Get to Know a Wedding Photographer in Wilmington, NC: Tom Sapp Photography (1)

Today’s interview is with one of our Certified Lovely wedding photographers, Tom of Tom Sapp Photography based in Wilmington, NC! Enjoy:

Tell us a bit about yourself and your company

I live in a tourist destination location expected to double in population in the next year. It slacked off for a few years while people were building back their spending money for that celebratory beach vacation. I didn’t mind. To me it just meant I could fish more. The population increase makes for a positive outlook in terms of continuing to live the lifestyle I love, the only one I have known since being under my parents wing.

I’ve been in business since 02 for myself after photo school and assisting for a few years. I haven’t really had to do much to stay in business since I moved back to my home area in 2004. For a long time I thought the force was strong in me, guiding me. I love sci-fi movies, fishing for big game fish right off the beach where I live. I love going around in my boat at night with bright lights looking down to find beautiful live conque, clams, scallops and giant flounder.

Everywhere I go around globe I see beauty. This area, eastern NC, is a part of who l am on the inside. Here I don’t just see beauty I feel it everywhere, all around me. This definitely helps with staying positive and making people happy for a living.

Read the full interview after the cut!

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How did you get into wedding photography?

After photo school I had $1000 to my name. I dropped in to NC from MA to see my parents. My mom said I couldn’t stay with her unless I got a 9-5 job like the rest of the world. I took the last chunk of change I had and headed back to MA where I knew people from school. I found a place to stay first in Holyoke MA, then called every photographer I heard of offering to assist.

The only jobs I could find in photography aside from working at a photo lab on a minimum wage was to assist wedding photographers. I worked with one, then another. Before long I was the go to guy when anyone needed an assistant in the Springfield area, not just because I was an awesome assistant but because of my digital knowledge being fresh out of a well respected school.

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Once the word got out, I was picked up by an amazing studio named Robert Charles Photography working with Robert Francis Zemba. He is an inspiration to anyone he comes in contact with. Working for Robert, known as Bob, doing photo retouching with my background in restoration from Hallmark institute helped me see what he sees while looking at the exit information when I’m editing.

For example, when and how to manipulate light by using what you can find around you on the fly to create more three dimensional images. Bob could get just about any light pattern he wanted using just one light source and a reflector. He never let me edit his wedding photography though which is what really made me want to be a wedding photographer. He said, “No one is allowed to do that, ever.” Then I learned why.

By watching over his shoulder I learned what putting your heart into learning new techniques, always trying to change for the better for the sake of giving people a part of who you are and how you see them, without a single thought of how much effort you are giving in relation to how much the client is paying. He wouldn’t let me edit his wedding work because he made a promise to the bride and groom to give them his best from start to finish.

Bob taught me “If you put your heart into what you do, giving it your all, no one will say you didn’t try. If you love what you do the rest will come”.

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As I edited more and more over the course of a year doing my own work on the side assisting master photographers and master craftsmen like Jack Holowitz leaning the zone system, platinum and black and white printing techniques, Bob told me to enter one of my prints into competition with CPPA, the state level branch of the professional photographers of America association. This means fresh out of school I’d be competing with the best photographers in the state including my boss who was my inspiration… I did well the first contest, then again … I started getting first place often.

That year I won the most awards in CT, even received an award for winning the most awards, and a big crystal from Fuji called a masterpiece award for digital manipulation mastery, several plaques including creative photographer of the year for the state, lots of ribbons and corner merits. The studio talked about offering me a shooting position there. After progressing so fast I felt working for myself would cut the umbilical cord allowing me to figure out what I loved to photograph the most for a living.

I moved home to Wilmington, NC shortly after and boom! Out of nowhere I talked to a few people and brides asking for wedding services were calling in like I was the banana split milk shakes at McDonald’s, available for a limited time only. For many years I averaged 30 to 40 weddings per year. Now I focus on giving fewer brides a higher level of service rather than booking every weekend.

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What is your favorite part of the wedding day to capture?

I like to work with the couples being creative after family groups are done trying to do something I haven’t done before or something I have but better. I’m always trying to do every shot better than before. On a fast pace wedding day the few minutes with the bride and groom letting them enjoy a moment to talk while I capture them … being them, reflecting.

They make the photo with the memory of their emotions, often being the only time they are not being directed allowing them to breath, giving me the ability to forget about safe shots and focus on giving them a piece of who I am using the environment, adding my personality into the images while sharing their special moment. It’s like seeing love on a level most people only experience by faith. The exit shots are always exciting too.

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What tips or advice can you give to couples who are looking to hire a photographer to cover their big day?

Photographers should always have backup equipment available. I have a backup for my backup usually. Look at a full wedding if not 2 or three. Not just the best photos the photographer picks but a FULL wedding from start to finish. With digital it makes it easy. Any hesitation on the photographers part will bring out the true level of reliability you are about to invest in.

Expect photographers to say no for reasons like, “It will give you the wrong impression, I may have shot something you think is bad in a way intended to create a different look”. If this is true there will be a sequence meaning several images in order that look similar. It’s digital now, very few photographers shoot one shot anymore. Most click away almost shy of making a stop motion movie of the wedding day. Looking at an unedited wedding the photographer is proud of, or he wouldn’t show you, will tell you more than spoken words.

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Lovely work Tom, thanks for sharing! On the hunt for a wedding photographer in Wilmington, NC? Please visit his Certified Lovely profile or head straight to his website.


Do you have any questions or comments for Tom? Add them to the comments below!