How you can go WRONG with the "RIGHT" photographer.

I was actually a client before I became an employee at Meeker Pictures.  The Meekers shot my senior photos and family pictures, and finally my engagement, bridal and wedding photos.  Needless to say, I liked them enough to give them the ultimate endorsement: deciding to work for them.  

Because I have been such a long time client, shooting with the Meekers is all that I know.  They were the photographer at not only my own wedding but the majority of the weddings that I have attended in my life simply because when a photographer is excellent, they get shared among friends.  So, it has been rare that I have had close up experience with another photographer.  However, on a recent weekend trip, I got a look into what a wedding is like without the Meekers, and it was quite the eye-opener.  

I was lucky enough to be in the wedding of a friend from far out of town.  Since most of my waking hours involve obsessing over photography thanks to my current job, I found I spent the first few minutes of the day anywhere from one to three feet behind the photographer, peering over her shoulder and trying to catch a momentary glimpse of her shots in the viewfinder.  The curiosity was killing me!  Shot after shot, I was impressed.  Her understanding of light was impeccable and she bent it to her will easily, making her images glow, sparkle, and pop.  Her composition was a study in the all-important principles of design.  She saw the events happening just as I did, but through her lens they became that much more magical.  

I breathed a sigh of relief when I realized that she was very talented.  To be honest, I worry when my friends do not book with Meeker!  Time after time I have seen Christine and Jennifer create magic before my very eyes out of the most workaday of circumstances.  I want that level of talent and perfection for all of my friends in their wedding photos, because they are the most important thing in which you can invest money on your wedding day.  Once the dress is dry cleaned and stored somewhere in the attic (or was it at my mom’s house?) and the bouquets are dried up, the wedding photos are there, hopefully staring up at you from your coffee table (and walls and basically every surface of your home, if you are anything like me.)  They remind you of the most important commitment you have ever made.  It’s the closest to magic that any of us will get (unless, of course, you have been to Harry Potter world at Universal,) and it deserves to be documented by a true magician, of the caliber that I know Christine and Jennifer to be.  I feel nervous until I know that the photographer my friends have selected are true magicians as well.  

But, as on all wedding days, the precious slow moments at the beginning of the day, when there is time for carefully posed detail shots of the morning’s Starbucks cups cheekily labeled “Maid of Honor” and “The BRIDE!,” eventually gave way to the frenetic pace of the more pressing items on the wedding itinerary.  This day in particular had an extra dash of panic.  The radar promised the advance of a gnarly storm that threatened to dampen the plans for an outdoor ceremony under a bowing oak tree.  

Also as with many weddings, “the list” loomed over the head of the wedding professionals working that day.  “The list” is that all important account of all of the shots that matter to the bride and groom: the bride with her grandmother who survived cancer, the groom with his fraternity brothers, the bride and groom with the couple that set them up on their first date.  Here comes your first photo industry insider tip: those cameras you see strapped all over your wedding photographer’s body?  They are HEAVY.  And “the list” is usually long.  Too long to be simply memorized, so it must be held, and marked off as the night goes on.  Unfortunately, a single photographer, as the photographer was on this day, will find themselves a hand short when it comes to shooting while trying to keep up with “the list.”  So, early on in the chaos, she requested a volunteer from the bridal party to be the keeper of “the list,” and I stepped forward.  

The ceremony approached, and the chairs for the guests were moved inside, then outside, then in and out again.  Stress ramped up as the guests arrived and final preparations were still being made.  It was certainly not an ideal situation, and the impact was felt on the wedding vendors and bridal party alike; an impact that was tricky to shake during the ceremony.  Regardless of the tension, my friends ended up hitched, and after the kiss and announcement, the officiant released all of those seated to cocktail hour, making no mention of family needing to stay for formal shots.  (Behold, your second photo industry insider tip:  Always make sure the officiant knows to tell anyone that needs to stay for formal photos to, you know, stay for formal photos!)  Immediately, “the list” flashed before my eyes.  I sprinted up the front four rows and amended her announcement, squealing, “please stay for photos if you are family!”  I believe for the most part, they complied, if they did occasionally escape momentarily to grab a cocktail hour treat.  

