The 10 Secrets You Must Know To Choose A Good Wedding Photographer

Selecting your wedding photographer is not a difficult task. By learning my 10 secrets you will eliminate many of the pitfalls it is so easy to fall into. It is very important that you make your selection of photographer early on in your wedding plans. The best and most popular photographers get booked early, often a year or two in advance. So once you have set your date and arranged the wedding venue, the next thing on your list should be your photographer.

If you were getting married a generation ago in the 1930’s or 40’s, your choice would have been rather limited. In those days photography was still something of a ‘dark art’. Literally the photographer or his assistant would spend hours in the dark room developing films and making photographic prints by hand. Your options for the wedding day would have been limited. The photographer would usually turn up at the end of your wedding service and meet you at the church door. He would then take a handful of pictures on his large camera. Usually a full length picture of the couple at the church door, a close-up if you were lucky and then perhaps a family group or two. Colour pictures were a definite luxury in the 30’s as colour film was still in its infancy. A talented photographer might offer you hand tinted or coloured pictures which he would make from black and white originals, but these would be an expensive option.

It was not uncommon to take a trip to the photographers studio either on your wedding day or shortly afterwards. The whole business became quite an occasion. Posing in front of hot studio lights was something you only did on special occasions. It was the only way to get photographs of a reasonable quality. Simple cameras were becoming more available to the public, but they were very basic with few control. In those days the professional photographer still had a mysterious quality; part artist, part chemist and part magician. He could produce photographs you just could not achieve yourself with your ‘Box Brownie’ camera.

Today things are very different. Photography has been turned on its head. Gone are the famous companies like Agfa and Kodak. Film based photography has been replaced almost entirely by digital technology, the quality of which improves dramatically year by year. Most people now have a camera of some type and are happy with the pictures they take. Rapid advances in digital imaging have ensured that the ‘auto’ function on your camera will give you an acceptable image. Today you don’t have to worry about shutter speed and ‘f’ stops to get a reasonable picture. Point and shoot is the easy option. However, technical progress does not mean that everyone knows what they are doing.

Look in any Yellow Pages or any other directory, Google ‘wedding photographer’ for any town or city and you will find an ever increasing number of entries under the listing. Why is this? It is simply because technology has improved to such an extent that even the most modest and affordable camera is capable of producing great images.

Sadly you will discover that not every so called photographer is a professional photographer. Some work at it on a part time basis and might be a cleaner, taxi driver or office worker from Monday to Friday and a wedding photographer at the weekend. It has become a part time occupation for many keen amateurs looking to make some extra cash at the weekend.

The questions you must ask yourself are; would I go to a dentist if I wasn’t confident they had the training, experience and qualifications to take care of my teeth safely and hygienically? Would I trust a plumber to install a gas fire if he were not qualified and registered? No, it could be a matter of life and death.

Would I trust my wedding pictures to a photographer who might be working part time at weekends, shoots everything with his camera set to ‘auto’, promises me hundreds of pictures on a disc for a few hundred pounds? Sadly many people do!

The reasons for doing this are intriguing. Apart from the technology issue I have already mentioned, the other current influence is fashion. The current fashion in wedding photography can be described by the terms ‘documentary’, ‘reportage’, and ‘life-style’. In a nut shell, today it is cool and fashionable to have wedding photographs that look like snap-shots! Pictures that look spontaneous, which is not staged and capture the emotion of the day without being intrusive or formal in any way.

What does all this mean in reality? Firstly, it is assumed that to achieve this ‘documentary’ or ‘reportage’ look, all you need to do is to take an inordinate number of pictures and chances are that you will get some suitable ones in the mix. So snap away is the mentality of many inexperienced photographers. After all, after you have bought your camera and memory cards, the images are free. There are no processing costs as with film, if the image is no good just delete it, it costs nothing!

In reality, to take good ‘documentary’ images you also need other skills. You need to anticipate the action, be in the right place at the right time, know when to press the shutter to get that decisive moment, know how to cope with a variety of lighting conditions that will fool your camera, compose your picture correctly, and finally be able to control the guests in such a way that things you want to photograph happen naturally.

How do you avoid the pitfalls? It can be difficult, but here are 10 secrets that will help you when choosing your wedding photographer!

1. Looking in a directory will only give you contact details. Looking at a web site is a good start; at least you get to see some pictures. Today a good and well produced web site is within the budget of most people who want to set up in business. So you cannot assume that someone with a fancy web site is the best choice. He may have another occupation to pay the mortgage. Does the web site have a bio page? How much information does it give about the photographer, their experience and their professional qualifications? How long have they been in business?

2. Do they belong to a recognised professional photographic association, or just a camera club? Are they subject to a professional Code of Conduct? Will you have anywhere to appeal to if things go wrong? Sadly a man can go to town and buy a fancy camera with his redundancy money on Friday and call himself a professional photographer on Saturday. In the U.K. there is no regulation of photographers at the moment. Anyone can legally set themselves up in business as a photographer and they do not have to register with anyone. The public is not protected by any legislation. Over the years the major professional photographic associations in the U.K. have lobbied successive governments regarding this matter, but without success.

3. Is a postal address listed on the web site, or just a mobile number and email address? How will you find them if there is a problem? Not every photographer has a high street studio, much work from home quite legitimately. A reputable photographer will always publish an address.

