Are you a good houseguest or a bad houseguest? House Guest Etiquette a la Jo.

I just had the BEST weekend with the BEST houseguests, pretty much ever and it wasn’t just because they were my cousins, it was because they were so respectful of our space. They cooked, they cleaned, they bought (and brought) groceries and they were helpful and fun.

To be honest, we’ve had a few shitty houseguests in the past couple years, so it was so nice to see that my cousins were on the same wavelength as me. I was sad to see them go and, for me, that’s not a common feeling. I’m usually elated to bid our guests adieu, but it’s usually because I’m exhausted from entertaining them, cleaning up after them, and providing everything for their stay.

My idea of what makes a good houseguest stems from a childhood with a mom who had very particular Martha Stewartesque notions when it came to being a guest in someone’s home. She drilled it into me and, when people visit and don’t seem to have any houseguest common sense, I kinda lose my shit.

Here’s what my dearly departed Mama Wendy made sure I understood if I was going to visit somewhere. (Also, I may be paraphrasing a little here):

  1. NEVER be a wanker who overstays your visit. Always ask BEFORE you go for a visit how long your host is willing to put up with you. It’s not rude to ask someone this, it’s polite. It doesn’t matter how much we love our friends and family – everybody has a saturation limit when it comes to houseguests. For example, I’m good for around three to four nights and then my eye starts to twitch and I start to feel a bit stabby. If I tell you that I’d love to have you visit for the weekend, it means I’d love to have you visit FOR THE WEEKEND. If you then decide that you are loving my place so much you want to stay longer, I’m probably going to secretly imagine myself stabbing you in the eye with a fork while I’m politely insisting that I’m okay you extending your stay. News Flash: I’m not okay with it. Nobody is. Get the fuck out and, while you’re at it, make sure you’re gone by mid-afternoon on Sunday and mop the floor before you leave, just for good measure.
  2. Food is fucking expensive, so unless you’re visiting millionaires, don’t be a freeloading asshat. If you’re by yourself and heading to visit someone for a night, it’s usually fine to allow your host to feed you. But bring a gift-dessert or something (or, in my case, bring me ALL THE WINE) just to let them know you appreciate their hospitality. HOWEVER, if you’re bringing more than just yourself OR you plan to be there more than one night, chip the fuck in on food, homie. Bring (or buy) some groceries or, even better, make a plan with your host for meals and offer to either shop with them when you arrive or bring the ingredients for a couple of those meals. This will not only make you the most-appreciated house guest ever, it will also get you sincere invitations to come back. For reals.
  3. Get off your ass and help. Help cook. Help clean up after meals. Help clean up anything that is a mess or dirty. Clean up after yourself. Don’t leave your shit laying around. Don’t treat your host’s place like it’s a hotel with a maid and room service. Again, that will just make your host stabby and nobody wants any version of Norman Bates for a host.
  4. Clean up your GD room when you leave. Strip the sheets and pillow cases and either put them in the laundry or wash them if your host prefers. Alternatively, if your host is much less anal than me and says it is unnecessary for you to strip the bed, AT LEAST make the bed then. Leave it as you found it. If you slept on the couch, use some common sense – clearly you need to clean up your bedding. Don’t be a fucking slob of a houseguest. This isn’t rocket science, people.
  5. Lastly, have some respect. If your host goes to bed early or you are a night owl, don’t blast the TV or stereo or dial up your buddies and FaceTime at midnight in a drunken stupor with your phone on full blast. Quiet the fuck down and have some GD respect.

Admittedly, when I was younger and didn’t fully appreciate the costs and tasks involved in running my own household, I was most likely NOT a good houseguest. I’m writing this in hopes that it will help the younger versions of me out there turn over a new leaf and start becoming more likeable when you’re visiting.

Peace out, stellar bitches!

Finding a Wedding Photographer: Important questions I would be asking.

