Category: Pancake Sessions  |  View all recent posts

Wed. May 21, 2014 by Mary    Pancake Sessions

Pancake Session: Tips for Shooting in a Dark Church

Happy Wednesday friends!

Our newest Profoto video just came out this week & it's all about shooting the processional and recessional in a dark church! Here are a few of our favorite tips for shooting in a dark church and then be sure to watch the video when you get a chance to see them in action! And you can catch up on ALL the videos in our Profoto series by clicking HERE.

*Try to get at least one of you (if there's only one of you, this is just one reason of MANY that it's so worth it to bring at least an assistant) to the church early. It allows you to get everything unpacked, set up, and your settings dialed in when you're not in a rush. Giving yourself that time to do what you need to do means that you can bring calm rather than stress to the day.
*Additionally, getting there early gives you the opportunity to get shots that most people miss. One of our favorite images ever is a shot of one of our grooms and his seven brothers from Kentucky singing hymns in a circle before the ceremony began. We don't get shots like that when we're arriving just as the bride is!
*Finally, one of the things that we talk about in the video is that by getting there early and showing the priest/pastor/rabbi that our light will be staying behind the guests in the form of a one light set up.....we're actually given permission to use flash in a lot of churches that don't usually allow it. In the video I say something like "we get away with using light where we wouldn't normally be able to" and there were a few questions about whether we were sneaking and using the light. I just wanted to be clear that we are always getting permission first! :)
*Going along with that, we truly believe what we said above! By keeping the light behind the guests rather than moving on our cameras with us wherever we go, we do feel a lot less obtrusive even though it is bigger light. Honestly the guests never pay any attention to it because they don't associate the click of our shutter at the front with a tiny wink of light coming from behind. So this fits really great with one of our biggest goals of not becoming too much a part of the story.

*An additional advantage to bringing a second shooter is that it allows one of you to be up front for the processional and the other to be in the back with the bride & her dad getting those emotional last shots before he gives her away. Also, it's amazing how many times I've been able to save the day by being there to fluff the dress or open the doors for them when everyone else has already gone down.
*Especially in a church, we really try to pace how often we're firing the shutter. We had someone second shoot with us once who just held down the shutter & went for it. It was pretty embarrassing! So we definitely learned from that and now we try to be really conscious of how often we're shooting, especially with two of us. It's a great lesson in waiting for the decisive moment, and it means that we can be as unobtrusive as possible.
*Justin & I really like to work the sides for most of the ceremony. It keeps us out of the way and it puts us in a great position to draw our angles for dimensional light on the bride & groom. If we do shoot from the middle aisle, we try never to go further down than halfway. We once shot a wedding where the videographers were crawling all over the altar to get their shots (at one point, they even rested their cameras on the crucifix!) Our theory is that there is NO shot that we can get that will make it worth it to alienate a roomful of potential future brides!
*Check your ego at the {church} door. I think this is good advice for the whole day, but especially so during the ceremony. We try to remind ourselves often that a wedding is not a photo shoot. Yes we're there to get gorgeous photos and yes we love the couple portraits as much as anyone. But there is a much BIGGER thing happening that day than just a pretty couple in pretty clothes. Two people are starting a life together. They are making a promise for life together. And when you go into it with that purpose and that "Why" in mind, then all of the other "Hows" just have a way of falling into place.

Happy Pancake Day friends!

Wed. May 14, 2014 by Mary    Pancake Sessions

Pancake Session: Making Time to Play on the Wedding Day

So if you read our post on "Sticking with Blogging," you know that today's post was supposed to be an engagement shoot we had planned for Saturday. But the weather in New England had different plans, so now we're shaking things up! Instead, today we're going to do a Pancake Session all about Making Time to Play on the Wedding Day.

If there is one thing that we hear over & over from people in our workshops or mentoring sessions, it's that they always feel rushed & frazzled throughout the whole wedding day. And I totally get that....weddings can be a total crazy whirlwind! And whether it's not feeling like they have time to set up a light, or not feeling like they ever have time to cover all the reception details, or that they always feel rushed & stressed during the getting ready....they feel like they always keep getting the same safe shots because they don't have any time to play, get creative, or even stop for a second and think about what shots they meant to try that day. And that is not a fun place to be! We're photographers, we thrive on being creative. And when we feel bounced from one thing to the next we just start to feel like we're going through the motions.

