A Wedding Photographer’s Guide to Choosing a Wedding Photographer

For some time now, I’ve had a suspicion that all is not well in the Wedding Photography industry. I’m a wedding photographer and I know all the tricks of “the business”. I’ve also been on the other side of the business helping friends and family choose a photographer for their wedding (I prefer to party at my friend’s weddings!)

So, with some suspicions, I surveyed a lot of married people and was astonished to find that 71 % of people said they were not happy with their wedding photographer. This was much higher than I was expecting. Furthermore, an astonishing 85% of respondents said they should have hired a better photographer and would do so if they had their time again.

Read that again, 85% of people were so disappointed in their photos they believe they should have hired a better photographer.

Clearly, something is not right in our industry.

I think there are a number of issues, I think its partly bad photographers, partly good photographers not handling expectations well, and partly couples who aren’t, and have no reason to be, experts at understanding this industry.

So here’s a little guide, by a wedding photographer, on how to choose the right wedding photographer. Note there are a million other things to consider but these are what I think are the essentials, if you get these right you will be less likely to be disappointed.

1. Style

Style is in many respects the easy thing to get right. You’ve looked online, read magazines, started a Pinterest account so you now know that you either want a photojournalist style, an editorial style, a retro style. Most photographers will have one style that they stick with so choosing a photographer who shoots the style you want is as simple as looking at the style they normally shoot in.

2. Quality

The second, and in many ways most important, decision you need to make is about the quality of photographer you want. I’m not talking about style here (documentary, photojournalism etc), or cost, I’m talking about the quality of the photographer. How many great photos do they take across the whole day.

Here’s an attempt to capture the range of possible photographers for your wedding:

# 1. Uncle Tom. He’s always loved taking ‘snaps’.
# 2. Jane’s cousin Pete. He’s a keen amateur who might have even studied photography once.
# 3. A “professional wedding photographer”, found online.
# 4. A “professional wedding photographer”, found online.

Wait, aren’t #3 and #4 the same? No, no, and no! I’d say 50-80% of “professional wedding photographers” are nothing more than con-men and women who think buying an expensive camera makes them professional. Buying a scalpel does not make you a surgeon. Becoming a #4 professional wedding photographer takes years of dedication to photography. It takes commitment and passion and a constant desire to improve your art.

So how can you tell the difference between #3 and #4 professionals?

#3 will bambooz you with a flashy website full of good images from different weddings, they may have slideshows set to music, they will be slick. They will offer you champagne and expensive brochures.

#4 will bambooz you with a flashy website full of great images from weddings, they may have slideshows set to music, they will be slick. They will offer you champagne and expensive brochures.

Notice the difference? There’s a key difference there. #3 will show you images from different weddings. #4 will show you images (especially if you ask) from ONE wedding. That’s the key difference. A #4 photographer should be able to get good or great quality images across the whole day, not just one of two good images for the entire day.

At Mr & Mrs Wedding Photography our website is designed to showcase three individual weddings, one from a beach, one in a church, and another a destination wedding. We hope this gives our potential clients a feel for the quality across the entire day that they can expect to receive.

So, my #1 tip in choosing the right photographer for your wedding is insist on seeing images from one wedding. That will give you a feel for how many good quality images you are likely to see after your wedding.

Which leads me to expectations.

3. Expectations

The first thing to know is that photographers, even true professionals with years of experience, are not superhuman, they will not get award-winning, magazine quality images of every single aspect of your day from 8am until midnight. It just doesn’t happen. If you are expecting stunning images from sunrise to sunrise, you will be disappointed.

Most #4 photographers will give you consistently good images across the entire day and this is what you should be aiming for. There should definitely be some great images in there, the sort you will be proud to hang up on your wall.

I know of two immensely expensive US based wedding photographers. Both are at the top of their game, are in huge demand, and both charge over US$25,000 for their basic packages. I’ve seen a full set of images from a single wedding and I can guarantee you, if you paid that much money and expected every single image to be a prize-winning image, you would be really disappointed. Some images are truly magnificent, most are really good, a large number are just ‘snaps’.

If you end up with 5-10 magnificent images, 30-90 or so really good photos, and the rest nice snaps, then you should be happy.

4. Cheap

Cheap is always cheap. Repeat after me: cheap is always cheap. If you pick a photographer because they are cheap you can expect the quality of your images to plummet. This might be all you can afford/budget for but don’t expect miracles and don’t expect to be anything but disappointed (particularly if you hope to share the images with your kids and grandkids some day).

