Apples to Apples: Choosing the Perfect Wedding Photographer

Choosing a wedding photographer can be hard; Here’s how to cut through the noise.

Wedding photography can be a difficult and confusing thing to compare.  Chances are you haven’t often had to hire a photographer before, so the world of album options, coverage time and various levels of talent and technical expertise can become a maze where it is impossible to compare one photographer to another.  Very often one photographer’s packages are apples to another’s oranges.  So how can you find the right photographer for you?  Here are some tips on choosing a wedding photographer:

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Posted in Pittsburgh Engagement Photographer, Pittsburgh Wedding Photographer, Wedding Tagged , |

We were featured in an article in Professional Photographer Magazine!

PPMag Leavell Article February 2014 Cover

Hi everyone!  We wanted to share a bit of very cool news!  We were featured in an article in the February 2014 issue of Professional Photographerthe official publication of the Professional Photographers of America.  The article, titled “You’re certified.  Now what?” features an image of Leavell Photography’s 2014 Fall in Love…with Leavell wedding and engagements magazine, and includes a couple quotes from Lisa as well.  The full article is posted below.

The article talks about how photographers around the country are using their Certified Professional Photographer credentials to market themselves to their clients.  We are proud to have each earned our CPP designations, which required us to demonstrate our competency through a thorough written exam and a portfolio review by our certified peers.  Maintaining our certification requires us to invest time annually in a series of on-going and continuing education activities to keep our skills strong.

For our clients, we believe that choosing a CPP to capture your timeless memories means that you can be certain you are dealing with a qualified artist, capable of delivering the highest quality images.  There is no question that Certification Makes a Difference.

We strongly recommend that our fellow pros consider becoming certified.  You can learn more on the PPA’s certification page.  For us, the journey to achieve our certifications helped us to grow significantly and become better photographers.

PPMag Leavell Article February 2014 Article


Posted in Pittsburgh Engagement Photographer, Pittsburgh Wedding Photographer, Something Awesome

What We Did on Our Winter Vacation

Linczak Workshop 2014-01

Last week Lisa and I attended a four-day workshop called “Crafting a Wedding Masterpiece,” taught by Ted and Rachel Linczak of Linczak Photography.  Ted and Rachel are a husband-and-wife team of photographers who have won numerous awards for their images and albums, and have been named by the Professional Photographers of Ohio to be among the Top Ten Photographers in Ohio in both 2012 and 2013.

We regularly travel the country to attend all kinds of educational photography events, from big conventions to week-long master classes to evening seminars.  As Certified Professional Photographers and a pair of artists genuinely passionate about our craft, continuing education is how we relax.  So we loaded up the car (roof rack and all) and struck out for the January oasis of … Cleveland, Ohio.

Yes, we got out of town during the historic cold snap that struck the region at the start of January and drove into the teeth of the storm when temperatures dropped as low as -18 degrees.  We briefly considered our folly in choosing this class over the big industry convention in Phoenix the following week.

Any regret over our choice of “working vacation” destination was short-lived as we found ourselves in a hands-on class that absolutely helped us to reach a breakthrough.  Many of our clients and friends have heard Lisa refer to me as a “Lighting Snob,” and it’s a title I fully embrace.  I’ve spent my entire career to this point obsessing over the quality of light to create portraits, to flatter our subjects and refine our style.  I’ve always relied on flashes, umbrellas and softboxes to achieve this, and over the years we’ve gotten quite good at using off-camera flashes to create amazing portraits.  Ted and Rachel take a completely different approach to portrait lighting, relying instead on ambient, window and continuous lighting sources to create their award-winning portraits.  Learning about their methods has led us toward the next step in the evolution of our style and abilities.  I actually went a full week without once firing a flash, or even pulling one out of our bag.

Today we want to share some of the images from the week that have lit a new fire under us.  Please note that while all these exposures were made by Lisa and I, all the sets, models, poses and lighting were created by Ted and Rachel unless specifically noted.

These portraits were created using the direct sun streaming through a window in the classroom.  The blinds were used to add a cool shadow effect to the composition.


