Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Sponsored Post: Williams Sonoma $150 Giveaway!

I am excited about today's post and giveaway on so many levels. Williams-Sonoma is genuinely one of those stores that makes me happy (and stores don't generally make me happy). There's something about their open layout, amazing kitchenware, and delicious treats that excites and inspires me about cooking and our homelife in general. In fact, one of our first engagement presents was a cookbook from Williams-Sonoma that I can't rave about enough. More than a cookbook, it's a reference guide full of great information on how to stock your kitchen, various cooking techniques, party planning tips, and amazing recipes. The gorgeous photos, lists all necessary implements for each recipe, and easy/medium/hard guides helped us move beyond stir-fry to rack of lamb without fear. We've turned to it on many a Sunday afternoon to plan a special evening in or recipe for entertaining.  Both the Williams-Sonoma book and store genuinely help cooking feel both accessible and special to me.


Cooking has become a central part of our shared life. We savor the time we spend together researching new recipes, shopping at farmer's markets, and preparing dinners over music. We've made do with our eclectic mix of scratched teflon pans and pots missing lids, but we're excited about the chance to have high-quality, long-lasting kitchenware on our registry. We bought everyday plates from a big box store, but they're already chipped after a year and I'm looking forward to having lifelong, durable servingware. We're not looking at our registry as a chance to simply acquire more stuff, but as the chance to build a home. My mother just replaced the Cuisinart my parents received from their wedding registry. She still has the same dutch oven from her wedding gift list. She still uses registry-purchased serving platters for Christmas meals and fancy occasions.  These pieces are part of my home and childhood memories. And we want the same for our home and future memories. We want items we'll cherish and use over and over. We want items from a company we can trust for durability and quality.

I would love love love a set of Calphalon non-stick, anodized aluminum cookware. Easy-to-clean, non-teflon, scratch-resistant, consistent heating, dishwasher-save, high-quality cookware that I can use for years and years.


I would love a cast-iron dutch oven for oven-safe and cooktop-safe slow-roasting of meats, soups, and sauces. And yes, I love the vibrant red color of this five quart dutch oven from Le Creuset.
 

We don't usually cook that much meat, but for Thanksgiving this will be an absolute necessity. And Jason may be inspired now to learn how to prepare prime rib.


 Cooking is about 1000 times easier and more fun with a quality set of knives. And a knife sharpener. I would love more than one good knife, which is what we currently have and creates difficulties when we're both doing prep work. I would love a full set of knives to handle all our cooking needs. 


These glass mixing bowls stack-and-store, can replace our scratched plastic bowls, and can also double as serveware.


We love entertaining and I would love to have these three cherry wood trays for hors d'oeuvres, transporting wine glasses to the patio, and general food presentation at parties. 


We never cared much about the gift part of wedding planning, since we're mostly excited about getting to celebrate our wedding with our community. But now, as the marriage becomes more real, I find myself getting more excited about crafting a meaningful registry too. It's felt easy to get overwhelmed with the sheer number of things we could request but, when I think back to my parents kitchen, I can start to imagine ours. And I can start to imagine our life. And I feel like our kitchen and Sunday dinners will be a foundation for our new family in the way that it was in my childhood family.

And that's why I'm truly excited about today's post, because Williams-Sonoma is offering one lucky reader a $150 to help with building your new family's home. That's $150 you can use that towards a food processor, dutch oven, pyrex dishes, cookbooks or whatever else you think is most important for you and your home.

To enter, all you need to do is:

1. Visit Williams-Sonoma here and create a registry. If you already have a registry, don't worry, you can still enter by adding another item to your existing Williams-Sonoma registry.
2. Leave a comment saying that you registered and sharing your item/why you're excited about this item for your future home.
3. You can get an extra entry if you include your registry link in the comment.

The contest closes at 6pm PST on Wednesday, September 8, so head on over here to start exploring and dreaming about your future home possibilities...

Monday, August 30, 2010

Engagement Shoot Sneak Peek

Engagement shoot overview: I managed to blowdry my hair just fine (investing in the right hairspray didn't hurt). The makeup was photo-ready, but not quite pro-perfect (oh well). I hoped against hope that I could succeed in my fake eyelash application attempts (no, I couldn't). It turns out that folks use props in engagement shoots for a reason (the cupcakes were an amazing distraction that helped a lot). When we got home - with our raw file photos in hand - I spent a good hour simultaneously freaking out about my crows feet (when the eff did THAT happen, and why are they apparent in nearly every smiley picture - which was most of them) and reliving the fun and of a great afternoon with Jason via tons of joy-filled, beautiful photos. We had some fun being schmoopy, we had some fun being artsy, and we had some fun being goofy. Although we haven't had a chance to edit them, here's an untouched sneak peak.

All photos by Rachel Chapman Art

See? Crows feet and joy. That's a tradeoff I can make. And these are some pictures I can love.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Engagement Shoot Preparations, Or Lack Therof

Yesterday, I was trying to find a night that worked for dinner plans with a girlfriend. After checking my calender, I could only offer her one of two dates: October 1 or 2. That's right, until early October, I am fully and completely booked. My job is in overdrive. My life is in overdrive. I don't have time for laundry, let alone the wedding planning items on my list. And so, despite all my best intentions, I am finding myself entirely unprepared for our engagement shoot this Sunday. Here I am, four days out., sans pretty dress, sans hairstyling options, and sans makeup. Oh, and sans giving a d*mn.

