10 Questions with Tom Ellis

WeddingRule Interviewed one of the most popular and sought-after wedding photographers in Washington, Tom Ellis Photography. Seattle based Tom Ellis is the founder and owner of Tom Ellis Photography.

Photographer - Tom Ellis

10 Questions with Tom Ellis
  • Business: Tom Ellis Photography
  • Location: Bellevue, Washington WA
  • Experience: 41 Years
  • Photography Types: HS Seniors, Engagements, Family, Weddings
  • Website: www.tomellisphoto.com

1. Introduction: What's your story?

Hi, I'm Tom Ellis. I got my start as a wedding photographer way back in 1980 when a friend asked if I would be the photographer at her wedding. I had never taken wedding photos before, though I had been a hard-core photographer since college, doing all of my B&W developing and printing in my own darkroom. Anyway, I was flattered but told her that I really had no idea how to take wedding photos. What I didn't tell her was that the whole idea terrified me! What if I screwed things up? She told me that she loved my photos and was sure that I could handle the job. And most importantly she and her soon to be husband really couldn't afford a real wedding photographer anyway! We talked about it a bit and finally I reluctantly agreed to photograph their wedding.

To my great surprise, I found that I loved it! Planning the formal photos to take advantage of the available backgrounds and lighting was interesting and fun. But what I really liked was the unposed candid photos that comprise the great majority of most weddings. Finding a way to take these photos while not interfering with the people who I was photographing was a real challenge. Obviously with this being my first time shooting a wedding I was doing a lot of learning on the fly. And I just hoped that my friend and her new husband would be happy with my work!

As it turned out they were very happy and recommended me to several friends who had upcoming weddings. These people gave my name to others, and within a couple of years as a part-timer I found that most of my summer weekends I was shooting at least one wedding. And it was a lot more fun than my regular job.

I went full-time in 1983, and soon was shooting 40-50 weddings (sometimes more) every year. And the rest, as they say, was history.

Even though i have now photographed more than 1200 weddings I still get a thrill and some butterflies in my stomach every time I shoot a wedding. I have been trusted to record a major event in my clients' lives, and I always want to give them my absolute best. Obviously I have learned a LOT since that first wedding, and I continue to study new techniques, advances in software, etc. to stay on top of what is happening with photography.

In "real life" I am married (39 years) and have two grown kids. My interests outside of photography are varied. I'm a big outdoors guy, and am a hard-core water skier, snow skier, hiker and biker. I have been a track coach at my local high school for 20 years, where I coach the throwing events (I competed in the decathalon and threw the javelin while in college at Stanford). And I usually have a camera with me. Just can't help myself! A phone isn't good enough, I try to haul around my 5D MkIV when possible. Makes some of my activities a bit more challenging, but I just love taking photos. Enough that when my kids were younger and we traveled anywhere by car, there were always groans when I'd spot something that I wanted to photograph and insisted on stopping, "Dad, not again! We're never going to get there!"

I hope that if you like the sample photos that you can see here on WeddingRule and on my website that you'll get in touch so we can talk about your wedding plans, and how I might help you with your photography.

2. How long have you been shooting weddings? How many weddings have you photographed?

I shot my first wedding in 1980. Since then I have photographed something over 1200 weddings. I stopped counting several years ago.

I have photographed weddings all over the US, including California, Oregon, Michigan, Massachusetts and Vermont. But the great majority of my wedding work has been in Washington State.

3. How would you describe your photography style?

This is a question that I really never know how to answer. In photography these days there are really two parts to a photographer's style; their work actually taking a photograph, and their post-production work on the computer.

Because I started as a film photographer and shot with film for more than 20 years before digital photography was really practical, I think I approach the actual photography portion differently than the great majority of today's wedding photographers, most of whom have never spent much (if any) time using film, and almost none of whom have actually developed and printed their own photos in a darkroom. When shooting with film the photographer has to pre-visualize every photo. There is no instant replay after taking a shot, you don't see your work until it is developed and printed days later. So you have to be able to get it right and KNOW that you got it right when you click the shutter. I still approach photography in this manner even though now the great majority of my work is done with digital cameras. Too many photographers IMO take dozens (or even hundreds) of unnecessary duplicate photos just because it is so easy to do so, rather than carefully setting up the shot so you only need to take it a few times at most, and should be able to get it the first time. Because frankly sometimes one shot is all that you get!

My "style", such as it is, is always changing and evolving as I discover new techniques and adapt them to my work. My style for shooting posed or formal photos is very different from my style for taking candid photos. I am not a believer in following whatever is the current "in" thing in photography, though I am always open to exploring interesting new ideas.

4. How well in advance should couples book their wedding photographer?

I think the best time to book your wedding photographer is as soon as you have selected your date and booked your venue. Typically the best wedding photographers are in high demand and book far in advance, so the earlier you start to look for your photographer the better your chances of getting your first choice.

This is especially true if you have a prime "Wedding Season" wedding. In the Seattle area that is anytime between late May/early June and late September. This is when we have the best weather, and is by far the most popular time here for a wedding. But this can certainly vary depending on where you live. I suspect that the demand for an August wedding in Phoenix is a bit lower than in Seattle!

