portrait session can be done in just an hour or it can last a little while longer if you have the time. A good portrait photographer doesn’t need an elaborate set-up to shoot beautiful images. All that is needed is one light or maybe two, possibly just a flash or none if the weather is obliging.  More important than gear and set-up is the relationship your portrait photographer has with you and your family. A good portrait results from the subject (you!) feeling relaxed and comfortable, knowing the photographer you’ve hired is going to make  you look good and natural. Now looking natural doesn’t mean snapping up documentary style photographs of you at the end of a trying day in the office (unless that’s the look you’re after). It simply means allowing yourself to be comfortable with who you are, letting your love for your family show through in the images – the reason you want a portrait done in the first place.

Have fun with your portrait session! Getting ready for the photographer can be fun (like getting dressed up for a party) and the time you spend with him or her should be as enjoyable as having anyone else a guest in your home. Having your family’s pictures taken should be a collaboration between you and your photographer. You will be the one leafing through your photo book or looking at the framed portrait on the wall for years to come so you should have a say in the way it looks while trusting your portrait photographer’s instincts and judgments to take (and choose) the best shots for your final selection.

Father and son

If you are thinking of having your family portrait done this spring (or even better, if you’ve been blessed with a new baby and want to share your joy with the world!) think twice about what you want to get out of your portrait session. Keep in mind that you can easily hire a photographer to come to your home and photograph you and your family in your own environment, on your schedule, with the least amount of inconvenience to you – and you can probably save about 50% of the cost you’d otherwise spend on a studio session while also having as much time as you like to decide what prints you want done, if any. Today’s digital photographers can provide you with a wealth of choices and there is no need to rush to buy a print to try to pressure you to spend as much as possible while the flash heads are still warm.

Concert contre le cancer 2010

Making a difference and looking good at the same time!

The Concert to fight Cancer 2010 was a great success with a sell out crowd of over 2500 people at Place des Arts on Friday, February 5th, 2010, gathered to attend a benefit concert starring Kent Nagano and the MSO in support of the Institut du cancer de Montreal (ICM). In addition to the strong turnout for the concert, the cocktail party before and after the concert was well attended by Montreal luminaries.  Julian Haber Photography is a proud supporter of the ICM and once again was there to cover the evening from start to finish.

Getting ready for the spring rush? Make your real estate listings photos stand out!

I’ve worked for many successful real estate agents in Montreal and the surrounding area and I believe one of the secrets to their success is providing their clients with professional real estate photography to showcase their properties in the best light possible.  These real estate agents know what it takes to stand out in a competitive industry: superlative client service. By investing in professional real estate photography rather than relying on quick snapshots taken with a pocket camera, they are showing their customers that they take their work seriously and that they are committed to providing an excellent service to help them sell their property. Here are a few tips real estate agents should keep in mind when preparing their listings’ images of property for sale or lease:

  • Use pro gear! Real estate photography requires the use of a professional camera able to capture the way the actual lighting appears in the property in a way that enhances the space and is attractive to potential buyers. Most prospective property buyers are looking for natural light, clean, well decorated living spaces. By using a tripod, long exposures and a professional camera even a less than spectacular room can be made to look attractive, warm and inviting.
  • Clean up and declutter! Whether the owner of the property is still living in the home or condo you are selling on their behalf, or if it is a new development still yet to be moved into, it pays to have the space professionally cleaned up and prepared in advance of the real estate photography session you’ve booked. Take a page from a homestager’s book (or hire one to help you). Put magazines away leaving just a few in neat stacks on clean, polished surfaces; put away the dishes in the kitchen; roll up the dingy bathroom carpets; hang the towels as if you were preparing a room in a 5 star hotel; brighten up a space with a few well placed plants or even better, a vase or two of fresh cut flowers. Make the rooms you are advertising look like a space someone wants to live in – without letting it look too lived in.
  • Hire a professional real estate photographer! Admittedly, this is a shameless plug, but considering the fees paid to a professional photographer are both business expenses and fractions of a percentage point off the value of a commission, is it really worth your time and effort to take the shots yourself? Professional camera gear (even just a basic set up that fits in a small backpack) costs upwards of $10,000.  Leverage the investment and skill of a professional real estate photographer to do what he or she does best, so you can focus on what you do best: making the sale and making your client a happy (repeat) customer.

Good luck with the spring real estate 2010 season. From my vantage point working with real estate agents around the city, the Montreal market has held up well during this past recession and looks to be heating up again. Professional real estate photography will help make your properties shine and get you quickly to your next sale.

Update Feb 27, 2010: A day after the image above was posted to my client’s website www.montrealrealestatesource.com the condo sold! Great real estate photography really works!

Haiti TweetUp Follow Up

Raising funds for Haiti

The Haiti TweetUp organized by Flow Consulting on January 19th was a great success. We raised over $10,000 for Medecins Sans Frontieres and hopefully motivated people to do more to help Haiti, a country that was already in need of help before being struck by the worst natural disaster in our hemisphere ever.  You can catch the wrap up here in case you missed it.