Ted then moved to an area of the venue’s gymnasium that featured a soft diffuse light from these large block windows.


The venue was still sporting its Christmas decorations, so we created some backlit portraits then lingered over our model’s reflection.


That evening we traveled to a downtown Cleveland venue known as the Arcade.  The lighting and architecture scream to be made into dramatic portraits.


The use of reflections is a new and thoroughly awesome addition to our repertoire.


Here is where Lisa and I got to flex out muscles a bit.  We selected this spot within the arcade, developed the poses and directed the lighting for this sequence.  We’ve always described our style as sometimes sweeping and dramatic, and sometimes very close-up and personal to capture emotional moments.  Our instinct in this venue was to bring the models much closer to the lens to create an intimate scene while still maintaining the impressive architecture of the Arcade.  The last of these four images is my hands-down favorite of the week.


On the last day our final assignment challenged us to create a sequence of images that were planned out to fit together as one hypothetical spread in an album. With a ten-minute time limit being strictly enforced.  And just to add a little pressure, just as our ten minutes was about to start, the alarm company called to tell us a motion sensor at the studio had triggered.  With the timer running and the police on their way to check on our business, we created this sequence:


It was a false alarm.

In all, the class was a very good investment of our time and we can’t wait to put into practice all the new ideas we’ve been given.  We’re very excited for the images we’re going to create for our clients this year.

Posted in Pittsburgh Engagement Photographer, Pittsburgh Wedding Photographer, Something Awesome

Black Friday 2013 – Give the Gift of FOREVER

You’ve trusted us to create the precious memories that will be your family legacy.  Those images are worth protecting for future generations.

It’s been an amazing year for us with the opening of our new studio in the heart of Bridgeville.  While the studio allows us to create images in ways we previously could not, we’ve spent over five years crafting images for our wedding and portrait clients that have become a cherished part of each family’s history.  We take our work very seriously, as it is our belief that photographs are an important part of the legacy we leave to future generations.  The wedding albums and wall portraits we’ve made for our clients are crafted to last for generations.  One day a future granddaughter will feel the warm connection to her family history as she studies her grandmother’s wedding album while planning her own wedding.  A perfect portrait of a toddler will still hang in his parent’s home when that boy is grown and has his own children, and everyone will comment how much his children look like he did at that age.  Every family has a collection of treasured photographs, whether they be a timeline of “growing up” portraits hanging along the stairs, a series of fold-out pouches in Pap’s wallet or a shoebox of Polaroids in the closet, those images are the most powerfully emotional reminders we have of where we have come from.


We’ve always included an album in every one of our wedding packages, because it is our belief that it is the first family heirloom that a couple creates at the start of their new family history.  We can also guarantee that no matter what advances of technology are made, that classic book will function exactly as designed twenty, fifty, and even one hundred years after it is printed.  Even so, we’ve also offered digital negatives available to our clients since the very beginning.  Most of our clients want to be able to have the digital images stored for posterity, and we wanted the same from our own wedding.  But digital negatives, as nice as they are to have, come with a burden: We all must continually back them up, transfer them to new computers and hard drives, and update their storage media every few years.  Already DVD drives have started to disappear from some newer computers.  Imagine waking up one day to realize that all your wedding images are on DVDs, but you haven’t had a computer that can read DVDs in years!  Your digital family legacy might very well be lost.  This is why when we first heard of, we immediately “got it.”


Enter What is this thing anyway?

ForeverForever™ is a brand new service, offered by a home-grown Pittsburgh company. will store your digital images and keep them accessible to you and your family online for your lifetime plus one hundred years, guaranteed.  The best part is that there are no ongoing charges.  When you buy a Forever account, your one-time fee covers the storage of your memories from that time on.  The images can be shared publicly or privately.  Grandma’s box of family snapshots no longer has to be divided up amongst her family; upload them to Forever and the entire extended family can enjoy the connection to their common past for generations.


