Answering Your Wedding Photography/Wedding Planning Questions

If you're here, you either most likely just got engaged -- in which case, congrats! -- or perhaps you're about to shoot a wedding yourself.

So, you may have questions regarding choosing a photographer or even planning your wedding.

I'm here to help.

Having shot weddings in the Bay Area since 2003, I've experienced, seen and heard all sorts of situations that arise in weddings. In this section of the website, I'll be offering numerous thoughts, ideas, and tips that you'll be interested in if you are:

  • Looking to hire a San Francisco Bay Area Wedding Photographer, and have lots of questions about how to go about doing that
  • trying to plan a stress-free wedding, and still get great photos!
  • looking for tips on getting great wedding photos

I have tons of information mapped out, but if you're in a hurry to see a particular topic, feel free to Contact Me and ask.

I'll be updating this section regularly, so stay tuned!

My Latest Posts about Wedding Photography/Planning:



The worst photo we can ever take is one of a bride who’s stressed out on her wedding day.

There can be many reasons for a bride to be stressed.  But one thing’s more than likely: stress means unhappy bride.  And unhappy bride means unflattering photos.


See what I mean?  And that’s just a little emoticon.

So, the number one thing we can advise so that you can have a stress-free wedding is to really plan it.  And I don’t necessarily mean you must plan it to the most minute detail — no, not at all — but do talk it over with professionals who have a lot of experience with weddings (or read this site for more tips).  Learn what is realistic in terms of time (probably the number 1 cause of stress on a wedding day).

So how does one plan a wedding? Preparation.

Your fiance can tell you that the best football teams in the NFL are usually the ones that are the most prepared (through detailed practice, film study, players with the best work ethic and attitude, etc.)

The same goes for your wedding.

These are the basic three steps to planning your wedding schedule:

  1. Prepare for your Planning – deciding what your wedding will be like
  2. Plan your Wedding – iron out all the details, so that on your wedding day, you get to…
  3. Enjoy your Wedding – things execute the way they were planned and you just ride the wave that you’ve created!

Prepare for your Wedding Planning

  • Do some research – Weddings, like people, come in all sizes and flavors.  You may have had wedding ideas since you were a little girl, but there are an infinite amount of things that people have done.  Some will follow tried and true traditions, which are really just habitual rituals that get passed from generation to generation.  But have you heard of people getting married underwater or skydiving?  Find out what’s out there and decide what is most important to you.  It may be the dress, the venue, or the photography, the music.  You may also already have some ideas from attending other people’s weddings, perhaps even ideas of what NOT to do.  So, now it’s your turn.
  • See the big picture – A wedding should be a celebration of the two of you!  You may elicit or receive input from…influential individuals, but if you fail to find the happy medium of balance between what you want and what someone else may want, that can surely affect your wedding day mood.  So, decide if you want a small intimate wedding, a grand affair with a cast of thousands, or something in between.
  • Intimate weddings have between 35-85 guests.
  • Large weddings can easily have 400-500 guests or more.
  • Most typical weddings that we’ve shot have between 120-250 guests.

Knowing how many people you’re inviting will play into your choice of venue, budget, and even photographer (for instance, we would suggest more than one shooter for weddings with over 200 guests, or if your wedding party is more than 8 or more people). But the most important thing to realize is that the number of guests has a direct proportion to the amount of time needed for certain photographic events you may want to consider.  For instance:

  • A receiving line with 400 guests can easily eat up 2 hours or more, but if yours is an intimate wedding, receiving 40 guests will take about 15-20 minutes.
  • An entire group picture of 150 people will take 10-15 minutes.  Think back to your high school class picture, and how long it took to get everyone in place and smiling, etc.
  • Family group photos take 3-5 minutes each, since people need to be wrangled and we need to account for the stray uncle who’s gone to look for the restroom, or wait for a tiny tot to stop crying, etc.
  • Know What You Want (in terms of photography) – do you want 100% “PJ”-style (PJ stands for photojournalistic, but in my opinion most photographers do not shoot 100% photojournalism, and nor would most clients want them to — more on this in another post), a fair number (or even a lot) of posed portraits? Or do you want a mix? (what we do)

The various aspects of a typical wedding we cover offers the opportunity for photos of:

  • Bride Getting Ready – “Prep” shots (20 – 60 minutes)
  • A First Viewing – Bride and Groom meet for the first time in their wedding attire (20-30 minutes)
  • Candids of Wedding Ceremony – probably what you were thinking when you think “wedding photography” (varies)
  • Family/Friend Group Photos (3-5 minutes per grouping x number of groupings)
  • Group Photos of the entire Wedding Party – combination of posed, directed, and relaxed portraits (20-45 minutes)
  • Photos of Bride and Groom – again, a combination of posed, directed and relaxed portraits (20-45 minutes)
  • Candids of the Wedding Reception – usually includes coverage of entry, toasts & speeches, first dances, bouquet/garter toss, cake-cutting, general dancing, any games, etc. (varies)
  • After/Bridal Session – a photo session of just the two of you on a day (immediately) after the wedding (Sunday or Monday)

How to Plan Your Wedding

The key thing to remember is your Ceremony start time.  Let’s call this “C time”.

From there we work everything else into your schedule, adding and subtracting time to your C-time to determine your wedding day timeline. You can see the estimated time in the above photo list for certain events. Simply add up what you would like before the ceremony and you get C minus pre-ceremony photo time.

For instance, say you want Getting Ready shots before the candid coverage at the Ceremony.