To be fair, I've never thought of the engagement shoot as a big deal. Aside from using those few hours to get to know your photographer and for them to get to know you, it seemed unimportant (Since our photographer, Kelly Prizel, is based on the East Coast, a get-to-know-you engagement shoot wasn't an option.) I don't love portraits, since I prefer my photos to have context (ooh! remember when we went hiking in Santa Ynez? Oh my gosh, that 80s rocker themed birthday party was a complete blast), which isn't really achieved during a photoshoot. And since we decided to use email save the dates (free, eco-friendly, and the easiest way to collect some important information) and we could give a fig about newspaper announcements, there's not really a media/product-related purpose to having official "engagement photos."

So why are we even bothering with engagement photos in the first place? It's a combination of factors. I have extreme anxiety about photography (memories of fights over family holiday photos still make me shudder because I hated having my picture taken, even then) and I thought it would be a good idea to work on that before the wedding. Also, we're excited to help a talented emerging artist friend get more photography experience. Because of that photo anxiety, I was actually looking forward to a laid-back, no expectation session with a friend. And I had planned to thoroughly prepare to thwart my anxiety with a pretty new dress (I don't have any summery dresses that fit, since losing some weight), a sleek blow-out, nice makeup, and healthy eating.

Instead, life happened.  A LOT of life happened, leaving me without time to find a flattering dress, without time to book an appointment at the Dry Bar for a blowout before they got fully booked, with way too much stress to bother eating well (my stress-diet over the last week has included copious amounts of lemon cake and cookies, to give you an idea of where I'm at), and with a lingering cold and the associated unfortunate skin. On the plus side, I already own some nice makeup. On the minus side, I'm still in the process of learning how to handle it all and I don't have time to really learn before Sunday.

So today, after the third phone call in which I managed to ADD eight things to my to-do list instead of crossing them off, I gave up. I'm letting go. I'll get as done-up as I do for a nice night out, and that will be good enough. I'll ignore those extra five pounds the same way I ignore them every day of my life. And I'm just going to have fun on Sunday, running around neighborhoods I love in downtown Los Angeles with my partner and a good friend. I'm going to take a day off to cavort, and the camera can do what it pleases. I'll be eating cupcakes at Babycakes LA and getting a drink on the outdoor patio at Banquette and running around the perimeter of the architecture joy that is the Gehry-designed Disney Concert Hall. I will be having a fabulous Sunday with friends, and that's going to be enough for me.

So I'm not going to worry that this shoot won't look like the sorts of engagement sessions with props and costume changes that I've gotten used to seeing on blogs. Because that was never the point. I don't care about getting blogged. I don't care about using these photos for anything in particular. I care about having fun and helping a friend. And strangely, I'm suddenly betting that these photos will be just about perfect, or at least a whole lot more meaningful, relaxed, and more objectively "good" than if I run around Saturday looking for the perfect dress, trying to learn about smoky eye makeup and worried about practicing photogenic poses.

 
Personal photos from another time we ran around the Disney Concert Hall and downtown Los Angeles, taking photos with a point-and-shoot, and just generally having a blast. Yes, I think this Sunday's "engagement shoot" will be just about right.

Monday, August 23, 2010

One Year Engageaversary

In my everyday life, I generally keep my trap shut about the wedding. Yes, it comes up on occasion, but usually only if I'm asked or you happen to be one of a few select people (like my mother, other friends getting married, friends who are helping with the wedding, or Jason. Poor Jason.) But really, you folks are my wedding community. I keep my crazy contained here in the online realm and leave the rest of my life for life. But I'm finally starting to want a bit more of the wedding in my everyday life. We're seven months out now from the wedding, and I'm ready. I'm ready for the squeals of joy. I'm ready for the champagne and women-time at a shower.

In a lot of ways, my non-online community never got the chance to get fully excited or invested in our marriage joy, partially because we're having such a long engagement (19 months) and partially because other aspects of our life took front-seat priority. The day after we got engaged, my mother ended up in a foreign hospital and it took months to sort everything out. I didn't get the chance to tell her or anyone else about our engagement for weeks because, obviously, her health situation took precedence. And then, Jason got downsized just after my mother's situation finally stabilized. The engagement became unimportant (publicly) and to some extent I used this blog and wedding planning research as an escape from it all. But it was a private escape. We never made a big deal out of the engagement. We had other more pressing life issues to deal with. We felt lucky that we had a year and a half so we had time to deal with our immediate challenges and save up for the celebration.

Somehow, a lot of people in our community took it to mean I wasn't excited about our wedding. And over the last year, I've put up with a lot of half-joking comments about our neverending engagement and how we could have already been married, bought a house and had kids by now (um, no) so what are we waiting for? And the cold feet jokes just really need to stop. Because our 19 month engagement doesn't mean I'm not excited about our wedding. And it doesn't mean I'm not engaged.  Good for you that you (or your parents) had enough money sitting around to make your wedding happen in nine months. We didn't. And we're okay with that, even if you, apparently, aren't. And as crazy as you may find our process (though why do you care again?) and as much as I wish we were just freaking married already, it's been a blessing to take our time..

Our long engagement means we haven't had all that much to talk about publicly as we slowly work through our to-do list. It means I know I'm an overworked, easily stressed out procrastinator and that I needed lots of time to slowly pull this together, find affordable options and lock in lock in 2010 (and even some 2009) prices for our 2011 wedding. We've had time to really refine our plan for what makes a meaningful wedding. It took a while to get on the same page, but we're both truly excited about our crazy hippie taco truck fiesta wedding. We've had time to really find wedding helpers we love and adore and we've been able to build real relationships with them. I'm genuinely excited to share our wedding day with people we care about, instead of simply capable people we hired to perform a service. We've had time to plan for our marriage, including working through a great book, start our Making Marriage Work class, and join a temple. We've had time to be lazy procrastinators. Really, it shouldn't take two months to deal with a guest list. But it did, and didn't and it didn't cause any problems in the overall timeline. We've had time to take up new hobbies like side businesses, volunteering and gardening.

My first self-planted succulent! I hope I can keep it alive...

And we've had time to build our family

But now that our wedding is finally around the corner (ish), I'm kinda excited to have people celebrate. I don't want a shower with a pile of gifts, but I'd really love the chance to revel in this a bit. It's time. I wish we could just be married already, but I recognize all the smart reasons and benefits to having waited. But now, it's finally our chance to have some public fun with this process. So, on our one-year engageaversary, I just wanted to say what an extraordinary year it's been and how much I'm looking forward to the next steps in finally pulling it all together, full of last minute DIY projects, logistical overplanning, a bachelorette evening and all.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Burnout

It's been a crazy few weeks here, with the explosion of conversations happening about photography, with hundreds of emails I'm still working through, and with general exhaustion about my non-blog life and job (because yeah, I have those too.) So this weekend, I'm taking a break. I'm heading out to the desert for a sure-to-be-amazing dance party at the Ace Hotel with our super fabulous DJ Michael (aka The Human Jukebox aka founding member of The Flashdance wedding artist collective). See you all back here next week.

Photo by  Sarah Yates

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Progression of a Wedding Budget

Wedding budget, pre-engagement - $10,000: I am going to be the savviest budget bride ever. I am going to throw a giant party with an open bar for 100 people and it will be AMAZING. That national average of $28,000 is complete and utter foolishness. Only boneheads would pay that much for one day. I'd rather put that money towards a house or retirement or a vacation. Woo, a vacation. Yeah honeymoon. I'll buy a department store dress, do my own hair and makeup, and DIY my own cheap non-floral centerpieces, have an ipod wedding, and serve tacos and pie. All I want is an outdoor wedding with Jason and the people we love. That's all that matters. That and nice photography to capture it all. I'll find an up and comer who's still cheap. Yeah. That's what I'll do. I'm a budget superstar. Ha ha, $28,000 suckers.

Wedding budget, one month in - $15,000: So, apparently it's impossible to rent an empty room in Los Angeles for less than $5000 (and it's usually more like $10,000). And um, apparently we aren't entirely on the same page about this small and casual thing (I had no idea you had so many uncles and cousins. Wow.) And I really still want that outdoor wedding. And it turns out I like the idea of having a ring and ketubah and a rabbi in addition to everything else. And why the heck is it nearly impossible to find a nice dress for under $1000?!! Department stores and their flimsy chiffon and shiny sateen are FAILING ME. Crap. Crapitty crap crap. But we can find another $5,000 and start making some deep cuts to make this work. Yes. I am still a budget rockstar. 

Wedding Budget, six months in - $20,000: Somehow, in all this planning, it has been brought to my attention that an ipod DJ is not exactly what my music-loving, music-industry-working partner had always dreamed of. And, for some strange reason, this is causing some tension. Sigh. Also, it turns out that I am utterly incapable of applying false eyelashes in a way that doesn't look like a caterpillar is nesting on my eyelid. This would be less terrible if I were capable of giving myself a sleek and stylish hairdo or applying camera-ready makeup in a way that doesn't look clown-like, but I'm not. And I'm not sure why budget superstar weddingbrain ever convinced me that I could, when I have enough difficulties dealing with the morning blow-dry and lipgloss routine. Also, why must all the dresses I like cost about $1500. Really dresses? Lame. Lame lame lame. I'm going back to Nordstom and Macy's again, in addition to trying on every bridesmaid dress in the city, and all I can say is LAME.

Tearful elopement budget - $1000: Sob. Chestwracking sob after sob. Waaaaaaaaaaaah. But. I. Never. Wanted. This. Expense. Or. Stress. Eff it. Eff it ALL. WAAAAAAAH. Oh, you mean if I elope I won't be able to share our celebration with our loved ones, WHICH WAS THE ENTIRE POINT OF THIS D*MN WEDDING IN THE FIRST PLACE?! Also, our mothers might disown us. But still. A simple, peaceful elopement...

Wedding budget, nine months in - $25,000 How in the @#*(^(@!#!@$%^*;)%;*)@!#!(%^*) do rentals cost this much money?! Sure, I got a $1000 steal on our beautiful outdoor venue that allows us to: nix ceremony decor, BYOB, bring whatever catering/self-catering options we want. But Dear. G-d. The RENTALS. Also, as my mother so helpfully pointed out, the venue is a bit remote. And at the top of a twisty windy multi-mile road. And we're serving alcohol to people who have been known to party. And unfortunately buses seem to cost about $2000. Also, I am now scouring ebay, craigslist, and every used wedding dress site in existence to try and find that mythical cheap dress. I am now bartering my soul for makeup and hair favors. And somehow, it's still not enough. It's never enough.

Wedding budget, one year in - I give up. With our guest list, I simply give up. I've got the department store dress, the taco truck catering, the Two Buck Chuck and the borrowed decor and the numbers still don't seem to be budging. I have this fantasy that we'll get back from our honeymoon and suddenly discover that the $100 savings here and the $100 savings there have suddenly added up to a substantial number like, oh say, $5,000.  But the truth is that probably won't happen and I can no longer give a d*mn. We're getting married. And everyone gets food, everyone get drinks, we all get some joy, and it's going to cost a ton because a ton of you are probably coming. Which is wonderful and is the point. 

I'm very uncomfortable with the amount of money we're spending, but I'm also entirely comfortable with how we're choosing to spend it. As I'm learning, there's not a lot of black-or-white clarity surrounding weddings, especially as we muddle through the real compromises and real challenges in planning a big-city, 150+ person wedding in a way that feels right to us. I just wish I could finally convince my pre-engagement $10K dreaming scheming self that it's all right. Because it really truly is.