A few weeks ago I received a long and, at times, completely irrelevant, list of questions from a prospective Bride. Some of them were totally legit, some made me merely shake my head, but many of them had me laughing uproariously. My reaction to the list was not this lady’s fault, but rather the issue was that most prospective wedding clients have never been married before and, therefore, really have no idea about what kind of questions they should be asking a wedding photographer. Many people, like this lady, probably do a Google or Pinterest search and then copy someone else’s “recommended questions” list. It really made me realize that it’s time a photographer actually put out a list of questions that WE would ask if hiring another photographer to shoot our wedding. I, of course, have compiled a list for ya’ll and, while it probably doesn’t cover every question I would ask a wedding photographer, it definitely cuts to the basic important ones that would help me decide who I wanted to hire.

Before I get into the list, though, I do want to talk about a few things that I feel are a really important part of choosing your wedding photographer.

Firstly, there are a bazillion wedding forums out there where people recommend photographers for each other. Someone will post something like, “Looking for a talented and affordable photographer for our wedding. Who would you recommend?” and then there will be 500 comments from people saying stuff like, “Check out such and such! She shot our wedding and the photos are absolutely amazing. We highly recommend her!”. While I appreciate it when people like my work enough to tag me in these posts, I always say the same thing: Make the choice for yourself and don’t base it on what you’ve heard about photographers or their work from your friends and family. Photography is one of the most subjective professions and just because your homies love the look of a photographer’s pics does NOT mean you will too. Before you contact ANY of us, do some research. Look at A LOT of photography websites and Facebook pages in your area, read their testimonials and reviews, and then choose ONLY the shooters whose images you instantly LOVE. I’m serious. If the images don’t speak to you, don’t bother contacting the photographer. You’ll save both parties a world of disappointment. Narrow down your selections to five or even ten photographers whose work you like and then make a plan to contact (and meet) with each one (I’ll get to the why later when I explain the questions).

And, regardless of your budget, please…PLEAAAAASE, don’t contact a photographer and immediately ask about packages and prices. For people in my industry who spend a ton of time learning our craft, honing our skills, and spending hours fine tuning our editing styles to make our photos look uniquely our own, there is no bigger insult than having someone contact us and just ask about our prices. It pains me to admit it, but we photographers have fragile egos when it comes to our work and the thought of people “shopping around” for the most affordable photographer, rather than wanting to hire us based on our work, just doesn’t sit well with any of us. We like to live in our bubbles and believe that our clients hire us because they love us, for being the people we are and because they love our work. So, if you find a photographer whose work you absolutely love, but you are on a limited budget, use some finesse. Tell them you love their work and you would love to meet with them to hear about what you can do for each other. You would be surprised what a face-to-face can do to make miracles happen and magic ensue. I’m being brutally honest when I say that I turn away dozens of prospective clients every wedding season because they send me emails inquiring only about my prices and packages…and I’m not the only photographer around here who does this. I want every client I work with to have a connection with me. I want us to get along, be comfortable working together and build up some trust so they know that, even if I’m suggesting crazy shit,  the end result will be worth it. I can’t even gauge a prospective client if all they do is ask about my prices. So, if you are an engaged couple who is having a really difficult time finding someone to shoot your wedding, it could be for the very simple reason that your approach may, in fact, suck.

Also, the kind of camera a photographer uses has zero reflection on his or her ability to take amazing photos. If you look at a website and the photos speak to you, that is all that matters. This topic has been coming up a lot recently in some of the photographer forums I follow. I recently (because I had made a joke about this very thing to some of my buddies) made up a totally new camera for a prospective bride who asked what I shoot with. I laughed hysterically at her face expression because I told her I shoot with a Kensington 6800 BA. She stayed serious and wrote that down and then I said, “Ask me what the BA stands for?”. Bad Ass! LOLOL.  Then I explained to her that my cameras, no matter how amazing they are, don’t take good photos, I do. Asking a professional photographer what kind of camera she uses, especially after already telling her you love her work, is the equivalent of telling a plastic surgeon that he does amazing boob jobs and then asking him what kind of scalpels he uses, as if that would have any bearing on the final result.

