WOW. Jess and I had our first Labor Day Weekend here in Wilmington and we entertained his folks, his brother and brother's girlfriend and it was the best time spending it with family. There must've been something in the air though because I got several wedding photography inquiries on Sunday and Monday for folks that got engaged on Friday or Saturday. Patriotism must bring out the romance! So when newly engaged couples approach me for wedding photography packages, they ask me about prices and then almost all of them asked me who I hired for my wedding.
Photographers are one of the first wedding vendors that couples tend to reach out to so for me, a lot of thought goes into the best custom palette of wedding professionals for each and every couple. I tell each and every one of them to take their time and get to know these professionals because they are the people that bring your wedding together. They are the ones that you spend most of your time communicating with during your engagement and if you love them, you will love being engaged because you will see how easy it's supposed to be despite contrary belief.
After Jess proposed back in November 2017, I told myself one thing: that I want it to be about the sanctity of our marriage... not about koozies, flowers, dresses, bridesmaid gifts, or any of that tangible mess. I made myself promise to never bring any stress on my family, on my fiance and his family because stress meant that it was forcing something that wasn't supposed to happen.
I know you won't believe me when I say this, the tangible things I spent about three seconds on, the wedding vendors however, I spent forever on. Here is the dream team that helped Jess and I make our day so special and why we chose them. Keep in mind that every one has different taste, different priorities, and different sentimental reasons for making decisions. Keep in mind I was the last of my family to get married and I'm a wedding photographer for a living so naturally, I just wanted to marry my sweetheart and be done with it. Don't feel like you're making the wrong decision just because I wrote a blog post about it.
The wedding ceremony venue: St. James Parrish
Not trying to fool anyone here... we aren't the greatest Christian couples out there—we barely make it to church whenever we're home but Jess and I made it clear from the beginning that God is always first and that's why we wanted a spiritual wedding. We didn't want to forget what it was all about in all the glamor that weddings can create. We went to St. James Parrish before we were engaged and felt like it was a church we could connect with so it made absolute sense for us to get married there. Another drive to get married there was for sentimental reasons. My aunt and uncle got married there over 25 years ago and are still happily married and greatly involved with St. James.
Reception Venue: The Surf Club
Okay, like I said, last one to get married so we had to go all out and let everyone be able to invite everyone so we needed the space to accommodate that! The Surf Club fit the bill after looking at all the venues that Wilmington had to offer. We also loved that it was by the ocean which made perfect sense for us since Jess grew up fishing on the Atlantic and I grew up a beach girl from the OBX.
photographer: matt mcgraw
Jess basically put me in charge of this for obvious reasons (that he was about to have a photographer for a wife) but I promise I kept asking him what he wanted and he seemed to be completely nonchalant about it. So let me tell you, this was the hardest decision to make probably in the whole wedding experience because I loved everyone I talked to. Everyone had their own personality, their own style and their own way of approaching me, a potential client. The problem was that I had to pick one.
I narrowed it down to picking a Wilmington photographer because of three reasons: 1. I wanted to get to know other photographers in the area as Jess and I had just moved here 2. I wanted to support the local Wilmington economy 3. It was my gut instinct to hire someone within a 30-mile radius (I know super silly but go with it).
When I met Matt, he supported me with open arms since day 1 before I was even engaged. He welcomed me into a photographer's industry and not only encouraged me to network more and more, but he also referred me to business he couldn't take care of personally. That little bit of compassion went a long way on making a first impression on me.
Videographer: luke brown of light cannon films
Let me preface this paragraph by saying that videographers are not required for a wedding—at all. I am just a highly sentimental person and know how fast weddings go by so I wanted a way to literally pause on all of it after it was all over and see everything I missed. There are also some moving memories you cannot capture in photography—as much as I hate to say it as a photographer. It's true.
I ended up finding out about Luke Brown through my wedding planner (I'll get to her after this) and feel so fortunate to have found out about his name. His artistic but romantic style was everything I wanted. You'll see why when you watch the highlight video yourself.
weekend-of Wedding coordinator: Amy mcgraw of Do me a Favor Weddings
Amy happens to be the wife of Matt McGraw, our wedding photographer, but I met her separately through a networking meeting before Jess and I got engaged. We hit it off right away because she was so easy to talk to and just like Matt, as welcoming as anyone can be.
So I'm not going to lie to you, I didn't really need her to plan anything—I was in the industry so I knew the motions of wedding planning. I just personally needed her to be there to tie it all together when the weekend finally arrived. My family is so selfless that they would have done everything Amy did, but that's exactly why I hired her myself. I wanted everyone to enjoy themselves and leave all the itinerary action items to her. She not only excelled, she exceeded my expectations. She took care of me like I was her family. She is multitalented so she did flowers, venue set-up, tended to bitty crisis items, and everything in between.
