As a Navy Public Affairs Officer, every time I set up a Navy event for the Steelers, I was able to stay on the field to shoot pics for publication. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my combat camera issued gear, and I don’t shoot sports for a living. So my longest lens was a 180mm f/2.8 Nikon. That made those great shallow DOF shots from half way across the field difficult. But what it did give me, was the ability to shoot some great images when they were right up on me that very few people get to see.

by Joshua Hudson

One of the biggest weaknesses of any small business is in its willingness to adopt a “mullet strategy” for its business plan: “all business up front and all party in the back.” In many cases, small businesses (especially wedding photographers) create a professional website with a few great images and start operations without the necessary infrastructure to operate as full business.

What is missing in the mullet strategy is the depth of experience of the business of photography. Too many photographers are hobbyists who not only lack the depth of photographic experience, but lack the depth of business experience to provide a full service to their clients and themselves.

CLIENTS

“A good portfolio does not a professional photographer make.”

Shoot enough images, and you are bound to find 10, 20 or 30 images that will impress a potential client. However, first impressions are not what a photographer is hired for. They are hired to create a complete documentation of images with the consistent quality of those few images throughout the wedding.

A professional photographer should have an expert understanding of his craft and his gear. While it is true that many photographers can shoot mediocre photos and pass them off as professional, that is always the plan of a mullet strategy of “just make the sale with good enough products.”

“Good enough” is the trend of a mullet-head: low-end editing and presentation with poor product quality control of products going out. The name of th game is to under deliver with a hope that the client will never notice. If you want to test if you are using a mullet strategy with your clients just ask yourself, “are my prices set purposely below the competition so I can get clients? Am I giving the client what they deserve or what I can get away with?”

If the answer is yes to either question, then you are probably running your business like a movie set—it looks like a town, but it is really just a bunch of facades to look like one. Face it, you are a mullet-head.

SHORT-CHANGING YOURSELF

“He who fails to plan, plans to fail”

The second aspect of a mullet strategy is more dangerous than short-sheeting your clients: it is short-sheeting yourself.

Do you have business insurance? Do you figure in your time accurately by adding in the hours of editing and marketing? Do you budget in your stationary, phone, electric, etc.? If you answered no to any of these questions—then you are DEFINITELY running a mullet strategy.

Running a business without business insurance can save $500-3,000 a year—until something goes wrong. Then it may cost you $150,000-300,000 in legal fees and fines. There is a reason why they call it insurance: you need to protect your business and your family. Don’t think that calling yourself a LLC will protect you if you are really a sole proprietor. Many lawsuits will go after the business and the photographer— if you claim to be a company, you may end up being sued twice.

Hiding time spent editing for clients and marketing your business in your ledger is essentially “cooking your own books.” It may look like you only spent 8 hours working and that $800 wedding was $100/hr in your pocket. The reality is that you spent time with clients, preparing for the shoot, time marketing to find clients, time editing, etc. It more realistic that you spent 80-100 hours on that wedding client, and spent significant funds on that wedding. When the real energy and expenses are figured, it is more likely a $800 wedding only earned you $7-10/hr.  Don’t let greedy eyes fool you— that steak dinner check in your hand is probably only worth a trip to McDonalds.

Many home-based wedding photographers consider their family phone and utilities to be free to their business. What business in the world would get that kind of financial break? Does Bob Nardelli plug  Chrysler into his house’s power grid? If he did, wouldn’t he charge the company for that electric bill? Of course he would. Those expenses are not free, and eventually comes out of your personal earnings when you don’t put those costs into the bill of your client.

These are part of the expenses of running a business. No one is getting richer by pushing one expense from the business to personal column on your expenses. The time and resources still need to be made. However, the mullet strategy dictates that as long as expenses are coming out of pocket instead of out of the business—they are free. This is only true if you consider that it is free to the client and not the photographer.

THE RESULT

“A man found a dollar in his pocket and thought he was a dollar richer than before: but it was his pocket and his dollar!” (Joshua Hudson- “The Foolishness of Photographers” 2001)

A “business up front and party out back” philosophy may get a small business some clients, but it is unsustainable for a long-term commitment. That $800 wedding done cheap was not all profit. The wedding “done on the cheap” cost exactly the same as the more expensive properly budgeted wedding. The only person that came out ahead was the client, who received hundreds of dollars in services that came out of the photographer’s pocket and put the photographer’s business at risk financially and legally.

