How to choose a wedding photographer
With so many wedding photographers, so many prices, and styles choosing the right wedding photographer can become quite a big and unwieldy task for the modern couple
To begin with, the internet makes things easier, because you can see lots of work side by side, but this does not immediately let you know the most important bits of information, which will in the end determine the best choice for you
20 top tips for choosing a photographer
#1 Who ever you choose, you must click with them
A website will only go part of the way of finding out about attitude and the person.
You will be with your wedding photographer, on your special day from dawn to dusk in some cases, inviting them into your dressing room, while you are getting ready. The photographer will then work with you and your family through the day. You need to find someone you trust, and get on with
#2 Who ever you choose, you must click with them
Yes that’s point one! But it is point 2 as well. Anyone shooting your wedding needs to get the best out of you, and this ultimately is a mix of communication, and camera craft. You need to be confident your wedding photographer can guide and instruct you and your family during the poses and group shots. If they make you smile, put you at your ease, the job is half done
#3 Know that wedding photography is both a business and a vocation
Wedding photography is a business, and professional wedding photography is one of the hardest and stressful disciplines in the photography game. You need to choose a photographer, who is a good in business and photography. I am not talking about profits here; I am talking about the way they run the business. You need to look at the business and think – will they be here in 5 -10 years time, when I have lost my disk, and I want a re-print.
#4 Can you communicate with them easily
Like all wedding suppliers, you need to know – can you communicate with them easily. A hotmail account and a mobile phone number are a giveaway. Look for a landline number, open in office hours. Ask yourself – how quickly do they reply to e-mails, and at what time of the day. However, remember we don’t work 7 days a week, and we don’t answer the phone if we are shooting a wedding. It is not uncommon for busy wedding photographers to take off a day in the week
With a wedding photographer, you need to be clear on this issue, because unlike nearly all of the other vendors, you will be communicating a lot with the photographer a long time after the wedding
#5 Choose what style you like
There are a number of different styles of wedding photography ranging between stiff and formal, through to totally documentary (nothing at all set up). There are also photographers that pull in aspects of other photographic disciplines such as fashion, fine art, avant-garde etc.. On top of that, there are a number of ways the photographs are processed, ranging from standard colour, black and white to totally gimmicky processing.
Before you seriously look at choosing a photographer, choose the style you want first
#6 Matching a photographer to the style you want
This is obvious, but more often than not, the photographer is chosen for another reason, and their style is foisted on the couple. You need to know that good professional photographers can change the style they shoot a little from shoot to shoot. However you do not want to choose a formal photographer to shoot a reportage style etc. Most of us are in the middle, and lean one way or the other.
Look at the photographers work, try and look at whole weddings if they are available, and if many weddings are available to view, look to see that the photographer does shoot in the way you want.
#7 Portfolio shots are different to general wedding photographs
Photographers choose images for their portfolios because they are either the best of the best, or they fit a certain format, or both. They tend to be dramatic, show stopping images. The 99.9% of the images the wedding photographer shoots are the ones you need to be interested in..
Nothing is better than a recommendation, but nothing is worse than an unqualified recommendation. If someone recommends any wedding supplier or wedding photographer to you, then you need to know: have they actually shot the wedding yet? What is the relationship between the photographer and the person doing the recommending? I am often approached by venues, wanting a 10% cut, so that they can recommend me. I always say no. This goes on a lot
If you get a recommendation from a happy couple, who have had the album, and enjoyed the service provided from start to finish, then go with it, but still ensure you like the person and style.
Getting the wedding photographs shot is the most important thing. If you have little money, invest in getting the day covered before investing in products.
All other products – albums, canvases, prints – need to be considered separately. What is the photographer’s attitude to longevity, and quality in the products? Your wedding album should last generations if it is made properly, and will last a few years if poor quality materials are used. Consider this to be an investment.
Do a little research first – find out about acid free materials and pigments, and why using them is important.
On the subject of deliverables, find out how reprints, albums and products are delivered, and if online galleries are provided, and if reprints can be purchased online.
#10 Get a short list and have a meeting
If you can get a very short list of photographers, and go and meet them at their studio. At the meeting you need to cover a few key things. Look at complete wedding albums. Are there any surprises, or inconsistencies? Look at the quality of the work, does it match the website? Do you click with the photographer? Does the studio and business look efficient and organised?
If the photographer is coming to you, ask them to bring a few complete albums, but remember they take up a lot of space and are bulky.
