17 Secrets of Wedding Photographers

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Wedding photographers are by your side nearly every moment of your wedding day. They’re snapping away at your most intimate moments: your first glance at the person you plan to be with forever, your smile as you’re finally wed, and your initial step onto that dance floor. But how much do you really know about how they work—and why they’re so expensive?

1. THEY WISH YOU’D ASK FOR THEIR HELP.

Especially when it comes to the timeline for the big day. “I’d add in more time for photos,” says Gina Cristine, owner and photographer with Gina Cristine photography in the Chicago area. Many times, the bride and groom assume the photographers just need 15 minutes for family photos, she says. But those family photos could easily take 30 minutes, because a family member is always missing. “We need to make sure we have enough time, and that we’re not rushed and hectic,” Cristine explains.

2. THEY ALSO WISH YOU ACTUALLY ASKED ABOUT EXPERIENCE …

This sets apart the amateurs from the professionals, Eva Ho, owner and photographer for Eva Ho Photography in Chicago, says. Her perfect question: “How do you deal with XX situation?” Ho explains that since every wedding is unique, you need to find a photographer that’s perfect for you—and asking about experience will help you make that decision. It will also help you understand the reason you’re hiring a professional wedding photographer, rather than someone who just dabbles in photography, for your big day.

3. … AND ABOUT THEIR STYLE.

Jason Brown, owner and photographer of J. Brown Photography in Chicago, says couples always ask about his price and his availability. But he loves it when the conversation turns to his overall style and approach, and they get to know him as an artist. “Then we can understand if we’re a good match,” Brown says. “Not a lot of clients go there, and I wish more clients would ask me about my approach.”

4. FEEL FREE TO ASK WHY THEY CHARGE AS MUCH AS THEY DO.

Sure, wedding photographers may charge a few thousand dollars for what seems like eight hours of work. But they also met with you countless times before the wedding. And do you realize how many times you emailed? Then there’s the editing process. Those photographers put many more hours of work into those pictures than you ever imagined. Also, that camera equipment wasn’t free (and it needs to be upgraded every couple of years). Stacy Able, an Indianapolis-based wedding photographer with Stacy Able Photography, says she loves it when couples ask why she charges so much, because it offers her the opportunity to really explain everything that goes into shooting a wedding.

5. THEY’RE WATCHING YOUR CHEMISTRY.

When the couple first sees each other at their wedding and they relax instantly, it’s a sign that they’re going to last, Cristine says. “They really enjoy the day together.”

“I shoot 20 to 30 weddings a year, and I can tell when a couple has really great chemistry,” Brown says. “It’s when they’re in sync with each other and when they’re fun-loving with each other.” Once in a while, though, there’s the bride and groom who aren’t really into each other, and don’t really hang out at the wedding. That’s a red flag—as is the couple who are worrying incessantly about everything being perfect during their wedding instead of simply relaxing and enjoying their big day, Cristine notes.

6. THEY LOVE THE PHOTO BOOTHS JUST AS MUCH AS YOU DO.

Sure, the quality of the pictures in there may not be totally amazing, but those photo booths are so much fun. And they even help the photographers do their jobs. “During the reception, we go around and take candid shots, but it’s hard for us to get a group shot because people are dancing,” Cristine says. “We like to know that the photo booths are there.”

7. HOWEVER, THEY DON’T LOVE THOSE TABLE SHOTS.

Going from table to table to interrupt your dinner and make you pose for a photo is the worst part of shooting a wedding, Ho says.

8. WHEN IT’S TIME TO POSE, LOOK AT THEM, NOT AT ANYONE ELSE.

At weddings these days, everyone is taking pictures with their phones, and it’s getting harder and harder to compete for the attention of the bride and groom. If wedding photographers don’t get those key shots, however, they’ve failed at their jobs. So look at them when they’ve got the cameras up, not at the phones.

9. ONCE THE WEDDING IS OVER, THEY AREN’T DONE.

Being a wedding photographer is a full-time job, and photographers work nearly every day of the week, writes photographer Lauren Lim on PhotographyConcentrate.com, a site dedicated to all things photography. When not actually shooting weddings, wedding photographers are editing photos, meeting with clients, creating photos, sending invoices, and marketing their business. And because it is a business, after all, they’re also dealing with the accounting end of things.

