10 Questions with Shawna Schwalenberg

WeddingRule Interviewed one of the most popular and highly sought-after wedding photographers in Wisconsin, Shawna Schwalenberg of LotusFly Photography. Milwaukee based Shawna is the founder and owner of LotusFly Photography.

LotusFly Photography

Photographer - Shawna Schwalenberg

10 Questions with Shawna Schwalenberg

1. Introduction: What's your story?

I'm Shawna Schwalenberg and I am the owner and lead photographer of LotusFly Photography!

In 2008, I was at a crossroads with my career in education and I decided to turn photography, which had always been a passion and hobby of mine into an actual career. I received my first film camera when I was 8 years old but had never really considered my hobby as a potential means to living a life and job that I love. I hold a few degrees (BA and MA) from UW-Milwaukee but none of them are in photography. I am self taught and my goal in photography is the same as my goal in life...to always be learning and growing. Even when you feel like you've hit a peak in your skill or talent or anything in life really...there's always another one just on the other side of it!

I want to say here now at the beginning of this interview before we really start that LotusFly Photography is a progressive, inclusive, and loving company and I welcome all couples looking for photographic services. Love is Love and I can't wait to capture yours!

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

I have been photographing weddings for 12 years now and that first year I think I did only 3 as I was just doing it part time while working full time at another job. In 2009, I left my job at the University to move into doing photography full time. At this point I've lost count, but I would estimate it to be around 200 weddings I've photographed.

3. How would you describe your photography style?

My photography color style is generally pretty true to life. My artistic/shooting style is a mix of actual candid and planned candid (I'll explain that in a moment). I try to hit a good ratio/mix of romantic images with fun images. I want to clarify that when I say planned, I don't mean contrived or faked...I mean that I shoot intentionally and I help guide my clients' day to make sure that they get images that reflect all of the love that a wedding represents...from the love of the couple to the love of family and friends for the couple and one another.

I often ask questions or give my couples and their families things to do together that will allow them to interact more naturally and emotionally without posing the majority of the time. Cameras make people stiff and nervous. I've found a lot of ways to circumvent that and make people feel at ease and almost forget I'm there.

When I first started out, I was more photojournalistic in my approach and never made changes to nor directed ANYTHING. I would say that now I know better and this means that I will clean up or rearrange areas of a room to get things just right for the getting ready photos. I will have a bride hold hands with their maid of honor and tell them why they chose them to be there with them on such an important day. Things like this all make for authentic and beautiful imagery without taking people out of being present and enjoying the day. I might even argue that it helps them slow down and be MORE present because oftentimes peoples' minds are racing and thinking about the next part of the schedule and what they have to do and where they have to be. I keep track of the time and make sure we're on task while still allowing for ample time to capture everything that matters!

One of my favorite things to do is to simply ask people to look at one another...when a father and son are standing shoulder to shoulder and are asked to do this, they often react by laughing and interacting more emotionally and genuinely and much less stiffly than typical traditional portraits (which I also mix in so parents and the couple will all be happy!)

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

The right time to start looking into booking your wedding photographer is probably as soon as you become engaged and start the early planning stages.

Research is key and you want to find someone who fits with you personality-wise in addition to art-wise. The best way to do that is to meet with or have phone calls with your top 2 photographers (or more if you feel the need) and see how they talk and interact with you...and then book them the moment you know your wedding date!

We book up so fast and while I hire out a number of extremely talented associate photographers when I am personally booked, generally couples are hoping to book me directly when they first contact me.

As a rule, book no later than 10-18 months in advance...this will make it most likely you'll get who you want! Peak booking dates are what you would expect...things like valentine's day, Christmas, New Years, etc...times of the year where engagements ramp up...but honestly, people are booking all the time throughout the year. The busiest times of the year are generally April-October in Wisconsin, though I'm still shooting in the dead of winter every year as well!

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

I offer 4 packages. The most popular package includes 2 photographers and 8 hours of lead photographer coverage with 6 hours of second photographer coverage. This allows you to get more angles during the ceremony (for example from the front and back of the aisle) and more photos out of the portrait part of the day because I can photograph one side of the wedding party while the second shoots the other side, which gives us more time for the whole party together and especially the couple...which is the best part!!! The package also includes blemish (spot) retouching on the couple in up close images and a complimentary engagement session.

I encourage you strongly to get an engagement session no matter who you book...working together before your day is so important to building a relationship with your photographer that will help make the actual day really great...because you'll know exactly how they approach the shoot and how much you like them!!

We are with you ALL DAY...make sure you like us!

This package is $3750. Additional hours cost $175 per hour for leads to stay. There are also packages that include print products on the higher end and one photographer packages and packages with less hours on the lower end of my options. I do offer payment plans and even a pay in full bonus if you decide to opt for that!

