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choosing your wedding vendors ~ thoughts on how not to get completely screwed over on your wedding day ~ tulsa oklahoma wedding photographer

I was a six year old fat kid.


I know. Hard to believe now, right? *flex*


I was a six year old fat kid that liked ice cream. 

I was a six year old fat kid that liked ice cream and grew up fairly poor. 

I was a six year old fat kid that liked ice cream, grew up fairly poor, and somehow had found myself in possession of a coupon for a free, yes free, ice cream cone from McDonald’s. I had won the fat kid lottery. I’m not sure how many days it took for me to convince my mother to actually take my pudgy posterior to McDonald’s to redeem said coupon, but I knew it was too long. 

There was an ice cream cone waiting for me. It was mine. It was free. 

Then, at long last, the glorious day came. We were going to McDonald’s! During the entire ride there, I envisioned it. My ice cream cone. Like a slow motion movie sequence, I would walk in, heads would turn, people would stand up and start cheering, I would raise a pudgy hand and smile, my eyes disappearing into jolly cheeks, and acknowledge all of my fans as I waddled happily towards the counter, where I, Brett Birdsong, would receive this highest honor, this frozen delicacy of awesomeness, this McGift from the McGods.


My  free ice cream cone. 


We arrived. We were at the counter. No one stood up and cheered when I walked in. Oh well, perhaps they didn’t realize who I was. That’s ok, my free ice cream cone was coming. Suckers. I handed the McClerk my McCoupon and waited……….and waited…….and then, in a moment frozen forever into my six year old brain, my dreams were shattered more violently than Miley Cyrus’s reputation after the VMA’s. 


What I was being handed couldn’t even qualify as an ice cream cone in the weakest definition of the word. I’m not even sure how or why they made ice cream cones that small, but at best, the cone and the mouse fart of ice cream on top of it were a combined total of three inches tall. If that. 

And I stared at it. Then at the McDestroyer of Hopes and Dreams that was handing it to me. Then at the microscopic ice cream cone again. 

And with disappointed little kid tears forming,  I turned around without saying a word and I walked out. No ice cream cone. No parades. My first harsh lesson of what you’re promised in life isn’t always what you get.


For the record, my mother took me to get a fat kid approved ice cream cone after that. Thanks, mom. 


Let me pause here and say that if you’re in a hurry, just looking for pretty photos, or need to pee, skip this blog and come back to it. Scroll down and look at pretty pictures and read funny ramblings.

But for those of you that are about to drop thousands of dollars on the biggest day of your life, grab something to write with and take notes. There are a lot of people promising free ice cream cones in life, the wedding industry included, and I’m going to try my best to equip your BS detectors to be aware of it. 

See, when it’s just you and your sweetheart, prancing through life in boyfriend and girlfriend mode, you’re under the radar of the wedding industry. You’re potential customers. But providing one of you doesn’t completely soil the linens relationship-wise, at least until after the wedding, you’re probably going to get engaged at some point. And when that happens, you suddenly become very, very interesting to a lot of people that want nothing more than to completely screw you over, take your money, and laugh all the way to the bank. Are all wedding vendors like that? No, of course not. But as disgusting as it is, a lot of really shady wedding vendors have figured out that there’s money to be made off of couples that have absolutely no idea what to avoid once they start planning their wedding. And you, the happy couple, won’t realize that until it’s too late. 

So for those of you that just got engaged over the holidays, and to anyone that’s planning a wedding, I asked some of my favorite vendors their ideas on things to ask, look for, and be careful of when looking at specific categories of wedding vendors. Also, I picked up some advice from past brides on things they wish they’d known before their wedding. All of this is just a general idea on where to start. If you go into this blindly, you have a really good chance of getting screwed over, and regardless of whether I shoot your wedding or ever even meet you, that’s something I don’t want to happen.



This area is near and dear to me. Go figure. 

When you’re looking for a photographer, ask to see entire wedding galleries. Not just a couple of really cool shots, but the entire wedding from start to finish. Ask to see several. Otherwise the photographer you’re looking at that’s super duper awesome at warm and fuzzy sunset pictures in a field on a couch may be freaking the heck out at your dimly lit, indoor reception. 

