Love isn't Always Pretty, But it IS Always Beautiful
Yesterday our amazing past bride-turned-friend Malika sent us this email. It was short. To the point.
And it rocked me to my core.
I was familiar with the Dove commercials that show a real person and then all of the hair, makeup, lighting and photoshop manipulation that go into making an ad. So when I saw the "I think you do this for people" part I was intrigued....and a little worried. :) The number one word that Justin & I have settled on to strive for in our work is "authentic," so I really hoped we weren't coming across like those ads. Then I clicked on the link, and everything changed.
I sat crying happy tears. Big, fat, mush up your face, let the water roll down happy tears.
Both for this incredibly powerful commercial and what it stands for....and because it's true. We as photographers, all of us, have the power to do this for people. And because I was SO grateful to have someone as wonderful as Malika in my life to remind me of that.
I think sometimes in the wedding industry, we get really caught up with pretty. And perfect. The pretty dress, the pretty light, the pretty location. The perfect flower head wreath, the perfect table in a field, the perfect model with not a hair out of place. And don't get me wrong, pretty has its place. I love looking at these sorts of things on Pinterest too. And they can be really visually inspiring. But I think the problem is, sometimes we're so busy looking for pretty...that we miss beautiful when it's standing right in front of us.
I've been thinking a lot lately about this phrase that keeps coming to me: love isn't always pretty, but it IS always beautiful. Sometimes it's the dishes stacked up for four days in the sink because you're just that busy rather than the cuteness of "you wash, i'll dry." Sometimes it's the hard times and the hard conversations rather than the soft pillows and soft places to land. Sometimes it's swallowing your pride rather than the chocolate cake & orange juice you really wish you were eating. But you know what? It's ALL beautiful. And that's what makes it worth it.
And as photographers, we have the chance to show that. To show that a wedding isn't just about the pretty dress in the pretty field, or the perfect invitation suite. And it isn't about not having a hair out of place or looking really skinny either. It's about the bittersweet tears that were shed that morning when the bride was missing her dad so much. It's about the wrinkles on a grandmother's face and the 70 years of life and laughter it took to put them there. It's about laughing in the storms. And holding on to each other just a little longer. It's a father's face three seconds before he loses it because it feels like he's losing everything. And three generations gathered in one room. It's sixty-two years in, holding a picture from day one. And it's knowing that this life sometimes may break you... but there will still always be Joy.
Lean into that. Let that light your way as a photographer and the body of work you stand for.
Because the way I see it, beautiful beats pretty any day.
This past week when we were traveling to the Dominican, the trip was made about a million times better when our airline, Delta, surprised us with an upgrade to first class both ways. Now this may totally out me as the country bumpkin that I really am, but I had never flown first class before. So yea, you could say that I was a little excited. Ok, ok...Fergie songs may or may not have been sung (but definitely were). We flying FIRST claaaaass, up in the sky. Pop the champagne, living the life.
And you know what, first class really is as great as they say it is. Nevermind the champagne, which they totally did serve us before take off. Did you know that you get real cloth placemats when they serve your full hot meal, while coach gets a sandwich wrapped in plastic? And the glasses they serve you in....real glass. Real silverware. Real bowls. Hot towels. If you stand up when the seatbelt light is on....they don't yell at you. Because like Billy Idol said in the Wedding Singer...they pretty much let their first class passengers do whatever they want. :) Seriously though, it was pretty much amazing. And I think it ruined me on flying coach, even though that's exactly where we'll probably be the next time we fly. Please don't read this post and think we're super fancy & fly First Class wearing our diamond tiaras every time we go somewhere.
So how did we get upgraded both ways this time? By finally taking our good friends, the Youngrens, advice.
It used to be that when we had to fly somewhere, we would just go online and look for the cheapest flight and that often ended up being Southwest. And don't get me wrong, I actually really like Southwest. Their crew is super funny and their drink stirrers have hearts on them. Plus we were able to earn several free flights with them by traveling so much. But there were some things we didn't like too, like how if security was backed up and we got to the gate late we might not be able to sit together even if we had tickets A1 & A2. Speaking of which, the other thing I was never crazy about was their line up system that always made me feel vaguely like a barnyard animal. But then, most of the airport experience is like that so I didn't hold it against them too strongly.
