Capturing Authentic Emotion on the Wedding Day by The Youngrens

 

A long while back, I wrote an article for The Photo Life about how to bring out authentic emotion in your couples.

In that article, I introduced the concept of Emotional Grounding, the idea of leading your couples into their core feelings for each other. It’s something Jeff and I have been developing and using with our subjects for a few years. While it’s not a revolutionary idea – we’re not the only photographers who engage with subjects emotionally – putting an actual name to this concept helped us identify and improve how we do it in practice.

My initial article covered part one of the Emotional Grounding concept, introducing an emotionally-engaging style of shooting at the engagement session. Now, I want to talk about part two of the Emotional Grounding concept, how we employ this style during weddings.

The Power We Possess

Since photographers spend so much time with the bride and groom during the wedding, we have a big influence on the pace and the emotional atmosphere of the day. That’s quite a bit of power! And it can be beneficial power. Think of it this way – what if we viewed photographs not just as a way of capturing and preserving moments, but as a way of jogging our clients’ emotions? What if photos weren’t just meant to help them remember moments as much as to re-feel moments?

You might say that’s pretty obvious – if photographs jog our client’s memories of their wedding, then of course they’re remembering what the moment felt like! Emotions are an integral part of memories, after all. But I’m talking about our attitude while we’re shooting. If we treat photographs as emotional reminders instead of momentary captures, then we can help clients feel and preserve their emotions more vividly. Thus, photographs become more valuable in the long run because there are stronger, richer feelings tied to them.

Slowing Down the Day

If emotions are so important, how can we help clients feel and preserve their emotions while we’re shooting? The easiest thing we can do is to slow down. In other words, RELAX. When we can help couples and their families step back, chill their minds, and take a deep breath, we can slow down the atmosphere and give them space and permission to feel what’s going on. We don’t have to take more time doing things – we don’t have to spend three minutes composing a shot instead of one – we just have to give the impression that we’re slow and steady while remaining efficient with time.

This makes a lot of sense in practice, so the best example of this is during “The First Look” (if you don’t have many couples who do a First Look, then I’ll explain how this can be done at other points in the day).

Grounding the First Look

The First Look is one of the points during the wedding day that poses potential stress for photographers. There are a whole host of factors thrown into our mental state. Hair and makeup may have run late, dramatically cutting into photo time. It’s usually during the harshest sunlight, so finding a location with good backgrounds and lighting in two opposite directions (for the bride AND the groom) can be a headache. To top it off, it should be a spot that’s quiet and private – sometimes crazy difficult to find!

So the temptation is to treat the First Look as a formality – a hoop we have to jump through so we can get to more exciting stuff with the couple. But what if we stepped back, slowed down and emotionally grounded our couple? Not only can we make the experience more meaningful for everyone involved, but we can also get great photographs in less time. A win/win! So how do we do that?

Here’s what we do during the First Look. Jeff sets the groom up in a predetermined location, and then tells him that he better start getting emotional ‘cuz his bride is gonna be piiiiiiiissed if he doesn’t!

You really shouldn’t believe a word that I say.

Ok, for reals. Jeff is with the groom in the First Look spot, and I’m with the bride just out of sight. We’ll separately tell them versions of this same thing. First, we talk them through what’s going to happen during the First Look so they’re aware of the logistics – the bride will walk up behind the groom, we’ll stop her five or six feet away and get her set up to look perfect, and then whenever he’s ready (note that we don’t tell the groom when to turn around) he can turn and see his bride for the first time.

Even more than that, we let them know that this moment is not for us; it’s not for photographs or the schedule or anything like that. It’s for them, and it’s important to slow down such a significant moment. So we walk them through their senses, asking them to feel the dry air, the warm sun or the cool breeze; to smell the leaves, the grass, or the ocean; to hear the waves, the cars, or the trees. By tuning into their senses, they ground themselves in that place and time. Their hearts may be pounding with adrenaline or their minds may be racing with emotions, but they will remember what that moment smelled, sounded, and felt like. And we all know how crazy powerful our senses are – they bring us back to our memories, but also to the emotions we felt (the smell of Mom baking, the sound of Christmas presents being opened, the scratch of Grandpa’s beard).