Okay, Getting Ready photos takes, say 30 minutes.  But first, we would suggest you are all “good to go” at half-hour before the Ceremony start time, meaning that all photography, travel, touch-up, bathroom breaks, etc., be done 30 minutes prior to the start of the ceremony.

That way, you can be sequestered from your arriving guests, and most importantly, you can take a breather & relax before the big moment.  Okay, so already, we have C-minus 30 minutes without considering any photo-taking times.

Now we actually get to the Getting Ready shots — 30 minutes — so we subtract another 30 minutes, for a total of C minus 60 minutes.

Okay, but say you’re getting ready at a hotel instead of at the church.  Then you need to figure out the realistic travel time (getting a bunch of stuff and a bunch of people from your hotel room to the car, negotiate the parking lot, getting to the freeway, etc.).  Let’s say you’re super-efficient and everything is already neatly packed, and there’s only 3 of you, so 15 minutes to actually get everything and body to the car and another 20 minutes of driving.  So, now we at C minus 95.

But wait!  Don’t forget to put in extra cushion time for each “event” — Murphy’s Law and all that.  Okay for Getting Ready, let’s add 15 minutes of minimum cushion time.  For Travel Time, let’s consider if you’re going to be on a route that will be traveled by say…tens of thousands of fans going to The BIG GAME (go, Bears!), or perhaps there’s Fleet Week happening that weekend, or there’s freeway construction (Bay Bridge closure, anyone?), or the weather is just so freakin’ great that everyone’s gotta get outta the house!  Okay, so maybe add another 30 minutes of minimum cushion time there.

What are we at now? C minus Good-to-Go minus Travel Time minus Travel cushion minus Getting Ready minus Getting Ready cushion equals C – 140 minutes.

Do you see where we’re at now for the initial start time for photography?  And this is just having coverage for one pre-ceremony event.  You would also include your hair and make-up time (and cushion) into this equation.

So, the steps to planning your wedding would be:

  • Plan Your Hair and Make-Up time – this is CRUCIAL. Why? Hair and make-up make up (pun intended) the first domino of your wedding day.  Be late on this and everything else is affected, unless you do the following: Talk over with your hair and make-up person about the realistic time it would take to do your hair and make-up and that of your bridal party. Be realistic in knowing a good 2 hours for just the bride alone is not unheard of. Add another 30-60 minutes to this time to give yourself more padding.  Having a cushion of time here sets the tone for the rest of your wedding day.  (Guess what gets cut when things run late? Photography.)
  • Plan Your Pre-Ceremony Photo Time – Talk over with your photographer what events you want captured (before the ceremony) and figure out the time required.  (The photographer needs to be aware of locations and exactly what you really want in order to give you an accurate estimate — for instance, wanting to take photos at a location where parking is hard to find, etc.) Then add 30-60 minutes to that time to give yourself some padding.
  • Plan Your Post-Ceremony Photo Time – Talk over with your photographer about what you want photographed immediately after the ceremony.  Often times this is when we do family portraits (during the so-called cocktail hour) if the wedding and reception are at the same location.  Other weddings may have a church ceremony earlier in the day, followed by an evening reception at a separate location.  That gives you the opportunity to do more photography between the ceremony and reception, but even then you need to consider travel time, anyone in your party who is helping setting up or breaking down (which means he or she is pulled away) or has a child that needs tending to, maybe break for a meal, and time for touch up to your hair and/or make-up (getting this done by a seasoned professional will mean less time throughout the day for touch up).

Add up all these times AND include cushion times to get your preliminary wedding day time line.  Then have your photographer and event coordinator look it over for further input.

And again, and I cannot stress the importance of this enough: the crucial thing is to plan enough time for your hair and make-up.  These more often than not run over, and having a padding of time helps greatly to reduce any stress.

How to Enjoy Your Wedding

Okay, you’ve got your wedding schedule down, and things are swimming along leading up to the big day.

Here’s how to ensure you’ll be enjoying your wedding day instead of stressing:

  • Delegate – Have a day-of coordinator at the least.  This person will be the one responsible for making sure things are going according to your schedule, and should have the authority to make certain executive decisions.  Depending on the size and complexity of your wedding, have teams of people for certain chores, and have a dependable person lead each team.
  • Rehearse – Your ceremony venue and/or officiant will most likely have you and your wedding party members and day-of coordinator come in the day before for a rehearsal.  Certain venues/officiants may have certain restrictions against photographers.  It’s best to know what they are — however, we strive for unobtrusiveness and respect as our modus operandi anyway.
  • Relax – You’ve spent a lot of time, energy and money to plan your wedding.  Now, entrust the day to the professionals and trusted friends you’ve enlisted. Things rarely go 100% according to plan — it may rain, a mic stand may get knocked over, or a child may make a pre-reception smiley face in the frosting of your wedding cake, whatever.  It’s still your day, and in the end, you’re there to get married to the love of your life.  Everything else is secondary.  Ride the wave you’ve created.  You deserve it!

Well, there you have it, a photographer’s take on how to plan your wedding so you’ll get the best wedding photos.  Let me know if you have any questions of comments.  Happy planning!

Wedding Photo style

My style is based on the idea of capturing the STORY of you and your newlywed spouse on your wedding day, and for me that means a combination of:

  • documentation shots – details of venues, your dress, flowers, decor, people arriving, setting up, talking, etc.
  • emotion shots – documentation photos of key moments that occur throughout the day: grandma being kissed by grandson, old friends hugging, people being themselves, etc. Seeing these will bring back the strong emotions of the day: unbridled laughter, tears of joy, quiet intimacy, etc.
  • beauty shots – you’ve spent time and money on looking the best that you can. My aim is for cool, artistic shots that not only make you look great, but flexes my creative muscles as well.

