TROUBLE SHOOTING




TROUBLESHOOTING THE COMMON STUFF
When I hear a photographer on forums griping about the market, though it's universally the same for all, the flags go up.  The claim is his market is tougher, the money isn't there, less brides, too much competition, he lacks equipment and he lacks financial strength, no bookings, and worse no inquires. 

The only truth is that the wedding market is the same for all.  I am correct on that one point.  It’s really how you handle it.  The difference is style and allocation, tradition and level of conservatism is what defines it.  A wedding is simply the bonding legally and spiritually of two people, regardless of color, faith, gender, age and in some cases planet of origin.  Ask yourself the difference between a drunk on a curb and a college President. Nothing basically, they are both humans and alive.  But one handled his problems and the other succumbed to them.  The difference between a winner and a winer is just one letter and world of attitude.


YOUR OPERATION
I immediately look to determine what level of expertise this photographer guy/gal is on.  Their answer draws me in because there are clues both positive and negative, different angles or beliefs, that I am reading from him or her.   

From success to failure, some things are easily attainable by simple questioning.  I ask to see their bookings, how many weddings did you do last year, what is the average cost of a wedding in your area, what do you charge, what is your presentation like, even down to how do you dress for the shoot, did you attend the rehearsals, do you use flyers and menus, do you only do weddings, also Bar/Bat Mitzvahs and Quinceneras ?   

All of these things are asked and most visible.  Many lay unanswered and they don’t know.  Does he or she have a  good consistent following,  a clientele that his style and artistry are accepted by and most likely traditional family values; and is not limited by style or interpretation.


FAILURE KEYS
They could be locked in a rut caused by the economy, a poor followup system, or lack of communication skills and sometimes looking in the mirror realizes their skill levels are not competitive. They are not up to date, nor qualified and has done nothing to better themselves.  

So I ask questions, lots of questions as to why this person is either successful or not. Do you only do one ethnicity, one religion, one type or for a specific church, one pastor, one wedding planner, one price range, one style. The I ask how much did your business expand this year over last year knowing this is a failing economy. Are your profits and volume on the rise or are things sinking. What do you do for followup?
This is my point, to make it in this game you need to have "flex". I love when a guy tells me, he is a photojournalistic shooter and doesn't do traditional posed shots.  Tell that to Grandma. 


WE ARE NOT SIMILAR

We live in a world of cultural difference and nothing shows that premise better than the Wedding ceremony which you, you lucky devil, have been retained to perform at.  Those folks have selected you to be the court scribe on the most important day of their lives.  

In the old days, going as far back as the Neo-Babylonian days  the court scribe recorded all the events and rulings and changes the Kings, Judges and others made.  The scribe was fairly safe since many could not read or write in those days.  If he did screw up, boiling oil fixed things. If you screw up, the results could vary so the point is the more you know the less you will not know when it counts.

Here are a couple of clues as to what to look out for. And I mean no harm or inference to anyone, just telling it like it is or in my case was. One has to respect the difference and cultural beliefs people have. 


TRADITION AND CONDUCT
Some ethnicities of the middle eastern nations prohibit the taking of photographs that show elbows, faces or feet. These religious virtues sometimes transfer here to the states and you have to be cautious when doing the Wedding by finding out what the rules are.  

Sure things are moderated here in the states but yesterday at a local mall, I saw a woman in a burka, with veil dressed head to toe all covered up in black. Obviously she was not shopping at the GAP or Dilliards. It was 93 and 80% humidity.  After I wrote this, I started to think how hard it is for a photographer doing weddings in certain countries that prohibit human form in the pictures.

It would be too presumptive to think the Taliban is hiring Wedding Photographers as one Blue Burka is the same as another Blue Burka. I doubt if we will ever see the Bride of the Month in a Blue Burka.  You’d be in the soup literally or in the oil whatever boils quicker…so respect of cultural beliefs is important. 

The best advice is you never know where there is a winner.  I just glanced over my shoulder at these two, I was a guest at the wedding and the Nikon Coolpix did the rest.  She was chomping on ice to cool down after some really fancy dancing, her grandma was a Rockett.  The follow-up shot sans ice cube was perfect. That is till he smooched her with cake. The $100 spent for the hair and makeup girl meant nothing to him….

STATUS, POMP and CIRCUMSTANCE, THE CREATIVE SLIDE SHOW
Today the trend in the industry is for the Hollywood over the top production consisting of the couples life in the past usually on a slideshow timed at the Wedding Banquet, Bar or Bat Mitzvah party and I have even heard of one at a funeral which reduced the occasion to being heralded as The National Kleenex Championships. The part that cracks me up about these self gratification efforts and presentations is that they have nothing to do with the couple sitting at the dais.

It can be so ridiculous, because you know the behind the screen that the photos are in no way representative of their personality, their appearance, and their social demeanor.  After a few bottles of Jack Daniels, most of the time you'll get a second shoot and a viewing you can sell for the blackmail qualities it might exhibit when a Wedding goes awry.


