Rules Were Made to be Broken by Rachel LaCour Niesen

Wedding Photographer Tips

Playing chords doesn’t make you a jazz composer. Playing it safe around tight corners doesn’t make you a champion grand prix driver. Playing to your strengths doesn’t make you perform under pressure.

Here’s the thing: you have to improvise. You must invent new ways of seeing.

But first you have to know the rules. Master exposure calculations, understand depth of field, learn how to drag your shutter, perfect your follow focus technique, rock your off-camera flash, make your gear an extension of your body, own ambient light.

Then, throw all of it out and invent visual riffs. Careen around tight corners so you feel frightened. Play to your weaknesses. Play, above all, play! The more you play, the more you learn. The more you learn, the more you are empowered to break “THE” rules.

If this sounds simple it’s because it is. Don’t over think the photographs that speak to your heart. Feel them first; then you will never miss them again.

This image was created during one of my earliest wedding gigs. I was nervous as hell. In fact, I was shaking. The room was washed in mysterious candlelight and the bride was an unearthly apparition in her couture Badgley Mischka gown. She didn’t dance; she floated. The room wasn’t lit; it was illuminated.

So, I knew I had to break the rules. I couldn’t play it safe. Rather than aim for exact focus or proper exposure, I purposefully played. My shutter speed was dialed down, I embraced underexposure. The resulting image is lyrical and fully captures the experience of being present at this wedding. It was magical and the only way to reveal magic is to break conventional rules.

Written by Rachel LaCour Niesen

After graduating from the University of Missouri, where she studied Photojournalism and Art History, Rachel pursued projects focusing on rural communities in Latin America and the Southeastern United States, amassing accolades as a passionate documentary photographer with a keen eye for the human condition. Her work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times Magazine and the San Francisco Chronicle. In 2002, Rachel’s captivating photographs of migrant farmworkers were chosen for a book entitled The Human Cost of Food; Farmworker’s Lives, Labor and Advocacy, published by the University of Texas Press.

Rachel’s love for storytelling photography took an intimate turn when she stumbled upon wedding photography by trading her photographic skills in exchange for a custom-designed wedding gown. Quickly trading her front row seat to world history for a front row seat to family history, Rachel started a wedding photography company, LaCour, with husband Andrew Niesen and friend Mark Adams. In a few short years, LaCour became one of the premiere wedding photography studios in the U.S. and soon families the world over caught on to LaCour’s signature style of authentic storytelling through photographs. In 2008, American Photo magazine recognized LaCour’s contributions to the industry by naming them among the “Top Ten Wedding Photographers in the World.”

In 2007 Rachel co-founded ShootQ and now manages the commingled communities of Pictage and ShootQ.

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Your Guide to Building Business Systems (An Email Course)

So, you want to be a successful photographer? We want that too!

That’s why we’ve designed this email course. It will act as your guide to building a strong foundation for your business. Running a successful photography business isn’t easy, but it gets easier when you have a clear vision and solid business systems. Sign up for this email course for the complete guide.

You don’t have to be a super hero

As a small business owner, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by daily decision-making and tasks. Sometimes it seems that you’re expected to be all things to all people – and do a good job wearing many different hats!

The reality is that you can’t do it all. Successful photographers understand this, which is why they begin with a clear vision for their business. This vision guides them to set specific short term and long term goals. From there, they set up systems …

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The Value of an Image by Elizabeth Villa Ippolito

Meaningful Moments Captured by Wedding Photographers

“Photojournalism isn’t just an invitation to sit on the front row of global history, it’s also an invitation to sit on the front row of family history.”

-Rachel LaCour Niesen, Intimate Invitations: The Photo that Changed My Career

In the three weeks that I’ve been married, I’ve had the opportunity to remember our wedding ceremony through many conversations with family and friends. Without fail, in each and every one of those conversations I have been asked about my favorite part.

While I loved each and every part of our wedding day (weekend really), there was one piece in particular that stood apart from the rest.

We called it our “Unity Ceremony,” a time during our wedding where the communities that raised us came forward and gave us a meaningful token—something that we could keep and share with future generations.

One of these tokens was given to me by my Grandma, on behalf of my late Grandpa (my Papa). It was his pocket watch. And while I will cherish this gift for all of my life, by giving it to me on my wedding day, my Grandma gave me more than I think she knew. She gave me a moment—a reminder—that my Grandpa was there with me on my wedding day.

I will always have this pocket watch as a token of my Papa’s life. But this image is a token of that moment, and because of this image I’ll be able to share this moment with future generations of my family.

