January is here and that means white sales, juice cleanses, budget balancing, snow sports, and…wedding planning?
Although few couples choose one of the coldest months of the year to say “I do” (unless, I guess, they get married in the Southern Hemisphere!), plenty of them are busy RIGHT NOW planning for their spring, summer, and fall celebrations. Photography is one of the top things to consider, right after the venue and racing towards a “photo finish” with the food and beverage (sorry, couldn’t resist).
Wedding photography isn’t something we shop for every day. It’s an investment in memories that can’t be made again. With so many options out there, how can a couple make the choice that’s right for them?
I’ve been thinking about that question a lot. When I got married, I had NO IDEA what questions I should ask or what options I should consider before booking my wedding photographer. Luckily for us, he was absolutely the right man for the job and his photos captured our day exactly as I hoped they would. Still, if I knew then what I know now, I would have done a little more homework so that the outcome of our photography was based less on an educated guess and more on knowledge and research.
If you’re planning your wedding, thinking about planning your wedding, or helping someone else plan a wedding, here are my…
Top 10 Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing a Wedding Photographer
To keep it simple, I’ll to refer to “photographer” with the feminine pronoun, but of course this also applies to all of my incredible male colleagues out there. 😉
1. Do you like – no, LOVE – her work?
There’s an old saying, “what you see, is what you get.” This couldn’t apply more to choosing a photographer. Take the time to browse her galleries and visit with her to see her prints. Thumb through an album. Look for style – is it bright and fun? Light and airy? Dark and romantic? Chances are if you click with what you see in her portfolio, you are going to absolutely love the work she does for you. Check also for consistency: if you see the style changing dramatically from wedding to wedding, then how will you be sure you’ll get the style YOU want on your big day?
2. Do you like – no, REALLY LIKE – her as a person?
This is gonna sound crazy, but you’ll spend more time with your photographer than anyone else on your wedding day. She’s with you all day long, documenting the entire process – from slipping into your dress, to shaving in your boxers, to dancing under the stars, to kissing almost a thousand times to get that perfect shot. She’ll be with you through all the emotional, stressful, jittery, confusing, and exhausting moments too – all while lifting you up to constantly make you look and feel your best. Your photos will only look as good as you feel. I repeat: YOUR PHOTOS WILL ONLY LOOK AS GOOD AS YOU FEEL. Go with someone who makes you feel amazing.
3. Is she experienced in weddings?
This probably goes without saying – but is worth repeating! It’s one thing to take a pretty portrait, it’s quite another to take HUNDREDS of portraits, detail shots, candids, and action shots all while negotiating the very tight timeline of a wedding day and making yourself available for any impromptu moment that may arise. Phew! There’s a lot of responsibility and skill involved with photographing a wedding, and we aren’t even to the creative part of it yet. Make sure your photographer has experience in weddings, especially at venues like the one you are getting married at. It’s never a great thing to realize on the day of your wedding that your photographer only shoots in natural light – and your ceremony and reception are all indoors!
4. Does she work with professional equipment?
There are many great photographers out there who shoot with a cell phone or a beginner’s camera and a kit lens. I follow them on Instagram, I’m sure you do too! They create some amazing art and constantly inspire me to push myself further. However (and you KNEW there had to be a “however”) a low resolution thumbnail on Instagram is a great democratizer. You’ll never know how GOOD the quality could have been with better equipment because you can’t see it at low resolution. Blow that image up to a 20″x30″ fine art print and you’ll literally see what I mean. The best wedding photographers use the best gear because they want to give you the best. Don’t be afraid to ask about the equipment she uses. Here’s a simple starter: ask “do you shoot prime?” and if she responds like you’re talking about steaks, then you probably want to shop around a little more.
5. Does she have a back-up plan?
Everyone who works weddings needs a contingency plan(s) for when things go south. There’s no do-over for your I do’s. It’s perfectly OK to ask your photographer if she has a back-up plan for handling equipment failures, weather conditions, sudden illnesses, and anything else that may throw her a curve ball on your big day. If she’s a professional, she’ll have you covered, no matter how life tries to get in the way.