OVER THE TOP
What do we mean by over the top.  It’s popular now, if you have the money.  I witnessed an exceptional 60 minutes live quality twenty five minute presentation at a Bar Mitzvah I had attended and to say it was spectacular is an understatement. The NFL halftime show could take lessons as football was the theme and the boychick was a great football fan, both on the TV and in his junior league.  The only thing missing was Howard Cossell as the announcer and I’m sure since money was no object, if the could of they would of.

The most important factor is a child is becoming a man in the community, is celebrated and consecrated at the Bar Mitzvah. He was polished, confident and in control at the dais in full control of his teachings.  I understand reward and that seemed appropriate for the hours of his presentation and the job he did.  The focus of the occasion shifted from the religious aspect to something else.  Don't get me wrong, but the party exceeded the occasion.  

I was overwhelmed by the production.  It was a wonderful party, it went way over expectations and I was honored to be a guest, but nothing like my Bar Mitzvah or the fifty I shot since then.  It was earned as a reward for a job well done. From real NFL Cheerleaders, five cameras shooting, master of ceremonies, everybody working dressed like referees, life-size posters of his pro team, the place done up like an NFL stadium…..

Fifty seven years ago, I had to make a speech, ask those with gifts over five dollars and/or  a new Parker fountain pen to stay…. and my mom shuffled me away. and checked my pockets to see if I was keeping any of the stash.

I know that a lot of couples go for the scrapbook slideshow, the baby pictures and so forth because it is socially a grandiose step up in the entertainment side of the wedding.  Go for the better food , a nicer place, better entertainment….


MONEY
Either you compete on price, or product, depends on how you sell your work:  If you do budget and sell numbers, a thousand to twelve hundred shots for just 300 dollars, thats a lot of waste, and if you had booked 52 bookings in year, thats a $15,000 a year job.   

Upping the ante, offering more, say $2300 a Wedding, thats 120,000 dollars a year.  The converse is true, the $300 shooter says he only gave them four hours of his time, thats all he had, and back to his day job. Only about 50% actually are happy with this as they have to do all the post processing and grunt work.


SUMMING IT UP - WAR and PEACE REMINDERS
Only as a last resort when things go wrong and they will, jump in like Rambo and save the mess if you can.  Machine guns are for war, this is peace, a few good shots sell more than a bucket of dead fish. Spend some time sorting sifting and rejecting images that mean little to anyone involved.  It's a people game, we don't need 45 shots of the sneakers the bride wore under the dress since she never ever wore heels.

Scope the battlefield before the war. The Chinese General Tsun said knowing the mind of the enemy is the key to victory, knowing the terrain and the enemy's moves is the process by which you win. Get to know the couple, their emotions, passions and idiosyncrasies.

I learned something from the carnies, those folks who work the carnivals throughout the world. Get to know who the stick is.  The stick is the one who wields the checkbook (the stick) and makes the real decisions.  Know who are the key players so you do not have to be arbitrating with those who really can't make the call.  This is really critical if there is a meltdown at the wedding.

Gear checks,  make sure you are at 100% and have backups. Don’t miss the money shot because one of those AA cells was dead when you swapped them.  Blanks are a poor choice in combat.   Be on time or earlier, deliver on time or earlier. You will be alone because 75% of brides and Weddings never start on time.

Price yourself based on the actual components understanding your market, competition, financial condition of your clients, time and effort and accessories like special Photoshop work, table books and so forth. The best way to charge more is do great work and develop a reputation. Shop the local competition to look at their work. Pick them up at their studio for a lunch so you can get an idea of what he or she is doing. Have a circle of associates that will honestly critique your work. It hurts sometimes but in the end you will heal and do better work.


MIX-MATCHED STYLES
Number one on the hit parade is shooting the wrong wedding style. Be prepared that your style applies to the Wedding couples beliefs. People are culturally different and PJ may not be the best choice for a specific wedding and you might be going or moving to a position that might not be correct.  

At a Catholic Church one day the photographer thought he ruled the roost, climbing over everybody and everything,  till he got to the LUNA which is a circular receptacle with glass sides, metal circled with gold or gilded metal to hold the Sacred Host upright in the monstrance. 

It is a sacred vessel, having received the priest's blessing. It is sometimes called a lunette.  The priest had enough, he stopped the sacrament, paused, my source tells me the priest said  "God Forgive Me" and invited him to leave the Church right now.   We have a tough time in my area with Catholic Churches and FLASH, because idiots like this guy made it tough for all of us. It has even encouraged second shooters to hide as guests on the aisle seats and grab what they can.   

You might be best to mix it up a little so you cover your bases. I have learned this from my diversified experience shooting weddings of ethnic and social differences. In addition, I must stop and give thanks to the many professionals and associates who shared a few horror stories with me over a brew or two. 