Do keep in mind though that your wedding is a once in a lifetime event (usually) and it might seem like a good idea to skimp on photography but really after the day is finished, apart from memories, all you have left is the photos. Imagine your grandchildren sitting down to look at your wedding album and seeing cheap photos. Is that worth it?

5. A recommendation from a friend

If you’ve seen you’re friends wedding photos (all of them) and like them then this might be a good way to go. However keep in mind a few things. 1) Did you see all the photos? 2) How long ago did your friend get married (has the photographer aged in energy or style) 3) Ask your friend what the worst thing about the experience with that photographer was – if they suggest irrelevant things like they didn’t like the package the images came in, then that’s probably fine, if the photographer missed a key photo, that’s not fine.

Don’t take a recommendation as proof that the photographer is everything you want for your wedding, refer back to points 1-4.

Conclusion…

Take these points as a starting point. There is way to find the right photographer for your wedding and I hope this helps in some way.

How to Select Your Wedding Photographer With Confidence & The Right Questions to Ask

Let’s begin with some helpful advice on the best way to schedule your special day to get the most out of your photographer.

In the past, it was always highly recommended that the couple personally meet with several photographers before making a commitment. Today, however, interactive websites and high quality slideshows allow people to review a photographer’s work without ever making a personal appointment.

If you are taking that route and not meeting with your photographer, have an in-depth phone interview and make sure to communicate with couples that have used his services in the past. Do obtain at least three references and make sure that you have a good rapport with the photographer. If, after having an in-depth conversation with a prospective photographer, you feel that your personalities do not click, then do not hire this person! Not having a good relationship with your photographer will affect the quality of your pictures!

Before choosing a photographer, determine what photography style you like best. Nowadays, the two main trends are traditional and photojournalism. Photographers working in traditional style focus on taking posed, formal portraits, while photojournalists concentrate on taking artistic candid shots. They document the “story” of your special day. If you prefer photojournalism but worry about the lack of family portraits, bring this issue up with your photographer. Most photojournalists understand the importance of family portraits and will leave a time slot for a formal photo session.

When deciding on the best times for ceremony and reception, most brides do not take into consideration the time that the photographer needs to take your wedding pictures between the end of the ceremony and beginning of the reception. You’ll be spending a lot of money on your wedding photographer so you’ll want to make sure you make time for him! For example, a common situation is to have the ceremony scheduled from 2:00 – 3:00pm with the reception starting at 3:30pm. THIS IS A NIGHTMARE FOR MOST WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHERS, especially if the ceremony and reception are in two different locations.

Even if they’re not, this still leaves very little room for the much-needed time it takes to obtain some really special portraits of the two of you. A much better schedule would be to have the ceremony from 2:00pm – 3:00pm, with the reception starting at 5:00 or even 6:00pm. If you’re fortunate enough to find a photographer that gives you unlimited coverage with your package, then you can space the events out as much as you feel comfortable and won’t have to worry about paying your photographer anything extra. Not that it would take that long to get the shots he wants, but why rush it? Your day and your wedding photography will be much more relaxed and memorable if you space things out and allow yourself to enjoy every aspect of the day, including your unrushed photo shoot.

There are other very important factors to consider when selecting your photographer. Please envision the following scenario which is based on many a true story:

You’ve spent months preparing for your perfect wedding. You’ve selected everything, including your photographer, whose selection of work was outstanding and the photographer’s personality was also wonderful. You really clicked with him (which is very important!) and felt very comfortable with your decision of hiring him. You really looked forward to interacting with this person throughout your special day because you got along with him so well. A huge weight has been lifted from you because one of your biggest concerns was being able to find a photographer not only whose work you loved, but whose personality clicked with yours as well. After all, you want to be as comfortable with this person as possible since you’ll be dealing with him throughout your entire wedding day!

So, the big day comes and you’re nervously getting ready. Suddenly, there’s a knock on your door. ‘Oh, that must be my photographer!’ you exclaim excitedly. With a smile from ear to ear you rush to the door excited to greet this kind person with whom you’ve meshed so well during your many conversations over the past several months. You open the door and greet… a strange looking unshaven man in rumpled clothing that you’ve never seen before in your life! “‘Hello…’ he spews, ‘I’m your photographer!’…” There’s really no need for us to continue with this very true horror story. The scene just gets more ugly from there, and yes, this has happened more than once! So right now you’re probably thinking ‘But she didn’t hire HIM! Where’s her knight in shining camera equipment???’