Monday, August 16, 2010

More on Blogging and Photographers

So it seems I've created a bit of a firestorm with my post last week. And I think I need to step in and clarify a few key points, both about interpretations of my post and about things I've learned in a deluge of emails since then:

1. My post was about a segment of photographers I've come across in my time researching, reading, and blogging about weddings. It was 100% not a post about a specific photographer. In my comments, I saw an example of poor treatment from a reader and snapped. Her comment reflected what I know to be true from speaking with wedding pros, brides, and following wedding-industry blogs like Think Splendid (both this article about Online Marketing and the Plus Size Bride and the comments are worth a read). I included my reader's comment as an example to illustrate these issues and not to call anyone out and I purposely did not discuss who her photographer was.  However, I now have reason to believe that I was never given the whole story about this particular example. There's a reason I didn't provide names and would request that others not jump to conclusions about the same. Regardless, my post absolutely highlighted a truth I have seen in this industry. After receiving emails and reading entire pro photography forums dedicated to calling me a "fat, ugly, bridezilla" because of my post (and that was the nicest of it) I know this is a real undercurrent in parts of the wedding industry.

2. We brides tend to be an insecure bunch. I've admitted to my own issues publicly, in an attempt to move beyond them, to be brutally honest about the good and bad of wedding planning, and because I know I'm not alone. Really, you try going for 18 months of an engagement being asked all the time how much weight you're going to lose and you try to come out with healthy self-esteem. It's hard. I know a few other brides who hated their photos when they first received them. Everyone else loves them, but we can't see beyond our own imperfections... for the first few weeks. We can see that the photos and art are amazing, but we hate how we look in them. And for us, I would recommend we all take this advice to heart. And then, there are truly disappointing photography experiences. Those where a bride didn't get a single photo with her daughter and new husband (which happened to a fellow bride here in blogland quite recently). Or where the photos were average and none looked like the perfect website or blog publicity shots (which is why I requested access to view at least one full wedding from my perspective photographers, to get a feel for their style beyond just their best work.) But I can tell you there's a difference between insecurity-hatred issues and bad-photographer issues. We know the difference.

3. My post was about that difference. My post was about the photographers who really don't respect clients of all looks. Blogs are one possible place where that bias comes out, but they are not the only indication and blogs were not the point of my post: respect was.  Most photographers I've met are fabulous people who got into weddings because they love using their art to illuminate couples' joy. And some - a select group - are cruel and horrific to less-than-stunningly-pretty couples. That was my real problem in the post. And when we get a less-than-sensitive comment from our photographers - even if it wasn't malicious - it's deeply hurtful. And when we know that we aren't publicity worthy (again, we know the difference between an insensitive comment and something worse) it is profoundly insulting and painful. 

But because blogs were the focus of many conversations happening about my post, I wanted to address some of the issues about blogging that have come up:

4. My post referenced photographers' blogs, which are really different than mags or pro wedding blogs (those are topics for a different post altogether). I think the last two years have seen a huge shift in the wedding industry due to blogging of all sorts, and there are no standard rules or expectations yet. Some photographers have sites and blogs. Some have turned their blog into their primary site because it's more dynamic and up-to-date. Some see their blogs as a personal space and their websites as a professional space (though as clients, we see your blog as a reflection of your professional work, I assure you). I had assumed that photographers' blogs were a place that featured all of their most recent wedding work... except for a few "edited" choices that ticked me off. For some photographers, they in fact edit like this, and they've said as much in forums and emails, though they wouldn't often say it to clients faces.

5. A lot of photographers use their blogs differently than I had assumed. Some emailed to gave me insight into why not everyone gets blogged and I think it's important to share their perspective: "I just wanted to let you know, from a professional photographer's standpoint, that choosing whether to blog a wedding has MUCH more to do with the light, venue, details, emotions, and quality of our work than with the attractiveness of the bride and groom.  I'm sure there are a few jerks who choose to only blog pretty people, but I think the vast majority of photographers would agree that there are a LOT of factors that influence whether we blog a wedding or not, and the attractiveness of the client is pretty low on the list. Brides whose photographers don't blog them shouldn't take it as a personal attack or get offended or hurt by it, and if they do, they should be honest with their photographer and ask them why.  Chances are that the reasons the photographer didn't blog the wedding had nothing to do with how the bride and groom looked.  Maybe the photographer just got busy and didn't have time to blog it - maybe they were saving it because they wanted to use fresh, never before seen material for their sample album - maybe they were trying to get it published so they didn't want to put it up on their blog - maybe they just forgot!!  Don't hate a photographer or assume the worst just because they selectively blog - there are plenty of legitimate reasons, none of which are a judgment of the "publicity worthiness" of the wedding or the bride and groom."

6. I am genuinely curious about the "not enough time to blog every wedding" issue I've heard from multiple photographers as a reason they don't always blog weddings. Honestly, I blog about 3 times per week in text-heavy posts that I create from scratch and edit (on top of my real job, wedding planning and a completely overscheduled life), so I didn't expect it would take a lot of time to blog a few photos that a photographer has already edited for clients packages. I could be wrong and would absolutely want to correct that misperception here on the blog (photographers - please chime in in the comments!)

