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What to Know Before Booking a Photographer

Podcast // 12.14.2018

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Today on Forever Bride. We are digging deep into the world of wedding photographers and what you need to know before booking one.


[Ashley] Hi everyone welcome to the Forever Bride Podcast. I am Ashley Hawks and I am here today with one of the top wedding photographers in Minnesota, Emily Isakson. Hi Emily!

[Emily] Hi brides!


[Ashley] Thank you so much for being here. This is fun. We we actually had way too much fun before we got started. We're starting a little late.

[Emily] We'll get through it!


[Ashley] I know. So we were going over a couple of things before we got started today. And today we're going to run our podcast a little bit differently. We have a Facebook group, called Forever Brides, and brides listening, if you are not part of this Facebook group you need to go check it out! It's a free group on Facebook. You don't have to be in Minnesota. There are thousands of women in there. It is so much fun. I'm not a bride anymore but it's so cool. It's a place for you guys to talk and ask questions and support each other. Because Lord knows I'm sure you've texted your best friend a hundred times questions and she's probably done listening to you. This is a place where you can vent and you can share things, it's totally private. But what we did is we actually posted, “Brides what kind of questions do you have for a photographer? What are questions that you have in regards to wedding photography?” So before I bombard Emily with a million questions.


[Emily] I'm ready.


[Ashley] Emily, tell us about you, how you got started in photography, and a little bit about your adorable cat that I follow on Instagram.

[Emily] Oh how much time do you have?! That might take the whole time here, but yeah. My name is Emily Isakson. I've been photographing weddings in the Twin Cities and surrounding areas for I'd say professionally about four years and I live in Minneapolis with my boyfriend. We're actually about to move which is exciting! And of course Peter, who my life would never be complete without. I'm convinced that him and I were meant to be and I think he is too. So if you like cat photos hit up my Instagram, he's adorable.

[Ashley] He's so sweet. You and I have known each other now for a couple of years. You spoke at one of our networking events and I think that you have so much knowledge when it comes to not only your photography, it is beautiful - if you haven't followed Emily her Instagram handle is @ohhelloem - and we'll have all these in our show notes afterwards. But you have really great knowledge and insight about the industry and I think sometimes that's even more important than an amazing photographer. So one of the questions that kept coming up on our group page actually is and we were just talking about this, “Is is it necessary to have the same photographer for your engagement photos as your wedding? Or is it more cost effective to cut out the engagement photos from your photography package?” Tell me a little bit about that and what you would tell your brides.

[Emily] Yes, so that is a really good question. For me and my bride's engagement session it is not necessary. However, I do strongly encourage it. It also does not affect the price at all. It's included as a complimentary engagement session within my collections. So for me the engagement shoot gives me, the bride, and her partner a chance to see what the process is like working with me. How do I direct you, how do I pose you, etc. And it just gives us a chance to hang out and get a hold of that process. So then on the day of the wedding, when you know stresses are a little more heightened and things like that, you know working with me and taking pictures will not be at the top of that list of stressors. So I find it to be really helpful if I get to photograph my couples ahead of time and I've had couples reach out to me who have already done an engagement session, maybe a friend or a family member has done it, and they love the photos and they're like oh you know I don't really need it I've already done it. And that's completely understandable. It takes time out of your day, it's coordinating schedule. That's when I usually push my couples to do just a mini shoot with me, which is really actually just us hanging out! Like going to a brewery or wherever they want to go, casual outfits, we shoot for maybe half hour - 45 minutes, something like that. And again it's complementary it doesn't cost them any extra to do that with me.I just love getting to cultivate that experience for my clients and it really starts with getting to know the process of what it's like shooting with me.


[Ashley] I feel like I would have preferred to have done more of like a casual mini shoot. Years ago we did the stereotypical in-the-park shoot. Yeah, they're awkward. Like we are in a park standing next to a tree and we are not those kind of people. We're more hang-out-at-a-cool-coffee-shop or like be doing something and I love that trend right now. Of photographers getting to know their couples where you guys are more comfortable, like at home sessions. I love that! You've done a couple of those at home sessions! Like, it's Sunday morning, making coffee, making out in the kitchen.

