As a bride planning my own wedding (before I became a photographer myself), I didn’t know where to begin when it came to the photography. I asked some friends who they’d had photograph their weddings, but beyond that, I didn’t even know how to research wedding photography. Basically, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. And unfortunately, now that’s something that I hear about frequently from other people. Friends, strangers — it seems wedding photography is nearly every couple’s biggest regret about the day their marriage began. Because they didn’t know what they didn’t know, so they didn’t know how to go about finding a photographer who was going to produce wedding photographs that they would love.
So I put together a list — the essentials. These are things you really, really need to consider, and a few of the questions you should ask (your prospective photographer, and yourself!) when you’re on the hunt for the person through whose eyes you will relive your wedding day for the rest of your life.How important are photographs to you?
This is the first step in figuring out not only which photographer you’ll want to hire, but whether you’re even going to allot much of your wedding budget to photography. The truth of the matter is, this is a very personal decision — and while I, both as a photographer and as a person who loves reliving my memories beautifully — believe there aren’t many things more valuable than your wedding day photographs, you may well disagree. That’s fine. Determine whether photography is a high priority for you or a low one, and move forward accordingly.
Are your photography pricing expectations realistic?
Whoa, let’s hold on here. This is the toughest issue when it comes to wedding photography! I can’t tell you how many dozens and dozens of inquiries we get each year from couples who excitedly tell us that photography is incredibly important to them and that they’ve fallen in love with our work — and then tell us that their budget for photography is less than half our starting price. My heart goes out to these couples, because I’ve been there. I’ve been the sticker-shocked bride who doesn’t understand why photography has to cost so much. I want to help these couples, but if Danny and I want to run a viable business that provides us an income, we have to stick to the pricing that we’ve figured out gives us the money we need. With that in mind, the best I can tell brides and grooms is to do your research — not to find out the “average” cost of a wedding photographer (because that means averaging the prices of outstanding, in-demand artists who carefully walk their clients through the wedding process and have a proven history of producing great work with the prices of hobbyists who just purchased a DSLR and set up a website), but to find out the costs of photographers of the caliber you want. If you find the photographers you love are all outside your pre-research budgeting expectations, then it’s probably time to decide which you would rather adjust: Your expectations of your wedding photography, or your budget so you can allot more money to a photographer. It isn’t fair — to yourself, or to your photographer — to hire a lower-priced photographer and still demand the same results as someone who charges considerably more.
Do you know your own preferred photography style?
Before you start contacting photographers, take some time to really peruse photographers’ websites. What are you drawn to? What is a turnoff? What can you see yourself cherishing forty years from now? It’s incredibly important to make sure your own style lines up well with the style of the photographer you hire — because it doesn’t work out very well to hire Photographer A but ask her to please shoot in the style of Photographer B, or worse, hire Photographer A and realize long after the wedding that Photographer B was a much better fit for you. We recently had some friends of ours tell us they had decided to hire another photographer instead of having us shoot their wedding. They hired someone whose style is very, very different from ours, and rather than being hurt, I was thrilled that our friends recognized what they wanted and hired the right photographer to produce those results!
What is your prospective photographer’s approach to wedding photography?
This is a question that I don’t think nearly enough couples ask. But it’s important! There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong answer to this question, but chances are, you’ll know when you like or dislike a photographer’s reply! Some photographers stay in regular communication with clients to make sure all the details are thoroughly planned before the wedding; others simply show up on the wedding day ready to shoot. Some photographers are very hands-on when it comes to directing their subjects for portraits and helping stage beautiful photographs; others prefer to take a true photojournalistic approach and capture only what happens organically (Danny and I are a carefully measured blend of the two). Figure out what works for you!
How does your prospective photographer deliver images?
These days, most photographers make our digital images available to our clients, but a few photographers here and there follow the traditional proofs-and-products model of business. If you know you want the digital images, that’s fine, but if your prospective photographer wants to tell you about the products she offers, listen to her — don’t just brush her off because you figure she’s trying to increase her revenue. She probably will increase her revenue if you purchase additional products, but she’s also probably telling you about the items her previous couples have loved. Go in to your meeting with an open mind — remember, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. And one thing I definitely didn’t know is that there are much more incredible ways to enjoy photographs than looking at them on a computer screen.
Is your prospective photographer consistently excellent — from wedding to wedding, and through all parts of the wedding day?
When you narrow down your search to just a few photographers you love, this is one of the first questions you need answered. Don’t only look at your prospective photographer’s blog or website if they showcase just a few photos from each wedding — ask to see a wedding, or several in their entirety. When I first begin corresponding with couples, I usually send over a PASS gallery or two so the couple can take a look at all the photographs Danny and I delivered from a wedding (or two) that is similar in aesthetic or location to the one this new couple is planning. I want to make sure they can see not only our best photographs from the day, but everything: Family formals, candid reception shots, emotional exchanges during the ceremony. Here’s why: Some photographers excel at romantic portraits, but their reception pictures are lackluster; others specialize in capturing raw, powerful moments throughout the wedding day, but they’re not so skilled at posing the couple or the bridal party. Make sure you know exactly what your prospective photographer is capable of during different parts of the wedding, and — equally important! — in a variety of lighting conditions.
(Side note on quality images in a variety of lighting conditions: Something to bear in mind is that, to produce beautiful portraits in dim conditions, a photographer needs to not only know how to use her gear, but to own several speed lights — about $1,000 worth, at minimum, of equipment solely for providing elegant lighting. This was something Danny and I invested in as soon as we were about to begin shooting weddings, because we knew how important it was to us to be able to create some amazing pictures in dark rooms or at outdoor nighttime receptions, so this isn’t an issue of new photographer vs. established photographer. Look closely at a photographer’s portfolio and decide whether you like the way she handles photographs in dark conditions. Oftentimes, if a photographer a.) doesn’t own the necessary equipment, or b.) doesn’t know how to use that equipment to its fullest, her nighttime pictures will be only marginally better than the photographs your guests take.)
Is your prospective photographer running a licensed and insured business?
Now, this is a question that a lot of photographers scoff at. I suppose they assume everyone should know they’re licensed and insured simply because . . . well, I don’t know why. Venues that serve food can’t operate without proper business licensing and hefty insurance, but photographers can and sometimes do, no matter how beautiful their work is or how pretty their website looks. Having a business license makes the photographer’s business legit with the government so the photographer can collect and pay appropriate taxes, and having business liability and equipment insurance means that if something bad happens, the photographer’s life as well as yours won’t be turned upside down. For these reasons, and so many more — including the fact that a lot of wedding venues require proof of a $1-2 million insurance policy from your photographer! — I think it’s completely valid to inquire whether a photographer is licensed and insured.
Do you like your prospective photographer?
Does this one sound like a no-brainer? It should be! You’ll spend more time on your wedding day with your photographer than with your newly minted spouse. Make sure you and your photographer get along personally, that you like being around her, that she will have a calming presence, and that she won’t add to your stress on the biggest day of your life.
Why does your prospective photographer photograph weddings?
There are a lot of reasons that people get into wedding photography. Find out why your prospective wedding photographer did, and why she still does it. It can make all the difference in the world.
I hope these questions can help as you hunt for your wedding photographer! This is, by no means, an exhaustive list of questions for you to ask yourself or your prospective photographer, but it’s a good start! Maybe now you know some of what you didn’t know — and I wish you the very best as you find the photographer who is the right fit for you!