With sample albums, expect to see fingerprints, dings and the like, they tend to get carted from pillar to post, and lots of people thumb through them.
#11 Make sure the photographer shooting your wedding is the photographer you are booking
There are a number of industry practices you need to be aware of: Firstly there are networks of photographers, run from a head office. You may look at the website and see stunning images, but that doesn’t mean the local chap they send is any good.
Secondly, A small number of unscrupulous photographers actually use stock images or copy images from other photographers sites. This is done to defeat the chicken and egg problem that photographers have when they are starting out and have no portfolio.
Thirdly, a number of the better photographers actually run their businesses like hairdressing salons – i.e. the name on the door is the award winning hairdresser, you can pay so much for the junior, and a little more for the executive, and the full rate for the owner – however the style book contains only the best work from whoever.
#12 Award winning photographers
There are 1000’s of awards, and nowadays all photographers seem to be award winning. If they are saying this – find out what award, what photograph, and when. Don’t be too swayed by awards, look at results – real wedding photographs in albums, and use your own eyes and judgment.
#13 Professional qualifications / letters after names
Be very clear to find out exactly what the letters mean. In most instances, the photographer sends in 12 mediocre images with a “joining” fee, and all of a sudden they have flashy letters after the name. If you see this, go to the website, and find out how the photographer joins, and find out if it is merely a commercial organisation that promotes photographers, or a genuinely educative organisation promoting excellent photography.
#14 Contracts, deposits, copyright, pricing
Good professional photographers have this sorted, and have an immediate view. No contract – alarm bells. Discuss releasing the wedding photographs on disk, and what the copyright issues are. Discuss the pricing, and pricing for things that are sold afterward like re-prints, and copies of disks.
#15 Attitudes to backups
Film used to last for ages, decades. Digital has issues, disks degenerate, hard drives crash. A photographer’s attitude to backup is vitally important. As a minimum, the images shot at the wedding, and the photographs produced after editing need to be properly backed up, on and off site. If the wedding photographer can’t immediately tell you his or her process for backing up then an alarm bell should be ringing.
#16 Do not be swayed by today’s fashions
Do look at your mums wedding photographs – some things done 20-30 years ago, look cheesy now – faces in champagne glasses, spot colouring etc. We can all do these tricks, but do not let the fizz and polish sway you between one photographer and another. The most important thing they can do is shoot the wedding photographs properly in the first place.
#17 You do have to pay for quality
If the price is stupidly lower than al of the others, corners will be cut. This will be in equipment, processing time, quality of materials. Often people who have full time jobs doing something else, view shooting weddings not as a full time job, but a s a way of earning cash on the weekend, so the price is set low to attract anyone who wants to pay. While this works for a few weddings a year, you need more commitment than this, because as they get busier, something needs to give, and it isn’t normally the day job.
#18 Ask what backup kit / contingency plans they have
Any professional wedding photographer worth hiring will be able to immediately tell you this. You need to cover – what if a camera breaks or stops working? What happens if the photographer gets ill on the day? What happens if the weather is bad?
The correct answers are – I have a full duplicate kit (and some), I have a network of professionals I can call on at the drop of a hat to cover for me, I know the venue, I have a plan, I will do XYZ.
#19 What to look for in the photographs
When you look at wedding photographs, and you are comparing photographers ask: Has the photographer got the attention of the subject? (Ignore if the photograph is purposefully a candid). Are the eyes, and face sharp? Is the background distracting? Are the poses natural or awkward looking? Do the photographs work well as a set in terms of colour, skin tones and lighting? Are there annoying traits like every background blurred, or every image heavily tilted? On the straight images – are the key parts of the shot straight and parallel to the edges of the photograph?
#20 Get the balance right
The relationship, meeting and conversation you have with your wedding photographer needs to be two way. In other words the best place to be is where you bounce off of each other creatively. If it feels like your potential wedding photographer is telling you what he will do and need to the point where you feel you are changing what you want, or if you feel you have to spoon-feed the photographer with ideas – then you have the wrong photographer.
Again this is just like the hairdresser. You won’t go in the hairdresser and be bullied into having a perm and a colour, but on the other hand you expect your hairdresser to react to what you say constructively, and come up with ideas. In the hairdresser, when you find the right one, you know it – there is a balance between what you want, and the creative input the hairdresser brings to the table. Dealing with wedding photographers is the same; you don’t want a mouse or a prima-donna.