But it wasn't until we were hanging out with our good friends Jeff & Erin Youngren a few years ago, that they really started to open our eyes to the benefits of picking one airline and being loyal to it. They are loyal Delta devotees & encouraged us to check them out. Well after doing our extensive research (ok, who am I kidding...after Justin did the research for us), we found out that we agreed Delta had the best combination of service, experience & rewards program for what we were looking for. And we've been loyal to them ever since, starting with our flight to Sydney last May. So how does it all work?
The first goal is to get Silver Medallion status You reach this when you fly 25,000 miles with Delta within a calendar year. We pretty much got this right off the bat with our trip to Sydney when we first started with them. So if you have a long trip coming up somewhere, that's a great way to get started. Once you reach medallion status, that puts you on the list for the upgrades. They go through their Diamond, Platinum & Gold medallion members first, and then to Silver. Justin & I are Silver again for this year already and we're getting really close to Gold. On our flights to the Dominican, it just so happened that we were the highest ranking medallion holders, so we were 1&2 on the upgrade list. But as you can imagine, that rarely happens for us right now. So the goal is to keep getting higher in the medallions.
The real goal is to get to Gold Medallion status or higher Once you get to Gold Medallion status then you become "Sky Priority" and you get to go through the fast check in lines and the fast security, which we got to do this time because of our upgrade (first & business class seats are also Sky Priority). And it saved a TON of time & stress. The other major benefit to Gold is that once you reach that status, every mile you earn also gets a 100% bonus mile. So you can get to the higher levels a lot faster. At Silver, you only get a 25% bonus.
The point is to pick an airline & start making all that travel go to work for you It doesn't have to be Delta (although that would definitely be our recommendation!). The point is to just pick an airline that you already love & start racking up loyalty benefits with them to make all that travel you have to do work for you. When I think about the years we spent just flying whichever airline came up, it makes me a little sick. Because I'm pretty sure we could have George Clooney status by now if we'd just picked one & stuck with it! :) But you live & you learn. And then you pay it forward so hopefully someone else can learn from your mistakes. That's what it's all about, right?
Anyway, that's the story behind our Fergalicious life! I'll save the one about my Humps for another day.
So let's all get better together! Tell us, what are some of your favorite travel savvy tips?
We put out the question on our J&M facebook page the other day, what topics people would like to see us hit next on the Pancake Sessions. And by far one of the top liked requests was to see our ideal day-of wedding timeline. So that's what we decided to do! :)
I actually put together two versions of the timeline, one for a First Look and one without, because we get a pretty good mix of both. Unless the ceremony is going to be letting out when it's dark, Justin & I actually never push for the First Look too hard. I do agree 100% that they tend to make the day go a lot smoother and it makes it a lot easier on both the couple & the photographer. The couple doesn't spend their whole party taking pictures because most of the formalities were taken care of before the ceremony & this gives the photographer the chance to make sure all of those gorgeous reception details the bride & groom worked so hard on are well covered. But we also understand that for some couples, it's just super important to them that they not see each other before the ceremony. So for those couples, we just ask that they either build in a pretty big break between the ceremony & the cocktail hour...or be willing to miss all of cocktail hour.
Realistically, it takes about two hours to shoot all of the couple portraits, bridal party & families. And we try to educate our brides on this right from the beginning, because it sounds like such a huge amount of time that nobody ever guesses that it will take that long. But like I always tell my brides, there's real time and there's wedding time. And the two shall never be the same. Leaving 2-2.5 hours for pictures, leaves time for when things run late, gathering up people who are missing, finding the missing boutonniers, getting the bridal party & family pictures taken care of, and actually leaving time to play for the couple photos. One of the things I love the most about our brides is that the photography is super important to them (if you're interested in this, we talk more about what we look for in our ideal couples in The Guide). So they are always willing to give us that extra time we need to play in order to create amazing pictures for them.