Then we tell them that once he turns around and they’ve seen each other, that moment is for them. We’ll be taking photos the whole time, but we’re going to step back and use longer lenses, so they can feel free to do whatever is natural in that moment. Whether it’s hug, laugh, kiss, cry, dance – anything goes (we actually had a couple ‘meow’ once). The important thing is that we won’t interrupt – when they’re ready to start portraits, they’ll turn to us and we’ll start. But not until then. We won’t even interject if they turn the wrong way or step into bad lighting. That’s a risk we’re willing to take in order to preserve the atmosphere we’ve created.

The remarkable thing about emotional grounding is that the photos actually become MORE efficient when we slow things down. Why? Because our couple is in an authentic place of connection with themselves and with each other, and it’s instantly easier to capture natural, emotional and authentic imagery.

Authentic Emotion vs. Manipulation

One thing I have to note here is that Jeff and I are not master charmers manipulating our couples into crying during every First Look. In fact, we don’t care if our couples cry or not. We’re simply asking them to engage with the emotions that already authentically exist, whether that’s excitement, calm, joy, comfort, thrill, anxiety, nervousness, love etc. We would do an enormous disservice if we manipulated couples into feeling something they’re not, so be careful when approaching someone’s emotions. It’s a matter of trust, and depending on the person, it can be an intimate request to ask someone to feel their emotions, so be respectful whether they let you in or not.

Without the First Look

So what if your couple chooses not to do a First Look? You can still use these techniques throughout the day whenever it feels appropriate. We have stopped and grounded anxious brides just before slipping the dress on, helping them engage with the significance of the moment. Or with the groom while he’s putting on his tux. Or with the bride when she’s with her father. There are countless moments throughout the day, if we’re open to seeing them.

The second most significant time for this kind of grounding would be just after the ceremony, and this works for any kind of wedding. You can lead the couple to a private location after they walk down the aisle (Justin and Mary Marantz champion this method as “The Ten Minute Rule”) or you can ground them while you’re taking portraits, asking them to feel their senses, breathe deeply, and connect with each other (‘you’re married! YAY!’). It’s a matter of reading the day and reading your couple, identifying moments where it’s appropriate to step in, slow down, and ground your subjects.

Just remember that we as photographers can make a unique impact on how the wedding is remembered, not just photographically but emotionally as well. So, if we shoot with emotional grounding in mind, we can make our photos even more meaningful. In fact, we just did a blog post where we asked couples from 2011 to tell us their favorite images from their wedding, and it was remarkable how many of those images took place in an emotionally grounded atmosphere. Not all of them, but enough for me to think that emotional grounding is a meaningful skill to develop. What are other ways we can help couples slow down and remember how they felt during their wedding day?

Written by Erin Youngren

Jeff and Erin Youngren are international wedding and lifestyle photographers running one of the fastest growing boutique studios in the competitive Southern California market. Although based in San Diego, their deeply emotional style and passionate partnership has taken them from the streets of San Francisco to the canals of Venice to the family suburbs of Chicago to photograph extraordinary weddings and incredible couples. As leaders in the photographic community, they are passionate about helping other photographers build viable, authentic businesses, while building a photography community built on integrity and honest leadership.

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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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How To Bring Out Authentic Emotion in Your Shoots by The Youngrens

the youngrens engagement photography

Jeff and I were just in San Francisco this past week and in the course of four days we shot three engagement sessions for three incredibly unique and beautiful couples. Each couple was very different from the others – their stories were distinct and their personalities were one of kind.

We absolutely LOVE that all of our couples have such unique stories and personalities – we wouldn’t trade this job for anything – but photographing so many different types of personalities can also be challenging, right? Wouldn’t it be so much easier if every one of our couples responded the same way to our jokes? If they all looked great in the same type of poses? If their senses of humor all clicked perfectly with ours? If every groom thought that Jeff’s monkey dance was super awesome and NOT totally lame?

The truth is that we have to connect with each of our couples on a level that makes them comfortable and allows them to relax, but it’s not easy discovering what those levels are when everyone is so unique.

But over the years, Jeff and I have found that there’s one commonality between our couples that we can bank on. They love each other. They want to spend the rest of their lives together. They’re planning a wedding and they’re preparing to make a unique and lasting commitment to each other. As ordinary as that sounds, it’s actually a pretty remarkable thing.

