I get asked a lot by my brides, “What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned from all the weddings you’ve seen?” The answer to that would be a pretty close race between two tidbits: splurge on great lighting, and hire a good coordinator. It’s unbelievable how much a wedding coordinator can change the tone of a wedding. Coordinated weddings are smoother, calmer, more on-time, and usually much more well-decorated. They also tend to result in better photographs. Why? Well, in the absence of a coordinator, the photographer usually fills the position of the wedding “point person.” When I shoot a wedding where there isn’t a coordinator, I know that I’m going to be responsible for finding the bride and groom, corralling their attendants, making sure the bride and groom don’t run into each other, helping the bride put on her dress (by this point I’m an old pro), keeping everything on time, getting guests out of the ceremony spot and onto the reception, finding the bouquet for the bouquet toss and a chair for the garter toss, lining everyone up for the exit, and on and on… And all of the time that I’m doing all of those things, I’m not taking photographs.
Most brides think that they don’t need coordinators for three reasons. The first argument I always hear is “We don’t have room for it in the budget.“ Ironically enough, many times having a full-service coordinator means that you’re actually going to save money overall. Coordinators know which vendors are overpriced and which vendors will make you a great deal, and they’ll be able to point you in the direction of vendors who will give you the best prices. They’re also experts at managing budgets, and they can help reign in your spending when you’re getting too close to going overboard.
The second argument that I often hear is “Our venue provides a coordinator for us.“ The thing you need to remember there is that the venue coordinator is there for one reason and one reason only: to serve the venue. Their primary job is to make sure you are in and out of the venue at your specified times and you don’t break any rules while you’re there. Yes, many of them are super sweet, care a lot about their brides, and are willing to go above and beyond to take care of the couple. However, some of them are the exact opposite, and are more likely to be a source of stress than a source of help. Many a time I have seen a bride either fuming with anger or on the verge of tears because of a “church lady” or “on-site coordinator.” As a bride, it’s important for you to have someone “on your side,” so to speak, to deal with any issues that might arise so that you can relax and enjoy your wedding day.
Finally, the third argument I hear quite a bit (and probably the most understandable) is “I want to plan the wedding myself.“ For many brides, planning a wedding is a fun experience that they want to soak up completely, and they don’t want to pawn off the experience on someone else. These brides often tend to be the DIY-type and make their own invitations, bouquets, centerpieces, and other decor items. However, even the most involved bride can’t run her own wedding day (well, she might, but she’ll regret it for the rest of her life because she will have spent her wedding day stressed out and running all over the place instead of relaxing and enjoying her day). For brides like this, most coordinators offer what’s called “Day Of” or “Month Of” services. This is a bit of a misnomer because most packages like this actually start a couple of months prior to the wedding, but essentially, you’re hiring someone to come in and help manage the last-minute details of your wedding. They’ll get to know your vendors, help you set a timeline, remind you of any last-minute details you might have missed, and most importantly, they will run the show on the wedding day so you don’t have to.
I also want to recommend a three of the coordinators I work with most often. They’re all so different and unique, and each company has its own personality and strong points.
If the wedding industry were a high school, DFW Events would be “The Prom Queen.” Everyone loves them because they are super-nice, everyone wants to know them because they have so many friends and connections, and everyone envies them because they do some of the most lavish, high-end, gorgeous weddings you will ever see. Peruse their blog and you’ll see what I mean – their events are unforgettable. I know that when I shoot a DFW Events wedding, my camera will be on overdrive because there will be beautiful things to photograph everywhere I turn. DFW Events is headed up by the incomparable Mary Frances Hurt, who is a legend in this city. She knows everyone, she’s worked with everyone, and she’s at the heart of the wedding network. She has assembled a group of stellar ladies – Alison, Mindy, Karen, and Stephanie – and one insanely talented design and decor guru, Nelson. If you want your wedding to be jaw-dropping, DFW Events should be your first call. Here are a few photos from some of the many events I’ve shot for them:
Along the lines of the high school analogy, Coordinator Extraordinaire Tara Wilson would be a mix between President of the Art Club (for her artistic prowess) and President of the Drama Club (for her ability to turn every event into a fabulous production). Tara’s brain works like no one else’s – the incredible details she comes up with never cease to amaze me. She ‘s a master at creating the most surprising decor ideas that will bowl you over with their cuteness and cleverness. Her weddings are unique, sophisticated, and as we say in the industry, “very publishable” because of the incredible details. I spoke with Tara recently about her goals for next year, and she said that what inspires her are weddings that are different – unique venues, unique color palettes, unique design – so if you want your wedding to stand out from the crowd, look no further than Tara. On a side note, Tara is also a press darling – you may recognize her from her various spots on the CBS 11 News where she’s the resident event expert. I’m not quite ready to publish our New Year’s Eve wedding, but here are just a few of the stellar details she created:
