I was recently featured on Michigan Homes who interviewed me about how I approach my Michigan wedding photography so clients moving to theÂ Ann Arbor, MI area might learn more about my wedding photography while checking out their real estate! Check out the article here: Marci Curtis Photography Is Covering Weddings With a Photojournalistic Approach.
Angela & Jason’s winter wedding at Steven Lelli’s Inn On The Green in Farmington Hills, Michigan
I closed out my wedding season just before the snow storms hit last weekend. This was a new location for me, and I didn’t see anything from this location online, so I’m posting more than usual of this Lelliâ€™s location so that any other Michigan brides and Detroit area wedding photographers looking at Steven Lelli’s Inn on the Green in Farmington Hills, Michigan can get a pretty good idea of what the space looks like when they are planning and photographing winter weddings there.
Angela and Jason are about the most laid back couple I’ve worked with and I loved that they were willing to go with the flow concerning wedding photography. The restaurant (Lelliâ€™s) was closed for the ceremony (at 4:30), but they opened it at 5:00, so that left no place and no time to take family photos or wedding party photos. The ceremony ended around 5:10, so we were scrambling to take photos so they could start dinner service for the guests. I was worried we might all freeze out in the enclosed terrace out back, but they had at least 3 heaters blowing hot air (on or off were the options), so it the staff were switching them off and on constantly. If you were too warm, you simply had to move. Needless to say, it was our first cold Michigan night and they were able to keep people from freezing!
I’m not sure if the room would normally look this great…. maybe it’s always so nicely decorated? I do know that the bride’s mom, Cathy, worked miracles within 4 months to make the place look stunning!
A word to other Metro Detroit, Michigan wedding photographers who might have this as their wedding venue to photograph… Steven Lelliâ€™s Inn On The Green is one of the darkest, most challenging wedding ceremony sites in Michigan I’ve ever shot in over 1,300 weddings. The walls at Lelliâ€™s are black and so is part of the ceiling, along with a beautiful, but lighting challenged tray ceiling, the space is super tight and the spots to put your lights (and you will need multiple lights) is extremely limited. Angela had originally hired a photographer that is strictly a “Natural Light” photographer (which is often code for; does not know how to use off camera lighting). She wisely knew after looking at the space that there was no way you could pull that off in this location. The terraced, reception area did offer cool twinkle lights (not sure if that was Cathy’s addition, or if those are always there), so I was able to create some really cool, ambiance filled “winter” type images from the dance floor.
Upside? The wedding food at Lelliâ€™s Inn On The Green is AMAZING! The staff is kind and efficient.
Downside? Lelliâ€™s accommodations for wedding ceremonies and places to take portraits of more than just the bride and groom is non existent and couples should know that and be prepared to have a first look and take all their wedding photos beforehand either at Lelliâ€™s restaurant (if they are indeed closed) or take them off site. All of us were caught off guard that they hadn’t left any time or space for us to take photos and there are some holes in the shooting due to lack of time and space.
Lastly, this is my favorite shot of the day. It’s not technically superb, it’s not a wow, but it’s still my favorite. Cathy, the mother of the bride, was overseeing all those details for the wedding reception at Lelliâ€™s restaurant when she came downstairs to get dressed. This was the moment she realized HER DRESS WAS MISSING! In all the hoopla, she’d left her dress on the bus and it was gone. This is a true, behind the scenes photo that captures any drama the day of PERFECTLY! Sure, the ceremony started about 15 minutes late, but I’m pretty sure not too many people knew why. Everything was gorgeous and went smoothly except this little, bitty hitch!