Cake: Cakes by Carla
Went with a local lady that does cakes out of her home. Total inside scoop from my aunt who lives here as well. Our priority was not spending thousands of dollars on sugar. This yummy 5-layer bad boy only cost $400 (average is $1,500 for that size).
Hair: Ultimate Hair by Chelsea
Okay, the one vendor I didn't go local on was one of my very good friends from Jamesville, NC who has her own salon called Ultimate Hair by Chelsea. She's one of those people that fits me into her calendar on her day off when I only give her a week notice. That's how sweet she is. I wanted someone I knew well because after all, you hang out with all day when you're getting ready. Of course she's talented too, but I'm already biased there. What's even cooler is that she enlisted some help from another hair stylist I knew. Her name is Fharren, so I felt like we were all friends just chilling on the porch getting pretty.
makeup: flawless makeup by Isla
For anyone that knows me, you would know that I'm just not a makeup person. I splurge on foundation and by splurge it's $50 on something that lasts almost a year. The rest of my makeup is all drug store nonsense. Needless to say, I don't know what I'm doing when it comes to painting on my face. Isla from Flawless Makeup by Isla was a contact through my wedding coordinator, Amy. I had her do a test run with my bridal portraits and absolutely loved how she intertwined both the natural but glamorous look so I knew she was the right fit. I also loved how she went into the wedding day thinking she was only going to work her magic on three or four girls but ended up doing the entire house of girls because everyone loved how talented she was. The even more amazing fact is that she STILL finished on time whilst also making all my sisters, mom, mom-in-law, and aunt feel confident and pretty. Sometimes this isn't always the case with makeup artists because some ladies get traumatized through a makeover that's so intense to the point where they don't even recognize themselves and it actually moves them to tears. That's why I always recommend to my brides to do bridals because it's a test trial with the dress, makeup, hair and you also get to savor feeling like a princess .
Rentals: Party Suppliers and Rentals
We rented the Surf Club intentionally because they included chairs + tables but we wanted to spice up the tables with some pretty linen. I knew one of the owners of the place, Ashley from working at a non-profit event called The Care Project and remembered she worked in the event rental business. She took care of us like we rented out the whole store when in reality, all we got was just a few orders of beige textured linen!
transportation: azalea limousine service
We had a budget but also had about a 23 minute trip from the church to the Surf Club so we could only afford to transport immediate family and bridal party (Didn't make sense for us to order 16 different Ubers to get everywhere and too risky for them to be on-time). Azalea Limousine Service gave us a great deal after we told them what we could really pay. I think it helped that our wedding was in the off-season though! Brides and Grooms, negotiate! Everyone is always trying to make a buck so it usually ends up being a win-win.
Flowers: lydia Hines + close family friends
This was another contact from my aunt who lives here. Lydia doesn't market herself to the public and does word-of-mouth and referral weddings. We feel so grateful to have met her as she had several weddings in one weekend and still made time for us! Her talent coupled with Amy, the coordinator and our close family friends, we were able to put on wedding decor at an affordable cost.
At the end of the day, you are going to get married and that in itself is a treasure to experience. Don't forget to cherish it because after all, it only happens once! (I'm going to be naive and pretend like divorce doesn't exist in this blog post).
See you lovers tomorrow for Day 16.
Ps. Jess, thanks for letting me broadcast our wedding photos all over the internet. Love you husband!
I get asked what's in my camera bag A LOT! Don't get me wrong, I'm flattered people think I'm knowledgable about tech stuff so I'm happy to offer insight. So I thought today would be a good time as any to do a detailed post about all my gear and what I use for shooting for Day 14 of the 30 work-day blogging challenge.
At the end of the day, it's up to you to do the research and figure out what you are and aren't looking for. The biggest advice I can offer is going to a Best Buy or local camera shop and hold the cameras themselves to see what speaks to you. See how the body is laid out and if it's easy to learn. Figure out what brand you want and stick with it because it's an investment. You'll want to gradually buy more and it's easier to buy within brand line. Keep in mind the value is behind the lens, not the camera itself. Lenses are versatile across camera bodies and are made to last several through generations of technology upgrades. For a big bang for your buck, B&H Camera is a good place to shop but price compare all over online no matter what, to make sure you aren't getting ripped off. Retail value is inevitable in the shopping process but surcharges can be avoided.
