How to Choose a Wedding Photographer

So you find yourself needing a talented professional to document your big event… You’ve never done this before, but it’s REAL important to get it right. What do you need to know and what kinds of questions do you ask the candidates to find out who will be right for you? There are several things to consider when choosing a wedding photographer. A wedding is a unique situation with unique problems that a professional MUST be prepared for to get the best possible outcome in the least amount of time. Here are some things you may want to think about. (I’m supposing here that money is not an option and you like the style of the photographer.)

TRAINING AND EXPERIENCE: When you think of moments that you only get one chance to capture, your wedding day certainly is one. This is big-time important! The bride has 25-60 seconds of walking down the aisle with her father, that’s it. No do-overs. Once that moment is over, it’s over. For these important moments you need a person who is highly trained and experienced. You deserve an expert, not someone who is using your special moment for on-the-job training. During your search for a wedding photographer, inquire how they learned the art of event photography and how many weddings they have photographed. If they can’t give specifics… watch out!

1. Even if they won’t admit it, the learning curve for self-taught photographers is way longer than someone who has had the latest concepts, timelines, techniques, tips, and tricks-of-the-trade taught to them. It just saves so much time! As I said before, photography is an art and a science. With no formal training it is unlikely a painter will be painting the Mona Lisa anytime soon.

2. Who they learned from is also important! If a photographer learned the trade from a teacher that is inefficient or doesn’t understand lighting, chances are those characteristics will carry over into the student’s work. What about “I went to school for photography”? While colleges may teach theory, practice is a different animal when we are talking about events and weddings. Now I’m NOT trying to say teachers cannot educate you! What I’m saying is that there is a lot of real-life situations not covered in textbooks. The best education for event photography comes from someone who does it all the time. They know what to expect and prepare for at events.

3. How many have they photographed? Sure, you can practice and read, but there’s way more stress the day of the event, trust me. The first 10 weddings are the hardest for sure, the highest volume of mistakes will happen then.

TECHNIQUE: There’s good techniques and slow techniques at fast paced events like weddings. Photographers can get a lot of good technique from training. Ask the photographer what their techniques are. Good photographers should prepare you, the client, for how things will go at your event. (What he/she does, how he/she does it.)

Here’s some questions to ask:
1. What are your techniques? (General)

2. What kinds of images do you take at a wedding? (Are they all posed formals, PJ (photojournalistic), or a mix? What about scene setters?)

3. Do you use off camera flash/Do you use 2 or 3 point lighting? (It is my opinion that the 2 & 3 point lighting technique (demonstrated in my photography) is pretty cool, only 20% of photographers do it!)

4. Do you have an assistant? (Photographers with assistants can get way more done.)

5. How do you plan on photographing the wedding party/families quickly? (I employ a technique called Flow Posing where we efficiently and systematically photograph all the permutations of wedding party/family groups and still get the couple to the reception before the salads are finished! See, another benefit of good training!!)

6. How many times, and when in the process, does the photographer meet with the bride and groom for consultation and planning?

7. Does he/she visit the locations before you shoot there?

8. What unique services do you offer at events? (“The difference is the difference.” If they can give you light painting, special lighting, extreme wide angle, video clips, stop action gif animations, colored gels, or thousands of other “nice-to-haves” it sure is nice-to-have for your once in a life time event, and some of that stuff takes planning!)

9. What backup equipment do you bring to the event? (HUGE importance! Imagine if the camera breaks half way through!?! How are they guaranteeing your product?)

10. How do you ensure color quality and longevity of your prints?

11. What kind of post processing do you do?

POST PROCESSING: Ten years ago post processing was the print lab but now post processing is almost 50% of photography. In post processing the photographer can make all of your images balanced for brightness, color, crop, accentuate details, or remove unsightly elements! The better your photographer is at post production, the more opportunities to give you the best possible product open up. In my personal experience, great photos come out of the camera but amazing photos come out of photoshop!

