Erie Weddings: Choosing a Wedding Photographer

I put a lot of thought into my offerings for weddings this weekend. I have completely revamped my wedding pricing and offerings, and in the process, I put together this list of tips that a bride can use when choosing a photographer for her wedding.

This image is a great shot of Jen and Ryan from this last March. Their winter wedding was as close to perfect as you could get – weather, schedule, accommodations and everyone’s spirits were great!

So here is my list of tips, available also as a PDF from my website.

1.Style. You will need to be familiar with the photographer’s work to see if it matches your expectations. Some shoot in a photojournalistic style, where they do not stage a lot of action and try to capture the day as a series of images. Some are more forward and direct and organize the shots. Some have very traditional framing, while others utilize interesting camera angles and perspectives. Some stick to traditional color editing while others lean toward more effects, black/white or sepia. You can get a certain amount of flexibility from a photographer, but do not expect a photographer whose style does not match your needs to be able to change drastically.

2.Personality. You will be spending a lot of time with this person, so you will need to be very comfortable with him or her. Make sure that your family and the photographer will be compatible. Do you develop a rapport with the photographer on the first call or meeting, and feel good when you hang up the phone?

3.References. The best references come from people who have used the photographer. If you heard about them through friends, they come highly regarded. If you found them through a search, ask to see sample images and talk to brides or others for whom they have worked in the past.

4.Coverage. Be clear about how much time you will need for coverage. Include your morning “getting ready” time, preparation at the ceremony location, formals and other bridal images and reception time. Share your time line so the photographer knows how match their services with your expectations.

Some photographers only offer “shoot and burn”, meaning you are left to weed through hundreds of raw images and decide what to do with them. Others offer only printed products, and often produce excellent quality prints and albums. Still others may offer both prints/albums and digital files. Think about what you would like, and be honest about whether you will actually produce a good representation of your wedding with just the digital files. Take caution in thinking that a local digital lab will make images with the same quality as a professional photography lab, which color balances the images and uses high quality non-glossy printing processes. A few dollars saved may cost you a lot of satisfaction in the long run.

6.Pricing. It is hard to compare photographers’ offerings to each other. In order to do so, you may want to define a couple of scenarios and ask the photographers to price them to the best of their ability. Be cautious here as well: The cheapest photographer may not be the best. You will want to find your mix of value, quality and product offering.

7.Product Choices. Look for a range of products from prints to canvas products to a large selection of books and albums. Even if you are interested mostly in digital prints, it is highly recommended to choose a photographer who can produce good large prints and albums, because their experience in making these images indicates they have the skills and resources to produce good products, whether they are electronic or printed. Plus, you may change your mind later and want a professional album.

8.Digital Files. Many brides today are looking for access to the images. Many photographers offer this service. Ask whether the images will be edited or raw, and what degree of editing will be performed. What size or resolution will be offered. Will a release be granted to let you print them at a lab? Are there any restrictions on your use of the images? Most photographers will retain the copyright and ownership and grant you a license for private use. That is normal.

9.Credentials. Does the photographer belong to any professional associations? Are they insured with liability coverage? Do they have a particular education or certification that you are looking for? Credentials are not everything, but they do indicate whether the photographer is actively growing and experimenting with new techniques.

10.Lifetime Relationship. You may not think of this now, but the photographer you choose may be the same one who takes you maternity and baby pictures, family portraits and perhaps even your childrens’ senior portraits in 20 years! Choose your photographer carefully!

Tips For Great Flower Photographs

I have a soft spot for flowers. Some of the most amazing prints I have ever seen were enlargements of flowers – simple, yet very captivating, with color, shape, symmetry and patterns.

It is not difficult to take great flower photos. And in the summer and fall seasons, there are many kinds of flowers to photograph. Photos of flowers make great wall prints, note cards and screen savers. Here is a dozen tips for taking great flower photos. The nice thing about them is that you don’t need a model realease!

TIP 1 – Macro Mode. You’ll need to get up close, so choose a camera/lens that can focus close to the lens. You can get close-up lens attachments for some lenses. Many point-and shoot digital cameras have a “flowers” setting which is designed to get up close and focus well. When choosing a lens, note the minimum focusing distance (MFD) to see how close you can shoot and still get crisp focus.

TIP 2 – The Right Light. You will need to have enough good light to capture the flower, especially if you need to use a higher F-stop (see below). Often the on-camera flash won’t project well for flowers, as it’s designed to shoot out farther. Also, direct noonday sun is often too harsh, so you may want to diffuse it with some white cloth. You can always hook up some continuous or flash lighting if you would like.

TIP 3 – Low ISO. This means that you want the highest quality setting on your camera, or with film, the lowest ISO, finest-grain film. This also means more light requirements than higher ISO.

TIP 4 – Stable Camera. You’ll want to have perfectly sharp images, and you don’t want camera shake to ruin them. I use a monopod for 90% of my outdoor shots. It doesn’t completely stabilize the camera, but it is great for shots down to about 1/60 second. A tripod is even better, and the best is a tripod with a camera release cord or remote.

TIP 5 – Water Droplets. Water drops on the petals are a great addition, as they pick up and reflect light and other images. I sometimes take a small spray bottle to create droplets on petals. Just be careful that you and your camera are not reflected in each droplet.

