Those people are models: photographer Angie Gaul wants to let you in on a wedding blog secret

May 8 | Guest post by Angie Gaul
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Remember when we talked about all those pretty people that you keep seeing on wedding blogs? Angie Gaul, of New York's Milestone Images, has got a little secret to tell you about them, along with two not-so-little discounts for you to take advantage of ASAP!

Here's something you might not know about the wedding photography industry. MANY MANY MANY of the photos you see on the wedding blogs and planning sites are not real couples.

Some of them are models. Some of them are extremely photogenic newlyweds who agree to get dressed up again for dramatic photos. And some of them are the photographers' skinniest friends in borrowed dresses. And there's nothing wrong with that, until, as Offbeat Bride Ericka so beautifully put it in her amazing guest post, your "tornado touches down." (I want to print out her entry and give it to every single one of my clients and every woman I love, whose wedding planning is hurting her self-esteem; that's how much I love it.)

What all these fake wedding shoots have in common is that these are hand-picked, super-attractive people taken to attractive locations to look thin and pretty, which can ultimately end up making you feel — intentionally or not — like you are somehow lacking. Coupled with the pressure that you must BUY ALL THE THINGS and DO ALL THE THINGS and BECOME THIS PERFECT PERSON WITH REALLY WHITE TEETH before your wedding, and it's… not good.

Some professional wedding photographers have started standing up and calling their peers out. Kevin Weinstein, a wedding photographer in Chicago, wrote a fantastic entry on his blog about the industry practice of passing off staged and styled shoots with models in: Why Clients Need Fact Not Fiction.

Weinstein talks in part about how at least three of Junebug Weddings' (a self-described "style inspiration" website) winners in their Best of the Best 2010 wedding images were not even taken at real weddings — two winning shots were taken of models at workshops, and one at a styled session on a weekday.

Junebug responded, to their credit, in this entry: What Constitutes the Art of Wedding Photography? Real Weddings vs. Styled Shoots vs. Commercial Shoots. They say that they're all about providing inspiration, which is all well and good, but as Kevin Weinstein puts it…

Over the past seven years, workshops have exploded, offering newcomers a chance to define their craft while photographing staged weddings with models. I have seen many photographers post workshop images on their blogs as if they were shot at a real wedding. Why is this problematic? First, it misleads potential clients. It's false advertising. It also misrepresents your ability to make pictures under pressure, in real time.

So how do you know if what you're seeing is authentic shots of a real couple in love?

If a photographer posts, say, four amazing photos from a "recent session" (NOT "a recent wedding") and gives a lot of linky love to a caterer, baker, florist, dress shop, beautician etc., then most likely? Those vendors got together on a weekday and shot gorgeous pictures of everyone's very best efforts in a controlled, styled environment to mutually promote their services.

Again, NOT THAT THERE'S ANYTHING WRONG WITH THAT… as long as we as photographers own it AND make sure clients know that the photographs they're seeing aren't necessarily reflective of the results one might get in 30 minutes before cocktail hour on the hottest Saturday in June.

As a rule, anything that shows a bride posing with a horse was almost definitely not taken on the wedding day. Think about it. Unless you are a horse person, own a horse, or getting married on a location with horses (I have two weddings booked this summer that will take place on working farms, where there will probably be horses somewhere), are you really going to take time out before cocktail hour to go to a farm? Are you going to risk dragging your dress through poop and show up at your reception where you plan to hug 100 people while smelling like horse?

I'm being facetious, somewhat, and not just because one of my clients wrote an entry here on Offbeat Bride about loving a photo I shot of her doing an ugly cry. The stylized shoot with models thing? Not my cup of tea. The photos on my website are all real couples who hired me, not models I've hired.

To expand upon a 1998 self-esteem campaign slogan from the Body Shop that said, "There are 3 billion women who don't look like supermodels and only 8 who do."… Well, there are so many more of us imperfect, snaggletoothed, plus-sized, frizzy-haired, sweaty-faced-on-the-dance-floor real brides (like I was) than there are perfect, dewy princess brides.