“You are now the bookkeeper, the accountant, the marketing department, the graphic designer, the customer service department, the secretary, and pretty much any other title you can think of,” Lim writes. “There’s a dangerous myth that floats around suggesting that [wedding photographers] only have to work one day of the week and they make tons of cash.”

In reality, wedding photographers work a normal five-day week, plus meetings and engagement shoots in the evenings, and weddings on weekends. They are some of the hardest working people you’ll ever meet.

10. PHOTOSHOPPING ISN’T EASY.

Many people will ask photographers to make them skinnier, taller, younger—and to add people into photos, Able says. But, she explains, “People do not realize what that entails.” Yes, she can do that. Just not for every photo.

11. FORGET TRYING TO MAKE IT LOOK LIKE IT DOES ON PINTEREST.

Pinterest is getting really annoying to wedding photographers, and they’re sick of trying to re-create what you saw there. Spoiler alert: It never looks like the perfect shot you saw on there. Chances are, that was a once-in-a-lifetime shot or a freak of nature. That photographer got lucky because their groomsman happened to be an Olympic gymnast and could be flipped upside down, or something. Not going to happen at your wedding.

12. IT’S HARD TO PAY THE BILLS.

Since weddings are seasonal—most people get married between May and September— many wedding photographers find themselves out of work from October to April, according to PhotographyConcentrate.com. “No surprise that that makes it difficult to pay the bills,” Lim writes. “You can either try to make enough in the wedding season to get yourself through the rest of the year, or find ways to keep bringing in money when the weddings stop.” That may include shooting photos for holiday cards and taking pictures for birthday parties.

13. THEY USE A BLEND OF PHOTOGRAPHY STYLES.

Wedding photography is a blend of different types of photography—often used all at the same event. “We’re a blend of a product photographer, a documentary photographer, and fashion photographer,” Brown says. Able agrees, saying she might use landscape photography, portrait photography, and even macro photography to capture a wedding.

14. STAYING FOCUSED IS KEY.

Wedding photographers have to stay mentally and creatively sharp for a really long time, Brown says. Able notes that they also deal with a multitude of challenges, including weather that can change in an instant and drastically affect lighting. “You have to be skilled at adjusting quickly on the fly,” she notes. And, she adds, the pressure is heightened because you have limited time to capture countless moments.

15. SOMETIMES, THAT’S SCARY.

“Each wedding may have a completely different dynamic, and you do not know what you are walking into,” Able says. Sometimes, you can step into a very tense situation, and other times, the mood might be jovial revelry. You never know. “There is a certain level of stage fright as you have to be on your best game for 12 hours,” she says. “Every work day for us is someone’s biggest day of their lives.”

16. THEY DON’T LIKE COPYING OTHER PHOTOGRAPHERS.

Lori Sapio, photographer with Lori K Sapio Photography in Chicago, hates hearing the dreaded question: “Can you make my pictures look like …” That’s because she has her own style and her own touch, she says. “They usually want images they like re-created exactly,” Sapio explains. “[But] each photographer has their own style and voice and most, like myself, tend to shy away from recent trends and approach each wedding in a unique manner.”

17. WHEN IT’S OVER, STOP BUGGING THEM FOR THE PICTURES.

Ask them once, and then wait for the process to happen. Your photographer should explain the process to you, and most will take about 4 to 6 weeks, Brown says. “Trust the process,” he says. Now that he’s married himself, Brown understands how emotional you are and how excited you are to see those photos. But the photographer needs time to edit them, and if you keep bugging him, it gets annoying.

All images via iStock.

11 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of Holiday Window Display Designers

iStock.com/andykazie
iStock.com/andykazie

For decades, lavish holiday window displays at department stores have been one of the first signs of the season. But have you ever wondered how the designers behind the windows create those enchanting arrangements? Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at everything that goes into making the holiday windows so magical at this time of year—from the best way to arrange lights to the pre-season all-nighters.

1. Every holiday window has a purpose.

The holiday windows are supposed to make you feel something, says Jacques Rosas, New York-based artist, founder, and CEO of Jacques Rosas, which does holiday window installations in stores such as Godiva, Elizabeth Arden, and Bed, Bath & Beyond. Whenever Rosas is working on a window, he asks about the personality of the store, what they’re imagining, favorite decorations, traditions, and more—all starting with what they sell. “I try to pull settings that have nostalgia for them,” Rosas says. “I think the magical part is the nostalgia.” He loves the feel of an old-fashioned Christmas—last year, he decked out one store window with handmade stockings, old ornaments, and a real train.

