Are you overwhelmed by all your options as you shop for a wedding photographer? It’s tough to choose when you see thousands of fabulous images in online portfolios.
How do you narrow down your choices? How do you make sure you’re getting a reputable, reliable photographer? A photographer who matches your preferred style? One who will deliver on their promises? Believe me, I understand how stressful this decision is. After all, your wedding photos will be the only tangible memory of your special day to remember the emotion and joy that you and your guests experienced.
I want you to be confident when you choose your wedding photographer. It’s a very personal choice, but it’s also important to be objective, no matter how much you’ve fallen in love with their images.
Here’s my advice, from an insider’s perspective…
Scour a photographer’s website to find out as much as you can. You’ll want to put together a list of questions. Those that aren’t answered online, you can save for your consultation.
Your goal is to find out how technically skilled and experienced a prospective photographer is. You also want to find out how invested they are in their business. I’d drop the “fly-by-night” shooters. They often hide behind fancy websites and a dozen or so random but decent sample images.
Responsible wedding photographers adhere to a set of policies. These define their ethical standards and best practices. Clients should have a clear understanding of what they’re entitled to and when.
Legitimate businesses are licensed, usually in their home cities. They have an official designation as an entity (LLC, corporation, sole proprietorship, etc). Your photographer should be a member of at least one industry association, for example, Professional Photographers of America. These associations vet their members for standard quality of services, technical ability, and best practices.
This is a two-parter, for good reason. Just because someone has been shooting Pulitzer-winning images of Syrian refugees for the past few years doesn’t mean that they’re skilled in the subtleties of wedding photography. While combat photojournalists and wedding photographers all have to perform under pressure, we wedding photographers have our own talents. These help our clients get through their wedding day with the least shell shock and the maximum customer care.
With this comes the discussion of price. You pay for invaluable experience and talent when you hire a professional wedding photographer, but it comes at a cost! The longer a photography is in business, the more they tend to charge, especially as they increase the quality of their work. We’re constantly reinvesting back into our business, whether it’s equipment or back-end process. We caution against hiring photographers under the $3,500 mark, because that usually means they’re either experienced or shooting at a high volume, where you won’t get the recommended level of service and client experience.
Don’t rely on website portfolios as proof of quality. Be sure to ask how many weddings they’ve shot as the lead photographer. I recommend at least of 5 wedding galleries, either in preview form, albums, or slideshows. This will let you get a sense of their technical consistency and their aesthetic, as well as their ability to shoot in varying conditions.
Many photographers make sales based on a selection of random images from different events. Remember, even a busted clock is right twice a day!
I take great pride in producing a final image collection that exceeds my clients’ expectations. They represent the quality I present in my own portfolio, blog posts, and social media images.
If you want to view several weddings in their entirety, contact me to request a link!
Equipment fails. That’s the nature of technology. Your photographer should have at least two main camera bodies and several high-quality lenses. They should have a backup camera that’s no more than three years old. We often replace our cameras every two years, and use the “old” ones as spares. They should also have back ups for at least a few lenses.
Most of us carry at least two on-camera flashes, especially if one is fitted with a diffuser. We also carry a spare camera, flash batteries, and battery chargers. You’ll also find in our bags enough memory cards to store the Library of Congress.
Your photographer should store backups. They should have your original and retouched images on many external storage devices.
I download onto dual-backup RAID system in studio, as well as an off-site backup system just in case my house is destroyed by a house fire, robbed, or swept off to Oz… even though, we’re nowhere close to Tornado Alley.
I also keep a portable hard drive loaded with all my shoots from the previous six months as well as storing the images in an online gallery and another copy online on my Google Drive. Obsessive? Sure. But your images are precious and irreplaceable. We take every measure possible to protect our images – and then have insurance to boot in case.
Even the highest-quality memory cards can fail as they are the most vulnerable link in the archiving chain. Professional cameras (like mine) have dual memory card slots for instant backup in case one card becomes corrupted.
With careful storage and downloading protocols, there’s little chance of your files going *poof*. But if an entire camera is somehow destroyed with hundreds of images on the memory cards… (Which is why I prefer to use and swap out smaller capacity cards, to minimize risk…) or an EMP kills all electronics in the photographer’s studio and the world (I’m looking at you, North Korea), that’s why we carry liability insurance. Your photographer’s contract should outline their policies beyond that.
Some photographers deliver your files in six weeks; others? Whenev! You don’t want to wait six months or more to enjoy your gallery reveal… Especially when you’re planning to give custom prints as gifts the next holiday season.
Ask your prospects when they deliver their products:
Custom albums (from date of order)
Look for reviews on internet wedding sites. What are the issues in negative or lukewarm reviews? What are their most common accolades? You’ll obviously want to avoid a photographer with a bunch of unhappy clients. Feel free to ask for references so you can ask specific questions about their experience. (And if the photographer or vendor doesn’t have a place where you can leave reviews, you should probably run & run fast!)
How well do you get along with him or her? Do you think the photographer “gets” you? Your wedding photographer is going to be with you while you get ready and while you sneak away for some quiet moments throughout the day. They’re in charge of directing the emotion, aesthetic, and the tone of your wedding album. The photographer runs the experience on your wedding day, so in our opinion, it is SO important for you to have a connection with the photographer.
He or she should understand who you are and ask questions of his own. If he seems nervous, defensive, or—please no—precious about his work, move along! Photographers should be happy to answer all these questions and proudly!
Here’s why I recommend a phone or video conference with your prospective photographer. Ask her why she became a wedding photographer, and watch her when she answers. Does she seem genuine? Does she suddenly become excited and animated, or all… glowy? That’s what you want to hear and see. Relationships are a big part of what we do as wedding photographeres because we play such an intimate role on your wedding day, so it’s so important for you to connect with them!
Wedding photography can be a high-stress job. It means we lose weekends and miss our own friends and family’s weddings, especially when we book up way in advance. We spend a lot of time staring at computer screens and up late at night with emails and editing. It’s not an easy buck; we do what we do because we absolutely love it.
When you ask me why I got into wedding photography, you’ll hear something like this:
My decision to be a wedding photographer has honestly been the biggest blessing. Of course, there are all the positive things you’d expect to hear from a photographer—a day full of love, happiness, good food, dancing—how could you not love it? But then there’s this truly real element of living life that we’ve all detached from as a society. Genuine personal connections. Being off unplugged from our smartphones for a whole day and being fully present. Experiencing real moments.
Every wedding grounds me and gives me a reality check. I’m so blessed that every job connects me with new people who go from being strangers to cherished friends. I get to be creative. I get to bring joy to my clients. I get to challenge myself and grow through constant learning. And yep… once in a while, I get to eat cake.
I hope I’ve helped you down the path to finding the right photographer for you. And if that happens to be me, I’m honored to be a part of your day!
It’s helpful that you said your photographer’s contract should outline their policies for things like losing your files. That’ll be really helpful because then you’ll know what to expect. My sister is getting married and she asked me to hire the photographer. I’ll be sure to hire one that has a detailed contract.
I appreciate the reminder to ask questions about how they’d prepare for the worst, like if equipment is lost or damaged and photos get lost. A close friend of mine is getting married soon and asked me to help them find a photographer for their wedding. Making sure we find someone with adequate backup procedures could help the event go smoothly.
I like your tip about researching the photographer online to see what reviews they have and what their previous clients say about their experience. My fiancee and I have been wanting to find a photographer that can capture our special day as we always imagined it. I think we should look for a professional with experience in wedding photography to help us know what we want on our big day.