The knowledgeable and wise wedding photographer you need

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Through many years of hard work, Marci Curtis has accumulated lots of tips, insights, and secrets about wedding photography. And in this "Ask the Expert" edition she kindly got to share some of them with us. Below you will see her replies.
You can contact Marci Curtis - Michigan Wedding Photojournalist directly at (248) 688-9294 or guestbook@marcicurtis.com

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I get to watch someone's best day of their life and get caught up on their happy day.

For you, what is wedding photography?

Wedding photography, for me, is my happy place. On a super important day, I love that my main job is to document one couple's unique wedding day story unfolding. I get to watch someone's best day of their life and get caught up on their happy day. Conversely, I've now documented over 1,300 weddings and I love that I can also spot, anticipate and gently fix just about any problem coming at a couple.

Why is wedding photography important?

Because it is. Every photographer will tell you it's the only thing that captures your wedding day and the only thing that lasts forever. It's a great way to anchor memories into place.

Some people value it and others just don't. It is the one thing the majority of brides who don't spend much on it or get a friend to do report that it is their biggest regret. It's also the one thing that gets royally screwed up that's impossible to redo. But I also understand that some couples see little or no value in photography.

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Look for images that catch your eye. Ones that make you want to ask "Who shot that"?

With so many wedding photography options out there, how do I start my search and narrow it down?

Look for images that catch your eye. Ones that make you want to ask "Who shot that"? Look at images from your venue and see if any of those images appeal to you. You may not know what you're looking for, but by clicking around, pretty soon you'll discover that you do actually have an opinion about what you like and what you don't like. Figure that out, narrow it down to 10 photographers whose work you like, then contact them for pricing and availability. That should narrow it down considerably to a manageable number.

How does a couple choose a wedding photographer?

Choosing the right photographer for you is a perfect blend of the following.

1) Your budget. 2) Your personal preference for style. There is something out there for everyone. If you don't know what you like, poke around wedding sites and start to figure out what makes you feel something. That's a good starting point. Do you like candids? Do you like superposed wedding photos? Do you like dark and mood? Light and bright? Maybe super clean images that look like real life? Narrow it down to photographers that have lots of samples on their site and look for that style to carry through from wedding to wedding.

3) Reviews! It takes a long time to build up a really solid reputation. It's not necessarily how many reviews a photographer has, but after 30 or so, you can read through them for the trends. See what the reviews liked. See what they didn't. You will get a sense of what your wedding day experience will be with that photographer. Getting even super happy couples to submit reviews is very challenging (and it's awkward as all get out even asking your clients to do ANYTHING on your behalf), so read through them... you'll learn a lot!

  • Your budget
  • Your personal preference for style
  • Reviews!

How can I easily spot a true professional wedding photographer from someone who might not be terribly experienced?

"There are a couple of "tells" that are pretty easy to sort the fauxtographers from the seasoned pros."

There are a couple of "tells" that are pretty easy to sort the fauxtographers from the seasoned pros. Look at their website. Do you see tons of different weddings on there or do you see the same couples quite a few times? Do they have lots of samples from lots of wedding days or just a couple of highlights?

Next, look closely at those wedding day samples. Here are the things to look for; great images from really dark wedding ceremony venues. Lots of great images from really dark wedding reception halls. If those are missing from their portfolios, move on. That means they either don't have the experience or the technical know how to handle difficult lighting.

Another thing to look for? Are the images from the churches and reception halls all in B&W? If so, it means they have trouble with lighting and are covering up their post-processing issues with weird color by posting everything in the much more forgiving black and white.

Finally, look for a consistency in style throughout a portfolio. If it looks like their style is all over the place, they are either mainly second shooters or assistants who are shooting over the shoulder of the primary shooter and cashing in on someone else's vision OR something that's sadly not uncommon... some photographers who are just starting off will grab other photographers images and try to pass them off as their own, claiming they are "aspirational" and therefore are the kinds of images they would like to take! It's not super common, but it's not at all unheard of, so check those reviews and fine tooth comb their websites.

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Each photographer has their own lists of what they include and what they don't. Some offer full packages, some offer services a la carte so you can add in what you want, need and can afford.

What should a wedding photography package include?

Each photographer has their, lists of what they include and what they don't. Some offer full packages, some offer services a la carte so you can add in what you want, need and can afford. The most challenging thing for couples is that wedding photographers often call things to be different names so it can be challenging to compare us apples to apples. If having full access to your digital files is important, make sure you ask about the specifics and what you can do and cannot do with your images (if anything). There are two very different business models out there. One provides you with a set of printed products and the other gives you full printing and usage rights. Some are a hybrid between the two. Ask lots of questions.