2. You won’t see many Christmas trees in the store windows.

A Macy's 2007 holiday window display.
A Macy's 2007 holiday window display.
Wally Gobetz, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 (cropped)

At least not any real Christmas trees, Rosas says. Usually, the windows are hot, dry places, so any live trees would dry out and die. They could also catch fire, so a lot of the newer buildings won’t use them even if they could create the right environmental conditions. “We tend to use a lot of fake stuff,” Rosas says.

3. You also won’t see any products.

While store windows throughout the year are supposed to sell products, this time of year is all about the entertainment, says David Spaeth, CEO of Spaeth Design, which does holiday windows for Lord & Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale’s, Tiffany & Co. and Bergdorf Goodman. Sure, you may see a product or two in some of the windows (it’s not a hard-and-fast rule), but this is the time to seduce customers with gorgeous snowflakes or pretty (fake) trees instead of fantastic outfits.

4. But you will see lights.

A Bloomingdale's 2008 holiday window
A Bloomingdale's 2008 holiday window
Wally Gobetz, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 (cropped)

Lights are what draws customers to the windows, and they can really make the displays pop. But you’d be surprised at how few lights will make a big splash, Rosas says. “There’s not a lot of lights—that’s a big mistake,” he says. "If you do too many, the reflection will play tricks on the viewer, and you won’t actually be able to see anything but lights.” Instead, he uses a few perfectly placed lights that bounce off each other. Rosas also tends to use plenty of wood composite, fiberglass, bark, paper, and plastic to create his scenes. But don't be surprised to spot other wacky items in holiday store windows, like Lite-Brite (yes, the retro toy), coffee stirrers, and even taxidermy. Anything goes when it comes to creating the perfect holiday window.

5. They plan ahead.

When the holidays start dying down, these designers are just getting started on the following year, says Michael Bednark, owner of Bednark Studio, a Brooklyn-based fabrication studio that is responsible for some of the Macy’s holiday windows throughout the country. Design talks start in January, and by March, the ideas are set. It takes two more months to figure out rendering, and the summer months are for fabrication (building the physical elements). Installation starts even before Halloween—by about mid-October, Bednark says.

6. They have working habits comparable to vampires.

Ever wonder how holiday windows pop up like magic? That’s because the artists work through the night to put them up so that they’ll appear in the morning. Installation for the simpler windows usually takes six to eight hours, Rosas says. “We have to be like wizards,” he explains.

7. Some windows can take weeks to install.

A Bergdorf Goodman holiday window in 2014
A Bergdorf Goodman holiday window in 2014
iStock.com/LukeAbrahams

A regular window display is an overnight job, but the team working on the Macy’s windows pre-builds them inside the shop. There’s a fake window inside every single Macy’s store, filled with the entire holiday window display. “We pre-build inside the shop so we can make sure that everything fits,” Bednark says. The pre-build takes about four weeks. If it’s a go, it’s moved into the regular window, which takes three weeks.

8. To make it look perfect, the artists touch every light.

The reason store windows look amazing while your holiday display might look just passable is because these designers really pay attention to the details. “When you decorate a tree, or you’re doing your lights and everything, the secret to really nice displays is to touch and adjust each branch, each light, and position everything as if everything was its own individual thing,” Rosas says. “That’s the secret to styling.”

9. When the season is over, the displays are usually tossed.

Some stores will re-use the decorations in-house, but many will toss them because the décor is so unique. Basically, they don’t want to wear the same outfit two days in a row, Spaeth explains.

10. The holidays aren’t their only busy season.

People love holiday store windows, and they’re great for business. But these artists are busy year-round, Rosas says. In addition to doing store window displays for every season, they also decorate show rooms, do trade show displays, and even create sets for TV shows and product launches. In Rosas’s studio, they have two 7500-square-foot spaces, and they use these for creating fake store windows or for marketing experiences. For example, a yogurt company may hire Rosas to use that studio to build an entire yogurt set as a backdrop for a yogurt product launch. The yogurt company would then invite members of the media to the room, where they’d take pictures and do interviews. “We try to inspire people to write about [the company] there,” Rosas says.

