Saturday, September 18, 2010

Just shoot me

Before Mr. P ever popped the question, I knew a photographer would be one of our Big Three vendors. A love of photography runs deep in my family. Growing up, Dad documented every birthday, family trip, and milestone with camera and/or videocam in hand. There are thousands of photos of us archived at my parents' house. (Which I cannot wait to dig through for projects!) Dad's dad, Pépère, had a serious manual photography hobby. When he passed, Dad inherited his equipment, which included an old Nikon FM that I adopted.

Man, I miss this camera

My first "grown-up" purchase after high school was a Sony Cybershot that went everywhere followed 4 years later by a Canon EOS 300D (still in use). I've definitely followed in Dad and Pépère's footsteps so choosing a wedding photographer was a task I did not take lightly.

My sidekick since 2005

Within days of our engagement, I was heavy into researching local wedding photographers. My early favorites were way out of our price range (packages starting at $9k) or not available (our date was booked twice out of four 2011 weddings. If that's not a sign...). We asked around for recommendations, but none were up to my exacting standards. A recently-married client heard we were engaged and excitedly recommended a few of her vendors, one of which was a photographer. That photographer's style, great eye and reasonable prices got her past the velvet rope.

We'd love to do business with you!

I'd originally wanted to interview three studios, but the lackluster response from a large, more commercial studio eliminated it before we even got to the first meeting. (Not getting to choose your shooter or meet them until a few months before the event is not acceptable. And I don't care how many years you've been studio manager or how well you know your employees' personalities... you don't know us. So don't pick someone for us. Sorry, rant over.)

in Northern Liberties outside of Heather's studio

The other two photographers were based in Philly so we scheduled their appointments on the same afternoon. First up was Heather Fowler, the photog Mr. P's client raved about. We spent a laid-back hour at her Northern Liberties studio flipping through albums, learning about the package and product options and determining if we'd be a good fit. My priorities were: second shooter, engagement session, full digital rights and 8 hours of coverage. Heather did a fantastic job of addressing all of our concerns; she was prepared, asked questions and covered a lot of ground in our meeting.

Second photographer asked to meet in a neighborhood cafe, which was slightly off-putting buuuut understandable when work out of your home and you're meeting complete strangers. Still, I worried we wouldn't have enough space or privacy. We ordered a drink and snacks while we waited so the cafe knew we weren't squatting.

His & Hers

We discussed our priorities with photographer #2, albums not being one of them. This seemed to throw her for a loop as she ran out of things to discuss. Sure, we were interested in seeing whole weddings, but we already liked her work well enough to set up an in-person meeting. We needed to talk turkey: specifics on cost and packages.

While she was very personable, she was less business-oriented and flexible on packages/pricing. There were add-ons, like mileage and city tax, that the first photographer wasn't charging. We would need to add 3 hours of coverage, and this, then that. It was a lot to process without a calculator. Mr. P later said after hearing Five Grand mentioned like it was nothing, he was unable to focus on any dollar amount, but was present enough to ask the tough questions that would have come off wrong had they been coming from me.

side street in Olde City

After our meeting, we stayed in the city for a bite to eat (Xochitl!) and discuss pros/cons of the two photographers. I felt their style and quality level were comparable, but Mr. P had a better rapport with Heather along with liking her professionalism and lower bottom line. To be sure, I line-itemed their packages, inclusions and add-ons on a lovely spreadsheet. In the end, we chose the photographer that wouldn't make us feel nickel and dimed (and the most comfortable with). It comes down to money - doesn't it always?! Still, I feel badly we had to select just one.



I need to talk about something. Specifically my dislike of costly albums and how heavily they are pushed by photography studios. (Caveat: We don't want a professional album.) It's assumed you'll want an album. But you know where my album will end up 6 months after the wedding? On a bookshelf collecting dust. Why are albums an additional $900-1,600+ on top of the This-money-would-buy-a-car photography package. You know, the one you can barely afford but rationalize anyway?

Last I checked, I had a graphic design degree. It would be idiotic to fork over money when I'm plenty competent to create my own (for a fraction of the cost). While it may not be as beautifully produced (binding, paper weight, etc.) as the cheapest album offered, this is definitely somewhere where corners can be cut. I cannot allow someone else to select the layouts and make the call on a million details. Call me a control freak. Fine. All I know is, I'm picky and don't want to inflict that upon my photographer. It's not fair to either one of us. (Update: We selected a photography package without an album. Everyone wins!)

Oh, and I'm 90% sure we are cutting out a professional photobooth too. I can easily DIY this one. The $900-1,200 can go elsewhere. Looking forward to riotously funny and off-beat photos!

(Mr. P promises to not point in our wedding pictures.)
Friend's NYE wedding

(All personal photos unless otherwise noted.)

What were your experiences when searching for a photographer? What were your priorities?

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