Jacqueline + Lewis | Urbana courthouse wedding

I’m here today to show you that you can have beautiful wedding photos, even if you don’t have a big elaborate wedding! You can still have fun, romantic, detailed photos if you get married on your lunch hour at your local courthouse. Jacqueline + Lewis called me just a few days ahead of their courthouse elopement asking if I was available to photograph their ceremony. And since courthouse weddings are one of my favorite things, I always find a way!!

It was a busy day for weddings at the courthouse (I think there were 4?), and there were a TON of people there! Luckily, these two had arrived early to get in the queue, so we were called in 2nd! So that left us without about 20 minutes to do some more photos in the courthouse, down by the Champaign County seal, in the elevator, and outside with the beautiful brick facade.

I love the series just after they came out of the courtroom where they put their fists in the air, and Jacqueline showed off her ring pose and her “Hollywood” pose! <3 It was also a super fun day as the entire crowd waiting in the hallway decided to clap and cheer for each couple as they came out. It made for an energizing atmosphere!

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Using Rear-Curtain Sync for Wedding Receptions + Events

I’m a member of a few organizations that meet monthly or a few times a year. One of my absolute favorites is the Piatt County Camera Club, and I tag-teamed teaching this month with my friend Judd. He talked about high-speed sync (which I’m going to finally master this year!) and I talked about rear-curtain sync. We also watched a video by Adorama that is a good intro to rear-curtain sync if you’re not familiar with it.


Rear-curtain sync is something that I have used for years and in fact, I have it turned on in my camera almost all the time, as it doesn’t affect anything if I’m not using a flash or a slow shutter speed. I’m a Nikon shooter though, and setup is a bit different if you’re a Canon shooter (I’m not sure about Sony, Fuji, etc — sorry!). With the Canon system, you select rear-curtain, sometimes called 2nd curtain, on the FLASH and not the camera. There’s a symbol with 3 triangles, and that option is available on Canon brand speedlights, and some other brands as well. Check your user’s manual to be sure.


Now, why on earth would someone use rear-curtain sync?

For me, I find it very appealing for dark events where I’m using an on-camera flash, namely wedding receptions. It allows me to slow down my shutter speed to pull in more ambient light (also called dragging the shutter), but still freeze my subject(s) with my flash. I usually slow my shutter down to around 1/30 of a second (sometimes slower!), which causes a bit of ghosting, but I also am able to pull in things like uplighting, DJ lights, monogram lights, and chandeliers — basically any ambient light in the room. By slowing my shutter speed, I also don’t have to sacrifice as much ISO and so avoid getting too much grain in my images.


It can also be fun to move your camera while the shutter is open. I sometimes will twist my camera in a circular motion or in a diagonal direction during the exposure. I’ve also seen people move their camera in a full circle, or a kind of zig-zag motion. This is an awesome time to experiment and play with your flashes! People are dancing and having a good time, and you have the freedom of the important stuff being over and done.


So what is rear-curtain sync exactly?

A camera has two curtains on either side of the sensor — a front curtain & a rear curtain (or 1st & 2nd). The first curtain opens to expose the sensor, and then the 2nd curtain closes to stop the exposure. By default, your flash is set to fire at the beginning of that exposure as soon as the first curtain opens. When using rear-curtain sync, the flash fires at the end of the exposure, just before the 2nd curtain closes. So as you can imagine, this doesn’t really make a difference on a fast shutter speed. In my opinion, you don’t really start to see the effects of it until you get slower than around 1/100 of a second.

I prefer rear-curtain sync over front-curtain sync for my wedding receptions because sometimes you don’t see as much of the subject as I’d like to once the blur/movement happens. If I freeze the motion at the beginning of the shot, it allows lighting and dance moves to overtake the subject — sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. It is definitely a preference thing, but give it a try and see if you like it!

Let's talk numbers -- retainers, mileage, changing collections, etc.

Hey there, friendly blog readers! I have never claimed to be super good at math or accounting, but I’ve always secretly loved figuring out numbers. I don’t mind putting together spreadsheets for my accountant, and I like managing our household’s finances. So today we’re going to talk numbers!

Wedding photography is definitely an investment, but though I am biased, I believe it is one of the single-most important things you should have on your wedding day. And it’s not something you want to skimp on — we’ve all heard the horror stories of photographers not showing up or losing your images. Don’t let that happen to you. Make sure your photographer has a solid contract in place AND a solid backup/storage plan for your precious images. Ok, getting off topic…!!

wedding veil photo

Wedding Photography Retainer

I think some people are surprised at how much they have to pay for a deposit or retainer for their wedding photographer. My retainer is $1,000. There are few ways I’ve come to that number: 1) With booking days out so far in advance, a substantial dollar number is necessary to lock in your date. And because I often have to turn several other people away for a same date, that retainer allows me to do secure your date with confidence. 2) Having a large retainer fee lets me know that the client is serious about booking their date and won’t be wishy-washy on it. I understand that sometimes things happen out of our control, and I confront those on a case-by-case basis. Years ago I went through a stretch where I had several weddings cancel (for various reasons, most of the time not anything having to do with me), and I decided it was time to raise my retainer fee.

white pale pink bouquet with greenery

Mileage & Travel Fees

I don’t travel a ton for weddings, but when I do travel outside of Champaign and Piatt counties I charge mileage (and hotel if it’s more than a 3-hour drive). Why Champaign and Piatt counties? Well, I live on the western edge of Champaign county and am about as close to east Urbana as I am to Allerton Park, and so since I photograph there frequently, I decided to include that entire county as well. :) My mileage is based on the current federal mileage rate at the time of booking, which is usually somewhere between $.50-.60 per mile.

For destination weddings where air travel is required, the client is responsible for paying for the flight, 2 nights hotel, and transportation to and from the airport and resort/location. These expenses are also applicable to any assistants or second photographers needed for the wedding.

wedding party trolley champaign

On occasion I get asked about changing someone’s wedding collection. My typical answer is for them to book whichever collection they know they can afford and want first. Then as we get closer to the wedding date, if you decide you want/need more, we can always upgrade you. It is much better and easier to upgrade rather than downgrade, so I prefer doing it that way. But YES, you can absolutely change your collection based on your needs as you continue your planning.

rainbow colorful wedding tent reception

One of my favorite things about using Honeybook as my client booking management system (referral link!) is that I can send out equally divided invoices on specific dates and it will automatically send reminders for me. This was seriously such a great step for my business and everyone can pay easily and securely online with me having to track you down or wait for a check in the mail! (though you are always welcome to use a check!). Following your retainer/deposit payment, your remaining collection balance is broken into three payments which are due 1, 3, & 5 months before the wedding. So if you have a June 2020 wedding, you will start paying in January 2020.

So there you have it — the nitty gritty of numbers related to my business and more specifically wedding photography. If you have any questions at all, I’m happy to answer!