By Yosef & Sarah Shidler of CJ Studios
There are so many components that go into a simcha of any sort, but at the end of the day, the flowers will fade, the food will get eaten, the musicians will close out their final set, making pictures and video the only lasting keepsakes of one of the most memorable events that life has to offer. So while, yes, you want breathtaking blooms to beautify the hall, a truly fabulous menu that will delight your guests and stirring music serving as the backdrop for the emotional moments of your simcha, photographs and video are invaluable components of the event, giving you the opportunity to relive those magical moments again and again, for years to come.
How to choose the best photographer? How much to spend? How to get the best possible pictures and footage? Like just about everything else in this world, photography and videography are continuously evolving, making it important to understand the “big picture” so that you can choose the vendor and package that best suit your needs and preferences.
Set a budget and stick to it, but understand that you get what you pay for when it comes to event photography. A “too good to be true” price, probably is exactly that – an offer that emphasizes cost over value, leaving you with less than stellar results. That’s not to say that you have to spend an arm and a leg to get great pictures and, in fact, there are more than a few companies out there charging upwards of $10K whose product is mediocre at best. It just means that you need to understand all of the factors involved so that your money is going towards quality, even with a budget package.
What to look for and how much should you expect to pay?
A lot of factors are going to affect the price your photographer or studio is charging. Factors including experience, photography style, amount of coverage, style of photogrpahy and amount of editing required, type of video, the availability and customer service of the photogrpaher, and the type of albums and prints offered. All of these will be discussed in this article.
First and foremost, experience. A great price might mean that you will be getting a camera crew that isn’t all that talented. That could translate into photographers who haven’t been around long enough to really know how to shoot a great wedding, how to best use lighting or how to compose a really stunning shot and editors who just aren’t particularly gifted at touching up photographs or videos. Those cost savings have to come from somewhere and chances are that lesser photographers aren’t going to come up with the highest quality shots or footage.
To be honest, it’s hard to set a price range for photo and video, because they are both subjective arts, and if a $500 photographer checks out and you like his work then consider yourself very lucky. Just remember that cheaper doesn’t always mean better, and in fact, it rarely does, although super high prices aren’t necessarily guarantees of the best results either. Be sure to compare apples to apples, verifying that you are talking about finished products of equal quality, camera crews of comparable experience levels and similar types of customer service. Find out what each studio is offering and understand the price breakdown so that you understand why one is giving you a price of $3,500 while another is charging nearly double that amount. Know what matters most to you. And choose wisely.
It’s a funny thing about experience in the world of event photography. On the one hand, you want someone who has put in the time, knows how to capture the moment and understands the flow of the wedding so well that they know exactly where to be to get those can’t-miss shots. On the other hand, someone who has been shooting weddings for 30 years may be set in their ways and less familiar with the latest equipment, techniques, skills and styles, using the same gear and equipment that they bought decades ago. You want someone agile and energetic, who will jump into the center of the action to capture the excitement instead of a photographer standing on the sidelines atop a ladder snapping away for half an hour or more without ever changing position.
Ask any photographer how many weddings they have shot and if the number is less than 100, that may be (and should be) why they are charging less. A good photographer will have hundreds to thousands of weddings behind them. When you shoot weddings night after night after night, you learn what makes clients happy. How to deal with the mistakes that inevitably do happen. Which moments you need to catch because they are too priceless to let slip through your fingers.
By the same token, feel free to check out any potential photographer’s work on Instagram or their web pages. You want to see a robust gallery with dozens of gorgeous shots. If a photographer only has 10 shots up there, warning bells should start going off in your head. Are they only showing you 10 pictures because out of all of the thousands of photographs they have taken those were the only really good ones they had? That’s not to say that new photographers are bad or should be avoided, just know that they lack experience, an important asset that can make a huge difference in the quality of your photos and video.
Don’t be shy about asking prospective photographers to see actual samples of their work, not just the material they post online. You want to see four or five full galleries of consistently stunning shots across the board, not just a highly edited shot or two that can be easily produced even by amateurs, and if someone shies away from showing you a full gallery, consider that a major red flag. Any photographer who does great work should be more than happy to show you more pictures than you will ever want to see in your entire life. The same goes for videos – ask to see highlights and full videos so you can get a real feel for the finished product. Sadly, we have seen and heard horror stories of people who were drawn in by beautiful Instagram pages or websites, but were terribly disappointed with the finished product.