So what differentiates this from any other cloud storage, or Facebook for that matter?  Well, any other cloud service is going to cancel your account when you stop paying.  Forever outlasts your lifetime, and thus your ability to pay a typical cloud storage service.  As for Facebook, do you think that will exist in thirty, sixty, or ninety years?  Perhaps, but no one will ever scroll that deep on your wall, or timeline, or whatever they’re doing in the future.  Facebook offers no guarantees as to how long your uploaded items will remain accessible.


Forever is hands down the best permanent storage solution we’ve ever seen for your irreplaceable portraits.  We worked hard to create them, and we want your family to be able to enjoy them Forever.  They will even take your Mother’s shoebox of family snapshots and scan them directly into your Forever account if you like.  We really believe this is an idea and a company that is special.


That’s why we’re thrilled to be Forever’s first (and as of this writing, only) professional photographer partner.  What this means is that when you sign up for a Forever account, we will be able to upload your digital negatives directly to your permanent storage.


You can get a Forever account for as little as $295.  It’s an amazing value for permanent storage of your legacy images.


Ok, I can see why Forever is special.  But it’s Black Friday and what I need right now is a deal!

With Black Friday upon us just as our new Forever partnership has begun, we are offering some pretty smoking bonuses if you sign up for an account (as a gift or to gift yourself!) by 5 PM on Monday, 12/2/2013.  For wedding clients, we will upload your existing digital negatives (if they were included in your package) and digital negatives for any engagement image of which you purchased a print or product.  For portrait clients, we will upload digital negative for any image from which you purchased a print or product.  These engagement and portrait digital negatives are usually available at $89 each, but if you call us to sign up for Forever this weekend, we will gift these files to you to get your online legacy started.  Truly, you should check out to learn all the details of what they have to offer, then call us to set up your account and claim your bonuses.


Of course, we also want you to get a special value for continuing to document your life and family with timeless Leavell Photography portraits, so we are also offering discounted gift certificates good for the purchase of prints and products from your future wedding or portrait session.  All gift certificates will be 10% off of their face value through Monday only, so don’t delay in calling in your order!



Posted in Something Awesome Tagged , , , , |

LaKayla & Dustin’s Sunset Engagement Photos by Pittsburgh Wedding Photographers Leavell Photography

Sunset engagement photos rank among our favorites; In a short period of time we get to capture a variety of looks and lighting conditions that add warmth and a nostalgic tone to the final portrait art.  While we frequently travel around the region and the country to capture portraits of couples, sessions like this one remind us of the wealth of opportunities right in our own community.

For LaKayla and Dustin’s sunset engagement photos, we travelled to the beautiful rolling hills near Canonsburg, PA to meet the couple at Dustin’s family home.  The house sits on a hilltop surrounded by fields and woods, with an amazing view of the valley below.


The southwestern PA countryside never looked better!  Shortly, we noticed the rustic porch was bathed in warm sun light.


Sunset engagement photos sometimes inspire our inner JJ Abrams.  It’s important to use lens flare only in moderation!


LaKayla was a good sport about trying dramatic poses, even if they were on a sharp rock!


Only the second clear hillside meeting the sky without any branches, telephone poles or wires we’ve ever found in the Pittsburgh area.


The couple’s dogs Trouble and Diesel had their own mini session of sunset engagement photos!  Incorporating your pets and common interests always adds to the story of growing love we try to tell in our engagement sessions.  In this case, it gave us the opportunity for a special family portrait.


As the sun finally sank below the horizon, we caught one last romantic embrace.


Posted in Engagement, Pittsburgh Engagement Photographer, Pittsburgh Wedding Photographer Tagged , , , , , |

Pittsburgh Wedding Venue Spotlight: The Fez Wedding and Banquet Hall (Aliquippa, PA)


Continuing our series on wedding and reception venues around the Pittsburgh area, today we focus on The Fez Wedding and Banquet Hall in Aliquippa, PA.  The Fez offers two different ballrooms, great service, and some special signature touches that make for great wedding images.