Last but certainly not least, we have the Social Butterfly of the Wedding Industry High School, Kelly Simants of Sweet Pea Events. Kelly is a recent transplant from Seattle, where she was a star in the wedding scene, and hit the ground running when she arrived in Dallas. Kelly takes “networking” to a whole new level. I can only imagine what her calendar must look like because every time I turn around she’s telling me about a fabulous venue, caterer, photographer, or other wedding vendor. She runs our monthly wedding industry networking events, Thursday Therapy, and she’s also one of the geniuses behind The Simple Plan, a workshop that helps small business owners get their business plan and business goals in order. When it comes to networking and business smarts, Kelly is unparalelled. As a bride, this is invaluable to you, because a coordinator who knows no one (or only knows a small subset of vendors) is pretty useless. It’s a coordinator’s experience and network that provide the real value to their services, and Kelly’s got that in spades. She’s also probably the nicest person you’ll ever meet in your life, which is a big bonus. Here’s an inspiration board Kelly created for one of my brides that I pretty much want to steal for my own wedding:
There are lots of other fabulous coordinators in Dallas (Paige Chenault and Jordan Payne are two that me and my colleagues revere), Houston (Claudia at A Day to Remember is a life-saver in times of stress for her brides and a fountain of great information), and San Antonio/Austin (Jennifer at A Regal Affair is known for her A-list events and her gorgeous wedding decor and Katherine at Elegant Events did a fabulous job with Kristyn and Chris’ wedding, which will be featured in the next issue of The Knot). Every coordinator has their own unique style and personality, so it’s important that you pick the one that’s right for you!
I have a terrible habit of collecting lots of bridal accessories.. Over the years I have had tons of veils, wraps, boleros, fake bouquets, even cake toppers.. But the one thing I absolutely cannot stop collecting is headpieces. There’s just something about an outrageous hair accessories that I adore! I have a massive box filled with all sorts of head goodies, and for Leah’s bridal session, I busted out a few of my favorites.
This past weekend I was helping my sister shop for her wedding dress, and we were amazed at just how few non-strapless dresses there were out there. It seemed like the only dresses with straps were either extremely simple, or just plain old-looking. I know that many women aren’t that comfortable showing all that skin on their wedding day, and for girls who have body image issues with their arms, a strapless dress will only make things 100 times worse. As a wedding photographer, I have to admit that I am not a fan of strapless dresses, because they tend to be very difficult to work with and, more often than not, don’t fit the bride properly. Although I have to admit that the majority of the most beautiful wedding dresses out there are strapless, I also know that for many women, a strapless dress is less than ideal.
So what’s a gal to do? Well, as I learned this weekend, many bridal ateliers can add cap sleeves to most dresses. In the newest issue of Elegant Bride (just got mine in the mail this weekend!), I saw a bride (fellow wedding photographer Carrie Patterson, as a matter of fact) who added just two small gathered sections of tulle to create her straps, and it looked incredibly delicate and beautiful, and probably only cost her about $5 to do.
Another bride added a bit of scalloped allencon lace to make a halter, a look just ADORE!
However, my favorite solution has to be the bolero. Boleros are so trendy and hot right now, and they instantly couture-ify any wedding gown. The best part is that they can be removed at any time, so you can go formal for the ceremony and photos, and then remove it when you bustle the gown for the reception. It’s like having two dresses in one! Bonzie on Etsy definitely has the cutest boleros, wraps, and bridal scarves I have ever seen, and her prices are very reasonable (most are below $100). Here are a few of my favorites:
If you want something with a little more drama, Modern Romance on Etsy offers an amazing organza capelet that can also be dyed to match your wedding colors, and Countessa on Etsy has some really hot boleros and wraps, including an uber cute black and white damask wrap that I just ordered for myself! If you want something more traditional, try this lace shrug from Rohm on Etsy or this ruffled neckpiece from indulgencecouture on Etsy. Many brides think “There’s no way I can pull that off!” (like my sister when I tried to talk her into a birdcage veil), and if you’re a jeans and t-shirt kind of girl, then maybe a bolero or wrap isn’t for you. However, if you’re looking at these photos and thinking “Oh my god that’s so cute I want to do that!” then chances are you are stylish enough that you can totally work it. Remember, fashion is all about confidence – if you think you look hot in something, everyone else will too. Just own it, girl!
Tips for Brides (T4B) is a regular feature where I talk about a cool tip that I think will benefit brides everywhere. For more tips, click here!
