How to Tell the Difference Between a Good Wedding Photographer and a Bad One

How do you tell the difference between one wedding photographer and the next? Searching through the sea of wedding photographers can be a big task. When I got married, I was given the task of selecting our wedding photographer, and I looked at websites of many different photographers. Some were more expensive and some were less expensive, but often I couldn’t tell the difference between the actual pictures. If I could tell that I liked one photographer’s work better, I didn’t know why. This left me with very little confidence in selecting a wedding photographer.

I want you to be able to choose a wedding photographer with confidence. So let’s answer the basic questions.

Why can’t I tell the difference?

The reason that you and I could not tell the difference, is that most of the work that is put online is the best work of the photographer. All of the photos you see on websites are great photographs. If they weren’t, they would not make it on the website. If you had a camera and went out to shoot a thousand pictures one day, I am sure you could take at least 1 good picture.

This is exactly what some photographers do. They shoot weddings and come up with 2 or 3 good pictures from the wedding. These are the photographs that are posted on their website. You will never see the other photographs. A poor photographer will only be able to take 1-10 good photographs from your day. A good photographer will be able to shoot 30-70 great photographs from your wedding day. A great photographer may be able to shoot 50-100 great photographs.

Real weddings?

Another trick that photographers use to build up their online portfolio is to use fake wedding shots. Some photographers will hire some models and go to a beautiful location and spend a whole day taking photos. They will put these shots on their website and while the shots are great shots, they aren’t from real weddings. The photographer gets the opportunity to spend half an hour perfecting each shot. They may fiddle with the pose. They may take the shot and realize that there’s something distracting in the background. They will not have this much time on your wedding day. You will not get any photos that look like these on your wedding day.

Some photographers may even go to a workshop where another professional photographer teaches them on how to take great photos. In these cases, the teacher is the one who actually poses the model and sets up the lighting. Will your photographer actually be able to create those shots themselves?

Ask to see an entire wedding of photos

So don’t select a photographer merely by looking at the online portfolio. All photographers should have a great online portfolio. (If they don’t, definitely beware.) Meet with the photographer and ask to see photographs from an entire wedding. The photographer should show you 200 or so photographs from an entire wedding and see how many of these photographs you think are great shots. Not all of them will be great. Even the best photographers will have mediocre shots, but if there is a large number that are great shots, you know you have a good photographer.

Know the great photographers

Another way to be able to distinguish the good photographers from the bad ones, is by being familiar with the great photographers. There may be one or two great photographers in your area that charge over $10000 per wedding. You may not be able to afford that, but by looking at their photographs you can realize what good photography really is. Then look for those elements in other photographers. Some of the great wedding photographers are Joe Buissink, Jeff Ascough, Jessica Claire, Nate and Jaclyn Kaiser from The Image is Found, Jesh de Rox and others. Look up those names and peruse their photographs. You will get a sense of what great photography and as a result, you will be able to more easily differentiate the good photographers from the mediocre ones.

Top 10 Must Ask Questions for Your Wedding Photographer

During every consultation with a potential client, the bride opens her wedding organizer and flips to her copy of the ten most important questions to ask a wedding photographer.

No question is a bad question. I’ll politely answer any question she asks. But these top-ten-lists printed in wedding magazines don’t go far enough. So, take your list of ten questions and add a few more that I’ve written in this article. They will greatly improve the information you get from photographers.

Do you accept family portrait lists?

Every photographer should accept this list. It’s essential to accomplishing the job you’ve hired him for. Write down the name of every family member to appear in each portrait. Review the list with your photographer, and he’ll tell you how much time will be needed to take every picture.

Do you carry liability insurance? Every wedding vendor should have a minimum $1 million liability policy. This insurance covers accidents or damage the photographer may cause while working. You don’t want to end up responsible for their damage. Protect yourself.

Will you make changes to the contract?

Many photographers object to changing their contracts for any reason. You don’t have to work with them. Never sign an agreement that you’re uncomfortable with. I suggest the following list of additions to every photography contact.

1. The photographer you are hiring should be named explicitly as the photographer who will photograph your wedding.

2. The contract should list any prepayment as a deposit. It should not say retainer. In some states, you may have a difficult time being refunded a retainer if the photographer fails to perform the contract.

3. You should provide limitations on things he shouldn’t photograph, such as the bride or groom undressed.

4. If you’re receiving digital negatives in the package, you’ll need the photographer to grant you a copyright license to use the digital files for unlimited personal printing.

5. The contract will have a “Failure to Perform” section. It should state that you are entitled to a full refund of all money paid, including the deposit, should the photographer not photograph your wedding.

How do you provide wedding proofs?

Few photographers provide printed proofs anymore. Every photographer I know posts the photographs in a private web gallery or mails a DVD to the client. I do both. The web gallery accepts print orders from the couple and their wedding guests, and the DVD includes all of the photographs in a printable format.

How long will the wedding photographs be online? Every service is different. They should be online for a minimum of one year.

What file format do you shoot?