And when it comes to photographing a lot of different couples, this is one thing that in almost every circumstance we as wedding photographers can rely on.

So Jeff and I like to get in touch with that emotional side of our couples when we photograph them, and we like to call this emotional connection, “Grounding.”

What Does Grounding Mean?

When Jeff and I meet a couple at the engagement session, they’re lives are usually insanely busy. I’m making a global statement here, but most couples are working full-time jobs, planning a wedding, maintaining social lives, and juggling a mountain of life responsibilities while trying to pick the perfect outfit for the engagement session and somehow stay connected in their committed relationship.

This is the baggage that couples are carrying into the engagement shoot. It’s a lot to handle, and by the time the session arrives, engagement photos can unfortunately become just another piece of luggage that gets thrown into the life/wedding mix. Our job as photographers is to bring our couples back to earth – to strip the baggage off of their backs and bring them back to their core feelings for each other.

We need to remind them of their love story.

So when a couple arrives at the engagement session, Jeff and I begin the session by “grounding” them into those emotions. And we do that by telling them a couple of things.

First, we tell them that we realize that there’s probably a lot going on in their lives right now. At this stage of the wedding plans, they’re probably not getting a ton of time just to hang out and connect with each other. Just getting ready for photos can be stressful, so we can only imagine how much they’re juggling beyond that. But the beauty of the engagement session is that it’s the one item on the long list of wedding to-dos that doesn’t require them to actually DO anything. Our job is to create gorgeous photographs of them – and we’re going to make that happen – and they’re only job for the next couple of hours is to connect with one another. We’re going to provide the space and freedom for them to connect emotionally – the evening is blocked off, the phones are in the car, the outfits are perfect, and the hair and makeup is beautiful. They don’t need to think, they don’t need to make any decisions – all they have to do is be in love.

His job is to love on her and her job is to let him. And the more they do that, the better.

We’re not going to host a therapy session or anything like that – we’re photographers, not counselors for Pete’s sake. But they are going to do a lot of touching, hugging, and kissing for the next few hours while we pose them, and that’s enough to make anyone feel super loved.

And finally, here’s the key statement that we tell our couples just before we begin the engagement session: we tell them that the goal for the session is for them to go home that night more in love with each other than when they came. That’s all. If that happens, then we’ve done our job.

And it’s remarkable how different couples from all walks of life respond to this. It’s like an emotional switch gets flipped on in their hearts as the layers of life get left behind in the car. Many couples get giddy and happy. Others get reflective, and a few just get downright emotional. But all of them get excited.

It’s the simplest way to introduce a couple into a photo shoot. Just by starting off with their emotions in mind, we’ve found that it’s easier to connect with a range of different people on a deeper, more authentic level. This isn’t a new way of doing things – it’s definitely not revolutionary – but if you’re looking to bring out more authentic emotion in your shoots, then this is one method out of many to throw into your toolkit.

Written by Erin Youngren

Jeff and Erin Youngren are international wedding and lifestyle photographers running one of the fastest growing boutique studios in the competitive Southern California market. Although based in San Diego, their deeply emotional style and passionate partnership has taken them from the streets of San Francisco to the canals of Venice to the family suburbs of Chicago to photograph extraordinary weddings and incredible couples. As leaders in the photographic community, they are passionate about helping other photographers build viable, authentic businesses, while building a photography community built on integrity and honest leadership.

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Defining Unique Roles in Our Business (and Marriage!) by The Youngrens

This is part one in The Photo Life Blog Series, True Life: I’m Married to My Business Partner. This series will explore how husband and wife photography teams find success when their business and personal lives collide.

Jeff and I are big believers in closed systems. By sticking to this kind of internal organization within our business, we’ve been able to avoid contention and frustration on several levels – business and personal.

What do I mean by closed systems?

A closed system means that our roles in the business are completely separate from each other, and we don’t have to rely or wait on each other to get a job done.

For example, I am in charge of the blog for our business, so that means that I edit the images that go on the blog, I write the posts, I schedule the blog calendar, I promote the posts via social media, and I …

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How to Create Beautiful Portraits in Harsh Sunlight (or at least deal with it) by The Youngrens

shooting in harsh sunlight

If you think about it, wedding days are totally against us as photographers, particularly when it comes to light. I mean, who has two thumbs and ends up shooting bridal parties at high noon in July? For four weekends in a row? This girl.