So You Want To Be A Professional Wedding Photographer? Hereâ€™s What You Need To Know About Becoming a Professional Photographer…
I get weekly emails from people wanting to shadow me to learn what it takes to become a professional. I am approached almost every time Iâ€™m out shooting by someone who likes photography and it thinking about becoming a professional. They love taking photos, people tell them they are good at it and they have a â€œpretty goodâ€ camera. Itâ€™s fun, itâ€™s creative and it seems like they can make really good money if they only work on weekends. Most of the people who approach me and want step by step instructions and words of encouragement while Iâ€™m clearly working with a client. So I tend to be rude since they are not a paying client and they are taking my focus off where it needs to be. The email queries for being my assistant, people looking for critiques of their work and â€œjust wanting feedbackâ€ are constant. I spend â€œin seasonâ€ running from spinning plate to spinning plate just to keep to my strict schedule of getting all photos back within two weeks (usually more like a week). I donâ€™t use assistants and never have! I give 100% of my focus to my clients and work really hard to develop an intimate trust and relationship with them within two minutes. That canâ€™t be done with assistants around or having me teach someone how to be a photographer while Iâ€™m working.
So I thought Iâ€™d write a blog about what I think you need to do to get yourself ready to transition from photo enthusiast to professional photographer. Iâ€™m also going to send this link out to everyone who contacts me because they thought â€œtheyâ€™d just start with weddingsâ€ and â€œwould like to dabble in weddingsâ€.
- Donâ€™t start with weddings. DO NOT START WITH WEDDINGS! Weddings are very high stakes. People have invested a lot of time and a LOT of money on this one whirlwind day. Theyâ€™ve picked a really pretty church and a beautiful reception hall. These are pretty caves. You have the potential to ruin their day if you screw it up or even flounder for a little teeny bit. I didnâ€™t shot a wedding until Iâ€™d been a professional FULL TIME photographer for almost 10 years. If you donâ€™t get diarrhea before every single wedding, youâ€™re not taking it seriously enough.
- Invest the time into knowing everything you can about how your camera works. Take your camera off â€œautomaticâ€. Forever. It rarely makes the correct choice. It doesnâ€™t understand off center composition. It doesnâ€™t know you wanted to bring up the ambient light. It didnâ€™t get that you wanted a really narrow depth of field. Your automatic setting doesnâ€™t comprehend that you wanted to drag that shutter for a cool effect. If what I just wrote sounds confusing and doesnâ€™t make sense, skip the rest of this blog and enroll in a photography 101 class. Itâ€™s not rocket science, but there are certain photography principals every photographer needs to know inside and out.
- Take your camera everywhere. If you can take marvelous photos outdoors on overcast days, congratulations. So can a 2 year old with an iPhone. Learn to shoot all different lighting conditions and test yourself to see how close you can get to the perfect exposure within two exposures. Real clients are counting on you to know exactly what youâ€™re doing and donâ€™t have the patience or time for you to figure it out. Even I occasionally inadvertently bump a setting on my camera (why, oh, why Nikon, do you have the â€œbracketâ€ option in a place thatâ€™s way too easy to accidentally get to????) which will make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. You have exactly two moves to undo that error. Pros donâ€™t get do overs and they donâ€™t have time to â€œfigure it outâ€. It has to be instinct.
- Now that you know your camera and lens inside and out, go buy two more of everything. I cannot tell you how many modern day wedding photography horror stories start with, â€œAnd the photographerâ€™s one camera broke so they left the wedding…..â€. This is true for lenses, flashes, power packs, batteries, cards, etc. A little bit of paranoia goes a long way towards piece of mind and will get you back on track when something goes horribly wrong.
- Now that you have your cameras skills down to second nature and can make decisions about lighting and backgrounds within a few seconds, work on doing that while youâ€™re keeping the people youâ€™re with happy, calm, feeling assured and creating a nurturing and fun environment. Most clients are pretty freaked out about having their photos taken. Theyâ€™re nervous or at least apprehensive. They are trusting you to make all the decisions and to make them look natural. A large part of that is keeping them happy and entertained as a distraction. Multi-tasking is key. If you canâ€™t spin lots of plates at the same time, this is not the job for you. Oh, and be super creative while running from plate to plate. Being FANTASTIC at multi-tasking a mandatory.