Instead of fixing the problem, many photographers try to solve their financial losses by surging into more mullet economics. They cut insurance, marketing, quality printing, etc. The clients are able to still get the same mediocre service, but the photographer ends up have less and less investment into his business.

So what is the solution?

Stop being a mullet-head. Look at your business in a traditional business model. Mullet strategies aren’t doing anyone any favors to the client or the photographer. A mullet-head photographer doesn’t earn money, and no matter how much they love what they do, if it doesn’t make money what is the point of having a photography business?

In addition, a client of a mullet-head is not getting what they think they are paying for. While they love paying less, they still expect that they are pay less for the same level of basic professional services. They expect that the photographer will provide the highest level of quality imagery. They expect that the photographer will be insured, pre-site their wedding, edit images and maintain good customer service.

Seriously look at all expenses and the profitability of the business. Is the fun of photography worth the realistic profits of the market? Does the photographer have the business acumen and professional ability to create a self-sustaining business model? If the answer is no, then like the mullet—the business will disappear off the market.

With that being said, mullets are tricky creatures. Everyone knows they are horrible, and yet there are people out there that keep trying to bring them back. There are die-hards who defy convention and vow to keep the mullet alive regardless of how ridiculous they are. The choice is—are you a mullet-head?

WHAT IS MY PHOTOGRAPHY WORTH?

There is a simple equation to determine what your photography is worth

(Client Experience x Photographer’s Market Confidence) – Business Expense = Cost of Photo

FIGURE OUT THE BUSINESS EXPENSES

There is nothing I can do to help you change your client’s expectations and experience with your photography. Like the bard said, “I may not know art, but I know what I like.” Every client is the same way.

There is also nothing I can do about a photographer’s confidence. I have seen amazing photographers give their work away because of low self-worth. I have seen horrible photographers turn their wedding business into a used car dealership and “ego” their clients into a $5,000 wedding package.

I believe in offering fair value for services. If I have done my job, I will have images that the client will believe in. I will go home feeling that I was adequately paid for the effort I gave my bride and groom. I will be proud of my work, my business and myself.

A photographer that overcharges his work, based on his salesmanship and not his photographic ability incurs bad kharma and a while his bank account might grow, his soul becomes bankrupt. And this is true even if the clients never notice the difference.

DETERMINE COSTS

The first question in pricing your images should be “How much do I need to charge to recoup all my expenses?”

All too often, beginning photographers undervalue their work because they fail to consider the real expense of materials and labor. For these “weekend warrior” photographers, $500 in the pocket is all profit (especially if this is just extra money added to a 9-5 weekday job).

Unfortunately, even if you are just shooting “on the side” you still have expenses. That $500 isn’t pure profit. There are all sorts of expenses that must be considered.

Gas to and from the event

Time spent meeting with clients

Wear and tear on camera equipment (who will pay to have worn out gear replaced?)

Consumables (batteries, tape, etc.)

Wardrobe (You can’t show up to a wedding in shorts and a T-shirt)

Your time (this is really important. Many part-time photographers end up working for less than minimum wage when their expenses are deducted from the paycheck. Is it worth the trouble at that point?)

Insurance. (If you get hurt, your day job won’t pay your bills. If your wedding is ruined because of a computer surge, you can get sued).

Computer equipment

Web site (hosting, domain names, design, upkeep, editing time, etc.)

The list can go on for a long time. In the end, it could take several dozen $500 weddings to pay off just the equipment you need, and we still need to deal with marketing.

When you have worked out all the costs of shooting a wedding, add 35% to take in consideration forgotten expenses and marginal profit. Put this number in your “Business Expenses” portion of the formula.

THE MARKET

Another consideration is the market. Obviously the cost of living is different in each area of the country. A $100,000 house in Pittsburgh might be a mansion, while $100,000 wouldn’t get you a sublet to a closet in a Manhattan studio apartment.

There should be information online and at your local better business bureau on the average costs of weddings and services in your area. A common belief (held by brides) that wedding photography should average 10% of the total wedding expense. This should give you a starting point.

