Photographer Nicole Chan is a Pro at Preserving Life’s Sweetest Moments
Photographer Nicole Chan captures the small moments and big emotions that make an occasion extra special.
Eleven years ago, Nicole Chan was a burned-out management consultant at a crossroads. “I can either go back to get my MBA, or I can take the biggest risk of my life,” she remembers thinking. Taking pictures had been a passion ever since her teens. “All through high school and college, I photographed anything that moved,” Chan says. “I decided to give myself a couple of years to try my hand at the photography thing, and here we are.” It was the right choice. Wielding the organizational skills of a boardroom warrior, Chan now shoots about 35 weddings a year, plus hundreds of proposals and engagement sessions. Along with her longtime videographer Karen Eng, she’s a pro at preserving life’s sweetest moments.
Why do you love photographing weddings?
I like the chaos and how everything comes together. I love that for one day families have this imaginary, invisible permission to be a little bit more affectionate. I’ve been exposed to this whole world where people say, “I love you,” and “You mean the world to me,” and “I’m so proud of you.” I cry a little bit—like, I’m human! And then I have to pull myself together and continue taking pictures.
What’s your approach to wedding photography?
Something really important is what I call the secondary stories, things that couples will otherwise miss because so many things are happening. Typically, Dad will walk the bride down the aisle, but what does Mom’s face look like as she’s watching her husband and her daughter? Those moments are really nice to have, so I make a list of secondary stories that are important to every single couple.
How do you build a relationship with your clients?
It’s a lot of conversation. It always starts with a set of template questions and spider-webs into more specifics. It gets very nosy! Why is this person important? What would you like if you only got to have five photos from your wedding day? It’s really asking a lot of whys and hows and whats, and that directs my thought process.
When should a couple hire a photographer?
Most couples find a wedding date and a venue, and then they go shop for their vendors. I would be the first one that they shop for, so pretty much the second they get a wedding date and venue, they would come to me. However, the trend the past three or four years has been they reach out to me, then pick a date when the venue and I are both free.
What should couples avoid?
Couples get really screwed over by photographers who don’t have their legal and their business ducks in a row. They end up with photographers who don’t have proper backups, who are not good communicators, who don’t know what the couple wants. They end up not getting their photos for weeks or months on end.
So how can couples find someone who’s right for them?
Looking at reviews online is wonderful—and not just one or two reviews. We’re talking dozens, ideally spanning five years or more. Then hop on the phone for a personality fit, because if you’re hiring a photographer who’s going to be stuck next to you for eight to 12 hours a day, you want to make sure that you jibe with them. And ask for full galleries of similar weddings so you can view what a complete delivered set looks like.
What is the wedding day like for you?
All my gear is prepped two days before because I’m psycho. My timeline is so detailed—it has everything from where I’m parking, to a backup parking space, to making sure all my backup gear is charged and hidden just in case my gear gets stolen. I shoot all day and keep my eyes peeled for all the amazing moments that could happen. And I check in with the couple frequently to make sure we’re achieving the right photos.
Any final advice for couples?
Sometimes you have to let go of a little bit of perfection. Trust the people you’ve hired and have a great time, because the day goes by so fast!
Nicole Chan explains what she’s looking to capture before and after the ceremony.
I like when the couple is just hanging out and waiting to get into attire. That’s really fun because it’s very visually different, whether they’re in robes or pajamas.
Lighthearted family love
I like to put some extra care into making sure that everybody looks good—posture is great, hair is good—and that people feel comfortable. I have a lot of corny jokes.
THE COCKTAIL HOUR
A lot of people haven’t seen each other for a really long time! There will be a lot of great hugs—squishy cheeks against each other, wrinkles in your face because you’re squeezing so hard.
The reception runs the whole gamut of feelings, everything from crazy, wild dancing to emotional speeches. And I like to have some cool night portraits. It gives people five minutes to breathe and slow down.
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