This week, we talk with Arpit Mehta from Visuals by Arpit as he offers tips on how to find the right photographer for your event. We also discuss his professional experience through stories and vignettes spanning his decade-plus career as a professional photographer.
Marla: Hello, and welcome to Balloonzilla’s very first podcast!
So today we are gonna have a really fun guest, it’s gonna be a surprise so I’m gonna make you wait for a minute, but first we are gonna tell you about Balloonzilla.
We are a fantastic balloon decorating company located here in Southern California, we do travel but we really like Southern California a whole lot, and today we are gonna be doing our very first podcast. You can reach us on the web at balloonzilla.com, or follow us on Instagram, we post everyday, @balloonzilla, we are also on Pinterest, Facebook, Youtube, look us up, we’re there!
And let’s get started with our very first Let’s Party with Balloonzilla!
Marla: Well Hello, and welcome to the very first Let’s Party with Balloonzilla podcast, this is a very exciting day for us and we are stoked to be here at Granted Records to record this, and thanks to Emo for hosting us today, and I am seating with my very good friend, Arpit Mehta, who has Visuals by Arpit. He is a fantastic photographer, and if you don’t know him yet, you need to!
So we’re gonna talk a little about photography today, and what to look for when hiring a photographer, and if there’s anything specific that we should ask, or not ask, and how we insult one so they go away and never come back again.
So let’s start at the beginning, Arpit say hi.
Marla: Hello! Tell us a little bit about yourself and your business, Arpit.
Arpit: So I have been a professional photographer now for about 11-12 years, something to that effect. It wasn’t something that I set out to do. Funny enough, I had a music blog back in 2007.
Arpit: When blogs actually mattered and I wanted to get into the A&R side of the music industry, and so I started this blog and very quickly that started getting me press passes to concerts and shows and-
Marla: You were a groupie!
Arpit: Uh kind of, maybe?
Marla: Okay, okay
Arpit: I just liked going to shows for free.
But yeah, so I started taking my dad’s camera with me, just-everyone that was blogging at that point was using the same exact photos, the marketing materials that the bands were putting out, and so I figured this way I would get some original images. And as I started sharing those on Flickr at that time, and then eventually on Facebook as well, people-
Marla: Were you on Myspace?
Arpit: I was, yeah I did share-
Marla: There you go, bring it home
Arpit: I think I still have a page on there somewhere.
Marla: Alright, we’re gonna look you up
Arpit: Yeah, as I started sharing people asked if they could pay me to take photos, and that’s how I kind of started on this wonderful journey.
Marla: So apparently you are not the kind of guy who said “Oh look, I have an iPhone, I’m a photographer!”
Arpit: Not really, I was even hesitant with a DSLR, but people, and friends were the ones initially that were asking, and I really started enjoying it, and I still do!
Marla: Well that’s good, it’s good to like your job. And when it’s not a job, then you can do it forever.
Okay so, that’s your business and then you are still taking photographs, and what do you photograph the most?
Arpit: That’s a tough one I would say.
Weddings are-they’re a nice enough payday but I would say probably split between weddings and then events & parties, so corporate events, parties. And then some commercial work as well. So I actually, about 3-4 years ago, split my business into 3 different brands, so I could specialize in each of these different arenas. So it’s starting to pay off, and I’m starting to get work that I wanted to do, so yeah I don’t know if I have any one thing that stands out more than the others.
Marla: Well, when you get up in the morning, do you think “Yay, I have a wedding today!” or is it more “Yay, I’m shooting a bowl of cheese today, it’s gonna be very exciting!”
Marla: You’re a fashion guy, though, right? You like the fashion world.
Arpit: I love fashion, fashion just doesn’t pay
Marla: Yeah, well
Arpit: It doesn’t love me back
Marla: But it kind of fills the time, right?
Arpit: It does, and I did get to do some amazing work with a designer who-he used to be involved with-or he brought United Colors of Benetton to the US last year and so I got to work with him back in October, November and that was a lot of fun
Marla: So Benetton is coming back, is that the scoop?
Arpit: Uh well, he’s not with them anymore
Marla: They made rad jeans in the 80s.
Arpit: They’re still around.
Marla: Yeah? It’s been a minute, for me, yeah
Arpit: I had to look them up again.