One of our most frequently asked questions at The Youngrens is “How do you shoot in harsh sunlight?”

The short answer? We don’t. We find shade. Any kind of shade. Shade from a tree, a building, a cloud, a doorway, a diffuser – anything. As much as we humanly can, we try to avoid harsh sunlight.

Which brings me to our second most frequently asked question.

“Ok, but what if there’s no shade to be found? Anywhere.”

Fair question. We’ll start with the basics, then throw out a few tips.

Side Note: Avoiding harsh sunlight is a part of our particular photographic style. Others may welcome harsh sunlight as a part of their artistic eye, or some may use artificial lighting to overpower the sun and create high-fashion looks. Those are both great styles, but we’ll be outlining how we stay within our particular style in harsh, mid-day situations.

Shoot in Manual The only way you can properly expose skin tones in a harsh sunlight situation is by putting your camera in manual mode. As smart as cameras are these days, there will be a lot of light bouncing around your subject and your light meter won’t give you an accurate reading.

You will have to be smarter than the camera. So take a deep breath and make the leap into manual, if you haven’t already.

Widen Your Aperture Harsh sunlight is undesirable because it creates hard shadows on the skin that highlight little facial details (ie blemishes, pores, imperfections, discolorations, wrinkles, etc), which is totally unflattering.

So your overall goal as the photographer in a harsh sunlight situation is to soften the light on your subject’s skin and create a more pleasing skin tone.

We typically shoot between f/2.0 and f/2.8 for most of our bride and groom portraits, because a wider aperture particularly helps in harsh sunlight situations to soften skin tones.

It’s important to note, however, that when shooting at such “wide open” apertures it’s increasingly difficult to maintain a sharp focus on your subject(s). So slow down and take the time to focus properly when shooting with these settings. Otherwise you’ll be angry at me.

So throw your camera into manual, widen your aperture, then…

Put their backs at an off-angle to the sun High noon is the only time of day that there will be absolutely no angle to the sun, but if you’re at least 30 minutes on either side of that, you can take advantage of what sun angle exists.

Since you’re trying to soften your subjects’ skin, you don’t want harsh sunlight to directly hit your subjects’ faces. So put their backs at an angle to the sun so that their faces are completely shaded. You will get a rim light of blown-out highlights around their heads and bodies, so minimize the amount of blown highlights that you show in your frame. Recover what you can in post.

Use spot metering In order to create a soft, pleasing skin tone, you will need to expose properly for the skin. Switch your camera to spot metering so your meter won’t lie to you – as much. With spot metering, your light meter will expose for the small area in the center of the frame instead of trying to expose for the entire photo. Here’s a great explanation of spot metering.

So you have your camera in manual, you’ve widened your aperture, you have your subjects’ faces shaded, and you’re spot metering just for their skin. Now what?

Overexpose for the skin Your camera will try to underexpose whatever you’re focusing on because there is so much light bouncing onto the meter and it thinks it needs to make things darker. But because you’re in manual you will need to override your camera’s meter and slow down your shutter speed enough to create bright, fresh skin tones.

(In fact, we like to overexpose our images to create brighter, cleaner skin tones quite often –not just in harsh sunlight situations.)

Sometimes you will need to overexpose by just a little to get great results, but other times you’ll be overexposing by several stops. It all depends on the particular situation.

Those are some basic techniques to shooting in harsh sunlight, so once you master those, try these extra tips that we use quite often:

Use your couples to shade each other Get rid of sun blotches on your bride’s forehead by having the groom shade it for you with his head. It may sound weird, but bride’s love being taken care of by their grooms.

Don’t look at the camera Avoid those terrible under eye shadows by never having your couple look at the camera in high noon sunlight. Crop in close to their faces and have a second shooter or an assistant use a diffuser on their skin or wait until you can find some shade to get that necessary “looking at the camera” hero image.

Take advantage, grab some flare Get artistic and use the sun to your advantage. Grab a little flare, wash out your lens, or use the lines of harsh shadows in your composition.

Disclaimer: Only do this if it reflects your style.