“PJ” versus Posed

My style is definitely not photojournalistic, in the sense that I AM a part of your day.

I will hang back during key areas: ceremony, speeches and toasts, etc., but if I see there are certain groups of friends chatting, I might get them together for a quick, fun relaxed portrait.

Many couples plan a period for family portraits, and I am more than happy to accommodate your shot list.

And of course, we want beautiful shots of the two of you, so there will definitely be directed action, e.g. “hold hands while walking down this nicely lit corridor — just talk and be with each other. Good, stop right there and give each other a kiss! Awesome! Now turn around and come back.”

There will be other times when I know cool shots can be had just by having the two of you standing in such a way, or whatever. However it happens, it’s quick and relaxed, and I shoot what’s comfortable for you.

It’s About What You Want

In the end, my style is a mixed style, and the idea is to not only get all the shots that you want, but to also get the shots you’ll love!

I’m passionate about wedding photography.

Recently, I’ve been wondering just what about wedding photography excites me. Was there one single thing about it that was “it”? Well, no. In fact, there are numerous reasons, and together they really explain why I love to photograph weddings.


  1. Meeting great people – one of my favorite things about shooting weddings is I get to meet great people — people deeply in love, and their loving family and friends. Our clients come from all walks of life, and many become friends, letting us know as their family grows. After a shoot, Gregory and I often talk about how we felt we did (self-criticism to improve our work), and we often remark on how nice the clients were. It’s really a wonderful feeling to provide high-quality work to appreciative clients. And we love seeing past wedding clients at new weddings (referral!).
  2. Experiencing THE story – every wedding’s the same, and yet each is different. As photographers, we become privy to an exciting time in a couple’s lives, learning their personalities, their joys and their love for one another. We engage with our clients during the lulls of a wedding day. We happily chat with guests that come up to us to ask questions. And we love watching client-made slideshows, hearing toasts and speeches from wedding party and guests.
  3. Visiting new locales – the San Francisco Bay Area is such a diverse place, filled with many cultures, varied geography and spectacular views. From cozy Bed & Breakfast inns to fanciest hotels and mansions, we get a blast traveling throughout the Bay Area (and beyond) to shoot in venues (some of which) we don’t even know about.
  4. Creating art – capturing great images is what really gets our creative juices flowing, and in the course of a wedding day, we often get great opportunities to get THE shot (or two or three). We get inspired by the location, the light, and the clients. We wind up with shots that elicit words of wonderment, questions like “how’d you get that shot?” Artistically, I live for those shots. We also regularly check out the beautiful work from top wedding photographers all over the world, getting inspired, learning, and of course, viewing that as a challenge for us to get great shots as well.
  5. Being a Historian – books with old photos intrigue me. For instance, I like seeing what the San Francisco Bay Area looked like 100-150 years ago. Horse-drawn carriages, the original Cliff House and Sutro Baths, residents in their Victorian age raiment — all captured in photos. It’s like traveling back in time. And I know that for our clients: in their future, when they look back at the photos we capture today, it will also evoke that feeling. I feel proud to be able to provide our clients that ability through the work we do.
  6. Getting the best sleep the night after – being on my feet for upwards of 10 or more hours on a wedding day means that I always get a great night of sleep when I get home. After a quick shower to rid the day’s sweat and grime, there’s really nothing like letting your entire body sink into the sheets. I’m out in minutes.
  7. Exercising the cheek muscles – I love capturing what I see on a wedding day, and doing so always brings a smile to my face because I feel like a kid in a candy/toy store: there’s so much happening! From seeing the details of the settings and venues, to cute little flower girls and ring-bearers, to anticipating emotional moments from family members, to hearing great and funny stories during speeches, I soak in the emotions and imagery like the sponge, riding the “wedding wave” and smiling the whole time.
  8. Working for myself (and the clients, of course) – it’s been about 10 years since I worked for corporate America. Since then I’ve been making a living working for myself. It’s not without its up’s and down’s, but answering to no one but myself (and my clients) have been a liberating experience. I still have a lot to learn, but I look forward to the challenges and experience.
  9. Growing as a photographer – there’s a certain level of skillset you get after x number of years/weddings, but as a photographer, I’m always striving to add to that skillset. Whether it’s a new way of lighting, revamping the website, or posing clients, there’s always something new to learn.
  10. Preserving Memories – our memories are what makes us who we are. As we get older, sometimes our memory fails us.  Which is where photography comes in. Seeing an image of today in the (far) future is like traveling back in time. The photos are visual clues that really time everything today in a person’s life, and with wedding couples, they’re no different. The wedding photos are but a sliver of a moment in time, but oh, what memories, emotions, smells and sounds they can evoke. Just think of what goes through your mind when you dig though old photos of yourself as a child. As a wedding photographer, yes it’s my job, but it’s also an honor and privilege to preserve these memories for my clients.

Finding a Wedding Photographer

Finding a San Francisco Bay Area Wedding Photographer can be a daunting task — there are so many qualified individuals, and an online search will yield literally millions of sites. So you’re probably only going to click through the first few pages — who are you going to pick?

One thing you should do to help narrow your choices is to get a few recommendations from people you know who recently got married. That, along with those websites that grab you, can make up your short list. You can then proceed to interview with a few photographers before making your final decision.

The 8 Types of Wedding Photographer

As such, as you compile your short list, here are 8 types of wedding photographers you will encounter. It’s a good idea to know the pro’s and con’s of each as that will help you choose a photographer that’s in your ballpark (at least in style and pricing).  (I’ll have a future article that expands on the hiring process in the future.)