What’s funny is I was born and raised in India, and one of the first advertising impressions that I had was an ad for United Colors of Benetton. It was their storefront, and they had this group of all sorts of different backgrounds-uh people from all different kinds of backgrounds
Marla: And they’re all holding each other, I’ve seen that! I lived in Canada, we had the same thing, it was-India, Canada, same thing right? Same thing, same thing
Arpit: Uh, I guess so. But, it was kind of a full circle moment in that regard.
Marla: That’s cool, that’s super cool.
So when you’re doing weddings, cause I know you do them a lot, we work together quite often, Balloonzilla loves weddings and I know you do also, what kind of things do you look for in a client? What’s a good client, for you? Unlimited budget we got that, right?
Arpit: Yeah, the financial component is there, but more than anything else, I look for-what I ask of my couple is to trust me on their wedding day. If they’re micromanaging me, it’s gonna be a bad time for everyone involved. So that’s where the couples that-and I sat down and did this about 2 or maybe 3 years ago, made a list of all the couples that I just absolutely loved working with-and that was the single factor that came right to the top, was that they trusted me. And that played out in what they were willing to pay for the photography, the minimal amounts of negotiation if any, things like that translated into more than just trusting me on their wedding day with their photos.
Marla: You have a specific style when you photograph things, you tend to bring out a lot of color. You don’t do the light, airy, kind of distance, and those are beautiful and they have their own thing, but the vibrance and color is what I absolutely am attracted to, I think it’s-I’m a balloon artist so color is amazing, and I don’t understand white balloons, it doesn’t make any sense to me, so I imagine that when you see the beige and rose gold wedding that we’ve been doing for 2 years, how do you make that colorful, how you make that come to life?
Arpit: So color is a sort of fascinating world in and of itself, and I’ll go back to I was born in India, I lived there until I was 15, so color and culture are a big part of my upbringing. So those naturally translated into my wedding photography, and in general photography. But when it comes to color, I find that there is a certain balance that needs to be struck between the theme colors, if you will, as well as just the couple themselves, so I do push my colors, I do try to find the right balance. Sometimes the images can end up looking a little bit more light and airy, it’s not my preference but it’s also about striking that right balance. But more often than not, whenever possible, I do try to work with couples that value color the way I do, otherwise they won’t appreciate the final product as much if they don’t like the way I push my colors.
Marla: So say you’re getting married, and you want to hire a photographer. What is some advice that you can give to a couple of how to look for the guy who matches their style?
Arpit: Or girl
Marla: Sorry, I meant guy as kind of a general term. I’m a guy, I mean I’m not really a guy but I’m a guy-guy. But yeah we all have our style, I’m a little nuts, I like nutso things, we’d fit together great, but you also have a super classy style. And how do you find something that matches?
Arpit: So one of the main things that I suggest couples look for is a personality mesh. If you’re a laid back couple and you’ve got a photographer that wakes up like he’s had five red bulls in him, that’s not gonna work out all that great. You’re gonna be on the edge of your seat. So someone that can understand and mirror to a certain extent, cause not every couple that I work with is as laid back as I can be, sometimes they’re more energetic, and so I match that to some extent. But that’s also based on reading the couple and understanding what they need, and what I need to do to pull the images out of them
Marla: Understood. If you were a hack how would I know?
Marla: Gimme some clues
Arpit: So I’ve got a couple crazy stories from previous couples I’ve worked with
Marla: Yeah, bring em, I love stories
Arpit: So one of them they actually hired me a couple months after their wedding, which is crazy, but what ended up happening is they had hired this nation-wide photo team, and they hired them for photo/video, but the photographer that the team had sent out on the day of didn’t have her stuff together, she didn’t have the family shot list, she didn’t know-she was asking the bride, which is a big no-no on the day of. And after everything was done, they were preparing for their grand entrance for the reception, and the bride realizes that they haven’t done any romantic portraits of just the two of them, and so she asked the photographer, and the photographer takes one click, and that was the only romantic portrait.
Marla: Oh boy. I think that’s the girl who married us
Arpit: So they reach out to me, and a couple months later we got back in there, her in her wedding gown, and him in his tux. So that was kinda crazy.
And then last year I did an Indian wedding where they had initially reached out in January, they ended up booking someone else, and then come May, this was an August wedding, they reach out saying “Hey, we haven’t been able to get a hold of our photographer, are you still available?” Thankfully I was, and they ended up being just an amazing couple, and the wedding turned out great.