If you’re looking at a studio that has more than one photographer working there, ask which photographer will be shooting your wedding. Ask to see work specifically from that photographer. What you don’t want is to be shown decent work from someone that works there, and then have Timmy the Intern show up at your wedding, all giddy and excited that someone finally let him go out on his own. And trust me, Timmy the Intern hasn’t shot enough weddings to screw up enough to realize what not to do at your wedding. If you have one big studio with lots of interns, that studio gets to shoot a lot of weddings per weekend. That’s awesome for them financially. What’s not awesome is if their photographers have absolutely no business being behind a camera at a wedding. If you can’t get a definitive answer on who will be at your wedding and what their work looks like, run. Run like the wind. 

There are typically two business styles for wedding photographers. One is to charge a minimal price up front, then you’re required to pay for your photos after the wedding. The other is to charge a higher price up front, then all of your photos are included on a DVD or a USB drive and come with a release form that allows you to basically do whatever you want with your photos. Now, I’m not going to argue for or against either business model. Both work. Both produce happy clients. But what you need to ask is if you DO get your images after the wedding, are you required to pay for images past a certain size. As in, sure you get all your photos in an 8×10 size, but are you going to have to pay big bucks to get files bigger than that? Ask questions. Ask lots of questions. If I’m about to drop $5,000.00 for a product or service, you can bet your sweet bippy I’m going to know what I’m getting into. 

If the photographer you’re looking at charges hourly fees, ask what the cost is per hour when your wedding goes longer than it’s supposed to. And here’s a secret, few weddings go exactly as planned in regards to time. When that happens, you need to know how many hundreds of dollars per hour you’re going to be paying for the photographer to stick around. If they have hourly packages, i.e. 4 hours, 6 hours, etc, decide on the package you think you need and book the package above that. Paying for extra time up front will almost always be cheaper than paying for it on your wedding day.

Something I can’t stress enough is if your wedding photographer is even remotely good at what they do, they’re booking weddings up to a year and a half in advance. It’s not a high pressure sales technique. Good photographers shoot weddings locally, all across the U.S, and around the world. What happens is that guests and family at those weddings talk to their friends, who then want that photographer. Multiply that times hundreds of weddings, and you’ve got one really freakin’ in-demand photographer. Which is great for us. When it’s not great is when you’re wanting a specific wedding vendor that 6 other brides in 3 different states who have your exact wedding date want as well. We book on a first come, first serve basis. If you find a wedding vendor that you absolutely must have and your date is still open, beg, steal, borrow whatever you need to in order to at least get your date held. 

If you have any doubts whatsoever about a photographer, ask for references. Then Facebook stalk those references, whatever you have to do, to find out if they’re actually clients or just BFF’s of the photographer. Then call local wedding vendors and ask about the photographer. While there are a lot of really solid, great photographers out there that will bend over backwards to create awesome photos for you, there’s also an ever-growing number of “Oh look, I got a camera for Christmas, now I’m a photographer, WHEEE!”, and you’re not going to know that until it’s too late to do anything about it. 

That was me on my soapbox. 


The following are responses I got from vendors I dearly love working with. Questions to ask, thoughts, and tips ~


Venues ~ Erin Shoults ~ Destin Bay House ~ Destin, Florida –

Dear Future Bride and Groom, 

 First of all, congratulations! The next chapter of your life (engagement) is a very special one. It is also a very stressful one. To the grooms: brace yourselves, plan on a few nights out with the boys, drinking scotch, smoking cigars, etc. To the brides: Yoga. And pedicures. And mimosas. And the beach. 
 Here’s a few tips to help you stay on top of things:
 1. Not to fluff our vendor feathers, but if vendors are any good there is some intense competition between brides when it comes to availability. If you like the vendor, book the vendor. DON’T WAIT because you will LOSE your date.
 2. If a vendor, especially a venue, has a dozen “up-charges” and extra fees to use the bathrooms, toilet paper, or a trash can, there are probably better vendors out there.
3. Don’t get discouraged. You should get warm fuzzies when working with all of us wedding “professionals.” We are here to make your life easier! If you start working with a vendor who is making this process more challenging, keep looking for a different vendor!
Remember to breathe, follow a wedding checklist, and try to enjoy this time with your loved ones… your engagement will fly by!
Looking forward to working with you.


