I know I’ve said it before, but hiring your wedding photographer is one of the most important decisions you make when you plan your wedding. I always tell my clients they’ll have three things after the wedding day is over: Your spouse, your dress and your photos (and a video from The Perfect Wedding Video if you have that too). Almost everything else you spend time and money on is either intangible (DJ or band, venue rentals), perishable (those lovely flowers!) or consumable (food and beverage). Knowing that, you want to make sure your photos come out just as you hoped they would. After all, you will be looking at them for the rest of your life! As I planned my own wedding last year, I had an informal list of questions that I used to find the photographer that was the best fit.
How many weddings have you shot?
It’s ok to hire a student or beginner if that’s all your budget can afford, but do make sure they have some experience, even if it is just assisting or second shooting for a professional. Shooting weddings is a lot more difficult than some nonwedding photographers realize and you’ll want someone who knows what to expect, has the proper equipment and can handle a full day of shooting.
Can I see the portfolio of the photographer that will shoot my wedding?
If you’re hiring an individual, like myself, chances are the work they show on their website and portfolio is all theirs. But there are a lot of large, budget photography studios out there that have several (if not several dozen) photographers available and to be honest, you might not like the personality or style of some of the people they have on staff. When I first started out in this business, I worked for a studio like that to gain experience and I often felt bad for the brides that hired them because they had no idea who would be shooting their wedding that day. It could be a solid professional with several year’s experience or an intern making minimum wage who’s never shot a wedding before. Even when brides asked who their photographer would be, the sales team told them they matched people up according to who would fit their desired style best. Not true. They basically got whoever was available to work that weekend, regardless of experience or style. Be wary and ask the right questions when hiring a studio for your photography.
It’s also a good idea to ask to see an example of an entire wedding, not just the “best of” for all the weddings they shot, that way you know they can deliver an excellent product from start to finish, the entire day.
Are the dates I need available?
This seems like a no-brainer, but it is important to find out if they’re available on your date before you get your heart set on one photographer, and then later find out they are already booked for your wedding! A lot of photographers only shoot one wedding a weekend or have a cap on the number of shoots and/or weddings they do each month or year, so make this one of the first questions you ask.
Will there be a contract?
Never, ever work with a photographer, even an amateur or student, without a contract! While a lot of the things in most photographer’s contracts are there to protect them (like, uh, the fact that you have to pay them) many of the things in there are designed to protect you. For instance, my contract states that I will be there for the hours promised, for the rate we’ve agreed upon, and I will deliver the images to you as specified in a timely manner. All of those things are in your best interest, not mine. Say, for example, I decide to leave your wedding after two hours (when we originally agreed upon 6), the signed contract gives you more leverage than an email would alone, and way more leverage than phone or in-person conversations.
It will also typically outline what type of deposit is required and when the full amount is due and the details of both. Other things that may be included in a photographer’s contact are pricing, delivering the final product, cancelation and rescheduling, liability, responsibilities and coverage, model releases, and copyright and reproduction rules.
They shouldn’t be overly complicated documents that require a law degree, but read it over carefully and be sure you’re comfortable with everything in it, before signing!
What type of equipment do you have? Can you shoot in all types of light?
You needn’t be a photography or camera expert on this subject, just make sure they have professional, quality equipment, and professional-quality backup equipment. As a photographer I know tech problems can happen at any time so having backup equipment is essential. You don’t want your photographer to miss anything because of technical issues.
Also, be sure they have proper lighting equipment. I laugh to myself every time I see a photographer “brag” about being a natural light photographer. Sure, natural light is best, but its just that: natural. When the sun goes down, can your photographer still shoot? Working with only available light that pretty much only allows you to shoot outside, during daylight hours. I worked really hard in school to learn proper off-camera lighting techniques and have spent a lot of money and effort making off-camera lighting look more like natural light and allowing me to work in any lighting situation. I have never once shot a wedding that didn’t require me using some sort of additional lighting, and I think it’s the biggest thing that separates professional wedding photographers and amateurs.
What types of packages are available?