7. I remain 100% convinced that great photographers can beautifully capture people of all sizes, colors, sexualities, and wedding styles because I've seen those photos over and over again on high-end photographers' blogs. And I also believe that having a few photos of these weddings will increase your market share. You can continue to focus the majority of your photos on traditionally attractive photos because yes, that makes sense to draw clients in. It's the first glimpse of something obviously aesthetically pleasing that gets often gets new clients to click on your site. But then... we want honesty. We like knowing you can capture us, beautifully. In a similar "we want honesty" vein, a lot of the real bride communities that I've followed (Weddingbee, Offbeatbride, Indiebride) have huuuuuge numbers of forum posts with real women in real wedding dresses. Readers have been overwhelmingly positive about me posting pictures of myself in various dresses. It's because we want to be able to make informed decisions and the models aren't helping. We are unbelievably relieved when we see people who look like us in dresses and wedding photos  and relief is the main emotion on these sorts of threads. We understand all about marketing needs and we are darn savvy consumers. We like the pretty pretty pictures, but we also like knowing that we can trust our dress and photographer to make US pretty on our wedding day too.

8. Our photographer, and every photographer we seriously considered hiring, blog clients of all sorts (unless the client doesn't want to be blogged, which can be contracted). These are all photographers with features on major blogs and all charge several thousand dollars (plus) and have heavily/fully-booked schedules. In other words, respect is not limited to "low-class" or "poor" photographers and their clients, like I saw discussed in many comments, emails and forums. I made a conscious choice to only interview photographers with a representative sample of clients on their blogs. So yes, as several defensive photographers have mentioned, your blog is a marketing vehicle and it advertises a lot about you. And no, for the record, I am not "fat, old, ugly, and poor" and that's not why I was looking for a photographer who had a range of clients. Instead, I was looking for a photographer who understands what's beautiful about weddings and I prioritized respect and real human emotion and connection.

I'll spare you from the language I've received about this, because it's truly horrific the ways some photographers refer to "fat ugly" brides. These photographers obviously felt that "fat and ugly" was the worst insult you could hurl at someone on the internet, thereby displaying their own prejudices and limitations. And yes, I stand by my belief that these people shouldn't be anywhere near my wedding or wedding photography in general. Because if you can't see the beauty in the wedding emotions themselves, then you're probably not the best person to capture it for posterity. Go become a fashion or product photographer, please. Hire your beautiful models so the rest of use don't need to be exposed to your misguided contempt.

9. The vast majority of the wedding photographers I've met are absolutely incredible. They are wonderful people who actively celebrate joy. They are artists who can capture joy-as-beauty. They love their clients and became wedding photographers because they love weddings and photography-art. This makes me happy. This makes me jump for joy (and not in a jumping bridesmaid photo way). These are the people who I want to have surrounding me at my wedding. These are the photographers sending me dozens of emails about how they support what I wrote and how they blog and love all their clients.

Thank you to all the wonderful photographers who reminded me that my issue is just with a narrow segment of the photography world. Thank you to everyone who emailed kind words and beautiful photos of your weddings. Thank you to everyone who sent balanced and fair counterpoints that are worth discussing. From all of us couples navigating the challenges of this engagement and wedding process, Thank You. If I haven't sent you a personal email or thank you yet, I apologize. Give me time, I'm still trying to get through the inbox, but please know that I truly appreciate this dialogue and chance for us all to bridge the gap between couples' and their photographers.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Department Store Dress Shopping, Take 2

For those of you considering less expensive department store dress options, I can heartily recommend Sue Wong options. I can also heartily recommend Bloomingdale's customer service and returns, which was important, because the dress was only available online (I ordered it in three sizes to try on, no shipping costs) and I then ended up returning it (in store, for a full refund to my credit card, all before the bill came due).

Although this particular dress is no longer available, here was the in-store model image:

And here's pictures of me in the dress:

I liked it. I even loved it. Enough to momentarily forget my hatred of photography and be comfortable enough to laugh with abandon, regardless of how it might look on camera. Actually, it didn't come out too badly.



As beautiful as it was and as beautiful as I felt, it didn't feel quite right for our particular wedding. The beading was intricate and subtle all at once, it was well-made with quality fabrics, and the flowy kick-bits on the bottom made me happy. But it didn't feel like it belonged with our setting, decor, or more casual feel. And really, although it was flattering, I liked the cut and simplicity of the dress I ultimately chose just a little bit more. But if my dress hadn't been around to compare, I could have been very happy with this $328 wedding dress victory. Yeah. $328. Let that sink in for a minute as you curse the $1000+ price tag we all feel like we're stuck with in weddingland. Because $328 is the sort of deal you can uncover after a year of sifting through expensive salons, every dress website in existence, quite a few vintage and resale shops, and a night or two banging your head against the wall in complete and utter frustration. So it's hard, but don't let anyone tell you it can't be done and that you need to spend $1000+ for a stylish high-quality dress. Or that wedding dresses have to come from wedding dress shops when there are decidedly stunning options elsewhere, just waiting to be discovered.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

What to Look for in a Photographer, Continued

I am incredibly gratified that yesterday's post set off a really interesting discussion here, on the Knot forums, various facebook pages, twitter, and on a professional photographer forum. But, unfortunately, the comments here were hijacked by a single commenter. Instead of responding again and again to his/her repetitive comments (and some directly insulting comments from someone that I kept having to delete) I shut down the comments about a truly important topic about the purpose and beauty in wedding photography.

But I would like to continue the conversation. So instead, I'm requesting wedding stories and photos from anyone who is comfortable sharing them. Send me your photos of real wedding joy. Send me your thoughts and comments. (Let me know if you want to remain anonymous about your stories.) I'd like to try this again, this time with our pictures and personal stories speaking for us. I'm not married yet, or I'd defiantly post our photos of imperfect beauty and smiles-so-much-it-hurts joy. I'd show you how our ordinary looks can be transformed by the hugeness of a wedding and that wedding-art photos capture something more essential than facial symmetry. Because weddings strip back pretense and leave love at it's rawest and most beautiful. Love lights up a face, laugh lines, extra pounds and all.

