Megan Marascalco Photography, Megan Marascalco
Professional photography can squeeze your wedding budget, which is why many couples are tempted to go the DIY route. While it may help with the bottom line, it opens up a whole new path of special considerations and potential risks. Here's what you need to know before you decide to hire an amateur to capture her big day on camera.
"It's important for the bride and groom to have an open (dialogue) with the photographer about what they expect," says Megan Marascalco of Megan Marascalco Photography in Oxford, Mississippi. You only get one chance to get it right, so strong Communication is key to avoiding heartache and disappointment.
Above all, the person you hire must be prepared and yet think on the fly. "As a wedding photographer, I not only capture the day as it unfolds, but try to help in any way I can," says Megan. "Coordination with the officiant, wedding planner, bride, etc. is an important part of the job. You have to be flexible and go with the flow of the day."
It's tempting to choose a family member or friend to film her special day. But think twice, says New York City photographer Tanya Malott of Tanya Arianne Malott Photography. “Your her professional is hired to observe, not to participate,” she says, adding that a friend or family member can get sidetracked by visiting other guests. "If your guest or family friend doesn't take the job 100 percent seriously, they're going to miss out on a lot of great stuff." Also, the person taking the photos probably won't be in any of them. And if the photographer decides to drink alcohol, her judgment, and the results, could slip.
"Photographing a wedding is a huge commitment and responsibility for anyone, professional photographer or not," says Tanya. Additionally, many well-established professionals have large overhead costs built into their fee structure. But before you decide to use a buff, she says, research your options. "A 'cheap' freelance photographer has a lot less reputation to lose at a wedding, but they also have a lot of incentive to do a great job," she notes.
Look for photographers in a lower-priced market nearby, or consider flying in a less expensive professional. Art school students are another possibility, as is bartering for their own talents. "Also, why not think of your photographer as a potential wedding gift?" Tanya says. "Tell the photographer you want to hire that you love what he does, but can't afford it and want to split his fee into bite-size certificates that family and friends could buy."
If the DIY option is right for you, design your wedding to make it as easy as possible for an amateur to get quality photos. "If you know you're on a tight budget, then you need to give some serious thought to the type of wedding you're planning from the start," says Tanya. "Some weddings are more photogenic than others, and the more photogenic you make your wedding, the more "photographers" you naturally have, many guests will bring cameras, and the better your photos will be."
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What tops your list to shoot easier? Great light, simple logistics, and a naturally beautiful location. Dusk and evening events, weddings in black tie or other dark clothing, indoor or dimly lit venues, and places with little character, such as hotel ballrooms, present more of a challenge.
Although professionals often bring tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment, a hobbyist has to work with limited tools. “Asking an amateur to shoot at a wedding means she will have lesser quality equipment, yet she will be required to perform at the highest level,” says Tanya. At a minimum, she says, a photographer should use a camera with interchangeable lenses; Megan recommends a DSLR (single lens reflex) camera. Lenses and other gear can be easily rented, but Tanya emphasizes her #1 rule:never try new gear on the day of an event. The potential for disaster is too great. Rent it ahead of time to allow for experimentation.
Make sure you have enough digital memory, adds Megan. "Card size and the number of cards needed will vary depending on the camera you're using and the amount of space each image takes up," she says. If you have a program like Photoshop that can process them, take RAW images, which are a bit like digital negatives. "Even the best photographers make mistakes, and shooting RAW can save an image," she says.
Also:"This should be a no-brainer, but bring backup for everything," says Tanya. "My best mechanical camera failed at my first wedding in 1991. Fortunately, I had a backup and shot the entire wedding with a camera that I hardly ever bring with me."
"I've probably said it a thousand times:'The background is at least 50 percent of any good photo,'" says Tanya. "Choose it wisely." Keep an eye out for bloopers, like trees that seem to come out of people's heads, and think about what's going to happen in the background of key shots, like the first dance or the cutting of the cake.
The choice of background "really depends on the look you're going for," says Megan. "When shooting on location, brightly colored areas can make the image stand out. Muted colors and textures can also be pleasing. Busy backgrounds could attract the attention of the bride and groom."
Also, "Prepare yourself for the different lighting scenarios that are present during the wedding day," says Megan. To avoid harsh lighting, especially for portraits, the photographer can add a flash, diffuse the light, or move somewhere with softer lighting.
Tanya warns that using a flash can be tricky for novices. "Flash basically works at a distance," she says. "When I see guests shooting from 20 feet away with a small pocket camera and flash, I usually tell them to stand back five to eight feet to get the optimal image."
Megan Marascalco, Megan Marascalco
“This is an area where people tend to underestimate the time it takes,” says Megan. She recommends that the photographer have a list to work with and emphasizes that having everyone lined up and ready speeds up the process. "It's a great idea to have a family member or friend who knows everyone help with the list and make sure everyone is there for what's needed," she says.
Tanya's Tips:Find a spot with consistent lighting and a simple background away from guests, the band, or other busy places. "Have everyone put out their drinks and purses," she says. "Most people don't think about what's in their hands and regret it later." Encourage people to come closer and make them laugh (even if they don't talk) to loosen the shot.
She also suggests browsing magazines or sites like Pinterest for group photos that you like. "Print them out and copy the groupings for your portraits," she says. "You'll be amazed at how quickly people rank when you give them a visual cue."
"Knowing the flow of the day will help catch candida," says Megan. "Being able to capture a tear running down a mother's or groom's face as the bride walks down the aisle is an example of wonderful candids. A long lens, she adds, allows her to position herself further away from subjects who might feel shy. If they discover you, you take them out at close range..
Megan Marascalco, Megan Marascalco
Tanya says her secret is anticipating key moments and being in the right place with the right gear when they happen. And always ask about planned surprises, she says:"Brides should know that it's okay to surprise your spouse or guests. It's not okay to surprise your photographer. You risk losing the photo."
Megan and Tanya like photo booths for guests to participate in photos. "People have fun with photo booths," says Megan. "You can use fun objects, fun backgrounds, and even create a custom theme." Or, she says, ask the wedding planner or DJ to help coordinate a large group photo at the reception.
Tanya recommends the Wedding Snap app, which allows guests to easily share photos from iPhones and camera phones. "Many brides have a room full of guests who take photos, but never see them. Or the low-res images will just end up on Facebook, where they can't be printed," she says.
Don't skimp on prints, Megan advises. "People tend to be attracted to discount prices at chain stores and pharmacies," she says. "Just remember you get what you pay for." A professional photographer or printing company may be more expensive, but the reward is quality prints you'll enjoy looking at for years.
And she won't feel pressured to put together a wedding album right away if money is tight. "It's better to have 10 quality shots you love than hundreds you hate," says Tanya. "If you can't pay for the album right away, order it later, or better yet, buy the high-res files."
Tanya warns that most album companies only work with professional photographers, so it can be difficult to do so. However, some companies, like Album Boutique, cater to hobbyists. Tanya also suggests having a book created through the consumer book company Blurb.