Perhaps no other area of the business of weddings has seen as much change as that of photography. This is especially true given that photography is by its nature a technological undertaking. From film to digital and from physical photo books to Facebook, the way photographers take and distribute their pictures has changed significantly. And it’s changing fast, too.
At 29 years old Andrew Samplawski of Andrew Samplawski Photography in Chippewa Falls isn’t old enough to remember the days when wedding photographers developed their photos from film. In fact, he hasn’t done anything professionally with film since his days as the yearbook editor at Stanley-Boyd high school. But he still is racing to stay up-to-date with the latest technological trends in wedding photography.
Digital cameras aren’t exactly new, but over the past five years digital distribution of photos — customers wanting to see and have access to their photos electronically, as opposed to in hard copy — has really taken off.
“That’s what a lot of brides want these days,” Samplawksi said. Add to that the rise of social media, and the picture business has really become on demand. “They want that instant gratification,” Samplawski said. And he works hard to give that to his customers. If he finishes shooting a wedding at midnight, he can have some photos on Facebook ready to be shared by noon the next day. “I know how important it is to brides to have their pictures fast, ready to share with friends and family,” he added.
Digital photos have also allowed a more streamlined process when working with his customers. After the photos are processed, the families of the bride and groom are invited into Samplawski’s studio where they can look at all the photos on a big-screen TV. Of course customers can elect to see a book of proofs if they wish — the older generations seem to prefer this — but this way the photos can be ordered on the spot in studio.
“Otherwise you get your proofs and life gets busy and it gets tossed to the side. But when they come in they can order right away,” Samplawski said.
In any case, the whole process takes a good four to six weeks to get the photos to the families. And there are options here, too. While many people do decide to take delivery of their photos electronically Samplawski offers traditional photo albums as well.
“All my albums are made, printed and hand-bound in Italy,” he said. Interestingly, in this case Samplawski often recommends the physical book.
“Yes you can go to the local kiosk and print for cheaper, but is that going to last?” he said. “When the wedding date is said and done, what do you have left?”
Besides, digital media changes. People who received their photos on a CD or DVD a few years ago may soon be out of luck: many personal computers don’t have the appropriate drives to use those kinds of disks. And USB drives don’t last forever. Samplawksi related that recently he had a bride come to him hoping he had copies because the USB drive containing her photos was left in the sun. “The glue melted and it fell apart,” he said.
That’s why Samplawski keeps an archive of all the weddings he shoots. The archives are in various forms and various locations. All told he spends around $2,500 per month on archival costs.
“I’ve been shooting weddings for 10 years now,” he said explaining the huge amount of photos he has to store. “Not every photographer does that.”
Decent quality cameras at low prices has allowed a large number of amateur photographers to crop up offering him competition. Samplawski said that he’s seen some customers leave because they know somebody who is willing to take the photos for cheaper, but they usually come back.
“You get what you pay for,” he said.
The advent of everyone carrying an HD-capable device in their pockets does present a photographer with other challenges, too. The second the bride begins her walk down the aisle, out come all the phones. The best man stands to make his toast, and the crowd takes it upon themselves to record the moment.
Samplawski certainly doesn’t begrudge people capturing their own memories, but it does make his work harder. “Everybody has their phone up in front of their faces,” Samplawski explained. People’s use of their smartphones can disrupt his ability to capture the moment.
“I’m trying to get reactions to the bride walking down the aisle and everybody has their phone in front of their face,” he said. Samplawski said this is something he discusses with his customers: Maybe they should leave the photography to him. “If that’s what you want, fine, but why are you hiring me then?” He also said that sometimes family members trying to get photos of their own can creep into a scene he’s trying to frame.
Samplawski has been interested in photography for a long time, but he never planned on it becoming the career that it has.
It started with his work on his high school yearbook. After high school, he even did some traveling with some international photographers. Samplawski explained that he liked to travel a bit on his own, and he’d look up photographers in the area and would ask to meet with them. Some told him to bring his camera gear and he’d go on a photo shoot with them.
“I just took it and made it my own,” he said.
But he didn't go into photography professionally right away.
Originally from Stanley, Samplawski was working as a paramedic in Wausau when he began to shoot some wedding for friends and family.
“But then things really took off about five years ago,” he said. “I shot 60 weddings that year.”
Today, Samplawski has a 1,500 square foot studio in the Metropolitan Block in downtown Chippewa Falls. And he photographs about 30 weddings a year. About 40 percent of those weddings are destination weddings; meaning a location that’s outside of a five to six hour drive from the Chippewa Valley.
All told, Samplawski has been to destination weddings all over the place. From Hawaii to Virginia. “Kind of coast to coast,” he said.
'Say Yes to the Dress'
One of the highlights of his young career has been shooting weddings that have been featured in the cable show "Say Yes to the Dress." Samplawski encountered Monte Durham, a fashion director for the show, at a wedding expo. Later he photographed a wedding for a bride who had been featured on the show. Recently, the TLC network responded to fan feedback that they wanted to see the whole story: what happened after the bride said “yes.” So the show will air an episode in the coming months that follows a wedding through the whole process, start to finish.
“This wedding was special. The camera crew came up and shot the wedding from start to finish. That's never happened before,” Samplawski said. Since he was a part of the wedding process, Samplawski will be featured in that episode.