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Chicago photographer
I don't want blurry photos…

In a fortuitous alignment of schedules, I was able to tag along with a friend and her fiancé when they went to visit a potential Chicago photographer. The company had been recommended to me by one of my many acquaintances who has gotten married recently, but when I had visited her online gallery, I felt that the pictures were just OK. In addition, I knew that it was a pretty big company locally—their ad is always one of the first ones listed on any wedding website, so we know they spend a lot of money on advertising. They also have several different studios, which also means that they spend a lot of overhead on studio space.

Of course, this is also a company that offers a variety of different promotions and a cost that seems to beat most everyone else—by several thousand dollars, in most cases. Much as I would like an artistic photographer who shoots in the very specific style I like, most of those photographers seem to have the boutique prices to match.

We met with this studio in one of what is apparently their satellite offices, with the main office being in downtown Chicago—although, the rep assured us, that location has its own free parking. The satellite “studio” consisted of nothing more than an office front with a few chairs in the waiting area and a meeting table that wasn’t really partitioned off from anything else.

The rep—who, I must mention, was not a photographer—asked my friend a few questions about their wedding, questions that struck me as purely information-gathering despite being thinly veiled as excited girl talk. From there, she discussed their current package offering, which she of course couldn’t guarantee past the new year, claiming that she had no idea what was going to happen once that 11 flipped to a 12. I found this hard to believe, considering the new year was just a few weeks away, and everyone knows that any corporation discusses costs above most else. The special she was promoting had also been around for a number of months, so she should either know when it was going to end or that it is going to continue for a while longer.

Most of the appointment was pretty standard, but I wasn’t a huge fan of that fact that the company employs 30 photographers (you choose which one you will have based solely on looking at their carefully chosen portfolio) and that the engagement session takes place in the studio in Chicago, which makes it relatively generic and hard to get to. The rep also said some uninformative things, like how every one of their photographers is trained in a stringent [insert name of studio here] program, which pretty much demonstrates nothing. What does that mean, anyway? That doesn’t prove any experience or technical prowess—only that the photographer is employed. You also don’t get to meet with the person until the engagement session at best, and I’d really like to interact a bit with someone who is going to be so intimately involved with such a personal and emotional day before they show up to take pictures of a partially-clothed me putting on the fluffy white dress.

Chicago photographer
…and I don't want to feel like this about my photographer. Is that too much to ask?

On the other hand, they were much more affordable than most any photographer I’ve looked at, and their package was doable. They also have the benefit that a one-person company can’t offer, which is someone to act as backup if your primary photographer can’t make it on your wedding day.

My friend thought to ask the woman one question that I never would have considered: whether they are able to use the pictures they take of you in whatever type of advertising they want (because, of course, the studio was plastered with countless pictures of brides and grooms). In the spirit of embracing Jon’s love of the awkward, I will tell you that what happened next was entertaining. The woman clearly had never been asked this before and was not sure how to answer. After a long, awkward pause, she plastered on a now-strained smile and tried to answer as diplomatically as possible. “Well, I mean…” she stuttered, “We would only use a beautiful picture; nothing goofy or anything.”

Somewhat obstinately, my friend’s fiancé responded, “Well, we don’t want our picture used in advertising.”

She continued to smile—far less confidently—and said “Well, I mean, most studios will use the pictures…”

This went on uncomfortably for a few minutes, then he finally said “Fine. Whatever. Let’s just do it.”

“Are you sure?” she asked. “I don’t want to move forward if you’re not comfortable.”

“Well, I’m not comfortable, but I know it’s not your fault. You can’t do anything about it, so let’s just sign the contract and be done with it.”

So after all that, they signed. I guess this whole incident is the epitome of time vs. money. It was important to them to be done with the whole photographer search, so they are, and I’m glad for that for them because it can definitely be stressful (as I can assure you)! I would love to be done with the whole process myself, although I am not quite ready to sign that piece of paper without at least talking to a few more people. Jon thinks I’m being overly picky because to him, photos are all the same. But this is probably the most important vendor-related part of the wedding to me. As any photographer will tell you—yes, it’s a sales technique, but they are right—all you have left after the flowers have wilted, the cake goes stale, and the dress is packed away is your husband and your pictures. Finding someone I like is not negotiable.

Chicago photographer


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About Heather

Heather is a 20-something lifelong learner who works in higher education and overanalyzes everything. Now engaged to her boyfriend of 6 years, she spends way too much time in coffee shops fueling up on espresso drinks and creatively massaging marital traditions. Follow along as she makes meaning out of the chaos and (hopefully) pulls it all together for her May 2012 Chicagoland wedding.

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  • Rach

    Oh gosh, SO many red flags. Please don’t book with them!

    The fact they’re not being open about their pricing is borderline scammy, and at very least, bad business practice.

    Also, you shouldn’t need to book with a corporate organization like this to have a guarantee that if your photographer can’t make your wedding, you’ll have backup. Any studio worth their salt will provide a backup photographer (usually a colleague from another studio) if they can’t make your wedding.

    It’s not true that using your photos for advertising is a standard expectation at all studios. Most will only do so with your explicit permission, and will ask you to sign a different waiver (a photo release form) for it.

    The fact that they’re being so shady about their pricing seems to suggest they could be shady about other things as well. I would read the fine print very carefully to make sure that there aren’t limitations on the number of photos you can get after the wedding, or other restrictions that will require you to pony up a lot more money after the wedding in order to get access to your photos.

    Overall, I’d say you’re better off going with an up-and-coming or student photographer with a decent portfolio than you are with a company like this one. There are lots of talented students out there who want to build up their portfolio, and will therefore offer amazing prices (sometimes even free!).

  • Great thoughts. Picking a photographer can more often feel like a gamble than anything else! I agree that photographers are among the most important vendor related decisions a couple can make.

  • J

    Im also planning a Chicago wedding right now, and I agree that picking a photographer is pretty miserable in such a saturated market. Everything we liked that we could find seemed to start at $4000 (WAY out of our budget!) and the corporate studios were mediocre at best.

    Ended up putting an ad on Craigslist, figuring that the worst that would happen is that we wouldnt like the replies, of which there ended up being 70! A lot were of questionable quality, some were over-budget but beautiful, and we wound up with 20 that we were able to shortlist based on our style preferences. Ended up going with a boutique photographer who I surely would have assumed was out of our budget based on the quality of the work, but ended up being surprisingly affordable and totally reputable!

    I know CL gets a bad rap, but maybe give it a try? In any case, I wish Id known 3 months ago that inquire for pricing doesnt necessarily mean unaffordable!

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