- Practice on friends and family. Donâ€™t take them out for a 3 hour session, but see what you can do in an hour. Most clients do not have the time, money or facial expression stamina to last more than an hour. You have to move around a LOT and get a wide variety of backgrounds and lighting in order to give them options. It always keeps things from getting stale. If no one is having fun, then the photos look like no one is having fun! For fun wedding and wedding party photos, I usually get 20 minutes to 45 minutes TOPS to get everything done. You have to make decisions quickly and execute our plans even faster.
- Learn to see the light. Sun is usually a photographerâ€™s worst enemy. Your clients canâ€™t look into it or theyâ€™ll be squinty and miserable. So you need to be able to make the sun do exactly what you need it to do. You need to be able to fill in shadows, create light where you need it and make it work for you. Learning to see how to create the light you want is one of the most difficult things to explain to people and one of the most challenging things to learn to correct. You canâ€™t over power the sun, so how are you going to make it work for you?
- You canâ€™t cancel on clients. Just about all small business people are tied to their phones and computers 24/7 so thatâ€™s just part of doing business. Being available on their schedule is just the way it is. Whatâ€™s more challenging is that you canâ€™t be sick, your emergencies donâ€™t matter and you can never, ever NOT show up. Itâ€™s not that they donâ€™t care about you, but if youâ€™re shooting a wedding, it has to be done. Period. We all have back up shooters we could call if we are incredibly ill, but it will impact your business. With online reviews being so important, a cancelled appointment or sending a substitute shooter could result in terrible, career ending reviews (even if your sub does an amazing job). Being sick just isnâ€™t an option. I once had a client back out of our contract because I mentioned that I was having my annual mammogram just before our meeting. She freaked out because she â€œcouldnâ€™t take those kinds of risksâ€. Apparently she did not know that women past 35 are actually encouraged to have mammograms regularly as prevention. I tried to explain it to her, but that little, teeny thing set off huge alarm bells. So you shoot weddings 5 days after C-sections, you shoot weddings with fevers, you shoot weddings two days after your husbandâ€™s been diagnosed with leukemia and you miss almost every family wedding, funeral and function that falls on a Saturday. Nothing is more important than keeping your prior commitments.
- This isnâ€™t something you master by attending a few weddings. It isnâ€™t something you begin to understand after shooting a hundred of them solo or as a second shooter. One of my dear friends said she didnâ€™t even begin to feel remotely comfortable in handling the logistics of the timing, the crowd control, the responsibility, the technical aspects of so many different venues, anticipating personality issues and problems on top of being creative, trying new things and looking for something unique until she hit the 500 wedding mark. I agree with her whole heartedly. I still get nervous and have clenched intestines before EVERY wedding and Iâ€™ve now shot over 1,300 (stopped officially counting after 1,100). This isnâ€™t something you can â€œdabbleâ€ at or do occasionally and think you can learn as you go. This is something that takes a lot of trial and no room for error. Photographing weddings really is something that requires practice, repetition, repetition and a lot more repetition. The only way you get better is by going it again and again with a different cast of characters in totally different settings.