Perhaps the most well-known of these special touches is the Bridal Staircase Presentation.  A tradition at Fez wedding receptions for decades, the bridal party makes its entrance into the reception by descending a grand staircase into the ballroom.  The staff adds to this event by using a good old-fashioned theater-style spotlight to highlight the entrance of the bride and groom and their attendants.  They use the same spotlight during the featured dances at the reception, and the effect is quite cool, both in person and in your wedding photos.

In cases of inclement weather, we have been able to create portraits at the Fez using the stonework wall at the covered driveway.  It’s a welcome backup location should the need arise!

During our previous Fez weddings, all our couples have chosen to add our photo booth rental to entertain their guests.  The Fez has ample space to accommodate the photo booth at either of their banquet rooms.



The Fez offers two banquet rooms; One features colored accent lighting built into the ceiling (shown above), while the other features a second-level balcony that rings the room, usable for additional seating.  The Fez wedding team also takes special care to make sure all the little details are perfect.



The Bridal Staircase Presentation and the spotlit dances are Fez wedding highlights.  We love shiny, polished dance floors!



In one of the Fez wedding reception rooms, the head table sits in front of the grand staircase, while in the other it spans the dance floor.



In case of inclement weather, the stonework of the covered entryway provides a backdrop for some portraits, while the balcony inside is a perfect spot for a final romantic portrait at the end of the night.



Alison & John’s complete wedding highlights help to showcase the entire Fez wedding experience!

Posted in Pittsburgh Wedding Photographer, Pittsburgh Wedding Venue Spotlight, Wedding Tagged , , , , |

Pittsburgh Wedding Venue Spotlight: Embassy Suites Pittsburgh – International Airport (Moon Township)

As photographers we’ve had the pleasure of working at many venues in the region, but few offer the indoor portrait opportunities that are available at the Embassy Suites Pittsburgh wedding reception venue.  Officially known as the Embassy Suites Pittsburgh – International Airport, this hotel is located in Moon Township.  The hotel features a lush green atrium complete with water features that make your wedding portraits special no matter what the weather outside.

Our Embassy Suites Pittsburgh wedding portraits have often centered around the prominent rock waterfall in the center of the atrium.  The hotel has projected the couple’s names onto the rock during our previous visits there, and it makes for a very cool addition to the images.  The staff has always been very helpful, and we’ve been able to explore photographic possibilities from the elevators to the bar with their help!  The ballroom has a large lounge area at its entrance that allows plenty of room for guests to enjoy our photo booth as well.

All of this combines to make the Embassy Suites Pittsburgh – International Airport an attractive wedding venue in the popular summer and fall months, but also a fantastic option if you are planning your wedding during less temperate times of the year.

Check out some of our images from a recent Embassy Suites Pittsburgh wedding and see what we mean — This place rocks for weddings!


Images of the rock waterfall with the projected names of the couple. Kristy and Reno told us that this was something the hotel did for them on their own; The couple didn’t know it was going to be there.  What a great surprise!


There are plenty of locations around the hotel for unique group shots with the bridal party.


Embassy Suites Pittsburgh wedding couples can also take advantage of the several romantic spots in the hotel for artistic portraits.


The ballroom area really looks great with the addition of uplighting.  Uplighting sets the mood during the event, and makes your images really look special for posterity as well!


The Embassy Suites Pittsburgh wedding team shows an excellent attention to detail, and it is the details that will define the character of your wedding to your guests!


The glass elevator is a perfect spot for a sexy final portrait of our bride.


The complete highlights from Kristy & Reno’s Embassy Suites Pittsburgh wedding day:

Posted in Pittsburgh Engagement Photographer, Pittsburgh Wedding Photographer, Pittsburgh Wedding Venue Spotlight, Wedding Tagged , , , , , |

Jill & Lou’s South Side Engagement Session by Pittsburgh Wedding Photographers Brian and Lisa Leavell Ritchey

Pittsburgh South Side engagement sessions allow us to stretch our creative muscles perhaps more than any other location that we like to frequent.  When we work on portraits in the South Side, we treat the experience as a kind of “photo safari” — hunting around on side streets and in alleyways to find amazing locations.  While there are a couple spots we like to stroll past specifically, we never know what we will find!  The South Side neighborhood is full of murals, street art and interesting architecture that ensures that every South Side engagement session takes its own unique turn as we stroll along looking for new and interesting angles.