Go inside Not feeling the high noon outdoors? There will be a lot more sun coming through interior windows during this time, so go inside and take advantage of it.

Use a doorway Use the bright and lovely fall-off light in doorways. This kind of soft, even light makes skin look GORGEOUS.

Got a question that you would love for us to write about? You can ask it here or vote for ones that you’d love to see us answer in an upcoming article.

Hugs, Erin

Written by Erin Youngren

Jeff and Erin Youngren are international wedding and lifestyle photographers running one of the fastest growing boutique studios in the competitive Southern California market. Although based in San Diego, their deeply emotional style and passionate partnership has taken them from the streets of San Francisco to the canals of Venice to the family suburbs of Chicago to photograph extraordinary weddings and incredible couples. As leaders in the photographic community, they are passionate about helping other photographers build viable, authentic businesses, while building a photography community built on integrity and honest leadership.

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Why the Wedding Day Runs Late (And 5 Ways to Prevent It) by The Youngrens

Wedding Clients by Wedding Photographers The Youngrens

We’ve all been there before – something runs late on the wedding day, and suddenly that cushy hour of photo time that was on your schedule evaporates into 15 minutes of chaos with a 24 person bridal party and a list of family portraits a mile long.

Perfect…

The ability to handle the pressure of a late wedding day with grace and ease is definitely what sets apart a great wedding photographer from a good one.

But the ability to prevent the day from running late in the first place is what turns a great photographer into a true wedding professional.

Jeff and I have identified five of the biggest reasons that weddings tend to run late – at least in our experience – and we’d love to share the solutions that we’ve come up with.

1. The Hair and Makeup Artists Don’t Know the Photo Schedule

The Problem: In our experience, the hair and makeup appointments tend to be the number one reason that brides run late. Why? Without knowing any better (our fault as photographers), brides will tell the artists that they need to be finished at 2:00pm because photos begin at 2:00pm – leaving zero time for putting on the dress, traveling to photos, or somebody running late with their appointment. It’s almost a guarantee that things will run late.

The Solution: When you’re drawing up the photography schedule for the wedding day (read about our perfect wedding day schedule here), tell your brides to schedule their appointments to finish a whole hour before photos are scheduled to begin. Include a hard stop time for the hair and makeup on the schedule and stress the importance of this time throughout the planning process.

However, while we love our couples to death, many times the schedule doesn’t get passed along to the hair and makeup team in the craziness of the wedding plans. Give the hair and makeup artists a call a few weeks out to introduce yourself and to chat through the schedule of photos, letting them know who needs to be finished for photos and when.

This quick five-minute phone call has done more to keep our wedding days on time than any other practice we do. Try it, you’ll be amazed.

2. The Family is Notorious for Running Late

The Problem: The groom’s brother is always 30 minutes late. He gets it from his mother, who has never shown up on time in her life.

The Solution: Tell your couples to create a ‘fake’ photo time for all family members, particularly those that have a history for being late. Our rule of thumb is to tell everyone to be ready fifteen minutes earlier than the actual time, and to put a dependable family member in charge of getting family to photos. Also, give the family a specific, easy-to-find location to meet for pictures. The lobby or entrance of the venue is always a great bet.

Planning for people being late will save your sanity – buh-leive me!

3. Aunt Sheryl Didn’t Know About Family Portraits

The Problem: The couple chooses to do a First Look so all of the family pictures are going to be taken before the ceremony. However, nobody remembered to tell Aunt Sheryl that she needed to arrive early, which means that you have to gather everybody again during the cocktail hour for that last family photo.

The Solution: Work with your couples to develop the family portrait list at least two months before the wedding, and use specific names on the list (ie John and Susie w/Aunt Sheryl, Uncle Bill). That way there is no confusion about who is needed and when for pictures. Make sure to tell your bride to inform any relatives of the photo times and to pass along the list.

4. Last Minute Family Portrait Requests

The Problem: You’ve finished up your list of family portraits and the couple has to leave for the ceremony, but the mother of the bride asks for ten more family pictures, which will make everybody run late.

The Solution: It’s so important to hash out a finalized list of family portraits prior to the wedding day to avoid the lengthy last minute family portrait requests that happen so often.