My Point:

Not every wedding is the same, and neither is every client. The value of an image is most often defined by your client, and whether that image is meaningful to them. There is no magic formula for capturing meaningful images, no top ten shots that will keep your clients happy. There is, however, value in knowing your clients and understanding what it is that is meaningful to them.

After all, that is what your photography business is about isn’t it? Your clients? If you are constantly pursuing the uniquely meaningful for every client, the success of your business will follow.

Written by Elizabeth Villa Ippolito

The photography industry is overflowing with educational opportunities and advice. As Content Curator of The Photo Life, Elizabeth gets to collaborate with a team of photographers and creatives to provide valuable content for The Photo Life readers. Passionate about Content Marketing, Elizabeth spends an embarrassing amount of time researching and experimenting with the ideas of Content Marketing for small business. Follow her on Twitter at @ElizabethIpp

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What’s Love Got to Do With It? by Justin & Mary Marantz

I think by now most of us realize that business in general, and the wedding industry in particular, is very relational. Simply put, we are happier, do better work, get burned out less, and have more job & life satisfaction overall when we work with people we actually like. People we have strong relationships with. The kinds of couples that we would want to be friends with anyway had we met them in any other walk of life. And the kinds of couples that we would gladly spend time with, even if it wasn’t part of our job. These are the kinds of couples we have affectionately deemed our “Clients-Turned-Friends.”

The question then becomes: Ok, so how do you find couples like that? How do you book your entire calendar solid with couples you actually connect with and enjoy spending time with, instead of just having a few bright spots here & …

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Making Virtual Copies vs. DNG Copies in Lightroom 3 by Jared Platt

This Lightroom Podcast is in answer to the questions: How do I make duplicate images in Lightroom and name them with unique names so I can show them to a client and be able to keep them separated?

This is basically a question of when you should use a virtual copy vs a DNG copy. So here is the answer.

Making Virtual Copies vs. DNG Copies in Lightroom 3 from Jared Platt on Vimeo.

Jared’s Lightroom Workflow Workshop is back on tour. Austin, Dallas, Houston, Chicago and Philadelphia are all on the schedule for July and August. To learn more and sign up for the workshop, go to

About Jared Platt

Jared Platt is a professional photographer and photographic educator. He studied photography at Arizona State University where he earned his undergraduate and masters degrees in Photography. He teaches college photography courses as well as workshops for professional photographers and provides online education for photographers …

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The Magic Bullet of Successful Wedding Photography by Justine Ungaro

Wedding Photography Tips from Justine Ungaro

“Boy, I never knew I could look so good.”  – Lisa Binder, Washington DC

If you were to create a list of the various components for building a successful wedding photography business, you would most likely include things like great customer service, personality marketing, understanding your ideal client, great photography, recognizable style, and unique product offerings. Yet, there is one component—arguably the most important component—that probably wouldn’t make your list. It’s what I consider to be the “magic bullet” of wedding photography and the one thing that leads to more bookings, more sales, and more happy clients than anything else. Ironically, it’s also the trait that I find to be almost a lost art in today’s highly competitive wedding photography market!

So what is it? THE most important skill for successful wedding photographers is the ability to make people look great. It’s the ability to take FLATTERING photographs of real …

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What Your Email Auto Responder Says About You (We’re Ready for a Debate!) by Katie Humphreys

I’ve been a photographer since 2004, and I’ve walked more than a mile in a photographer’s shoes.  Now that I find myself regularly working with photographers, I’m able to see things from a different perspective while still being able to empathize with the day in, day out challenges that photographers face. And it’s from that perspective, that I invite you to consider the following.

I’m not sure how, why or when. But, somewhere along the lines, photographers—lots of them—decided that it was a good idea to set up email auto responders to automatically reply to each and every email that they receive.

These automatic responses look something like this:

“Due to the large volume of emails I receive, it may take me awhile to respond to your email. If it’s urgent, please call me. Otherwise, I appreciate your patience as I dig through my pile of emails.”

In theory, these messages are supposed …

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Reinventing Yourself: A Meandering Journey with Joe. by The Community Team

Wedding Photography by Joe Buissink

An Interview with Joe Buissink by Rachel LaCour Niesen

Atlanta photographers- hear more of Joe’s story tomorrow, July 13th,  at the Atlanta PUG Meeting! Then, come back on Thursday for Pictage & ShootQ Business Bootcamp!