The next step is to start looking at the other photographers in your area. Many of them will have their prices on their Web sites. If they don’t, then call them and introduce yourself! Be honest about who you are and why you are calling.

Some photographers see every other photographer as competition, but most would rather see you price yourself appropriately and keep the “market” prices competitive. Low balling the competition only serves to deteriorate the overall sense of value of everyone’s work.

Be honest in your self-evaluation of your skill as a photographer. Then ask many of your friends to look at a variety of sites and be honest as to their evaluation of where you sit in the market. [note: have a thick skin for the really honest ones, and be suspicious of those “nice” friends who always praise you.]

Do not forget that you also need to evaluate your business as well as your skill. You need to be able to provide good customer service, quality prints, high-end wedding albums, address concerns and issues, and keep everyone happy for months before and after the wedding as well as during the wedding. You will need to be sure that you can control the environment during formals, and be unobtrusive during the wedding ceremony.

Once you have done your research, plug in your estimated place in the market in the “Photographer’s Confidence” portion of the formula.

CLIENT SATISFACTION

This is the hardest portion of the formula to figure out. In fact is it all just a guess (especially at first), but this is a ranking system of how well you think your clients like your photos and “WANT” you to shoot for them. Are you “in demand?”

This number should always start at “1” when you start your business. Your place in the market must be higher than your expenses to be profitable (or at least break even). This is a baseline of your business. As you see your client satisfaction number get higher, you can then make adjustments to your pricing accordingly.

Here is an example: Two photographers Bob and John start separate wedding photography businesses. Bob and John have the same gear, the same expenses, the same reputation in the community, etc.

However, Bob was very good at pleasing his clients. The end product was the same and the service and products matched exactly, but something about the connection he made with his clients made them raving about him to all their friends (at least more than John’s clients who may have been an older crowd with less single friends to influence).

John, in the meantime, we very skilled with the Web and was able to drive more and more new traffic to his Web site to find new clients. John also volunteered at his church and made a lot of connections that way for new weddings.

At the end of the year, a very popular Bob shot 25 weddings and John shot 28. Bob was already booked for 30 weddings his next year and John had booked 43.

Should Bob and John’s wedding prices remain the same or go up? Should they go up equally? What happens if they raise their prices too much? Will they lose customers? What happens if they don’t raise them at all? Will they lose profit?

Bob figured that 23 of his 25 weddings raved about his work to friends and he booked 15 weddings by Word of Mouth (WOM). Bob also booked his other 15 weddings just through his Web site. Bob figures that his Client Satisfaction Number should be determined by his WOM ratio (25/15= 1.6) and his decrease in unsolicited bookings (15/25= 0.6). Averaging those numbers together, the new Client Satisfaction Number for Bob is 1.1.

Bob decides to increase his costs.

John had a different formula. He increased his bookings from 28 to 43 weddings. He is reasonably sure that his prices are too low because of the demand for his work. He knows that if he increases his prices too much he will be out of the budget of many clients. He could just look at the increase of business as an indicator of demand (43/28 = 1.5) but he feels that his extra time and effort building his Web site popularity and his community relations is taking up a lot of effort and expense (which will figure into his Business Expenses section). He has decided to use the 1.5 Client Satisfaction Number and add his estimated marketing costs to both his expenses and his market value (putting the cost of marketing directly on the clients expenses).

John decides to increase his costs as well.

If both John and Bob make their goals in booking wedding clients, then they will have proven that they were right. If the weddings stop booking—then they will need to make more adjustments.

It isn’t important that you discover the secret formula to pricing. It is important that you have a way to measure your success and develop a way to keep measuring and evaluating your business.

WHERE TO CHARGE THE CLIENT

When I first started shooting weddings as a real business, I found that where we price products influences how clients respond to the photographer.

My research showed that the average Pittsburgh wedding costs $25,000. That gave me a starting point of $2,500 for photography (not including wedding album).

The initial plan was to offer a full “one choice” plan of image ownership, shooting, etc. I wanted to be the Henry Ford of wedding photography, “You can have whatever you want as long as you want THIS.”

It didn’t work, and I booked very few weddings, but I was a weekend wedding photographer still, and made most of my income shooting photojournalism.

