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

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.

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

  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. 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.

    • 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.

      • 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. 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.

  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: )

    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.

  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.

  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!

  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 😛 It really shatters the illusion for me to see him with a new “bride” about once every 6 weeks or so.

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