Over the years, when we found ourselves starting to feel that way, we started to carve out some "rules" if you will for how we could make more time for ourselves to try the things we wanted to try...and also, to make a much less stressful day for our couples!!

Here are some of our favorites:

1. Set the start time. We like to get to the Getting Ready part of the day with the girls at least an hour and a half before the Bride is going to leave (whether that is to the First Look or to go to the Ceremony). That gives us the time to come in, breathe, scope out the location, find the good light, really dial in our settings, take the time to play with some of the detail shots rather than just lining them up one by one & getting a picture to show they exist, cover the makeup as it's finishing up, get the dress going on, and then still have time to do what we call "The Iconic Bridal Portrait." We USED to just start our day whatever time the bride told us to come, and we were always finding ourselves with just fifteen minutes to cover everything before she had to leave. What we were finding was that when we were starting the day that rushed & frazzled, it was really hard to ever recover through the rest of the day. And we brought STRESS to the day, rather than being the calming, positive influence we wanted to be. So now we build our timelines with us arriving an hour and a half before the bride leaves. And since we do hours of coverage, the way we work that is we just say they can pick the number of hours of coverage but we pick when they start!

2.Stay ahead of the day We start the day ahead, we want to make sure we stay ahead! So at least one of us (usually Justin) will head over to the ceremony early. He'll get there at least 20 minutes early, which allows him to set up our light, test his settings, and introduce himself to the priest, pastor, rabbi. By getting there early & talking to them in person, he's been able to get us permission to use our lights (or sometimes even move around where it would have been prohibited!) in churches that usually don't allow that. When we used to both stay behind with the bride until she got into the limo & left, it meant that the bride was always ahead of us in getting to the about stressful! So now we'll sacrifice that "getting in to the car" shot (which is never really that pretty) to get ahead of the car & be at the church for the "getting out of the car" shot, which always looks so much more graceful!

3. Create a cushion When we are doing a First Look, we start those two and a half hours before the ceremony. That gives us time to tuck the Bride away a half hour before the ceremony when guests start to arrive and that still leaves us two hours for not if, but WHEN things run late. Because we know it's a wedding and they almost always run at least a little behind, now we have built in that cushion so we still end up with the hour and a half of time we were hoping for (for couple portraits, families & bridal party) rather than starting at an hour and a half and our time only going down from there when things run behind. If a couple opts not to do a First Look, that's totally fine...we just coach them to plan either a break between the ceremony & reception to do pictures or to plan for an hour and a half cocktail hour. And that way we still have that hour and a half for pictures whenever they happen!

4. Ask for the reception to be closed off. In our info sheet (feel free to grab it & use it for yourself!) we have a question that asks "will the reception to be closed off to guests during cocktail hour?" and then in parentheses we explain "so we can get great shots of all those amazing details." Just by doing that little bit of education with our couples, we now have most of our reception details closed off from guests during cocktail hour so we can get in there before the guests start setting purses down or taking escort cards, etc. Ideally, we will have done a First Look so now we can use all of cocktail hour to get great detail shots and fun candids of guests. If we haven't, one of us will finish up with the couple portraits while the other goes to cover the details.

5. Grab just 15 more minutes One of the things we educate our couples on right from the beginning, is that even if they do a First Look or a break between the ceremony & reception and get most of their pictures done, we will still always steal them back outside for just 15 minutes when the light starts getting really good. This is a great chance to do all of those shots that really inspire you & you've been meaning to try/forgot to do earlier when things were moving really fast. The light is great, the couple is relaxed, you've already gotten all of the "safe" or must have shots earlier. And now you can just hang out with them, have time to play, and give them a chance to soak each other in a little more. It's a total WIN-WIN!! :)

Happy Pancake Day friends! Today, I hope you make time to play!

Thu. May 8, 2014 by Mary    Pancake Sessions

Pancake Session: How to Stick with Blogging

The other day I was scrolling down, and I realized that we are just about to hit 2.5 MILLION visits on this little blog of ours!! That is CRAZY to me!! What started out as us blogging on just a free Blogger blog and posting random thoughts only every now and then, has turned into us blogging five times every week (Monday-Friday) and an audience that is growing so fast and so big that it continues to get us in trouble with our server company on a regular basis! Don't worry, you guys are TOTALLY worth the fight! :) And we are so SO grateful for each and every one of you who checks in with us everyday!!