But yeah so those are a couple personal experiences I’ve had. Unprofessionalism is very high because there’s no real barrier to entry.
Marla: Right, iPhone
Arpit: Yeah, everyone’s a photographer.
So I usually, when looking at reliability, reviews are one aspect, just to look online if you’re purely researching online, but vendor referrals, so if you’re working with a planner or venue that has preferred vendors, that’s another way to check to see if the vendor is reliable.
Marla: What about Yelp? How do you feel about Yelp?
Arpit: I have mixed feelings about Yelp. They’ve just done a lot of shady things over the last several years that I would take it or leave it. They’re still gonna populate if you do a Google search for a business especially, they will show up but-
Marla: Grain of salt, right? Grain of salt with Yelp. Keep flipping and if you see ten good ones and one bad one, skip the bad one.
Arpit: Yeah I think in general people tend to be skeptical of pure 5 star reviews, anyway
Marla: Because they’re all my friends?
Arpit: They can be, that can be how it’s interpreted
Marla: I mean not Balloonzilla’s, of course, they’re perfect! No I get it, I get it.
What can one expect from their photographer on the day of the event? Or pre-event, whatever you like.
Arpit: So I don’t know if there’s necessarily a standard list that I can provide, what I can talk about is what I do, and one of the things that I love doing is a venue walk through with the couple. And if they do have a planner, then the planner
Marla: We love those planners, don’t we?
Arpit: Yes, absolutely.
If you’re getting married, make sure you have a planner or coordinator, someone that’s gonna make your job easier on the day of.
Marla: It’s a jungle out there
Arpit: It is. It’s crazy.
But I love doing the venue walk through, it doesn’t matter if I’ve shot the venue or not, what I love is seeing the venue through the eyes of the couple, what they love about the space, what they’re drawn to. Sometimes a photographer shows up and they scout before, on the wedding about 30 mins or 40 mins before they start, but to me that’s a missed opportunity. And so that’s one of the things that I do, I enjoy doing it, even if it’s just doing the walk thru on the day of the rehearsal. But I like to stay in communication with the couple throughout the process. It’s not gonna be a “Hey pay me, book me, and then I’ll see you on your wedding day.”
Marla: Do you ever book couples that you’ve never met before?
Arpit: Actually last year was my first time doing that
Marla: It’s all the rage
Arpit: And it was interesting because it was also my first same sex wedding, so they booked me without me ever meeting them, talking to them on the phone
Marla: Is it like blind dating?
Arpit: A little bit, yes. But they ended up being just phenomenal, and we’re still in touch.
Marla: See, blind dates do work sometimes!
Just write to us, if you want to tell us about your last blind date, I’d like to hear about that.
So what’s the difference between a cheap photographer, a moderately priced one, and an expensive photographer, because you guys are all over the board?
Arpit: Yeah, so I thought about this a little bit but as far as-so we’ll establish that these are people than can still do a good job.
Marla: Okay, it’s a good baseline.
Arpit: Because you can get a cheap photographer that doesn’t know what they’re doing. But from a price point standpoint, yes.
Marla: And we’ll give it in the same market, because you know in Kansas it might be a little cheaper than in Irvine, California.
Arpit: Right, exactly.
So if you look at the Southern California market for example, a lot of times the photographers who are working for cheap, either they’re inexperienced and they don’t see their own value and they’re undercharging. The other could be that they’re just churning and burning in the sense that they take the photos and deliver them as is with minimal editing. So they are more volume businesses. The third option in there is also the folks that have associate photographers so they can charge more, but the associate can charge less, so there is still money to be made.
Marla: And there’s a market there, there’s a market for all three of those
Arpit: When it comes to the moderately priced, if you’re looking at the average price in Southern California for an 8 hours, two photographers, engagement session, it’s in the $3-3,500 range. And that’s a lot of -they know that they can convert most at that price point. And they’ve been doing this for a while, and they know their market well enough to know what they can charge.
And sometimes you’ll even have some amazing photographers that are too afraid to move into the higher tier, so you can find a really good photographer in the moderately priced range.