Pictured: Amanda Meeker our wedding assistant extraordinare.   

Pictured: Amanda Meeker our wedding assistant extraordinare.   

At this point, the rain had slowed to a barely-there drizzle.  I’ve watched the Meekers shoot weddings with actual tropical storms and floods swirling about them, so I figured that we were game on for formal photos under the idyllic oak trees.  I situated the bride and bridesmaids under umbrellas (Insider tip 3: Umbrellas will save your life and more importantly your cameras!) as we set the first shot.  When we were ready, the umbrellas were tossed out of the shot and we moved on.  However, when it came time to start pulling family members who were conveniently gathered behind us, the photographer grew too flustered with the weather and decreed that we would just need to do family photos later.  (You can probably guess that here comes insider tip 4: It is next to impossible to get a bunch of people who have dinner, drinks and dancing on their mind to assemble and pay attention long enough to take formal photos.  If you have them, do not let them go!)

We did end up taking family photos, but not until halfway through the reception.  Instead of taking them in the glowy, scrumptious light of the golden hour before sunset, they were taken hastily with flash.  Instead of the beautiful oak trees in the background, there was the cluttered set up of the band on break.  These photos only happened because I grew afraid that people would begin to depart and got the band leader to make an announcement for the family members to meet on the dance floor.  As you can imagine, many guests were hitting up the cake table and were none too pleased with the prospect of abandoning their dessert to wait in line while I yelled over the music.  

I know with certainty that my friend will have some beautiful photos.  They will be technically excellent, following all of the rules of skilled photography.  But will she have the most important photos, the photos that matter to her the most?  I do not know.  From this experience I learned that there is a difference between a talented wedding photographer and a talented wedding photographer who knows how to shoot a wedding.  You can find many talented wedding photographers, but a talented wedding photographer who knows how to shoot a wedding is worth spending money on.  

                                         This is a couple that was all in for "rolling with the punches". Rain or shine though, we still got THE shot.

                                         This is a couple that was all in for "rolling with the punches". Rain or shine though, we still got THE shot.

There are many new entrants to the wedding photography business, but not many longtime members.  This is because these longtime members know secrets that make all of the difference between a few technically beautiful shots and a fully captured, fleshed out wedding album.  Your photographer should never be willing to relinquish control of “the list.”  It is too important to be trusted to someone whose livelihood and reputation is not on the line.  It will not be as important to Aunt Susie that no shot is missed than it is to someone who knows that word of mouth that they get from each wedding that they shoot will always be their most effective advertisement.  Your photographer should always have at least two shooters on site for your day, because so many moments pass so quickly and are so easy to miss.  Think, for instance, of the first moment of the day that the bride and groom see each other, whether it be in a first look or when the bride steps onto the aisle.  How can only one person capture both of their reactions at the same time?  Furthermore, having two shooters allows one photographer to take on styling responsibilities while the other photographer can handle the technical aspects of preparing the camera for each shot.  This results in double the shots because both preparations, the styling and the technical, can be completed at the same time rather than one after the other.  

Most importantly, photographers who truly know how to shoot a wedding not only know how to deal with unpredictable circumstances, but to thrive in them.  The most magical shots I have ever seen the Meekers produce have been on days of torrential, miserable rain.  It astounds me every time, but they just get better as things get harder.   

                                                           You might see a torrential downpour, but we see beauty no matter the circumstance.

                                                           You might see a torrential downpour, but we see beauty no matter the circumstance.

Twenty years of experience have made rolling with the punches second nature for them.  Most photographers pull their brides out of the rain, away from the unexpected circumstance.  The Meekers embrace the beauty of chaos, gently take the bride’s hand and lead her into the unpredictable, all the while saying, “trust me.”  I do not know a single bride who has taken that step of trust and regretted it.