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Things that really got under my skin while searching for a photographer December 29, 2010

When I was searching for a wedding photographer, I posted an ad on Craigslist stating what I was looking for and what my budget was.  I got well over a hundred responses (and I’m still getting them, albeit at a much slower pace, maybe only one or two a day), and I sorted through all of them.  Some of them were good (although most of them who were good were still way outside my budget – I put my budget in the ad, why respond if you can’t meet it?  Why waste my time and yours?), but the vast majority of them were just terrible.  Here are some of the pet peeves I ran into while looking through all these photographers.

Grip and grins. A grip and grin was a term we used in the Army for any photograph of two people standing, looking at the camera.  Usually, they are shaking hands or both holding some award one is giving to the other.  These photos are posed, forced, awkward and worst of all, boring.  Most of the wedding photography I saw was basically nothing but a bunch of grip and grins, only instead of hand shakes, it’s arms around each other in a insincere hug, or people standing in a row.  Any twelve-year-old can shoot a line of people standing on a church altar in fancy clothes and turn it black and white in Photoshop to make it seem more ‘classic’.  I know some of this is going to take place at every wedding, but if these are the only photos you’re posting on your website, there’s something wrong.  I wouldn’t pay a penny more than $20 for that kind of work.  Unfortunately, most photographers do just that, then have the audacity to charge four digits for that quality of work.  Please, I did higher quality stuff in the Army and didn’t make in a month what some of these photographers charge for eight hours of coverage, even when I was deployed.  I lived in a tin shack for a year and ate out of Navy chow halls (which, to be fair, are at least significantly better than Army chow halls), and I was constantly subject to sexual harassment from 400 New Jersey infantry men, and about the same number of Detroit MPs.  But even under these conditions, at pay that equaled out to $7.50 an hour after tax, I still did better work than some of the photographers I looked at.  And I was not the best photographer in my unit either.

Inability to focus a camera. What really amazed me is how many professional photographers can’t seem to focus.  I know focus can be a little tricky sometimes, but come on!  For the prices you’re charging, I expect a sharp focus.  And these are the photos they’re displaying on their website, you know it’s their very best.  If their very best doesn’t even have a good focus, what does their average work look like?  Seriously, if you can’t do it manually, at least use the autofocus (not that autofocus always does a good job either, but it’s better than nothing).  And I can tell the difference between somebody who knows how to use their shutter and aperture to convey depth of field or motion in a photo, and somebody who’s just trying to pass off a blurry photo as something they did intentionally.  Apparently the average consumer cannot, however, because there are a lot of photographers out there doing just this.

Overuse of black and white. Sure, black and white can be nice some times, but most of the time when I see it, I think it’s just an attempt to cover up lack luster work.  So many people think black and white pictures are automatically better, and that’s easy to take advantage of.  Black and white does not automatically mean classier or better photos.  It usually means you’ve got a photographer who can’t do color (or can’t do much of anything).  Not always, mind you, I’m sure some photographer is going to find my blog and leave some comment like “I choose to shoot in black and white because it’s more raw and real, but I can kick ass at color if I wanted to” or some other hipster jargon, and that’s all well and good.  But that doesn’t change the fact that I still see an awful lot of shitty photography out there that, once converted to black and white, idiots think is art.  And I know there are a lot of not very good photographers taking advantage of all these idiots that think photography is automatically artful if it’s in black and white.  I’m sure that’s not at all what any photographer who visits my blog does, though.

Not to say all black and white photography is lame, hipster shit (and even if it was, I would be hypocritical to suggest that hipster shit never appeals to me, it most often does).  Some of it is very, very nice.  What I hate to see is bad photography being passed off as art just because it’s black and white.  Even when I saw a photographer do awesome black and white, black and white probably isn’t going to be the best choice for my wedding anyhow.  I am having a bright and colorful wedding that just wouldn’t be done justice if it were shot in black and white.  Furthermore, I think it’s a crime to put beautiful red hair like mine in black and white.  So I need a photographer who does awesome color work, and that is just few and far between.  Why is this?  Because of this stupid, hipster, black and white trend!  Everyone thinks black and white is classier than color in every situation, and that’s simply not true!  Ever looked through a National Geographic and thought “Gee, if only all these pictures were in black and white, then this magazine would be beautiful”?  No!  But very few photographers seem to even bother with color, because all these idiot people think only black and white is classy.  Frustrating!

