I’ve probably blogged this before, but choosing the right photographer is so important that I feel it’s worth repeating. Unfortunately, for you there is a so much to consider when choosing a wedding photographer that this will be a long blog, but it’s what you should know to make your decision.
When you become engaged and start planning your wedding, you are so excited and enthusiastic. This excitement can change to stress very quickly if you are not organized and if you do not do your research. Choosing your photographer, or any vendor for that matter, has become increasingly easier thanks to the internet. You can research all of your vendors in the comfort of your own home, at lunch with the girls, at work (not advised!), or where ever you wish.
Choosing the perfect wedding photographer will not be an easy task. Out of everything you must consider when making your choice, there is one rule that you absolutely MUST follow! Do NOT choose your wedding photographer on price alone! Wedding photos are not some place in your wedding budget where you want to cut corners. I’m not just saying this because I am a wedding photographer; I’m saying this because you can’t do your wedding over!
When choosing your wedding photographer, the first thing you need to do is figure out your preferred wedding photography style. Do you like the traditional photographs or the modern “edgier” portraits or the photojournalistic style, or a combination of all styles? Believe it or not, not all photographers keep up with the current trends or know how to pose their subjects so it is important to know what you like and choose a photographer that fits your specific tastes.
Next, you need to set your photography budget. Keep in mind, this will be one of the more expensive parts of your overall wedding budget. Not only will you need to include your photographer’s base package cost, but you will also need to include the extras like prints, albums, DVD’s or whatever else you may want. If you are buying a disk of all of the images so you can create your own albums or prints, don’t sacrifice quality for cost and keep in mind the time it will take you to do all of this. Even for the professionals, it takes several days just to lay out the album, and we do this all of the time. You may want to let your photographer deal with the details to save yourself the headache. Nonetheless, you need to consider all of these costs in your budget as well.
Once you figure out what you can spend, then you need to research possible photographers. Again, do not sacrifice quality for cost! Just because someone has a great camera doesn’t make them a wedding photographer any more than someone who has a sports car makes them a race car driver. Also remember how much time a photographer will need to capture everything that you want photographed. You won’t be able to get in the ceremony, family portraits, the cake cutting, bride and groom’s first dance, etc. in 3 or 5 hours unless you are having a very small intimate wedding with just a few guests, and/or the wedding and reception are in the same place and the reception starts immediately after the ceremony ends. Even then, it may be a stretch because of things being delayed, like the food isn’t ready on time or your pictures take longer than expected because a member of the bridal party or family member wanders off and you have to find them. Things like this happen more often than not, so you and your photographer need to be prepared. Also, you must know that the photographer’s time starts when they arrive, so just because you have a two or three hour break between the ceremony and the reception, this doesn’t mean your photographer will. This is when they get a lot of the formal photographs done. If a photographer tells you that they are charging you for all day coverage find out when they start and when they stop and if there are limits on the number of covered hours. Sometimes all day could mean right before the ceremony starts until the first dance. If you want your photographer to be there earlier for the “getting ready” photos or stay until the party is over, you need to make sure that this is clear to your photographer and included in the package price so you don’t incur extra charges or become disappointed that the photographer missed the groomsmen dancing to the YMCA (future blackmail photos!). Most photographers will offer basic packages and customize them to fit your needs, so make sure you know just what you want before you book your photographer!
The next thing you should consider when hiring your wedding photographer is the quality of their work. Every photographer will show their best work and it’s probably already on their website and facebook pages. But what about the rest of their work? Definitely ask to see as much as you can. Most photographers will be happy to show you anything you want to look at. Make sure the images they don’t post are as good of quality as those that they do post. Make sure the quality of their albums are professional quality and don’t look like they are cheap so they can make an easy buck. Most photographers do use professional photographer services, but there are those random few that are just in it to make the most money they can, so buyer beware.
Also, when looking at a photographer’s sample images, do they look good to you, or do they WOW you? If you are going to spend all of the money that you will be spending to WOW your guests, shouldn’t your wedding photos be a reflection of that and WOW you? Your photographer should know your vision for your dream wedding and be able to tell the story of your wedding day as you would want it told. Your wedding photographs should capture all of the details and memories of the day so that in the future when you are telling your children and grandchildren about your wedding day, they too can see the memories in your photographs.