Okay, I could blah blah blah all day about this, but we’ve all got places to be and things to do. Keep in mind, this list is made up of questions that I would ask if I were hiring a wedding photographer. I would already assume that, once I’d narrowed my search down, the photographer would already have a good handle on how to shoot a wedding day and I would know if that were actually true after meeting with them and asking these questions. Oh, and keep in mind that I’m kind of a snob, so I would only want the best of the best to shoot my wedding and to be certain I was covered in all areas.

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Shit I Would Ask A Wedding Photographer

(Please note: I’ll print the list again at the bottom, without explanations, so you can copy and paste it or print it if need be. The explanations are there for people who need to know the whys behind all the things.)

Start with THE golden question and say it nicely because nice goes a long way.

  1. Hi, I’m such and such and my fiance and I have looked at your photos and really like what we’ve seen. Are you available on such and such date? (Do NOT ask anything else until you hear back from the photographer because, if he or she is not available, you have wasted your time asking other questions.)

Then, if you hear back and they have your date available, then go ahead and ask these questions, in this order:

2) Are you comfortable and experienced with shooting in all lighting conditions and do you have image examples to show us of a variety of different lighting conditions you’ve shot in? (bright light, dark places, areas of high contrast-such as places with bright light and lots of shadows, places that don’t allow flash photography, etc.. You definitely want a photographer who is not going to panic and shit the bed if the lighting conditions change suddenly and unexpectedly. How much would it suck to hire someone who says they are a pro and then find out, after the fact, they don’t know how to use flash photography and off-camera lighting in tricky moments?)

3) Do you have a current business license to operate in your area? (If you hire an unlicensed photographer, be warned that they are, most likely, operating a business illegally in their municipality. If they can’t be bothered to pay for a license that costs less than $100, what else can they not be bothered to do?). If they don’t have a license, hire at your own risk. You get what you pay for.

4) Can we meet, either in person or on the phone? (WHY, you may ask? Well, would you hire that same plastic surgeon above based on hearsay and just trust that he’d make your boobs look spectacular, even if you’d never had a real conversation with him or a pre-surgery consult to make sure you don’t come out with boobs the size of your head or lopsided or worse? Why should it be any different when choosing your photographer? Don’t you want to get a feel for his or her personality and don’t you want to see if you will get along and be able to work together? Most people spend an entire day with their photographer. What happens if you hire someone without meeting and then find out on your wedding day that the photographer is a complete ass hat? Ain’t nobody got time for that.) There’s no reason ya’ll can’t have a phone conversation, even if you’re on opposite sides of the world. If the photographer says no to meeting, hire at your own risk. You get what you pay for.

5) What does your Wedding Photography Contract cover? (If they don’t have a contract, be wary and get ready to move on if they aren’t willing to draw one up. Nothing says “I’m a total amateur” like a photographer claiming to be a pro who doesn’t even have even a simple wedding contract.). At the very least, a contract should cover the following:

  • Date of Wedding
  • Names and addresses and contact info of all involved parties
  • Time and duration of expected photographic coverage
  • Amount owing for deposit and date it is due
  • Amount owing on balance and date it is due
  • All coverage, products and services being promised by the photographer (including Turn Around time-how long the photographer will take to get all of your photos edited, books made, etc.)
  • Any extra fees, such as travel or per diem food allowance, the photographer is asking you for
  • What happens if something prevents you from getting married and how the photographer will be compensated
  • What happens if something prevents the photographer from shooting your wedding and the back up plan or how you will be compensated
  • A cap on how much the photographer will owe you if something goes wrong and you decide you want to sue him or her (the normal cap is the price of the package you are purchasing, no more)
  • Anything else that is pertinent to you and the photographer being covered in all areas.