So far as the most popular days of the week, Saturday is the hands-down winner, followed by Sunday and Friday. I often will book many/most of my prime Wedding Season Saturdays a year or more in advance.

What is known in the industry as Engagement Season happens right around the winter Holiday season. The majority of engagements happen then. Many wedding shows are scheduled for January and February for this reason. So if you wait until the wedding shows you will be competing with a LOT of couples for a limited number of vendors. And of course the most popular vendors tend to book first, and as I already mentioned the best will have already booked a lot of the prime dates months before this. So don't delay in finding your photographer as soon as possible.

5. What are the different packages that you offer and which one is your most popular package?

I offer four different packages, ranging in price from $1895 to $4895. However, I am always happy to design custom packages if none of my standard packages are a good fit for my couples. My most popular package is called Collection Three, and costs $3295.

All of my packages include
- preliminary consultations to go over all of your wedding plans and timing
- multiple photo locations on the day of the wedding
- a boxed set of optimized 4x6 prints of all of the photos taken on your wedding day (including color, B&W and Sepia toned prints)
- All edited full-resolution files placed on a personal website for download, as well as ll of the files on a USB thumbdrive.
- a print release for your photos so you can make any copies/prints for yourself or friends and family, as well as share them on social media.
- your photos hosted on a website for family and friends to view and order prints

Some packages also include extra hours of photo time, custom designed photo albums, digital slideshows, engagement photo sessions and more.

I also offer special packages for smaller midweek weddings such as courthouse weddings or elopements. All of my packages and pricing can be found on my website, and I encourage you to contact me if you have any questions.

6. Are you the wedding photographer who will be shooting on the wedding day? Who else is there in your team?

I am always the photographer who will be taking your photos. I do not sub-out weddings, or have any "associate" photographers. When you hire me, you get me!

In general I work alone. I have been doing this for so long that it is very rare that I have any need for an assistant. In the rare cases where it is clear that a couple truly needs more than one photographer to give good coverage of their wedding I do have several other photographer friends who I can ask to join me. These are all experienced wedding photographers who have their own photography businesses. This does mean that adding one of these pros is not inexpensive. But better that than finding out the second shooter at your wedding is what is known as a WBWC - Warm Body With Camera - who really doesn't know much about photography.

7. Do you charge a travel fee? For what distance? What does that cover?

I love to travel for a wedding! As I said earlier, I have photographed weddings all over the US.

For local travel I do not charge any travel fee for weddings with one hour drive. For weddings that are further away (but still driveable) I charge $40/hour of driving time both ways.

If a wedding is far enough away that it is not practical for me to drive both ways on the same day I will also charge for the cost of a moderately priced motel for one night.

For weddings that require air travel I charge the cost of my air fare plus an additional travel fee that varies depending on amount of time I will be staying, lodging needed, etc. I am happy to discuss this and give you firm numbers once we go over your plans in detail.

8. Are albums or prints included in your packages?

All of my packages include a full set of 4x6 prints of the optimized files of all of your wedding photos. Some of my packages also include albums and/or larger prints. I am happy to send you a list of all of my packages, or you can see them all yourself by visiting my website at https://www.tomellisphoto.com/weddings.htm

9. How long after the wedding will the couple receive the images? How will they be delivered?

I take great pride in offering what I believe is the fastest turnaround time in the Seattle area, and possibly in the entire state. It is my goal for you to be able to see your wedding photos while you are on your honeymoon! I usually have the basic editing/optimizing of the files completed in 5 days or less, and post everything to a private web page where you can see your photos as well as share them with family and friends if you choose. You will also be able to download any/all of the files from this site.

How can I be so fast? Unlike the great majority of professional photographers, this is my full-time job. As soon as I get home from a wedding the first thing I do is download everything to my computer. If possible I will process a few of the files the day of the wedding and send them to the couple as a "sneak peek".

Then I get serious about editing all of the files. It usually takes me ~2-3 times as long to do the editing as it did to take the photos, so it might take 3 or more days to fully edit a wedding. While editing I not only optimize the photos but also do various "tweaks", such as converting some images to B&W or Sepia, special crops, and different types of special effects when I feel it appropriate. I'm always looking for an excuse to try out some of the various post-process tricks that I continue to learn!

Almost all of my wedding packages include 4x6 prints of ALL of the edited images, and getting them printed takes 2-3 weeks depending on how busy the lab is. Once the prints are ready, we will either arrange a time for us to meet so you can pick up the prints plus a USB thumbdrive of all of the files, or I will mail everything to you.

10. What is your cancellation and/or refund policy?

Since Covid I have rethought my policy for cancellations and refunds. I now only require a $500 deposit up front for a wedding. If there is any chance that the wedding might be forced to reschedule, the entire amount of the deposit can be applied to the new date (assuming that I have the date open); no penalty for rescheduling. If the wedding is cancelled I will give a full refund if I am able to re-book the date, but if the date cannot be re-booked the deposit will not be refunded.

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Awards

WeddingRule Editor’s Choice 2020