11. If you want to replicate the look, get out your checkbook.

A Bergdorf Goodman 2014 holiday window
A Bergdorf Goodman 2014 holiday window
iStock.com/LukeAbrahams

To hire a professional display artist to do your holiday windows, expect to pay anywhere from $40,000 to $100,000 per window, depending on the number of details and amount of work it will take, Bednark says. In other words, making this kind of magic doesn't come cheap.

A version of this story first ran in 2016.

12 Secrets of Dollar Store Employees

A dollar store in Brooklyn
A dollar store in Brooklyn
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Discount retailers have probably been around as long as commerce itself, but it wasn't until the 1950s that a string of stores began popping up in the South that shared a common element: Everything they sold was dirt-cheap. In recent years, the country has experienced a wave of frugal storefronts selling everything from stationary to seafood. Stores like Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, Dollar General, and a rash of independently owned stores catering to the budget-conscious now outnumber Starbucks and McDonald's in the U.S.

To get a better sense of the activity that surrounds these wallet-friendly outlets, Mental Floss spoke to three employees of Dollar Tree. Here’s what they had to say about stocking their shelves, fanatical customers, and why they spend so much time filling up balloons.

1. Paper goods are the best deal in stores.

You can find practically anything at dollar stores, including frozen food (more on that in a moment), toys, and cleaning products. Assortments can vary widely by store and by franchise, but according to Brenda, the store manager of a Dollar Tree in the Midwest, customers get the best deal sticking with paper products. At least, that's what employees buy most frequently. “The items that my employees and I purchase at Dollar Tree for value would definitely be toilet paper, paper towels, birthday cards, candy, balloons, plastic ware, paper plates, envelopes, stationary products, and the daily newspaper,” she says. At her store, toilet paper and the local newspaper are the top sellers. While the former is a pretty obvious necessity, newspapers at her location are typically cheaper than in other stores; the Sunday edition in particular is up to two or three dollars cheaper. (Like a lot of their inventory, the chain likely gets a tremendous discount for buying the papers in bulk.)

2. They know you won't be in the store for too long.

The exterior of a Dollar Tree store is shown from a low angle
Joe Raedle, Getty Images

Dollar stores typically have little signage, few frills, and a small real estate footprint (Dollar General's is around 7300 square feet, or one-tenth the size of a Walmart). But having limited space with easily accessible items is by design—the average shopping trip for a Dollar General store is just 10 minutes. “Planning the store around fast trips is one good way to improve the fast experience many customers are looking for, while also keeping sales high by allowing customers to see many products,” says Hank, an assistant Dollar Tree store manager in Canada. Customers “tend to want to get in and out fast. They are often busy and have other plans for the day and don't want to spend too much time wandering the store.”

3. They want customers to feel like they’re on a treasure hunt.

According to Moody’s, an earnings and credit analysis firm, Dollar General rotates its inventory on a regular basis to make customers feel like they need to buy items now in case they’re not around later—perpetuating what it calls a "treasure hunt" feel. That helps the stores compete with online retailers like Amazon, which typically maintains stock of popular products and may not provoke the same sense of urgency in buyers.

Dollar Tree’s approach is slightly different. While new inventory does arrive from suppliers, it’s not as frequently. “When we are doing the truck we get really excited when we see a new product,” Brenda says. “We only see maybe 10 to 15 new things per week out of 1500 items that are coming off of the truck, so when we get something new we immediately cut open the box and examine it.”

4. They catch a lot of shoplifters.

You can walk out of dollar stores with an armful of goods for $20, $10, or less, but that still doesn’t deter people from swiping even the cheapest targets. “The shoplifting is ridiculously rampant,” Brenda says. “We catch someone just about every day.”

Oddly enough, the price may help facilitate the theft. “The thing with the low prices is that there is no real deterrent from people stealing since none of the products have any security around them," Brenda says.

5. They recommend you skip the steak.

A steak sits on a grill
A steak purchased somewhere other than a dollar store.
iStock.com/NightAndDayImages

Shopping for frozen foods at the discount chains can be hit or miss. Some items might be OK: “I’ve had the little pie slices, the sausage and pancake bites, and the Cinnabon bites are amazing,” Brenda says. “The frozen dinners are good as well. People also love the frozen vegetables and fruit.”

But when it comes to unprocessed food, like meat or seafood, you should probably consider a visit to the local grocer instead. “I don’t eat any of the frozen fish or rib eyes because I don’t trust frozen seafood or meat that costs a dollar,” she says.