I can’t stress enough how important a contract is. Make sure the photographer you want to work with has one or is willing to draw one up with you. If not, MOVE ON.

6) Can you show me an entire wedding that you’ve photographed? (This is REALLY important-to me anyway. We photographers love to showcase our favourite and often our best shots on our websites and social media pages, but you can’t really get a sense of whether a shooter knows what he or she is doing unless you can see an entire edited wedding. Seeing an entire wedding will give you the best idea of what a shooter is capable of and whether or not he or she knows what to capture and what to look for while shooting. If the photographer won’t let you see an entire wedding or if they tell you they have never shot a wedding on their own before, hire them at your own risk and don’t overpay them. Experienced photographers in our area will charge anywhere from around $2500-$5500 for a full day of wedding coverage. If the person you are trying to hire can’t show you a full wedding, don’t pay them that much money or expect to get an amazing result. Even if you love their work, chances are if they can’t produce something simple like a full wedding, they probably haven’t shot a full wedding and they are not going to do an amazing job on all your photos. Why take a risk on one of the biggest days of your life when you can find someone whose work you love and who can deliver the whole shebang?)

7) Do you use a second shooter? If not, are you willing to use one for our wedding? (This is, of course, not a deal breaker by any means, but it does add a great deal of extra awesomeness to a wedding day. I shot weddings by myself for three years and I can say, with absolute certainty, that shooting a wedding alone does not produce half of the kick ass results that shooting a wedding with multiple shooters does, especially if you hire a crew that is a well-oiled machine and knows how to work together really well. Think about it, as a single photographer, it’s pretty hard to grab pics such as a kick ass shot of the bride’s face over the groom’s shoulder as she comes up the isle while at the same time grabbing a shot over the bride’s shoulder of the groom’s face as she walks toward him. There are, literally, dozens of mind blowing moments missed when only one photographer shoots an entire wedding, even though it’s not the photographer’s fault – one person can only see and do so much. Add into the mix the length of a wedding day and anyone, regardless of how creative he or she is, will start to lose their creative energy. When we shoot Full Days, we work anywhere from 12-16 hours straight and that is exhausting when we are wrangling people all day long AND having to be creative and fluid. Adding another shooter into the mix means they can spell each other off and rest a bit here and there to recharge their creative batteries.  My crew and I have caught moments that a single photographer could never catch and my clients tell me, all the time, how blown away they are that we caught such and such doing this or such and such doing that.)

8) If the photographer offers wedding books or canvas prints, etc.: Can you show us examples of your books or any other products that you offer your wedding clients? (This is a no brainer and a perfectly reasonable request. If they don’t have anything to show you, hire them at your own risk.)

9) Can you give us the phone numbers of three of your past wedding clients so we can call them and see what they say about you? (A photographer’s past clients can tell you a lot about his or her work ethic, customer service, etc.. Just as you wouldn’t hire a plastic surgeon without hearing some good word-of-mouth raves from his real clients, don’t hire a photographer without some either. And, just to keep it interesting, look through the photos on the website, with the photographer, and choose random clients!)

10)Do you have Liability Insurance? (This covers the photographer(s) while shooting and also covers you and your guests if he or she, I dunno, goes psycho and starts swinging a camera around and smashing people in the face with it or pushes a guest off a cliff in a heat-crazed rage. It also covers the photographer if something happens to the equipment and your photos are lost and/or damaged. And it’s relatively inexpensive, so if the photographer claims to be a pro, he or she will most likely have this. If the photographer has no insurance and isn’t willing to get it and show you proof, hire them at your own risk.)

11) Run us through a typical wedding day with you? (This is where I explain the difference between First Look weddings and Traditional weddings and run them through a typical timeline of both and what needs to be done during each type. This will really give you a good idea of how seasoned a photographer is. The really good ones will know little details about what needs to be done on the wedding day, such as making sure the bride has time to refresh her makeup before the ceremony or where to position shooters during the ring exchange to get the best angles or when the photographers need to eat in order to ensure no candid moments get missed during the reception, etc.. Trust me, you’ll immediately be able to sense if the photographer has his or her shit dialled in while they run you through a typical day. Go with your gut. If you feel less than confident with their run through, hire them at your own risk.)

