When I came upon the website of CJ and Stephen of Torrence Photography, I fell in love with their backstory and I knew that I had to introduce them to you. The picture above is just one of the great wedding photos that they have taken over the years.
I absolutely LOVE your backstory – Love at First Sight. Could you share a little bit about that with us.
Oh man, what a story! There are a lot of details surrounding the meeting—the mutual friends, selling a car, college and camp, weekend trips— but how the timing actually worked out the way it did, is nothing short of uncanny. I (CJ) always tell the story, because when Stephen tells it, he says, “Yeah, she proposed to me on the spot.” :-)
I went on a weekend trip with college friends to visit a camp, where Stephen was counselor/photographer/skiing-and-snowboarding instructor. (It’s already good, right?) One of the first people we met upon arriving was Stephen, who has always made friends easily, so he was instantly charming. I would’ve been stupid not to be attracted to him. He’s just that kind of a person. Plus, I get a gut feeling about people...and my gut was sending me all kinds of messages, about everything from his hospitality and pure heart to his great hair.
It was peak season in the mountains...the perfect set up for romance. :-) My little group kept bumping into Stephen, who was almost too obvious in the attention he paid me. I answered all kinds of questions—my favorite music, where I grew up, what I do for fun, what my parents did for a living, where I saw myself the rest of his life (ok, maybe not, but almost!). Out of the blue, his parents and friends from his home pulled into the parking lot, and our group of four had doubled. (This is the part where selling a car comes into play and explains how his parents just so happened to be in town that weekend.) His mom later told us that it was fun to see Stephen “in action,” because she saw something between us. Stephen entertained this big group with funny stories, which he told looking straight at me. Before the weekend ended, Stephen told me about his interest in starting a photography business, and actually passed on a business card (which conveniently had his email and phone number). My friend Kevin told me later, “you know you’re going to marry him, right?” I said, “I know.”
Anyway, meeting was effortless, and so was falling in love. We emailed for about a week before we met up again, were “official” a month later, and engaged three months after that. It was a whirlwind, but as pure and as crystal clear as they come. We have some friends that told us about going to an office party, and another couple asked how they met. They used our story about the camp and the mountains at peak season, etc. They actually met in a bar. :-)
CJ – you wear many hats in the business? What is your favorite part?
This is a tough question, because so much is involved in wedding photography, and there’s something to love in all of the little steps. If I had to pick, probably my personal favorite are bridal portrait sessions. Not all of our clients do the bridal session, and that’s ok; it really depends on the person and what they want. I love it because it’s like the mother of all dress rehearsals! It’s the first time the bride completes and compiles the look—the dress, jewelry, shoes, hair, makeup, flowers—it ALL comes together! For that reason, it tends to be really helpful for the brides too because they get a better feel for their dress and shoes especially and get a trial run of everything before the big day. For me working behind the camera, I see them start the session with some nerves (like everybody does, myself included when I’m photographed...it’s not second nature for most of us!) and transform into these confident, comfortable women who are beautiful and KNOW it. From the inside out, we watch each of them exude grace. What a treasure for us to be a part of such a thing that gives the brides that boost before the wedding! Plus, we have extra time to play with the veil... cameras love veils!
If you could describe your style of photography in three words, what would they be?
Honest: First of all, when our clients share their wedding photos, we want their first thought to be about the people in them. The expressions, the interactions, the relationships shown in the photos — that’s what makes photography so beautiful.
Timeless: We try our best to keep our photos as close to what your eye would’ve seen instead of going overboard with editing. The trendiest of tricks when we got married are no longer cool. If folks see our pictures and think first of the photographer or the editing style, we’ve failed our clients. We want our couples to walk away with photos that are not only beautiful, but tell their story and keep them center stage.
Happy: This may be self-explanatory, but weddings are often called the “happiest day of your life.” Your photos should follow suit! We are happy, lighthearted people ourselves, and we love photos that look bright, clean and sharp, and full of joy. In our photography, we will incorporate a fair share of moody silhouette shots, or more romantic, intimate photos of the bride and groom, but we feel like our work as a whole has a playful, bright feel to it.
What is in your camera bag that we wouldn’t expect?
Deodorant.... Seriously, wedding photography can be hard work. :-)
I know you guys can't hear me now, but I am laughing so loud.
If you could do a photo shoot of anything, what would it be?
We both started with nature photography, so any time we get to travel and photograph new places is so inspiring. There’s always that “one more” trip out west that we haven’t taken yet!
What is your favorite part of your business?
We love photography, but it’s not the art that drives our business for us; it’s the people. The clients that trust us to freeze frame some of the best and sweetest moments of their lives, it’s such a rush for us, and yet so humbling too. Working with our clients from start to finish, it’s more than just booking and photographing. Most of our clients do an engagement session, some do bridal sessions also, and between the sessions, planning emails, calls (and often, texts too!), we really grow close with them. Knowing them helps us do a better job on the wedding day, because we can really tap into what we know they will love.
How many weddings do you shoot a year?
We’ve shot as many as 32 weddings in a year, but we recently started limiting it to 15-20 in a year. We have found that to be our sweet spot because it doesn’t spread us too thin. Since the client relationships are so important to us, we want to have the time to invest and give the right amount of attention to them.