Nate, a Dollar Tree manager in Minnesota, agrees. “I would never buy the steak,” he says. “I’ve heard from more than one person that it doesn’t cook [well] and it feels like rubber.” In 2016, television affiliate WCPO in Cincinnati attempted a taste test, serving up the four-ounce $1 ribeye along with a butcher's and supermarket cut to some area firefighters. Among the responses: "I guess it was meat" and "It's not terrible."

6. Other stores use them to stock up.

When most everything is a dollar, it’s easy to see why discount chains find themselves acting as a warehouse for local small businesses. Hank says that he’s observed independent proprietors coming in to stock up on items. “There is one man who runs a convenience store and buys boxes of chocolate bars and bottles of soda,” he says. “We also get plenty of event organizers buying supplies in bulk, sometimes hundreds of items at a time.”

7. They dread the sight of Hot Wheels toy cars.

A Hot Wheels toy car is pictured
iStock.com/CTRPhotos

While many toys at dollar store locations are of suspect quality, there’s at least one bit of inventory that causes a lot of excitement in aisles. “We get a lot of the infamous 'Hot Wheels Hunters,'” Nate says, referring to collectors of the popular die-cast toy car line from Mattel. “I guess they scour the internet and find out when stores are getting shipments. I’ve had people show up a day after my 2000-piece truck [arrives] and demand I go find the one box of Hot Wheels I got so they can be the first to buy them.”

If they’re polite, Nate will try to accommodate them. Some of the nicer Hot Wheels fans even deputize themselves as de facto employees. “The one guy that is a frequent visitor will take the boxes I have and stock them neatly on the shelves while he looks for what he wants," Nate says.

8. They sell pregnancy tests. And they’re reliable.

A home pregnancy test shows a positive result
iStock.com/nazdravie

If you’re wary of the accuracy of a home pregnancy test kit that costs $1, well, you probably should be. But according to Nate, his store stocks a reliable brand. “The pregnancy tests we sell are the same ones used in most hospitals,” he says. Most all pregnancy tests detect a hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin, or hCG, which is produced during pregnancy. More expensive tests can detect lower levels earlier in a pregnancy, while cheaper tests—like the ones in dollar stores—might not register a positive until a woman is a little further along.

But they're still effective. And according to Brenda and Nate, they're also among the most-stolen items in their stores.

9. Balloons keep them aloft.

Most Dollar Tree and many other dollar store locations have a counter devoted to mylar balloons intended for birthday parties and other events. That’s because the low cost and easy storage of the un-inflated balloons makes them a very profitable endeavor. “Balloons do a ton of business for Dollar Tree,” Brenda says. “A ton. Especially for big events.”

In a given week, her store might sell 150 to 200 balloons: “If you think about it, every day is someone’s birthday, baby shower, graduation, or anniversary.”

10. They might warn you away from a bad deal.

Shoppers browse the aisles of a dollar store
Spencer Platt, Getty Images

If you’re on the fence about whether or not a dollar purchase is worthwhile, you can always ask an employee. They might tell you if it’s worth the cash. “I know that the quality of our products is not always the best and I obviously am not going to constantly bring this up to customers, but I am not afraid to give them a bit of heads up when I know a certain item is especially poor, or could be found much cheaper at a competitor,” Hank says. “I know that the company will survive without those couple sales, and I prefer to make customers happy over adding a few more dollars to the wallet of the company.”

11. The store manager is often overworked.

Dollar Tree, Dollar General, and other chains have come under fire in recent years for tasking store managers with a lot of responsibility in order to keep the costs of staffing low. According to Nate, that checks out. “In my district they are trial-running having the stores unload the semi-trucks instead of the drivers," he says. "But they won’t give us the hours to add an extra guy, which means I’m the manager on duty while being in the back of a semi throwing 1800 cases."

12. They can’t keep Donald Duck on the shelves.

Bottles of Donald Duck orange juice line a store shelf
Ted Eytan, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

In stores filled with a lot of unfamiliar brands, customers like to see one recognizable face: Donald Duck’s. The Disney character is front and center on Dollar Tree’s orange juice, and his smiling bill is one of the most popular items in the stores. (The drink is produced by Citrus World, which owns the Florida’s Natural label and licenses the Donald imagery and name from Disney.) “The Donald Duck orange juice is our third most-sold item,” Brenda says. “To be honest, I’m not sure why it’s so popular. A lot of people stop at our store on the way to work or wherever, so it’s kind of a quick pick-up.”

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