The next year, I started offering lots of choices for the clients. It was a very extensive menu that confused and confounded clients. Within weeks, it was obvious that wasn’t going to work.

I had to take from scratch and look at what the clients saw as value and what the clients were expecting to buy, and I came up with a great product line and services. The only problem was that I needed to adjust where the value went.

At first I charged $1,750 for wedding photography and $250 for a wedding photography CD. Albums were $500-2,500.

When I shifted the prices to $1,600 for wedding photography and $400 for a wedding CD, I immediately doubled my clients in six months. It didn’t matter that my album prices had risen to $750-$3,000.

Adjusting the prices again ($1575 and $450) for the economic recession has kept my flow of clients.

My point is, that once you have a good idea of what you should charge for your services, you may still need to make adjustments in your pricing to find the right psychological worth of the images.

This also holds true for increases in prices. There are times you will find that increasing your prices will add to the psychological client satisfaction of the images. If it costs more, it is worth more. Just be careful not to price yourself out of the market.

CONCLUSION

Is my formula the way you should set up your business? I can’t answer that. However, whatever you decide to do, it should be based on a plan to retrieve measurable results.

“You can’t improve it, if you can’t measure it.”

Photography- from the Greek graphia
(“to paint”) and phos (“with light”)
Zen- from the Japanese zazen,
a Buddhist meditation practice

ZEN OF PHOTOGRAPHY

The Zen of Photography is a spiritual and holistic approach to creating images with light.

It is not important to be Buddhist to understand Zen or how it applies to photography. The philosophy is simple and the application is just as simple to grasp. All that is required is to develop patience, mindfulness, skillfulness, and an open mind.

PHOTOGRAPHY

Photography as a science is fairly easy to understand as well. In both film and digital, light is captured and recorded on a light-sensitive material and then eventually translated into a presentation medium: usually a photographic print or via computer monitor. The ability for the camera to craft the light is determined by two mechanical processes that adjust the amount of light allowed inside the camera (the aperture) and the amount of time the light is allows inside the camera (the shutter speed).

The lens of the camera crafts the light to create a desired effect. Long telephoto lenses bring objects closer (like a telescope). They also compress the objects in the image to feel closer together. Meanwhile, wide angle lenses allow more of the scene to be captured and give a distorted sense of space between objects.

Just as there are many different types of bushes a painter may use, there a many different types of lenses for a photographer to choose from. A painter certainly could create a wonderful piece of art using just one brush, but a variety of tools allows him more skillful means to get the job done.

ZEN

One of the central concepts of Buddhism is that everything in the universe is one. A tree is not just a tree: it is a seed, a chair, fire wood, ash, nutrients for the soil and other trees. A seed must have sun, water, and the earth to become a tree. A tree must rely on the birds to eat its fruit to make more trees.

Similarly, we are not just connected to everything in the universe, but we are just one facet, or representation, of our entire ecology.We don’t exist within the world, but are an integrated part of it. No aspect of the world around us is separate, just like the tree. All we are is the awareness that is experiencing the ebb and flow of the universe from a particular point of view.

By recognizing that we are not really a separate entity (what Zen Buddhists call “no self” or anatta) we free ourselves from being reactionary creatures to our experiences and proactive processes within a cosmic context.

[Note: that this is a VERY rudimentary explanation of a very complicated Buddhist philosophy so that it may have a practical application]

When a photographer ceases to be conscious of himself as the capturing agent of an image, he can become one with the creation of the image through perfection of the technical skill.

In practical terms, the practice of the Zen of photography comes when the photographer stops grabbing in front of him to snatch pictures, and develops a sense of mindfulness and skill to create the image that should be there.

Skillfulness

Skillfulness is simple to develop. It involves the study of the technical craft of photography. This means that there needs to be hours dedicated not only behind the camera, but in processing images; recording and deconstructing how the images were made; learning how to improve the creation of images through better photographic and light control; and most of all learning the physics of light.

A painter doesn’t just learn how to put paint on his canvas. He studies how paint chemically reacts with other paint. He knows which yellows may be mixed with blue without becoming green (btw that is “Naples yellow”). He knows when he should use titanium white instead of pure white. An artist understands how to each canvas material reacts to his brush.

