WTOP’s Wedding Week: Tips for DC-area couples from a luxury wedding photographer

Wedding Week on WTOP is a 5-part series that explores wedding planning, budgeting and more on air and online. This story is part 3.

WTOP's Wedding Week: Tips on getting iconic wedding photos

In an era where social media can provide an added layer of pressure on wedding photos, Kyla Jeanette, 25, of Prince William County, Virginia, wants couples to prioritize originality and honoring their unique love story over striving to keep up with trends.

Jeanette is a luxury wedding photographer who has captured romantic moments all around the world including a vibrant ceremony on the beach in Mexico and a celestial celebration at a Middleburg inn.

“Copying and pasting your wedding from another just isn’t the way to go,” she told WTOP. “It becomes exhausting, and you feel like you have to always chase the next idea.”

That lesson in individuality applies to her wedding shoots, too. Her luxury photography business primarily operates out of the D.C. and New York markets, but she’s traveled for destination weddings or engagement shoots.

Jeanette got her start in the industry while attending high school in Northern Virginia when she took senior pictures for upper classmen. At the time, her cousin was working as a photographer out in L.A., shooting fashion and commercial work.

“I met him in L.A., and he kind of got me acquainted to the industry a bit,” Jeanette said.

‘Fit into a mold’

Fashion and commercial work kept her on the road and wasn’t very lucrative for an up-and-coming artist, she said. Entire paychecks would be spent on plane tickets and other travel expenses.

Jeanette went home to Virginia and changed her focus to weddings — her first bridal shoot was in 2017.

But Jeanette said while trying to follow in the steps of other industry photographers, she found her work was coming off as stiff.

“I hated my work through all that time, I was even editing like everybody else,” she said. “I felt very much like I didn’t stand out. I was just trying to sort of fit into a mold.”

Around the time of COVID-19 lockdowns, she decided to mix up her strategy.

“I was a fashion photographer, and I missed that side of myself,” she said.

She incorporated lessons in composition and a fastidious attention to detail from fashion shoots into her wedding photography. That gave her a leg up in the wedding industry, she said.

“Everything that I do is under a sort of umbrella of editorial nature,” she said.

Jeanette developed a photojournalistic and bold style that’s resonated with couples. This year she has 24 weddings booked.

She was named as one of the top 40 wedding photographers in the U.S. by The Wed in 2023.

Being real makes for better photos (the same goes for couples, too)

Her sentiment of valuing individuality over borrowing a playbook from other weddings applies to her clients, too.

Trends can act as a source of inspiration rather than a source of pressure, she said.

“I also challenge these couples to go out and explore what actually might inspire them a little bit more than what they’re seeing on social media,” Jeanette said.

Couples can incorporate their personalities and relationship into the wedding.

“That in itself might actually set a trend in the end,” she said.”

On the opposite side of trendy couples are those who worry about weddings looking dated. Jeanette said the best way to avoid that twinge of regret is to plan a wedding based off “what you gravitate” toward. For example, one couple based their wedding design off a restaurant they’d visited in Greece years prior to the ceremony. It was celestial and vogue, she said.

How to find the right wedding photographer

Photos that inspire

While searching for wedding inspiration, you’re simultaneously narrowing down the search for a photographer.

“First, before you do anything, make a Pinterest board,” Jeanette said.

Save whatever catches your attention, she said, including posts that might not feel wedding-related such as interior design.

That research will guide couples in their next steps: picking a venue and a planner — who ideally will do some heavy-lifting in the photographer search.

“At this point, you’ll have had the inspiration established that you love and you will have seen different photography styles. It’ll allow you to be able to communicate better what you’re interested in,” she said. “Then you also have a planner to help direct you to vendors that might suit that style.”

What to budget 

As far as how much to spend, Jeanette said a good rule of thumb for those in a big city is to spend 10-12% of the wedding budget on a photographer.

“In general, the more you’re willing to invest, the less you’re going to have to worry, essentially,” she said.

But there’s a photographer for every budget she said. More affordable photographers in the D.C. market charge around $2,000 to $6,000, while luxury photographers charge closer to $20,000 to $30,000.

Personality matters

Outside of hiring a photographer based off their style and price, Jeanette said couples should consider whether they click with the artist.

“You’re still hiring a personality, you’re not just hiring work,” she said.

That doesn’t mean you need to be best friends, she said. But you should like the energy they bring to a shoot because you’ll be spending lots of time together.

“Some photographers are very loud and extroverted, and they encourage a party and fun, or some are quiet and shy and more timid,” Jeanette said.

How to get fabulous photos

Day of the engagement shoot

The day of an engagement or wedding shoot, do what you can to limit stress, Jeanette said.

“Try to avoid any head-butts that day with each other, try to just take it easy,” she said.

For morning engagement shoot sessions, she recommended couples wake up early.

“Have a nice breakfast together,” she said. “Have some Champagne beforehand, loosen you up a little bit.”

While those taking engagement photos during the evening should make plans to grab a bite to eat after the shoot.

“Have something to look forward to afterward, especially if you work that day,” she said.

Around 10 minutes into a shoot, Jeanette said the jitters fade for most couples.

Avoid overthinking

Thinking too hard about posing can lead to stiff or unnatural looking photos.

“Once you start to … think about where your finger is,” she said, “that’s when it starts to look weird because you’re overthinking it.”

For candid romantic shots she encourages couples to “just enjoy each other’s company,” while she gives loose directions.

“Relinquish all expectations,” Jeanette said.

You should be able to count on the photographer.

“You hired me because you trust me,” she advised clients. “Clear your mind, don’t take this overly seriously and then from there, everything should be very easy.”

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Jessica Kronzer

Jessica Kronzer graduated from James Madison University in May 2021 after studying media and politics. She enjoys covering politics, advocacy and compelling human-interest stories.

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