Are you stressing out planning a wedding? We are here to help!!
20 Years from now, probably the most important vendor you hire will be your Wedding Photographer. You may watch your video (if you get one) once a year or once a decade, but your photos will likely be hanging on your walls and possibly sitting on your coffee table for years to come. Your choice of beef or chicken and how it tasted will likely fade away. Your venue (though massively important) won’t matter as much as who was there all day with you capturing your most precious memories.
How do you get the right person as a photographer? How do you not get fooled with crafty marketing or super-fun personalities with no skills? The KEY is to ask, “Will this person (or TEAM) make my wedding an enjoyable, stress-free day AND will this person (or TEAM) provide me with TONS of gorgeous, perfect, professional photos I can own forever?”
Before booking a photographer, there are a few key things to know - I hope this “15 Top Pro Tips to Finding YOUR Perfect Wedding Photographer” helps you find the perfect person (or TEAM)…lets get started…
PRO TIP #1 - Ask to See FULL Wedding Albums
This is probably the most important tip in my arsenal. A picture is worth a thousand words, but a FULL wedding album speaks a trillion (math) and may save you from making a bad choice in your photographer. Some portfolios have amazing photos (and they should), but typically this is 30-40 of the best. A great photographer should be willing and proud to share more than what they show in their portfolio.
In looking at a full album you need to ask yourself, “Can this photographer deliver amazing photos all day and in all types of situations?” How do they do at indoor photography? Low lighting situations indoors are much more difficult to photograph and require advanced knowledge. How do their flash shots look? Do the people indoors look like they were captured in perfect light or do they look like they were blasted with a flash? Do all the photos look consistent in the album? Are there a variety of posed and candid photos?
Did they dedicate enough time to carefully edit all the photos or are there distractions and blemishes everywhere? Ask yourself, “Did they edit these for their portfolio or does it look like they took incredible care of their wedding couple by editing all the photos perfectly? If you are paying thousands of dollars, you better be getting an amazing looking set of photos all the way through. See how they captured a whole day and this should tell you a lot before having that first interview.
PRO TIP #2 - High-Priced is Best, Right? Maybe…?
Price is a touchy subject among professional photographers. It is an undervalued field and extremely hard work. Some consumers assume the most expensive is the best and in some cases that may be true, but not always. You may be able to save thousands of dollars if you are wise or lucky to find a newer, talented professional who isn’t asking for that premium price (I am very biased here). If PRO TIP #1 checks out, you may have hit a gem to save big on a talented yet lesser-experienced professional.
Seasoned professionals may have the networking and reputation to be able to charge $5000 up to $9000 for their services, but their work may not be much better or even better at all than a less-expensive professional. The honest truth is that most of these high-end photographers are very, very good (they likely didn’t get there because they suck), but be careful because some of these top-priced photographers don’t know how to even focus their camera properly when the bride is walking down the isle (I see it all the time). Some of these photographers have no idea how to bounce their flash indoors for example. Price is not the best barometer in my humble opinion. See PRO TIP #1 (The most important) and make sure that you aren’t buying the most expensive assuming they are the best.
PRO TIP #3 - BEWARE of the Bargain “Pro”
On the other hand, If you find a photographer charging aggressively cheap prices (under $1000) and offering you the world for that price, you may want to be very skeptical and stay away. There are literally a million “photographers” out there today who may be trying to undercut pros with unbelievable deals. If you are going to skimp, skimp on something else. If you absolutely must find a very inexpensive photographer because of a tight budget, just be very careful with this one.
“What about my best friend’s, neighbor’s sister who got a DSLR for Christmas?” Well Gina, I’m glad you asked. Wedding photos are literally priceless heirlooms not to be trifled with. Don’t assume cousin Jeff’s new fancy camera means he knows how to shoot a wedding. You may have a photograph nightmare on your hands. Shooting a wedding is probably the most difficult and the most important type of photography there is; it is not for an amateur. If you want dozens of horror stories, just start asking around. There are thousands of cousin Jeff catastrophes where people didn’t even get their photos because they turned out so bad, were lost, or just didn’t ever get edited.
PRO TIP #4 - Coverage - How Long Will They Be There?
Some packages include full day coverage and some price their packages by the hours of coverage. If you hire a photographer who limits their time, ask them what they will do if they go over the allotted time in your contract. I was in a friends wedding as a guest and the photographer left the scene 30 minutes before the sparkler exit because they were only booked until 10 PM. I had my camera and got some amazing shots, but what a disaster!! Don’t let this happen, and the safest bet is to find someone who agrees to be there through the whole wedding. If you have a limited-time photographer, just be clear with them in the contract that they will be willing to stay if needed for an extra fee.
PRO TIP #5 - What is included in the packages?