Some areas to consider:

1. Does the photographer balance the images for density and color before you get to pick them out? (Whether or not an image has had a little processing can effect whether or not you select the image.)

2. Will the photographer balance the images when the images are selected or purchased?

3. Will the photographer retouch faces, eyeglasses, smooth skin, remove exit signs or beer bottles out of photographs, etc. (If you don’t think this is important, ask me for some examples of what this kind of retouching can bring to your images. Remember AMAZING photos come out of post production.)

4. How long does your post processing take?

SPEED: There are two prominent areas where you may want to find out how quickly your photographer operates. At the wedding, and how long it takes to get your product into your hands.

1. Wedding Day – No one wants to remember that the photos on your wedding day took FOREVER. Again, poor planning and lack of education can really slow down the process and the wedding day is not a day for the photographer to get it right at all costs. This day is about the bride and groom. A good way to judge speed on the wedding day is to ask how long the formal portraits will take and how many photographs the photographer will take during that time. (If the photographer says “It usually takes about 3 hours before the wedding and an hour after with the end result 30 images to choose from.” That’s not a good sign. If they say “Oh just about 15 min and you’ll see 200 amazing images.” That sounds fishy, too.

2. Where’s my stuff? – Ask what the timeline after the wedding looks like (Cause you’re not done yet). How long until I can see my images? How long after I order them will they be delivered? How long will it take to complete my album? Will I get to approve the design before it’s printed? (Don’t get stuck with nothing to show from your wedding for months! Know what to expect!)

UNDERSTANDING OF THE DAY: So everything above is pretty obvious, right. But don’t stop at the product. That isn’t the only service your photographer should be delivering on your special day (or after).

A good photographer has a respectful reverence for the solemnity of your special day. Your wedding is unique to you, but to the photographer it’s a common occurrence. We’ve all seen people who treat their job like boring work they “have to” do, and it shows. No matter how many times the photographer has photographed weddings, or weddings in the same church they should treat you, your family and friends, the church or sanctuary, and everyone else with the respect and enthusiasm that’s due on the special day. And it is a special day. This will be hard to measure since any conversation you’ll be having with the photographer he’ll essentially be “selling” to you. Ask for references (that aren’t related to the photographer!). If you can’t do that, listen to the way he/she talks about what they do. You can get a good sense of what they think by the way they describe answers to the questions like the ones above. Heck, ask him what he’ll do when uncle Harry steps in to take photos right in the middle of the formal portraits (‘cause he ALWAYS does).

A good photographer will:

 Understand his/her place in the wedding and not overstep his/her bounds.

 Dress better than the minimum standard for your event. (No shorts! NO flip-flops! No outlandish gear backpack, belt, or vest… this is a wedding not a safari! They should wear a suit and tie or a nice dress or pants suit for a woman.)

 Address and treat everyone like a foreign dignitary regardless of who they are. (Keep in mind if you hired this person they kind of represent you at your wedding.)

 Help out with non-photo related stuff if it’s needed. (Lets be real here, “That’s not my job.” is a crappy attitude.)

 Contact the religious person or efficient to ask about the rules of the sanctuary before the wedding.

 Communicate well, and communicate what is going on to people involved in the process.

 Find something to do to add value if there’s nothing else going on. (Don’t just stand there, take a picture of the ceiling, or the band, or details of the flowers or place settings, anything! They shouldn’t just stand there waiting to go home.)

So even if WE don’t work together, at least you will have a set of reference points to use to find photographic professionals.

I hope this helps!

Nicholas and Terri


MIchael Fisher said...

Wow! I wish the bridal magazines told them to ask these questions! I agree, the wedding day is no time for on-the-job training!

TeeDubbaU's said...

I can always tell when a potential client is shopping by price... they don't care as much about the work as they do the services. I have clients literally tell me (as if I don't know already) what other photographers are charging. I usually ask them about the photographers work and they say: well so and so said they did a good job a friends wedding. I tell clients to hire me for my abilities and work history. I don't get every job, but I know the clients that do hire me are happy to do so.