If you happen to be an interracial, multicultural, differently abled, plus-sized, and/or LGBT couple, check out, oh, pretty much everybody featured on my blog, like, ever. Psst… Polyamorous nearlyweds? Your union won't be my first time at that rodeo.

My client brides come in every shape and size and some (gasp!) are taller than their grooms!

Other than the horse thing, how can you know if what you're seeing is an authentic image of a real couple in love? You can ask. If you have a photographer whose work you love whom you're considering hiring, ask him or her if the specific images that caught your eye were taken of a real couple. In general, if it seems to be good too be true, it probably is.

That doesn't mean you can't find a photographer who makes you look amazing, who helps you feel good about posing, who captures your real personalities and who will help you create save-the-date cards, engagement pictures, wedding albums, and artwork where you've never looked happier or more in love. In fact, you deserve nothing less.

ANGIE'S OFFBEAT DISCOUNT: As always, Offbeat Bride readers get a 10% discount, which always saves you sales tax plus a little extra.

The first two couples to book with a deposit and a date after this entry save 15% on any package, and the first couple to book the "Unicorns and Rainbows" package saves 25%.

Many thanks to Angie for her perspective. This is a great reminder of why, at Offbeat Bride, we ONLY feature real couples on their actual wedding day. Styled shoots just aren't our jam.

  1. Brilliant! You, dear poster are a person of honor and integrity. If I was planning on allowing anyone to take pictures of me on my wedding day (I'm not, long story) it would be YOU!

    2 agree
  2. In my experience, I don't feel I've been misled. Anytime I saw a styled shoot it was labeled as such (inspiration, or whatever).

    Furthermore, I was confident in what I was looking for and what I wanted my wedding to be. I wasn't concerned with having individual pies with little pastel flags embroidered with guests' names or whatever. I wanted to have a good time and zero in on some cute details that wouldn't break the bank.

    I think photographers should be able to do inspiration shoots as long as they are clearly labeled as such.

    From my personal perspective, I think they're pretty easy to spot (a ridiculously picture perfect couple, insanely personalized details down to the smallest thing, and the lack of any guests usually clue me in), but I do agree that they should not be categorized as wedding photography and should not be lumped in a contest with other actual wedding photos. The point is to find the "best" wedding photo, not the best staged scenario in a completely controlled environment.

    While I do love the beauty/whimsy/fun of an inspiration shoot, there's nothing like the real deal. You can't capture the same love/surprise/excitement/raw emotion that is bursting at the seams of every wedding. I'd rather see a real couple in love, with flaws, wrinkles, crooked smiles, and a complete disregard for looking the part, because they ARE the part.

    1 agrees
    • In my experience, I don't feel I've been misled. Anytime I saw a styled shoot it was labeled as such (inspiration, or whatever).

      Furthermore, I was confident in what I was looking for and what I wanted my wedding to be.

      I wish I could say everyone online was this savvy (and confident!), but unfortunately I know it's absolutely not the case.

      7 agree
      • Sure, of course, that's why I said in my experience.

        I hope that more brides don't get caught up in the contrived vision of an inspiration shoot and realize they are beautiful and don't need hand-sewn tablecloths and other cute (but not necessary) details to have an awesome wedding.

  3. There's a difference, I think, between using inspiration shoots to inspire people, and passing the work off as wedding photography. I love to see detailed, stylized shoots as a way to get ideas for my own wedding. But when I'm shopping for a photographer, I want to see pictures of people. I'm a plus-sized bride…does he/she know how to take flattering pictures of people like me? Can he/she handle my loud, scatter-brained family for that group shot? Will she/he be able to capture the emotions of the day as well as getting pictures of the centerpieces I worked so hard on? When I'm browsing the interwebs for ideas, I love stylized shoots. But I want to know that's what I'm looking at. When I'm looking at portfolios, I want to see real weddings with people in the pictures, so I can judge how well my own guests will be captured on film.

