Carolyn Scott catches layers and layers of pure happiness with her Canon DSLR. The happiness lasts longer than any wedding kiss, longer than it takes the couple to say their vows, and longer than the entire preparation for a wedding.
“Every wedding has its own meaning and is so different, which to me is really funny,” Scott said with a laugh. As a professional photographer, Scott has attended around 70 weddings since starting her own business in 2008, Carolyn Scott Photography, in Raleigh, NC.
Scott is not entirely the person you would expect. She is humorous and dynamic as a photographer, but she turns serious and cautious as a businesswoman. She is affable and accessible when communicating with her clients, but she becomes shy and reserved when socializing with other photographers. She doesn’t prefer a color. She is obsessed with all vibrant colors. She doesn’t have a favorite photographer. Her tastes change with time. But she doesn’t change in some way: she has an enduring passion for wedding photography.
Scott and her husband Geoff are the only employees in this mom-and-pop wedding photography business. “Geoff and I have been together for ten years,” Scott smiled.
The couple has unusual interests. Take, for instance, that they love zombie movies and they could fly to Pittsburgh on a whim only for Primandi’s Burger.
Their offbeat tastes are manifested in their wedding photography business. “Geoff and I don’t want our consumers to take themselves seriously. We want to do something different,” Scott said.
She exudes her own married bliss in her portfolio and seasons the sweetness of weddings with vibrant colors and funky ideas. Scott uses light to her advantage. She usually takes pictures outdoors where she can capture warm natural colors to enhance the sense of joy. The concept of each work is as bright as its color: you can find a wedding ring shining on the Crest toothpaste (the bride will be a dentist) or you can find a black-and-white “Damsel in Distress” engagement slideshow that looks like a silent movie.
“I knew she needed to be the one to photograph us after I saw a photograph of two dinosaurs holding wedding bands,” said Kimberly M. Seymour who plans to set up her own photography business in NC. After a “wedding photography fiasco” Seymour turned to Scott to photograph her wedding anniversary. She adores Scott’s quirkiness, creativity, and energy, three qualities that depict Seymour’s relationship with her husband.
These three attributes also appeal to other couples who want to break the tradition.
“We were planning a fairly non-traditional commitment ceremony and we needed someone who was going to capture that and not misrepresent what we were trying to do,” Melanie Singer said. Scott caught Melanie and her husband Eric’s intimate moments on their wedding ceremony in a Southern farm. The couple looks cheerful, breezy and natural in their wedding pictures.
However, when Scott worked on Singer’s engagement session two years ago, she didn’t know what the couple expected from their pictures. Based on some simple questions, Scott mistakenly assumed Singer and Eric were traditional. But the couple’s ceremony turned out to be the antithesis of Scott’s presumption: they had organic corn instead of flowers, a trivia game rather than a dancing ball, and they even had a unity volcano. When Scott realized the couples’ eccentric ideas, she enquired about how they wanted to operate their wedding session.
“Communication is crucial. The hardest part of wedding photography is to know your clients in a short time and take pictures that they exactly want,” Scott said.
Prior to each session, she discusses the photo shoot with her clients via email, telephone or Skype, and also forwards an extensive questionnaire to gauge their needs. When she takes pictures, Scott asks couples goofy questions to get them to loosen up when they are camera shy. After each session, she will conduct a follow-up interview about clients’ responses. Clients feel Scott affable and responsive.
“It was an instantaneous connection and I felt as though I had known her for years; she made me feel comfortable immediately with her confidence and laugh,” Seymour recalled. Scott replied to Seymour’s email in 24 hours and spent two hours discussing how to shoot Seymour’s anniversary session.
Though Scott delights her clients with her funky ideas and insight into their needs, and she likes joking with her clients, she turns very serious when it comes to business.
“I drive Geoff crazy,” Scott recalled. There are many commercial considerations to worry about. “I’m constantly worried because I don’t know where the money is going to come from next. I’m only booked a year and a half ahead, so after that, I may not have work to do,” Scott continued. The wedding season in Raleigh usually goes from March to early December, longer than that in other states.
There is a lot of competition for wedding photographers in Raleigh. To compete, Scott provides a hands-on service. She never outsources her work. At 8:30 a.m., she starts editing, answering emails, placing order and shipping etc. and ends the day at 5:00 p.m., through Monday to Saturday. She insists on going to each wedding rehearsal to be better-prepared for a wedding ceremony, though she is not obligated to do so. She goes over the timeline with clients a week before a wedding to confirm they are on the same page. She takes around 2,500 wedding pictures each session, though she only delivers 900 or so to clients. She limits wedding sessions to around 25 a year to provide quality.
It’s hard to assign a price to a wedding photographer’s talents. Scotts’ clients don’t think they are tied to hefty bills: $2,800 plus tax for a wedding session. In 2011, Scott used half of her revenues to cover overheads and upgraded photographic equipment.
Scott is so absorbed in her work that she becomes elusive and reserved in local photography community. “I like being someone outside of the community,” said Scott. Nevertheless, in order to enlarge her consumer base, she develops a relationship with some photographer peers. If these photographers are booked for some date, they will recommend Carolyn Scott Photography to their clients. However, she mostly networks with wedding planners, DJs and florists who can offer her several weddings a year.
To some degree, Scott doesn’t need to socialize with other photographers, because her work is speaking for itself. She was awarded “Best Photographer” by the Raleigh Downtown Magazine 2012 “Best of Downtowner” Awards.
The award is not enough to satisfy Scott’s ambition. “I’ve never been happy with my work,” she said. Her 4-foot-tall body usually carries photographic equipment for 10 hours on a wedding. She doesn’t want to miss any happiness and important moments of her clients.
“Wedding photos remain where few other things do and it was important for us to have great photos to capture the day,” said Elise Watson, another of Scott’s customers who was married in March this year.
Scott and Geoff work as a team to capture the happiness. They taught themselves photography at the same time. She started photography with still objects, he with people. She likes shooting details, he prefers candids. She became a wedding photographer, he was a software engineer. She wanted to take a wedding picture from balcony, but was afraid going up the squeaky stairs, so he did it for her and became a part-time photographer since then. She helps brides get ready, he grooms. She sits in the middle of the aisle with a zoom lens on a wedding ceremony, he in the back with a wide angle.
“Ideally we would like to be destination wedding photographers,” Scott said, smiling to reveal two dimples. The couple hopes to catch more happiness when they travel in other states. The happiness never stops.
Many thanks to Carolyn Scott, Melanie Singer, Elise Watson, Kimberly M. Seymour, Ellen Fragola, Lindsey Campos and Gwen Loftin.