4. If the photographer works from home he/she is unlikely to have a large studio unless it has been purpose built or adapted from a garage or other room. They are unlikely to be taking many portraits during the week. Can you arrange to visit them to view a recent selection of wedding pictures, or do they insist on coming to see you at your home? When it comes to looking at samples, albums containing a variety of weddings can look fine. Photographers always like to show off their best pictures. Always ask to see complete weddings from start to finish. That will give you a better indication of the photographers’ skill level, rather than admiring pretty pictures.

5. Are they qualified? I’m not talking of a degree in photography. To my knowledge there are no degree courses in wedding photography at any college in the U.K. There are degree courses in Documentary photography, but weddings or social photography are not covered in any depth. There are wedding qualifications awarded by the main photographic bodies in the U.K., such as the MPA, BIPP, SWPP. These are awarded by the submission of actual work that has been undertaken. So look for professional qualifications. There are three levels: the basic level being Licentiate (LMPA or LBIPP). This level indicates the photographer can produce work of a competent and professional standard. They will also have good business skills if they have achieved a Diploma in Professional Photographic Practice (DipPP). The second level of qualification is the Associate (AMPA or ABIPP). This indicates considerable experience and a talent to produce artistic and creative photography. The second level is difficult to attain, therefore there are fewer Associates than Licentiates. The top level of qualification and ultimate aim of all aspiring professionals is to be a Fellow (FMPA or FBIPP). To be a Fellow is a rare achievement. It indicates the highest level of competence, experience and artistry and indicates the photographer has a unique style. These are the top professionals who have been recognised as leaders in their field.

6. Who will be taking your wedding photographs? Get to meet the person him/herself. Many photographers rather than turn a wedding commission away, will sub-contract the work to an assistant, keen amateur, or camera operator. Always find out who your photographer will be and get to see their portfolio of work. The boss might take good pictures, but what about his assistant?

7. Ask what insurance they hold. Your ‘cowboy’ will not have Professional Indemnity cover if his equipment fails. He will not have Public Liability cover should a guest trip over his camera bag. If he says his camera is insured that’s not the same thing. That only covers him if his camera is stolen.

8. Don’t be fooled by statements like ‘award winning’. Always ask “what awards”! Are they recognised professional awards or something picked up at a Camera Club?

9. If you ask a technical question this will put everyone on the back foot. Ask if they shoot jpegs. If the answer is yes then beware! The vast majority of professional photographers worldwide will shoot RAW files in their camera, for maximum image quality. They will then spend time to editing these RAW files on a computer to produce jpegs. If your photographer argues that he doesn’t need to shoot RAW files because his jpegs are spot on… beware! Jpeg files produced directly by the camera are never as good as those prepared by editing RAW files manually, because the internal camera software always makes general assumptions on the subject and lighting conditions. The photographer who edits RAW files manually can make specific and individual fine adjustments to the exposure, white balance, tone & sharpness of each image, together with an array of other specific controls which will produce the highest quality images.

10. Ask what happens if they become ill the day before your wedding? What happens if they break a leg or are involved in an accident? What back-up is in place? A reputable photographer will have a network of qualified colleagues he can call upon either locally or via their professional association.

So now you have the 10 secrets to finding your wedding photographer. Always meet them face to face and discuss your plans in detail. He will probably know your wedding venue already and will be able to put your mind at ease should it rain on your big day. If you are interested in having some group photographs of your family and friends, make a list with names so that no one is left out or hides away. ‘Brides family’ is not very specific, list the people you want in the picture. If your dress detail is important or Aunty Betty made the cake, or you have a frail Granny who can’t stand up for long, you must tell your photographer so he can make allowances.

Your photographer will need time to take pictures for you, so it is important that you plan for and consider timings. If you really want a big picture with all the guests as soon as you get to the reception, it won’t work. Guests always arrive in dribs and drabs and someone will be missing. Rather plan for that picture to be taken just before you all go into your wedding breakfast. There will be more chance everyone will be present.

Once you have selected your photographer you will need to confirm your booking. Don’t leave it until the last moment assuming your kind photographer is holding the day for you. He/she has a business to run so expect to pay a deposit or booking fee to secure the day. When you book expect to sign a contract which simply states what will be provided and the fee expected. This is usual practice. Generally all outstanding fees are payable prior to the wedding. Finally, just to avoid surprises, ask about hidden fees. Is VAT included or are you going to get a nasty 20% addition at the end of the day.

At some stage you might ask the question “Who owns the copyright on my wedding pictures?” In the U.K. by law the copyright is owned by the photographer on the understanding that they will supply you with any images you require. If you are in China, Asia, India and many other countries in the world, copyright and intellectual property is another ball game and mine field!

In summary, the better you get to know your photographer, the better your experience will be. Many people say “Oh, I hate having my photograph taken”! If you choose an experienced photographer, he/she will put you at easy very quickly. If you have the opportunity, have a pre-wedding shoot. It is true that the more pictures you have taken of yourself, the more comfortable you will feel in front of the camera. A good photographer will give you tips on how to stand comfortably and how to make the best of your body shape. He will also explain exactly what he will be doing on your wedding day to get the best pictures for you.

The choices you make in booking your wedding photographer are very important. A good wedding photographer will act as your choreographer, be more useful than a bridesmaid and tell you what to do and when. He’ll have safety pins and a mirror in his bag just in case, and he’ll be the person you can trust to make sure everything flows smoothly, and ensure you have the best possible wedding day.