[Emily] You don't even have to wear your pants! You're in your own house! I mean nobody's stopping you. Just be you.


[Ashley] Yeah just be you. But I love it because it's more natural. I look back at the photos and they weren't natural. They were awkward and posed and we weren't comfortable.


[Emily] You don't see yourselves looking at them. You're like, “That's nice… Maybe that's the picture that came in the frame when I bought it, but I don't know these people. They're not me.” And I want my clients to look at those photos and like actually get a feeling! Not just like, wow that looks really nice, great composition, cool park, great dress” No, I want them to feel something and sometimes, even more so, I want anybody else looking at the pictures who have no idea who these people are to be like, “You know I'm going to keep this photo of the random people that came in the picture frame. They look nice. It'll compliment my mantle even though I don't know what they are.” That's my goal.

[Ashley] But that's more real life and I feel like it's something that is going to be more meaningful in the long run.


[Emily] Definitely.


[Ashley] Okay so I'm going to try to keep to my list here, but whatever you and I are chatty! One of the other things was timeline. I feel like the timeline is this massive scary thing that brides feel like they have to tackle before the wedding but you work with brides a lot on helping with the timeline. Tell me a little bit about how that goes and how that plays into how many hours she's going to need you.

[Emily] Yeah, that's also a really great question. Timelines are there so me, as a photographer, and maybe other vendors have something to hold themselves accountable to throughout the day. Something to dictate the flow ahead of time. But it's really hard to make one yourself because you don't know how long things are going to take. So for me, I guide my clients from beginning of the timeline to the end, sometimes making the timeline myself. If they have a wedding planner, great. If they're super organized, amazing. Let's do this together. But if you're just overwhelmed and you're like, “I don't even know where to start.” That's where I can come in and help dictate how that time should be spent. So for me, I offer three different collections at varying hours of coverage. So starting with six, going up to eight, and then ending with 10 plus hours. Including, rehearsal dinner coverage and multi day things like that. So within those time frames it's a matter of having that full communication about what you want covered that day. Somebody in my six hour collection doesn't necessarily need photos of them getting their hair and makeup done, getting in the dress, etc. What they want photos of is their ceremony, couples portraits, and a few family things.


[Emily] On the flip side I've done weddings where I've been there for 15 hours. From start to finish. Before people even wake up I'm at the venue photographing it. I'm meeting them there. Hair and makeup not done yet, everybody's eating breakfast, drinking champagne, because that's really important to them. They want those photos of just candids; interacting with their friends, their family, their girls, their guys, and they want that documented. Same with things like the rehearsal dinner. So you know as far as timeline help and consideration, it really comes down to being fully open with your photographer and asking them for their opinion. Then, sit down with your partner and say what is the most important part of the day for us. The whole wedding is important, obviously, but what part is the most important. Then, when I'm giving my clients help and support with the timeline, I usually start from what time they're planning on having the ceremony, and then work from either direction there. Do you need me more ahead of time? Do you want me to cover more of the reception? What things can already be done? Are we doing a first look?

[Emily] I mean these are all questions that you don't have to know to ask if you're finding the right photographer for you, because these are things that having shot you know over 100 weddings I can help with and I know about and I can bring up that you might not have even thought about. That should be, to me anyway, what a photographer should be for you.

[Ashley] That's so good. I wrote down this actually because that's a really great place to start. I feel like instead of looking at this and being like, “Oh my gosh I need to do a timeline and the engagement shoot, etc,” and you just have all these different things that you feel like you need to tackle. Figure out  what is the most important part to you and work your day around that. I mean if the most important part to you is having that special time in between the ceremony and the reception maybe that's the time that you block out. That was really good advice. Figure out what is the most important piece to you and then yeah build your timeline around that because everything might move and shift a little bit. One of the other questions and that we got a lot of comments on is the first look. Do versus don't. Pros versus cons. Are you pro first look or con first look?

