Friday, May 30, 2014

Day 71, Learning 71: The Wedding Questionnaire

It's wedding season!  There are, I believe, different philosophies on how in-depth and specific your wedding client questionnaire should be.  One thing everyone agrees upon, though:  send it to them immediately after they book you.  It doesn't matter if the wedding is nine months out-- the point is to take control of an event that can spiral in any direction.  I recently made the mistake of waiting; I had my reasons (none of them good) and my strategy (about as well thought-out as Custer at the Alamo).  The result?  Before I got my questionnaire with shot list to the bride she sent one to me.  It was 34 pages with screenshot examples from other wedding/photography sites. 

And here I'll take a moment to shake my finger at those wedding photographers who choose to pad their portfolios with staged wedding images with professional models:  please stop.  It sets unreasonable expectations among real clients.  You really can't produce that for your paying clients, and neither can anyone else, simply because it is staged. 

After explaining to my client that she had cobbled together over five hours of photography, we agreed on something more reasonable and I sent her my list. Because weddings are fluid, full of unexpected touching moments and surprises-- I recommend a bare-bones shot list that focuses on the location and sequence of events.  For example, I don't specify a shot of the wedding dress before it's put on; I ask whether her bridesmaids will be involved in her preparations and does she want images of that (and where and when it will be).  That way if she's getting dressed in a Motel 6 with a window facing the parking dumpster over a 30-year old air conditioner, I'm not legally obligated to produce a "romantic" image of her wedding dress backlit by the window curtains. Of course, I'll still try.

I don't want this post to be as long as my questionnaire (three pages), so I'll simplify the gist of my survey into sections:

1. I ask for the wedding logistics (time, date, and place) so there can be no confusion
2. I ask them to specify (in percentages) whether they want the style of the photography to be "Candid/Photojournalism," "Formal/Posed," or "Detail Oriented" (a focus on the details of the wedding-- cake, cuffs, etc.)  I describe each type of photography.  This is as much to get them thinking about what could be as to get stylistic direction.
3. Who's Who in the Wedding: Pastor/Official, Parents, brothers and sisters, Wedding Party, Important Others. For some I ask for names; others just the number (I won't remember all of the bridegrooms' names, for example, so why ask?)
4. Pre-Ceremony Prep:  Do they want pictures of the bride/groom getting dressed; where will it be; what time?
5.  Formal Portraits: here I will get specific and have them indicate all of the combinations.  You can't go by memory on the formals because you'll forget someone.
6.  Reception Images:  Here I don't ask for specifics, I ask what events they'll have as a part of the celebration:  Bride and Groom entrance, Receiving Line; Best Man Toast; Maid of Honor Toast, Other Toasts; Bride and Groom Toast; First Dance; Father/Bride Dance; Groom/Mother Dance; Bride/Groom's Father Dance; Groom/Bride's Mother Dance; Bouquet Toss; Garter Removal; Other Entertainment; the Departure.
7.  Other images, events that I might have forgotten.

One thing you'll notice is that this shot list is for Christian and non-religious weddings.  Other cultures and religions (Judaism, Hinduism, etc.) have their own traditional customs that you'll have to learn and incorporate into your list.  You have to know what a Yichud is before you agree to photograph a Jewish wedding....

Mazel tov!

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