Sadly, there are way too many photography companies that run their businesses this way, and believe it or not, completely get away with it. These companies contract out their jobs to freelance photographers, or sometimes they have many wedding photographers working for them and just neglect to inform brides of this oh-so-important fact. What does this mean? It means that the wonderful photographer you spoke to most likely had no intentions of photographing your wedding. (That is IF he was even a photographer at all. Sometimes they are just the salesperson for the company!) But there’s more! It also means that his beautiful work and photography style that you fell in love with was most likely a compilation of work from the many different photographers they employ!

So in our above scenario, how many of this unknown photographer’s wedding pictures did this bride actually see… IF ANY? We can conclude that there’s really no way of knowing for sure. So what could she have done to prevent this from happening? The answer: HER HOMEWORK! Don’t be a victim of this kind of photography nightmare! BE SURE TO ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS WHEN SPEAKING TO POTENTIAL PHOTOGRAPHERS!

Unless this type of company can show you several weddings from EACH of their photographers and then YOU get to pick the photographer you want, then we suggest staying right away from them. The chances of finding a photography company that will allow you to do this are slim to none. We recommend searching for a photographer that shoots all of his weddings on his own, or better yet, a two-person team that will photograph your wedding together so you get 2 photographers for the price of one! They’re hard to come by, but they’re out there. The great thing about a two-person team is that you get 2 separate points of view of your wedding. Some photographers offer strictly traditional photography, while others offer strictly photojournalistic wedding photography. That’s fine if you’ve decided that you only want one or the other, but most brides prefer a variety and feel they are getting the most for their money if they can find a photographer that offers both. Additionally, traditional photography is usually what the parents prefer, while most couples tend to prefer photojournalistic wedding photography, so finding a photographer that does both is definitely a huge plus. These versatile photographers are also hard to come by, but again, if you do your homework you can find them.

Questions to Ask Your Wedding Photographer

Are you the only photographer in this company? If I hire you, am I guaranteed that you will be the one showing up to shoot my wedding? If yes, can I get that in writing? Is the work that I am seeing all yours and only yours or is it a compilation of work from more than one photographer?

Can you show me 3 or more complete weddings you’ve done? (By complete I mean that I’d like to see at least 3 different wedding albums or slideshows, each one consisting of at least 50 images from one event.)

Do you offer traditional wedding photography? Photojournalism? Or both?

Is color, B/W and sepia photography included, or is there an extra fee for B/W and sepia?

Do you offer special effects, digital color separation and retouching? If so, are these services included or do you charge a fee for these services?

Is unlimited coverage included in your packages or is there an extra fee for all day coverage? Are you willing to come extra early to get shots of us (the couple) before the ceremony if we choose to do that? Would there be a fee for this?

Do your packages include one or two photographers and is there an extra fee for a second photographer?

Do you work with an assistant?

How many and what kind of cameras do you use? (Do you have backup equipment if something breaks?) Do you use film based or digital cameras or a combination of both?

How far will you travel to a wedding before charging a travel fee?

Do you charge a fee if the wedding and reception are in more than one location? What if we want to go to a third location for pictures? Is there a charge for this?

Do you offer a website and CD of my images? If so, is this included in the packages or this is an extra fee?

If you don’t have a package that works for me, would you be willing to try and customize one that suits my specific needs and is within my budget?

Do you offer only traditional albums, or do you have a wide variety of options to choose from including any coffee table-style books?

Your Wedding Photographer – The Perfect Fit

Photography, to me, is the most important vendor for your wedding. Yes, of course, you need the florist, the venue, the videographer, etc. but to me, photos are the only part of the wedding that will last! Besides the marriage of course:) Your flowers will die, you don’t get to “keep” the venue… you know what I mean. So when choosing my photographer for my own wedding, it was very important to do my research and make sure I found the perfect photographer for me!

Yes, I repeat, it must be the perfect photographer FOR YOU. Because there are many different types of photographic weddings styles, do your research and find out which type of photos you want to be left with after the wedding! But we will get to this in a little bit!

So, I have compiled a list of what to ask and look for in a photographer to make sure you are making the best decision FOR YOU!

What type of photography style do you prefer?

This is EXTREMELY important and, to me, the most important question to ask! Of course, if you take a look at their website you will be able to figure it out too! Now there are terms to describe the photographic style – illustrative, artistic, natural light, photo journalism, traditional – but I personally do not think it is necessary for you to memorize these terms and definitions. So just do some browsing on the internet and figure out the styles you like the best!

