On your wedding day you will spend more time with your photographer than any other vendor for one of the most intimate and emotional days of your life. Your wedding photos will be the most lasting of your wedding day and will help hold the memories far longer than anything else. This makes the importance of choosing a photographer who will do a great job for you and who you feel comfortable with to be of paramount importance.
On the surface with a quick glance many photographers and studios look very similar, but this is far from the truth. For photographers, there are few standards in education, skill, experience and business practices as well as no licensing or regulation often found in other professions such as licensed contractors.
What one photographer or studio offers as services and finished products of photos, prints, albums etc. can be totally different then another. This is why its important to do your homework making sure you hire the right photographer.
With the advance of digital cameras, there has become a proliferation of friends and people with a camera calling themselves wedding photographers. As you take a deeper look into their work and services you find the opposite. These so called “Wannabe” or “take the money and run” photographers are not someone you want shooting your wedding. So how do you discern the “wannabees” and "take the money and run" photographers from the real service oriented professional wedding photographers?
No matter what site or portal you are searching for a wedding photographer these 18 questions below will help you ask the right questions to find the perfect photographer for you!!
1) Who is your photographer?
Now that may sound like a silly question to ask but many people don’t ask. There are really two kinds of studios. Large companies or studios that hire associate photographers often called “teams” to work for them and smaller owner/photographer studios made up of an individual photographer or husband/wife combo. The larger studios because of their volume and revenue often take up the center stage of many bridal shows and front page featured listings!! Meaning these are what couples come upon first. The problem with many of these large companies is you often don’t know who your photographer is, or how long they have been shooting weddings, what their experience and expertise level is and even what their work is like, their reviews etc. Many of these large companies have a high turn-over rate hiring a new team of photographers every year. Often the photos you see on the company website were photographed by a photographer that doesn’t even work there or left years ago. So hence the important question of who is you photographer should be asked? Often with many larger companies you don’t get to meet your photographer, talk to your photographer, read their reviews or see their work. So you are basically taking a huge leap of faith that all will work out. When working with a single studio owner/photographer, it is much easier to scrutinize their work, read their reviews, meet with them, get to know them and have a better chance of knowing what your experience will be like with them as your photographer.
2) How long has your photographer been shooting weddings?
How many weddings and years have they been shooting weddings? The more experienced the more likely they are to do a better job for you---Again with many larger teams and associates, they have a large turnover, hiring new photographers every year. Weddings will throw at a photographer so many unseen, unpredictable and challenging conditions and situations. How well they deal with this is based upon their experience and years of shooting weddings. Your finished product of photos will be determined by this often as well.
3) What type of your photography does your photographer specialize in?
As mentioned, shooting wedding is the most difficult form of photography requiring a huge amount of professional cameras, lenses and lighting gear with backups plus a specialized skill set requiring knowledge of shooting indoors, in dark churches, for outdoor ceremonies in bright sun, night photography and and how to light up reception halls. All this with the time pressures and group dynamics inherent with weddings. As mentioned, all photographers are not alike and your photographer may be experienced in shooting babies, or pets or outdoor portraits which are a far cry from shooting a wedding. Hiring a photographer that specializes in shooting weddings will enhance your wedding photography success. To find out what type of photography they specialize in see their website for examples of their work. If you see lots of babies and not weddings, chances are weddings are not their specialist
4) What is the listing or advertising source of the photographer?
Did you find them on Craigslist? a Facebook group? Google Search? Bridal Show? Knot or Wedding Wire listing etc.? The listing source can tell you a lot about their professionalism and the legitimacy of their business. Such listings as The Knot and Wedding Wire can track reviews, photographer client correspondences and offer awards for merit for photographers, offer continuing education etc. Advertising on such platforms costs a lot of money and can show more of a commitment to the industry and the legitimacy of their business. Places like Craigslist list or Facebook groups etc. won’t offer the same standards and services for clients and regarding knowing if your photographer is running a legitimate business and are a maintaining high standards in their services and products.
5) What will you receiving in your package?