There are two very different business models out there. One provides you with a set of printed products and the other gives you full printing and usage rights. Some are a hybrid between the two.

How much should a couple expect to pay for a wedding photographer?

There are as many variables as there are wedding photographers out there. Most couples have a budget in mind. Keep in mind that a huge price tag from a photographer does not mean they are the best. But conversely, a super low price tag usually signals someone who is just starting out or someone who slapped a price tag out there to get you in the door but the package starts with two hours of coverage and no delivered images. Here in Michigan, the average wedding photographer is around $2,600. Some include albums, many don't. Some include a second photographer, some don't. Some are based on experience, some aren't. Photographers here in Michigan that charge under $1,500 are probably quite new to the field. I know plenty of wedding photographers who are just starting out and feel fine about starting off at $2,500. Ask questions. How many weddings have they photographed as the primary photographer?

Here in Michigan, the average wedding photographer is around $2,600. Some include albums, many don't.

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There's almost always sticker shock with wedding photography and many couples realize quickly their budget for their wedding photographers are just too low to get what they're looking for. Most photographers are independently owned small businesses.

Why do wedding photographers cost so much? It's only for 8 hours!

We get asked this a LOT! There's almost always sticker shock with wedding photography and many couples realize quickly their budget for their wedding photographers are just too low to get what they're looking for. Most photographers are independently owned small businesses. Many of us work out of our homes.

Yes, we may only be at your wedding for 8 hours, but here are some things you might not know. Most 8 hours weddings clock in for me is about 30 hours of work. 3 hours of back and forth emails, meetings and calls. 2 hours for travel to and from the wedding. 8 hours of shooting time. For every hour I shoot, it's about 3 hours of processing per hour. Then it takes another couple of hours to upload or prep the files for you to receive. That's about 30 hours per wedding without doing things like social media which can easily add another 4-6 hours on. Still sounds like a lot?

If you don't have a partner with health insurance, that's a cost. Equipment is a recurring cost to keep current. Same with software. Liability insurance is a must. Keeping your car in great condition is a must. Most of us have decent computers (at least two). We have mortgages, we have to save for retirement and other expenses to cover for our families. Oh, and we're available to our clients 24/7. I'm not complaining, but this industry is not for anyone who isn't a workaholic (or at least doesn't mind having 100 hour weeks for 6 months of the year).

Our pricing fluctuates wildly. Our needs to cover our living costs fluctuate wildly. Our experience levels fluctuate wildly. And so we charge what each of us feels is the right fee structure for the value of our work.

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Someone (a man) says to me at every wedding, "Wow, you must be able to take really good pictures with that camera." My response is always, "When you eat a really great meal, do you always compliment the chef on their stove?"

What kind of equipment should every professional wedding photographer have with them?

Two cameras and backups. All the lenses they need and backups. Flashes and external lights and backups. And a backup shooter for the day in case they need that too. They don't need to be in their camera bag though ;) Talking about specifics of cameras and gear can get you into the weeds pretty quickly. While all pros have equipment that works well for them, don't get too hung up on it. Someone (a man) says to me at every wedding, "Wow, you must be able to take really good pictures with that camera." My response is always, "When you eat a really great meal, do you always compliment the chef on their stove?"

"But there is a huge difference between being a second and being the photographer running the show. One works and the other spins a dozen plates creatively while entertaining everyone with a stopwatch all the while creating a totally unique experience for everyone in attendance AND getting fabulous, one of a kind artwork (and managing a second photographer)."

Is second shooting a valid entry into wedding photography?

Yes, a LOT of today's wedding photographers got their start working as an assistant or second shooting weddings. If they work with enough different photographers, they will learn a lot of different techniques for lighting, time management, getting the best out of the clients, planning out the day and running a business.

But there is a huge difference between being a second and being the photographer running the show. One works and the other spins a dozen plates creatively while entertaining everyone with a stopwatch all the while creating a totally unique experience for everyone in attendance AND getting fabulous, one of a kind artwork (and managing a second photographer).

A lot of photographers figure they can do it on their own, so they jump in after a few weddings. I didn't start to feel sort of comfortable until I was a full-time professional photojournalist for 9 years. I didn't feel super comfortable as a wedding photographer until I hit my 500 wedding mark. I'm still learning and tweaking and stopped counting after 1,300 weddings! Experience really does count in this field since almost every venue is different and the clients are always different as well. I personally love that I never quite know how the day will unfold. I thrive on the variables.

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