Do you like the candid photos? Or the more traditional photos?
Do you like the photos that seem to tell a story?
Do you just want to repeat all of the photos you see on Pinterest and Instagram?
Do you want to have bridal “portraits” of you and your groom?

All of these questions will ultimately lead you to the type of photography you will want and ultimately, if you love the photos on their website, then you must love their style!

May I provide you with a shot list?

Most photographers work from a shot list that they will request from you in advance. They want to make sure you get a shot with each family member and all of the “must-have” moments. This includes the first kiss, the exchange of rings, the cake cutting, the first dance, etc. While an experienced photographer will not need to be reminded of these shots, there may be shots you have seen online that you would like to take! For me, one of my requested shots was the boudoir shoot before I put on my dress! I sent a little “sneek peek” to my fiance (at the time) without showing my face!

How many images will I receive from the wedding?

Each photographer is generally going to take between 1,000 and 2,000 images throughout your event. However, this does not mean you will see all of these! But don’t fret, each shot is going to include 2-5 of the same shot so your photographer will go through all of the shots and only keep the best ones – that way you don’t have to sort through them all! On average, they are going to provide you with around 500 images but this will vary depending on the photographer so make sure to ask!

How many images will you edit?

Yes, the lighting should be fixed on all of your images before sending over to you and this is not a tough job for the photographer, as most will be perfect just the way they are! However, your photographer is not going to fix your makeup and do Photoshop touch ups to all 500 images! If a book is included in your package, then they will absolutely (or should absolutely) edit all of those images before sending over to printing! If you would like a specific image edited, your photographer will have no problem doing that for you!

Is an engagement session included?

Many photographers include an engagement session but may not include the digital files, and this is totally normal! Whether or not it is included, I would ALWAYS do an engagement session with the same photographer who will shoot your wedding. This gives you a chance to get to know him or her, and will allow he or she to understand who you are and will better capture that personality and the relationship the two of you have!

Do you provide a wedding album?

Some will include the album in their packages and some will not. But if you are getting your album from your photographer, ask to see samples to make sure you like their style! That’s all there is to that one!

How many photographers will be present the day of my wedding?

This is something that does, in fact, add some $$ to the package price but to me, is something that is extremely important. I am sure you have seen those photos many times with the adorable groom seeing his bride for the first time as she walks down the aisle, and that beautiful bride next to her dad with the biggest and most genuine smile you have ever seen! Do you want both of these shots? If you answered yes, then it is great to have two photographers present!

One of the moments at my wedding that I LOVED and really captured the moment was during the cake cutting! If we had only had one photographer, we wouldn’t have gotten these amazing reaction shots!!

How many hours are included in my package?

This question is very important!! You will want to make sure you get the “getting ready” shots as well as all of the “activities” throughout the night! So in theory, you will need your photographer there two hours before the ceremony begins, and they can leave an hour and a half to two hours before the reception ends! Just make sure you get everything included in your timeline for the photographer to photograph – this is something your event coordinator will plan for you!! If you don’t feel this is enough time, you can always add time at an additional cost!

Will I have full rights to my photos?

LISTEN UP!! This is IMPORTANT! And this is the most important part!! If you do not have the rights to your photos, you can never print from Costco, CVS, or even at home! If you attempt to print the screen on the computer, all of your photographs will have the photographers watermark on them! Yes, you can always get them printed from your photographer but this can get extremely pricey!

When posting on Facebook or any other social media site, INCLUDE THE PHOTOS WITH THE WATERMARK. Photographers work through referrals so including those photos that will advertise the great work he or she did, is the least you can do! If you are printing for at-home use, then of course use the ones without the watermark!

Have you shot a wedding at my venue?

Yes, photographers are extremely creative and will have no problem finding unique places to photograph at your venue. So just remember, this is not a deal breaker AT ALL! If you photographer has already been there, then great! And if not, it would be a great idea to visit the site before the wedding with him or her so they can get a feel for the site and get some ideas ahead of time! If you are able to, it is also a good idea to have the catering manager at the venue show the photographer around to the places others generally photograph. This will give them a way to see those hidden spots or come up with even more unique ideas for the places brides and grooms generally take their photos!

When choosing your photographer, just make sure you do some research on their package pricing and take a good look at all of their photos displayed on their website! You don’t want to waste your time meeting 10 photographers who aren’t what you are looking for so just make sure to do your research!!