What packages do you offer? Do they include an Engagement Shoot and a Bridal Shoot?
We have four packages listed on our website, but most commonly, we build custom packages based on the individual wedding and what our clients need. Our base package includes 5 hours of wedding coverage, the online gallery for sharing, viewing, and purchasing prints, and a USB drive with all of the high-resolution files with a Print Release Form. That’s our basic wedding package (we call it “Chestnut Oak”) for $3200, and all of our packages include all of those same items with at least that much wedding coverage.
As soon as clients upgrade just an hour to six, we also include complimentary engagements. We love the opportunity to work with our clients before the wedding day and apart from the emotion and hustle and bustle of the wedding. It gives us the opportunity to gain their trust and build rapport. Trusting the photographer is all- important when it comes to getting good photos. Clients look more relaxed (because they are!) and confident, and they’re able to really focus on themselves and each other instead of the cameras.
(P.S.: Our posted packages are named after different types of lumber as a nod to Stephen’s woodworking and the materials he used in our home! #torrencefactoid)
What is your process? Do you meet with your brides before hand?
Usually our clients reach out to us through email initially, but we always try to meet with them shortly after, and before they book. Again, their trust in us is so crucial, so from the very beginning, we want them to feel at ease with us. A lot of the communication afterward takes place via email and phone; just this year we introduced an online booking system where our clients can sign the contract and pay the retainer online. It’s been really popular!
How do you send your files to your brides?
Our clients get the photos in two ways, first through the online gallery. It’s password- protected and linked through our website, so it’s super easy to share the link with friends and family. (It’s also really convenient because our clients don’t have to order prints for everybody else!) Then, they receive all of the high-resolution files on a USB jump drive. In the final package they receive from us, it includes a Print Release Form. This grants them permission to print all they want, for personal use. They can upload them online to order prints on their own, make cards or Save-the-Dates with their engagements, etc. Since we started our business in 2007, we have always offered the digital files to our clients in all of our packages. We want to make it as easy and accessible as possible to print and use the photos however they want, at their own pace.
What trends do you see with the current brides?
There are still plenty of folks holding out for the big reveal at the ceremony, but we see clients more and more that want to do a “First Look” before the wedding. This is where the bride and groom set a time to meet privately before the ceremony to see each other and get some photos taken. We are partial to this for several reasons, mostly because this is the way we did it! Logistically, sometimes it helps keep the photos moving and free up some time between the ceremony and reception, but more importantly, we see our clients just love the private time together. It calms their nerves and still never seems to take away from the big moment when the bride walks down the aisle.
Now, a little about you...
Normally, I ask what do you like to do when you are not photographing weddings, portraits, etc.? I understand that you a house full of beautiful furniture that Stephen has built. Does he still have time to work on furniture?
Stephen stays busy with woodworking projects all the time! All of the woodworking inside the house, Stephen did himself with trees he cut down from our property (seriously...he’s awesome), a tree or two from some other folks, or refurbished lumber. There’s a story to all of it. He is also currently working on a mill redevelopment project in Belmont, NC. He’s a renaissance man!
Guys, you may not know this but I grew up in Belmont and I know that exact project. I can't wait to see his work.
CJ – what do you like to do in your spare time?
I earned my M.Div. in 2010, so when my schedule allows, I have had the opportunity to teach The Old or New Testament at the collegiate level in the past. The same passion I find in relationship building with our photography clients, I find in the classroom as well.
What are the five presets on your car radio/ipod?
We actually don’t have a television in our house (by design!), so music is always playing somewhere! We listen to a little bit of everything, most commonly Bluegrass, in the form of the Steeldrivers, Infamous Stringdusters, or Blue Highway. We mix in a little country and classic rock in there too.
If you weren’t a photographer, what would your dream jobs be?
Stephen will always have his hands in construction or woodworking somehow. I (CJ) might work in Hospice in some capacity. I love working with people and just being “present” for them, in whatever moment they’re experiencing (comes in handy in the rush of a wedding, too!).
If you give the brides one piece of advice, what would it be?
Remember: “comparison is the thief of joy.” Make decisions for your wedding based on what will make YOU and your S.O. happy, and the rest will fall in to place. We see some brides come to us with photo ideas from other weddings that they ask us to replicate. We always take those suggestions and try our best to accommodate, but we’re also clear with them that we can’t copy another photographer’s work and wouldn’t want to. Trying to stage a recreated moment makes it feel just that: staged. And in the meantime, we’re missing out on the moments you’re already having. Research, collect ideas, tell us what you like, but live and love and have fun, and we PROMISE, the magic just happens.
If you could tell the brides one thing about your business, what would it be?
We do our best to be client-centered. Their trust in us, the relationships we build with them, even down to the packages we create specifically for them, we have built our company based on how we would want to be treated by photographers, and we take the pictures of the moments that move us. We’re creating art, but we are immortalizing moments, too, and for that, it’s not about us at all.
Thanks CJ for sitting down with me today. I loved learning a little more about you and Stephen and I can't wait until the mill is finished in Belmont so I can see his work. For those of you that want to see more of CJ and Stephen's work and learn if they are the perfect fit for you...check out their website and follow them on social media.