To continue in my series of educating brides, I want to talk a little bit about the benefits of having a second shooter. For me, it’s a crucial choice, and I very VERY rarely allow my brides to purchase wedding commissions from me without a second photographer. Here’s why:
1) I am only one person, and I can only be in one place, and looking one direction. If I am photographing the bride putting on her dress, who is photographing the groom sharing a last-minute beer with his lifelong best friend? If I am photographing the bride entering the church, who is photographing the look on the groom’s face as he sees her for the first time? A second photographer provides a chance for me to tell the love story more fully, from two pairs of eyes rather than one.
2) Accidents happen. What if I fall deathly ill the morning of a wedding? What if I get in a car accident on the way to the reception? What if I slip and fall and break my hands at a ceremony and I’m no longer able to hold a camera? It’s morbid to think about, but I’ve seen it happen to my colleagues before. Thanks to my second shooter, it’s all a non-issue. My seconds are very capable photographers who are able to carry on without me and continue coverage uninterrupted.
3) Lighting. My reception lighting style requires the use of wirelessly-transmitted off-camera flash, which is a fancy way of saying, the flash isn’t on top of my camera. At wedding receptions, my second often handles the flash while I shoot. This allows her to change the lighting on a moment’s notice, which gives me more artistic lighting, and more importantly, more accurate lighting, so the chances of me missing a great shot are substantially lower. I can achieve a similar effect by mounting my flashes on light stands, but because these flashes are hard to adjust, I am typically confined to one area when I do this.
4) Additional backup gear. Although I do have backup gear of my own, there’s always the chance that I could be mugged, or my car could get stolen the night before, or someone could walk up and take it all while I’m not looking. I do everything I can to avoid this, but just in case it does happen, I always know that my second has gear of her own that I can use in a dire emergency.
On the other hand, here is what a second photographer ISN’T: a duplicate of me. There’s a reason you’re going to pay substantially more for the first photographer than you will for the second. The second shooter’s job is to supplement coverage with different angles, different lighting, and different people, and to do some of the less important tasks – setting up flashes, gathering people for formals, ensuring that the bride and groom don’t see each other before they’re supposed to, clearing background debris, etc. – so that I don’t have to stop shooting to do those things myself. You really can’t and shouldn’t expect to receive the same quantity or quality of images from the second shooter, because they are there to provide a different type of service than the primary photographer.
There are many talented photographers who have had a very successful career shooting on their own with no second, and I’ve done it several times myself. However, I truly feel that shooting solo is risky business, and I believe all clients are best served with more than one photographer present. If your photographer offers a second shooter, and it’s in your budget, I strongly encourage you to get one. Think of it this way – you’ll never regret hiring them, but there’s a good chance you’ll regret it if you don’t!
Just to make sure I have some photos in here, here are some of my fave photos my awesome second shooters have taken lately:
Lately I have received a lot of questions about what kind of gear I use, so I figured it was about time for an updated What’s in My Bag post! When I’m shooting, I always carry the same gear on me:
Shootsac or Kelly Moore Bag
Canon 5D Mark II
Canon 50 f1.2L (stays on my camera the majority of the time)
Canon 100 f2.8 Macro (mostly for detail shots like rings and some portraits)
Canon 35 f2 (great for big sweeping ceremony photos, wedding party photos, large formals, and reception dancing photos)
Canon 45 f2.8 TS-E (good for detail shots and some portraits)
Canon ST-E2 Wireless Transmitter (for firing my flashes)
I like to work light, so this is the only gear I actually carry around with me (plus copious amounts of memory cards and batteries). I also have a second gear bag that holds all my miscellaneous items. This gear serves as my backup kit, as well as supplemental gear for my second shooter, should she need it.
Lowepro Pro Roller 2
Canon 5D (backup camera)
Canon 70-200 2.8L (used during the ceremony for closeups)
Canon 16-35 2.8L
Canon 28 2.8
Canon 85 1.8
Canon 50 1.4
Tamron 28-75 2.8
Canon 580 EX (4)
Canon ST-E2 (backup)
Canon flash sync cord
Lowell ID 100w video light w/ 4-way barndoors + Bescor battery
1 Monopod (to use a light-on-a-stick, as held by my assistant)
Here are a few things I DON’T use (nothing against any of these items, I just don’t find them necessary for my shooting style):
-Pocket Wizards (I own them for emergencies, but rarely use them)
-Flash diffusers (I have a couple but they have been gathering dust since I bought them)
-White balance tools (ExpoDisc, grey card, etc)
-Reflectors (again, I have a couple, but I never use them)
There are a lot of neat gadgets and gizmos and add-ons that the camera industry pimps out, but in my experience most of them are either gimmicky or easily replicated in Photoshop/Lightroom. Gear is useful, but only to an extent. The truth is, if you can’t take a good photo with a Digital Rebel and a kit lens, you’re still not going to take good photos with a 5D and a 50 1.2L. However, if you CAN take a good photo with a Rebel and a kit lens, investing in professional-quality equipment will help you take the quality of your already-good images to the next level.