Some photographers base their prices on hours of coverage, some on the prints and albums you receive, some price themselves on a mix of the two. Be sure you know what you’re getting before you sign a contract and if you want anything outside of the package, be sure to ask what the cost will be. They may offer things that aren’t advertised like additional hours of coverage or prints and albums to add on to your package.
Do you offer prints?
Speaking of prints…..If they don’t outright state that they offer prints and albums, but this is something you want, ask! You are paying a lot of money for your photographer on your wedding and those images are moments you will want to remember forever! Getting prints or enlargements done at Wal-mart or Costco just doesn’t do them justice. The color can be way off, pixelation and blurring can occur, and they often take the liberty of cropping them for you (how nice of them!). Your photographer can be a valuable resource to help you order the best possible quality prints. In fact, they may have access to resources you, as a non-photographer, don’t. The lab I use, Miller’s Imaging, is only available to professional photographers and the prints they sell are some of the highest quality out there today. You look at a Costco print next to a professional-grade one and there is simply no comparison.
Same goes for albums. A professional quality album is a true work of art that you will treasure for the rest of your life! I know budgets can be tight, especially after a wedding when you’re paying all the bills, so ask if your photographer would let you design and order your album after the wedding, say for your one-year anniversary or as a holiday gift to your parents? What a great gift to give each other and those you love. And if you really want an album, make sure you actually one! I’ve heard from so many people that before they knew it, 5 years went by and they really wished they had a wedding album, but just never got around to it at the time.
How soon after my wedding will my images be ready?
We’ve all heard horror stories from a friend or acquaintance who waited 8, 9, even 12 months or more to see her wedding photos. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have that kind of patience! I want to see and share them as soon as possible! Now, understand that photographers can be very busy, especially during peak season (May to October in most areas of the country), so it’s important to give them some leeway on getting the photos to you. For that reason, many photographers will give you an absolute deadline for photo delivery, say 3 months, but in many cases they will get them to you quicker than that. At least you have something to go off of so when the 6 month mark rolls around, and you were promised 3, you have grounds to ask W(where)TF your photos are!
Also, pay attention to their blog or facebook and instagram pages. Do they post “previews” a few days after shooting a wedding or portrait session? If so, thats a great way to get a sneak peek and share it with your friends and family.
Can you take formal, group portraits?
One of the best things your photographer can do is take photos of you and your family or friends on your wedding day. How often do you get together as a group, all dressed up and getting along? Weddings and funerals are about the only times, and we all know how excited everyone is to take photos at a funeral. Make sure your photographer is comfortable setting up, lighting and directing a large number of people for a group shot. This may seem like a simple task, but I can tell you from experience trying to round up a group of 60 family members in a downpour requires some sort of professional expertise. And patience. A lot of patience. Your photographer should probably have that too.
Are there extra costs or fees I should be aware of?
Travel fees, extra hours of coverage, prints and albums, online proofing galleries, engagement sessions. These are sometimes included in your package, but if they’re not and thats something you want, ask. Fees for these services can all add up quickly from the price you were promised, so make sure you know what these are before you are surprised by the final bill!
How many months in advance do I need to reserve your services?
Typically, the sooner the better for three reasons. One, that’s one more thing checked off your wedding planning to-do list! Hooray! Now go have a cocktail and celebrate.
Two, is that you want to make sure you get the photographer you want! I know most photographers don’t reserve a space on their calendar for a wedding until they’ve cashed the deposit check, so the sooner you book, the better your chances are of getting them for your wedding.
And three, their rates can, and probably will change, and I’ve never heard of a photographer lowering their prices. Some photographers raise their price tag at the beginning of the year, some after booking a certain number of weddings. You never know, so it’s best to book asap. Say your wedding isn’t until a year and a half from now? Who cares?! Book that photographer and take advantage of getting the best possible prices and dates available.
Whew! That was a novel huh? Thanks for hanging in there with me. I hope these tips will help you on your search for your wedding photographer and will save you some headache, heartache and dough! Have a specific question? Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org