Here are the two timelines we like to work with, depending on if there is a First Look or not:
A few quick things to note:
*We always get there an hour and a half before the bride has to leave. Whether it's to a First Look or to leave for the ceremony we like to start the day an hour and a half before the bride has to go anywhere. This gives us the time to settle into the day slow, take our time shooting the details, and reach a good calm before everything starts picking up speed. In the past, when we only had a few minutes to shoot the details before our bride was getting dressed, we felt really rattled and we never quite lost that feeling the rest of the day. Getting there early helps us to start the day a step ahead of everything, and keep it that way moving forward.
*I like to leave 45 minutes for the dress to go on & Iconic bridal portrait Unless it's just a slip dress with one zipper, the dress going on almost always takes longer than you'd think. So that this part isn't rushed & stressful, and so that I have the time I want to do the "Iconic Bridal Portrait," I always like to have the dress start going on about 45 minutes before we have to leave.
*We leave two and a half hours between the First Look & the Ceremony. Like I talked about above, we like to leave a big cushion of time here for pictures of the couple, the bridal party & immediate family....and also for things to run late as they almost inevitably will. Plus we're only planning to shoot for about two of those hours, so that we can tuck the bride away once the guests start arriving.
*They can pick the number of hours, but we pick when they start. Justin & I offer hours of coverage starting with 8, and then the couple can choose to add on more hours if we look at the timeline together and think they'll need them. The way that this works is we look at what time the ceremony is and whether or not there will be a First Look, and that will tell us what time we'll start the day. Say the ceremony is at 4:30 and there will be a First Look. Two and a half hours before the ceremony is 2:00pm, so that means we'll be start the day an hour and a half before that which is 12:30. 8 hours of coverage will get them through to 8:30, so if cake cutting isn't happening until 10pm or there is a sparkler send off at 11pm....we'll know they'll want to add on more hours. But if neither of those is the case, then 8 hours should be fine.
*Justin gets to the ceremony early. In the same way that we like to get to the getting ready early so that we know everything is set & can be calm, Justin likes to get to the ceremony early so he can get his one-light set up & dial in his settings. Staying a step ahead of the day is pretty key to being prepared to get the best shots.
*We only do immediate families during the First Look/After the Ceremony. This means parents, step-parents, siblings, their spouses & kids, grandparents. That's it. Aunts, Uncles, cousins, the 78 people that make up the "Barker Family picture".....all of those bigger groups will happen later during the reception when the DJ/Band can announce them and everyone is there. And we usually recommend limiting those big group requests to 5 or less.
*We shoot the escort cards first thing as soon as we can. I'm not sure why, but guests LOVE to grab those escort cards as soon as they see them, even before the ceremony if everything is happening at the same location. Maybe they're afraid they don't really have a seat or maybe they just don't know what else to do to pass the time. But rest assured, if that card table is out, it will be destroyed within the first few minutes of guests arriving! :) So we always try to "cover the details that are most in danger first" and the escort cards are always at the top of that list!
*The best planners that we work with, always make sure that we get fed earlier rather than later during dinner. If we can get fed with the first wave of meals coming out, then that means we are done when the bride & groom are done. So we're on hand for parent dances, toasts, etc. That means we never miss anything and the planner never has to hunt us down.
*We'll stay long enough to make sure we have dancing covered. But after a while, all of the dancing starts to look the same. And let's be honest, there comes a point in the night where the pictures just start to turn into blackmail material! :) So once we have the "feeling" of the party pretty well covered, and there are no other events happening, then we can get packed up and give our hugs & goodbyes to the bride & groom as well as the parents to thank them for having us there.
Well, that's pretty much it! There's a lot of info within the timelines themselves, so be sure to read those over for the full Pancake experience :)
And feel free to leave any questions in the comment box below & we'll do our best to answer them!