TIP 6 – Choose the Background. Usually the background will be blurred out from the rest of the image, as the macro nature of the shot narrows the depth of focus. But that doesn’t mean you can ignore it. Before you take the shot, look at what falls behind the image and either move your perspective, or insert something behind your flower as a new background. Sometimes a piece of black cloth or felt is a good neutral background.

TIP 7 – Bugs! If you can get bees or butterflies on the flowers, it adds a dimension of motion and life to the flower.

TIP 8 – Avoid Wind. If you are outdoors, even the slightest breeze can move your flower to the point of causing blur on your exposure. You may want to hold the flower steady somehow, or wait until the wind has died. Or you can try to block the wind with an object or body.

TIP 9 – Depth of Focus. With flowers in macro mode, you may have to open up the f-stop to F/11 or higher to allow the entire flower to be in focus. If you keep the f-stop open, only part of the flower may be sharp. Also note that if the camera plane is not parallel to the top of the flower, you may have areas out of focus.

TIP 10 – Composition. Are you after a flat-on, centered shot? Or a group of flowers with one in sharp focus? Often moving just a couple of inches down in that flowerbed will dramatically change the resulting images.

TIP 11 – Shutter Speed. You want low ISO, moderately high f-stop and very still images. Usually that means a slower shutter to let in more light, and you managing the movement of the camera and flowers. With point and shoot, the camera tries to do this for you. With an SLR, I might suggest to start by setting ISO manually to 100, the F-stop to f/8 to f/11, and use Aperature Priority and Exposure Compensation to choose the best shutter and exposure.

TIP 12 – Editing. I’ll often boost the contrast and saturation. You can use the levels or contrast tools to make darks darker and lights lighter. Often punching the sharpness will also add some zing to the image. Many editors have “unsharp mask” tools for this. Experiment with various black and white conversions and edits to make that flower image really stand out!

So, to summarize: High sensitivity, no motion, good depth and composition, and good editing. You’ll end up with wonderful flower images.

9 Ideas for Great Summer Photos

Everybody has a camera these days. Why not take yours outside for a little photo safari? Here are 9 ideas to stimulate your imagination and get you out there, shooting!

IDEA 1: Sunrise. Early morning light has very different qualities from other times. It comes from a different angle. Often weather is also calmer at daybreak. And, you often have dewdrops and spiders and other morning beasies to shoot. This is a good time to get down low and up close. You may want to choose macro mode (often a flower icon) to get close focus.

IDEA 2: Sunset. Late evening also has interesting light. Often with a nice sunset or late light, you can capture some really neat silhouettes. Just expose for the sky and often the foreground image will be darkened. Tip: move your camera to open sky, half-press the shutter and then move back to frame your subject. Or choose the Sunset mode and disable your flash.

IDEA 3: Pick a theme and take a series of photos. These would be great “B-roll” shots for scrapbooking or gifts. Lemonade, ice cream, produce, beach, there are many themes that would represent summer. My sample photo here is from my mini-garden. mmm, tomatoes….

IDEA 4: Tour the neighborhood. Someone has a neat garden. There’s a creek or pond nearby. Take a new angle on the architecture of that crazy house nearby. Do a photoessay on summer flowers. Throw that camera in your pocket when you walk the dog, and stop every 20 paces and shoot something from where you stand. At least the memories of the walk will keep you warm in February!

IDEA 5: Blue Skies. Fall skies in Erie are strange, with grey clouds. But summer skies are often very blue. Try getting low and shooting upward at your subjects, to get some blue sky in the frame. If you have a camera that can accept filters, try out a polarizing filter to deepen that blue. You can also push saturation and contrast in your photo editor to emphasize sky colors.

IDEA 6: A week of new settings. Get out that camera manual or just wing it. For each day of the next 7, keep your camera on a setting you have never used, and try to take photos using that setting. Sports is for moving things, but what will it do to a bowl of fruit? Macro is a blast. How about landscape? The modes or settings are shortcuts for a few basic parameters – flash, f-stop, shutter, sensitivity and white balance. Figuring out what mode works for your subjects will help you make better images.

IDEA 7: Get out of the Sun! Bright sun shots often cause squinty subjects, blown out highlights and dark darks. Basically the contrast levels are extreme in bright sun. Try walking into the shade and taking some portraits. Kirk Voclain has a great technique for finding great shade light: Hold up your index finger and turn in a circle until you can see directional light/shadow. It looks silly but it works! If you must shoot in the sun, often forcing the flash to be on will lower the contrast and eliminate the extreme shadows on faces.

IDEA 8: Tourist at Home. Take an afternoon or evening and hit some of your area’s best known tourist or photo spots. Capture some images, and you can use them in scrapbooking, and better yet, you can make up note cards on your printer from these and send them to out of town friends and relatives. People love shots from the hometown, especially if they have moved away.

IDEA 9: Sign up for a photo sharing site. Now that you have all of these great (and some maybe not) shots, share them! Sites like Winkflash, Flickr and many others will let you upload for free, get inexpensive prints, and share with others. Let’s see those shots!

So get out there and have some fun!