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

My approach to the day is to treat everyone as if I have known them forever and we're already friends or family! It makes everything so much easier when you start of warm and open to everyone present. I like to start off with detail images while with the first side of the wedding party...things like invitations, shoes, jewelry, the dress, etc. I like to take that time to talk a bit with the bridal party and any parents in the room to help them know who I am and what my expectations are for the day.

SO MANY people have had a negative experience with a wedding photographer in the past, so it's often a tiny uphill climb to make everyone know that this is going to be fun and they don't have to worry about posing or figuring out what to do, etc...I will help them know what to do and when and beyond that, they can just be present in and experience the day and their loved ones.

Next, I'll go to the other side's room and take some getting ready images there before heading back to take final dressing photos (if any). My favorite thing at this point is FIRST LOOKS. If it's the couple...that's great....if you are more traditional and don't want to see one another until you're walking down that aisle, that's also great...let's do a first look with your wedding party or a parent or grandparent!

During the ceremony, I'm just capturing things as they happen and of course not telling anyone what to do!! During family portraits and bridal party, as I mentioned in an earlier part of this interview, I will set up traditional photos quickly so that we have them and can move on to the really great stuff...the images with emotion and interaction between the people.

I also love doing "high fashion" poses with the wedding party as though they are models...those are always really cool looking. I then like to move to more interaction and moving, etc...walking together, talking, whispering into one anothers' ear, etc. These all allow me to get the best possible images of the day...the ones that will move you to tears when you get them delivered afterward!

At the reception, I work with your DJ or band to stay on schedule and make sure you get coverage of the important things we planned to cover in the earlier meetings. I often try to sneak you out for either sunset or a last photo of the day 30 minutes before I head out because it allows you two to take a few moments to catch your breath, spend a little quiet time with one another (and me), and it gives you a touchstone to know time is wrapping up so you can request anything else you might want photographed before I leave!

All of my second shooters are also leads in their own or other businesses and all are very talented and really lovely people and you will love them!

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

I absolutely love traveling for weddings. I'm based in Southeastern Wisconsin but often do weddings all over the state as well as in Illinois. I have also photographed weddings in New York and The Dominican Republic and would LOVE to do more of that! In fact, I've got another NY wedding coming up in 2022 and I cannot wait!

As far as travel charges go, as long as it's within 60 miles of my location, there is no charge. After that, it is standard federal mileage rate up to 100 miles and then beyond that, I may request a hotel stay of one or two nights (night before and night of the wedding).

For international and other states, I charge the cost of travel (driving or flying) and hotel accommodations. I don't have you book anything for me, but rather calculate the travel charges on your initial contract and invoice and then book everything myself...it takes one more thing off your planning plate AND allows me to get what I need set up without you having to be a middleperson!!

8. Are albums or prints included in your packages?

Yes, they are in the top tier package and can also be added on ala carte!

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

About 1-3 days after the wedding, I will post a few teaser images on social media (usually close to 1 day depending on how many weddings I've photographed that weekend!) I then spend time putting a lot of attention and care into processing (editing) your images.

Delivery time ranges from 3-8 weeks depending on the time of year and editing queue, but I always aim for the shorter end of that range! Good edited images take time and are so worth waiting for!!

Photos are delivered however the package you booked dictates. Many times it's a digital download or USB drive, etc. Other times, it's books and prints in addition to digital files. The digital files come with a print release so that you may print wherever you like, though I do suggest specific higher quality consumer labs over one hour places...the quality is lightyears beyond what you can get at any of those places and your items will have correct colors and be archival quality to share with your family for years to come.

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

For the most part, there are really almost no circumstances that would result in a refund. If you cancel or reschedule your wedding for any reason, the funds paid minus the retainer fee will be used for the new date or you can even use them for other photography services. I actually had one woman use her payments toward her daughters' wedding on another date and one couple decided just to not get married that year and instead did family portraits with their children as they had been together for some times at that point! If you are rescheduling, there is a small rescheduling fee. There is also a separate pandemic clause that allows you to reschedule once without any fee if you have to move the wedding due to government orders or documented illness of your own related to any pandemic.

On my end of things, I will likely never cancel my services with anyone as I will send one of my other lead photographers in my place to take over your day if anything were to happen that would stop me from photographing your wedding...and the only things that would cause that are major issues (accidents, extreme illness or injury, etc) Every single person I employ has my full confidence that they will produce work that you will be in love with. As such, I will likely never cancel any wedding's coverage. That safety net is reassurance for both myself and the client that nothing on my end will negatively affect their day.

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Awards

WeddingRule Editor’s Choice 2021