Why Book Michael Caswell as Your Wedding Photographer?
You love my pictures
At least I assume this is the case, as you’ve probably already looked through my portfolio and are still here! Though many photographers work in a documentary style these days, each will have their own subtle (or not so subtle) differences in how they capture events… lens selection, composition, lighting technique, timing, and editing style all play a role in how events are captured and what the final images look like. I’m immensely proud of my portfolio, which I believe consists of beautiful images that purely capture the essence and emotion of those moments, in an aesthetically pleasing and artistic (yet not excessively so) manner.
As in many cases when researching a purchase, whether it be a car, a house, or a pair of shoes, as you are looking through your options, certain ones will instantly appeal to you visually more than others. You may not be able to put your finger on exactly what it is that you like about them, but you are somehow undeniably drawn to their aesthetic. When choosing your wedding photographer, this kind of positive first reaction should be near the top of your list of criteria. Here's a pleasant email reply I received from the mother of a bride who had inquired about a date for which I was already booked, which perfectly illustrates this point:
"Michael, thanks for the prompt response. We are disappointed you are already booked, but not surprised. I just want to let you know, that we have exhaustively researched photographers online, and you were #1 on our list! Both my daughter and I came to the same conclusion. There are many talented photographers out there, but your work caught our attention because you capture what we are looking for in wedding photographs. I always like to give people feedback, especially when they make the top of the list of hundreds of photographers to select from."
By nature, I'm a modest and humble person, and I would never go so far as to boldly label myself the best wedding photographer in New Orleans, particularly given the fact that this city has so many amazingly talented photographers to choose from. And as the above comment perfectly demonstrates, "the best" means different things to different people, as individual tastes can vary dramatically... one photographer's style might look delightfully light and airy to one person but be considered washed out by someone who prefers dark and moody imagery, while yet another will think that photographs of that style are drab and dull. Someone might be drawn to a more formal and traditional style of photography, while another prefers coverage that is mostly candid and documentary. So, what one person considers to be the best photographer could very well be viewed as mediocre or just average to another.
But given the many complimentary remarks and reviews I continue to receive from my clients, their friends, and their families, along with my own honest assessment of the quality of my work, I am perfectly comfortable saying that I consider myself to be among the best, within the top 10 wedding photographers in New Orleans and the surrounding area.
Wedding photography is my full-time occupation
One notable distinction is that I'm one of a relatively small number of New Orleans wedding photographers who earn a living at this craft full-time as opposed to it just being a side job. Of course this does encompass much more than merely shooting the actual events on weekends, as during the week my time is spent editing images, designing albums
, shooting engagement
and bridal portrait sessions
, maintaining and preparing camera gear for the coming weekend's weddings, having consultations with current or prospective clients, and other administrative aspects of running the business.
But this being my full-time job enables me to structure my workload and time off during the week so that I am fresh and well-rested for that coming weekend’s events, rather than being mentally and physically exhausted from having just come off a grueling 40+ hour work week at a regular day job (in addition to having to find the time to cram in all the above mentioned ongoing tasks associated with the business). It allows me to be completely focused on my clients in a way that would not otherwise be possible.
In short, because wedding photography is my full time job, when the weekend arrives I do not need to put my weekday job out of my mind and "get my head in the game" to be ready to document your day, because I'm already there!
Another benefit is that I am more accessible during the week. If you have a question or concern that you want to discuss over the phone, I'm usually reachable during the day and am free to take the time to talk with you. I've booked numerous events over the years because of the simple fact that I actually answered the phone when a prospective bride or groom called.
It's also worthy to note that although I do other types of photography on occasion (family portraits, commercial work, etc.), I primarily specialize in weddings (by choice, because these wonderful events are what I most enjoy shooting), and the bulk of my work consists of documenting weddings (and wedding-related portraits such as engagements and bridals).
I have plenty of experience
I'm in my 16th year in business, and after having photographed almost 700 weddings there isn’t much that I haven’t seen or encountered during this time. Experience is crucial in this line of work. Anyone with a reasonably good sense of composition, basic knowledge of their equipment, and good ambient light to work with can create nice photographs in a relaxed environment. But weddings often do not take place in perfect light or otherwise under ideal photographic conditions, and are almost always dynamic, fast-paced events that are anything but relaxed (from the photographer’s perspective at least).
While a novice portrait photographer would have the luxury of being able to leisurely work through any technical problems or photographic challenges that come up during a session, there’s no pause button at a wedding (especially the ceremony), and it is essential to have someone who is intimately familiar with the flow of these events and is accustomed to dealing with the unexpected. Likewise, having a friend who enjoys taking pictures as a hobby and happens to own a good camera document the most meaningful day of your life is often not going to end well, and many instances of lingering hard feelings and ruined friendships have resulted from the aftermath of such arrangements.
To be able to do this job well, one must have a thorough familiarity with the widely varied aspects of wedding ceremonies and receptions, a keen sense of observation for what needs to be captured, along with the artistic vision and diverse set of technical skills needed to create beautiful images in challenging conditions. Wedding photographers must be well-versed in multiple facets of photography, including photojournalism
, still life
, and portraiture
Lastly, it's not all just about the photography. Even an amazingly talented photographer will not be successful with weddings if they do not also possess good business, technical, organizational, and personal relationship skills. Stories appear in the news (nationally, and occasionally even locally in the New Orleans area) about wedding photographers and videographers who, even many months after the wedding, still have not delivered their work, or even worse, disappear completely, abandoning their clients and leaving them without their priceless pictures or video.
I believe in most of these cases there is not a premeditated intent to defraud their clients, but rather these incidents are the result of them not managing their time well, perhaps trying to juggle the demands of running the business while also working a separate full-time job, and they simply get overwhelmed as the unfinished post-processing tasks pile up when they get busy, resulting in long delays.
In the most extreme cases, poor data storage management and backup practices may have caused them to irretrievably lose their clients' images or video footage, and rather than immediately owning up to this most nightmarish of scenarios, they procrastinate for a while in the hopes that somehow they are miraculously able to recover the files, and eventually they stop answering their clients' calls and emails, or just disappear.
Having been in this line of work for 16 years, and averaging over 40 weddings a year, I've proven myself to be competent and capable of handling the pre-wedding planning and organizational tasks, equipment management, capturing the event itself, safe handling of image files, and the post-wedding editing and album production work in an orderly, efficient, and timely manner.
This level of extensive knowledge and experience cannot be obtained by just reading a book, attending a seminar, or watching a series of instructional videos on a website, nor can it adequately come from having photographed a few (or even a hundred) weddings, and I am proud of the many years and much effort I have put into learning and perfecting the creative, technical, and production management skills that this craft requires.
I am moderately priced
You should not select your photographer solely based on price. Of course, the undeniable reality is that most couples have at least some kind of budget range they need to stay in, but your photographs are one of the few elements of your big day that will have a life far beyond the event itself, so this is the one area of your budget that should be granted a certain degree of flexibility. In terms of pricing
among wedding photographers in New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf South
region, you’ll find that I am comfortably in the mid-range, not the cheapest, but certainly not the most expensive either.
Though “affordable” is a relative term that means different things to different people, a recurring theme in many of the reviews my brides and grooms have written for me is that they considered me to to be affordably priced, and, perhaps even more importantly, that they felt I represented a very good value for what they paid.
I enjoy the different and unique aspects of large and small weddings... one weekend I could be shooting a wild 300+ guest wedding at a large church and reception venue (with an accompanying huge price tag), while the next weekend's wedding might be a more intimate but equally fun 40-60 guest wedding in a French Quarter courtyard. So, I make an effort to have packages that will work for a wide range of budgets.
It’s a non-starter if you find a photographer whose images appeal to you but their starting price is so far out of your budget that there is no feasible way you would be able to afford them. However, if you are considering a photographer who would be maybe a little more than what you expected to spend but you absolutely love their images, and another whose price is within your budget but you feel their work is merely acceptable to you, consider that it would likely be worthwhile to spend just a little more to get pictures you will be happier with.
I can tell you with absolute certainty that you will be able to find less expensive photographers than me. But I believe (and my past clients would agree) that the quality of my work and my many years of experience are worth the price.
Remember, this is a long-term investment. When you are looking at your photographs a year or two (or twenty) from now, you will not remember this relatively small amount more that you paid for them compared to a cheaper option. But if you hire an inexpensive photographer based on price alone and receive images of poor quality, the painful sting of regret that you feel will be renewed every time you see these pictures.
I personally photograph every wedding
A somewhat common practice in this industry is for a big studio to accept multiple bookings for a given day and time, and then seek out and make arrangements with other photographers who they subcontract to actually shoot these events. This is understandable from a purely business-minded point of view, as I know firsthand the pain of leaving money on the table when I get repeated inquiries for dates on which I am already booked, and indeed the thought of saying yes to all of these couples is tempting, even though I would have to assign their event to another photographer.
While there is nothing ethically wrong with this (as long as it is fully and openly disclosed to the couple early in the inquiry process, well in advance of signing the contract), and would result in significantly more revenue if I were to adopt this business model, it’s simply not a practice that I would feel comfortable engaging in. I take great pride in the images I create and in the high level of personal service I provide to my clients, and would not feel right about making it a standard procedure to send a subcontracted photographer (no matter how good I thought they were) to handle the single-most important aspect of the job.
Instead, when I get inquiries for dates for which I am already booked, my preference is to refer these couples to other capable professional photographers I personally know who, being in business for themselves as well, will take care of them the same way that I would have.
In short, if you book Michael Caswell Photography, unless there is some completely unforeseen emergency, I will personally be there to capture your event.
I shoot with professional quality gear
I am an amateur/hobbyist musician (clarinet, and to a much lesser extent, violin). Putting an expensive, bench-crafted violin and bow in my hands will not make me sound noticeably better. Meanwhile, a professional violinist would sound far better than me even on my relatively inexpensive instrument, but their skill and nuanced playing abilities would also give them the ability to sound even better on a higher quality violin.
Similarly, the skill and experience of the photographer are far more important factors than the gear he or she shoots with, but at the same time, the type of cameras and lenses used do make a significant difference in the quality of images that can be captured. Could I shoot a wedding with a consumer-grade DSLR and a few inexpensive lenses? Sure, but there would be several technical factors that would impose severe limits on how I worked, and would adversely affect the quality of the photographs.
The modern, professional-level equipment I use enables me to capture high quality images in low light, can achieve that highly coveted look of a soft and out-of-focus background that makes the subjects pop out of the image more, and focuses quickly and accurately in a fast-paced and challenging wedding environment.
Furthermore, with my current camera bodies, I am able to shoot most wedding ceremonies with zero shutter noise, allowing me to be more discrete.
I bring ample backup equipment
This is one area that less experienced photographers sometimes cut corners on, either through trying to reduce expenses, or simply not fully recognizing the possibility of equipment failure and what it would mean for their ability to do the job they've been hired for.
Professional-quality equipment is expensive, and while one camera body and a few lenses might be sufficient for portrait work (where the consequences of equipment failure would amount to the comparatively minor inconvenience of a rescheduled session), for weddings it is absolutely mandatory to have ample backup gear. For a wedding photographer just starting out as a part-time business on the side, it can be very tempting to try to get by without purchasing good quality redundant cameras, lenses, and lighting gear (or maybe just having an old or inexpensive consumer-grade camera on hand as a spare, but one that would not be adequate to shoot professionally with) and they may very well be able to get away with this for a while. But sooner or later, this luck will run out, and you don't want it to be during your event.
I even consider having just one extra camera to be insufficient, so in addition to the two cameras I carry with me throughout almost all of the wedding day, I also keep a third fully capable professional-level camera in my bag, along with an assortment of professional quality lenses of overlapping focal lengths, and multiple pieces of lighting gear.
On most jobs I'll also have a completely separate small kit consisting of an additional camera body as well as several lenses and flashes, which remains in the trunk of my car as an emergency backup of last resort in case something drastic and catastrophic happens to my primary kit.
I am obsessively careful about protecting your images
I fully recognize that have in my care what are among the most important and prized photographs my clients will ever have, a responsibility that I don't take lightly. So the memory cards and other storage devices that contain these images are treated like the priceless and irreplaceable crown jewels that they are.
It has long been a self-imposed and non-negotiable requirement of mine that any camera I consider purchasing for photographing weddings must have the ability to capture images to two memory cards simultaneously, so that even before I leave a wedding I have a backup of that event's photographs. This practice alone largely addresses of one of the most common reasons for lost images, malfunctioned and corrupt memory cards. It's still hypothetically possible that both of these cards in a camera could simultaneously be corrupted, but this practice does at least protect against a card defect or malfunction.
As soon as my photographic coverage is complete, before I depart the venue at the conclusion of the event, these cards are physically separated, with one set remaining in the camera bodies in my bag, and the other set being secured in a pouch which stays on my person until I get home. That mitigates an arguably even more common way images are lost, when the cards are simply misplaced during handling (if the only set of cards are removed from the cameras), or if the photographer's bag (with the only copy of the images) is stolen out of their car when they stop to grab a bite to eat on the way home. Physically separating the cards right away drastically reduces the chances of this happening.
That night, no matter how late it is and how badly I want to go to bed, the images get downloaded from the cards onto my computer's storage system, and multiple backup copies are made. Not the next day, or whenever I end up getting around to it later in the week, but immediately, without fail. Why is this so important? I've heard countless stories from fellow photographers who, while running out the door to go shoot a portrait session inadvertently pop in the cards from that past weekend's wedding and erase them, not realizing until later that they hadn't yet copied those wedding images to their computer (yet another example of how using dual card slot cameras could help mitigate image loss).
Additional, because even having two copies (the two sets of memory cards) of these images is not enough, this is a "vulnerable" time... the sooner I can get sufficient backups run, the sooner I will feel comfortable that the images are reasonably protected against loss. An off-site cloud backup is initiated at that time as well, which is typically completed by the following morning. If I happen to subsequently leave the house before the cloud backup is finished, I bring a backup with me. Lastly, as an even further precaution, the duplicate memory cards from the cameras are set aside and are not reused for other events until after the images have been edited and delivered.
Is all this overkill? Maybe. But even though it’s impossible to guarantee with absolute certainty that no images will ever be lost, I take great care in doing everything possible to protect my clients’ precious photographs, even if it's far beyond what would be typically expected, and I can proudly say that after shooting well over half a million pictures professionally over the past 16 years, I’ve never had a single instance of lost images. Money is not the main barrier to taking these kinds of precautions, as large amounts of storage (hard drives and memory cards) for digital images, while not cheap, are not nearly as eye-poppingly expensive as they once were. It’s simply a matter of fully recognizing and embracing how important these priceless photographs truly are, being tech-saavy enough to be aware that storage devices are prone to unpredictable and catastrophic failure, and putting thought into predicting and mitigating any other unforeseen ways in which images could be lost. With that mindset, the effort and time that I put into taking care of your pictures to this extent becomes an automatic, reflexive act.
I’m easy to work with
I hear this from my brides and grooms (and their friends and family) all the time, both at the conclusion of the event and in subsequent reviews. I get the job done while not being abrasive, pretentious, bossy, or rude (though I will be assertive when I absolutely have to, such as if we’re up against a tight time restriction to do the formal group shots after the ceremony). I’m flexible and able to adapt when the wedding day starts to stray from the previously planned timeline (is it often does), and when other unforeseen events occur.
I take pride in going above and beyond what is expected of me. One off-the-wall example of this was during a wedding at Latrobe's in New Orleans in 2017 where the groom pulled me aside with a somewhat panicked look on his face during the reception, telling me that his pants had just split badly while he was on the dance floor. "No problem," I told him, and darted out to my car to retrieve the spare pair of black pants that I keep in my trunk (in case MY pants ever split!). And for a small elopement in 2018, when a distraught out-of-town bride emailed me a few days prior to their date to tell me that their scheduled ceremony at the Algiers Courthouse had abruptly been canceled, asking for advice on officiants and alternative locations, I was able to make some phone calls and help her get her wedding back on track. Of course, I'm a photographer, not a professional wedding planner, so I can't promise you that I'll always be able to provide meaningful assistance in emergency situations such as these, but my point is that if I have the ability to help with things even outside the direct scope of wedding photography, I will give it my best shot, and you'll never hear me say, "sorry, that's not my job."
I love the fact that I very often hear compliments from couples and their guests as the reception is ending, along the lines of "you did such a great job, you were so wonderful to work with". Think about that. This is before they've even seen a single photograph from the wedding, and they are complimenting me on how great of a job I did! I consider that to be an incredibly revealing statement. Their assumption is that the pictures will look good, but just their experience of working with me is enough to yield such a positive reaction, which is akin to someone saying how great a restaurant was before they've even tasted their food, simply based on the service and experience. And once my couples have seen their pictures, they often tell me that they are amazed I was able to capture all of those moments, as they hardly even remember seeing me very much during the event.
A large portion of my bookings come from referrals... family members and friends of past brides and grooms, as well as event planners and the management of venues that I've worked with repeatedly and who know I do a good job, am cooperative, and that I strive to help make the event go as smoothly as possible.
I have great reviews
More important than any of these things that I say about myself are the wonderful compliments I get from my couples. I've received consistently positive reviews over the years on sites such as The Knot, Yelp, Wedding Wire, and Google, and for the past seven years straight I've been voted The Knot's Best of Weddings award thanks to great reviews from real brides and grooms who have gotten married in the New Orleans area over the years.
Common themes of these reviews include beautiful photographs, reasonable pricing, how enjoyable and cooperative I am to work with, good communication before and after the wedding day, discreteness and unobtrusiveness when I work, an artistic eye without being pretentious, flexibility, a keen sense of observation, fast turnaround on delivering the edited photographs, and the (good to have) "problem" they have in narrowing their selection of favorite photos down to a suitable number for their album or for printing to display in their home.