(Note:  I had the pleasure of participating in a press escort of National Geographic during my deployment to Guantanamo Bay in 2004.  Here is a link to the article.  In the photo “Clear Warnings”, you can see my ear, right next to my former first sergeant.  If you can find the print article, there is another picture of me eating in the community kitchen.  A friend told me, upon seeing it, that I looked like an anorexic getting ready to puke myself.  In actuality, I had just popped a fried plantain into my mouth.  This was my 15 minutes.)

Also, I don’t like the whole, all-black-and-white-except-for-a-single-rose-in-color style either.  I know many people do like this, and that’s a matter of opinion.  It’s not for me.  Maybe some photographer can change my mind about this by sending me some wedding work done in this style that looks modern, but all of it I’ve seen looks really 1992 to me.  It’s just way over done.  Like black and white.  And white gold.  And diamonds.

Out of state photographers. Okay, there’s nothing wrong with being a photographer from another state.  What irritates me is how many photographers from out of state responded to my ad for a wedding in Denver.  A lot of them came in with bids under my budget, but didn’t include travel costs, which put them over budget again.  Furthermore, I can’t justify flying someone in from out of state to take pictures at my wedding when there are photographers right here in town.  To be fair, I didn’t put in my ad that I am passionate about supporting local economies and that I’m trying to keep the carbon footprint of my wedding as low as possible, but I didn’t think in a million years I’d get so many photographers from all over the country responding to my ad!  I thought that my ad for a photographer for a Denver wedding would appear only in the Denver Craigslist listing.  Apparently not.

High prices without offering much. I ran into a few photographers, not many, but a few, who were so outrageously priced I wouldn’t pay for their services even if I had a million dollars to spend on my wedding.  This is because even if you’re very, very rich, there is still a line where once you cross it, you feel like you’re just throwing money away, and any rich person who habitually just throws money away is not going to stay rich for very long.  There is just no way I’m going to spend $2500 to $3000 on 8 hours coverage with one photographer and a disc of photoshopped images, when for the same price I can get similar style and quality, full day coverage by two photographers, wedding albums, prints, and a disk.  I got schooled by a professional photographer about costs of running a photography business the last time I complained about photography prices on this blog, but there are some people out there crossing the line.  Especially ones who I know have full-time jobs that pay well in addition to their line crossing photography business (specifically, a photographer recommended to me who happens to be a friend of a friend).

Bad lighting.  Lighting is hard.  The flash is tough to get the hang of, and there is a bit of math involved with getting the aperture and shutter speed just right, especially in challenging lights.  I have sympathy for that because I always had trouble with lighting when I was doing photography.  A lot of times my photos were dark or blown out.  I didn’t usually publish those pictures, though.  I worry when I see a website full of really dark photos (which seems to be more common than blown out), especially if the photos were taken during the middle of the day outdoors.  I worry when I see photos of people with flash face, you know, that really obvious, I-just-had-a-flash-go-off-in-my-face look.  I worry about this because when I see this on the website they’re sending out to potential new clients, I know that the majority of their work is going to be even worse than this.  I mean, I understand that some photos come out like this, and sometimes, it even kind of works.  But if all photos are like this, there’s a problem.

Look, I know that photography is hard, it takes a lot of skill (which must be learned) and an artistic eye (which is a talent one is born with, but can be honed and advanced).  But surgery is also hard, and most of us would not choose a less than good surgeon because we can sympathize with how hard their job is.  When given the choice, we choose the best our money can buy.  I certainly was not the best photographer in my unit, I got into my MOS to write, not to take photos, so I don’t really want to be passing too much judgement on other photographers out there.  If you guys look at the GTMO newsletter, The Wire, from 2004-2005, most of the photos are mine, you will see I’m not a good enough photographer to meet my standards for hire.  I can admit that.  But this is my money I’m spending, and I want the best my money can buy.

This post is mostly just bitching about what I see out there, what people expect me to cough up my money for.  I feel like the wedding industry thinks I’m stupid enough to pay thousands of dollars on things that suck, not just photography, but everything.  It’s not to say that all photographers out there suck.  I had a pretty long list of amazing photographers after sifting through all the responses I got, and I’m really, really excited about and happy with the choice I eventually made, Clara Images.  I feel like it is the best quality for the money, and I really like the women who will be my photographers personally too.  I guess I was just amazed at the ratio of crap to good stuff in the professional photographer world, and wanted to vent about it.

I am very, very glad that I’m no longer looking through photographers.

