Dec. 28 2016 12:20 AM

Local wedding photographers share tips for getting great off-site photos

Photographer Heather Kanillopoolos took advantage of the sleek, minimalist lines of the Broad Art Museum as a backdrop for Kaitlin Maier Soave (left) and Ryan Soave’s wedding photos.
Photo by Heather Kanillopoolos
From Gothic architecture to sleek steel buildings to riverside parks, Greater Lansing offers plenty of choices for creative offsite wedding photos.

“When I get hired to shoot a wedding in Lansing, I get excited,” said photographer Khalid Ibrahim, owner of EatPomegranate Photography, “not just because I know the area well, but because there are so many options.”

Those options range from picturesque outdoor locations like the Lansing River Trail and Woldumar Nature Center to the sleek urban buildings of downtown Lansing.

“You can get that New York City wedding feel,” Ibrahim said.

Ibrahim takes couples who want a sharp, ultra-modern look to the Broad Art Museum. For an entirely different vibe, he can bring them across the street to take advantage of the Gothic style of MSU’s older buildings.

“You can get that Hogwart’s feel,” Ibrahim said.

While some couples have a very clear vision for their photos, Ibrahim estimates that 35 percent of couples who come to him don’t have any plans and are looking to him for guidance. Local photographer Heather Kanillopoolos, however, thinks most of her clients have a basic idea concept but need help with the details.

“Everybody who comes to me knows what they want, as far as style,” Kanillopoolos said. “But as far as location and timeline, they have no clue. They’re looking for help.”

Both Ibrahim and Kanillopoolos try to avoid uber-popular wedding photography locations like Lansing’s Old Town. Kanillopoolos goes to spots like MSU’s Lewis Landscape Arboretum, which won’t be overrun by photo sessions on a Saturday afternoon.

“I like to look for lesser known spots,” she said. “The Michigan Hall of Justice is another nice spot, especially for winter weddings.”

Choosing a spot for off-site wedding photos is also dictated by the schedule. Most couples prefer to do photos between the ceremony and reception, which means only an hour or two for travel and photos. Choosing a location like downtown Lansing provides a variety of backgrounds in a small cluster, including the grand Capitol dome, gritty urban alleys, a handful of nice parks and the vintage brick walls of early-20th century churches. If the couple insists on a far away site, however, they can always buck tradition to buy some more time.

“If the couple wants to see each other before the ceremony, we have more flexibility,” said Kanillopoolos.

For local photographer Josh Michels, owner of Josh Michels Creative, the planning is just as important as the photography itself.

“Most people haven’t thought about all of it — the timeline, locations, transportation — until we meet,” he said. “I’m almost doing wedding planning with them, talking about the logistics of the day.”

Michels likes to choose one or two nearby locations for off-site photos to keep things on track.

“Nothing kills the vibe of a wedding like a bad schedule,” Michels said.

When scouting locations, all three photographers stressed the importance of clean backgrounds and good lighting.

“Your location matters, but the location shouldn’t do too much of the work,” Ibrahim said. “I’m looking for simple backdrops, then I highlight the people.”

“Everything is about the lighting,” added Kanillopoolos, “which is why it’s a good idea to let your photographer choose the space.”

But there’s also room for creativity. Ibrahim worked with one couple that had been dating for 30 years — he was around 70 and she in her 60s — and they wanted to do something big. They booked an hour at MSU’s three biggest sports facilities, Spartan Stadium, the Breslin Center and Munn Ice Arena, to do MSU-themed photos. Josh Michels worked with a couple that wanted to include their dog in their photos.

“That was something they were really excited about,” Michels said. “That was a real challenge, working with a live animal that doesn’t listen to you.”

Kanillopoolos remembers one couple who loved doing karaoke together.

“We went to the bar on their wedding day, and I took pictures of them singing karaoke,” she said. “It was cool to incorporate this specific thing that means something to them.”