- Figure out what to charge. Not what you want to make. Not what you think youâ€™re worth. Once you decide that you arenâ€™t doing this as a favor and youâ€™re not doing this as a hobby, you need to figure out what the going rate is based on your needs and what the market is. Once you charge, you are technically a professional. Most people start off by charging very little. They like taking photos, they donâ€™t have a lot of money invested in gear yet and theyâ€™re sick of doing it for free so they charge a little bit. Around here itâ€™s not unusual for students to charge each other $20-$50 for senior photos. Itâ€™s not like they are doing this professionally and theyâ€™re happy for some pocket money. They are also putting brick and mortar photo studios out of business. They are also putting full time professional photographers out of business. If youâ€™re going to charge money for shooting photos, even as a student, consider what your rate should be for the valuable service you are providing. If prospective clients canâ€™t tell the difference between someone who just started and is learning how to take photos versus a photojournalist with 29 years of experience they are NOT going to pay more for the experienced Pro. On the other hand, why are the newbies all creating a race to the bottom of the pay scale? Believe me… if you charge $50 bucks for senior photos, someone in your yearbook class is going to undercut you and charge $40. Itâ€™s annoying. Itâ€™s really annoying when you can no longer afford to feed your family.Â Few consider what their fees should be and why they should be as much as they are. Here are some things to consider;
- Carrying Costs – Equipment costs (X2 or X3 depending on how much back up equipment you need). You should have two camera bodies and a third (maybe older model) as a back up. All the lenses need to have back ups. Dropping, banging, rained on, used up and many other issues render cameras useless (unless you want an interesting paperweight). When they donâ€™t work for whatever reason, you need a duplicate piece of equipment within 10 seconds. You also need to pay to insure these things. You also need to pay to repair these things. You also need lighting equipment (X2 or X3 or in my case X5) depending on how much light you want and how portable that light is. You need to cover liability and theft insurance, car insurance, a car, health insurance, a web site, domain name, web design and maintenance, rent/mortgage, taxes, self employment tax, cell phone costs, computers, software, utilities, retirement funds. Oh and your time. Donâ€™t forget to charge them for that! People often ask me why I charge $250/hr. Seems like a lot! I always say that an hour of shooting is about 4-5 hours of work. For a skilled, creative, experienced contractor who is creating one of a kind artwork for you, thatâ€™s pretty damn cheap! What photographers charge is all across the board. I would hope that just because you might not have to worry about mortgages and health insurance now or you have parents or a partner who foots some of these other bills, please consider what the cost of doing business is. If you start out charging $50 for hourly sessions or $500 for weddings, not only will your clients not understand if you start hiking the prices up to where they should be once you do have experience, but you will not be able to survive on your own with all the costs of living once you donâ€™t have parents or a partner to depend on. For example, I have a really good friend how is fabulous and has over 1,500 weddings under her belt. Sheâ€™s a FANTASTIC deal at $1,500 for weddings. Hasnâ€™t raised her prices in a long time. She always said that it didnâ€™t matter because thatâ€™s what she needed to have a nice, livable salary on her own. Fast forward a few years and now she has two kids she pays child care costs for every time sheâ€™s out shooting and itâ€™s getting hard to process all the images with kids underfoot. And sheâ€™s got their health bills, school costs and itâ€™s getting harder to answer email and phone calls in as timely a manner as she used to. Iâ€™m pretty sure she will be raising her prices once she sees how much having a family is cutting into her bottom line. This is partly why photographers fees vary so wildly. Whatâ€™s your experience level? How much education do you have in this field? Is this your full time job? If you want to make this your full time job, donâ€™t price yourself out of your own market. If you start low and have lots of return clients, they most likely wonâ€™t be loyal to you if you have a price hike! If you start high, but canâ€™t back up those fees with great, consistent results each and every time so you can reproduce a reliable product, your reputation will tank and you will have no repeat clients. So think long term for yourselves and figure out how you can slowly grow your business. If youâ€™ve read all this and decided youâ€™d prefer to be an enthusiastic hobbyist, thatâ€™s fine! Just please donâ€™t price those of us who have worked really hard to grow a reputation and make a living from this right out of business.
- Working long hours. Iâ€™m lucky. I can still pay all my bills and do what I love AND eek out a living. My work is seasonal with the heaviest months being May-November. I worked it out once after someone asked me how many hours I worked on average a week. When I averaged out high season and low season, it worked out to me working on average 55 hours a week every week of the year. In â€œlowâ€ season, itâ€™s around 30 hours a week. In â€œhighâ€ season, itâ€™s around 90 hours a week. Itâ€™s extremely rare to have a day off. Itâ€™s been 14 years since I could go a day without checking and answering emails and voicemails. If you donâ€™t answer email within a few hours, potential clients get rightfully annoyed. Youâ€™re not reliable or easily accessible and few care why! Iâ€™m used to this schedule and am not complaining, but it involves a lot of nights and many weekends. That means youâ€™ll miss a LOT of family events including reunions, weddings (that you arenâ€™t shooting which I actually encourage family members to hire me so I CAN attend their weddings), funerals and all the dinners with friends. They know Iâ€™ll opt in when I can, but if they plan something on a weekend, the odds are that I wonâ€™t be there. And so I miss a LOT / MOST fun family activities.
