Hiring a professional photographer to capture those unforgettable moments of your wedding day is a HUGE decision emotionally and financially. In today’s electronic age, sadly some couples forego using a traditional photographer in lieu of guest’s cell phone images via Snapshot, Facebook and Instagram.
I sat down to chat with local, award winning photographer Debbie Brown (she’s been voted the Best Photographer in her city for 7 consecutive years and was just awarded Woman of the Year for 2015) about how her business has evolved, and what practical advice she has for brides (no matter the age).
The first thing you notice when you meet Debbie is her wonderful smile. She’s also vivacious, caring, and one of the most genuine people you’ll ever meet. She’s easy to be around and is passionate about giving back by donating her photography to families dealing with critical illness. She also volunteers her photography services to many organizations in our community. I swear this woman is e.v.e.r.y.w.h.e.r.e.
Lisa Joiner: How long have you been a professional photographer?
Debbie Brown: 25 years. Weddings represent about a third of my business now whereas before they were 90%. Mid-life weddings are 20% of my wedding business.
LJ: How do Mid-life brides differ from younger brides?
DB: Mid-life brides value photographs and having a portrait done. They understand that tangible photographs will never go away, they mean more than having just a disc of pictures or images taken from multiple cell phones.
Younger brides don’t understand the difference between a picture and a photograph. They’re so accustomed to pictures taken on cell phones and posting them on social media that they don’t place a long lasting value on professional photographs. I call it the ‘shoot and burn’ mentality. There’s no quality control.
LJ: What are some of the top things a bride should look for when hiring a photographer?
DB: How much experience they have, how long they’ve been doing weddings, if they have liability insurance and if they work with film. But I’d say being simpatico is one of the most important elements.
You want a photographer that is assertive, engaging, respectful, present, fun and invisible. This day is all about the emotions. Being aware of family connections and wedding day dynamics is important. As the photographer, you want to get details prior to the big day so you can avoid uncomfortable or awkward scenarios. A list of important people and the photos the bride and groom absolutely want taken is essential.
I also think it’s important that the photographer will make custom packages for couples. Different couples have different needs.
Having a photographer who offer albums is important. Even though the top quality albums are time intensive they’re worth it.
Albums can also be done differently today. We can do a custom design for each bride with the bound book, embedded photo style. These offer flexibility and nice pricing alternatives.
LJ: I love this advice! When we got married we got a disc of all our photos. It was difficult to open on our computers (HUGE files) and then going through all the pictures was a BIG chore (okay…really frustrating). I now understand the value of having the photographer do an album and print us off individual photos. We eventually got pictures printed but boy oh boy….this process would’ve been so much easier if we’d paid for it up front.
LJ: Which leads me to mention…This vendor category can be one that couples want to skimp on with their budget. What’s your feeling on that?
DB: You should never pick your photographer on price alone. I love this saying: “Owning an oven doesn’t make me a chef.” The same is true with a camera. These are once in a lifetime photos. You want a photographer with ample wedding experience who knows how to capture those ‘only happen once’ moments AND someone who still looks at each wedding with anticipation and fresh eyes.
A quick test to discover if a photographer has a legitimate business is ask: 1) Do they have liability insurance and 2) Do they charge you sales tax? If they don’t they’re not legit.
Also…3) Ask for references AND look at examples of their photos and albums. 4) Pay attention to their style of photography. Even though someone might be a great photographer if their style doesn’t match what you want for your big day, keep looking. The same holds true for videographers.
LJ: Let’s talk about how to address the use of cell phones (especially as videos and cameras) at wedding ceremonies.
DB: Unplugged weddings should be a BIG consideration for brides. Social etiquette has taken a beating with all this mobile technology and weddings are no different. Sadly, boundaries have faded away.
I like the idea of a sign at the entrance to the ceremony site that says, “We’d like everyone to enjoy the event through their eyes not their camera or cell phone.” I also like “Wedding Bells are ringing. Make sure your cell phones aren’t.”
Here are few things that I know for sure: 1) The bride and groom have invested a lot of money by hiring a professional photographer to capture their wedding day and those are the pictures they want. 2) If a guest interferes with the professional photographer by getting in the way, or sticking their cell phone in the aisle or flashing a camera in a shot those moments (like the first kiss or teary glance at a loved one) are gone forever. 3) It is a 1000 times more important that the PRO capture these moments than the guests. The guests really should be enjoying it through their eyes. They actually will remember those candid moments in more detail if they do.
LJ: You’ve given us a ton of great information. Any final words of wisdom?
DB: There’ve been a lot of changes within the industry over the last few years. I’ve got to say I’m not a fan of ‘wedding mills.’ I feel like they lower the quality of the overall experience and don’t offer the couple the personal approach they’d get from individual vendors. I still like the idea of pulling together your own team.
When brides hire me they get all my 25 years of experience of being involved with weddings. As the photographer I see the entire day unfold; what worked and what didn’t. A vendor with that amount of experience has a wealth of knowledge brides should tap into and use to help create their big day.
This isn’t just a job to me. I want each bride to feel special and to be stress free. This is about being a great photographer and building lasting relationships. Many of my clients hire me to photograph all their big life events. I’m now shooting weddings for children of the couples whose wedding I photographed 20 years ago. That’s awesome!
LJ: Thank you Debbie! You’re so easy to work with and have fabulous advice for brides. I have to say when you photographed my book launch you offered perfect ‘in the moment’ advice to help with little things and big things. One of the little things was how to make my arms look slimmer, and one of the bigger things was knowing which shots I’d want to have later even if I thought otherwise.
You are one smart woman and an excellent photographer. Brava!
All photos courtesy of Debbie Brown Photography
Debbie Brown Photography: