I recently got married. Everything that my wedding planning clients go through, I got to experience first-hand myself.
After producing over 600 weddings in my career, I decided I wanted to do something different for my own wedding. I’m a bit of a rebel at heart and knew that I wanted to make everything fresh, different, perhaps a bit unorthodox, and above all – it had to represent an aspect of my soul, and that of my husband-to-be, Darrel. I’m a vintage girl at heart and I’ve always been fascinated by the courthouse-style weddings that took place in the 1940’s and 1950’s and think they are incredibly romantic. This is Part One of two blogs I have coming up under “When A Wedding Planner Weds“ on planning my own secret destination wedding elopement.
We planned a secret destination wedding to one of my favorite locations on earth: Santa Fe, New Mexico. I will share more about the decision behind this in Part Two of this series. But for now, I want to share the single most important event partner for our wedding and how I went about choosing her.
Since our wedding was a top secret and in an incredibly beautiful destination, I knew I wanted memories to look back on that would last a lifetime. I also knew that we would want to share these images with those back home when we returned.
As a professional wedding planner, I found myself on the other side of the coin as a bride, researching photographers from scratch and in a geographic area in which I knew no event professionals. I knew that the photographer’s style would have to be relaxed, photojournalistic in style, and not have too many poses in their documentation of a story. I knew that I also wanted someone who approached their work with joy and was fun to work with, because after the ceremony, we wanted to walk around downtown historic Santa Fe and basically have a photo shoot and have some fun while we were dressed up.
In researching photographers in an area I was not familiar with, I focused on:
- Their work. How did it speak to me stylistically. I prefer relaxed, photojournalistic style.
- Reviews. To make sure they were credible and experienced, I researched Yelp, Google Business in detail and a few on WeddingWire and TheKnot just to make sure they had a presence and a few reviews and that there was a general feel of being legitimate.
- Referrals . Once I found a couple of photographers that I liked, I would ask other event partners in Santa Fe if they had heard of them and would they recommend them. Word of mouth trumps reviews, often times, as reviews can be slanted for many reasons. If you want to know – truly know – the truth about an event partner, as others in the area who work with them regularly know – asking around and getting the pattern of their overall reputation through other local event supplier’s eyes and interactions with them is invaluable.
- Professionalism. How professional was their Website; did they return correspondence in a timely manner and answer my questions; did they seem happy to work with me and genuinely want my business? We were a weekday, 11:00am small wedding and would not be their largest piece of business for the year, no doubt, so I was curious how we would be received.
- Price. I did have a budget I had to work with and knowing great photographer’s rates and how much they are worth every penny, knew I may need to spend a bit more, but I had a very clear idea of my limitations and was not willing to spend just anything. We had other experiences on this trip we had planned for, so money was definitely also a consideration.
When I found Melanie West (whose images grace this entire page) I was impressed with her numerous awards and community involvements and , of course, her actual work. She always returned my correspondence with a smile (yes, you can actually project a “smile” on electronic communication” and she did just that). She seemed actually excited at the prospect of filming our wedding. What really “won” me about Melanie was that she was a Santa Fe native and when we said we wanted to go for a photoshoot walk downtown Santa Fe after our ceremony, she not only agreed, she mentioned she was a native resident of Santa Fe and knew it intimately and knew exactly where to take us!
Melanie had a very reasonable deposit schedule and fee, a professional contract , and included all the original images on digital drive, the contact sheet and negatives in her fee. She also allowed us a one hour minimum (and we added on extra time to allow for our photoshoot walk around Santa Fe).
Since we had her for a limited amount of time, I knew that maximizing her time with us would be critical. I told her I would send her a “must” sheet of the group shots we had to do with family after the ceremony and then we were completely at her disposal for the walking photo shoot day of, as long as we were back on time for our wedding lunch (and also the conclusion of her contract with us). I wanted to surrender entirely to her vision and talents and let her guide us through the incredible canvas of Santa Fe. Let me tell you, there is no greater gift as a bride than being able to let go and trust your event partners so implicitly.
Day-of the wedding was the first time we met her. She was on time (early, in fact), so happy to be there and embraced all of us . It was clear she loves what she does. She got all the required shots during the ceremony, after it, and then took Darrel and I out for our walk around Santa Fe. She worked fast and furious and with a huge smile and joy in all she did. We had a blast. She even brought out her vintage black and white camera to do some shots in black and white at our request, since we went for more of a vintage look in our attire and feel. Detail was very important to me and I wanted to capture parts of our ceremony location (the historic Hotel St. Francis) and what made it unique. She did all of that. She also bonded with our family and had a special regard for each person as she worked.
After we got home, we had a lovely note from her thanking us and within a week, had our digital images and they were absolutely fantastic.
The single most important event partner for us was our photographer for our unique secret destination wedding, and we cannot stress enough how important this service was and is. We are so grateful to Melanie West for recording this most special day for us – and for generations to come in our family – who will enjoy her work and documentation. All the photographers on my list of preferred photographers on my site are the caliber of Melanie West. Another helpful tip: if you are planning a wedding from a distance, the above check points on what to look for (points 1-5) should help if you do not have a professional wedding planner to assist you.
Below are just a few of the images from the wedding and our fun photoshoot walk downtown Santa Fe. In my following blog post with “When A Wedding Planner Weds”, I will share more of the wedding story and some of our own personal candid photos behind the scenes.
Tags: hotel st. francis, melanie west, new mexico, photographers, santa fe, santa fe wedding, when a wedding planner weds