Over the past six years, this blog has turned into the very central hub of our business. It is the powerhouse that continues to move us forward, and I have no idea where our business would be without it! It has opened so many doors & opportunities for us! Here are a just a few things we owe to this blog:

*We'll have bridesmaids who start reading the blog when their friend gets married and then they keep reading! Three years later when they get engaged, we are one of the first people they contact and they'll often pick their date around us!
*This is still SO crazy to me, but we have people who have started reading from all over the world, including The Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, France, England and Australia. And just from those people getting to know us on this blog (which they never would have been able to without it) we have gotten the chance to go teach or shoot in almost all of those places. And these new friends have gone above & beyond to help us plan everything!
*Our families can check in with us every day and know what we're up to! Justin's parents always joke that that's the only way they can keep up with where in the world we happen to be traveling to that day! LOL!
* Pretty much every single wedding inquiry we get now will say something about what they got to know about us on the blog and how much they can tell we care about our clients based on what we wrote about them. That's HUGE!
*Growing an audience has opened the door to us being invited to speak different places and contribute written posts like the one we just did for The Define School. One of the things they told us when they wrote, is that they knew they could trust us to write for them with authenticity and heart because that's what they had seen on our blog. Blogs allow you to write about what you stand for and build TRUST with people.
*We have gotten SO many emails over the years from people who read a post that for one reason or another really resonated with them. It was something that they really needed to hear right then (some who were even at the point of giving up or felt like they had failed). And the fact that we get to use this platform to pour into other people, to maybe be the one person who will say the one thing they most need to hear right then....I think that's one of the greatest honors & callings of our business.

So those are just some of the things having a blog has done for us (and really so much more!) So now I want to talk about how you start a blog and STICK with it. How do you commit to blog a certain number of times a week, and actually stay with it when the busy season sets in?

1. Schedule it. There is probably nothing worse than staring at a blank, blinking cursor and not having a clue what to write about. You see those minutes ticking away. You know you want to have your post up by 10am, and that deadline is looming closer. And still, nothing comes! One of the biggest things we learned with blogging was to know what we were going to write about in advance. When I know that I'm going to write about blogging on Thursday, then I can start thinking about what I'm going to say on Monday. And hopefully sit down and write it on Wednesday, so I'm not spending all morning on it Thursday!

2. But don't over-schedule it. Just don't get too stuck to that calendar! You want to allow some room for flexibility to write what's on your heart too, because those are the posts that will really reach people. So if you have it scheduled to blog about Lightroom, but you wake up and feel the need to talk about Fear & Failure and feeling lost....then by all means write about that. Real stuff should always take precedent over what's on the schedule! In light of that, I used to try to schedule out the whole month of posts. But I never know what life is going to hold for me at the end of the month when it's just getting started. So now I prefer to sit down on Sunday evening and schedule out just the week that's coming up (I did it slightly early this week just for the purposes of the picture for this post). And then I'll try to go ahead & write Monday's post so I start out the week ahead (an awesome idea I got from my good friend Katelyn).

3.Pre-blog, but not too much. In the same way that I didn't want to schedule out my whole month before life has had a chance to happen, I also try not to write too many posts way in advance. Whenever I know we are going away to shoot or on vacation, I will try to pre-blog just a couple of posts so that I don't have to write all of them while I'm traveling. But I still also try to leave some room for posts that I write while I'm there for things that happen to us or got us thinking. We've talked to people before who will not just pre-schedule, but pre-BLOG an entire month's worth of posts. And while I think that's great for efficiency, I also think it takes some of the heart and the FUN out of blogging. And if you want to stick with it, it has to have heart! Because for me, I think the BEST thing you can do with a blog is to share real life as it's happening. Talk to people about what you're going through. What you're feeling. What you're struggling with. What awesome or funny thing just happened. Share LIFE with them. And that's really hard to do if you're writing all your posts a month in advance.