Most photographers, especially in the world of digital photography, feel that technology has removed the need to learn the basic science of photography. The truth is that as technology advances, photographers need to increase the amount of knowledge they need to know in order to make the images they want.

Mindfulness

The difference between someone who owns a camera and a photographer is purpose. A photographer makes an image with his camera, while everyone else hopes to.

With some skillfulness with a camera in a photographer’s hands, there is potential to make amazing images. Nevertheless, so many technically skills photographers fail to be satisfied with any images they make, because of one simple fact—

Once they have the camera in hand, they don’t know what to take a picture of.

This is why photographers need to develop a sense of mindfulness. They need to feel connected to the world and see the images come within them instead of passively hoping for an opportunity that the images cross their path.

This is where the Zen of photography really comes to play.

The first step is to sit. If possible sit in the environment you are going to be shooting in; but if not, that is OK.

Clear your mind with some deep slow breaths. As you breathe try to worry only about your breathing. Be aware of the sensation of the air going in the nose, down the throat and into the lungs. Notice how your chest and back move as you breathe.

Now notice how difficult it is to just think about your breath. How many thoughts jump into your head. How much of your mind is preoccupied with things that happened in the past or may happen in the future? Just let them go. If they thoughts come back, treat them like strangers walking down the street and let them come and go from your view. Just relax and focus on the breath.

Within a few moments, you will feel your mind calm. It will seem like the end of a great party where the guests slowly start to leave. A few will want to stay behind, but just learn to ignore those stubborn thoughts.

What you are doing is becoming present. You are living in the moment right now. This is important, because this also means that your attention is in the right now. There are no distractions. As you continue to practice this breathing technique, you will find it easier and faster to enter this mindful-present state. You will also develop skills to increase your sense of mindfulness as well.

Looking at Light and Set the Scene

As you look at the world around you, look for the light. Start at the large swatches of light first. See where the light comes from and see the direct and indirect lines that the light must travel to get from its source to the final location. See where it is intense and direct and where it is soft and diffused.

If the camera is the canvas, and the lens is the brush, then light is the paint. Think of it this way. See how it mixes the colors and shades of the world around you.Build an image based on the lighting of the scene around you.

What I mean is that so many photographers create an image based on the subject: the flower, the bride, the family pet becomes the focus of the image. In reality, the image should be built from the scene first. What environment will the subject be interacting with? That will set the tone, the mood, and the depth of the image. Even when the photographer has very little control over the subject, such as a candid shot, the photographer will have control over where he places himself in relation to the subject to create the best possible scene for the subject to interact with.

Example: I was asked to shoot a youth soccer game. In order to get the scene that I needed, I had to shoot from the south of the field to avoid the distracting parking lot out of the scene. In another uncontrolled photo, I made sure that had the bride & groom stand so that they had the majority of the crowd and the reception hall behind them instead of settling for the corner of the room and the DJ.

Start with building the scene and add the subjects in later.

By becoming present, calm and mindful; you will be able to better observe the light and how everything interacts with it. You will also be able to then make decisions on which scene you want your subjects in and plan accordingly. This is how Zen of Photography makes you more mindful and aware of the world around you and how you are a part of it so that you may take better images.

The Fifth Wheel

One thing that most photographers forget is that once they have their scene, their subjects and their camera gear set to take the perfect picture that there is still one aspect of the image that needs to be taken into account: the photographer.

The final audience doesn’t see the photographer, and so the photographer feels that he is “off stage” and unimportant. However, the photographer is the awkward “fifth wheel” on the cart. Although he isn’t seen, his presence is felt. He can make a model uncomfortable, a baby cry, and a bride frustrated.

This is where we return to the Buddhist philosophy of “no self.” The photographer must always be mindful that he is a part of the image. He is reflected in every aspect of the final image. If he is distracted then the shot will be distracted. If he is angry, it will affect the scene. By internalizing the philosophy that he is just as much a part of the image as he is the rest of the universe, he can develop a sense of “one” with the moment and the image.

Practically speaking, a mindful photographer will be able to be aware of how his actions affect his image. A calm spirit may make a dog friendly. A confident photographer may make a model more at ease. An energized photographer may energize a group portrait. The more mindful you are of your effect and connection to the world around you—the more effective your actions will be in creating the image you want.