And that's what I think most couples are looking for. We'd love to be models but we know we're not. So really, what we want from a wedding photographer is someone who understands how to capture our raw happiness. We want "marketing" materials (ie blog posts) that show you are skilled in capturing joy like ours, and not simply stunning photoshoots of attractive couples. We're not looking for fashion photography - we're looking for photographers who see the art in the small moments of weddings: in my mother dancing the hora and in my best friend's baby hiding under a chair with cake and with my forehead resting against my new husband's shoulder and with friends getting messy on the late night dancefloor. And those moments happen regardless of whether the bride is 20, 50, white, brown, slim, chubby, gay, or straight. And we don't need them to dominate the pages of your website or blog... we just need to know you get it before we hire you. In other words, we need clear "marketing" examples that ordinary people are valued and flattered by your photography too.

We expect your websites to have your best work with your most attractive clients. But we want to see ourselves in your portfolios too. And if you're not going to do it, then I'll do it here. So please, send me photos and stories of the moments that lit up your weddings and I will share them here, as a reminder to all of us and our photographers that we are your clients and that this is what joy-as-beauty looks like.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

What to Look For In a Photographer

This isn't going to be a post about what questions to ask your photographer. Those posts exist all over the internet. And this isn't going to be a post about what techniques to look for, since everyone's aesthetic preferences are different. What I like may not be what you like, and visual preferences in wedding photography are really subjective. But you know what isn't subjective? Whether or not your photographer can capture the essence of joy, love, and sheer unadulterated beauty in your wedding day. A photographer isn't great because his (posed, prepared for) engagement shoot is featured on Green Wedding Shoes or Style Me Pretty. A photographer isn't great because she's snapped a few beautiful images of beautiful hipster 20-somethings at their beautiful handcrafted wedding. No. A photographer is great when they can see the genuine beauty in pure love, regardless of how it's packaged.

When I started searching for a photographer, I scrolled through pages and pages on site after site of perfect color- and light-saturated images. I scrolled through pages of stunning dresses and perfectly decorated settings and interchangeable brides and grooms. They were all slim, stylish, under 30, and gorgeous. None of them looked like me. None of them looked like my friends with hips, curves, laugh lines, or maybe even some pigment in their skin. Very few of them were apparently anything other than heterosexual. And I started to get suspicious. Because it's not normal - even in Los Angeles - to be hit with that many beautiful people (and Los Angeles is pretty darn ethnically and sexually diverse). So I went to the featured photographers blogs to look through their most recent work, but no, I still couldn't find any average looking people.

I understand that photographers' websites and blogs are marketing vehicles. I expect the websites to feature traditionally attractive women and men. But your blog? Your most up-to-date work? Theoretically a glimpse into your entire portfolio? And not one single woman larger than a size 4? Or how about a black, Latino, or interracial couple?  Or how about a gay or lesbian couple? Or how about a couple who got married in a hotel banquet hall setting? No? You haven't photographed any weddings like that?

I call bullshit. Maybe in your corner of the world it's more ethnically and racially homogeneous, so maybe you get a pass there. maybe. And maybe you live somewhere with smaller homosexual populations or where gay marriage isn't yet legal, so maybe you get a pass there. But, um, 60% of women in the United States wear a size 12 or larger, so you don't get a damn pass there. And, while I don't know anyone (besides fraternity boys) who has done extensive statistics on the number of 10s versus 5s on the attractiveness scale (which yes, I find repulsive, but moving on), I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that everyone hiring you for wedding photography isn't a culturally-defined 8, 9, or 10 because that's statistically impossible.

So where the hell are the photos of everyone else? A wedding photographer friend confirmed my gut-wrenching suspicions: that lots of famous, big-time photographers everyone's swooning about take photos of "everyone else" but won't blog their "less attractive" couples because it hurts their "brand" and "image." Chubby, ethnic and old is apparently downmarket. Even when they can afford the "upmarket" photographers who happily take their money.

Well fuck you and your brand. You and your unfortunately narrow interpretation of beauty are some of the ugliest things I've run across in the wedding industry. When you don't post photos of paying clients on your blog you are explicitly telling them that they are unattractive. No, actually, you're telling them you're too talentless to capture the unique beauty in their specific love. You're explicitly telling them that their wedding wasn't as special as your other clients' weddings. And you play a small part in adding to the sadness and misery of the world. Because when you behave like a shallow asshole, real people like get hurt by your petty branding bullshit. Like Rachel said in the comments on Monday:
"My photographer told me to my FACE that he only blogs publicity-worthy couples. I'm a size 16. Yeah, we definitely didn't get blogged. Not only that, but during the shoot, he kept telling us how excited he was to come back to that place months later so he can do a "shoot". I'm guessing he'll be going back with beautiful people since those of us who were actually getting married weren't thin enough. And yeah, he's definitely one of those photogs on Green Wedding Shoes, SMP, etc.

I kept trying to tell myself afterwards that it didn't matter, that I shouldn't allow my feelings to be hurt by this stranger, but I bought into the bullshit hype that a 'great' photographer can make everything look magical. It just simply isn't true. It sucks because the wedding was seriously so much fun and ended up being better than I hoped for, but looking at the photos now just bums me out."
And from a follow-up email with Rachel:
"...there's something just deeply and personally hurtful about your wedding photographer telling you in so many words that you aren't 'good' or 'beautiful' enough.

My husband pointed out that there is a possibility he is simply unhappy with his own work on our wedding and that is why he is dragging his feet on getting us the final product, being unresponsive to my emails, and just generally acting as if he could care less about our photos. Or maybe he doesn't want to post our wedding in [place] because doesn't want to detract from when he drags his [props] out there in a few months for one of his "shoots".  I don't know.