***To see all of our past Pancake Sessions, click HERE.
I think for a photographer, one of the scariest parts of the job to get used to is "posing" or directing your clients during their portraits. It's like this weird combination of a fear of public speaking meets being put on the spot meets juggling a million things all at once. You're thinking about your settings, the light, the background, the angle of her chin, the placement of his hand, changing up the location....oh, and now you're supposed to be witty too! Nooooo pressure! :)
And the truth is, even some people who have been shooting for several years never really make that transition to being truly comfortable & confident with their posing. Yet, it's one of the single biggest determining factors in, not only how the images will turn out, but how much fun your clients have while taking them. And the more fun they have, the more they are going to love you & those images because they remind them of that great experience.
The hands down number one solution with getting more confident in posing is of course to just practice, practice, practice. Get friends in front of your camera, practice the poses yourself, get on the other side of the lens so you remember what that feels like & pay attention to what made you more comfortable and what didn't. That being said though, it's really important when you're doing all of that practicing that you're practicing the right things. And not just ingraining bad habits that will become a lot harder to break.
So we put together 5 quick tips for adjustments that anybody could make to their posing that we think make a world of difference. Give these a look & then get out there and get back to practicing! :)
1. Try to eliminate the "kindas, maybes, could-ya's" This is something that we teach about in our Walk Through a Wedding workshop that most people don't even realize they're doing. The next time you go to pose someone, pay attention to how you're starting your sentences. What we hear a lot when we're teaching this is something like the following: "Maybe just kinda put your hand here and then sorta could ya just twist at the waist a little more, and could I get you to change that right there, and then maybe, um, kinda just move more there and then......GIVE ME VOGUE!!" :) It doesn't really instill that much confidence, right? But this is what I was talking about with ingraining bad habits. If this is something that you do & you just keep practicing that way, then it's going to become a lot harder to break. Instead, we like to encourage people to practice giving directions that are declarative statements. And for us these tend to be statements that either start with their name or a verb. "Jen, I'm going to have you look right at me. Good. Look at that left elbow. Perfect. Now, Jen take that deep breath right there. Twist that right shoulder toward me. And look right back at me." Speaking of starting with their name, that brings me to point #2.
2. Call them by name Use their name & use it often! I think this is one of those common knowledge but not common practice things. Most of us probably feel like we know to call people by name when we're directing them, but ask yourself how much you actually do it? I would say that I use my clients names when I'm directing at least every other sentence. The reason this is so important is that it builds rapport with the person you're talking to. When we hear our own names, we feel more connected to the person using it, we feel more liked by that person, and we in turn like them more. Plus it's just a much more confident way of addressing your couples than "kinda, could ya, maybe." Finally, when you are posing two people, using their names throughout the shoot is imperative to making it clear who you're talking to at any given moment. So that if she's in an awesome pose and you just need him to step in a little closer, you don't end up losing that great gesture when they both move.
3. Keep Talking Probably the number one thing I've learned from the few times when we were on the other side of the camera, is how important it is for the photographer to keep talking. After more than about ten seconds of silence, it just starts to feel like crickets and you feel like you're doing everything wrong. So I think it's super important to keep talking to your clients, but what you're saying is just as important. And that's where those bad habits come in. I think in a pinch it becomes very tempting to just start going stream of consciousness with all the things you have running in your head. So we'll start to say things like "I'm just going to crop out that building by placing you guys here and I'm going to raise my shutter speed to x and I'm going to shoot this horizontally and place you in the right of the frame." It's not what you would call riveting conversation! :) And that's where difference between getting by with your posing and becoming great at it comes in. A really good photographer can pose you, while carrying on witty banter, knowing when to be quieter and when to pick up the energy, all while having a million other thoughts & calculations running through their head. Beautiful Mind style. And that of course takes practice, but practicing the right things!
4. Have a few "go to" poses Every single photographer out there has had that moment where the bride & groom are ready to go, you have all the time in the world you need to shoot, they look at you expectantly.....and, boom, your mind goes blank. In that split second, you have forgotten every pose you've ever learned. And then proceed to flail. After the first time that happened to me, I became determined to make sure it never did again. So I have burned 3 or 4 go to poses into my brain, so that no matter what happens I can start with those while I take a couple deep breaths and remember what I'm doing again. :) It's been a huge life saver and also really comes in handy if you find yourself in a major time crunch.