[Emily] So I'm pro wedding, period. Wherever you want to do. Whatever floats your boat. But I will say that for my couples that do choose to do a first look, the logistics of the day tend to go a lot smoother. So from a logistical standpoint, it makes a lot of sense. Because we can get a lot of the photos done before the ceremony. After the ceremony, friends, family, even you guys, want to go eat your appetizers, talk to people you haven't seen in forever, actually mingle with your guests before the reception starts. Then, we do dinner and speeches and and all of that. It's a whirlwind! It is really fast once the ceremony starts. It's a whirlwind that you can't stop. That's even in my mind as the photographer I'm like it's going to feel like six minutes and all of a sudden I'm leaving. So yes, definitely helps the day go by a lot smoother. Another reason I like to do it is because I think it's really special. It's a time for you and your partner to take a minute before this whirlwind even happens and see each other, lay eyes on each other, and not have one hundred and fifty people around you staring at you like, “Oh is he gonna cry?” Or like, “Oh look at her! Look at her! This is amazing!”

[Ashley] Like it's almost like a reality show in a way. “She's not crying. Why is she not crying?” Haha.

[Emily] I know! So you get to have this time with your partner to exchange gifts, to exchange cards, to just look at each other. Check each other out. Take it in (with your photographer) and we find a great place for you to do it and then we can flow into the rest of the photos. On the flip side, I do a number of ceremonies and weddings where they don't do a first look. There's something really magical about that moment you see a bride for the first time and you see your groom for the first time and you kind of want it to be in this crowd because it's what you've dreamt about ever since you were little and you're wearing the dress he hasn't seen and it's amazing. They're always beautiful and I love doing that. You just really have to communicate and prepare your entire family and wedding party ahead of time that after the ceremony is photo time, not socialization time, photo time. Put it in red letters and tell everybody to be there 15 minutes before they actually have to be, because sometimes it is like herding cats (which actually sounds like a dream job if this falls through), but it is going to be a little bit more chaotic and a little bit more hectic and some people thrive on that and other people are like no my family's really good, and a lot of times they are! And you can get it done really fast and still have an incredible evening. But again that's where communication with your photographer is paramount, because they're the ones there with you the entire day. I'll probably say this again throughout the night, they're the ones who are going to help dictate that timeline. In fact it's kind of all around the photographers timeline that you have your day. So either way, it's your wedding and it's going to be amazing. You just have to talk to your photographer and see what they think. I try to always convince my couples to do the first look after they hear my take on it they're like, “Actually that does sound really nice. Like, I can cry with nobody looking and we can give each other silly gifts or romantic gifts or just hug each other for like seventy five seconds and not let go.” I'm totally gonna be there for that.

[Ashley] I love it. I love it. I love weddings. I know I do, I talk weddings all day.


[Emily] Yeah, every wedding I've been to is my favorite wedding I've ever been to!

[Ashley] They're just amazing. Okay, so one of the other things was meeting with your photographer in person I believe that is a must. I was joking with you earlier that hiring a photographer by simply checking out their website and their reviews is no different than hiring a nanny just by her website and reviews. Like you don't do that. Your wedding at that point is your baby. ANd you’re right, the photographer is there with you the longest out of any of the other vendors that are there, even your wedding planner. I really believe that meeting with your photographer in person is huge. So one of the questions that the brides had posted was about what are some questions that she should have prepared ahead of time or what are some things that she should do ahead of time so she can make the most of her time with you when they first meet.