4. Have a few ongoing series posts For us, we have the Pancake Sessions, Friday Randomness, Five Things, and the Get Fired Up posts that we do on a pretty regular/weekly basis. So while we might leave the exact topic discussed open to life as it happens, I know that in any given week I am probably going to do a photo post, a Pancake Session post, a personal fun post, a get fired up/let's talk about real stuff post, and a featured or "the latest" type post of what's happening most recently in our business.

5.Have a bigger purpose. Above all, the most important thing that will determine whether you stick with blogging or not is the WHY behind you doing it. All those things that have come out of blogging that we listed above are fun and an amazing side effect for us for sure! But the hands down, number one reason for me personally for why I blog is that I believe with my whole heart that God gave me a voice, a platform, and an ability to use words because he knew that a lot of people needed help. And I get to be one very small part of that, one very small candle in a much bigger Light in this world. I get to speak hope over people. I get to be the kick in the pants that maybe gets them to try again. To not give up. I get to know that because of this work, someone's business (and therefore someone's family) might be just a tiny bit better off. The bills might get paid a little easier. The bookings might come a little faster. The legacy in their own work might just reflect what they stand for a little bit more. And honestly, that drives me every single day.

Even on the days when the cursor just keeps blinking.

Rock it out friends!

Weigh in! What's your purpose for blogging? What are your best tips for sticking with it?

Wed. Apr 16, 2014 by Mary    Pancake Sessions

Pancake Session: Running the Client Meeting

A couple of days ago, I posted this picture on Instagram of us getting set up for a client meeting & we had a lot of people comment to say that they would be right over! :) And that got me thinking that one of the biggest strategies of our client meetings has really come to be just that: making them so fun that people actually WANT to be there! Making them so comfortable that we get a chance to really get to know our couples & none of us even realizes that several hours have passed by.

Let's face it. I can remember from when Justin & I were getting married: meeting with vendors can be stressful. Sometimes it can very really high pressure & salesy. It can feel like you're not getting all the info up front. Or it can feel like the person across the table is only saying what they think you want to hear.

So we decided in every way possible, to be NOT that. And we came up with a whole strategy for how we want our client meetings to run- in a way that will actually lay that foundation so that our clients quickly become our friends (Clients Turned Friends). Here are a few of our favorite tips that we've come up with!

1. Serve up some food & drink! If you had friends coming over, I'm guessing you would offer them something to eat or drink when they got there. The same should be true for our clients! Putting out a spread of food automatically makes it feel more like you're entertaining guests than putting on a high pressure business meeting. Plus, some of the best conversations happen over food, so it just naturally makes people more relaxed. Finally, it's just that above & beyond experience that you're doing for them right from the first second they walk through the door. We've had clients tell us that even their caterers didn't serve them food when they met with them, which is CRAZY to me because that's what they do! So when we do it, it's something unexpected and something that feels different from what they get anywhere else.

2. Pick things YOU love. While I'm at it, when you're picking the things you want to serve it's always best to go with the things you really love. Because then you're not just serving them something, you're sharing stories and more about who you are too. So when we have our meeting we serve wine, but not just any wine....our favorite wines (like the Kim Crawford New Zealand Sauv Blanc that tastes like grapefruit....incredible! or a Napa Valley Pinot Noir). And then that also opens the door to talk about our trip to Napa or how we're DYING to go to New Zealand! And we can also turn them on to new things, like our obsession with robusto cheese from Whole Foods paired with the fig spread. Which, incidentally, we were turned on to by our amazing past Clients Turned Friends, Kristen & Stephen, who brought it with them to their first meeting with us. So its full circle! If wine, chocolate & cheese are not your favorite things, then serve cookies & milk. Or Spanish tapas. Or Cheesecake Factory cheesecake & sweet tea. Make it your own & share who YOU are with your clients too!

3. Don't ask what you think you're SUPPOSED to ask. When Justin & I were looking to hire people for our wedding, we were absolutely amazed at how every one we were meeting with was asking the exact same questions. When's the WEDDING? What are your COLORS? Have you gotten your DRESS yet? And we very quickly started to learn that every one of those questions, at least when they came out in the first 30 seconds, was code for "I would like to sell you something." It felt fake. And it was a turn off. Instead, we like to start our meetings talking about anything else under the sun OTHER than the wedding or our photography. This is SUCH a great chance to find out how much you have in common with this couple & whether you guys will actually be a good fit. We'll talk about tv shows, where they went to school, where we went to school, what they do for work, what they love about it (or don't love about it), what the dream job is, our favorite wines, recent movies we've seen, trips we've just taken....basically, we share real life! And that's one of the reasons we are HUGE advocates of meeting on your own turf: it provides an endless list of options for conversation starters, like how we had to gut renovate our house or the amazing sunset right outside our window.