Every professional photographer will use the RAW setting, which gives the client the best possible results. This file format captures 4,096 levels of color per channel. The JPEG format, used in every point and shoot camera, captures 256 levels. That’s a massive difference in the subtleties of color tone within an object.

RAW has the greatest dynamic range, which means you’ll see a lot of detail in the brightest and darkest areas of a photograph.

Does your rate include any photo editing?

Anything is possible when your photographer has great digital editing skills. But don’t count on it being free. Editing is a very extensive process that often costs more because of the time that is involved.

As part of the photographer’s day-rate, he should include a RAW conversion. This means that the photographer opens each RAW file and adjusts all of the settings to create a nicest printable photograph. It will improve the skin tones, contrast and sharpness of the photographs.

Many clients think the conversions look so wonderful that they can’t suggest any other changes. RAW conversions create proofs that blow away proofs made from film.

Your tab will start adding up when you ask the photographer to change things about your appearance. Want a different hair color? I can do it. Want a digital nose job? No problem. It’s cheaper than plastic surgery.

You can save money. Ask your photographer to provide free editing with your album order. I do this as part of my regular service. I will make any edit to an album print that the client requests at no additional charge.

Do you provide digital negatives?

Selling the digital negatives is a very contentious issue among professionals. Photographers never gave film negatives to the client without charging a bundle. Since digital files are the same thing as negatives, many photographers charge upwards of $1,000 for them. So, the couple is forced into buying an album or prints if they ever want to hold their photographs.

Younger photographers, including myself, realize that the market has changed. Wedding clients demand that they receive the digital negatives as part of the day-rate package. I agree with them.

I give my clients the digital negatives, and they still spend plenty of money on the new, innovative wedding albums and other products. My clients are happy, and my business prospers.

Do you grant a copyright license to print from the disc?

Why pay for the disc if you’re not allowed to use it? Ask to receive a copyright license to use the disc for personal use. Photographers won’t sell you the copyrights, but they will grant you the license to print from the disc. You could even choose to make your own album. I always give my wedding clients the license.

How long do you archive the client’s files?

Digital image files are huge. They quickly fill hard drives, and some photographers won’t spend the money to save years of photographs. The photographer should tell you how long he archives the files before deleting them.

Do you print on exclusively on real photography paper?

If you know nothing about photography and want a high-quality, life-long lasting print, then ask your photographer to print on Fuji or Kodak digital papers with a Lustre finish

These two brands of paper look identical. The brand you receive will depend on the professional lab where your photographer orders his prints. They will last for your lifetime. That’s much longer than your parent’s wedding prints, which have probably faded in their album already.

The Lustre finish has a fine sheen. It’s not glossy, nor is it matte. The colors really pop, and it resists fingerprints and water droplets. If you ever spill water on a print, drain it off and air dry. Don’t dab or wipe it, and you might save the print.

What is included in the album rate?

The price should include a fixed number of pages and photographs. The photographer should edit the photographs to your satisfaction.

If you’re receiving a coffee table book with a unique layout, you should request final approval before printing.

Don’t allow fake photo paper in an album. Albums with rigid pages most likely have real photography paper. If the album has flexible pages, then it’s probably a fake photo paper. This is nothing more than coated cardboard designed to imitate the real thing. It will fail in your lifetime. I’ve seen interior folds fade within a few months.

Many coffee table books, however, use real photo paper. Make sure the photographer knows what he is selling you.

Copyright Rich Dutchman 2010

Article may be reprinted in its entirety with proper crediting to the author.

How to Choose a Wedding Photographer

There are so many things that worth of preparing before your wedding day. Since I’m a photographer, I’d like to share some thoughts from a photographer’s view and cover this topic in several sub-topics.

1. How to choose your photographer.

View past work.
The first thing that comes to my mind when choosing a photographer is to view his/her past works. Photography is an art, not everyone with a camera can master it. Although, digital camera has revolutionized how photos are taken and gives more latitude for photographer to correct their mistakes after the shoot, photographers still need photographic skills and knowledge in order to capture the moments. That skills and knowledge can not be developed or acquired overnight. It takes time for a newbie to become a fully fledged artist. Regardless what the photographer states, if you do not like his/her past work, don’t work with that photographer. Remember, you are going to hire someone to record maybe the most important moments in your life. You do not want to regret after seeing the wedding photos that you are not happy with. Budget enough money and take enough time to find and hire a capable photographer that matches your style and taste.

Photography styles
Traditionally, wedding photos are mostly done inside studios with props and setups. Photographer often gives very specific modeling instructions and advice to brides and grooms. If the subjects know how to pose correctly, it can result in great photos that are sharp and well composed. Unfortunately lots of people are camera shy and don’t even know how to smile in front of a camera. Under this circumstance, posed shots may not be your best choice.