[Emily]  Yeah I completely agree with you. First of all, meet with your photographer and both of you should meet with your photographer, if at all possible. For me, sometimes that doesn't even mean we meet in person but we're definitely video chatting. I need to see faces and they need to see my face. We are probably, as photographers, the second vendor you book. If not the first, after your venue. So we are there the entire step of the way. We are the vendor you communicate most with after your wedding and through all your various seasons of life. Hopefully, our experience together means that we can build this legacy of your one year session, and now maybe you're pregnant, and now you've had a baby, and now you need family pictures! That's my goal with my clients is to create that “forever”, because taking photos can be stressful. So if I can just be that person's photographer forever like hey sign me up! That sounds amazing. I always ask that my clients would meet with me in person or that we video chat because that is how that process of trust starts. Trusting me to get every moment of the day documented for you in the way that it's happening. And this is where we ask the questions. So with that question, of what sort of questions should I ask, for the most part I  guide my consultations by answering questions before they're even asked. I find it really important to be transparent about the experience that my client is going to have with me, what I'm going to do, what I recommend somebody else do (if that's the case), and what it is going to be like working with me all these months up until the day of, up until after, I want all those questions to be answered before they're even asked.

[Emily] However, if that doesn't seem to be happening that way for you or you're still like I want to make sure that these points get addressed the first thing I would do is really look at that photographer's website. I feel like people have a tendency to go to a website and just push “Contact” right away. A lot of the questions that I get asked throughout the consultation process are actually addressed on my website in the “Frequently Asked Questions” area which exists and a lot of photographers have that as well. So that's for things like, “Do you travel? How much do you charge?” You can sometimes find that answer on a page like that. So really look at the website. Mine also has testimonials from other couples. It's one thing to hear, “Hey this person is great!” Or look at that review that they have on their Facebook page, but it's another thing to read actual words from other people. So through Forever Bride you can also look at reviews of all of your vendors as well. It humanizes this process of finding somebody that you don't know until you meet them. If everybody's commenting on how funny I am, which I am. How timely I am, which I am. I hope that you would look at that and say, “Hey that's what I'm looking for too!” So some other questions I would ask is, what is the turnaround time? When are you gonna get your images? How are the files delivered? Are you getting prints? Are you getting digital files? Do you have hidden costs that might be associated? Is there going to be tax added on to this price that I'm seeing? Do I have to pay extra to get a USB drive with my pictures on it? And then just some more kind of business questions to protect yourself. Does that photographer have insurance for their business? So if they come to a venue and something happens that's not put on you. Are you signing a contract with that photographer? If you are booking a wedding photographer and are not signing a contract re-evaluate and ask if maybe they have a contract that they maybe forgot to send you. But you definitely want to sign that, that's protecting you. It's also protecting me as a photographer. It's a piece of paper that yeah you know you might not think about. You never really come back to. But if and when you have to and you don't have it, it’s not going to be good. And then that leads me into what is that photographers plan if they can't photograph your wedding for whatever reason they're sick. I always tell my clients, “What if both my arms fall off? What if my camera self-destructs? Like what if these things happen?” And I bring that up before they ask me because I want them to know I have a plan for that and here's what it is and they're like, “Oh my gosh I didn’t even consider that as a possibility but now I'm a little scared” it's good to be a little scared. That's how trust is built. Because we're building that trust with each other. Then just like how do they break down their collection pricing or their package pricing or whatever they're calling them and what's included in that. Can it be altered? Can it not be altered? What if I want this _____? I'm not seeing anything about this _____? Consultations in-person so important. And usually I bring my clients somewhere cool, where we can like have a drink or eat cookies or all the above. And it's really fun.

[Ashley] Totally. So I want to keep going on that. Yeah that was another big question that brides had been talking about: costs. Wedding photography can vary so so much. I mean I literally had a conversation with both brides and vendors on a weekly basis about this exact topic because it is a product and a service and an experience that you're providing and it's very hard to put an exact dollar value on that. And so you know when it comes to costs, can you help brides understand what is a realistic cost for a wedding photographer and I know that's kind of a sneaky question because there's no direct answer.