Camera Bodies: I currently shoot on the Nikon D810 for all my work and have a second D810 body as an insurance policy in case anything happens to my main camera body. I also like to have one camera with a long lens and another with a short so I don't have to spend time switching lens out. It's important to have two camera bodies on me especially after booking important jobs. You wouldn't want to have to cut a shoot short because of some sort of technical difficulties. The reason for two of the same cameras is so that the quality and color is consistent across the board for the images I produce.
85mm f1.4: The 85mm was the first lens I ever fell in love with and in turn started my obsession with manual shooting a few years ago. When I first purchased it, it didn't come off my camera for months. Even though I have a variety of lenses to choose from, the 85mm is my go-to for portraits because it allows me to not be on top of the person for the up-close look and occasionally for shooting on location when the background is too busy and I need to blur it up a bit to give it that finished look.
35mm f1.2: The 35mm is another great all-rounder lens for me—it's one step away from being a macro lens so it really gets the wide angle look without the price tag. I find that this lens is on my camera the majority of the time. I love shooting with portraits with it (as unconventional as it may be). The 35mm is sharp 95% of the time, even when you shoot with a wide open aperture of 1.4. I only shoot with a wide aperture for personal work, and usually bump up the aperture to 2 or more when shooting for clients.
24-55mm f1.4: This wide angle lens is a compelling wide-angle perspective combined with an ultra-fast f/1.4 aperture that serves the needs of demanding photographers in exacting conditions like weddings where time is of the essence. This is my 3rd most used lens. It also has VR compatibility so I am able to do some video footage if needed.
70-300mm f4-5.6: This telephoto lens is obviously good for situations where you need to zoom in from a stationary spot. Example, churches with strict photography policies and you gotta prop up in the back and get all the action at the front.
55-300mm f4.5-5.6: More flexibility in this telephoto lens with the extra 15 mm compared to the 70-300mm, and it's also good when you don't want to start out with so much zoom while on shoot.
Speedlight SB- 900: First off, I tried to buy the 910 but with it being ~$800 for one flash, the SB-900 is next best thing. This bad boy has so much lighting power that sometimes you could mistaken a dark day with sunshine just from the light this flash provides. I use this flash on body as well as remotely for strong backlight. ~$300
Speedlight SB-700: Great option when you don't need so much power or light, but just enough to avoid unwanted shadows. This flash also provides a great option for remote flash lighting. ~$350
Induro Tripod: as tiny and insignificant as it looks, this guy is actually well over $400 on a good day —these suckers aren't cheap but they are quality and its sturdiness and light weight will outnumber any other competitor tripods out there. I've been in some sketchy terrain situations and this tripod has never let me down. *Knock on wood.*
D12 Multi-power Battery Pack: Batteries have one constant. They will die. So yes, battery packs are a huge plus. Again, this luxury isn't cheap at ~$425 but it can save your neck. It also offers the option to shoot portrait without having to cock your head sideways.
Memory Cards (not pictured): With long days of shooting, comes a lot of pictures, like thousands so it should come as no surprise that you should invest in several memory cards. Most of my CF cards are either 16 GB or 32 GB Rugged (temperature and shock resistant). I keep them small to force myself to change out often for a liability reason. The idea of having all my photos on one card gives me so much anxiety if something were to ever happen to them. Card Corruption is a very real occurrence and has even happened to my second-shooters from weddings. If you have a shoot with less pressure, it's good to have a large SD card to allow you a full day of shooting, come home and download and go back to work and not worry about deleting right away. The provides you the comfort of having the original copies until you have the time to double check and make sure that all the images downloaded correctly.
What I take with me. Now, all this gear is super heavy and not always needed for every single shoot. Depending on what I am set out to work on for the day, I pick and choose the gear I need to take with me for the day. The gear that is always in my camera bag includes: 2 camera bodies, all my camera batters + memory cards and all the little extras such as water and food. The gear that I pick and choose what to take with me include: lenses and speedlights. The majority of the time I only take 2 or sometimes 3 lenses that I might need for a day instead of all them, so I don't strain my body when I have to walk around with my camera bag. With all the equipment, it can easily feel like 50 pounds after 5 minutes. After every wedding with two cameras on my body, I always wonder how I'm going to survive it when old age sets in. Between being on your feet for 8 plus hours and carrying 25-30 pounds on you— It's a very physical job so it's important to drink LOTS of water and get a good night's sleep.
Okay, I know that was a lot of words for a picture world so let me know if you have any questions about gear. There's no silly questions either—you don't know if you don't ask.
I know y'all are happy it's Labor Day Weekend so go enjoy it! I will check back in on Tuesday with Day 15 of the 30 work-day blogging challenge.