By the same token, don’t be tempted by supposedly coveted awards that are often used to woo customers. To be honest, it really isn’t all that difficult to get an award and there are even places that will hand out monthly brand name awards for as low as $50 a month. A studio can tell you proudly that they have won 30 awards but the fact that they know how to submit a photo for an award and pay a fee isn’t a reason to choose them to photograph your simcha. You should be the judge of what photos appeal to you and make your decision accordingly.
Pages and pages can and have been written about the different styles of photography, but we will spare you a lengthy discourse on the subject. Suffice it to say that there are so many different ways to shoot every picture and there is no right or wrong – it is simply a matter of taste. If you browse pictures on Instagram or a website, you may find yourself drawn to a particular photographer’s work but often it is the photography style that grabs you. Some people prefer old school classic wedding pictures while others love the photojournalistic feel of black and white photos. Do you prefer fun poses? Dramatic lighting? The soft wash of natural light? Do you prefer to stick with one style of photography for every picture or do you want to mix things up a little? Make sure you know what kind of pictures call to you most and show your photographer sample shots that you like so that you are both on the same page and understand the look you are after.
Keep in mind also that lighting plays a serious role in wedding photography where the many components of the event can have the action shifting from bright outdoor shots to dark chupahs, dimly lit dance floors and everything in between. So while a photographer may have a stunning outdoor display of shots online, remember that the vast majority of weddings take place indoors, making it essential to hire someone whose versatility and grasp of lighting will allow them to deal with any and all situations. Be sure to see how photographers light dark environments as you browse through their galleries and that you are happy with the results.
Every simcha is different and because of that, the amount of manpower and hours needed can vary dramatically. In an ideal situation, you want full photography and video coverage, but those on a budget might want to prioritize some parts of the simcha over others. Do you want to emphasize the chuppah, dancing or family portraits? Will there be a mitzvah tantz or
a mezinka? Are there any other important moments that need to be captured for posterity?
Be sure to find out if there will be any assistants joining the photographers on the job. Proper set ups and takedowns typically require an extra pair of hands and some sophisticated lighting techniques can only be done with an assistant. While it isn’t mandatory to hire an assistant, doing so typically translates into higher caliber results. Know how much coverage is being offered including how many people will be there and the skill level of every person who will be at your event. If a studio has multiple photographers or a brand name camera person, find out exactly who will be there, who will be responsible for the job and the contingency plans if any of the key players get sick. Make sure that none of the photographers you are being promised are novices wandering around with cameras or, worse yet, are simply unmanned cameras mounted on tripods. You want a full team of experienced, talented individuals, each one giving their all for the best possible results.
Truth be told, it is editing that really separates the men from the boys. Professional photographers take their pictures in raw format so that they can be perfected later during the editing process, touching up color and lighting as needed.
Lower end photographers typically do very little if any editing, which is a shame because editing can transform a solid photograph into a work of art. Think of pictures as a good steak – it can be eaten in a million different ways, even plain, but how you cook and season that steak makes all the difference in the world. The same goes for your photographs. Straight off the camera they might be nice, but when a skilled editor processes them, bringing out the color, enhancing the lighting and maybe adding a filter, the results can be breathtaking.
That same sense of style that is a crucial element when taking a picture is also a major part of editing. An editor might choose to go with sharp drama, an artistic look, a softer washed out feel or just the beauty of simplicity when working with a photo. I guarantee you that every photograph you see posted by a high end studio on Instagram or a website has been edited and touched up, a process that can take hours, days or even weeks per gallery. Ask potential photographers if they do hand editing and how much time they spend on the process, two factors that have a large impact on the final results. It is no secret that signature editing styles really distinguish one photographer from the next, setting the highest quality studios apart from the rest of the pack.
There is so much to be said about videos. Time and time again we have had people come to us with poor quality video taken by someone else, literally begging us to fix it, but that just isn’t doable. A video has to be shot properly by a skilled videographer and then edited by someone equally talented. The process is incredibly labor intensive, takes hours and doesn’t come cheap, but the results are well worth it, especially because there is no way to go back and rescue a badly filmed video.
Videography versus Cinematography
Watch any wedding video that was shot ten, twenty, thirty years ago or more and what you are looking at is videography – someone with a camcorder documenting the story, possibly with a trailer or a footer slapped on either end. Cinematography, on the other hand, transforms your event into a high end movie, an effort that is much more labor intensive and involves sophisticated filming and editing techniques. Not every studio offers this type of sophisticated video which involves at least two videographers, countless hours of intense post-processing labor and does add more to the price. Time and time again, we have seen that the results are well worth the investment, giving you a superior quality video that you are likely to watch far more often. Be sure to speak to any videographer you are considering to find out exactly what kind of finished product they are offering you.