Here’s the list of the 8 types of wedding photographer you’ll encounter, along with my thoughts following:

  1. Full-Time Professional Wedding Photographer
  2. Weekend Warrior
  3. High-End Boutique’r
  4. Shoot and Burner
  5. Aspiring Amateur
  6. Profession Photographer (non-wedding)
  7. Uncle Bob/Aunt Betty
  8. Old School’er

1. Full-Time Professional Wedding Photographer

Description – the full time wedding photographer shoots weddings “only”, with at least 75-80% of his or her assignments being weddings. Of course, in today’s economic climate, the savvy wedding photographer may prefer not to have all his or her eggs in one basket, and may do event or portrait work. Successful wedding photographers may also offer workshops to share their knowledge and experiences.

Pro’s of the full-time wedding photographer:

  • Experience – typically shooting anywhere from 15 – 30 weddings a year, the full-timer has experienced many different situations that arise from weddings. The full-time wedding photographer is nimble, quick to adapt to changing and challenging lighting situations and prepared for shooting key events in the given and/or changing time constraints. He or she can anticipate moments before they occur, easily adapt to last minute schedule changes, and plan for (and execute) plans “B” or even “C”, etc.
  • “Up to speed” – today’s full-time professional wedding photographer is aware of the vastly changing landscape of wedding photography. From camera technology (higher and higher ISO, HD video-capable) to the latest in social media, from digital negatives to magazine style flush mount albums, he or she uses all the latest tools to give clients the best wedding photography experience possible. Today’s professional wedding photographer is (most likely) NOT your father’s photographer.
  • Consistency – anyone can take a breathtaking photo in any given instance on any given day — the same idea goes for your favorite cherished (but perhaps incompetent) local sports team. However, the full-time wedding photograph will be able to show you numerous weddings with a consistent quality, making it more than likely that the quality of your wedding photos will turn out to be something similar.
  • Eye – depending on the style of wedding photography, the full-time shooter will have developed a certain eye for capturing images. A well-rounded photographer will be able to shoot a combination of documentary, editorial and artistic images, while others may have a stronger emphasis on one or two areas.
  • Back-up Equipment – the full-timer will have adequate back-up equipment, knowing that photographic equipment failure or malfunction is not an “if” situation, but a “when” — same as with your computer hard drives. Speaking of computers, the full time wedding photographer also employs a back-up system in the home or office, saving off the files from each wedding in more than one location.
  • People skills – the full-time wedding photographer cheerfully handles requests from guests and clients and communicates effectively with other vendors at the wedding site(s) to ensure the best experience for all subjects. Success at this means a higher rate of word of mouth referrals.
  • Pricing – the prices you can expect to pay a full-time wedding photographer will be fair — not cheap, but enough so that he or she can make a living. That said, prices will range all over the map, from “too cheap” to “quite expensive”, and what kind of prices will determine the number of weddings a full-time wedding photographer shoots as well as the quality of service he or she offers.

Con’s of the full-time wedding photographer:

  • High Number of Weddings – one thing that may be worth watching out for is if the full-timer shoots too many weddings (logic: there are 52 weeks a year, so anything above 40 means the photographer is shooting on most weekends, or more than one per weekend, since there are usually more weddings from May through October than in the wetter, colder months). This may result in burn-out after a period of time.
  • Pricing – when first researching photographers, you may receive “sticker shock” when you first see the fees a full-time wedding photographer charges. Oftentimes, they may seem very high, and they might be, compared to the regular, everyday items and services the average person purchases. (I’ll have more on this topic in a future article).

2. Weekend Warrior

Description – the term “weekend warrior” has come to apply to anyone who does something only on the weekends. Whether it’s working on an addition to the house, restoring a classic automobile or tending to the garden, there’s a weekend warrior somewhere who’s working on these activities.

A weekend warrior wedding photographer, of course, shoots weddings, which, coincidentally and conveniently, usually take place on weekends. Oftentimes, the weekend warrior is shooting for fun (rather than just for/in addition to profit).

The other single most important aspect is that the weekend warrior has a full-time day job (usually in a non-photographic capacity).

Pro’s of the Weekend Warrior

  • Experience – the weekend warrior may shoot the same number of weddings as the full-time photographer, and if this is the case, then he or she is probably looking towards jumping into the profession full-time. In many cases, however, the weekend warrior is happy with his or her day job (which provides not only steady income, but health benefits as well), and prefer to take on weddings as they come.
  • Consistency – as with the full-time wedding photographer, a weekend warrior may have more than adequate experience with weddings if he or she has shot for a couple of years.
  • Enthusiasm – here, with a full-time day job, the weekend warrior can perhaps be more selective in whose wedding he or she shoots, without worrying if a wedding is turned down, where and when the next one might come in.
  • Pricing – because the income of the weekend warrior comes primarily from his or her full-time (or even part-time) day job, the cost of shooting a wedding can be lowered, and the savings passed on to the wedding clients.

Con’s of the Weekend Warrior

  • Post-processing Time – because the weekend warrior has a full-time day job, the amount of time he or she spends on post-processing must be spread out over a longer period of time in order to achieve the same quality provided by the full-timer. If not, then the image quality will suffer, resulting in less enhancement or attention to details. Perhaps certain images will go uncropped, or color densities will be inconsistent.
  • Lack of other services – again, because of the weekend warriors full-time day job, he or she may not offer options such as slide shows or albums as such products require additional production time (and results in more income — again, which the weekend warrior may not need).

3. High-End Boutique’r

Description – the high end wedding photographer is akin to a boutique located in an expensive shopping district. He or she may appeal to you if you are expecting an above-average photographic experience: from client telephone/email communication, in-person interview, actual shooting of engagement/wedding/after sessions, post-wedding image post-processing, album image selection and manufacture, and follow-up communication. You’re going to pay a premium, but you’ll expect premium service.

Pro’s of the High-End Wedding Photographer

  • Experience – as alluded to in the description, the experience with a high-end photographer is like the difference between staying at the Four Seasons compared to the local Hyatt. Both locations should give you a good night’s sleep, but at the Four Seasons, you expect (and are) pampered.
  • Eye – depending on the style of wedding photography, the high end shooter may often work with clients who can afford to “de-pack” their wedding day schedule, resulting in less a hectic pace that allows the photographer time to get great shots. His or her focus may well be in a particular genre such as photojournalism, or artistic shots. The discerning client who selects a high-end wedding photographer knows exactly what she wants.

Con’s of the High-End Wedding Photographer

  • Pricing – expect to pay a premium (perhaps $10-20K) for a well-known high-end wedding photographer. It is possible that he or she will be shooting less weddings — in order to provide the high quality service — and so will charge more to generate the same amount of income as any other photographer. (Alternatively, with the higher fees, such a photographer can hire and maintain an in-house production staff: office manager, post-process person, album designer, etc.)

4. Shoot and Burner

Description – quick and dirty, the “shoot and burn” wedding photographer is usually found on Craigslist, with the idea that he or she shoots your wedding and then mails a you a disc (or two) with either untouched JPEG’s or even RAW files (though that would take up many discs). A shoot and burner may appeal to you if you prefer to spend your own time post-processing images or create your own album.

Pro’s of the Shoot and Burner

  • Experience – to be successful shooting in this manner does mean a certain level of competence (but see the Con’s section)
  • Pricing – because there is little to non-existent post-processing, the pricing for shooting and burning should be considerably lower than that from other packages.

Con’s of the Shoot and Burner

  • Less Hand-holding – at their low price point, the shoot and burner needs to shoot many, many weddings to generate the same income as a full-time photographer who shoots 15-30 weddings. Shoot and burners may book upwards of 60-100 weddings, shooting multiple weddings per weekend, shooting for “wedding mills”, sometimes even more than one wedding per day(!). As you might imagine, there is no way such a photographer would be able to perform any “hand-holding” in terms of service. It’s simply not physically possible. The alternative is to outsource everything, including communicating with clients. Thus, one employee/contractor handles the phone calls, another the post-processing, another the album, etc. The client then becomes a number in a corporate-like entity.
  • Question about Quality – this goes hand-in-hand with the above con, but the thinking is like this: shooting and burning means paying very little (or next to none) attention to the photos after the shoot (because the photographer does not have the time; the next wedding is coming up!) Oftentimes, looking closely at one’s photo during post-processing with a critical eye will often help the photographer improve for future weddings. Every wedding is unique, and each wedding can provide new photographic challenges that are either met and overcome, or come across as creative impasses. A good photographer wants to continually improve his or her craft. Being a shoot and burner means that motivation is most likely set at a lower priority.

5. Aspiring Amateur

Description – the aspiring amateur is at a stage of photography which most wedding photographers go through. The ones that will eventually become successful professional wedding photographers need to know their equipment, develop their eye and people skills, and gain “battle” experience shooting actual weddings, all the while staying enthusiastic and passionate about weddings.

Pro’s of the Aspiring Amateur

  • Enthusiasm – I know that when I first started shooting weddings in 2003, I found the whole experience to be very exciting. There’s a lot of adrenaline flowing on wedding days, and I even find that to be the case today. Shooting a wedding can be a scary prospect to a new photographer, so finding an aspiring amateur who’s excited about your wedding is important.
  • Pricing – the amateur is not a professional for many reasons, with one of them being that he or she is usually not paid (or paid very little) for their services. The amateur’s primary reason for shooting without pay is simply to gain experience.

Con’s of the Aspiring Amateur

  • Lack of Experience – the aspiring amateur, again, is an amateur for a reason. Most likely, he or she may have shot one or two weddings, or even none, prior to being hired. However, he or she may possess a good eye. Still, the amateur should not be expected to capture all of the most important shots of the day. I’d say if he or she gets 30-40%, that’s really good.
  • Hit or Miss Quality – clients who employ amateurs should not expect a high level of consistent image quality or even certain “must have” images. The saying, “You get what you pay for” truly applies to most wedding photography. At the same time, if the client is lucky, they should get at least a small number of good shots if the amateur knows his or her way around a camera.
  • Lack of Back-up Equipment – the amateur may only have one camera body, one flash unit, and one or two lenses. Weddings are a series of uncontrolled events, and photographic equipment usually gets banged around. Eventually, something breaks. Without back-up equipment, there’s a great risk of missing whole chunks of the day.

6. Professional Photographer with a Different Focus

Description – landscape, product, travel, fashion, commercial, portrait, astronomy, news — there are photographers for all these fields and more, and some of them become celebrities themselves. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean these professionals would shoot weddings well.

Pro’s of the <INSERT NON-WEDDING SPECIALTY> Photographer

  • Know Equipment – you can certainly expect the successful professional photographer to know his or her equipment, although some equipment would not be applicable to weddings
  • Is Professional – you can expect a professional photographer to meet deadlines, be clear in communications, etc.