[Emily] So this question is really hard to answer and it's probably one of the most important questions to get answered today as well. So do not quote me, but I believe in the Minneapolis area, which is where we are, to my knowledge the average cost for a wedding photographer is anywhere from $2,200.00 to $2,800.00 and I know there's people listening that are like oh my gosh that's three times my budget or I was not expecting that because budgets are like really scary. Both for personal and especially if you're planning a wedding, like money is scary. So first of all the couples that I want to reach and the couples that I work with hopefully are couples that really value wedding photography as part of the wedding process. So I like to think that for the most part they're investing in the experience that they have with me plus the pretty pictures they get in the end vs. the other way around. So couples I work with tend to put aside a larger portion of their wedding budget to work with me and to build this bond and collaborate with me on something really special. So I would suggest first of all when you're shopping around for a photographer and when you're looking at people's websites and Instagram's look at more than pretty pictures it is so important that you have a relationship with your photographer and I'll put it this way I kind of came up with this story today.

[Emily] We'll see if it makes sense if it doesn't you can put in the comments and I'll try to revise it here. But think of like a total stranger coming up to you and your fiancee on the streets wanting to take your picture. He takes a picture. You guys look smoking hot. It's a beautiful photo. And he says that'll be $2,500.00 and you're like wait what. Like I didn't know what I was getting for this I didn't even know this was going to cost anything. You'll feel kind of weird.

[Emily] $2,500.00 is a lot of money but now on the flip side think about a friend that you just went to dinner with and had drinks with. You got to talk all about how you and your partner fell in love, the stuff you like to do together, how you met. The person you are meeting with tells you what the process of working with them is going to be like to produce this photo. They help you create the timeline for your day. They help you choose outfits and engagement session locations. They are invested in you one hundred percent. Then the wedding day rolls around. They know your parents by name. They get your dad to smile the real smile, the one that you know is in there but he never uses. They take a shot with the wedding party at the bar, because it's a wedding.. you have to! And then they dance to Beyonce with your grandma on the dance floor. And towards the end they even help you go to the bathroom. Your friends are busy. You got to go. I'm going to be that person for you. Then, a week after the wedding I send you a card in the mail thanking you for letting me be a part of your day and I'm so excited to share the pictures with you. And a year down the road we do an anniversary shoot together and you want to book one every year now, just so we can hang out more! And then I tell you that's gonna be $2,500.00.

[Emily] It makes it a lot more sense why you should be investing that much money in something. Now, not everybody has that money and all photographers start somewhere. I think I booked my first wedding for $800.00. It was my best friend and I was so excited that she even wanted me. I hadn't done a wedding at that point. I was like, “Are you sure?” Like I can do this, I know I can do this and I am like so grateful that she entrusted me in it and it went amazing. So when booking a photographer whatever they charge, ask them about the experience that they're providing you with. Are they going to be there the whole day for you? Do they have backups of their gear in case something happens? Did you sign a contract? These are all things that we want to make sure we're checking off of our list, because from a great experience is going to be great wedding photos. You're going to look at them and you're gonna say, “I remember that moment or I didn't even see that happening. I feel something look at this.” That is what you're booking. It is 2018. We can take beautiful photos with our iPhones, you're not booking pretty photos. That's just the outcome of this experience that you've had with your photographer and this bond that you're creating and this collaboration and this communication. We're gonna be friends and I'm going to remember you forever and I want you to remember me forever. So that's what it comes down to when I'm putting out my pricing and then of course I can mention like owning your own business is expensive, cameras are expensive, the lenses are expensive, the new one I'm looking at is seventeen hundred dollars for one camera lens. I'm paying for a website. I'm paying to backup my images. So if my whole building explodes your wedding pictures are still safe. I promise you that is what you are paying for as well is the ability for this person this photographer to make this their life and their livelihood so they can put all this effort into your day, someone else's day, weekend after weekend after weekend after weekend or weekend, and I can give that attention to every single one of those people. And that is also what you're paying for. So again it's scary to invest a lot of money in something because weddings are expensive. But trust me, a twenty five hundred dollar photographer can make eight thousand dollar wedding look like a million dollars. Five hundred dollar photographer can make a an eight thousand dollar wedding maybe look like the eight thousand dollar wedding. I don't know but just consider that before you get the sticker shock. Ask what you are getting and think of other big purchases you've made. This isn't like going to the drugstore. This isn't like buying that top you've been eyeing at Madewell. This is a big expensive thing. So make sure that is worth it and that you know exactly why it is worth it.