And then the expensive photographers. Those are-it’s an interesting space there because sometimes they present themselves as being the high end photographer, you’ll see a lot of people talking about being luxury wedding photographers or fine art wedding photographers. And the fine art, a lot of them are also hybrid photographers, so they do film in addition to digital, so the cost of film and development ends up justifying the higher price point.
On the luxury side I feel it’s a little bit arbitrary, but if you do have the demand and the volume, and you want to do fewer weddings, charge more, that’s kind of where you end up.
So I feel it’s a little bit more demand based in some capacity, but in others it’s also simulated.
Marla: I didn’t know people still used film.
Arpit: Yeah, oh yeah
Marla: Thats cool
Arpit: Film’s made a huge comeback.
Marla: Yeah, we used to do it in high school, we developed it in the dark room and everything. I loved it, it was fun, you can do things, you can do things. That’s awesome.
Is there any surprises that I should be aware of, what do people spring on ya at the last minute? We did our wedding 150 yrs ago, we had a photographer who said “Would you like it to be casual or more formal” and then we were like “We’re causal kind of people, we’ll do casual”, we had almost no romantic poses, it was just us partying mostly the whole time, very casual. We kind of didn’t have any gauge on that. Is there anything we can say to you when we’re hiring you to gauge what you’re gonna give us at the end, cause there’s only one shot, right? You get one chance at photos.
Arpit: So one of the things that I suggest, and I do this when i have a consultation with a couple. I send them at least a couple full wedding galleries so that they can see just the full day, but not just that they can also see consistency across my work, cause sometimes people look at Instagram or the website, but when it comes to-since I am a photographer that’s the end product that I’m selling, so to be able to show them the entire gallery, and it also gives them-usually my galleries are also broken up by the different components of the day. So you’d have the formal portraits, romantics, the getting ready, ceremony, reception, and etc., if you have Indian weddings or cultural weddings you have more. But that way they get to see: here’s more of a documentarian style, here’s more editorial, the romantics, I have some candids where I have the couple’s enjoying themselves laughing, sometimes where it’s a little bit more posed and stylized. So being able to see that also gives my couples the visual language to say “hey this is what we want”. And so I would highly recommend, if you are considering a photographer, to ask them for a few full galleries and then even to take the time during the consult to walk through the gallery. Don’t just review it beforehand, if you have some questions, just to do that with them so they can walk you through, or you can get clarification on anything. So that would be the way to avoid [surprises].
Marla: The surprise question is: have you ever shot at Chuck E Cheese?
Arpit: Yes I have, not a wedding but I have shot a phenomenal birthday party at Chuck E Cheese.
Marla: And we loved every minute of it, didn’t we? We did some balloons there too, it was pretty fun. Chuck E’s a little scary though, I’m not gonna lie.
Arpit: A little bit.
Marla: Do you have any closing thoughts, anything you wanna say?
Arpit: Good question. I would say, honestly we live in a time where, like I mentioned earlier, everyone’s a photographer. It breaks my heart to hear stories like the two couples I mentioned previously, where even though they had done their research on looking up these vendors, they were left holding the bag and it’s unfortunate when that happens. So please take a little bit more than just the reviews, that’s why I was a little hesitant earlier about just the reviews, or mentioning reviews because anyone can get those, but take it a step further and ask them for those galleries, make sure that you see the consistency that you would want from your wedding day and
Marla: Do your homework
Arpit: Do your homework, yeah
Marla: It’s a big deal, the photography is everything. At the end of the day, I’ve done so many balloon installations, we do large installations that are absolutely gorgeous and there’s no photographer. They think, you know some kid coming out of college is gonna be like “oh hey I’ll take all the pictures for you for free”. And then what have you got, at the end of the day? You’re so busy during the event, you’re so full of emotion, you don’t realize all the things that are going on during that time. So it’s nice to have a photographer to keep a memory of everything.
Marla: And that’s what I love about it.
So Arpit, if we wanted to reach out to you, how would we reach you?
Arpit: You can find me on Instagram @visualsbyarpit, and it has my email and phone number there, you can text me, and you can also reach out through my website visualsbyarpit.com.
Marla: And you’ll find some really pretty pictures there.
Awesome, well thank you so much, we really appreciate you being here today, joining us for our very first podcast, and you’ve been enlightening. We’ve enjoyed your company. Thanks for stopping by!
Arpit: Thank you for having me!
Marla: You’re very welcome!