This session quickly became one of our favorites, which may not be a surprise to you if you have read the engagement portraits article in our 2013 Weddings Magazine, where this session is featured.  We met Jill and Lou in the heart of the South Side, and immediately found a long brick wall on the side street.  We continued deeper into the neighborhoods tucked behind the bars and nightclubs into a romantic world of wrought iron gates, beautiful old doorways atop old concrete stoops, cracked and peeling garage doors, and elaborate wall murals.  No two South Side engagement sessions are ever the same.  There is so much to discover that every visit there is a thrill, and it is the perfect backdrop to explore with a hip, urban couple who want to take their portraits beyond the more common park setting.

Although this South Side engagement was one of our favorite sessions of 2012, it never made it onto the blog.  The couple’s schedule didn’t allow for this session to happen until their wedding was only two weeks away, so the momentum carried us through the wedding day and we shared wedding images but not these gorgeous shots!

With the weather getting better every day and the wedding season soon to be in full swing, we can’t wait to be creating South Side engagement portraits again soon!



Posted in Engagement, Pittsburgh Engagement Photographer, Pittsburgh Wedding Photographer, Uncategorized Tagged , , , , , |

Adalynn at 11 Months by Pittsburgh Baby Photographer Leavell Photography

Hi everyone!  We had so much fun recently capturing in-home portraits of Adalynn that we just had to share!  Adalynn is 11 months old at the time of this session, and while she was a little suspicious at first, she soon warmed to the idea of having her photo taken.  We’ve always found that young children in particular really respond well to being photographed on “their own turf,” and that’s why an in-home portrait session can work so very well for babies and toddlers like Adalynn.


Check out some of our favorites from the session below, then head over to View Photos to see the entire session!


Posted in Bellies and Babies, Family Portraits, Pittsburgh Baby Photographer, Pittsburgh Child Photographer, Pittsburgh Family Photographer, Sneak Peek Tagged , , , , , , |

Shannon & Nick Kennywood Park Engagement Session by Pittsburgh Wedding Photographers Brian & Lisa Leavell Ritchey

Kennywood engagement sessions are among our favorite portraits to create.  So many Pittsburghers have shared romantic dates, great memories and wedding proposals at Kennywood that different areas of the park hold special meaning for couples.  Nick asked Shannon to marry him near the gazebo, so even though it was close to the end of the season when we first met with them, we rushed to capture these Kennywood engagement portraits on Labor Day before the park closed for the fall and winter.  We beat the crowds by going in right at opening and had a great time as they toured the park with us, pointing out locations that played a role in their relationship.

Photographing a Kennywood engagement session is a fun adventure for us as photographers and for the couple.  We’ve been very lucky that Kennywood has always been gracious in allowing us to come into the park to create these images with our clients.  We really can’t say enough about how helpful, friendly and accommodating the staff there has been.  Without their kind support, Kennywood engagement sessions would not be possible.

Kennywood is filled with iconic views and hidden gems.  On many days, we can create images near the gazebo that look like we have the park all to ourselves.  We also have a super secret spot at the rear of the Jack Rabbit where we love to capture couples against the iconic woodwork.  The Thunderbolt mural and the Potato Patch are also ‘must-have” shots when we visits Kennywood for an engagement session.

Shannon and Nick’s Kennywood Park engagement session slideshow is now available on YouTube and all their images can be found in their Online Gallery.

Some of their favorites, which they chose at their Red Carpet Premiere tonight:



Posted in Engagement, Pittsburgh Engagement Photographer, Pittsburgh Wedding Photographer Tagged , , , |

Colleen and Herb – Wedding Highlights

Colleen and Herb’s wedding slideshow is now available on YouTube and all their images can be found in their Pictage Gallery.

Some of our favorites:



Posted in Sneak Peek, Wedding Tagged , , , , |