YOUNGER COUPLES
Some younger couples like moderate trendy PJ to almost a “shock jock” approach to the Wedding. Notice I said “some”. You better expect anything, sometimes blowing tradition out the door. Expect anything from a moon to topless exhibitions to falling on ones face dead drunk.  My favorite is the exposure problem a young new female shooter, new at the game living in the UK, had “penis exposure” from the groomsmen in three of her shots as explained in preceding pages.

Sure a click or two in Photoshop cured the extended problem, but I gave her a better idea. She used the “shrink image button” and popped a print. All the bridesmaids got a souvenir  8x10 of the diminished male standard. I’ll bet that made a few circles around town!  I once said the best way to expose an a-hole, is with a camera and show the world.

Another example: So after you shoot a thousand B&W "truly photojournalistic artistic renderings or PJ shots" the mother-in-law calls up and wants the 30x40 color shot of her firstborn to hang over the fireplace of their new house. Try selling her the black and white artistic shot of the Brides bra strap while she was getting dressed. 


COMRADES IN ARMS
You are not alone: My buddies and cohorts in the business shared a few other horror tales with me. Fred Miranda’s website at http://www.fredmiranda.com/ has a pretty good wedding forum.  It’s inhabited by a few pro’s and many, many beginners, some pretending to know more than they do. A fast check on licenses, which is commonly on all government websites for that city or state sites tell you whether they are legal or not, whether they maintain a studio, and their real status.  Hilarious sometimes, like kids bragging how good they are at HALO and Tanki games. 

There are many other sites devoted to Wedding Photographers.  But, like most of the web, take things with a grain of salt, two shots of vodka and a twist of lemon.  Ego’s run prolific in this business and everyone’s a pro on the web.   Just look at some sites and you’ll realize a few are more conversation than talent. And see how many have the same Wedding Music in the background, the same style as they all bought them from a booth at WPPI or on-line.  Clones of Clones.  

Type in Wedding Forums on Google and a lifetime of reading is before you. Type in a few names of the shooters from the odd groups on Google and its like reading the tabloids. A few have a pretty shady past.  Several we found in jersey should have warrants by now. Some did, the article is buried in this site somewhere.

YOU have to serve the client, not force your beliefs or issues. If their style is not the best style for you, get someone else to do it and a referral fee is better than nothing or a goof up. Again I am NOT picking on any age groups, religious groups or ethnicities, just a few tips for political correctness and to CYA.

Older established families and higher more elaborate level Weddings go far more often to the conservative side with shooter covering the basics and then: the PJ style thrown into the mix for complete coverage and a better bottom line.


HE’S TALL–SHE’S SHORT - THE S-TOOL

See if you really have a problem, the couple knows who and what they are and they love each other enough to get married, I guess there is no problem so don’t create one.  If they have concerns at least for the formals if you are doing them, then discuss it and seek suitable locations for height enhancement such as sitting shots, carry over the threshold shots and stair cases. Also a knoll or bump in the grass can help.  Not only can you shoot them standing below or equal to the Bride and Groom but you can be above them a few steps on the staircase if there is one. In other words try different things, your viewfinder will tell you what looks good. 

In PJ anyway most shots are grabbing as grab can and very spontaneous which overshadows any height problems after all one of the tenets is reality, just like TV.  Remember use good portrait techniques, Bride closer to camera than Groom, etc.

Simple Solution - Use a Rubbermaid step stool from Target, Home Depot to elevate bride if doing 3/4 or 1/2 body shots. And here are the reasons I use the step stool.  I tried boxes. In Video they are called Apple Boxes and composed of parts and sections. I carry enough parts with me.  I like simple and cheap. I want everything I own to do multi-tasking and the stools with Internal storage get used all the time around my world and my kitchen.

STOOL

S-TOOL USE:
•  One step stool is enough for the Bride, no parts , no assembly , no thinking, if there is less than 8 inches difference she can wear heels.

•  I stand on the step stool to get extra height for some shots such as oblique angles of the groomsmen and ushers etc since they may be tall and I want the camera on top of the tallest.

•  Many of you have tall studio lights, I use the stool to get to the high lights.

•  Great in my kitchen for high shelves, for waxing the top of my vehicle, for getting shorter girlfriend or wife to wax top of her vehicle which means I only have to wax my car.

•  Great little stool to place material over in layouts for product shots, for short kids to reach the posing table. And very safe for shooting over top of crowd when a small ladder is out of question and it's also essential for making speeches since everybody knows you need to stand on some kind of box to get attention while making a speech. 

Standing on a cardboard TIDE soap box don't cut it. I tried, falling right through, smelled like soap for a week.  On another note, it is indispensable in hanging states, for checking and fueling the Caravan an airplane with a high wing.   It is also invaluable for balance techniques in tai-chi, especially Yang Chuanfu's Crane technique's. It comes in white and beige, so it goes with most wedding dresses and the train in front hides it nicely if you have a real short Bride.    $9.99 at Target and other stores. 

MORE