Five Things Other Wedding Photographers Are Doing that You Aren't

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High season for wedding photographers is on the horizon, making this a better time than ever to take an objective look at your business. To assist in this effort, we recently asked a select group of successful photographers and editors who specialize in weddings to weigh in on how to stay at the top of your game. The following tips from Kristi Drago-Price, Paul Morse, Donna Von Bruening, Brian Leahy, Libby Peterson, Chellise Michael, and Paige Denkin can help you to make the most of the season ahead.

1. Let a Second Set of Eyes Help Edit Your Work

“I’m not a believer in jumping on the bandwagon of what’s hot; it’s more about being true to a person’s work and their brand,” explains Kristi Drago-Price of the consultancy Editor’s Edge. A wedding photographer in her own right, Drago-Price cut her teeth in the industry during thirteen years spent as a photo department head at Condé Nast BRIDES magazine. She now works as a visual consultant for a range of wedding industry clients—photographers, planners, and other suppliers—as well as clients in editorial and commercial markets. “I like the idea of working one-on-one with clients, to share and teach, to really dig into their brands,” she explains.



 Paul Morse’s bio skillfully balances his many career facets: “Whether photographing a First Family or when a bride sees her groom for the first time, Paul’s personality and talent allow for these intimate moments to be captured beautifully and without intrusion.” Photograph © Paul Morse

A common issue for photographers is what Drago-Price calls the One-Man-Band Syndrome. “People want to show that they can do everything,” she says.  She points to her work with former White House photographer Paul Morse as a notable example of transforming his wedding-photography website into a curated collection that shows range in a consistent form.

Morse’s career spans from the Los Angeles Times to the White House, and then to the Bush Center and the Clinton Global Initiative. He learned of Drago-Price at the luxury wedding summit, Engage! “I was impressed right away with what she was offering,” Morse says. “Over the years, I’ve realized that I have a certain amount of creativity, but when it comes to creativity in designing a website or branding, I’m going to leave it to the experts, like people leave it to me to deliver photography.”

He sent Drago-Price low-res JPEGs from a selection of weddings, asking her “to be brutally honest and to tell me where I need to go to be successful and to really refine my vision.” Morse points out, “In some ways, you’re judged on your worst pictures, not your best, because it devalues the whole package. So I let her decide what my strong work was and gave her that freedom to decide.”

“Besides showing weddings, we decided to create a category called ‘Icons’ for a curated selection of his political pictures,” says Drago-Price. “It shows range without being messy. It’s putting containment around a body of work, while showing credibility. What Paul’s doing now, which I think other photographers should be doing too, is showing range without opening up the linen closet.”

Donna Von Bruening’s bio sums up her brand message, with feeling: “I return to my clients everything I felt that day… every hug, every tear, every laugh, every pause for breath… in each image.” Photograph © Donna Von Bruening

2. Home in on Your Brand Message and Make the Viewer Feel Something in 3 Seconds or Less

Drago-Price is a big believer in inspiration over-imitation. For photographers who are new to the field, she counsels, “Keep shooting so you can find your style.”

To reinforce the value of a clear style and of being true to one’s vision, Drago-Price mentions her recent work with wedding photographer Donna Von Bruening. Their consultation focused on identifying signature images that visually explain her offerings to wedding clients with an immediate effect. Von Bruening, a former photojournalist with experience in PR and advertising, moved to Savannah, Georgia, after marrying in 1997. She opened her wedding photography business in 2000, initially expecting to photograph a few weddings a year. “Sixteen years later, I’ve photographed over 500 weddings,” she says. “I now only take 12 commissions annually and usually travel for them.  I love it more now than I did when I started.”

“Donna’s work has a lot to do with family, family history, family ties, and capturing hidden moments,” explains Drago-Price. “When you click on the home page and you see a mother and daughter gleefully smiling at each other, you feel warm and fuzzy.”

Visual Consultant Kristi Drago-Price © Nakai Photography

According to Von Bruening, the consultation was quick and results oriented. “We spoke twice: once for the initial interview and the second time to review my plan to move forward,” she explains. “In between conversations, Kristi reviewed hundreds of my images to identify signature images that are the hallmark of my work. As a photographer, I tended to see all the perceived flaws in my images. Kristi helped me see what I could not see for myself, and identify key selling points.” 

Now bolstered with a renewed focus on her on her photographic expertise, Von Bruening says, “I remain committed to my style and vision for telling my client’s wedding story. I do not pick up the trends such as video halo lighting or washed-out and soft-focus images. Staying focused on improving the way I photograph within my style range has brought me the most success.”  

From her perspective, Drago-Price sums up the results of their consultation by saying, “What people should be doing is to make the viewer feel something in three seconds or less; that’s where Donna does a really good job.”

