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Ask The Expert series: Jeff Haden from Blackbird Images Offers Nuggets of Wedding Photography Wisdom

Ladies, we know how many questions pop up while planning your wedding! You are playing in a world (the wedding space) filled with endless information, but the quality of this information is, in many cases, hard to determine. With over 200,000 wedding vendors on our site, we have the experts on hand to help answer your burning questions. Our very first expert who will be fielding your questions is Jeff Haden, President of BlackBird Images, wedding photographers based in Harrisonburg, VA. Not only is he a well-respected and talented photographer, but has also gained recognition as a ghostwriter. Haden has ghostwritten 23 books, three of which reached #1 on Amazon’s Business & Investing bestseller list! Aren't we lucky to have such an accomplished expert answering your queries!? Each week, we’ll be featuring a question from one of our Savvy Scoop readers, and Jeff will give his expert opinion and recommendation. Send your photography questions to, and please put “Ask the Expert- Photography” in the subject line. Today, Jeff weighs in on the following question: The Q: “I want to have photos taken at a public park but the photographer claims there’s a permit fee. Why do we need to pay when we could walk around the park for free?” – Jennifer R., Richmond, VA The A: At first glance it does seem odd: Your family could picnic in the park all day for free… but if you and a photographer visit you need to pay for the privilege? It’s true, and it’s not an unusual practice. (Keep in mind the location is trying to minimize commercial demand on a public resource… plus they’re trying to generate a little revenue.) For example, if you want engagement, bridal, or wedding party photos taken at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the fee ranges anywhere from $50 to $250 depending on the specific location. If you don’t have a permit security will ask you to leave (I know – it happened to me.) Even in small towns permits are often required. At the Arboretum at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, VA, for example, use of the site for commercial photography (meaning photos taken of a paying client) costs $50. If the site has true significance in your life – like if that’s where you got engaged, went to school, met your partner – then paying a fee may be worth it. If you just think the site is pretty, maybe not. If that’s the case, think about what you like about the site and find a similar location that doesn’t charge. How? Above is a bridal portrait taken at the JMU Arboretum. ($50 fee required.) Below is a photo taken less than a mile away, also on the JMU grounds. Since we weren’t at the Arboretum no permit or fee was required. (What you don’t see are assistants keeping students out of the frame for the 30 seconds or so it took to capture the image.) Think of it this way: If the location touches you emotionally, you won’t mind paying a fee because you simply cannot imagine having your photographs taken anywhere else. If the word “fee” makes you recoil in horror-, think about what you like about the location – the atmosphere, architecture, foliage, etc – and work with your photographer to find a similar site where no fee is required. One other note: I don’t recommend taking your chances without a permit. Aside from the ethics, do you really want to be looking over your shoulder the whole time? Get a permit so you can relax and enjoy your session – you’ll end up with great photos as a result. Isn’t that what really matters?
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