Isn’t it amazing when you get to watch someone’s success grow over the years? We are often tempted to say, only half jokingly, “don’t forget me when you are a total big shot!” We also like to say “I saw your talent from the very beginning.” That’s how I feel about local photographer, Sarah Rouleau. She was our very first daycare provider, so she’s used to people needing to trust her with our hearts! She touches on this point below, but I want to stress it here that I really believe there may not be better training grounds for a wedding photographer….talk about capturing beauty amidst chaos! I will always treasure the moments she captured during those early years. It was fun to reconnect with Sarah for this feature and I really enjoyed learning about what her journey and what goes on behind the scenes as a photographer!
What was your first camera that made you feel “professional”?
I was very fortunate and was given my first DSLR by my biological mother. Being adopted I had always questioned nature vs. nurture. Not specifically to do with my love of photography, but about my personality, my overall demeanor, my likes and dislikes, etc. I grew up loving photography. Probably more than just loving photography, there was a very strong pull on me towards photography. I have truly adored it since I was a child. When my birth mother and I were reunited 15 years ago after being separated since my birth, I discovered that she was also a photographer and had been her whole life. She gave me my first DSLR and encouraged me to follow my passion. I remember speaking with her on the phone and saying “I want to be a children’s photographer… Just tell me how to work one of those big cameras and I’ll do it!” and of course she explained that it wasn’t that easy and that I had to develop my craft. She’s been a huge supporter of mine. I think being a photographer holds an even more special space in my heart because it was a connection that I shared with her without even knowing it.
What was your first paid gig? What did you find the most challenging through those initial days as a photographer?
My first paid gig was the first wedding that I shot. I definitely ran before I walked….and am incredibly lucky that I didn’t fall on my face! When I first got my DSLR, I practised with my kids and the children that I watched in my home daycare. They were moving targets and the best training around! Then I offered free family shoots on Kijiji. A couple families took me up on it. Their photos were not good, but luckily there weren’t paying and understood I was learning. I was extremely frustrated that my work didn’t look like the other photographers that I followed online. I couldn’t necessarily put my finger on what the problem was, but I knew that my pictures were missing a certain something. All this time I was sharing my work on Facebook. A friend of mine that had seen my new hobby on there asked me to shoot her wedding. I said no immediately. I knew that I was nowhere near where I needed to be skill wise to shoot a wedding. And I wasn’t about to screw up the photos of one of the most important days in my good friends life. Way too much pressure, no way… I wasn’t doing it!! But she was relentless and badgered me. Maybe she saw something in my work that I didn’t? So as a compromise I did engagement photos for them. They were the first couple that I’d ever shot. And I was hooked right away! I loved that you could tell how in love they were just by looking at my photos. And I loved that she was so pleased with her photos. I agreed to shoot their wedding and from that point onward I was a wedding photographer in my soul! When I first posted her sneak peeks, she told me that she couldn’t stop looking at them and that they made her cry. She said that she felt like she could relive her wedding day every time she looked at them and that small statement became my business plan. “Transport couples back to their wedding day through photos that truly tell the story of their day.”
You often have an assistant present, how do you feel that enhances the service for your clients?
All of my wedding clients have the option of adding a second photographer to their wedding photography package. I absolutely love when my couples choose this option because it takes that story telling that I mentioned before to a whole new level. Essentially it’s the same story, but told from two different perspectives. A close up or zoomed in shot, and a wide angle shot of the same scenario tells two different stories. The zoomed in shot is intimate and the focus is solely on the couple and their love. The wide shot shows who was there, shows the expressions and reactions on their family and friends faces. A perfect example of why I love having a second photographer is when the bride is walking down the aisle. The second photographer stays with the bride and captures the last quiet moment between the bride and her parents. I’m at the front of the aisle capturing the bridesmaids walking down the aisle and waiting for the bride’s much anticipated walk. These two events are happening simultaneously and with a second photographer they are both being documented in unison. Since I can’t be in two places at once, having a second photographer is the perfect compromise. I only hire second photographers that I trust and whose style matches mine. I edit their photos along with my own so that they look similar in regards to white balance, exposure, etc. and our photos are arranged in perfect chronological sequence, knitted together so that the story telling is unbroken.
Knowing you personally, I would have to say that your personality is PERFECTLY suited for weddings. I’m sure many a nervous bride has felt calmed by your approach. What do you think photographers need to be aware of in terms of how to act in often chaotic and highly emotional circumstances?
I truly believe that me being calm, and my relaxed personality is one of the biggest gifts/skills/talents/abilities that I can offer my couples. If I’m worked up or panicking, that isn’t going to do anything to help any crazy situation on a wedding day. A lot of my calmness comes from experience. As I start my 10th year of shooting weddings, I learned that everything will always work out. I’ve never had a wedding “not happen” despite many wild and wacky circumstances. That’s not to say that I’m not stressing inside. Like the wedding I shot downtown Kingston on the same day as the last Tragically Hip concert. I was terrified about staying on schedule while 25,000 concert goers made their way to the Market Square, but of course it worked out, and the couple ended up with beautiful photos. Weather is another thing that keeps me up at night, but regardless of what Mother Nature has in store for their wedding day, the photos always happen. I’ve shot wedding photos on Lake Ontario’s waterfront in -40 degrees, in downpours so hard that I can’t even see where I’m driving, and in heat so hot that there were fears that some guests might pass out. But you just go with it. We live in Canada. Equipment failure is another worry of mine, like the time that my camera that was already on it’s last legs finally decided it was time to give up, at the exact moment that the bride was walking down the aisle with her father. Luckily, I shoot with two cameras so I quickly switched to the camera on my other shoulder and didn’t miss the shot. My advice: I would tell other photographers to always be prepared for the worse, and always have back up equipment (even new equipment can malfunction) and if the worse does happen, it is your job to stay calm and not add to the disaster. The last thing a bride needs to do is comfort her wedding photographer on her wedding day. Always remember, this is the happiest day of their lives, and that trumps the fact that it may be the worst shooting experience of your life. Suck it up and take the photos!