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An Old Fashioned Notion for a Progressive Bride December 21, 2010

Filed under: Love — Rockingthehomestead @ 11:14 am
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

When I got pregnant with my son and moved back in with my mom, I told myself that I would never again move in with another man unless I was married to him.  My logic, at the time, was simple.  I was sick and tired of providing financially for men who would not offer me the same kind of benefits back.  If I were going to contribute my finances to a household in which someone besides a blood relative lived, I better have some kind of commitment to do the same from them.  And I couldn’t see why anyone would bother making such a commitment eventually, if I were already giving them all the benefits of making that commitment before they actually made it.  In short, it was sort of a “why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free?” mentality, only in my analogy, the milk was my financial contributions to the household, instead of sex.

I think this notion is still totally valid, if you’re inclined to date men who don’t make much or any money, while you make a fair amount.  Or if you expect to contribute more to the household in certain areas than your partner (say in a traditional gender roles situation – why buy a wife who cooks and cleans when you’ve got a girlfriend who will do it).  But in my current situation with Jeremy (who makes more than I ever did, even when I was employed full time by the Army, and is perfectly capable of taking care of himself without womanly assistance), it does not apply.  So why am I still sticking to my guns and not moving in with him before the marriage?

There are a variety of reasons why I have chosen to remain in my mother’s home until marriage.  For one, studies show that couples who cohabitate before marriage are more likely to get divorced.  While I understand the reasons for this are complex and probably don’t apply to me and Jeremy, I can’t help but be a little … well, I guess you could say superstitious about it.  Another reason is because in this modern world where we now accept that most of us aren’t going to be virgins when we marry, I’d like to retain something special about the transition from dating to marriage.  If you’re living together before you’re married, you’re essentially living just as husband and wife would, and there really is no magic change that takes place when you have a ceremony and a party.  There is no special transition.  It’s like you’re throwing this party that costs thousands of dollars to mark … nothing.  Nothing is changing.  You’re just going to go home and live exactly like you were living before that.  I don’t know, maybe it’s frivolous, but I think it’s kind of nice to save that last transition until marriage.  At the very least.

But mainly, what it comes down to, for me, is this.  In my mind, there are only two reasons to move in with someone: because you are confident that you are going to spend the rest of your life with this person (in which case, if you’re inclined to get married, why not just do it?), or because you are stupid.  That’s right.  I think it’s straight up stupid to move in with someone you think you might break up with one day.  Why?  Because moving sucks, and it sucks even more when you’re moving in the middle of a break up.  Trust me, I’ve done it.  Twice.  Once while I was pregnant.  It blows, dude.  It blows dogs for quarters.

Seriously, why move in with someone if you don’t think the move is going to be permanent?  I know some people believe that you have to live with someone to know if you can live with someone, but I just don’t see it that way.  By the time you’ve been dating a year, two, chances are you know the basics of how they live, and the basics are what you need to see if you mesh with.  People can’t hide the most hideous aspects of their living style for that long.  I tried to hide that I’m a messy person from Jeremy in the beginning, but eventually the truth made its self known.  Jeremy has revealed things to me about how he keeps track of finances, cleans, eats.  All of the big stuff is out in the open.  Could I discover, upon moving in with him, that he has some annoying habits I wasn’t able to see when I didn’t live with him 24-7?  Yes.  But it’s not going to be anything so big that it’s worth breaking up over.

Listen, if you’re with someone, and you think “he’s pretty cool, but if I find out he has a habit of blowing his nose at the dinner table, it’s over!” then you don’t like him enough to move in with him.  Don’t do it!  You should only move in with someone if you think “I know all the major details of how this person lives day to day, and I can live with them.  I love this person so much, that even little irritating habits that I might not be able to see right now can be over looked.”  And if you feel that way about someone, and you also believe in marriage, then you should just go ahead and marry them, because that’s true love.

I feel that way about Jeremy, so I’m just going to go ahead and marry him.

Note:  This is not to say that marriage is the only legitimate way to have a committed relationship.  Hey, if you’re not down with marriage, I totally respect that.  I guess the point is the commitment.  I think you should only move in with someone if you’re ready to make a permanent commitment.  If, for you, marriage is part of your permanent commitment plan, you might as well get married when you’re ready to move in with someone.  If marriage is not part of your permanent commitment plan, then make your commitment however best suits your needs as a couple.