One of Brian Leahy’s favorite facts from his website’s About page is, “I’ve never been married but I’ve been a groom four times,” [a reference to his modeling work for styled wedding shoots]. “It definitely gets me some questions,” he says. Photograph © Brian Leahy

3. Deconstruct Your Client Base; Convey the Experience of Working with You to Targeted Clients

Wedding photography is all about capturing peak experiences, so offering a peek into the experience of working with you is a great strategy for capturing the attention of a potential client. Posting behind-the-scenes videos is one popular method for showing your working style; but does this concentrated burst of energy carry over to the other aspects of your website and business? Last year, Los Angeles-based destination wedding photographer Brian Leahy tapped Kristi Drago-Price to help revamp his website and show just that.

As Drago-Price explains it, while working on his website they realized that, despite all his beautiful photographs, “there wasn’t much about the experience of working with Brian, and that’s what most of his clients compliment him on.”

“Kristi helped me deconstruct the types of clients I had, which ones I enjoyed working with the most, and which images would really help to draw more of those types of clients to me,” Leahy says. “As we starting digging deeper into the psychology of what makes an image appealing to my potential clients, we also had some major chats about other ways I could more precisely qualify new couples.”

The refurbished site features “Four pillars of values that my clients and I would ideally share,” Leahy explains. “While these pillars say plenty about me, they are also useful in describing the clients I would be a solid match for, and really help give couples a better idea of what it’s like to work with me.”

Taglines were essential elements to their editing process, from Leahy’s seven-word brand message “Engaging Photography for Celebrations Around the Globe” to the headlines “Couples,” “Friends and Family,” “Celebration,” and “Destinations” that categorize each pillar. “Each pillar is broken down into easily digestible bits of information that subtly tell a viewer what the experience of working with Brian is like,” says Drago-Price. “And behind this are beautiful images that represent everything that we curated.”

“What I tell clients is to think about how people absorb information now,” Drago-Price recommends. “Most people are not reading, they’re skimming, they’re listening (podcasts are huge right now), they’re watching (YouTube, and how-to videos on Facebook). Start to hit those techniques to get your point across.”

Indonesian couple Christine and Johan booked an engagement session with Chellise Michael & Mike Busse after reading about them in Rangefinder magazine. “Typical Indonesian engagement shoots are extremely staged and styled in couture,” says Michael. “By hiring us, they went way against the grain.” Photographs © Chellise Michael / Mike Busse

4. Put Yourself Out There by Submitting to Magazines and Blogs

New York-based Chellise Michael added weddings to her photography repertoire after being commissioned by a MySpace contact. “I dove right in, totally fearless and did my very best,” she says. “I loved every minute of it. The adrenaline [rush] of not knowing exactly how the day will pan out still drives me and keeps me fresh.”  

In 2014, the work of Michael and her partner, Mike Busse, caught the eye of Rangefinder (RF) magazine editor Libby Peterson, who featured them twice in a single issue, in “Fresh Perspectives” and “Making a Typical Wedding Shoot Atypical.” Later that year, while planning RF’s How-To issue, Peterson came upon a rather quirky engagement session they had done, which became the feature “Embracing Nighttime Ambient Light for Engagement Shoots.”

“A nighttime shoot around New York City is like the antithesis of engagement shoots,” Peterson says. “We hadn’t really seen this before, and thought other people would be interested, and that there might be couples looking for this and not seeing it in peoples’ portfolios.”

Michael notes that while she regularly submits her work to be considered for publication, she follows a strategic approach. “Throwing spaghetti on the wall and seeing what sticks isn’t our game,” she says. “There are too many blogs out there, so we decided to stay laser focused on the few publications that we personally admire. [Those] that offer a heavy focus on the art of photography, not seating arrangements and color palettes. We did our research and have gained a pretty strong sense of what each of these publications looks out for, and submit solely to them as much as we can.”

Photograph © Chellise Michael / Michael Busse

From her perspective at the magazine, Peterson says, “Submitting to blogs and magazines is so important, and a lot of photographers who have really great work aren’t doing that. “Publications are always looking for content, and even if you submit something that you’re not sure will fit, you can just leave it up to the editor.” She adds, “If you submit something with a specific pitch in mind and it doesn’t work out, that’s ok because sometimes an editor will see something different in that person’s work and then contact them for a completely different reason, but they’ll still get published. So it’s really important just to put yourself out there.”

After landing three RF articles in 2014, in 2015, the pair made the list of Rangefinder’s 30 Rising Stars issue, which Michael describes as “a huge personal and professional accolade for us. Top of the dream list!”

Noting that this coverage resulted in a lot of traffic from couples who use RF as a source, Michael explains, “Those are the types of couples we want to reach, because RF isn't just about weddings, it's about photography, and that’s exactly the type of client we want.”