Con’s of the <INSERT NON-WEDDING SPECIALTY> Photographer

  • Incomplete coverage – while certain photographic fields translate well into wedding photography, such as photojournalism and event photography, you should only expect perhaps 60-70% wedding coverage, in which case having a news photojournalist or event photographer “cover” your wedding is a viable option.
  • Inexperience – you cannot expect a landscape photographer (who’s used to trekking out into the wilderness, waiting an hour or two for sunrise — or sunset — to get a gorgeous, awe-inspiring landscape) to successfully shoot a wedding. A wedding day is a series of key events that are in themselves managed instances of chaos. Lots of things are happening, and lots of people are involved. This is entirely different than a studio setting, or the calm quietude of a rock ledge, etc.

7. Uncle Bob/Aunt Betty

Description – Uncle “Bob” or Aunt “Betty” are not so affectionate terms that wedding photographers may use to describe the enthusiastic family member or friend with a DSLR who basically gets in the shots, or are wanting to duplicate the same shots the wedding photographer is making. In some cases though, clients may elect to go with this family member or friend to shoot their wedding, based on their enthusiasm and/or insistence that shooting their wedding “would be easy — why pay thousands when I can do it for free?”

Pro’s of Uncle Bob/Aunt Betty

  • Pricing – free

Con’s of Uncle Bob/Aunt Betty

  • Lack of Experience – while perhaps well-meaning, Uncle Bob or Aunt Betty really cannot be expected to be prepared for the ebb and flow of events on a wedding day, as neither is usually prepared to be on alert and on his or her feet all day
  • Eye – because Uncle Bob or Aunt Betty is someone familiar, more than likely they will shoot people they know, and conversely, people they know will call upon them to take snapshots. Thus, it is more than likely the result imagery will be narrower in focus than those from a professional photographer who is trained to see the big picture.
  • Hit or Miss Quality – like the Aspiring Amateur, the Uncle Bob or Aunt Betty may get some great shots and perhaps some not so great shots, depending on his or her competency level.
  • Standing out – if Uncle Bob is the “exclusive” photographer, then more than likely he will not be in any (or just a very few) of your photos — you’d have to decide if that’s what you want.
  • Lack of Back-Up Equipment – same as in Aspiring Amateur

8. Old School’er

Description – this term applies to certain wedding photographers who shot on film, and perhaps with medium format cameras. He or she may have shot for 20-30 years developed a large base of referrals.

Pro’s of the Old School’er

  • Super Niche – in today’s digital age, the Old School’er is in his own niche, and because he or she might not put any images online, no other photographer would be able to get “inspired” (read: copy) those shots. In theory.
  • Tons of Experience – to have shot weddings for 20-30 years means tons of experience in dealing with clients, guests and vendors of all temperament types.

Con’s of the Old School’er

  • Stuck in Yesteryear – the thing that puts the old timer in the super-niche group can also be detrimental for today’s wedding clients. Does the photographer offer an online gallery? PDF proofing of the album design? Digital negatives? etc. Does this photograph communicate effectively in today’s age of “instant gratification” tools?


I have described the kinds of wedding photographers that I can see, and of course, these descriptions are stereotypes from having shot numerous weddings in the Bay Area, attended other weddings as guests, viewed wedding videos of (or with) photographers, read countless wedding and photography forums, and visiting photographer websites and reading their blogs.

More than likely, the photographers you’ll meet will have a combination of qualities drawing from one or more of these stereotypes.

In the end, choosing a Bay Area wedding photographer will most likely be based on a combination of experience, quality, personality and price.

What is Dave Wong Photography?

I would define Dave Wong Photography as definitely modern, with emphasis on quality images that capture the story of your day, and service that is “nigh” high-end, but with fair, competitive pricing. I hope you’ll agree.

Note: If you think I’ve missed a type, please let me know.

Capturing Your Wedding Celebration in Photographs

Nothing is more exciting than looking at great photographs of your wedding. Well, except maybe for the wedding itself!

Wedding Photography

Those two words mean different things for different people:

  1. For most people, hearing those two words will bring back memories of their wedding day. Perhaps they would picture their fireplace mantle where a framed photo of them posing together on the altar sits. Somewhere in their attic would be another box filled with various photographic prints. Forgotten? Almost. Gathering dust? Certainly.
  2. For others, wedding photography may elicit groans of disappointment, followed by expressions of varying degrees of disdain or disappointment on the quality of the photos they received.
  3. And finally, for others still, smiles would light up their faces, “Oh, we had so-and-so and s/he was absolutely wonderful!” and they would then ask if you’d like to see their online gallery or their one-of-a-kind custom-made wedding album.

It all depends on how your wedding was photographed, AND how the experienced added to (or subtracted) from your special day. My hope is that with the information and tips you (will) find on this site, that your experience with wedding photography will be as close to scenario #3 as possible.

The Modern Day Wedding Photographer

We actually live in exciting times, in terms of wedding photography.

Gone are the days where the professional wedding photographer shot maybe 10-15 rolls of film, and subsequently offered you perhaps 80-100 proof prints, and is the only avenue for prints since he or she owned the physical negatives. Today, the modern bride can expect images in the mid to high hundreds, while some photographers even offer 1500-2000! And with Dave Wong Photography, all our packages include digital negatives with a personal license to make prints for personal and family use. (We also offer an online gallery to make it easy for friends and family who live afar to conveniently order prints.)

With the majority of photographers now shooting digital, the premium product offered after the shoot is the custom wedding album. With this, the “insert style” album has also gone scarce, replaced by elegantly (or sometimes not so elegantly) designed “magazine style” wedding albums.

Types of Wedding Photography

Today’s couples can expect a variety of offerings in terms of photography sessions. A number of these may be completely new concepts for the couple meeting with a wedding photographer for the first time.

Engagement Session

The engagement portrait session occurs before the wedding and, depending on the photographer, ranges from 1.5 – 3 hours, to even half a day or all day. The session depends on the couple and on the photographer and serves several functions:

  • Getting use to each other. Having a portrait session before the wedding lets both the clients and photographer get used to each other.
  • Clients will be introduced to the photographer’s working style, learn how to follow posing-type directions, and get acclimated to having a big camera lens pointed at them.
  • For the photographer, he or she gets to see how the couple looks, how they follow direction, and learn what helps them to relax.

Wedding Ceremony and Reception

The wedding ceremony and reception are where you can expect the professional wedding photographer to shoot mostly candid, unposed shots. And the main priority here is to remain — and here’s a heavily used word that’s not part of your everyday vocabulary — unobtrusive.

Basically, this just means to stay out of the way, not be the center of attention, and observe and capture what’s happening.


A good number of photographers cringe at the notion of taking “formals” — group shots of family members, posed and smiling for the camera, either on the steps of the altar or some other picturesque location. However, we’ve found that our clients do expect a certain number of these shots, and it really depends on the couple themselves.

If you’re thinking of eschewing with formals, then consider this:

Of all the “important” photos you possess — those that are framed and sitting on your shelves, hanging in your cubicles, hiding in your wallets — which photos are they?

You got it — it’s the photo of you and your best friend in your Las Vegas trip, or your three brothers and dad on their fishing trip, or you and your boyfriend standing in front of the Eiffel Tower. These are, more or less, posed shots. These are formals.

And so while getting great candid moments make for great artsy images — and we love doing that — we also think that formals are just as important.

The trick is to find the right balance.

After Session

The After Session, sometimes known as “Trash the Dress” or “Bridal Session” is all about the two of you, the newlyweds.

Perhaps your wedding day schedule is very tight. And your priority is to go directly from Ceremony to Reception with as short a break as possible so that you can spend as much time as possible with your friends and family. That’s where an after session would make a lot of sense.

Here, it’s mostly likely the Monday after the big weekend.

The pressure’s off, but the two of you are still aglow from the grand affair. It’s a great time to spend together (almost) alone, and get some great images to boot.

Like the engagement session, the after session can last anywhere from 1.5 – 2 hours, to more, maybe 4-5, depending on what the two of you want.

Some couples hold the city in great affinity and want as much “San Francisco” they can get. That means we’d need more time to drive around to the various famous landmarks to get those souvenir shots: Golden Gate Bridge, Palace of Fine Arts, Legion of Honor, or some of the more uniquely San Franciscan OR personal locales like a favorite cafe, location of your first date together, or the spot of the marriage proposal.

Destination Wedding

Speaking of marriage proposals, sometimes that particularly deed is performed in a faraway location: on vacation. And in those cases, the couple may wish to have their wedding there, too.

This is called a Destination Wedding, and places like Lake Tahoe or Monterey make good choices locally: you get away without getting away. Other clients may prefer to leave the mainland, opting for awesome locations like a Hawaiian or Mexican resort. The world is their oyster.

For these weddings, a destination wedding photographer will more than likely cover both the day before and after the wedding. Thus, the rehearsal dinner is photographed, the ceremony and reception and any formals and bridal portraits, and then the day after may be an after session.

This is truly the complete package, and should result in a grand photographic tale of your time in paradise.

Boudoir Photography

Boudoir photography is romantic, sensual, “come hither” imagery done by the bride or fiancee to be given as a gift to her groom or groom-to-be at a later time. The bride might present her book to the groom on the first night of their honeymoon, etc.

This may sound like a recent photographic phenomenon, but artistic nudes have existed in paintings, statues and other artwork for a long, long time, and in many, many cultures.

Styles of Wedding Photography

While we’ve just gone over the types of wedding photography you will find when you’re meeting with various  wedding photographers in the San Francisco Bay Area, we’ll explore the many different styles of photography, which apply differently to the various types of photography.

Classic – We’ll use this term to describe imagery that hearkens back to the early days (or decades) of photography, when creating an image through exposing a light-sensitive chemically-coated glass plate necessitated human subjects to stay very still for minutes, lest they showed up as “ghosts” in the developed prints. In addition, the limitations of the early photographic technology most often meant the “posed” shots were taken in studios before or after the wedding. The practice of shooting at the actual wedding didn’t come into play until the invention of smaller cameras and the flash bulb. Today, we call the classic posed shots “formals”. For any photographer who only does formals, we call them “classic” or “traditional” portrait photographers.

Photojournalistic – The idea of “Photojournalistic” wedding photography is derived from photojournalism, which is the practice capturing the gist of a news story by photographers not long after the invention of photography. We see in museums and books old photographs of the Civil War, for instance. However, the camera and newspaper printing technologies limited the growth of photojournalism until the 1930s and onward, when the smaller 35mm film (instead of plates) cameras came into being. The smaller cameras allowed reporters to get “into the action”, and the resulting photographs are what we can still find (and admire and be inspired by) in old issues of Life magazine and such. For weddings, the idea of getting “into the action” and photographing as events as they occur without posing or direction is credited to photographer Denis Reggie.