And, of course, this is only my opinion.  Hey, you do whatever you want.  Want to move in with a dude you met last night?  Go ahead!  Far be it for me to pass judgement.  I’m just trying to make a case for waiting until you are committed to move in with someone.  But hey, if you don’t mind moving, and maybe you like dramatic break ups, maybe moving in with every boyfriend or girlfriend you ever have is a good move.  What works for me may not be what works for you.  That’s cool too.

 

Guest Lists December 9, 2010

Filed under: Planning,Reception — Rockingthehomestead @ 1:43 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Now that we’ve chosen our back yard for the reception location, my guest options are truly limited.  I am saddened that there are about 50 people I’d like to invite but can’t.  I am not going to be inviting most of the people I was in the Army with, for example.  I haven’t even seen Jeremy’s family’s guest list yet, but they assure me it will be no more than 30-50 people, and they didn’t think more than 30 would show up.  Now, however, they’re saying that just about everyone wants to come.  Off of my guest list, I expect about 75-90 to show, but God help us if they all do!  There’s not enough room in our back yard!

 

Finding services for cheap December 1, 2010

When Jeremy and I decided on our budget, I thought it was pretty lavish.  It is really close to the median price that people spend on weddings.  If you read the book Bridal Bargains (which I highly recommend) you will learn why a median is a more accurate way to judge what most Americans spend on weddings than an average is.  Basically, an average can be easily thrown off by one or two big or small numbers.  So, imagine you want to figure out the average amount a group of ten couples spend on their wedding.

  • Couple 1 – $10,000
  • Couple 2 – $12,000
  • Couple 3 – $2,000
  • Couple 4 – $10,000
  • Couple 5 – $9,500
  • Couple 6 – $10,000
  • Couple 7 – $1,000,000
  • Couple 8 – $9,000
  • Couple 9 – $50
  • Couple 10 – $10,500

What would you say the average couple spent?  Well, probably around $10,000, because that’s right around what most of the couples spent.  Sure, you have two couples who spent way less, and one couple that spent way more, but on average, most spent right around 10k.

But that’s not how a mathematical average is figured out, and when you read that the average American wedding costs $24,000, you’re looking at a mathematical average.  The mathematical average that this group of couples spent on their wedding is $107,305 (this is determined by adding up all the numbers, and then dividing by the number of numbers added up, in this case, 10).  Would you say that in that group of people, the average amount they each spent on their weddings was 100k?  Of course not.  That’s why the current figures that The Knot puts out for wedding cost averages is misleading (also, The Knot surveys mostly people who tend to spend more on their weddings, so that throws their average up as well).

A more accurate way to determine what most Americans pay is to look at the median.  You determine the median by lining up what every person pays in order from least to most, then finding the number right smack dab in the middle.  In the case of my hypothetical group up there, it would work like this

  • Couple 9 – $50
  • Couple 3 – $2,000
  • Couple 8 – $9,000
  • Couple 5 – $9,500
  • Couple 1 – $10,000
  • Couple 4 – $10,000
  • Couple 6 – $10,000
  • Couple 10 – $10,500
  • Couple 2 – $12,000
  • Couple 7 – $1,000,000

And $10,000 is the median.  Ta dah!

So I thought it would be pretty safe setting the budget at what the median cost of the typical American wedding is.  Now that I am looking at vendors, I’m not quite so sure.  It seems to me that most vendors must look at The Knot’s average to determine how much they should charge.  Using The Knot’s budget calculator, there is no way I’ll ever be able to afford any kind of reception hall, professional photography, alcohol, food and a DJ, for example.  Here’s what the budget gives me

  • Reception Venue and Rentals – $800
  • Food – $3000
  • Beverages and Bartenders – $800
  • Music – $600
  • Photography (including all prints) – $700
  • Dress (including alterations) – $600

This didn’t seem so nuts to me, until I started looking into average prices for these things.  I couldn’t find a reception hall under $1,500.  I can’t find a photographer under $1,200 (and none that I actually like under $2,000).  I can’t find a DJ for less than $150 an hour.

I’m getting my food for significantly cheaper than the budget, probably around $1700, so that frees up some money.  I can probably keep my dress costs close to $600, since my grandma will be making it for me.  And since my reception hall (which costs $1800, including linens and set up of tables and chairs) lets me bring in my own alcohol, and I only plan on serving beer, wine and margaritas, that means I can keep that tab down to the budgeted price too.  But I have a feeling I’m going to go over on DJ by at least $120, over on photography by $1,600, and I know I’m going over on my reception hall by $1,000.  Not to mention all the other little things (invitations, flowers, hair styling, accessories, gifts for bridal party and parents) that I can’t see keeping within their miniscule budget either.  Even my ceremony fees at the church I grew up in are going to go over what The Knot has budgeted for me.  Thank God I’m not hiring a professional videographer (no matter how much The Knot keeps telling me I’ll regret that choice, I think they’re just trying to scam me out of money!)