DJ’s Vaughn VanAmburg DJ ~ Panama City Beach, Florida –

First and foremost, pick a Dj you think you can have fun with! Ditch the “playlist and package” wedding and go with a personable, professional DJ who knows the business and works with professional equipment! You can’t change your flowers, venue, groom, cake, etc day of the event, but a skilled Dj can change your whole event mood in a matter of seconds! Choose a Dj you can meet with well before the event and remember the 5 P’s- Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance!

* Hey. It’s me. The rule that applies to studios with more than one photographer applies to DJ’s as well. If you can’t get a guarantee on what specific DJ will show up at your wedding and meet with him or her well before your wedding, run. Run like the wind. 


Cakes ~ Kelley Prather ~ Kelley Kakes ~ Denver, Colorado – 

Alrighty… *flexing fingers*

Some things that bakers want you all to know-

1-Bakers (and probably all wedding vendors) have a love-hate relationship with Pinterest. If utilized correctly, your Pinterest board can be a fabulous way for your baker to understand the look you’re going for. However, if you come at them with 348 cake photos, you have just made things quite… complicated. Be realistic and pick your favorite dozen. Delete the rest.

2-Make sure the cake table and area behind the cake table is nice looking and well lit. Nothing says yuck like a giant “Exit Only” sign on the wall behind you, or a dingy table stuck next to the kitchen door.

3- Fake cake vs. real cake. Unless you are either renting an already completed fake cake, or just want plain icing on the sides, this really isn’t a money saver. The same amount of time and labor goes in to making those fake layers look just like real cake, as it does not come out of the shipping box already decorated.

4-If your cake samples are really cold when served to you, or even slightly frozen, be concerned. Ask how many cakes are delivered on average, and how does the bakery keep them fresh prior to delivery? Frozen cake is gross, and a huge pain in the rear for your caterers to try to saw through. Cake tastes best at room temp, or just slightly cool.

5-Leave the cupcakes for the kid party. Your wedding cake is a pretty big part of the reception. While you’re off having your photos done, your guests are wandering around and checking out the cake. Nothing says, “Meh” like a tower of cupcakes.

I may have gotten a little carried away….


Videography ~ Rick and Sarah Pendergraft ~ PenWeddings~ Tulsa, Oklahoma –

All wedding films are not created equally, and far too often couples try to compare videographers with these questions. 1) How many cameras will you shoot with?  2) How long will my video be?

Trust me when I say that while these questions are not irrelevant, they are definitely not the best way to gauge which wedding filmmaker is right for you.  If you put 20 cameras in the hands of a bad videographer, you will get a bad video, period.  And if you have a 5-hour long wedding video it will be boring, period.  Heck, I’ve seen 30-minute wedding videos that put me to sleep because they were poorly done.  So here are my two biggest tips for choosing a wedding filmmaker.