Artistic/Editorial/Illustrative – This final category is basically a mix of Classic and Photojournalistic. Indeed, a happy blend of the two practices not only captures the important events as well as the important people, it also gives us the “directed shots” which are captured in various artistic styles. These photos can be artistic, cool, editorial or illustrative, with the idea that the images are about the two of you at a very special time of your lives. Why not have images that tell the story of your day, as well as images to ooh and ah over. Let’s have your wedding cake and eat it, too.

The Dave Wong Photography Wedding

At Dave Wong Photography, we advocate the artistic/editorial/illustrative style. When you meet with us, one of our goals is to determine just what mix of shots you want. We show you a lot of images —  different kinds of images — to see what’s the most important to you. And together, we figure out how much time and effort is needed to attain those shots.

If you haven’t already, take a look at our featured weddings:


Sometimes also referred to as a “Deposit” or “Booking Fee”, the correct term is actually retainer fee, and it refers to an agreed sum of money paid to secure the services of a professional for an agreed upon time-frame.

Retainer Fees are Standard in Wedding Photography

A retainer fee may be a new concept when you’ve just started looking into hiring a professional wedding photographer, but the practice is standard in the wedding photography industry.

Other Professions that use Retainers

You are probably already familiar with the retainer fee, as it often conjures up the image of a lawyer, the result of cultural training arising from movies or TV shows with lawyers as the major characters. Of course, with lawyers, even retainer fees can get really complicated with flavors like “security”, “advanced fee” and “evergreen” retainer fees. However, for the sake of argument, I would like to point out that a number of other professions retainer fees. Here’s a short list:

  • Doctors – certain doctors who practice “Boutique Medicine” use retainers — learn more here
  • Bankers – their retainers are upfront fees charged to clients, even if “the deal” eventually doesn’t go through
  • Freelancers – software engineers, web designers, copywriters, consultants and such all use retainers of some sort, allowing them to pay the bills while working on and waiting on assignments

What Does it Mean when someone is Retained?

Once you’ve retained a service professional (by paying the fee, and signing a contract), you are officially BOOKED, and that professional would take him or herself “off the market”, so to speak, meaning they would not make it known that they are seeking work in a particular time-frame.

With Dave Wong Photography, once the retainer and signed agreement is turned in, I would then be unavailable to anyone who inquires about your wedding date. So, any other potential client who may be interested in a package that is even BIGGER (or smaller) than the one you chose would be turned away, if their wedding date happens to be the same day as yours.

Why Non-Refundable?

Consider this: if the retainer fee was refundable, and for some reason the client decides “at the last minute” to request the money back — perhaps the wedding was canceled for some reason — then the professional photographer would have no income for the previously agreed upon date.

If this were to happen several times, you can be sure the professional photographer would soon no longer be in business.

To Summarize

By Paying the Retainer Fee:

  • you are paying for my promise to come shoot your wedding on the day of your wedding (plus any pre-wedding engagement session or post-wedding after-session).
  • I will turn down other potential assignments for your wedding date
  • you understand that if your wedding is canceled (or rescheduled), the retainer will not be refunded

Exception: The only time that a professional might refund the fee is if something unforeseen occurs and he or she cannot carry out the promise to work. In my case, if I were incapacitated, I would check with you if one of my peers can work in my place. If not, then I would be obligated to return all funds, including the retainer. (This is spelled out in the contract we sign when you book.)

The Dave Wong Photography Retainer

To commission a wedding photography package with me, I require a $1000 non-refundable retainer.

For pricing and contact information, click here.

Place of Birth

I was born and raised in San Francisco’s Chinatown and Richmond districts, and remember fondly going on family outings to the Marina, Golden Gate Park, Baker’s and Ocean Beach, etc.

I speak Cantonese fairly well (okay) and some Mandarin.

Education and Background

I am a graduate of UC Berkeley’s Film Studies program, and have additional experience in graphic design, illustration, web design and programming, and now a would-be novelist, too.

Film Studies

I had grown up on a lot of old movies, back in the days when having cable meant getting AMC (American Movie Classics) — before today’s deluge of digital media.

And what’s more, movies are simply series of still images strung together, playing at 24 frames per second, and thus creating the illusion of motion (due to a physiological phenomenon known as persistence of vision).

So my transition to still photography should not be all that surprising. Both media are ways to tell stories.

Graphic Design

At the same time, I had an earlier stint in college studying graphic design, which further helped develop my sense of aesthetics. After all, they say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But some things — certain angles, ratios, color combinations — are worth analyzing, if only one should learn the rules before breaking them.

Comic Book Illustration

As we travel further back on my road to photography, we find that my first forays into storytelling come from reading and drawing comic books. In fact, my very first career choice when I was but a wee lad was to become a comic book artist. I actually drew my own comics from 7th grade on for over 10 years, and even have several published comic books to prove it!

Again, it was all about telling stories.


Speaking of stories, I just participated in — and won! — NaNoWriMo, the annual National Novel Writing Month contest. You can read about that here.


As such, photography was always something I was interested in, if not just to take photos of various San Francisco neighborhoods for reference material for my illustrations.

But being a starving artist precluded spending money on film and developing, and so it wasn’t until digital cameras came onto the scene that I really cut my teeth on this discipline.

Beginning in 1999 or so — when I purchased my first digital point-and-shoot camera, a Canon Powershot S10, a 2.1 megapixel beauty that, with extra battery and whopping 512MB memory card that set me back a cool $1K — I embarked on my journey into photography.

I had been learning and doing the swing dance called Lindy Hop for a couple of years, and so naturally, the first photos from my “Phase II” photo era were that of swing dancers.

Years went by, and finally, I purchased my first DSLR, the Canon 10D, and shot my first wedding (digitally) in 2003.

I haven’t looked back since.