Side note: I’d suggest that all couples ask their potential photographer if they bring two cameras with them to weddings.
Take us into the world of editing. After a session, you are dealing with a high volume of images…and likely a high demand of “are you able to send them to us yet??” How did you land on an estimated timeframe that feels both comfortable for you as a busy entrepreneur and mother, as well as for your clients?
On average, I shoot between 6000-10000 images at every wedding. Just the culling or sorting process of going through each photo is time consuming. And then the actual editing is a whole other task to tackle. But fortunately, I’m not a procrastinator and knowing that a couple is waiting for their photos is something that keeps me up at night. Knowing that I have photos sitting on my computer waiting to be edited is like having the weight of the world on my shoulders, so I get the post-processing job done as quickly as possible. And I also understand that the couples spent a long time, sometimes years planning their wedding, and then after the big day they’re anxious for their photos, to see the result of all of their hard work and careful planning. My agreement guarantees that my clients get their photos back within 90 days of their wedding. In all the years I’ve shot weddings I’ve never missed that deadline. And I am usually closer to the 30 day mark. To a couple that has just gotten married 90 days or even 30 days will feel like a lifetime so in the week following the wedding I always post a lot of sneak peeks (and I mean a lot, like 100 photos from each wedding) on my blog and on social media so that they can get a preview of what is to come, and so that they can share their big day with those who couldn’t be there. I hope that these sneak peeks relieve any impatience that they may be feeling.
When I first started my photography business, I also ran a home daycare, so editing was something that I could only do at night, into the early morning, and on the weekends when I wasn’t shooting. Now that I’ve been able to build a success photography business, and my own children are in school full time, I have been fortunate enough to focus my full attention on editing during regular business hours and spend those nights that I used to spend editing with my family.
Do you test out photo ideas with your family?
My boys, Liam and Owen, now ages 13 and 12, were most definitely my first clients and first subjects. When my children were little they couldn’t make a move without me taking their photo. I know that this is easier now with the advancement of cell phone cameras, but 10 plus years ago this wasn’t the case. So having a good reliable camera allowed me to document my boys growing up, with quality photos, not grainy, blurry, iPhone photos.
What is your favourite part of the entire wedding day?
There are so many awesome parts of a wedding day. The getting ready photos are always fun because everyone is excited for what is to come. I love shooting the guys getting ready because they’re usually full of jokes, enjoying some drinks, struggling with their boutonnieres and pocket squares (watching videos on YouTube). I love shooting the girls, and seeing the bridesmaid faces when the bride puts on her dress, or seeing a bride’s father’s eyes well up when he sees his little girl in her wedding gown. I love the ceremony, listening to the advice and wishes from the officiant, watching the mothers of the bride or groom wipe tears away during the ceremony, waiting for the first kiss and sense of ease that immediately comes across a couples face when the ceremony is complete. I love the reception, especially the speeches, hearing funny stories from their childhood. Nothing beats a good maid of honour or best man speech! And of course the dancing, slow and romantic or grooving having a great time. But my absolute favourite is shooting the couples portraits either after the ceremony or before the ceremony if they’ve opted for a first look. I believe that these are the most important photos of the day, and these photos are the reason that I am photographing their wedding. These are the photos that are going to be framed, hung on walls, shown to their children and grandchildren. These photos are the reason behind choosing that particular wedding gown and tux. These photos represent the love the couple felt on this most important day in their lives. These photos document the first day of their life long journey together. These photos are the most important souvenir from the happiest time of their lives. They are the reason I am a wedding photographer.
Tell us about a professional accomplishment, that reminds you why you work so hard?
Professional accomplishments… hmmm. I guess surviving in an industry that is saturated with many many many photographers for 10 years is an accomplishment! This year I will shoot my 175th wedding, although I do like the round number of 200 and can’t wait for that one. I’ve been featured in local and provincial magazines, including having my photo featured on the cover of two different publications. I don’t submit photos to photography contests or to online wedding blogs to be featured. I should but I guess I lack the confidence. I just plug away and get the clients their photos, then move onto the next. I guess my biggest accomplishment is just starting from nothing, being unknown in the wedding industry and building a recognizable name, establishing great relationships with other vendors, surviving years when it seems too busy to even keep up with and surviving the slow years where you wonder why you’re doing this, and most importantly giving my clients beautiful photos.
How do you handle needing the quiet and focus to edit in a home office, with two growing boys under the same roof? It’s certainly a challenge for any home-based business!
I find the biggest struggle for me is when I have to miss something important with my boys, or husband or extended family because I’m shooting a wedding. Weddings typically happen on Saturdays in the summer, and are usually booked at least a year in advance. Family parties, my boys’ sports, and other fun things are also scheduled for Saturdays in the summer and it breaks my heart every time that I’m missing out on special memories that my kids are making. But then I remind myself that it’s important that the boys see me working, bettering my business, being a strong independent female entrepreneur. And they need to learn that when you make a commitment to someone, you keep it. And that sometimes in life you have to miss the good stuff because you have to work. And I know they understand that if I could be there, I absolutely would be… with my camera in hand!