1.  Research and understand the different styles and end product options, and be sure you know what your final wedding video will be.  This is not as easy as you might think.  Many wedding videographers can produce a decent 3-5 minute highlight and throw it on their website to get your attention, but their full films, whether they be 10 minutes or 30 minutes in length, are severely lacking in quality and creativity.  In the photography world, while there are many different styles, an 8×10 is still an 8×10.  A 20 page album is a 20 page album, no matter who you hire.  But in the video world, one person’s “Feature Film” may be 20-minutes long (as ours is) but another person’s “Feature Film” may be 2-hours long.  This is likely because one person is putting everything together in a row, exactly as it occurred in real life, with little to no creative editing. The other person is doing what’s called “time shifting” and using music and toasts and vows and everything else that happened throughout the day to weave together a compelling film you’ll actually want to watch more than once in your life.  In addition, some people who do these creative films also include, as separate chapters, your full ceremony, toasts and first dance exactly as they happened (which we do).  But others require you to pay more for your ceremony.  Yes, you read that right, many videographers charge extra to provide you with your ceremony.  Also, some videographers don’t use any natural sound at all.  As in, your vows? Not gonna hear them.  Those sweet toasts at your reception that made you cry? Nope, nothing to listen to at all.  Just music. That’s it.  And this kills me!  And while some people don’t intentionally choose to not use audio from the wedding day, some don’t know how to properly capture it so it’s worthless anyway.  Trust me, that camera in the back of the church will NOT pick up the audio of your vows.  We use multiple types of audio recorders throughout the day to make sure you can hear these words you’ll want to cherish forever.  So, long story short (hahahaha), watch lots of samples and make sure you know exactly what the end product will look like.  Otherwise you could be in for an unpleasant surprise.

2.  Do not hire a videographer (or photographer for that matter) off of reputation and referrals alone.  Don’t get me wrong, we get a lot of our business from referrals and I love that!  But when someone contacts us, one of the first questions I ask is “which clips on our site appealed to you the most?”  This not only gives me insight into the couple’s personality, it also lets me know they actually do like our work!  If their answer is, “we’ve not looked at anything yet, we just found you online” or “oh we just got your name from so-and-so” I immediately tell them to please watch some of our films, and even the films of other videographers, because I want to make sure they connect with our style and feel it is the best fit for them.  Time after time I’ve seen couples book a photographer or videographer off referrals and reputation without looking at their work and comparing it to others, and they end up disappointed.  There are a lot of creative individuals out there who keep working well past the point of burnout, and their product is less than the stellar work it used to be, but they continue to get business just because at one point in time they made a name for themselves.  Reputation and referrals are great, you just need to be sure to look at their work and compare it with others to make sure it really is what you’re looking for.   My belief is that the work is what you should be attracted to first and foremost, and the referrals/reputation are then what solidify whether it’s a good vendor to work with who plays well with others.


* Hey. It’s me again. Videographers and photographers have either a deep and crazy lovefest of a working relationship, or they want to throat-punch each other and bury the bodies behind the reception hall. If you don’t have a professional, completely solid videographer team, you’ll have wedding photos with the videographers 3 inches from your faces in most shots. Great videographers and photographers do this weird sort of dance around each other at weddings. We’ve learned to give each other space when we need it, let each other get the shots we need, and it all works in unison to create a big bunch of awesomeness for your wedding. But if you get Bubba Ray Jr and his Fancy Video Camera, I’m going to spend your wedding wanting to do unspeakable things to him and his camera, because he’ll be in way too many shots. It happens. A lot. 


Makeup ~Ashlee Bivins ~ Ashlee Bivins Makeup Artist ~ Tulsa, Oklahoma –

I love weddings.  I am always so flattered when a bride books me to do their makeup and be a part of such a special day.  I hate when I hear a bride was unhappy with their makeup artist, so here’s my do-not-get-screwed-by-a-makeup-artist rant…
Most importantly, the way you look on your wedding day is priceless.  Makeup artists who are professionals price their services accordingly, they want you feel and look priceless.  Schedule a trial, do not blindly book a makeup artist- they are in charge of your wedding day face!  A trial is usually a lower rate than wedding day makeup,and totally worth it.  Try to schedule this on the day you are taking engagements or bridals. Bigger bang for your buck. After your trial you will know if your makeup artist is priceless.
You want airbrush.  Your photographer wants you to want airbrush.  Some artists charge extra for this, so ask prior to booking.  
Give the artist as many details regarding your timeline that will affect the getting ready process. Bridesmaids brunch, when the venue will let your party arrive, bridal party member flying in to town, etc. Most makeup artists book more than one wedding per day so they need to know how to accommodate your party so they can make their own timeline.  
Ask your other venders if they have worked with your artist, most importantly, your photographer.   
A professional makeup artist will use professional products, ask what they use prior to booking. 
Ask to see their website, if it looks cheap, thrown together and only showcases a few photos, run.
Above all, make sure your artist will come on location to your venue, hotel, home, wherever you are getting ready.  The last thing you want to be doing on your wedding day is rushing out of the mall after going to the makeup counter on a Saturday.
Do not settle, be picky, this is YOUR day!  