At least two months before the wedding, create your typical list of immediate family set-ups (using questionnaires in ShootQ), and ask your couples to show it to their moms for a quick approval. Because you’ve done the majority of the work for them already and set the tone for a short, concise list, you should only get a few more special requests – and if you get a long list back, you can either add more time to the schedule or work with them on prioritizing and cutting the list down.

(Keep in mind, though, that the majority of print orders come from family portraits, so during this process help families think about the pictures they’ll want to put in their homes or albums later.)

If a last minute request still occurs on the wedding day, you’ll be in a position to defer it until the reception or the cocktail hour, since both families had the chance to make requests ahead of time.

5. The Travel Time was Underestimated

The Problem: A five-minute trip to the church actually takes fifteen minutes with a bridal party of twenty people. And then there’s traffic on the freeway. And construction on the main road…

The Solution: Always over-estimate the travel times. It takes a while to get a bridal party moving, so instead of trying to force everybody out the door (you’ll drive yourself – and them – crazy), simply schedule more travel time than needed. Plus, you’ll look amazing to the coordinator when you arrive early with the entire bridal party.

Bonus: Arm Your Couples with the Info They Need

You need to take responsibility for educating your couples about the process of a wedding day, and the more help you can provide, the better the wedding day will flow.

Jeff and I developed a document called Make the Most of Your Wedding Photography, and it’s automatically sent to our couples just after they book with us (thank you ShootQ!). It includes all of the tips listed above (and many more) plus a sample schedule of a typical wedding day and our typical list of family portraits.

This document answers our bride’s most frequently asked questions right away – a time-saver for everybody!

So now it’s time to go make your own document. What kinds of details or knowledge would you like to pass along to your couples? Include the information above as well as your own tips and suggestions, and I’d love to hear how everyone else out there keeps the wedding day running smoothly!

Hugs, Erin

Written by Erin Youngren

Jeff and Erin Youngren are international wedding and lifestyle photographers running one of the fastest growing boutique studios in the competitive Southern California market. Although based in San Diego, their deeply emotional style and passionate partnership has taken them from the streets of San Francisco to the canals of Venice to the family suburbs of Chicago to photograph extraordinary weddings and incredible couples. As leaders in the photographic community, they are passionate about helping other photographers build viable, authentic businesses, while building a photography community built on integrity and honest leadership.

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Survive the WPPI Madness by The Youngrens

Oh the stories from our very first trip to WPPI… No, Jeff and I didn’t get crazy, stay up all night, and party until the wee hours of the morning doing Saki bombs and shouting “this is sooooooo staying in Vegas! Woo hoo!” Nope. We pretty much woke up, wandered the trade show floor by our two little selves, sipped some coffee, and tried to make eye contact with anybody that would talk to us. Awesome.

I can say with confidence that eventually it got a lot better than that.

Even though we felt completely overwhelmed at our first WPPI, this conference has proven to be a dynamic and integral experience for our business. Even though we felt totally isolated going into it that first time, we made quite a few friends that first year that made the entire trip more than worth it. And I say that with fervor because those …

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How We Educate Our Wedding Clients on the First Look by The Youngrens

first look wedding photo photographers the youngrens

In my last article here on the Pictage blog, I walked everyone through The Youngrens perfect wedding day schedule, which is built on the couple seeing each other before the ceremony. Not surprisingly, there were questions about how we get our couples to do a First Look.

These days, most couples come to us already wanting to do a First Look, but it took a few years for that to be the case. In the meantime, I had to become pretty adept at educating couples about them. (Notice how I say ‘educating’ and not ‘convincing.’ BIG difference.)

In my experience, there are normally two reasons that a couple doesn’t want to do a First Look: (1) they don’t know what actually happens during a First Look, or (2) they know what a First Look is, but have their heart set on that ‘walk down the aisle’ moment.

In light of these two reasons, I need to realize two more things before I go about educating our couples: (1) I can’t do anything about the second reason and (2) I need to be ok with whatever decision my couple makes. This is THEIR day and not mine, and no matter what, the decision is ultimately theirs. I still have to provide the best experience and the most beautiful photographs that I possibly can on their wedding day.

So how do I educate a couple about the First Look? First, I put together two different photography schedules for them. The first is based on their wishes – to wait until the ceremony to see each other – and the second is based on a First Look (our ideal schedule). Then I attach the schedules to a template email that I have drafted and revised over the years that educates them on what First Looks are and how Jeff and I do them.

Here’s the gist of that email: I explain that we’ll pick a beautiful private spot with perfect lighting, and we’ll set up the groom with his back turned to the bride. We’ll get the bride set up so she looks stunning (dress and hair in the perfect spot, bouquet ready, makeup touched up), and then we’ll back away, shoot with long lenses to give them space, and the groom will get to turn around to see his beautiful bride. Then I tell them that we’ll give them ten to fifteen minutes to just hang out – they get to laugh together, cry together, and just be together. The groom will have the space and the freedom to feel his emotions, talk about the day, check out his bride and hold her close. The bride has the time to check out her soon-to-be-hubby, show off her gorgeous dress, and laugh through her tears of joy. It’s all completely private, and completely theirs. They then get to hang out together for the rest of their wedding day. Who wouldn’t want to spend the best day of their lives with the one they love most? I also have a handful of past blog posts about First Looks that I link to in that email so they can get a good idea of what kinds of images we typically get out of First Looks.

In the email, I don’t mention the scheduling benefits or the photography benefits of doing a First Look until the very end, and even then I only say that their families, wedding party, and even the two of them will be able to enjoy the cocktail hour if we do a First Look, and with their particular wedding day, the First Look makes the most sense. And that’s it. The First Look is an extremely emotional decision for a bride and groom to make, so you need to educate them on the emotional benefits that it will provide and not just the logistical perks. You need to help them feel that you are 110% on their side, and that you are going to take care of them no matter what. Trust is the biggest component to changing a decision like a First Look. If they trust you as a person and a friend, then they will be much more inclined to trust your expert advice.

However, if a couple still wants to wait until the ceremony to see each other, you need to respect that decision and leave it alone from that point on. You have educated them and made them aware of the photography constraints that kind of decision causes, so it’s you’re job to perform within those constraints. However, it’s surprising how many couples I’ve come across that simply weren’t aware of what actually goes into a First Look and how special it can be. So give this a try and let me know how it goes!

Does anyone else have any tips or tricks on educating couples about the First Look? I’d love to hear them!

Hugs, Erin

Written by Erin Youngren

Jeff and Erin Youngren are international wedding and lifestyle photographers running one of the fastest growing boutique studios in the competitive Southern California market. Although based in San Diego, their deeply emotional style and passionate partnership has taken them from the streets of San Francisco to the canals of Venice to the family suburbs of Chicago to photograph extraordinary weddings and incredible couples. As leaders in the photographic community, they are passionate about helping other photographers build viable, authentic businesses, while building a photography community built on integrity and honest leadership.

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The Youngren’s Wedding Photography Schedule by The Youngrens

There’s nothing better than a stress-free wedding day when everything runs on time, people are ready to take pictures when you need them, and you have creative freedom to do your job well. Can I get a ‘fo-sho’ from my wedding peeps out there?

And you know what the best part is? There’s a lot that you can do as a photographer to make sure that these kinds of wedding days happen more often than not, which is a pretty sweet deal if you ask me. In fact, the photographer and the wedding coordinator have the most control over how a wedding day is run, which means two things:

1) You get to create the best photography schedule to help make you successful 2) You need to figure out the best photography schedule to help make the wedding successful

The Why: Everything we do centers upon the client experience. We need to set ourselves up for success with every wedding we shoot, because it is our job to create the best wedding day experience we possible can for our couples and their families. This means serving our couples with their best interest in mind, and creating a schedule that is relaxing and stress-free.

Alright, let’s get on to the nitty-gritty. Below is our basic schedule that we use for every wedding. Obviously every wedding is different, but this is the kind of schedule we always shoot for.

