Trustworthy advice on finding that special someone to capture your big day.

Married couple kissing on the steps
Credit: Sarma Ozols

The big day is over before you know it, but a collection of gorgeous photographs will help you remember each precious moment for years to come. Wedding photographer Sarma Ozols gives us the inside scoop on capturing moments both big and small in an artful way.

What should couples look for in a photography package?
I think our entry-level package is a good baseline: two photographers for about eight hours, 950 to 1,000 shots to choose from after edits and an online gallery for purchasing prints. We also include things that are sometimes considered extras, such as a “proof book”—a small bound volume with all of the images—and an album of 80 to 100 photos.

How much should couples expect to pay for a photography package?
Expect to pay $3,000 and up. I encourage people to order an album, even if it’s not part of their package, so they get the full benefit of the photographer’s vision and expertise. When I’m shooting, I have ideas about what images will look gorgeous blown up, or what would be great in a series, and I work with the couple on the album layout. I can also guarantee the quality of the binding and printing. There are people in the business we call “shoot and burn photographers,” who might charge a smaller fee to just photograph the wedding and burn you a disc of images, but I think most couples want a higher level of commitment and service.

Are two photographers really necessary?
If you’re having a small wedding of 70 or fewer guests, one photographer is fine. But for larger events, it’s really nice to have two shooters. My goal is to be unobtrusive and working with a colleague ensures I don’t have to run around like a nut trying to capture everything, which can be distracting to guests. Instead, I can be documenting the cocktail hour while the other photographer is getting the details in the reception room. We can also capture important moments from different vantage points. For example, when the bride is coming down the aisle, I can be stationed up front getting the pulled back shots, and close-ups of the bride and groom together, while my colleague hangs behind and gets the side views and back of the dress. The effect is less one-dimensional and more cinematic.

How can couples ensure their photographers get all the right shots? Does it help to provide a detailed list?
I have strong feelings about “the list.” For formal photos, I supply a general form with a rundown of the group shots I will take and we can modify that based on the clients’ wishes, family dynamics, etc. This is the only list I want to work from. While I encourage couples to tell me what’s important to them, when they give me a sheet spelling out everything they want photographed—the bride with Aunt Martha, the bouquet on the farm table—I’m not seeing the wedding day anymore. Instead, I’m looking at a piece of paper worrying about checking things off. If clients have someone special they want photographed outside of their immediate family and wedding party, I ask that they flag me down when they’re with that person. As for the rest, if you’ve hired a reputable photographer, and you can see yourself in his or her work, chances are you’re going to be happy with the results. And we will probably photograph the bouquet on the farm table anyway.

Do you recommend taking formal photos before or after the ceremony?
I respect when couples want to have that experience of seeing each other for the first time at the ceremony. But if they’re open to it, I love to get the formal shots done beforehand. We often set it up so the bride and groom meet first and have this wonderful, intimate moment that we document. Then everyone else shows up and we do the group photos. The whole shoot usually takes 45 minutes to an hour. It’s great because once the ceremony is over, there’s nothing left to do except have fun. When we do pictures post-ceremony, people sometimes get impatient because they’re sacrificing social time and the bride and groom end up missing the entire cocktail hour.

Where are your favorite places to shoot?
I love the light, airy, slice of life feel of outdoor photographs. Any time of day can be gorgeous, except for high noon in the sun—when there’s harsh light directly overhead, it creates unflattering shadows on people’s faces. On hot, sunny days, it helps to have some shade, and maybe the option of taking a break in an air-conditioned room, so people aren’t squinting and sweating like crazy. Indoor settings are also beautiful and really romantic. The caveat is when the room is dim, you need to be amenable to turning the house lights up, or letting the photographer bring in supplemental lighting, so the cameras can focus. Otherwise, you can get pixilation in the photos.

What settings are the most challenging?
The trickiest situation is when a venue, such as a church, prohibits the use of overhead light and/or flash. At one event, I was also restricted from going more than halfway down the aisle. I had a long lens and I got something, but I was disappointed I couldn’t capture the emotional moments between the bride and groom up close.