    4 agree
  4. As one of your brides this summer who has a wedding that hopefully includes a horse — I hope everyone mistakes me for a model. Let's see :)

  5. I have gotten on a few wedding mailing list. I really hate getting these pictures of 'real' couples along with weight loss and teeth whiting ads.

    2 agree
  6. SO glad to hear all this. When I was wedding planning (before I eloped, whoops) I felt super overwhelmed by the suspiciously amazing shots on wedding photog websites. Luckily OBB put me onto Angie and I never looked back.

    I'll have to forward this to all of my upcoming bride-buddies, so they can RELAX.

  7. I totally agree with the woman who wrote that blog post… I felt ENTIRELY alienated from the bride that the Wedding Industrial Complex wanted me to be. I don't look like her or act like her, and I just wanted to get married to my favorite person without all of the bride-y expectations.

    Angie made all of that OK. (This is our wedding on her blog: http://www.milestoneimages.us/blog/?p=2011 )

    Two of my favorite photos are the one of my husband hugging me in the synagogue library right after we signed the ketubah and the one of us jumping in the cornfield. I don't look like a model (ha) in either one (in the first one, you can't even see my face), but looking at those photos makes me remember EXACTLY how I felt in those moments, and Angie captured that exactly exactly as it felt.

    She made us look beautiful, definitely, but there is just something honest and real about her photography that just captures things how they really are. You want her as your wedding photographer, trust me.

    2 agree
  8. Fuck yeah imperfect, snaggletoothed, plus-sized, frizzy-haired, sweaty-faced-on-the-dance-floor real brides.

    My advice with wedding photography is that if you're totally taken by the first-glance beauty of the photos in a photographer's portfolio, then you should consider looking elsewhere. Sure, photographers want to put their most catching work up front. But if the photographer is only putting forward pictures of beautiful things rather than beautiful photographs of real things…
    I've dealt with a lot of photographers who weren't even GOOD at shooting, they just had the fortune of working in a few lavish locations with gorgeous women.
    I think a blog is a NECESSARY portion of a wedding photographer's website. A GOOD photographer can capture beautifully the imperfect, thereby making it beautiful.

    4 agree
  9. Amen to all of this! We had Angie photograph our wedding because a) her photos are amazeballs, b) she captures people in their element and you can FEEL what they're feeling when you look at them, and c) because her personality is so fun. And I mean… she took pictures of us with donuts. I don't know about you, but eating a strawberry frosted donut in a wedding dress is my idea of a very good time. Being in a wedding dress or eating a donut are both good times on their own, actually. haha

    I didn't realize that it was common for wedding photographers to put pictures of fake weddings on their websites, passing them off as real weddings. For commercial/stock photographers, if it's clear that it was a setup, okay. But if you make your living as a wedding photographer and you don't have real, authentic, awesome photos to show for it? ::runs for the hills:: That'd be like working with agency models on editorial shoots and putting them in your 'family pictures' on Facebook. Super shady bizniz IMO!

    2 agree
  10. Amen amen amen! A friend of mine models fairly frequently for "wedding" shoots and I want to die laughing every time… he's very very openly gay :P It really shatters the illusion for me to see him with a new "bride" about once every 6 weeks or so.

    1 agrees
    • Oh, you KNOW you want to be posting links. COME ON!

      9 agree
  11. One thing that encouraged me to contact the photographer we eventually went with was the fact that every photo on his site linked to the complete album its part of. Either he was spending a fortune on staging regular shoots with hundreds of extras or he was selling his work based on the real photos.

    1 agrees
  12. I completely agree with this post. I hate viewing "wedding photos" only to realize that it is pretty much one big commercial. It is unfortunate that blogs are so much of a market necessity now-a-days, as a bride I would never want my wedding photos shared on the world wide web. However as black, snaggle-toothed, sweaty faced, plus sized I recognize how potential customers might be pleased to see a representation of who they are.