11:30 Getting Ready & GR Details 1:30 Dress On; Final Touches 2:00 First Look / Portraits 2:30 Family Portraits 3:00 Bridal Party 3:30 Break / Details, Details! 4:00 Ceremony Begins 4:30 Ceremony Ends 4:40 The Couple (Gravy Time!) 5:10 Couple Joins the Cocktail Hour 5:30 Grand Entrance to Reception

Here are some notes on the schedule:

Getting Ready: We always give ourselves plenty of time to shoot getting ready details such as jewelry, the shoes, the dress, cufflinks, makeup being done, etc. We don’t want to feel rushed, so we build that time into the schedule. We also schedule a specific time for the dress to go on, and we allow at least 30 minutes for this. This helps the makeup artists, hair stylists, Mom, and bridesmaids know when they need to be done, dressed, and ready (and allows for a cushion if they run late). It won’t take 30 minutes to put on most dresses, but it allows the bride to relax while she puts on her dress, slips on jewelry, hugs her mom, and laughs with her bridesmaids. Plus, we get to spend a few minutes photographing just her before heading out for the First Look.

First Look: Again, we allow 30 minutes of time for this. This means we can let the couple relax and enjoy hanging out with each other for ten to fifteen minutes, and then we can grab all of our “have-to-have” shots (ie couple looking at the camera, individual portraits, bouquet, boutonnière, etc). We capture so many candid, emotional moments during the First Look simply because we allow time for the couple to relax, feel their emotions, talk about the day, and live in the moment. And again, if worse comes to worse and things ran late during the getting ready process, we don’t need to use the full 30 minutes – we can relax through the first look, grab a few portraits, and just move right into the family portraits and make up some time.

Family Portraits: Doing the family portraits BEFORE the ceremony accomplishes a number of things: 1) There are no distractions so we can move quickly (no pulling people from the black hole that is the cocktail hour), 2) we save that amazing light after the ceremony for just the couple, and 3) family can immediately enjoy the cocktail hour and greet their wedding guests right after the ceremony. Believe me, family portraits used to be the most stressful part of the day for us, and now it’s one of the most relaxing and stress-free portions of our job!

Details, Details: Once we’re done with family, we move through the bridal party pictures and then it’s time to hide the couple away as wedding guests start to arrive. The half an hour before the ceremony is the best time to capture all of the wedding details, and we work with our couple, the coordinator, and the catering manager to make sure that everything is completely set up at this time. This is the only way we’re able to capture as many details as we do – we make them a priority and we schedule time specifically for this purpose.

The Couple: Once the ceremony is over, it’s time for the fun part! Because we’ve taken all of the necessary “have-to-have” images before the ceremony, everything we take during this time is just gravy – and boy is it good gravy! The light will be beautiful, the couple is excited, and we can relax and get into the groove of shooting. Normally we only need to shoot for about half of the cocktail hour, and then the couple can choose to join their guests– and enjoy those specialty cocktails and appetizers that they picked out – or hide away and spend some time with each other before the craziness of the reception. I can’t think of a better way to enjoy your wedding day!

This type of schedule has brought us amazing results – not only are we shooting according to the best light of the day, but we’re allowing for vendors or people that may run late. Again, every wedding has different logistics, but these are the basic guidelines that we strive for. And to give credit where credit is due, we have learned about a lot of this scheduling stuff from other amazing photographers, including our good friends over at Bauman Photographers in San Diego. Thanks you guys! We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for so many amazing individuals like you guys!

Hugs, Erin

Written by Erin Youngren

Jeff and Erin Youngren are international wedding and lifestyle photographers running one of the fastest growing boutique studios in the competitive Southern California market. Although based in San Diego, their deeply emotional style and passionate partnership has taken them from the streets of San Francisco to the canals of Venice to the family suburbs of Chicago to photograph extraordinary weddings and incredible couples. As leaders in the photographic community, they are passionate about helping other photographers build viable, authentic businesses, while building a photography community built on integrity and honest leadership.

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Preparing for PartnerCon — Tips & Techniques by The Youngrens

So you’re headed to PartnerCon this year and it’s coming up fast (seriously, I thought it was still September yesterday) – how can you prepare?

I know this time of year is crazy busy for a lot of us.  It’s either wedding high season or we’re buried in the mountain of post-processing from high season just ending.  For portrait peeps out there, Christmas is just around the corner – yikes.

Take a deep breath and five minutes for a coffee break.  Go pet your cat.  Watch the October rain outside.  And then remember to prepare for PartnerCon.

PartnerCon is meant to be a big influence in the life of your business, and if you let it, it can even be a game changer.  Here’s what Jeff and I do to prepare for another year of PartnerCon goodness.

Before You Leave:

1) Create a short list of specific goals. What do you most want to learn? …

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