When looking over wedding photography packages you have to read the fine print and ask questions. Years ago, I worked for a studio that offered free engagement sessions. Wow that sound really great right? Not so! The engagement session was free but if you wanted the photos you had to pay $300 for a CD of the photos!! True Story. Some companies offer watermarking or low res images then charge you extra for high res images. Make sure you are getting high resolution images with printing rights and no watermarking. How many photos will you receive? 100 photos/hour shooting sounds like a lot but may translate into only a few hundred edited photos. How about an album? What kind of an album? Is it printed on press paper, or printed on photo paper, a book etc.? Will prints be offered in your package? What one studio offers can be totally different then another. Make sure it is in written on a contract and signed by you and the photographer
6) Turn-around time for your photos, prints and albums?
This is something not often advertised by photographers but something that can be problematic and something you should find out. I have heard many stories from clients about having to wait months for their wedding photos and albums. I worked for a studio that took over a year to get clients their wedding albums. Four to six weeks is average in the industry. Make sure to ask. My turn around is two weeks on photos and albums, one of the fastest in the industry.
7) Editing of your photos?
It is one thing to take a photo and another totally different thing to edit a photo. There are so many photographic editing styles. What one photographer provides as finalized edited images can look totally different from another photographer. Some photographers use presets or apply a filter to their photos to give them a certain look/feel/style. This may be good if it's what you are looking for but not good if you don’t like their particular artistic style. Who is doing the editing can sometimes be as important or more important then who is taking the photos. When I edit a wedding it can take an easy 30 to 40 hours of editing work. When a friend or less experience photographer edits a wedding, or gives you files with no editing it can be a disappointment as far as what your final photos look like.
8) Consistency of work?
When looking at a photographer or studio’s photos, is there a consistency in their work or does one photo looks totally different from another when it comes to colors, exposure, look, style etc.? It is harder to maintain consistency when working with different photographers and or editors. One company I worked with had the photographers edit the weddings they shot for the company. They all edited their weddings differently and each wedding looked different from the next.
9) Are they running a legitimate business?
Is your photographer insured? Do they have a business license? Do they provide you with a contract? Or are they a "wanabee" or “take your money and run” photographer. These are important things to ask and find out. Make sure you sign a contract with them as it puts everything in writing regarding what is included in your package and what you will receive. It also protects you against photographers “flaking” or not fulfilling on what they promised.
10) What are their reviews?
Make sure to read the reviews of the photographer. They can give great insights into the experience you are likely to have. Do you see clients commenting on such things as quick turn-around time in editing, services and attitude, quality of work etc. in the reviews? Many clients hire me just from my reviews. Look across many platforms for their reviews, Google, Facebook, The Knot, Wedding Wire, Bing, Yelp and even the Better Business Bureau. Reviews can tell a lot about a company but they are no the full story!!! I have seen companies go to huge efforts to remove negative reviews. Sometimes it is easy to see these things, sometimes it takes a bit more work to get to the truth. I have found 5 star reviews on companies only to find a record of complaints by the BBB against them.
11) Review their work on a large screen!
When looking at their photos, view them on a large computer monitor!! Blow them up rather then looking on a phone or small thumbnails like Instagram. Look and see how sharp the images are? How in focus is the subject? What is the lighting like, the colors etc.? Do you see only a few couples on their website? Maybe because they have only photographed a few weddings!! Ask to see a full wedding of photos to give you more of an example of how they photograph and edit the various parts of a wedding from getting ready, to ceremony, portraits, and reception? See how they handle various lighting from outdoors to indoors.
12) What type of camera and lens/lenses are they using?
Photography equipment can make a huge difference in how your photos will come out. Photographers starting out often have less quality gear then someone what has been shooting for years. Beginning photographers will start out with crop sensor cameras and lenses which don’t have the clarity and low light capabilities as full frame cameras and professional quality lenses. Also newer photographers’ won’t have the backup camera and lenses that more, longer established pros will have. Is your photographer shooting your whole wedding with one lens or using various lenses for different views and perspectives?
13) What type of lighting equipment are they using?