Seriously?  Is a low five figure budget not enough to throw a one day party anymore?  What the hell has this world come to?  Its enough to make me want to drop a big F bomb on the whole wedding industry and elope.  I know photography is hard work (I was a photojournalist in the Army, for God’s sake), but $2400 for six hours of work is $400 an hour!  HOLY GOD!!!  Okay, fine, say they spend four hours photoshopping, that’s still $240 an hour.  Who makes that much?  Who, I ask you?!?!  Lawyers and doctors, that’s who.  And not your every day, shine a light in your mouth and tap on your knee general practitioner.  More like heart surgeons and OBs.  I’ve done photography work and I’ve attended births, it’s not worth the same pay, I promise you.  Don’t get me started on $180 an hour to play music and announce cake cutting.  Holy crap!  Can someone pay me $180 an hour to play music?  Because I do it for free every day.  Okay, fine, they have to cart all that equipment around and set it up, and it does take a lot of charisma to be a good MC, even for an event like a wedding, but I still don’t know if I really think it’s worth $180 an hour.  I’m just sayin’.

Compare this to doula work for a minute.  As a doula, I do three meetings with my clients before the birth of their baby, about 1-2 hours a piece, then I’m on call for them 24/7  for five weeks before their due date until they go into birth.  I then stay with them throughout their entire birth, on average 12-18 hours.  I do one or two post birth meetings, 1-2 hours long, on average.  This about 16 to 28 hours of work, most of which cannot be scheduled.  And it’s hard work, anyone who’s ever been a birth partner for a laboring woman (most of my clients do not use pain medication, either), knows that it’s pretty demanding work, both physically and mentally.  You know the going rate for doula services?  About $400 to $700 dollars, in the Denver area.  That’s for EVERYTHING.

A wedding photographer gets paid for an hour and a half of work taking pictures what a doula gets paid for 20 hours of strenuous work.  This just doesn’t seem right to me.  I mean, I appreciate fine art, I do, and I’m willing to pay a photographer more than what a doula charges, I am.  But that much more?  That’s just insulting, really.

So I think I’m going to look into what I can do to customize packages and barter for services.  I posted an ad on Big Day Barter that looks like this:

I’m getting married in October, 2011 and I’m looking to barter for various services and/or goods.
My fiance and I can trade:

  • raw honey and bees wax from my backyard bee hive
  • home made cheese
  • kefir grains
  • kombucha mushrooms or fresh home made kombucha
  • home made vinegar
  • home made hard cider or hard cider starter
  • doula services/child birth education
  • lawn and garden work
  • various home repair
  • help with DIY projects
  • baby sitting
  • copy editing/help with English homework
  • baby clothes
  • old Army uniforms
  • excess produce from my garden (come summer time)
  • Home chemical safety evaluation (basically, I go through your home when you are pregnant, trying to conceive, or have a new baby, and help you identify the presence of chemicals that might inhibit fertility or cause developmental or health problems for you and your family)
  • I can serve as a day of coordinator for your wedding, to help get things set up and put away
  • Photography – I was a photojournalist in the Army, and I can certainly take photos of an event. The problem is that I don’t own a very nice camera, so I’d probably be using yours. You probably don’t want me for a wedding, but a less formal event I can totally do.
  • Designated driver for parties – You provide the car, I’ll stay sober and drive you some where.

Or make me an offer

We need

  • Photography
  • DJ
  • Bartender (we’re only serving beer, wine and one signature drink)
  • Day of coordinator
  • Hair and makeup
  • Transportation

I’ve also posted ads on Craigslist for a photographer and a DJ and gotten lots of responses.  I’ve not liked 90% of the photography responses I’ve gotten (since I’ve worked as a photographer myself, and I was raised by an artist, I reserve the right to be snooty about wanting my wedding photos to be artistic), but I’ve gotten so many that a few gems have been in there.  Still outside of budget, but if they’re willing to negotiate a custom package (say, give me a few more hours of coverage instead of the custom album and prints), and maybe barter for a reduced fee, I might be able to swing this.  I’ll let you all know how it goes.