Mary Buttolph Wedding Photography
Long before Mary Buttolph became a highly sought after wedding photographer, she worked as a fisheries biologist for the United States Forest Service. Buttolph earned an undergraduate degree from Virginia Tech and moved out West in pursuit of a career in fisheries. She soon realized that to reach her career goals, she would need to return to school to get her master’s degree in fisheries. Instead, Buttolph decided to take a chance on making a career of her longtime passion of photography, and returned to school for that instead.
Buttolph moved to Rochester, NY where she earned her second undergraduate degree at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), this time in photography. She then went on to earn her master’s degree in photography from Syracuse University.
After working as a photojournalist for several years, Buttolph eventually decided to make her family a priority, leading her to apply her skills to wedding photography —a venture that not only gave her flexibility, but paid well and still allowed her to connect with others. Her wedding photography business has been growing ever since.
“I always loved photography, and when I had to decide whether I wanted to go back to school for a master’s in fisheries or start over, I decided to start over—with photography,” she said.
“When I was a photojournalist, I couldn’t sleep at night because I worried about what might have happened to the subjects I’d shot in bad situations that day, but then with wedding photography, I went to not being able to sleep because I was so excited for the couple”,” says Buttolph.
Mary Buttolph Wedding Photography has seen an exponential growth since its beginning in 2011. That first year, Buttolph booked three weddings. The second year: six. The third year: 15. The fourth year: more than 20.
“I don’t advertise anywhere, so most of my clients are word of mouth, bridesmaids that were in a wedding, siblings…” says Buttolph.
Even though most of her clients come to her having already seen her in action during a wedding they’ve attended, or were family members of previous clients who were impressed with her work, she makes sure to interview all potential clients beforehand to make sure their personalities are a good fit.
“My clients are the kind of people who…the bride would take off her shoes and run through wildflowers. They’re easy going, no fuss, and laidback,” Buttolph said. “I had a potential client once tell me how she was going to put this green rug so her heels never touched the grass, and I was like ‘Yeah, we’re not a good fit!’”
Even if Buttolph really loves a couple, she encourages all potential clients to shop around, because she wants them to come back confident that they make a good team, and that they like her style.
Unlike many other wedding photography businesses, she doesn’t offer a variety of packages.
She offers only one deal that includes a complimentary engagement session, 10 hours of wedding day coverage (with a second photographer to ensure every special moment is captured), digital negatives, and an online gallery featuring 1000-1500 images. Buttolph says she aims to make it as easy as possible for the bride and groom, giving them fewer decisions to have to make.
Her background in photojournalism is one of the biggest features that sets her apart. While other colleagues in the wedding photography business may focus on getting through the standard shot list of images typical in weddings, Buttolph really aims to capture moments and emotions, such a mother dabbing her tears with a napkin, or the groom’s first look at the bride.
“[My pictures] are real, raw. I don’t pose people. Sometimes pictures aren’t the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen, but they’re real moments,” she said.
Owning a wedding photography business is no easy feat, either. The hardest situation that Buttolph describes dealing with is when the bride or groom isn’t having a good time at their wedding.
“Because you can’t fix that. You can’t fix someone who’s grumpy in a picture and make that energy look any different,” she said. “But thankfully, with my clients, we have a good enough relationship that that doesn’t happen too often.”
Shooting a wedding takes about 10 hours, and the post-production process takes Buttolph about 30 hours. Therefore, balancing her work with her children (and their homework) at home is another challenge on its own.
But throughout the challenges, Buttolph can’t see herself doing anything else now. When asked which wedding has been her favorite, she was quick to point out one in particular that left her especially moved.
“They were a really bohemian couple. Almost all their friends and guests had some crazy musical talent. Like one person recited Shakespeare and it was amazing. They were professional musicians and actors, one was a professional comedian, there was even an opera singer…It was like I should’ve paid them money to shoot their wedding because I had been entertained all evening by the most incredibly talented people, it was one of the most intimate setting ever,” Buttolph recounted.
“Family and emotion is what I’m all about. I think emotion is what gives me a little bit of a different flavor from other photographers out there.”