This camera-toting circle from Photo Field Trip includes B&H marketing reps, stocked up with loaner gear for attendees. “If I was starting over, these retreats would be an awesome opportunity,” Paige Denkin says. “It’s all about who you know and who you have supporting you.” © B&H Foto, Video, Pro Audio

5. Commune with Others at a Retreat or Workshop… or Start One of Your Own

While wedding photography is all about making human connections, the work itself can often be a solitary practice. “Most wedding photographers work solo when in the office—usually from home—which can be quite isolating,” notes Drago-Price.

A good way to keep this isolation in check is by attending a wedding-industry conference or event or, perhaps, the newest iteration—a photo retreat. Offered in a variety of sizes and formats—from the exclusive Engage! Wedding Summit, to the mainstream Wedding and Portrait Photographers International (WPPI) trade show and conference, to the hands-on retreat Photo Field Trip, to more intimate gatherings such as Mystic Seminars, The Unique Camp, and Inspire Photo Retreats—these gatherings offer photographers a chance to network and bond with like-minded colleagues, as well as myriad learning opportunities.

While mainstream conferences such as WPPI have been popular draws for years, the smaller, more intimate, hands-on gatherings have only recently gained tremendous appeal, particularly with Millennials. “To me there are two different wedding worlds right now,” says wedding photographer and B&H Pro Marketing Associate Paige Denkin. She distinguishes the familiar faces who speak at mainstream trade shows, “who found what works for them, [which] they do really well, but that’s all that they’ve been doing for a while,” from a younger crowd at hands-on retreats, “names coming out of left field [who are] getting much more authentic and adventurous. These are young people, 30 or 35 years old and under, and they’re putting aside $1,700 or so to spend five days with a bunch of like-minded individuals, learning,” she says.

Denkin discovered these hands-on experiences early on, by word of mouth. “It was like secret society, just starting to pop up. Now, it’s becoming so popular that your everyday photographer is finding a way to do their own workshops.”

One hallmark of this new type of industry event is the transformation from prepackaged lectures to experiential learning. “A switch went off, and it went from hearing the same lecture every year at these trade shows to saying, ‘forget that, it’s not helping me. I need to do something hands-on. I need to not be in a room with hundreds of other people listening to the lecture. I need to meet these people. I’ve got to get my hands on this gear.’ These retreats are focused solely on that,” says Denkin. “It’s more than education. I feel like I leave with a community.”

For an engagement shoot with this Boston-based couple, Paige Denkin & Corey Christian traveled up the Hudson seeking peace and quiet. “We stumbled across small towns, coffee shops and river lookouts that made this rainy day magical,” Denkin explains. Photograph © Going Home Productions

This shift in learning methods is echoed in an accompanying cultural shift. “People are more interested in authenticity now,” Denkin says. “They want their honest love captured in an honest way.”

Visually speaking, the implications of this new trend in wedding and engagement shoots are even more significant. “It’s not necessarily about a pretty bridge in a park,” Denkin points out. “Now people are going to the top of a mountain in Portland, or they’re doing an elopement in Iceland. They’re making themselves available for much more into the wild [experiences in far-flung locations]. They’re trading-in big expensive weddings and having smaller elopements if they can go somewhere stunning and bring a professional photographer along.”

To learn more about the contributors to this article, click on their names below.

Paige Denkin

Kristi Drago-Price

Editors Edge Newsletter Sign Up

Brian Leahy

Chellise Michael

Paul Morse

Libby Peterson

Donna Von Bruening

Top Photograph © Paul Morse

4 Comments

Great article! . A true photographer makes the best of your events to bring out his best photography and makes the whole exercise effortless for you. This makes you very comfortable and you can enjoy your event to full extent. If you are looking for such professional photographers, just choose the one with an exquisite-looking portfolio....

Thanks for the compliment on this article Dennis. Unfortunately we had to remove the external link you placed to your Website due to B&H policy. Keep making great images, and many thanks for reading Explora!

This was an interesting article. While it definitely focused on wedding photographers as folks who need to 'promote their brand,' it did have some good points as well. One interesting bit was the piece about how someone serving as a photographer for Conde Nast's wedding issues has anything in common with actual wedding photographers (weddings are un-staged, un-scripted events, as far from studio photography as it is to get). I may be different from the pack but I believe in letting my 'style' be dictated by how I interact with each couple. If a couple wants a more hands-off, photo journalistic approach, that's what I do. If they want more traditional, posed photos, I'll do those. It's their day and they've spent a lot of time deciding what they like. Of course, these days, that's come to mean what's popular on Pinterest...

Thanks for writing in Photomatte, glad you enjoyed the article. One point of clarification, the person quoted from Conde Nast, Kristi Drago-Price, was director of photography for Brides Magazine, not a photographer there, although she does now have an independent wedding photography business. Also, your comment about letting your photography style be dictated by how you interact with each couple is very apt. As you note, "it's their day and they've spent a lot of time deciding what they like." The best pictures arise from a solid relationship, and developing trust, between the photographer and client(s). Happy shooting and thanks again for reading the blog!

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