Conclusion

The Zen of Photography is philosophy in practice. It certainly isn’t mystical or something that is difficult to obtain. Unfortunately, so many photographers don’t obtain the attention to detail of their craft to take advantage of it.

I certainly expect many e-mails explaining to me how readers (who identify themselves as photographers) do all of the practices I listed above. That is fantastic. If this is true, then you may have learned nothing new reading this. However, I have readers every day write to me and ask me how to shoot a better photo. Looking at their work, I note that what they lack is a fundamental connection and awareness of the world around them to be proactive shooters instead of reactive observers.

Get out there and start clicking with those cameras. Engage in world.

Do a quick Google search and you will find dozens of articles on “how to shop for a wedding photographer.” What they all have in common is a firm belief that you should hire someone who is a professional and that you shouldn’t worry about cost. That is because most articles on how to search for wedding photographers are written by wedding photographers!

Although, I am also a wedding photographer, I am also a full-time journalist who writes (among other topics) on business. So let me set you straight on the rest of the story. You have read all the WHY you need to hire a professional, let me give you the practical step-by-step on HOW to hire one.

The first problem in searching for a photographer is that you are rarely going to need this service. Unlike a good auto mechanic, you will not be calling your wedding photographer for a tune up every six month, or asking them to renew your inspection sticker. Wedding photographers are hired more along the lines of a roofer. Once you have had your roof replaced, you hope that you will never have to call them again.

If you have ever had to hire a roofer, you realize that it is a daunting task. Why? Because you have very little to go on to intelligently evaluate which roofer is the one that will do the best job for the right price.

What a minute—did I say right price? Aren’t I always reading that I shouldn’t take price into consideration?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Nearly every photographer, or anyone who sells service, is going to do what they can to “up sell” their products to earn more money. Photography is no exception. Shooting a wedding is hard work, and as much as I work every muscle in my body to carry gear and quickly capture great moments, there are endless hours before and after a wedding that are spent in paperwork, editing, ordering products and making sure my clients are happy. So nothing makes me happier as a photographer to know that I am getting as much income as I can for the services I provide.

Unfortunately, in today’s market, many clients don’t need, or can’t afford to spend the money on, the “platinum package.”Knowing what you want and how much you can afford are important consideration when hiring a photographer.

So, what should you consider when shopping for the right photographer for you?

       Professional expertise. With the advent of digital photography, the market has been saturated with hobbyists who want to turn their love of photography into a career. Unfortunately, even the worst photographer in the world can shoot a thousand photos on their digital camera and build a wonderful twenty-shot portfolio.

Look for photographers who have professional training in photography or have trained under a professional photographer!

Ask to see a proof book of entire weddings and see the good with the bad.

Ask about an experience where something went horribly wrong and how they solved the problem to create a fantastic image.

Ask for professional references from other photographers, not just clients.

     Portfolio. Don’t trust a portfolio as an indicator of a photographer’s skill. Again, if you shoot long enough, you are bound to find a few gems in the bunch.

Make sure that the portfolio they show you in person aren’t just the same images you saw on the website.

Make sure you look online and see if the photos are the photographers

MOST IMPORTANT. Make sure that the photos are recent. Photographers should have an updated portfolio showing their recent ability.

What is the photographers experience in photography and in digital photography? There are many semi-professional photographers that take nice photos, but do not really understand their gear, or how to create an image. They photograph thousands of photos and take up valuable time looking at their monitors trying to figure out how to make a good image DURING your wedding.

->Business Sense. The wedding photography business is 40% photography and 60% business. A man with a camera is not a company. Check them out.

Ask to see their contract. Contracts are important. They provide a written agreement of expectations and responsibilities for both parties. No contract, no go!

Inquire if the photographer has a network of other photographers that will shoot if something horrible happens to them. You don’t want to be short a photographer on your wedding day, and it shows the photographer is respected amongst his peers.

Ask about time tables. A professional photographer should be able to accurately tell you when you can expect to see your photos and album.

Look at their products. Taking great pictures is nice, but ultimately useless if the photos were printed on a home printer and shipped to you in a box.

Clearly defined payment. There should never be a hidden fee. An honest businessman does what he agrees to at the price agreed on.

Beware the “car salesman.” If a photographer is haggling price to “close the deal” that day, then walk away.

