“You look like you fell in love during your engagement session,” the bridesmaid told the bride. While it is certainly a statement about the photography, it is just as much an endorsement of my custom guestbook and an example of how this product helps set me apart as a wedding photographer.
My top tier wedding packages include an extended engagement session and custom guestbook. I always have a sample guestbook on hand at any sales presentation or bridal show. It makes a huge impression and, so far, no bride has turned it down.
Producing the guestbook actually starts with the engagement session. Because of the time involved in selecting images, designing, printing and delivering the book, I prefer to shoot at least two months before the wedding, though I could force one through in just under a month if need be.
The engagement session usually lasts 2-3 hours in two locations, sometimes with a clothing change. My style is primarily photojournalistic using natural light. I tell the couple to “be together,” and then I mostly let the camera observe.
I guide the couple to the most photogenic spots on location and position myself accordingly. At times I make adjustments … shifting a hand, turning them to get a better angle or moving to better light. I place the couple together in situations that allow me to create the images that I want, but the only really posed shots are to emphasize the ring and the happy bride.
Since I shoot primarily for a horizontal book, there are a few shots I must get. The cover requires an image with plenty of open space around the couple for the wrap. I try to get at least a few shots with the couple framed on one edge looking in. Most images are horizontal, but I do get a few verticals, which work well as a series of three across the bottom of one page. At least a few images feature the bride and a few feature the groom.
My first guestbook was a shot in the dark. I had an engagement session in the can with plenty of images, and I had a concept for I wanted, but I didn’t know how to design one or how it should be printed. I consulted with photographer friends and album companies. I knew the design needed to have open space for guests to sign. I was just uncertain how much space would be needed or how to best present the images. I also planned to use this first guestbook as my sample for an upcoming bridal show and it needed to be perfect.
I turned to Karen Dahlquist at Happyfish Design. She guided me on image selection and created an incredible design. Since then Karen has designed about half of my guestbooks and I have done the rest. I plan for the design process to take a week either way. The initial design usually takes about a day, and the week gives the couple plenty of time to review the design, make small changes and receive approval for printing.
That first guestbook contained 45 images on 30 pages plus front and back cover. I’m now more comfortable designing with 35-40 images. Because of the negative space required for signing area, many spreads feature a single image. Multi-image spreads usually feature a series of 2-3 images. I place my logo and web address at the bottom of the last page and under a single image of the couple on the back cover.
For the guestbook, I want album quality, not a press printed book. Images are better showcased on two-page spreads, and it is easier to write on pages that lay flat. I also want the guestbook to train the couple to understand the value of an album. After all, why have a wonderful book from the engagement and something less from the wedding? I chose Vision Art to produce my mid-range album and selected their 6x8 horizontal format with 15 spreads for my guestbook. That choice has been perfect for price, quality and Vision Art’s ability to deliver within two weeks.
Because the book will be signed, the pages are not laminated. We have tried multiple types of pens with the books. The ones that seem to work best are either very fine Sharpies or gel clicker pens. A photographer on a forum reported gel ink smearing a bit, but I have not seen this. One couple provided multi-colored Sharpies for guests, which made their book look even more fun.
I like to deliver the guestbook on the wedding day before the bride gets dressed. She often shares it with her mother or bridesmaids and we get to capture the moment. The guestbook is then off to either a greeting table for guests before the ceremony or the reception hall. The only negative about making the guestbook available prior to the ceremony is it may cause a traffic jam. At one wedding, the ushers had to remove the guestbook so that the wedding could start on time.
Sometimes the first few guests at the reception have to be educated that the guestbook really is for them to sign. After a few minutes they start spreading the word and the guestbook becomes a focal point for guests to talk about the couple.
The only complaint I have ever received about the guestbook is that guests left too much open space unsigned. I make sure the DJ announces where the couple’s photo guestbook is located. This usually motivates a few additional people to view it and make an entry.
The guest book provides several things for my clients:
• A multi-hour, stress-free engagement session that
demonstrates what to expect from a photojournalist
following them on the wedding day
• Notes from guests that the bride and groom will enjoy
reading rather than a name on a black line
• An appreciation for what an album provides compared
to just ordering a few photos
• A treasured book of images to display and show family
and friends for years
• A priceless reminder of the love they shared before the wedding
• A product they can probably only get from a pro photographer
• A product offering more comprehensive than competitors’
• A product and service that increases the value
and profitability of each wedding contract
• A marketing piece that just about every guest will see
• A marketing piece that couples will show to family and friends for years
• A testament to the couple that I can be their photographer
both before and after their wedding
As I enter the 2009 wedding season in a new city, I am confident my guestbook provides a unique wow factor. Almost no bride or wedding consultant has seen anything similar. Thus I prove that I am ready to deliver more than just pretty pictures from the wedding day.
Karen Dahlquist of HappyFish Design has written more on guestbooks from the designer's perspective at the HappyFish blog: