by Rosemary Edmiston

Photo courtesy of Tina's Photography

The dress is gorgeous, the flowers are at the peak of freshness. Friends and family are dressed in their finery and gathered together for one of the most special of occasions.

But without a reliable photographer memories fade and the thousands of dollars poured into a wedding day are all but lost.

After taking care of all the details surrounding a couple's nuptials, it all comes down to the photography, say those who take pictures for a living. It's a self-serving statement, admits Eureka photographer Tina Mori, but after shooting hundreds of weddings she's convinced it's accurate.

The photos "are going to be what a couple looks back on and remembers their day by," Mori said. "I try to tell a story, so that you can look at the photographs and feel you may have been there. It's like watching a movie."

Locally, the price for a professional wedding photographer can be as high as $2,100 or as low as $700. It all depends on the couple's budget and what they're looking for in the final product -- the wedding album.

The process of choosing a photographer should begin one year prior to the wedding date, especially if a couple plans to be married during the height of "wedding season," June through September.

Photographer Marlene "Marnie" Nunnemaker never books a wedding over the phone. That, she said, is because it's important for a couple to feel comfortable with their photographer.

"Personality is as important as the photogrpahy," she said. "I want to get to know the couple. I don't want to show up to the wedding and stick a camera in their face and expect beautiful images."

Mori and Arcata photographer Philip Dresser agreed.

It's essential, said Dresser, for the couple to find "somebody they are just kind of able to click with" -- no pun intended.

Photos courtesy of Marnie's Photography

Nunnemaker sees part of her job as that of a "go-between." She does that, she said, by listening and really paying attention to the bride. She recalled one wedding where the bride was being tormented by her brothers. Nunnemaker pulled the women aside, had her take a deep breath and remember that it was her day, not her siblings'.

"The photographer needs to know what's going on" in terms of family relationships. There can be a lot of emotional baggage you're dealing with," said Dresser, owner of Philip's Camera & Studio in Arcata.

Through her business, Mori, owner of Tina's Photography in Eureka, has developed friendships that have lasted through first as well as second weddings.

Aside from personalities, couples should examine a photographer's work for quality, such as the lighting. They should ask for references and make sure they know exactly what comes in their photo package. And it's certainly not out of line to ask a photographer if they enjoy their work.

A happy photographer is going to be more creative, take the time needed for good shots and simply care about the final product, said Mori.

Style is also important, said Nunnemaker, who has been known to buy a bottle of cheap champagne for the groomsmen, have them shake it up and let the bubbly fly -- all for the sake of a good shot.

Does the couple want a traditional wedding album with more posed shots, or is a candid, journalistic style preferred? It's essential, say the experts, to make sure the photographer is capable and willing to take the type of photos envisioned.

"What you do is give them what they expected, what they want and what they dreamed about," said Mori. "You need to tell the story for the person through their eyes."

"One of the first things I ask is what they've seen in their friends' albums that they absolutely love, and also what they don't like," said Nunnemaker, owner of Marnie's Photography in Fortuna.

After meeting with a potential photographer, the bride and groom should know exactly how many shots they will get for their money, what type of shots they will get and how much of the reception the photographer will shoot. Some photographers edit the photos themselves and choose the final shots to go in the wedding album, while others allow the couple to pick which photos they'd like enlarged.

Once wedding albums are complete, Nunnemaker hands over all original prints to the newlyweds. But that's unusual. And on the West Coast, the experts say, it's all but unheard of for photographers to provide their negatives. That practice is, however, gaining popularity on the East Coast for a price, a high price. Dresser will sell his negatives, but not until two years after the wedding day.

In the end, having a completed album within several months of the wedding is a satisfying feeling, said Mori, who has known couples who tried to cut corners by doing a lot of the work themselves. The tab adds up, she said, and years later photos still aren't properly arranged in albums.

With a professional, said Dresser, you know exactly what the cost will be, you know exactly what you're getting and you don't have to worry about organizing photos for enlargement and later arranging them in albums.

That's important, said Mori, to avoid having nothing more than a box of loose photos five, maybe even 20, years after the nuptials.

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