Weddings are a once in a lifetime kind of event. It’s a day you want to remember for the rest of your life. The wedding day flies by and at the end of the day it’s all a blur of emotions. The wedding photographer you choose can make a big difference when capturing those fleeting moments. But how do you choose the right one for you?
One of the first things you should do after saying yes and announcing your joy to everyone you know is to decide what your overall budget is. In 2009, according to The Knot, the average wedding budget in the US was $28,385 (not including the honeymoon) with $2,444 spent on photography following the traditional 12-15% of the entire budget. After you have determine what your budget is, it’s time to decide what the most important items are and what portion of the budget they deserve.
Once you know what your budget for a photographer is, it’s time to do your research. Start searching for photographers in your area – both online and recommendations from friends and family. Recently married friends can be some of your best resources but make sure you check their vendors out for yourself to make sure they match your style. Look over potential photographers’ websites and blogs thoroughly, do you like what you see? Do the images speak to your vision of your wedding day? Contact the photographers you like to make sure they are in your budget range and to check their availability for your date.
It’s time to meet a few photographers in person, unless you are having a destination wedding where you should at least speak on the phone. How do you know they are the right one for your day? There’s lots of questions you need to ask but more importantly you need to know what the answers should be. What’s the point in asking the standard list questions if they don’t actually answer what you really need to know?
What is your approach to photographing a wedding?
Have them describe how they photograph a wedding - before you mention what you would prefer (anyone can say they are what you want when they know what to say). Do you want a photographer who blends in to the background and allows the photos to happen naturally? Or do you prefer a photographer that conducts the day and poses every shot? Maybe you prefer a photographer that helps move the day along and lightly directs portraits but still captures images as they happen? Make sure that their answer matches what you want. Remember the photographer will be at your side throughout the day and you want them to feel more like a friend than one more stress to deal with.
Can we see some of your work?
It’s an obvious question but not for the reason you think. Most wedding photographers hone their skills as the “second shooter” (an additional photographer, not always experienced) or even just taking casual photos at a friend’s wedding. It’s a great way to learn but the pressure is not the same if you are assisting another photographer as it is when you are on your own. The other issue is that the images may not be their “original” work. That is not to say they did not take the picture but snapping a photo of another photographer’s setup does not show their own style.
Can we see a whole wedding?
Every portfolio will display a photographer’s best work and those that they feel best show their style, but they may not show a wedding from start to finish. It’s important to see an entire wedding to ensure that the quality of work is consistent and that you still love their style. Whether you see it on the computer screen, in prints or an album, make sure you see at least one.
Who will be photographing my wedding?
You need to know if the person you are meeting will be the one photographing your wedding. Do they hire other photographers to shoot their weddings or do they photograph the weddings themselves? It’s also important to know if they use a team or if they work solo. Make sure you see the work of whomever will be there on your wedding day and try to find time to meet them all in person if possible.
What else do you do?
It is important to know if they are a full-time or part-time photographer. This isn’t a deal-breaker for most people, but it may be for you. Are they overbooked putting your photos at the bottom of a long to do list? Are they an occasional photographer that may not be prepared for the event? The important thing to know is what priority your wedding will be and will they be available for you as needed.
Do you use professional equipment/backup equipment?
This is much more important than the “what brand of equipment do you use?” qustion. There are several brands/types of equipment and unless you know a lot about the specifics of them all, it doesn’t really matter which one they use. However, it does matter that the photographer is using professional grade equipment, not entry level or even the point and shoot camera you use for every day snapshots. It’s also important that they carry backup equipment of similar quality in case the unexpected happens and something fails. The “do you use film/digital?” question is only as important as you want it to be.
What do you do in case of bad weather?
If you plan to have an outdoor wedding and it is forced indoors due to weather, it’s important to know that your photographer will still be able to provide top notch photos no matter the circumstances. Ask questions specific to your wedding venue/date and make sure you are comfortable with the answers. Look at examples of similar situations when possible.
What can we expect for proofs and when can we see them?
Have the photographer define what their proofs are. Generally photographers will take many more photos than you will ever see. There’s a good reason for this. Usually several photos are taken that are nearly identical to ensure that an important shot is not missed. They are then whittled down to get rid of the shots that are unflattering – eye blinks, people looking the wrong way, someone walking through the shot, etc. It would be overwhelming to go through 10 group photos; besides, who wants to see photos that they don’t look their best in? Ask if their proofs are fully edited, partially edited, or straight out of the camera. Find out how long after the wedding you can expect to see your proofs. It usually ranges from 3 to 12 weeks depending on how many photos a photographer takes and the amount of retouching they do to each photo. Also ask how they will be displayed – do they provide printed proofs or are they online and how long are they available.
How do you back-up/store my images and for how long?
This is VERY important. From the moment the photographer takes the photo to the time they are delivered to you, you need to know that the images are secure. Equipment has been known to walk away during weddings taking images with them. A photographer needs to secure the memory cards during your wedding to ensure that they are not lost during down time. Once they upload them to their computer, they need to back photos up in more than one location. Hard drives failures happen often and the last thing you want is your images lost forever. Make sure they tell you that they are backed up in at least two locations, preferably one of them being an off-site location. Another important question is to find out how long they store your images, especially if you do not receive digital images.
Do you provide digital images?
This is not a question that will be important to everyone. If it important to you then you need to know whether they will be low-resolution or high-resolution and what your restrictions will be. Generally, low-res images are watermarked and not suitable for printing. These are provided for your use online and are watermarked for both your protection as well as the photographer’s. No photographer wants their work stolen or claimed by anyone else and you do not want unscrupulous people taking your images for a use you would not approve of. Hi-res images are usually able to be printed to a size of at least an 8×10. Restrictions of how they may be used are placed on them (ie. personal use only with no commercial use) and the copyright remains with the photographer. Ask your photographer if digital images are available and whether or not they are included in your price. You should also ask if they will be retouched.
Can you provide references?
It is important to ask for references to ensure that the photographer you are thinking of hiring is as good as they say. Find out if the previous couples are satisfied with the photos/products they received and how the photographer performed during the wedding. Did anything go wrong and how did they react? Obviously if they were recommended by a friend this isn’t quite as crucial, but it’s still a good idea.
Do you provide emergency coverage?
What happens if they are unable to be present at your wedding due to unforeseen circumstances? If they are in an accident or become ill what is their policy? Most photographers will do their best to be at your wedding no matter what and will try to find a replacement if necessary. Find out if the photographer that would replace them is as qualified as they are.
Can you photograph “this”?
Do you have a special request or something unusual that you want photographed? Make sure to ask your photographer if that is something they can accommodate and if they happen to have examples of a similar request.
What will you be eating?
Yes you need to ask this. Unless you are only scheduling your photographer to be available for a couple hours, you need to provide a meal. This goes for the other vendors as well. The last thing you want is for your photographer to pass out during your reception and miss important shots. Make sure your caterer is prepared to feed your vendors though most will ask you what you want to provide ahead of time.
Make sure the photographer you choose is insured, behaves and appears professional, is committed to and understand the importance of capturing every detail, and that the photographer provides a solid contract. Ask yourself if you like their personality and style, do they make you feel comfortable? Do a search for their name and look at the entries to make sure they don’t contain negative reviews or possibly even news stories about the photographer not delivering the photos. Choose your photographer wisely and not solely on price. Remember, there are no wedding day do-overs.
If you have any questions or ideas for future posts please let me know. Photographers feel free to use this on your blog as long as you link back and give credit