[INTERVIEW] Photographer: “How can you predict what quality you’ll get on your wedding day?”
Thomas Carlton is one photographer that you’re going to love. Mostly because he’s not afraid to call things as they are and he will definitely give you a different perspective on what you should look for in a wedding photographer.
Question: Thomas, thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview with us. First of all, tell us why wedding photography?
Answer: The term “wedding photography” really means very little from the perspective of photographic style. I think this is where the confusion begins for many brides/couples looking for a photographer. A reportage style wedding is completely different from say a lifestyle wedding for example, and there are other styles as well. It’s understandably difficult for couples who don’t look at professional images on a daily basis to even tell one genre from the other, or one photographer’s quality from another’s, especially considering the recent advances in digital camera technology, which makes it rather difficult to even know if the photographer has any technical training.
As to your question, “Why wedding photography?” For me it’s a nice blend of fashion and portrait photography. What’s important at the wedding? The people, the couple, and the dress – right? When you see those hipster style wedding images where heads are cut off, your first question should be, “Where are the photos of the people, and are those good portraits? Sure, a few shoe pics can be fun, but they are fillers and not what’s really important as time goes on.
Q: Tell us a bit about the person behind the camera and how you started doing wedding photography.
A: My background is in celebrity portraits and fashion editorials for magazines. In the beginning, many of those clients would ask me if I would shoot their wedding.
Q: From your experience, what does a bride need to look for in a wedding photographer?
A: That’s a tough question not knowing her priorities. If she spends $10K on a Vera Wang dress, then she shouldn’t hold back on the photographer, because 95% of wedding photographers have no idea how to capture that dress as the piece of art that it is. One couple recently asked me to re-shoot some photos after their wedding. They had hired a respected wedding photographer in the upper middle range on pricing, but didn’t get the results they had hoped for. Here’s what they said. “We had ……. shoot our wedding, and while they did document the day, we just didn’t feel like we got enough good photos of ourselves or the dress.”
Designer dresses aside, try to find a photographer you resonate with. Good chemistry goes a long way if you’re going to spend the whole day together. In the end however, if it’s about the quality of the pictures, hire a professional and not your best friend who happens to own a new 35mm. If you’re on a limited budget, either have the photographer there for less time, or find someone who is building their portfolio. Wedding photography is stressful and quite a bit of work, so plan your budget and expectations accordingly.
Remember also, that photographers are only going to show you their best images, so how can you predict what quality you’ll get on your wedding day? There are a few ways you can tell if you consider that certain images take more skill to pull off than others. For example, a headless bride holding a bouquet can be pulled off by just about anyone, as can the various details (menus, flowers, signs, invitations, etc.) and similar filler photos that seem to be all too prevalent these days.
Taking great photos of regular people takes skill and experience. Making a dress look great takes skill and experience. A sample album should have plenty of pictures of the couple, and not just some distant photo of them holding hands in a field.
Q: What do you feel recommends you more than other wedding photographers?
A: The whole wedding photography field is completely saturated these days, and to be honest, the term “wedding photographer” has always been associated with the lower end of the market in the photography field. That’s not to say there aren’t some great wedding photographers, but I think they are portrait photographers first, and not just “wedding photographers.”
I think it comes down to taste level, skill, and experience. In any other field dealing with aesthetics, those are the things that matter most.
Q: On the day of the wedding, what are your exact roles?
A: This is another tricky area where professional experience comes into play. Sometimes the photographer actually has two clients. One is the bride or couple, and the other is the wedding planner/coordinator. Unfortunately, there can be a conflict of priorities if things aren’t planned well enough in advance. Good pictures take time, but time is limited. The most important photos for the couple are of the people but the planner usually wants photos of the venue for her own advertising. There’s a potential conflict of interest.
My job is to get great pictures, so I try and plan some additional time that doesn’t conflict with other limitations. For example, let’s say things start a few minutes late. Some churches and venues only give you limited time, then move the wedding parties in and out with military precision.
Q: What do you feel is the biggest mistake that brides make when looking for a wedding photographer?
A: Don’t get caught up in the disingenuous hype. Photography is a business and a difficult business. Try not to get caught up in the love fest that some photographers and other vendors espouse when you first contact them. YES – It’s a special day that happens once in a lifetime, but photographers and other vendors aren’t usually having fun at your wedding, they are working. My niece recently got married in Texas, and the venue was all so nice when they booked the wedding. The minute the ceremony was over, chairs started disappearing and they started getting ready for the next event.
Quantity is also not the same as quality, so don’t get caught up on “packages” unless you have a limited budget. It all sounds good, but you’ll never get the best quality. A studio can give you 200 photos and a free album, but you still have no idea how many images will be good. What’s most important is to understand that you are paying for the photographers time. It’s usually a certain number of hours of coverage, and not necessarily all day and into the evening. Beyond that, you’ll want photos of course. Two photographers can be better than one, but then again, not necessarily.
Q: How would you describe your experience with brides, so far?
A: My experiences have been great, which is partly due to good planning, and good communication, and partly due to the fact that a photographer shouldn’t take on a wedding client unless it’s also a good fit for that photographer.
Q: What advice would you give to brides so they can have the best wedding photos?
A: Decide first which photos are most important. Is it photos of your guests? Is it photos of yourself and your groom? Do you just want to simply document the day?
Then plan accordingly and make sure your photographer is on the same page.
Q: What are the 3 main qualities that an excellent wedding photographer should have?
A: A good eye, technical training, and years of experience.
Q: Any last piece of advice for our brides?
A: Try not to send out a bunch of emails asking photographers for their availability and package plan pricing. It’s too impersonal, and if it’s mostly about the money, you’re missing the point anyway. Narrow down you choices first and then take some time to contact them in person and arrange a personal consultation. If a photographer you think you can’t afford really wants to work with you after your meeting, he or she may offer you a way to work within your budget.
Also, you can’t rely on reviews. Most photographers tell their brides these days that if they can’t give them 5 starts, then please don’t submit a review. Social media is a cottage industry all onto itself. You can buy Facebook likes and Twitter followers, and so on ad nauseam.