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Wedding Grandeur



Meg Smith Creates Memories in Motion

Carefully turning the pages of her parent's cherished wedding album, Napa Valley-based photographer Meg Smith describes the beauty and emotion a Hollywood photographer captured of her parents on their wedding day.

"The style, the grace, the feeling in these photos is profound," says Smith. "Look at the technical mastery and lightingit's superb. I love pouring over this album; it's been very inspirational for me. I often think about it when working with my wedding couples."

Born into a family of photographersher mother and great grandfather were both shootersit was destiny for Smith to settle into a creative field. Early on she embraced photography, taking special courses at a neighboring high school and later graduating with an art history degree from the University California at Berkeley.

Smith's first bridal shoot came eight years ago when she worked through several rolls of film at the wedding of a family friend. Around this time, 1996, Napa Valley was developing into a major wedding destination. Her business took off immediately, and she's carefully controlled and guided its growth since that time.

"As a one-person studio, I must be selective regarding the clients and types of weddings I shoot. Of the 20 to 25 weddings I cover each year, roughly half are shot in Northern California, with the balance happening across the U.S. and the rest of the world."

At a recent wedding near Rome, her American bride and Italian groom were strolling back to their guests after a few moments outside. "It was dusk and as the couple was returning to the reception, the bride glanced back at me. In a moment, I framed the two of them in the most lovely light and setting. It's a completely natural image, caught at just the right second."

Winning Strategy

The majority of Smith's work comes through vendor and past client referral, or from brides who have seen her images in magazines such as Martha Stewart Weddings, InStyle Weddings, or Town and Country. Her highly personalized service and artful images attract the affluent couple, who want perfection and service.

Occasionally, she fields inquiries from a bride who has seen her website. If a prospective client requests examples of her work, Smith will ship portfolios and boxed image sets for review. She doesn't advertise and rarely markets, feeling this approach won't leave a favorable impression on her desired clientele.

"Many of my assignments come from wedding consultant and planner referrals because my brides rely on the opinions and suggestions of her confidantes. My bride is accustomed to having everything taken care of. She employs assistants and advisors to manage every detail. With most of our communications taking place over the phone or via the Internet, there are situations where I don't meet the couple until a day or so before the wedding."

This makes for some challenges, including anticipating what equipment to bring, how the venue will be set up, and how the event will actually unfold. As a result, Smith "stays flexible and spontaneous," bringing at least one assistant and a game plan that's been carefully developed with the bride's input.

Meg Smith'S Gear box

Medium-Format Camera
Mamiya 645 AF
45mm, 80mm, 120mm macro, 105-210 telephoto lenses

35MM Cameras
Nikon N-90 and F100 with Nikkor lenses:
28-70mm f/2.8, 28-70mm f/4, 85mm f/1.4,
50mm f/1.4, 70-210mm

Lighting
Quantum turbo Z battery pack
Nikon SB-26 and SB-28 Speedlights
Minolta IV F flash meter

Film
Fujicolor NPH 400
Kodak TMZ 3200, Tri-X 400, Kodak EPP

Necessities
Hakuba carbon fiber tripods

Her gear bag contains two Mamiya 645 bodies; two Nikon N90s and an F100; a selection of telephoto, macro, and short-range lenses; several Nikon SB Speedlights, batteries, and tripods. Smith also brings a mental list of specific poses, number of shots to be taken, plus a list of family and wedding party combinations to shoot.

Over the course of the event, she records the requested photos, still-life and memory images, and almost always asks to steal away the couple for photos at sunsether favorite lighting time.

After the Big Day

Smith works out of an airy studio with a view of the Napa River. After a shoot, all color, black & white, and high-speed black & white film is sorted and sent to her developer. Color and density is checked and the negatives are sent back to Smith. Her assistant numbers the images, then Smith edits and places them into chronological order. Negatives are placed in the client's binder and safely stored.

Smith custom quotes each couple's wedding, so the final package and number of images will vary; a minimum of 800 images will be presented. An assistant takes her selection and arranges the albums before shipping them to her album and slip-cover producer. [Smith has cultivated great rapport with her vendors and is careful to keep her sources private.]

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