“I believe that one defines oneself by reinvention. To not be like your parents. To not be like your friends. To be yourself. To cut yourself out of stone.”  – Henry Rollins

This is one of my favorite quotes by an artist I admire. He’s characteristically irreverent and unconcerned about pissing people off. In fact, he implies that we must define ourselves by reinvention. The last statement is particularly poignant: “To cut yourself out of stone.” Notice he didn’t say “sculpt.” He said “cut.” Did you hear that? CUT. Reinvention is a painful process. And it’s a process you have to go through alone. Sounds scary, doesn’t it? I think so.

Yet reinvention also means renewal, hope for a fresh future. As creative professionals, we must constantly reinvent ourselves. It’s how we stay fresh, focused and full of passion for our craft.

1. How long have you been a photographer?

I’ve been a photographer (professional) for 16yrs now.  I’ve been a visual person all my life.  Friends, when I was younger, always thought I was weird or awkward… you know, always seeing things differently than they were.

2. Do you think there’s a time when every photographer must reinvent themselves? Their style? Their business? Have you had to do either or both?

I’m constantly reinventing myself. I have to. It’s the only way I can stay in business. I’ve been very fortunate in my career… I’ve had great success. But when 2008 hit, the bottom fell out. I thought I’d be just fine – that I would continue getting work because of my good reputation and good work. But, I was so wrong! The last three or so years have been tough on me as well. I quickly found that I could no longer rest on my laurels (It’s kind of easy to do that when you’ve been successful… for me anyways), I had to put in the effort to reinvent myself and my business. So, I am. I shut down my Beverly Hills studio and moved it home, I’m creating a new website, and making more changes.

3. Does the personal nature of your photographs take a toll on you?

I usually feel invigorated after a shoot. Tired, but invigorated. Being present in people lives on one of the most important days for them is, well, an honor, privilege, and blessing. That is invigorating!! Now, at 60 years young, I do feel a bit slower. However, working out every day and eating right seems to be bringing me back up to speed – slowly.  This, by the way, is another part of reinventing yourself. Overcoming obstacles sometimes requires you to reinvent.

4. Some say you’re the “Shaman of Wedding Photographers.” What do you think about that?

I feel humbled and embarrassed by this question. I’m just your average Joe (literally). I’m a photographer that is VERY passionate about photography. I found it to be my voice in life. Ya kinda haveta know my background as a child to know that I never had a voice. It was literally beaten out of me. Photography gave me a voice; A way to express my feelings. I simply want to share those things with others who have taken up the camera. And share what I’ve discovered it can do for people. For me… it’s therapy.

I also feel the need to make sure that the new generation of photographers realizes that what we (some of us old timers) endeavor to do in this industry is to continue to show the world that what we do is a craft, an art form. There is no magic bullet for success. It requires dedication and hard work. And if you wish to truly excel at this craft… it requires introspection. A very deep look inside yourself.

5. Will you ever stop photographing? Put your camera down for good?

I think I’ll be buried with a camera in my hand. I can never and will never stop shooting. For me it would be like stopping talking. Remember, for me, it’s a form of communication (by the way… this writing thing I’m doing right now, isn’t one of them). I’m a lousy writer. However, I can see really well. Even better, is my ability to being aware of how I feel, and expressing that through photos.

6. Good gear is cheap. Digital gives everyone instant feedback. Photography is being democratized and the line between “pros” and “hobbyists” is blurred. Do you think photographs created by pros have more intrinsic value than images photographs created by hobbyists?

For me it doesn’t matter if the image was shot by a professional or a hobbyist. I’ll always relate to the image, and through that image I’ll relate to the person that took it. Could have been a soccer mom that shot it, or a 5yr old. The value in a photograph is what it communicates to the viewer.

7. What’s your take on Henry Rollin’s quote? Can you relate to that phrase, “To cut yourself out of stone?”

Henry has it right – it fits perfectly in my life story. I was told by ALL not to become a photographer. I was told by my photographer friends that there were too many people in the field, and I was asked what I could possibly offer. I was told by my family that wedding photography wasn’t a respected field of photography. After all, the general consensus at the time was that anyone can become a photographer. I was to be a doctor, and I was shamed for even trying something other than being a doctor.

Ok, so I happened to be working towards my PhD in psychology when I quit, and took up the camera. It was a radical move, I understand. It was not a ‘normal’ decision to make. So what!!  Without pursuing your passion, reinventing yourself to pursue your dreams, you’ll never know who you really are. I will continue to chase my dreams. I will continue to follow my passion. Until I die.  And no one can convince me not to.