6. Is it easy to communicate with her?
There are so many ways to communicate these days: phone, email, snail mail (what’s that?), tweets, texts, instant messages, etc. etc. etc! And if you’re like me, you have a preference for how you like to get in touch with people. You also have an expectation for how quickly you like your contacts to respond. Be realistic – your photographer may not respond immediately to your 2am text about changing the location for your first look photos – but she should get back to you in a reasonable amount of time and in the way you like to communicate. If she’s responsive, friendly, helpful, and organized in her communication, then you’re already well on your way to building a great relationship.
7. Is photography her full-time job?
Being a full-time wedding photographer is by no means a requirement to being an amazing one. There are many part-timers out there that keep their 9-5’s while being wedding weekend warriors. Just keep in mind that between communicating with the couple, working out day-of logistics with the planner, shooting the wedding, editing the images, and creating and delivering prints and albums, there is a good 40+ hours of work invested into ONE wedding. And that doesn’t even count the time required to manage the business end of the business! It’s a full-time job, and then some. An experienced part-timer can still give you the images that you dream of, but you may have to a) wait longer for them, and b) sacrifice the personal touch and easy accessibility that a dedicated professional can give you.
8. Will she take the time to explain and customize the experience?
If you’re a first time bride or groom, I’m probably blowing your mind by now. Breathe. It’s going too be fine. 🙂 This wedding business is new territory for you! But luckily, if you have an experienced wedding photographer by your side, it won’t be her first rodeo. As part of the wedding photography experience, she should work with you to customize the photography so that she captures the moments that matter to you. It’s her artistic vision that you’re paying for, but it’s not her day! She should engage you in discussions about how to best document the magic and memories that may not seem obvious, but are unbelievably important. If she doesn’t know that your fiance’s uncle from Italy is going to surprise him at the ceremony, or that you are going to have confetti canons during your first dance, then she won’t be ready to catch that moment when it happens. It’s a two-way conversation, but the best photographers will initiate it.
9. Can she offer you services within your budget?
First and foremost, I hope you start your wedding photographer search by looking for work that inspires and excites you. Pay attention to that little stinging sensation that you get behind your eyes, and the slight tightness that constricts your chest when you react to an image that moves you. THAT’S how you want to feel about YOUR wedding photos. Then flip the price tag over. Accept that no matter what your photography budget is that yes, you will have sticker shock. I sure did. The average cost for wedding photography is $2,618 (The Knot, 2015) and there are plenty more photographers on either side of the spectrum, all with packages at different price points offering different products at different levels of quality and quantity. Work with your fiancé to set a budget and then go about finding a photographer who you love that offers a package at a price you can afford. Many photographers are willing to customize a package to fit your needs – but not all.
You only get one shot at this! You may not need to invest heavily, but do invest wisely, and plan for additional items such as prints, albums, thank you cards, keepsakes, and an engagement session in your total budget.
10. If something went wrong, are you comfortable that she would make it right?
This is last but definitely not least. In fact, it’s last because it is SOOOO important! Your photographer needs to be accountable to you. Obviously, if your hair gets messed up by the wind, a guest spills wine down your dress, the florist delivers peach roses instead of pink ones, or your nephew traces curlicues in the cake frosting, it’s not your photographer’s fault (although…she can make fly-aways lay flat, dab wine from dresses, fix the color of flowers, and repair minor cake disasters with her magic editing wand). If a misunderstanding occurs that creates an issue that only she can resolve, then she needs to put on her big boss pants and own it. You are her client and are trusting her to deliver on her promises. Read reviews, talk to past clients, and even talk to the photographer to see how she runs her business. She’ll be glad you asked.
If this post helped you navigate the fun but often overwhelming task of hiring a wedding photographer, SHARE it! Happy couples make for happy photographers, but it takes a little mutual searching to make the perfect match. Your perfect soulmate is one in 7 billion…but luckily, your perfect photographer is a lot easier to find!
Happy Wedding Planning!
I took that! 🙂 I am a Northern California photographer specializing in wine country and wilderness weddings. All images in this article were photographed by moi. View more of my work on www.JessicaTallmanPhotography.com and be sure to follow me on Facebook and Instagram to see the latest and greatest. Thanks for stopping by!