Ensure they keep files of the images!

<!–[if !supportLists]–>4)<!–[endif]–>Personality. When the caterer, DJ, priest, and wedding planner go home, you are still going to be dealing with your photographer. He is the one vendor that you will live with for decades.

Does the photographer seem sincerely interested in the success of your wedding or just getting your business?

Can you see calling this photographer up one year, two years, or three years from now and expect that they are going to give you the same attention they did on your wedding day?

Do you have a connection with your photographer for a long-term relationship?

Do you feel that your photographer will add to the value of the wedding day experience or will they be “pushy,” “controlling,” “self-centered” in their work? Some photographers really do believe that you have paid them and so they are authorized to dictate how the wedding events will run.

Does the photographer pull out clauses in their contracts demanding meals, or “exclusive photographer” clauses? This is your party, and your guests should be allowed to take pictures and no one should be making demands who you feed.

Do you think that the photographer will interact well with the wedding guests? The wedding photographer is someone who will be dealing with people, and you need to know that they will act appropriately.

      Price. Now this is the sticky one. The business of photography has changed dramatically with the invention of digital camera. In the old days, the owner of the negative could dictate price because there was no way to print or scan the images yourself. Today that is not the case. It was also more difficult to find a photographer without the internet.

Check online and look at what the average wedding costs are in your area. In Pittsburgh, the average wedding cost $25,000 in 2007. The average cost for a mid-market professional photographer should be 10-15% of the overall expense. So you should expect to pay $2,500-3,500 for a good wedding photographer.

The true value of a professional photographer is in his ability to capture the right moment at the right time. The value is no longer in their exclusive ownership of the images to dictate cost. Be sure to ask the photographer the costs of prints and get it in writing.You should never be commissioning someone to photograph your wedding and then have to extra for their “artistic ability” on the printing as well. If they charge a lot of the photography, the prints should be a reasonable price.

Be sure to ask about back door fees. Are there costs for touch ups in the prints? Are the prints all made print ready as part of the original fee? Are there extra charges like taxes and travel? Some photographers will “slip in” fees later to earn a few extra bucks.

Any photographer that tells you that price shouldn’t matter is suspect in my book. Ask them what products in their life they have never considered the price for?

All photographers do not offer the ability to purchase the digital files of the wedding. I think this is silly, but I don’t run their businesses. Image ownership is fantastic. Make sure if you purchase the images what the agreement is for the photographer replacing lost disks and how long they will store the images on their database.

You don’t need to hire the most expensive photographer in town to get a good photographer, or even a great one. However, don’t let price fool you into thinking that a photographer is good. Do your research and trust your gut. Do NOT be afraid to ask questions or offend a photographer in an interview. Wedding photographers are expensive and good wedding photographers are hard to find.

When you have found a good choice of photographers that you feel comfortable with, make sure that you do not make this choice alone. Ask your friends and family what they think. Of course, they will not have a clue what the personality of the photographer is like, or if all the right questions were asked; however, they will be a good sounding board. Are you finding that you keep commenting on a particular photographer? Do you continually bring up reservations or raves? After awhile, it will become pretty clear that you have a preference and that is the photographer for you.

It is important that you hire a photographer you believe in. Your attitude about your photographer will spill over into your impressions of your wedding photos. Remember, your images will have an emotional attachment– and that connection should always be made with a positive frame of mind. The last thing you want to be thinking while you look at your album is “oh, and this is when that photographer really ticked me off!”

Photographers should be an asset to a wedding. A professional that not only knows how to take great images, but knows how to take them at the right moment. They should not be obtrusive, and they should add to the joy of the day. When the photographer leaves, you should be thanking them for making the day special.

Some of the best moments are when a guest tells me how great I was at a wedding, and they never saw a picture. They just know that I gave 100% of my heart to the day.

On a final note, be wary of thinking that the photographer that showed up first in the Google search is the best photographer. Having a high-ranking website has absolutely no connection to the quality of the photographer but only to the photographer’s skills with a website. Search through a few pages and take a good look at what is out there.

Have you ever wondered if you meter is giving you the right exposure? Do you ever wonder how to figure out the proper exposure yourself? Well it is possible—with the f/16 rule.