And lastly, a few thoughts from some of my brides. I asked them to share thoughts on something they wish they’d known before the wedding that they know now. 


Leah Foster

Things I wish I knew sooner, 

I wish I knew that there’s a difference between what I like on Pinterest and what I actually want for MY wedding. Use it for tips at the beginning and then walk away. Otherwise for all your DIY labor, you’ll have the same twine overloaded wedding as every other 20 something bride.

I wish I realized sooner that vendors tend to work together a lot, so find ones that actually enjoy working together. If they’re friends, you’ve hit the jackpot. That will tell you more about them than their Wedding Wire review. Speaking of, I wish I realized that Wedding Wire and sites like that only show you sponsored venues. Get out in our area and drive around. And NEVER pick something without seeing it first. I was so sure of one venue until I discovered it was about 12 feet from the interstate and construction and overpriced.


Harmony Williams ~

I wish I would have:
Realized that it is just one day… it beautifully but with grace and understanding. (and a little less obsessiveness)
Not had a friend video record the wedding….it didn’t turn out. I should have paid a professional not relied on friends/family.
Things I’m thankful I did:
Picked a classic style…our photos look timeless.
Invested in a great photographer…our memories are remembered beautifully forever.
Jaimie Kennedy ~
Just because you hire a wedding planner does not mean you hire an omnipresent, gospel-speaking god among men. Research your vendors (duh) and make sure if you pay $2000 for flowers that you get the best flowers you’ve ever seen, rather than tiny bouquets and 6 lilies in a giant vase.
[I just feel the need to elaborate on that statement. I did love my flowers and don’t know anything about florals. But we paid over $2000 for them and I seriously expected wayyyy more. They looked fabulous, but at $65 a bouquet for my bridesmaids, I thought they’d be bigger and stuff.]
And $30 a head for make up means that you’re getting $30 worth of product and service. When it’s your wedding day, you wanna look like a @#%$^[email protected] princess. If you could have done your make up better yourself, it was not a good deal.
Also, your photographer is worth spending a #$%# ton of money on because those are your forever memories. He/she will by far be the most important vendor in your arsenal.
Your wedding day can be one of the most incredible days of your life. And it should be. But after seeing time and again really sweet couples screwed over by things that could’ve been prevented by knowing what questions to ask and what to look out for, I wanted to write this blog post. It’s not perfect and it’s long winded, but if it helps even one couple avoid some common traps, scams, and mistakes that happen all too frequently in the wedding world, it’s completely worth it. 
Now I want ice cream. 




  • Kai - I just wanted to say that I absolutely love this post! I will be passing it along to as many fellow brides as I can. I wish you were in Australia because you sound like an amazing photographer!ReplyCancel

  • Amy B - I wish you would have posted this a bazillion years ago (okay 2 1/2)!!! This is so useful!!ReplyCancel

  • Jennifer Van Elk - I can’t believe I found your name through a forum on the I’m so glad I said Hi because your post are always so enjoyable to read. If you are ever in the Indy area, get a hold of me! All the best!ReplyCancel

  • Jordan M - Love your work and LOVE everything you said! what is your advice to someone who enjoys shooting weddings, but has only done a handful as a 2nd shooter and done a few on her own? I am good with the camera and understand the technicalities of the camera,lighting etc…although I am still learning a lot. I would love to book more weddings but need more practice and more room to grown. just shadow and second shoot more?ReplyCancel

  • Carlynne - IN. LOVE. WITH. THIS.

    I’ve sent this to every bride after discovering it this summer while I was stalking your blog. It is fantastic info, and it even helped me make sure I had all my ducks in a row. Love it! Thank you again for the excellent and thoughtful info!ReplyCancel

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