Updated April 2017
This is a guide for couples out there who are overwhelmed by options and need help focusing on the important qualities they want in their wedding photographer. It is meant to guide you beyond “their pictures are pretty.”
There are lots of Big Decisions that need to be made for your wedding day. But the biggest decision (okay, I’m a tiny bit biased) is who will document your day. If you want to look back and fondly remember those beautiful centerpieces, teary-eyed vows, and your grandma bustin’ a move on the dance floor, then you need to love and trust your wedding photographer.
I was married nearly 8 years ago, in the Pre-Pinterest dark ages. I was the first of my friends to get married, so I really had no clue what I was doing beyond what the internet told me. I didn’t make the best decision when it came to hiring a photographer. Then I became a wedding photographer a couple years later, and so far have photographed over 75 weddings. Based on my experience, which I’ve used to help my brother hire his own wedding photographer (this sister wanted to party!), I’ve found there are several great ways to get to know them and figure out if they are right for you.
8 years ago, I mistakenly thought that wedding photographers could mimic any style I wanted. Once you know how to take a proper photo, you should be able to match it to any style, right? Not quite: great photographers practice and take pride in creating their own unique look. Don’t expect fun colorful pictures from someone who only shows soft romantic portraits, or you will probably end up disappointed. The same can be said for post processing and how a photographer edits the colors and ‘look’ of your photos.
There is a misconception that photographers who pose always make people look stiff and boring. You may see lots of beautiful, touching portraits on Pinterest and say “I want to be in the moment! Candid photos only!” However, what you may not realize is that most of those Pinterest photos are posed– by skilled photographers who know how to make a couple comfortable and natural in front of a camera. If you truly want “photojournalistic” photos, know what you are asking for: to some photographers, this means they will give you minimal or no guidance (and you’ll be left wondering what to do, where to look, etc).
Cost is a personal and fundamental part of the planning process. The internet has a ton of info on money saving tips, so if you are working under a strict budget (and who isn’t?), I’ll keep it simple: don’t get wrapped up in quantity over quality. A basic 8 hour package with a great photographer is better than lots of extra goodies from a bad one! Would you rather fill your wedding album with a lot of mediocre images, or get amazing images and save up to buy an album later?
TIP: If you’re interested in hiring 2 photographers, know what you are paying for. Are they both experienced professionals who could shoot a wedding on their own, or is one more of the lead photographer and the other acts as an assistant? There is a difference!
Beyond the Portfolio
There is one thing I wish more brides would ask me. It’s key to figuring out if a photographer is right for you. But almost no one asks! Reviews, blog posts, and publications in wedding magazines are all great resources, but none of these will show you what’s most important: a wedding gallery that includes every.single.image delivered to the couple. Preferably, you should look through at least 2.
This will show you how consistent a photographer’s editing is, if they do a variety of portraits you love, how well they handle reception lighting, how well they capture great candid moments, etc. Anyone can show you their best 10-15 photos, but you’ll gain much more insight after looking through an entire wedding.
If you are worried about hiring a photographer who hasn’t shot at your venue before, let me help you erase those fears. Successful photographers wouldn’t be where they are if they were only successful photographing at one venue (and another way to look at it, just because someone has photographed at a venue before, doesn’t mean no one else can do better). No venue has “secret spots” that only someone who has shot there before will know. What you should really focus on is if they have shot in a similar type of venue as yours.
This is why viewing a full wedding gallery is immensely valuable. If you are getting married in a barn with no windows, ask for a similar gallery to view. The logistics of shooting in a dark barn are going to be very similar if not the same. If all your prospective photographer can show you is a white tent wedding, then it’s safe to assume they have very little to no experience shooting at a barn venue like yours.
Same goes for the time of day and type of lighting you’ll have. If you love a natural light photographer’s outdoor portraits, but then it’s raining on your wedding day, will you love that same photographer’s indoor portraits? Or if you are super excited about your candle-lit barn reception and you don’t want your soft, beautiful light ruined (or have blurry, dark dance floor photographs!), it’s important to see similar work from a photographer that understands flash and can balance it well, instead of blasting it harshly–or shying away from it altogether.
In addition, not all weddings can be timed just right for “golden hour” formal portraits (about an hour before sunset, the sun glows warmly behind the trees and gives us gorgeous golden lighting– this is the ideal time of day for portraits). Instead, you may be getting married during a super bright day at noon, or it may be raining, so always make sure your photographer can handle these variations well–again, preferably by viewing a similar wedding, or by asking them their strategies for dealing with these different scenarios.
Communication is a vital part of a wedding photographer’s job–I’d even say it’s as important as photographing your wedding day. They will thoroughly explain their contract (always have a contract!) and everything you will be getting, get a list of requested family formal photos (never skip this!), and generally do their best to ensure great photography coverage on your wedding day.
A professional photographer will help you plan your wedding day timeline. Whether or not you want to keep things very simple, or you have grand plans, they will know how long things typically take, so your day can be filled with fun and happy moments, instead of frustration and stress from running behind. They will be able to craft an ideal timeline that follows your preferences: whether that be attending your cocktail hour, visiting multiple portrait locations, or finding time for sunset portraits, among many other things. If you want your photography coverage to be very hands off and go with the flow, make sure you understand the kindof photos you’ll receive for the timeline you want–you’ll be sorely disappointed if say, you have a large wedding party and are expecting lots of detail shots, but on your wedding day, “go with the flow” meant there was only 30 mins available before dinner started.
An often overlooked part of hiring a photographer is how well you get along with them. Besides possibly a wedding planner, your photographer is going to be spending the most time with you before and during your wedding day. For someone whose job is to capture all your happy and loving moments, make sure you get along with them well enough that you’re smiling instead of cringing on your wedding day.
Some photographers are like ninjas who love to quietly and discreetly capture your wedding day, while others are energetic and outgoing and have no problem making a dirty joke to get your bridal party to laugh. An in-person or skype meeting is the best way to feel out your photographer’s “vibe,” but also check out how they write their blog or social media posts to get a better idea of who they are.
Questions to ask any photographer
So you’ve looked through a full wedding gallery or two, figured out your budget, and like their style…now how do you narrow down who to hire? Well, here’s a handy list of questions you should ask any wedding photographer you are thinking of hiring!
- How do you plan on lighting my ceremony/reception? Can I see similar examples?
- How many weddings have you worked as the lead photographer?
- Do you have back up gear in case something breaks?
- What about insurance?
- What ways do you protect my files from being lost due to fire, computer failure, or memory card corruption?
- How much editing do you do? What if I have a bad skin day?
- Are there any restrictions on how I use my photos?
- Will you use my photos for advertising?
- How will you make sure to capture what’s important? May I request a certain shot?
I hope this guide has made finding a wedding photographer a little less stressful!
My final piece of advice: Your wedding day will fly by, so take time to soak in everything. And remember, if any hiccups occur, they will only make your story that much better to tell 20 years from now. :)