Sigh.  I keep checking and asking myself if I'm not just being petty about the photos.  "Boo hoo, I didn't get posted on my wedding photographer's blog, wasted thousands of dollars, and he was mean to me."  I thought that I was being a 'bridezilla' until my parents, husband, and friends all thought that his photos of us were not as good as his photos of other clients, without being prompted by me." 
This is part of the bullshit that subtly twists us into thinking brides all look like models and that therefore my plain-Jane face isn't really bridelike. Granted, it's not a photographer's responsibility to change the systemic issues that drive my self-esteem problems. However, it's a paid photographer's responsibility to respect all his damn clients, regardless of what they look like. If you take our money to capture our wedding photos, it's your responsibility to capture our joy and beauty, and our beauty-as-joy. And that requires that you see it, that you understand it, that you interact with it, and that you cherish the real heart of the wedding.

Fuck the sofas in fields with pretty people - it's EASY to take pretty photos of pretty people in pretty settings in posed situations (whether they're actual clients or models, it's still staged) . But you know what takes real art? Seeing beauty where it really resides - in scrunchy-faced tears and heads-thrown-back laughter and overwhelming love, caught in an instant as someone brushes away a tear in real-time. If you don't want to capture that, why would you bother with becoming a wedding photographer? The majority of the world isn't an 8, 9 or 10 on the attractiveness scale, so you're going to have clients who aren't model-like. If you tell them they aren't model-like, you crush their beauty and the chance for real art. But if you can treat everyone with respect and see the real beauty that drives them as people and a couple, then you can create wedding photography art. 

So when you start to consider which photographer to hire for your wedding day, my one piece of advice is to hire someone who obviously respects all her clients. And the way you do that is to look through her blog and confirm that she respects people of all sizes, shapes, colors, and sexual orientations. Make sure he respects each and every client enough to blog them (unless the client requests otherwise). Make sure she respects ballroom weddings with bad carpeting as much as a rustic-chic handcrafted color explosion wedding. Make sure he respects people like you and will know how to make your photos glow, from the inside outward, on your wedding day.

And if you find that, then you've found a photographer who understands the messy beauty at the core of weddings, and therefore the point behind wedding photos. I want photos that are honest, that capture the hugeness of it all and not just the prettiness of it.  Because the prettiness is besides the point. I want to look back at my photos in 30 years and be able to reconnect with the hugeness of the day and the marriage experience and not just think to myself "wow, we sure looked pretty." What I want is the raw emotion of the day: the pretty, the ugly, the heart wrenching, and the ephemeral moments that slip by so quickly that I'm likely to forget them individually but that I'll somehow remember because, woven together, they created the fabric and texture of the day. I want it all captured spectacularly but, most of all, I want it to be honest.  Because that's where the art is, and not in the Pretty. And any wedding photographer who's forgotten that is nothing more than a shuttermonkey with a hollow "brand." And that's the last thing I want anywhere near me and my loved ones on my wedding day.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Insecurities and Wedding Dresses

I've picked a dress, and I know in my core that it's the right dress. When I look at pictures of it, my heart and mind start racing because I can finally picture myself on my wedding day. When I think about my dress, I want to visit etsy right now in my search for perfect handmade accessories. A month after the dress arrived in the mail and a week after I made my final decision, I'm still filled with a calm sense of joy and right-ness about this dress and our wedding. And yet, despite all my clarity, I very nearly sent the dress back to the store in a fit of self-esteem despondency.

This wedding planning process leaves me on a razor's edge of sanity. Most of the time, I'm excited by the love, fun, and sheer wonder of finding this partnership. Some of the time, I'm ready to clock anyone who looks at me wrong or dares to raise a question about the uniqueness of our plans. And all of the time, I'm worried that something will set of a swift descent into self-esteem hell, oftentimes triggered by something as small as a photograph.

When all of my department store dresses started arriving in the mail, it was like Christmas. Just as white, slightly less sparkly, and all sorts of joy that arrived in boxes. If receiving the dresses felt like Christmas, trying them on felt like winning the lottery. Except for one dress, all of them were incredible. All of them were twirl-worthy. I loved each and every one of them and spent a good two hours trying on the options (there were four dresses so I certainly didn't need two hours to try them on), looking at them different mirrors, preening and prancing throughout the apartment. I looked and felt amazing. I felt right in each dress I tried on. I felt utterly conflicted by having to choose between so many incredible options and neither Jason, my mother, or a girlfriend were of any help (everyone had a different opinion about which dress was best, but everyone legitimately loved them all.)

In under a week, I went from zero dress options and budget hatred to four perfect dress options and budget high-fives for my thrifty genius. It created a whole different sort of dress stress. I got greedy. I wanted them all. I didn't want to choose. I knew a ceremony/reception dress change didn't make sense for me (or these particular dresses.) I knew I had to make a decision, and I figured natural light photos would help me see the dresses more objectively than my befuddled mirror joy. And because I know I generally hate myself in photos, I asked a talented girlfriend to take photos with her fancy camera in morning light.

Unfortunately, neither her talent nor her fancy camera were a match for my effed up sense of self esteem. Those photos you all loved of my in the ruffly dress from the Limited? Yeah, I cried about how terrible I looked. I cried about how terrible I looked in all the dresses... but only when I saw the actual photos. While we were taking photos, I was full of mimosa-and-wedding-dress-fueled fun and I felt spectacular. But the moment I saw myself in photos was the moment that I remembered I didn't look like them. You know, the pretty brides who grace the pages of every magazine and blog. In contrast to their beauty, my photos were a stark reminder that a great dress won't suddenly give me amazing bone structure and can't transform my normal-nice features and poor posture into the model-worthy prettiness I've subconsciously started to associate with brides. It was a sad shock to realize that I just looked like me in a really amazing set of dresses.