5, Keep them moving In the same way that going too long without hearing you say something can make your clients really uncomfortable, holding them in the same pose too long can have that effect too. Pretty soon an awesome pose just starts to become too static, and it starts to be about you taking a picture of a pose rather than the REAL purpose of posing in the first place: to put your clients in good positions that provide the opportunity for those "moments in between" that show who they really are. Silly, serious, quiet, cozy....it all comes out in those moments in between. And those kinds of moments tend to happen a lot more often when there's movement. Have them walk together or dance together. Even in our more "still" poses, we'll still have them sway together or close their eyes to bring their foreheads together. Because what happens when they inevitably bump into each other is the space for those moments in between. And a chance for them to show who they really are.
And at the end of the day, that's what it's all really about anyway.
As always, we hope this helped even if just a little bit! And I just want to say I'm really grateful for photographers like you guys who care about their couples, and their craft & want to keep getting better at it. I think you guys make this industry a better place.
This past weekend when I was speaking at the WV Weddings Conference, one HUGE bonus of that trip was that we got to hang out with some of our favorite "clients turned friends" of all time: Rachel & Terry. Rachel was also presenting at the conference, so we got to hang out with them all day and then grab dinner after. And I have to tell you, there was just something about being around these guys again that reminded me SO much of why we love what we do. And I mean that last sentence in the most powerful way I can punctuate it, not in just some off the cuff, that's just what all photographers say about their couples sort of way.
It was a breath of fresh air.
And it breathed life into what I want to get back to in our business. The bottom line is that we do our best work when it's for people we genuinely care about. People that we love and who love us in return. People that we can just hang out with. People who care about whether or not we get fed at their weddings. People who want us in particular with them on their wedding day, because not just any photographer will do.
And on the flip side.
These are couples that we will stand out in a storm for. Take the bobby pins out of my own hair for. Grab dinner with. Grab coffee with. Have a one hour engagement shoot turn into three hours hanging out over margaritas. Invite them to our 4th of July parties. Go to their house warming parties. Send gifts when the first child is born.
In short these are people who are clients for about a year, but friends for life. This, this, is why we love what we do.
But in order for those kinds of relationships to happen in our business, or any of our businesses, first we have to take the time to ask ourselves what those most ideal clients have in common. So we can be on the look out for it when those inquiries are coming in. Using Rachel & Terry as an example, I've outlined a few of those characteristics for our most ideal clients below. To help you get started!
1. They want us in particular When Rachel wrote to me, it was right when they were getting engaged and they didn't even have a date yet. But Terry had been a groomsmen in another wedding we had done (Erica & Matt!) and these guys knew that they wanted us in particular. And ohhh there is no better feeling in the world as a photographer than knowing your couples wanted YOU, not just any photographer will do. So they contacted us first and picked their date around when we were available and could travel down to Romance, WV (yes that is the actual name of the town!) to shoot their wedding. And that really set the stage for how close we got to these guys.
I'm of course not saying that every couple has to pick their date around us. But the point is, our most ideal clients never come in telling us about all the other photographers they're looking at (presumably something they do to create competition). They come in knowing they want us in particular. I'm a big believer that business is a lot like dating. And if you went on a first date with someone who told you about all the other dates they had lined up that week, they probably wouldn't get a second date right? I think the same is true for business & finding our ideal couples.
2. They follow along on the blog. Rachel was and still is an avid reader of the blog. And then I'm told she fills Terry in! :) But really what this point is about is that our most ideal couples take an interest in our lives and getting to know us as people not just their hired vendors. They care about us and what's going on in our lives. And that just makes us love them all the more!