Tips for Brides (T4B) is a weekly feature where I talk about a cool tip that I think will benefit brides everywhere. For more T4Bs, click here!
Although not everyone does this, at many of my weddings the bride and groom choose to give each other special gifts to commemorate the wedding day. For bride’s gifts I often see a lot of beautiful earrings and necklaces, as well as cameras, cell phones, poems, and once even a new Louis Vuitton purse (Ashley, you’re a lucky girl!), but for the groom’s gift it seems like it almost always ends up being a nice pair of cufflinks. Now, there’s nothing wrong with cufflinks – I think every guy should have a special, personalized pair – but if your man already has cufflinks or if you’re looking for something a bit more (or if you’re looking for a really REALLY nice gift for your groomsmen, as well), you might consider purchasing a custom tailored suit. And lucky for you, I know just the man who can make that happen for you!
Drew Jones is one of my closest friends and a former client, and he sells some of the coolest suits I’ve ever seen. Ever since I saw his handiwork on the groom and groomsmen’s suits at his own wedding, I’ve been completely in love with the custom tailored look. The suits are made-to-order to fit their owner, right down to the exact centimeter, and can be made from literally hundreds of different fabric options.
Here’s how it works: Drew or one of his associates will come to your home or business, take your measurements, and give you books upon books of fabric samples to choose from. If you’re not sure what you want, Drew has an AMAZING sense of style, he can definitely give you some great recommendations based on what you’re looking for. Here is the look he put together for his own wedding:
He has lots of suit options – double breasted, one and two buttons, vented, double vented, non vented, etc – as well as many different types of pants, vests, shirts, and sports jackets in any number of colors and patterns. I’ve already talked two of my clients into purchasing them, and I liked them so much I ordered two sports jackets for my boyfriend Jason! Here’s the one he got for Christmas:
And one we purchased mid-last year:
The best part is that the costs are totally reasonable. If you plan to wear a suit, shirt, jacket, or pair of pants more than once in your life, it’s worth investing in a custom pair that fit you perfectly so that you feel comfortable and look sharp. You can check out more of Drew’s suits (and some of my photos!) on his website at www.djonescollection.com. Be sure and tell him Stacy sent you!
The “Grand Exit” is essentially the time when the reception has come to a close, and the guests line up outside to wish them well on their honeymoon and life to come, usually symbolizing their goodwill in the form of throwing something at their faces, such as rose petals or confetti. I have seen a lot of interesting grand exits, ranging from kazoo playing to sparklers (a big favorite here in Texas) to bubbles to wands with long ribbons tied to the end. I love these grand exits because they give the night a sense of “conclusion” and allow everyone to feel like they said goodbye to the couple without all having to line up and actually say goodbye.
Unfortunately, most grand exits come at the very end of the night, around 11-12, after most of the guests have grown tired and headed home. I’ve seen more than a few weddings where the only people left to send off the couple were their parents, wedding party, and a few intoxicated guests. Even worse is when there isn’t a grand exit planned at all, and the reception just fades off into the night, with tired guests wondering whether they should stay and wait for a big send-off that they expect but may never come.
The best way to ease this situation, other than having a short reception, is to do your grand exit earlier in the wedding day. Here are a few different options you can consider:
The first option is to have your grand exit as you walk down the aisle. Up north, it’s common for small paper cones filled with rose petals to be tied to the backs of the chairs during the ceremony, so that guests can shower the couple with the rose petals during their first walk as man and wife. This is great because the flower-filled cones serve as pretty decorations, as well as serving a more utilitarian purpose.
Another option is to have your guests gather outside of the church after the ceremony and line the pathway to your car, so that as soon as you are done with family photos, you can walk out the church and be showered with (fill in the blank with your favorite throwable party favor) from your nearest and dearest. Obviously, this option works best when you do the majority of your photos before the ceremony, so that your guests don’t have to wait too long.
Finally, there’s always the old standby, the “fake exit.” Usually couples who do this option choose to do all the major reception events – first dance, garter/bouquet toss, cake cuttings and toasts – as soon as dinner is over. Then the guests line up and do the “fake exit” just as they would normally do it, except that the couple doesn’t actually leave for good. Typically they go up to their room and change into something a little more comfortable, and come down to dance the night away with their more party-oriented wedding guests.
For those of you who want the experience (and awesome photos) of a grand exit, but don’t want your guests to have to wait until midnight to send you off, these suggestions might help ease the burden on you, your coordinator, and your guests. Enjoy! :)