12) Can you explain your pricing and packages to us? (Yes, after alllllllll that, it is time to ask about prices. And, if the prices and packages are WAY out of your budget, don’t panic. There are many ways to figure these things out without just giving up and walking away and without both sides feeling like they are missing out. If I meet with clients and I know I’m going to love them and love working with them and my prices at first seem a bit too much for them, I have alternatives to offer that still keep me within my desired profit margin. For example, I am willing to offer half day coverage and hourly rates for weddings instead of full day and leave it up to them to choose what aspects of the day are most important and what they want covered. I also offer payment plans (which clients jump on all the time) where they can pay the initial deposit and then make equal monthly payments until their balance is paid in full. Many photographers talk about their clients finding money for photography from elsewhere in their budgets, such as buying a less expensive wedding dress, dialling down the flowers, going less lavish on the decor, etc.. The bottom line is, if pictures are important to you and you really want a certain photographer to shoot your wedding because ya’ll get along like besties, there is always a way to make it happen. People make the cost a huge big deal, but it’s often not a big deal at all if you truly value photos and the work of the photographer. At the very least, if you go through this process and do decide that you can’t afford the photographer, you’ve already established a good relationship and that photographer is likely to recommend some of his or her buddies who have similar styles and may be more affordable AND you’ll know how to handle the next photographer interview after going through the process once. Win/win!)

13) Do you have any special requests from wedding clients or is there anything you are not comfortable doing? (For example, I have it written into my contract that all guests must stay in their seats during the ceremony and stay seated while they are taking photographs. It saves me the stress of having a guest step in front of me or any of my shooters while we are capturing important moments. I also request dinner for myself and my shooters and I won’t accept lists from couples of shots that they believe I “must” get during the day. My reasoning is that I’ve shot close to 100 weddings and they’ve either never been married or been married once, a long time ago, so I know better than some list they got off Google or Pinterest what I need to be shooting. I do, however, give them a Q&A form that asks if they have any special ceremonies planned during the day (so my crew and I know they are happening and are ready to shoot them) and also asks for a list of family photos they want taken. These are just a few things I discuss with all prospective clients while we are meeting.)

I could probably list a dozen more questions, but the ones I’ve listed are, IMHO, the most important questions to ask in order to know whether you’ll be hiring someone legit or not.

Also, to top this off, a seasoned pro photographer will cover all of this, and a whole lot more, without any questions at all, but if you feel like you need to bring something with you, my list is a good place to start.

Okay, this is a buttload of information, so here is a recap, in short form, that you can print and bring with you to the meeting.

Here’s a recap:

  1. Are you available on our date?
  2. Are you comfortable and experienced with shooting in all lighting conditions and do you have image examples to show us of a variety of different lighting conditions you’ve shot in?
  3. Do you have a current business license to operate in your area?
  4. Can we meet, either in person or on the phone?
  5. What does your Wedding Photography Contract cover?
  6. Can you show me an entire wedding that you’ve photographed?
  7. Do you use a second shooter? If not, are you willing to use one for our wedding?
  8. Can you show us examples of your books or any other products that you offer your wedding clients?
  9. Can you give us the phone numbers of three of your past wedding clients so we can call them and see what they say about you?
  10. Do you have Liability Insurance?
  11. Run us through a typical wedding day with you?
  12. Can you explain your pricing and packages to us?
  13. Do you have any special requests from wedding clients or is there anything you are not comfortable doing?

Now that this blog is done, I’m thinking of writing another one called “Shit to NOT ask wedding photographers while interviewing them”, just because I know it will make a lot of my photographer friends bust a gut.

Until then, good luck with your search and I wish you all enough of whatever it is you need.

One Love, people. One Love.