Photojournalistic wedding photography has gained its popularity during the past 15- 20 years. This photography style offers less formalized shots with much less posing requirements from the subjects. Photographer takes the shots without giving too many instructions and records raw and untarnished emotion. Sometimes, subjects don’t even realize that they are photographed. I personally prefer this approach for portrait because people look best when they are under their natural state. However, this approach can cause technical constraints with photographer. As lighting is one of the most important elements of photography, photographer may not get all the preferred lighting when he/she moves around like a journalist. Photographer really needs to rely on their knowledge and equipment to get the best shots taken.

Wedding is never a natural event; therefore, hybrid style is frequently used. Hybrid style photography is a blend of staged shots with photojournalistic shots. Photographer can ask group shots to be staged while take candid photo to show emotions or story.

This is the one question that’s asked most frequently. When selecting photographer, many brides put the price as the number one deciding factor. I believe that this is not the best approach of choosing the right photographer. Please remember, you are hiring someone to document the most precious time in your life. There is no second chance for photographer to ask you to re-do the ceremony or take the same photos twice. You really need the help from professional not some amateurs. Cost of professional photography has come down significantly due to popularity of digital camera and competition. Wedding photos used to cost $2,000-6,000, and most photographers charges between $1,000-3,000 nowadays. How much should a couple spend on photography services? I’d say, about 10-15% of your total wedding budget should be a reasonable allocation. I’ve seen amateurs advertised their wedding photography services for only $450 and offer to give a DVD disc to client right after the wedding. I believe that this is an irresponsible way of producing wedding photos. Good photos need to be created both during and after the shoot. What I mean is that post processing is also important besides good original photos. Post production can correct the color, create romantic feel, and add some nice touches to the originals. The wow factors usually result from post processing. Post production is time consuming and requires technical and artistic skills. Amateurs who provide DVD right after the shoot try to avoid the time spend on post production (or even don’t know how to do good post production) and time deal with client after the wedding.

They consider their job completed when wedding day is over. Brides who focus on saving money and hire this type of amateur photographer most likely end up having photos look just like the ones taken by their friends. This is not saving money, this is wasting money. If you do a simple math, taken the time that pro photographer charges for post production, the price you pay for amateurs and pros should be similar; therefore, you are paying pro price and got an amateur service. There is a reason for people who charge very low fees. All these amateurs care is money. Quality and customer satisfaction are not their main concern. Be aware! Professional photographers need to maintain certain price level in order to survive and make money because taking photos is all they do for living.

Most weddings happen during the weekend on Saturdays, thus there are only 4 weddings in a month. Even say photographer charges $1500 per wedding, that’s only $6,000 a month. After business expense, equipment depreciation, taxes, and other misc. expense, what’s left in photographer’s pocket should be no more than $3,500-4,000. It is not a lot of money, but that’s reality. In addition, winter months are usually slow or even without any business. If a pro wedding photographer charges less than $1,000 a wedding, it is hard for him/her to survive in at least Washington DC metro area, unless he/she can pull income from somewhere else.

Professionalism & Personality
Do you want to work with people who are negative and aggressive? Do you want your guess feel that the photographer is intrusive and unfriendly? I suggest that you at least talk with photographers a couple of times over the phone or have an interview with them before signing a contract. Do not just view the website and then decide who to use. Follow your instinct and use the one you feel comfortable with. The manner photographer answers the phone can also tell something about their professionalism. If a photographer never answers phone or only return your phone call or email days later, chances are they are not very good at customer services. Is the photographer on time for an appointment? This is extremely important and can be an indicator of his reliability because you don’t want the photographer show late (or not showing at all) at your wedding. Lots of good photographers work from their own home, and this should not be a judging factor of their professionalism.

A professional photographer should have a well drafted contract/agreement. If a photographer just promise to show up on your wedding date and does not want to sign a contract, don’t work with him/her. I had brides told me that someone took the deposit and simply disappear. Although, give a 50% deposit is common practice to secure your wedding date, ask for full amount of the service ahead of time is unreasonable.

The contract should clearly state photographer’s responsibility, duties, coverage time, deliverables, and any terms you’ve agreed upon. Read the contract carefully and see whether it is fair to both you and the photographer. Do not blindly sign the contract because the photographer tells you it is standard.

Most likely the first person that you are going to ask for referring a photographer is one of your family members or friends. That’s a perfect way to get started. However, if the referred photographers are not available for your wedding date who do you turn to find the information? Go to local wedding vendors asking for referrals. Because vendors usually won’t recommend other vendors who provide bad service that can back fire their reputation, it is relatively safer than you look for a photographer on the internet. Check with the florist that you usually buy flowers from, your bridal gown maker, caterer who prepares your food or even wedding venues that you are interested to see whether they’ve got some photographers to refer. However, you still need do your homework of interviewing the photographer yourself. Once the photographer has gained your trust, you can sign the contract with him/her.

Photographers are normally booked weeks or even months before an event. Once you make up your mind, reserve the photographer right away. There are only 52 weekends in a year, so it is easy for others to book the photographer you like ahead of you. If you delay, you may have to start over the hunting process again. Don’t procrastinate because you feel that there’s plenty of time to find a good photographer.

I’m a professional photographer that maintains high standards both for my pictures and my services. To check out some of my past work, please click on the following link.