Wedding Diaries: The One with the Wedding Photographer’s Photographer

Can you believe I’ve written three parts to the Wedding Diaries series and am just now mentioning our wedding photographer? Me neither.

The truth is choosing a wedding photographer is tricky. Obviously it is the vendor I value the most and as much as I did not want to put a dollar value on my wedding photos, everyone has a budget. The moment we had a date I began my research and emailing photographers I admire professionally. I didn’t let a dollar figure dictate who I contacted initially because I wanted to know all of my options. (Side note: I will blog a breakdown of our entire wedding budget at a later time but for now I will vaguely tell you that it is small.)

Most people know the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover.” In wedding planning I disagree with this sentiment 110%. When you open a photographer’s website you should automatically feel compelled to spend time there. For me, I wanted someone who’s work blew me away as well as their personality. If I sent an inquiry and received an automated response with some pricing and a “Let me know if you want to book!” I was automatically turned off. It doesn’t matter if their photos have won awards; if we cannot connect over an introductory email I’m not going to want to spend the most important day of my life with you by my side. –> I need to take a moment to thank all of the couples that have trusted me as their photographer. It is HARD to make that decision and there is a lot of fear and uncertainty involved. I am so grateful to each and every one of you for putting your faith in me. 

I spent a solid week looking at photographers all over Southern California and began to feel discouraged. Yes there were so many amazing ones to choose from but no one that I was connecting with.
Then this photo came across my news feed:

10390158_725593290864981_5126936905840541035_nAnd it struck me how beautiful it was. The moment, the emotion, there was something about it. I clicked the link to a blog with more images from this wedding and found myself on this photographers website for over an hour. I have a thing for both photojournalistic/ moody images & the light and airy ones. Somehow (magically) Michelle combines these two. So I emailed her. I had no idea where she was located but I wanted to at least tell her how inspiring her work was and if she would be interested in shooting my wedding. Her response: “WHAT!?!?!” And that is when I knew she was the right photographer for us. We connected over words written on a screen, and I know we are going to have a blast together at my wedding. Most importantly I trust her to tell our story. So let me finally introduce my amazing wedding photographer (who lives in North Carolina btw), Michelle Lyerly.

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There are SO many tips I could give my fellow brides, but I wanted to break it down into 5 key points. This is less about logistics/ a Martha Stewart list of questions to ask your photographer, and more about emotion:

1. Do your research.
Ask friends whom they used, follow local photographers on Instagram, get referrals from your wedding planner, & Google your heart out. Don’t just book someone because they are the first person you contacted and they can work with your budget.  I would argue the wedding photographer is the most important vendor you hire mainly because photographs are the only thing that last when your wedding is over. The beautiful venue becomes just a memory, flowers wilt, the leftover cake thrown away, your makeup washed off at the end of the evening, even your dress will be stored away to most likely never be seen again. But your wedding photos are an active presence throughout your marriage and worth the investment. One might even argue that their value increases with time as they become your only source to recollect that magical day. So take the time to research.

2. Focus on the connection as well as quality. 
Really give yourself the opportunity to fall in love with your wedding photographer. This is someone that will be with you your entire wedding day (even more than your spouse!) so your personalities need to mesh. When looking at their website, read their blog posts, their about page, and send an inquiry that sets the precedence opening yourself up to a relationship. Almost like online dating 😉 Do their images move you? Do their words make you want to be friends with them? Do you get excited about receiving emails from them?

3. Pick a photographer that fits your wedding style.
If you’re having a church ceremony and banquet hall reception, choose someone that specializes in that area of ball gowns and up-lighting. If you’re eloping in Iceland, choose a photographer that can tell your intimate story (and has a passport.) For us, Michelle seems like the right fit for a non-traditional wedding immersed in nature. I think she would agree since she said “I think my photography heart would be singing all day at your wedding” and because of that we were able to work out a deal since she will be traveling from across the country!

4. After you’ve found “the one,” STOP LOOKING.
I feel like I’ve said this before! 😉 Once you have signed a contract and paid your deposit, stop looking for a photographer. Instead focus on communicating with the one you hired about your wedding and engagement session. Create your timeline together and ask about beauty tips so that you are best prepared. This was difficult for me because I am surrounding by beautiful wedding photos on a daily basis. I needed to remind myself to be confident in the decision I made and remember that I will find the photos beautiful no matter what because it is my wedding day.

5. Trust is everything.
This applies to before you’ve hired your photographer and after! You may pin a million idyllic photos to your Pinterest wedding board, but it is key to trust you photographer to capture your wedding day. You’ve done the research and hired someone that is talented and likable, now let them do their job. I know its easy to fall in love with a certain angle or pose online. Let me implore you to leave those behind and give your photographer the freedom to create. Trust them! (If you are still in the research stage and find yourself unable to do this, maybe you need to find another photographer.)

And some quick logistics:

  • A photographer should be the first vendor you hire after you have your date/ venue
  • Well known photographers generally book 12-18 months in advance for Saturday weddings
  • The cost of your photographer will be at least 10% of your wedding budget. (Ours was closer to 20%)
  • Legal stuff: there needs to be a contract and your photographer should have liability insurance
  • Yes, you should do an engagement session
  • No, you do not need the un-edited RAW files
  • Ask to see a full wedding gallery so you can get a better idea of what to expect (in terms of style, number of photos, and how the photos are delivered)
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