4. Don't try to sell them anything. Here's a crazy idea that changed everything for us: what if we truly went into our meetings with no agenda & not just going after the sale? What if we just approached our meetings as a cool chance to meet some new people & do kind of a "chemistry check" to see if we would be a good fit for each other? I can tell you what it does: It turns everything on its head. In the best way possible! It takes the pressure off!! It not only takes the pressure off of them because you aren't doing any kind of high pressure sales, it also takes the pressure off of you too. You can relax. You can be yourself. You can not TRY so hard. And in a weird, flip everything on its head twist of fate, it turns out that the more relaxed you are, the more relaxed they will be with you. The more yourself you are, the more you are going to attract your ideal clients. And the less you try to SELL yourself, the more people are actually going to feel good about buying from you. I've always been a big believer that business is a lot like dating. And just like dating, spending time with people who are trying too hard or have a hidden agenda....well, it's a major turn off! So let's be NOT that.

5. Give them something just for meeting with you. This goes back to that above & beyond idea. This couple had to take time out of their schedule & possibly drive a good way to meet with us. The least we can do is give them a small thank you gift. We like to do the following: a gift bag filled with a wedding magazine (Well Wed or Martha usually), our pricing sheet, our sample contract, cards of vendors we recommend, and then a gift just for gift's sake. We like to do our "Stuff We Love" card that says "Mary: Starbucks Junkie" with a $10 Starbucks card and "Justin: Apple fanatic" with a $10 iTunes card. But again, it can be anything. And it should always be something YOU love.

6. Bring it on home. So just to recap, our usual meeting looks like this. Couple arrives & we greet them with an awesome spread of food & wine. We spend about two hours getting to know each other with no pressure or set agenda. At the very end of it, when THEY ask about pricing, we give them the gift bag and spend about ten minutes going over everything. Then we don't ask for the sale. We keep it low pressure and try to be as opposite of a used car salesman as possible! If they want to go ahead and book (which about 95% of the couples we meet with do!) then they initiate it. Which means that they always feel really good about the decision and feel like it was their own/they were never pressured into it. And that's the best way we can start that Client Turned Friend relationship!

As always, we hope this helped! If you are looking for more information about how to run a successful client meeting, we go over this a TON in The Guide including: what to say, what to serve (our "meetings in a box" ideas for four different kinds of branding styles), the "reverse sell," the two-minute drill, our pricing sheet & all the contents of our info box, plus a few other fun surprises we have up our sleeves, as well as a ton of other info on marketing, branding & getting your name out there. If you want to grab a copy, head on over HERE!!

Tue. Apr 8, 2014 by Mary    Pancake Sessions

Short Stack: Our Secret Weapon

Happy Tuesday friends!

Here is a little bonus short stack addition to the letter I wish I could have written to myself my first year of shooting weddings.

I think we've all found ourselves in that position where there is just nothing to hang the dress on. Or maybe there is a pretty cabinet to hang it on, but it is nowhere near the good light or not in the direction that we want the light to fall on the dress (we like it to rake in left to right or right to left to create direction & dimension). And it can be super stressful trying to get a good dress shot.

Well in those cases, we have just learned to turn to our go-to secret weapon that we try to always carry with us: a silver 3M Command Hook!!

We keep one of these little babies in our Think Tank Airport International bag, along with some refill strips. You just peel off the back of the strip and now you can hang the dress anywhere you want! Plus it still looks really nice because we spring for the pretty "silver" looking ones ($3.88) instead of just the plastic white ones. :) Then when you're done, you just pull the tab on the bottom and it pops off the wall and no one will ever be any the wiser.

A few words of disclaimer. This will work on most dresses, but if it's an extra heavy dress it won't be able to hold it. Also, we have never had any trouble getting the hook to come off without leaving any marks/taking off any of the paint, but still be extra careful and just pull the tab really slowly so you make sure it doesn't cause you any problems.

Ok, that's it! Go rock it out friends!


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