Never underestimate the importance of hiring a crew whose personality is a good fit with yours and your family. Some photographers are all business and may not crack a smile even once while doing their jobs, while others tend to be more lighthearted. Decide if someone who will make the day fun and exciting will be a good match for your family if you prefer someone who will keep the tone more serious so that that everyone is comfortable and the day flows smoothly.
It is no secret that the number one reason that people hate calling companies is that it takes forever just to get to speak to a human, preferably one who is located on this continent. You need to have a good relationship with your photography team, before, during and after your simcha. You want someone who will answer your calls, return messages promptly and is pleasant to deal with, instead of having to chase down a photographer in the hopes that maybe, just maybe, they might be willing to talk to you.
Once you get a studio on the phone, pay attention to how the conversation goes, making sure that they are happy to work with you before the wedding to discuss your concerns and requests. Ask them what their availability will be when it comes to finding out the status of your pictures, video and album, if you can reach them via texting, WhatsApp or email and how many clients they have serviced in the past.
Make sure your photographer gives you a contract and read it very, very carefully and if a photographer refuses to provide you with one or hands you a vague contract, run quickly in the opposite direction. Because there are so many variables in this field, you want a photographer who has the many components of the job laid out clearly. If there is fine print, read it as well. Better to have a few minutes of awkwardness to put everyone on the same page than to suffer unpleasant surprises later.
Albums & Pictures
What happens with your pictures after your event is probably one of the most important issues of all. Find out your photographer’s social media policies and whether they will retain ownership of your images, leaving you paying a premium for every picture you ever want to print, or if they are yours to keep. Ask if you will be getting high resolution copies of every single picture taken or just select photos. When it comes to albums there are a dizzying number of options to consider, including who will be putting it together, what kind of work they do, how much it costs, what materials are used for the cover and what kind of pages and album styles they offer. Whether you do an album through your photographer or someone else, be sure to ask for samples so you know what you are getting in advance.
…Before You Sign
Don’t even bother asking for references because no photographer is going to give you a reference unless they are confident that they are going to vouch for them. Truth be told, people are far more likely to tell and share poor service experiences and every company will have its haters. Instead, ask around and find several friends or relatives who used any photographer you are considering and pick their brains a little. Ask what went well and how any problems were dealt with and, most importantly, find out if they came through on their promises and if they were responsive to any concerns. Take the time to compare those answers and remember that photography is subjective, so no matter what others say, it is important to pick a someone based on your own preferences, independent of whether or not others liked their photos. Make sure that you go with a reputable studio that you are comfortable with who will deliver as promised. Remember: these are the people you are putting in charge of the memories of the most important day of your life.
Overtime is typically the first unexpected expense that you should ask about, and if your family’s events tend to run on the long side make sure photographer can cover your needs and what the overtime changes will be, if any. Be sure to find out if there are any other costs that aren’t listed in the contract that you need to be aware of, or any items that aren’t included in the package price, including travel fees for out of town weddings. Clarify all of these issues up front and make sure they are clearly laid out in your contract so that when you sign on that dotted line, you know that the price you agreed to is the price you are going to pay.
Sometimes a photographer’s package may include services that you don’t need and may be missing things that matter to you most. As the client, feel free to respectfully ask about the possibility of customizing a package to your needs but be aware that there might be some items you think you want to eliminate that have little impact on the final price, while other items really may be more important than you realize and you don’t want to regret not having them later.
In recent years, most simcha halls have begun insisting that all vendors have liability insurance because of simcha related lawsuits. Equally important in today’s digital age is errors and omission insurance, an essential form of protection that is unfamiliar to some photographers. No matter how talented a photographer may be, technology has its limitations and on extremely rare occasions, things get inadvertently deleted or memory cards get corrupted and you want to be compensated should the unthinkable occur, because, realistically speaking, it does happen every now and then. Be sure to ask about backup as well, finding out how many are made, where and how they are stored, how long they are kept and how footage is handled once your simcha is over.
In conclusion, we want to remind you just how important it is to compare apples to apples when you shop for photographers. Know what you are getting: how many hours, what level of experience, what kind of coverage and the quality of the finished products. We have had many clients who have listed the pros and cons of each package, including their impressions of the full picture galleries and videos, on paper to better appreciate what each studio is bringing to the table. You are going to be spending a nice chunk of change on your photography and we want you to do your homework so that your pictures and video are everything you ever wanted and more.
CJ Studios is run by Lubavitchers Sarah and Yosef Shidler, out of New Jersey. They head a team of photographers that hold a combined 40+ years of experience in the wedding photography industry. The may be reached at 347.201.0613 or at [email protected]