3. They ask our advice & trust our opinion. When Rachel & Terry were planning out their day, they worked with us to build the whole timeline and make sure there was plenty of time for pictures. Also, it poured most of the day on their wedding, but when we saw a ten minute break...R&T trusted us when we said we should go outside for some pictures even though the ground was still really wet. We were able to hop out for a few minutes and grab some gorgeous natural light pictures of them before it started raining again. But because we had worked with them on the timeline, we had plenty of time to wait for those breaks and to also shoot around inside for some different looks.
4. They had details that meant something. Rachel is a HUGE Audrey Hepburn fan, so a lot of the inspiration for the wedding came from Funny Face as well as Rachel's own grandmother's wedding. But they were able to do it in a way that still felt like Rachel & Terry. A lot of that happened because they didn't choose details just for the sake of having details, but because they had meaning behind them. One of my favorite details was their guest book, which was a book on Tiffany Pearls. Not only did it have Audrey on the cover, but as it turns out pearl is also Rachel's birth stone, she wore a string of pearls from her family, and the cake had pearl icing along the trim. That kind of thought that went into their details gave the wedding heart, rather than just a lot of details that look pretty.
5. They put the first things first. Even though it absolutely POURED on their day (the road to the church was flooded at one point), Rachel didn't bat an eyelash. All she cared about was that she was getting married to Terry, and that all of the most important people were there with them. Our most ideal couples never ever have a bridezilla (or groomzilla!) moment. They are kind to one another, their families, their bridal party, their creative team. And most of all they see the bigger picture, that what really matters is that they're getting married!
6. They are grateful Going along with the point above, I think the characteristic that our happiest couples have in common is gratitude. They spend the whole day just being thankful for everything that is right about the day. On her day, I saw Rachel thank the hair stylist, her mom, her sister, the florist, the venue coordinator, her bridesmaids, Terry, her dad, Terry's family, pretty much every guest at the wedding....and us. She was thankful that we were there, and thankful for what we do. Tell me you're not going to work harder for someone like that!
7. They tend to have some iconic/nostalgic feature to their day Whether it is the attire, the venue, the city, or just a look the two of them have, for whatever reason our most ideal couples tend to have this sort of 1940s or 1950s look to them. And Rachel & Terry clearly fall into that category!
8. They hire us themselves Whether they are paying for the whole wedding themselves or just the photographers or even if they're getting help on everything, our most ideal couples tend to be the ones taking the lead on hiring us. There have been a few notable exceptions to this rule so it's not a deal breaker, but it is a bonus. I think this probably goes back to wanting us in particular and not having to run it past other people, but we love it when our couples are the ones who hire us. Like we said above, Rachel & Terry definitely took the lead on the photography!
9. They are a happy couple. I know this one seems obvious, but unfortunately it's not always the case. And the fact of the matter, is that it's a lot easier for us to tell epic love stories when we believe in the story we're telling. Rachel & Terry just genuinely enjoy each other and take care of one another. It is an honor to witness.
10. They put a value on photography Whether they are amateur photographers themselves or just really appreciate that the pictures are the only thing that last, our most ideal couples rank photography as their number 1 priority (after each other & family of course!) For Rachel & Terry, we knew this was true for their photography by the way they hired us, the time they gave us to shoot, and how much they still love & display the pictures today.
Rachel & Terry are of course just one example of some of our most idea clients turned friends. And we've been lucky to have so many of them over the years. But it is interesting how so many of them have these traits in common, which helps us out SO much when we're trying to figure out if a new couple will likely fall into that category as well. Our goal is to have our calendars full of only clients turned friends and that doesn't work if we're not doing our homework.
We just work harder for people we care about. It's not something that's intentional, it's just true. We do better work. We care more. We get more inspired. We're more set on fire. And I think what's so cool about Rachel & Terry's wedding is that even though it wasn't a big, showy wedding....because it had so much heart, that was reflected in our work. And this wedding went on to get us published in Style Me Pretty, Rangefinder, Professional Photographers Magazine, WV Weddings and now the WV Weddings Extravaganza. But that's what having clients you love can do for you.
It can make you a better photographer.
Sound off. What are some of the common traits of your most ideal clients??