Serious photo skills are at the top of the list of what you want from your engagement or wedding photographer. Jerry Wang, owner of Jerry Wang Photography, brings those and much more to the table, including a talent for creating personal connections that can translate to more beautiful images.

“If I show up on your wedding day, I want you to feel like I’m a friend,” he says. “I love when I show up and my bride is like, ‘Jerry! You’re here!’ I feel like better photos come out of clients who feel more relaxed and who feel more comfortable. 

Wang fell in love with photography as a high school student, but his first experience shooting a wedding at 16 left something to be desired—as it turns out, people aren’t eager to take direction from a teenager. Opportunity knocked again when he was in college and a friend was a bridesmaid in a wedding that hit a major speed bump.

“The photographers they had hired were a husband-and-wife team who were going through a divorce,” he says.

When the photographers canceled a few weeks before the wedding, Wang was asked to step in. The photos turned out to be a hit, and a groomsman tapped Wang to photograph his wedding. Business continued to build, and in 2012, Wang committed to photography full time.

Today, he’s shot more than 100 weddings, photographing 20-25 per year throughout the Kansas City area and the Midwest, even traveling to Mexico. The experience has helped him realize how important relationships are, not simply between the two people saying “I do” but with everyone else involved.

“I’ve had times when people come and say, ‘Hey, our grandparents aren’t doing so well, my grandma’s not doing so well. Can we try to get as many photos with her as possible?’ A year and a half ago, I lost my grandma, so now I’m really understanding what those photos mean,” he explains. Family relationships also lead to some of the most memorable moments Wang photographs.

“When dads see their daughters for the first time, and these are tough dads with their sunglasses on, and you can just see the tears coming down—moments like that, I feel like you’ve just summarized everything about these two people’s relationship in one image,” he says.

Because he’s capturing intimate experiences, Wang says it’s important for him to have a good connection with the couples he works with.

“I tell my clients that when they first meet me, it’s almost like speed dating,” he says. “It has to be a two-way street. You have to like me, because to a certain extent, I’m going to be there for your most vulnerable moments, when you’re crying.”

So how do you find a photographer you’ll be comfortable with who can also deliver amazing photos?

“First and foremost, look at the website and don’t just look at the portfolio,” he says. “See if you can get an example of an entire wedding day. It’s easier to show 15, 20 photos, but you want an entire day. How do they do a reception when there’s poor lighting?”

Wang also recommends looking at reviews, asking friends who they used and met with during their own selection process and making sure you feel the photographer is the right fit after you meet for a consultation.

“You’re picking the narrator for your story,” he says. “How I tell the story is how, for the most part, you’re going to remember it through images. Choose wisely and choose carefully. Don’t rush into anything.”