    1 agrees
  13. Yes, this is so spot-on!

    I judged photogs based upon the quality of their spontaneous shots and how they captured the feel of the couple's family and friends. We went with a guy who had several weddings up, all with different vibes. They ranged from typical (but real) model-y bride and groom who were both extremely attractive having a pretty mainstream wedding to one featuring this gorgeous tattooed pinup-y bride and her goateed ear-tunneled husband. They had such a fun/touching/drool-worthy set of photos from their wedding at the B'more Museum of Industry. (There were so many shots I LOVED… it should totally be on OB.) He captured the feeling of the different flavors of party each and every time in all different settings. He also had couples of varying ethnicities, which showed off how he can work with light and capture everyone looking radiant. No one fades into the shadows. That's how we chose, and I hope it works out…. ;)

    You know, models are so lovely to look at, many of them are truly awesome, creative, real people, but I felt our critique should focus on how the photog uses light, knows when to hit the shutter, has his/her eyes on the action to capture those moments… that's what you're hiring them to do, not make you look like a model. Like… when you look at a series from a given wedding, do you get a feeling for how the party went?

    1 agrees
  14. i don't have a problem with this. when you decorate & you look at design sites, you know they are using the best examples in the best condition. when you pick your gown, you know you might not look like the model in the photo. who cares???

    knowing many photographers, i can say i totally understand this. they want beautiful pictures for their portfolio. those photos are ads in a way. sometimes the people aren't always fakes. sometimes they are 2 mondels or ex models getting married. also some photographers will give a discount to couples they find attractive. that might sounds horrible, but it saves the photographer time & money when your job might not have to get photoshopped & it's work they can use in advertising.

    those sort of images take allot of work. if 2 gorgeous people get married, it doesn't make it less real. if the photographer or designer hires models to create an image, it doesn't make their skill less real.

    so what?

    • i'm personally more worried about when a photographer uses real people but photoshops the living daylights out of them. that would make me feel so insulted!

      5 agree
      • We talked to a photographer that did this. He wasn't very good at it either. In one photo that was in a BOUND ALBUM I noticed a man had been photoshopped to remove his second chin, but it had messed up his jaw line, and it was really obvious because the man's face was shaped different from one photo to the next.

      • Yeah, we talked to our photographer about that. He said he went through a phase when he was totally obsessed with using various effects, but he doesn't do it anymore unless the couple asks. The only hardcore altering he did recently was in a wedding that took place at a hotel directly across from the White House. He photoshopped out the snipers on the roof (and it was flawless). :)

    • I can't speak for everyone else but for me the problem isn't that they're picking the best looking people, it's that the entire thing is staged.

      They can have that couple of hired models in wedding attire walk down the asile 15 times. They can have studio lights arranged around them to get the best possible effect. They can take 500 photos of it and then pick the best 3 to show off as "the moment the happy couple walked back down the asile".

      Which is fine for a studio shoot. The problem is it doesn't tell me anything about their ability to shoot a real wedding. Can they work with natural/avaliable light? Can they catch meaningful moments as they happen? Can they get less conventionally attractive or photogenic people at their best? Can they do all that on the first attempt instead of asking for a do-over?

      If all they're willing to show is staged shots then what that says to me is that in order to get good photos they need full control over every detail and if I hire them either I turn my wedding into a photo shoot or I risk getting sub-par photos. I have heard from other people about photographers who would make couples walk down the asile again with studio lights in place, or stop and pose in the middle of the first dance so they could get a shot and I absolutely did not want that at my wedding so it was important to me that a photographer show me what they can do under real life conditions.

      4 agree
      • Danikat, You are right on the money here. My Intended is a photographer, and he started out as a sports shooter. Sports shooters HAVE to nail it in the moment, because once it's gone, it's gone. Even given that, he HATES to do weddings. He get so nervous he'll "screw it up" or "miss the most important stuff" He totally understands the gravity of it, and it scares the beejesus out of him. That said, he is definitely his own worst critic, and has always done a fantastic job shooting weddings. He'd rather not, even though they bring good money, and that's fine by me, but he IS good… And totally non-judgemental to boot!

  15. Oh My!! If only I could find someone like you based in the Surrey, UK area :-( here most photographers only showcase small blondes with pneumatic boobs! I have yet to find one that is proud of all their work regardless of the customer. I feel a photog should show a wide variety of their work so a potential client can get a good vibe from them and make an informed decision to choose to book. I don't want a stylised shoot, just great photos that don't make my arse look like its following me into a room! Is that too much to ask?
    I'm sure many photographers shoot weddings that feature plus-size brides, but seriouly where are you hiding the evidence??????

    • Ermie, a lot of people who are not "perfect" are too self conscious about how they look to grant the photographer the permission necessary to use the photos for their own portfolio. If the couple hires you, the pictures belong to THEM, not to you, and you cannot post them without their permission. (not always 100% true, but typically.) So it may not be that the photog is hiding them, but that he hasn't found the plus sized lady that is happy and owning how she looks, and is proud to share her happy day.

      • Miranda I believe that legally (in UK at least) the images are always the property of the photographer. However many (us included) include a clause in our T & C whereby clients can ask for their photos not to be used. Only had 3 couples EVER ask that though and one of those worked in civil service and I always suspected was a spy. ;-)

  16. Erm, I just want to point out that at our studio we would NEVER do that – also we had a wedding that we blogged just a couple of weeks ago where the couple arranged for their horses to be brought out to their golf course wedding so they could have photos with them on the big day… So horses are no guarantee.

    1 agrees
    • She did say, "Unless you are a horse person,own a horse,or getting married on a location with horses". I know people who are head over heels for their livestock, and wouldn't have a wedding without them. Others would refuse to choose a venue that wouldn't allow their dogs. Animals in weddings happen. I've seen a few photos where they used a model with a horse, and I could tell. They weren't comfortable together the way you would expect a bride and her horse to be, and that translated into the photo.

      2 agree
  17. Forgot to mention that we also stopped off at a Bride's stables en route to the ceremony … so bride could be filmed and photographed with her beloved horse!

  18. Commenting mainly because of "and some (gasp!) are taller than their grooms!"
    Sometimes it feels like I'm the only one (although we're not currently planning on marrying, my dude is shorter than me)!

    1 agrees
  19. One of the reasons I went with Angie, (outside from the fact that she is just an amazing fun person that makes you feel really comfortable) was because from her portfolio I could tell that she could shoot a real wedding where you have to roll with the punches. One of my favorite moments from my wedding was when we went outside to shoot some photos in front of our venue and a little old man stopped to congratulate us and give some advice, it was adorable but in the wonderful chaos that was my wedding day I had almost forgotten it until I got my pictures back and there's the little old guy giving us a pep talk. Sometimes the moments that mean the most to us are the ones we didn't plan at all and a really great photographer will be ready for that.

  20. I couldn't agree more with what was said here. I'm a baker and I do wedding cakes (out of my home) and I have brides bring pictures of cakes they like when we do tastings. I *always* make sure that they know that the majority of cakes that are pulled from studio settings (books, magazines, ads, etc) are photo shopped and/or fake and that they should expect a few minor flaws here and there, because that's just going to happen when working with cake. Many are surprised when they learn about this. This entry should be read by every bride, past, present, and future to prevent them from picking a photographer that has a beautifully staged portfolio versus the one that has the beautifully shot actual event portfolio. People spend a lot of money on things like this, they deserve to know the truth before they lose the money and the memories.

    2 agree
  21. Ohh, what do pictures from a poly wedding look like. That one didn't have a link! And if the pictures don't look any different, how was the experience different?

    • My husband and I are poly, there's many different types of poly weddings because there's so many different ways you can combine people in a family. But in my wedding I was only marrying my primary partner but the couple we were seeing at the time was there and very much involved in the planning and the ceremony. Unfortnatly we're unable to be "out" to our families so our pictures look like any other wedding but there are some special shots of the four of us. Angie was our photographer and she knew our situation which really helped because we were able to get those shots that were meaninful to us as a poly group without drawing a lot of attention from our family. Angie also did a great job of reading everyones emotions and clueing my husband in that our girlfriend at the time looked like she felt a little left out and might need some attention(which she did). That was just my experiance though, I'm sure poly wedding where everyone is able to be open are a whole different ball game and I hope one day I can experiance that.

  22. I'm a little late to this party, but I wanted to stop by to throw a little support Angie's way. I'm actually a little mad at myself already because I feel like my words won't do Angie justice, but I'll give it my best shot.

    I chose to contact Angie as my wedding photographer because her photos were beautiful, and her "voice" on her website writeup made me laugh out loud, like I was having a conversation with my sister. I knew I would end up being happy with her work because it really spoke for itself, but I ended up getting so much more than photos. Angie has now photographed my wedding, a boudoir session for my sister, and a newborn session for my cousin, and we really couldn't recommend her any stronger than that.

    As a young, plus sized couple, my husband and I fretted a lot over how overweight we would look in our wedding photos and how that would make us feel, looking back on them in the future; but love doesn't wait for you to lose 50 pounds, nor should it have to, and Angie's work helped us to realize that there would be beauty and laughter and love in our wedding photos not matter what we looked like or how sweaty we were (very).

    Angie goes above and beyond the call of duty of a wedding vendor, be it wiping the sweat off my face during a 126 degree engagement session, running interference with crazy church squatters, lending a hand to an elderly relative, directing confused bridal party members, answering millions of questions, talking me through my OMGmydressdoesn'tfit hysterics, or understanding that she couldn't get a real smile out of my husband until she pulled me into the frame.

    She has a warm heart, wonderful sense of humor, never-say-die attitude, and beautiful eye that left us with not only lovely photographs, but perfect memories, and new friends. If you're looking for a photographer for any important life event, you better catch her fast before she books up because everyone now knows how amazing she is. Much love and props on your article Angie,

    Julie

  23. Gotta disagree with you on the horse thing.

    http://www.nmpblog.com/2009/10/ashley-gordons-wedding-kinross-parish_15.html

    This couple's horses live in a field in between their church and their reception venue and they asked if, weather permitting, they could get photos taken after the ceremony with the horses.

    They also had their dogs out with them on the golf course for photos at the golf resort reception!

    Stylised shoots are fine, as long as it is clearly stated that they are NOT wedding images.

    • You're right Nikki Mcleod – brides and / grooms who love their horses (and dogs) often really want to include them in their day. Since replying to this blog post I keep thinking of other couples where we've stopped by the horses to film or photograph. We work a lot in country areas though, maybe that makes a difference?

      • True true, I am only 20 minutes away from Edinburgh, but I am also only 5/10 minutes from beautiful countryside!

    • Bear in mind, ladies, I'm shooting primarily in New York City and its surroundings. I do have family in Dumfriesshire, Scotland, however, and thinking about where they live, yes, I completely agree that it would be very easy to incorporate horses.

      I've included lots of dogs, including this couple who asked their hired trolley to take the whole wedding party across Brooklyn to their home at rush hour just to include their beloved dog.

      http://www.milestoneimages.us/blog/?p=5044

      I'm all for real couples doing and including who and whatever they love for authentic, personal wedding photography. Your pictures are beautiful, Nikki, and the connection between your subjects and their animals is palpable. Thanks for weighing in and sharing, Karrie and Nikki!

    • Absolutely! But the question is whether this form of marketing is effective.

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