I wish I could snap my fingers and finally move completely beyond my years of appearance-related insecurities, but my process hasn't worked that way. And weddings have been a really awful trigger for my insecurities. Weddings and the perfect pictures of models and beautiful weddings eat away at my years of therapy and Weight Watchers and hard-earned and constantly relearned self-love. Weddings send me back to teenage and early 20s levels of insecurity. Weddings remind me of every horrid facebook picture I've ever had to untag and all those that I hate but that I kept linked anyhow.

Actually, I should clarify, because weddings aren't the issue. Wedding photos are the issue.  Even when I know better. And even when I work hard every day to focus on feeling healthy instead of chasing impossible media-related ideals of attractiveness. After health problems forced me to reevaluate my behaviors, I feel freaking great. I try to put healthy food into my body and I (sometimes) get in reasonable levels of exercise. And then I see a photo of myself and I panic. Or I see a photo of someone else's "perfect" wedding and I collapse into a puddle of appearance-related self-doubt.

I've already committed to Lyn's pledge to stop trying to look great and start trying to feel great (and forgiving ourselves for the occasional chocolate). But if I'm going to survive the next few months with my self-esteem intact, I need more. I need a plan. I'm scheduling in time for workout classes at the gym because, even if they're a pain in the bum, I feel better afterwards. I'm putting them in outlook because I already know that my health schedule tends to take lower priority than work, volunteering, writing, or friends. I'm going to start treating myself nicely, the way I expect other people to treat me but that I don't expect from myself. I'm going to practice finding things I like about my reflection every morning, even if I don't believe it (yet.) I'm going to find $45 to treat myself to a massage and get rid of the horrid stressed-out knots in my shoulders. I'm going to find a bit of play money to keep buying the organic L'uvalla skincare products that I won in a giveaway from Your Daily Thread and that have cleared up my skin. I am going to treat myself well and seek out healthy foods, activities, and environments that help keep me even keeled and healthy feeling. Even if they feel like splurges of my time or money. And maybe especially if they feel like splurges, so long as I can properly savor them.

And pretty blogs are out. As of today, I'm refusing to look at any photo recaps from non-friends' weddings or non-idolized photographers.*  Because comparing myself to these photos nearly cost me feeling good in my wedding dress and I'm tired of letting other peoples' wedding photos eff with my self-esteem. I'm better than that. I'm freaking awesome and I have a freaking awesome dress to match. Really, it makes me feel more elegant and pretty and special than I've ever felt in any dress I've ever owned. It's my dress. It makes me feel, and therefore look amazing. (And no, it doesn't work the other way around.) And now I'm going to treat myself the way that freaking amazing people deserve to be treated: with respect, self-respect, and forgiveness for the occasional chocolate.


*my favorite photographers don't limit their blogs to traditionally attractive couples (like some of the most popular photographers do). Instead, they find transformative beauty in everyday couples' wedding joy.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Becoming Family

We started marriage classes last night. And this weekend, we're finally going to transition Jason from his cell phone plan with his parents to my cell phone plan. A family plan for our new family. 

Sometimes, it's the little things that are truly huge.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Dresses and Technical Difficulties

Oh boo. I have a dozen half-drafted posts but my computer is being entirely uncooperative and refusing to put the letters I'm typing into the correct places on the page. So, instead of a post that requires lots of typing and editing, you're getting photos of some of those department store dresses I tried on.

However, I've decided not to share the dress I chose on the blog. (Yes, I chose a dress!) As the wedding gets more defined and real, I'm finding I want to keep certain details a surprise for the people who will be sharing the day with us in person. And, although you'll probably be able to figure out which dress I chose via the process of elimination, there's something different about seeing the right dress on the right person. It's how a white dress gets transformed into a wedding dress. And that's the part I've decided I don't want to share on the blog.

However, I also feel like it's important to show what these dresses look like on "real" people. I'm not saying that models aren't real people, but their body type isn't reflective of the majority of dress-buying women, making it hard to judge how a dress might look on you from an online picture. So I'm willing to share photos of my amazing-but-ultimately-rejected dresses. (Really, they were all pretty amazing. There's only one dress I didn't like at all and therefore refused to take photos of because I felt like a poofy ostrich princess which wasn't quite the wedding look I was aiming for.)  For reference, I'm 5'9" and a size 4 on top and 8 on the bottom, so this should be particularly helpful for tall pear-shaped women. And hopefully this series can help some shorter non-pear-shaped women too.

The Limited Romantic Dress

Model photos:

Me:

  • Pros: Ruffles, gorgeous silk chiffon material, lightweight and lovely, and RUFFLES. Seriously, I was in love with the ruffles. They were even charming enough to win over my mother (and she is not easily charmed by things as flimsy as ruffles. But these were particularly pretty and well-made ruffles.)
  • Cons: Um, you remember that bit where I mentioned I'm a size 4 on top? Yeah, I don't want a dress that somehow adds about four more sizes above that. The ruffles distracted me from the well-understood fashion truth that empire waists are appropriate for about two body types and pregnant ladies. The ruffles were devious. They called to me and then snuck in those extra sizes for the camera's benefit. Also, I could have used a bit more support in the bodice, but I could have added in some boning or cups during alterations without much cost or difficulty.
If you, however, have one of the two body types well-suited to empire waist dresses, I can absolutely vouch for the quality of this dress. And with the $298 price and decent return policy (60 days, mail returns only) it's absolutely worth trying it on.