Ok, so you figured out the style you want, the pricing you can afford, and the quality of the images, but how is the wedding photographer’s customer service? In a recent episode of Judge Joe Brown (no I didn’t watch it, but I did hear about it), there was a bride that hired an amazing photographer for their 2008 Wedding. It’s now 2011 and they still didn’t have their wedding photos or wedding album! That’s a long time (and yes, it said 2011 in the episode). They saw their photos on line and were very pleased with them and tried several times to order, but the photographer just couldn’t get his act together enough to get the job done. That’s definitely bad customer service to the extreme. It’s not very often that something this bad happens, but things do go wrong. So how do you find out how your photographer ranks when it comes to customer service? The easiest way is to find out what other brides say about them. You can read other bride’s reviews on most of the bigger wedding websites like TheKnot.com or WeddingWire.com. Plus you can find out things about them on the website for the Better Business Bureau, which by the way, you have to be a member to get an A+ rating, so if they are not a paying member, the best score they can have is an A.
After you finally narrow down your list to just a few photographers, you should meet with them to find out what they are really like. You must feel comfortable with your wedding photographer when you meet them to make sure you are comfortable and relaxed on your wedding day. You will already be stressed enough that you don’t need the added stress from your photographer. Your photos will show if you are relaxed or stressed and you definitely want to be relaxed for good portraits. Also, if you are relaxed, your wedding party, family and guests will also be relaxed with the photographer.
With all of this being said, here are the questions (and reasons) I would ask a potential photographer:
- Do you have backup equipment? (Murphy’s Law: if something can go wrong, it will go wrong, and you don’t want to chance that with your wedding photos!)
- Do you have insurance? (In case something does go wrong, like they forget to put the memory card in their camera or lose the images, etc.)
- Are they a member of any professional photographer organization? (Many of these organizations provide continuing education for photographers and some even provide insurance.)
- How long have they been in business and how long have they photographed weddings? (This can provide clues as to how well their business is doing or if they are just starting. And you should also know that photographing portraits in a studio is much different than photographing weddings or other events, so how long they have been photographing weddings is a major thing to know about them.)
- How many wedding have they done? (Everyone needs to start somewhere, but someone that is just beginning in the wedding business may not necessarily be the best choice when it comes to your one and only wedding. A newer photographer may “forget” to get photos that may be second nature to someone that is used to doing a lot of weddings. I’m not saying that this is always the case because a newer photographer may try harder to get it right, but that is a decision you would have to make based on what you know about the photographer.)
- Who is actually photographing your wedding? (Some photographers hire someone else to do the actual photographing of a wedding. A lot of times these may be family members, photography students or interns that they know. Also, if there are two photographers that are used, will both photographers be shooting or will they take turns or how exactly does that work and is the second photographer really necessary or just an added expense?)
- How long until I see my proofs? (Remember the Judge Joe Brown story from earlier!)
- How long will I have to order my album and prints after I see my proofs? (This time will vary by photographer. Currently, my weddings are online for 60 days before they are archived while some photographers keep theirs online a lot longer and some a lot shorter.)
- How did they become a photographer? (This just gives you a little bit of background about them so you can find out about their training and dedication to the art of photography.)
- Where do they order their prints and albums from? (Professional photography labs and album companies that service only professional photographers are usually a little more expensive, but also are usually a much higher quality than what the average person can get on their own. You don’t want to pay an arm and a leg for something from SnapFish or Walmart when you can get that a lot cheaper on your own!)
All in all, you have to make sure that your photographer is exactly what you want. Don’t settle for a photographer because the price is cheaper! There are no do-overs on your wedding day! In the end, you get what you pay for. After the party is over and the guests have gone home, you can’t keep the food, you probably won’t keep all of the decorations (and neither will your guests), and you return the tuxes, all you will have left will be your memories and photos of your special day. A good photographer will be able to tell the story of your wedding day image after image as if you are reliving each moment as it happened. A great photographer will make you say WOW!
A good wedding photographer may be a little more expensive, but the memories that your photographer captures are priceless!