Much of a wedding can take place indoors and in dark lighting conditions including your reception which can be from ½ to ¾ of your wedding. Likewise harsh outdoor daytime portraits can require off camera lighting to create the most flattering and beautiful photos. Many photographers are “natural light” photographers meaning they don’t use lighting equipment. And although this may have its place in portrait photography during golden hour where your time and location can be chosen with weddings you often can’t control the time of day for shooting and under what conditions. Likewise when you are having to photograph first dances and parent dances, toasts, and reception photos with no, or limited lighting equipment or the skills to use it, your photos can suffer.
14) Set up a time to meet your photographer
You are doing to spend anywhere from 5 to 14 hours on your wedding day with your photographer. Get to know them. Make sure you feel comfortable with them. Schedule a time to meet with them at their studio, or do a phone or skype meeting if you live far from their studio. This can be a lot harder when working with a larger company where you may not get a chance to meet the photographer. When emailing or calling them, how long does it take for them to get back to you? Their responsive rate before your wedding can give an indication of their responsiveness to your needs during and after your wedding.
15) Are they a full service wedding photography studio?
This seems like an obvious thing to ask but I received an email from a bride who worked with another photographer asking me if I would make a wedding album for her because the photographer she hired doesn’t make albums. Definitely a “too good to be true photographer”. A full service wedding photography studio should partner with professional photo and album labs and should offer you prints, albums, canvas, wall art etc. as a final product. Some of the larger companies team up with other vendors to offer video, photo booths etc. to your package which can be a time saver for couples. The downside is you don’t know who the other vendors are or the quality of the work they are offering.
16) What is your budget?
Next to your venue rings and jewelry, your photographer is one of the most expensive of your vendors. Shooting weddings is very labor intensive, the time it takes to edited your photos can take weeks and equipment costs for good photography equipment is very expensive. The cost of staying in business can be high. As of 2020 in Connecticut, good professional studios and photographers charge anywhere from $1000 to $3000 on the lower end and $2000 to $5000 on the upper end.
Clients often come to me with unrealistic budgets for their wedding photography. If you are expecting to pay less than $1000 for your photographer it can happen, but keep in mind your photographer probably is just starting off, are less experienced, may be using marginal equipment, may not own a legitimate business, be a full service studio or practice ethical business practices. You may get lucky but you stand a high chance of getting burned. The last thing you want after your wedding is regrets on who you hired as your wedding photographer. If you have to cut corners on your wedding vendors, don’t make it be your photographer.
17) Do I need a second photographer?
This is something I will talk about in detail in another post. There is a trend in the industry to hire a "second photographer" for your wedding. I feel this has been overrated and their is a lot of obscurity surrounding the "second photographer." They come at a higher price for your wedding package and comes with many trade offs couples are not aware of. The term itself is a very nebulous term. The biggest being that you don’t know who your "second photographer" is, or their experience and skill levels. There are "lead photographers" and then there are "second photographers." The experience level of "second photographers" can vary so much from company to company. Many companies hire "second photographers" that are not as experienced as "lead or 1st photographers"; they are starting off in the industry and have inferior equipment. They are paid less and have a high turn around. The "second photographer" can be hired as late as days or a few weeks before your wedding without much scrutiny by the studio. Also most "second photographers" provide a very low percentage of photos for your final collection. So you may not be getting what you think when having a "second photographer" in your package. If the studio offer a "second photographer" ask about their experience. How many weddings have they shot? How long have they worked for the studio? How many weddings have they shot? Are they a lead photographer as well? Ask to see their work. Overall I feel it is better to have one strong and experienced photographer then it is to have one or two that are less experienced. Having two "lead photographers" with one as your "second photographer" is great but does add a lot to the cost of your wedding package.
18) Ask around, get recommendations from friends, other vendors, etc.
Recommendations and referrals are not the only answer and don’t tell the whole story, but they can be a good start and guide for choosing the best photographer for your needs.
As you search through the many options for photographers, I hope this information will help you sort through the many photographers to find the one that will best work with you, and help make your wedding dreams come true.