The theory is simple. The basic exposure for a camera on a bright sunny day will be f/16 when the shutter speed matches the ISO. That is it … seriously!

If you have a great sunny day, set your ISO to 200 then set your shutter speed to 1/200 sec. The f/stop should be f/16. If you change the ISO then change the shutter speed accordingly. If weather conditions change, then you change the f/stop.

f/22- reflective sand or snow

f/16- bright sunny day

f/11- bright cloudy day

f/8- slightly overcast

f/5.6- heavy overcast or open shade

Now, this is to get a base exposure to work from. After you have your basic exposure you can make adjustments to fit the photograph you are creating.

In situations where you find that you are shooting with the sun on the back of your subject and their face in the shade (and assuming you are shooting a face on portrait), just make an adjustment by opening up two f/stops. So if the base exposure in the f/16 rule tells you that you should be shooting f/11, then open up two f/stops to f/5.6.

Even if you have a great light meter, there is some comfort in having the skills to know that your meter is in the right ball park. When you can work it out in your head, the chances between success and failure of a photograph is significantly reduced.

In a previous blog post, we talked about exposure and how f/stop affected exposure by adjusting the amount of light enters the camera. The f/stop adjusts the opening (the aperture) with a diaphragm (groups of leafs that adjust to make a larger or smaller aperture). However, that is not all that an f/stop does. There are three functions of an f/stop and we will discuss them here.

1)f/stops are half of the control of exposure (the shutter speed is the other half).

2)f/stops allow the photographer to adjust the aperture for the best definition of the lens.

3)f/stops control depth of field.

As we mentioned before, exposure is determined by the quantity of light (intensity) and the length of time light is allowed into the camera. The shutter speed adjusts the time and the f/stop adjusts the quantity.

f/stops are half of the control of exposure (the shutter speed is the other half).

We have also discussed that when light passes through a different medium it changes speed. This means that when light passes through glass it moves slower than when it moves through the atmosphere. If the glass is crafted properly, the light bends in a very predictable way and you can recreate the light to form a focused image on the film plane.

When the light does not directly focus on the film plane that part of the image is represented as fuzzy spots. These fuzzy circles will translate to the image as out of focus. If the lens is focused on a particular point of a scene, there will be an area in front of and behind that focus point which will represent itself as “in focus” and everything closer and farther away will be “out of focus.” The distance of area that is in focus is called “depth of field” or DOF.

What does this have to do with the f/stop? Well, the f/stop determines the angle light that comes into the lens. With a small aperture there is less competition for light to get into the lens, and that will increase the depth of field. The larger the aperture the more light can come into the lens and the shallower the depth of field.

Now remember that the larger the aperture, the smaller the f/stop number. So f/4 will be a larger aperture than f/8. That also means that if you are focused on a single object at f/8 and open up the aperture to f/4 you will cut your depth of field and less of the image will be in focus.

f/stops allow the photographer to adjust the aperture for the best definition of the lens.

Before I go into detail on depth of field, I want to address what I mean by best definition of a lens. While lenses may have an indicated range of f/2.8 to f/32, that doesn’t mean that the lens will perform at its best at all of those f/stops. Some lenses lose their quality when you go to their extremes. While it is not true of all lenses, a good rule of thumb is to close a lens down or open it up at least one stop to start getting the best performance from a lens.

There are some newer lenses that perform amazingly well opened wide open, but you will have to research which lenses these are. Some lenses are designed only to work at optimum performance wide open.

f/stops control depth of field.

Depth of field is defined as the distancefrom the nearest point of acceptably sharp focus to thefarthest point of acceptably sharp focus of a scene beingphotographed. The depth of field isn’t the same at all f/stops and it also changes as the focal length of the lens changes. When you shoot at f/4 on a 50mm lens and a 180mm lens, the depth of field will be different.

Depth of field also changes with distance. The farther the subject is from the camera, the larger the depth of field. There is a focus point (called the hyperfocal distance) when everything behind the focus point will be in focus for infinity.

The depth of field can be measured with a DOF calculator. CLICK HERE

Adjusting the depth of field is an important to photography. It gives you control over your environment and isolate or integrate your subject with its environment.

Using a large depth of field with 14mm wide angle to integrate the environment.

Using a shallow depth of field with an 85mm lens to separate the subject from the environment.