8. What’s your favorite way to chill out after a crazy long wedding shoot?

Come home and simply be with my family. Sunday bike ride with Marilyn and Sebastien. Cook and do dishes together. Watch a movie with my wife. Hold hands. No words. Then early to bed.

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How I Forge Collaborative Vendor Relationships by Lisa Lefkowitz

Featured Wedding Blog Post

One of the most rewarding paths I’ve taken as a photographer has been forging collaborative relationships with other wedding professionals. By recognizing the contributions of the many creatives involved in assembling a wedding, I can help foster a team environment that makes our wedding day experience more of a collaboration, and helps form meaningful working friendships. After the wedding, my approach to synergistic promotion creates a word-of-mouth buzz that allows my work to speak for itself.

It Takes a Village

I can’t create beautiful images of gorgeous florals, cakes, tablescapes, and even a bride, without the many talents of floral designers, cake designers, event designers, makeup and hair stylists… The list goes on. The beauty that is a wedding is the result of many, many hours of work, most of which we as photographers don’t see in-progress.

I try to respect the vision of each artist, by thinking about how they would want each item photographed, and take that into consideration when shooting. Of course I am shooting for my clients, but I am also shooting for my vendors so that they can have beautiful images of their beautiful work. After the event, I send out discs with relevant images in a timely manner, for their self-promotional use, along with a personal note.

Building Relationships & Creative Projects

In seeing a wedding as a collaboration between creatives, and in approaching each event as a team, I’ve formed close friendships with many of the vendors I work with regularly. I’ve attended networking events, private dinners, coffee dates, etc, and spent many hours chatting on the phone with some of my favorite wedding professionals. These friendships are authentic and rewarding – we share the unique and singular goal as artists of creating beauty for our clients. These are people I enjoy being around and want to work with. I recommend them to my clients, and they recommend me to theirs. Part of what I love about working in weddings is my relationships with these other artists – the collaborative creative energy drives and inspires my work. As Styled Shoots have become popular, I’ve also enjoyed working on projects in the off-season with many of my favorite vendors. These shoots are a great way to strengthen our working relationships and create promotional imagery.

Synergistic PR

Once I’ve created images of a beautiful event (thanks to my fabulous wedding team) it’s time to promote us as a group! As photographers, the onus is on us to submit our images to magazines and blogs. It’s a big responsibility, and one I don’t take lightly. I do everything I can to promote each wedding for every member of the team, not just myself. Here are some of the things I do that helps create this synergistic PR:

Blog each wedding with links to every vendor involved in the project. Submit each wedding with a full vendor list to blogs or magazines. Use Social Media to extend the reach – Tweet and Facebook with links to your vendor team both before/after the event as well as to promote any editorial features. Once a wedding is published, repeat: Blog the feature, Tweet, Facebook with credits to   all vendors. If it was published in a magazine I create a blog ready JPG of the magazine spread and send it to vendors to blog for more cross-promotion.


As image-makers, we have a responsibility to the event team as a whole. By taking a collaborative approach we can form valuable relationships that lead to authentic friendships and help create word-of-mouth buzz about everyone’s work.

Written by Lisa Lefkowitz

Based in San Francisco, Lisa has been photographing weddings for the past ten years, earning national recognition for her fresh, lifestyle images. She specializes in film photography and brings a fine art sensibility to her wedding work.

Lisa’s work is frequently featured in wedding magazines and on blogs including Martha Stewart, BRIDES, and Style Me Pretty. Her images have been on the cover of PDN and been featured in an ad for Fujifilm. She gave a Platform presentation at WPPI in 2011 and will be speaking at this year’s PDN PhotoPlus Expo in NYC. Lisa’s attention to detail, low-key working-style and her personalized approach to each wedding has made her a favorite among brides near and far.

Lisa lives in San Francisco with her husband and daughter.

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Your Photography Business is Not About You by The Youngrens

Your photography business is not about you.

That’s not something we hear very much these days. In fact, I feel sometimes that one of the strongest messages we hear during this rapid growth of the industry is the exact opposite. We hear that it’s all about us. That we need to market ourselves in order to stand apart from the crowds. That it’s not about the photography, it’s about the photographer. That it’s about our unique personality, our particular eye, and our ability to make photographic art that nobody else can create. It’s YOU that defines your brand and separates your business from everyone else in the market.

I would agree 100% with those statements. But I still submit to you guys that your business is not about you.

Let me explain.

Your branding, yes, should reflect what makes you a unique individual and a distinctive artist. I think that successful photography businesses are …

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