[Ashley] I'm just sitting over here like melting in my chair. I want to get married all over again! I just I love working with you over the last couple of years. You just have such a heart for this industry and you know me, I'm obsessed with weddings and everything in it. And that's why I invited you on today because you get it. You know and there is something very special about working with a photographer. They're more than just someone that takes pretty pictures and you know I always get a little defensive of you guys when I see comments on our Facebook group page of like, “Oh wow I can't believe she's charging more than a thousand dollars,” and I think one of the problems is you know these these brides might spend so much time on Pinterest looking at all these beautiful beautiful images but they're not spending the same amount of time doing the research of what actually went into creating that beautiful image and you know that that beautiful image that you have pinned was actually done by a photographer that probably charges seventy thousand dollars and that dress was eighty thousand dollars. It’s about being very very realistic with the artist that you're working with. It's so much more than that and it comes back to figuring out what's important to you. You know just like you had said earlier about like figure out what part of that day is most important to you and then build your timeline around that. I've talked to brides, they honest to God don't care about video. and so they don't do video and there's nothing wrong with that. And if you don't care about your photos if you're really not a picture person or you're not comfortable having your picture taken, maybe you're not going to be spending as much money on your photographer than someone else like me who's a complete nerd and needs that special photo album and needs that beautiful picture on her mantle. I am willing to cut back on the cheesy cocktail napkins and I am willing to cut back on exotic flowers in my bouquet.

[Emily] There are so many ways to make things happen and to send 20 photographers the same exact email and price shop around, of course we want to do that and we want to compare prices, but look at who that photographer is as a person. See if that comes across on their website. Meet in person. That's again why I like to meet in person. It's so hard to get a personality through on the website or anything like that no matter how hard we try, me as a business owner as somebody who wants you to book me, I have to put value behind what I do. And again that's why I don't make pretty pictures for people. That’s not like my job. My job is to help people create and execute this vision and then make sure that forever to come that that vision is immortalized and everybody remembers that day and we all remember that speech and we all remember when so-and-so danced with so-and-so and now they're married like oh first photo they took together! That's what I want people to think of when they think of my work. I wasn't just their wedding photographer. I was part of their family, at least for that day, if not for days to come and years to come. And on Friday I'm doing a newborn session of one of my couples from last year and we already did their maternity session and now on Friday I get to meet their babies so I've been with them for engagement, for wedding, for maternity, for newborn. We're gonna do a three month, six month, nine month. Like imagine just not having to worry about finding who's gonna do that for you because you've had such an amazing experience that why would you even look for anybody else?! I don't even care if she keeps adding zeros like I know that this is worth it and she's our friend. We're inviting her into our home and she happens to be wicked talented and that's cool.

[Ashley] So awesome. This has been awesome. I think this is like for sure my favorite podcast we've ever done so we are going to have all of these notes up on our website all the things that we've talked about all the questions that our brides have posted just kind of taking all the knowledge that you've you've shared with us and putting that on there too. Thank you guys so much for for letting us geek out about weddings and hopefully you're able to walk away with some really great things and know where our heart is at. So again my name is Ashley and this is The Forever Bride Podcast.


Emily's website: https://www.emilyisakson.com/

Emily's Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/EmilyIsaksonPhotography/

Emily's Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ohhelloem/

Emily's email: emilyisakson.photo@gmail.com 

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