Thanks for reading this ridiculously long post and sorry to all the people who query me about becoming a professional photographer or being my assistant. I wish I had the time to mentor each and every one of you, but I simply donâ€™t… yet.
Avoid wedding day make up issues with these simple make up tips for (and high school seniors too). Very few make up artists set out to make you look bad. Just about all my clients look fantastic right out of the make up chair. That’s not the issue. The problem is that not very many make up artists know how their make up looks when it’s photographed with a flash. Or what it’s going to look like when the bride starts to sweat profusely. Or what she’s going to look like in 10 hours!
Here are my tips for beating the Wedding Day botched make up blues. I wish I could show you more samples of terrible, horrible wedding day make up, but I’m afraid that would be VERY rude to my brides, so I’ll start with a sample of FANTASTIC wedding day make up. When I learn who did Samantha’s make up, I will post a link to her site.
1) Do a test run! I know it’s expensive, but pick a time when you’re going out to something fancy so it won’t go to waste.
2) Use your phone or even a simple point and shoot and take lots of photos WITH THE FLASH ON. You will be photographed many, many times on your wedding day by people using flash. Not only by your professional photographer, but also my all your guests. My bride, Samantha, above, showed me her iphone images from her test run and she thought she looked like a zombie bride. Yeah, or as her fiancee called it, “The Death Bride”. Horrible. Not only was the foundation too pale, but all her cute freckles were gone. It also made her look considerable older. Better to know early on and try again!
3) Keep it looking natural! If there is one quick way for a make up artist to go wrong, it’s going too heavy on the bride’s wedding day. Foundation is important, and so is the matte finisher to keep it in place.
4) Do NOT let them put on anything “dewy” or with sparkles or glitter. “Dewy” photographs as GREASY and SWEATY as soon as the flash hits you. Glitter and sparkles photograph like reflective street signs at night with little white dots all over your face. They will also migrate to your partner, your bridal party, your guests, etc. Avoid all the euphemisms they use for this kind of make up including, “Glow”, “Luminous”, and “Naturally Radiant”. I tell you… you’ll look sweaty and greasy right from the start!
5) Use only matte make up with matte finishing powder, matte finishing spray, etc. Even if you don’t have a summer wedding, between nerves, the unbreathable dress, and dancing, you’re going to sweat. A lot! Good products will keep you looking dry (at least your face will stay that way).
6) Bring blotting paper with you and have it nearby in case you do start to get those oily looking spots.
7) Even the greatest make up artists rarely have to see how their make up lasts through the day, let alone how well (or how badly) it photographs. What might look GREAT to the eye might not look so great in photos. They might not be aware at all of how terrible this will look in photos.
8) Lastly… one completely avoidable thing that adds a lot of stress to a wedding day is when on site hair and makeup people want to work on the bride last. DO NOT LET THEM DO THAT. If they run late (and many do…. it often takes an hour to do the bride’s make up), the bride will be in a panic. I have seen more wedding timelines go wrong right out of the gate because they are stuck in a chair watching the minutes tick by while everyone else is done and reminding you not to worry and that the wedding won’t really start without you. Well… why not go earlier in the rotation and not have the stress?! Easy solution!
You know how wonderful the weather’s been? How amazingly and unseasonably warm it’s been? Well, that streak broke for Jaime and Tricia last week. It was cold, raw, rainy AND windy. What were we to do for wedding photos?
Embrace it, of course! So here’s to taking advantage of Port Austin, Michigan wedding photography.
On of the things I loved about Jaime and Tricia was their ability to embrace the day and all it had to offer. Clearly this couple knows how to have fun!
I also encountered really cool looking wind generators on my way home back to Troy, Michigan after my Port Austin, MI wedding. I thought it really showed off the dramatic and stormy nature of the day.