This is adding on to TIP #4. What is included, exactly? Does this package include 1 or 2 photographers (See TIP #6)? Does this package mean you can keep, download, or print your photos? How many photos will they edit? Does this package include physical prints or physical albums? Are they going to put a pesky watermark on your photos? If they don’t have anything physical or digital you can keep in the packages, then you should ask what those items cost. If they don’t allow you to keep all of your digital files, then what other money will you be looking at spending after all is said and done. How much MORE Money should I expect to spend? A good “deal” could turn into a financial nightmare and you might not own your photos after the wedding. Find out what you are actually getting for that price.
PRO TIP #6 - Who is my Second Shooter?
Does the photographer have a dedicated second shooter or do they work with different people regularly? What is their second shooter’s experience level? The advantage of having two photographers is that you can capture so much more of the ceremony and reception from different vantage points. There will be more photos to choose from, less stress on the wedding day, and more probability of getting an amazing set of images if you hire a second photographer for your wedding. How much more will this add to your package price or is it included? What will the second photographer be doing and are they any good? Dig a little bit about who this second shooter is going to be because it may make a big difference on getting the BEST photographer or photographer TEAM possible.
PRO TIP #7 - What is their turn-around-time?
Many photographers will work hard to get you a sneak peek that same night. Some photographers will take months to get you your photos and it can be very frustrating to not see anything for months. Make sure they can commit in the contract a reasonable time. A few weeks is reasonable because it takes a long time to edit an entire wedding day properly. We, for example, offer a sneak peek that same night, but spend between 20 and 50 hours editing every photo with as much precision and care as possible. We specify less than 40 days after the wedding to have the full album finished and this seems reasonable to us. Give your photographer time, but make sure you know what you are getting into as far as timeline.
PRO TIP #8 - Are Engagement Photos Included?
Some packages come with an engagement session. This session can be an enormous advantage before and on your wedding day. First, you may save a lot of money grouping these photos into your package price. Second, an engagement session gives both you and your fiancé a chance to work with the photographer(s) before game-day. You get a couple hours to practice posing, know what to expect, and get to know your photographer(s). Using these photos for invites and save-the-dates is also a bonus if you book early enough.
PRO TIP #9 - Checking Reviews
This may be obvious, but read what people have said about the photographer. Some photographer reviews may blow your mind and some may not. You will get a feel for their level of service if you read through the reviews. I highly recommend to not pay too much attention to the reviews on their personal website (waste.of.time). Those reviews are hand-picked and may not reflect reality. They may even be fake. Check Facebook, Google, and The Knot to see if they have solid, raving reviews. Reviews can tell you a lot, but PRO TIP #1 trumps reviews. Some couples may write amazing things about their photographers regardless of dissatisfactory pictures and perhaps they did have a wonderful experience, but look a little more carefully into their actual work before getting ready to sit down for an interview.
What about when you have narrowed down the field to only a few great options?
PRO TIP #10 - Get an Interview - In-Person is Best
This person or these persons are not baking your cake and they are not setting up your table decor. They are literally going to be with you for an entire day and on what may be one of the most important days of your life. Are they cool? Do you like them? Are they articulate? Are they annoying? Do they at least seem trustworthy?
Setup an interview with at least a couple of different photographers. I recommend picking one at the top of your budget and one or two towards the middle or low end of your budget. How are they dressed? Do they present themselves as professionals? If they are shady in an interview, you may not want them there at your high-priced, most cherished party. How do they carry themselves? Are they confident? Can they answer all your questions sufficiently?
If they are out of town or in another state, do a video chat. Video is the next best thing and you will really want to see how the person interacts with you. This vendor will hopefully be like a best-friend on your wedding day. You may want to get to know them a bit.
PRO TIP #11 - How do They Do Travel?
It is a very small world when compared to 50 years ago. If you are willing to book a photographer from another town, ask them about travel. Some wedding photographers will travel to other countries and climb high mountains to create masterpieces. Some may only be a couple hours away. You may want a local photographer, but there can be great advantages to getting a photographer from out of town as well. First, an out of town photographer may get you the best photographer at the best price. For example, the cost of living where we live is FAR less than New York or California, thus we can charge less than NYC. Hiring someone from out of town may add airfare and hotel costs, but you still may end up saving a couple thousand dollars. If you are adventurous ask them about destinations or adventure engagement shoots or trash the dress shoots or having a separate bridal session on a different day.
PRO TIP #12 - At Least Try to Look Beyond the Trendy
Don’t get me wrong, I love the sexy-vogue, cool, candid, off-camera poses as much as anybody. But 10 years from now it may be nice to have a picture of you and your spouse looking at the camera. As you are looking through a photographer’s work, do they provide a variety of ultra-trendy photos and more traditional poses? If others are helping you pay for your wedding, they may want a print of a traditional pose. Some photographers are almost too cool and they maybe aren’t putting their clients needs ahead of their own. Prints that hang on the wall typically include a photo of the couple looking towards the camera. Mom or Grandma is going to be very upset if all she gets is something found in a designer magazine. You may not realize the importance of this, but it can be a game-changer in finding the right photographer.
PRO TIP #13 - Organization equals stress-free?
Ask questions about communication before and during the wedding. Do they have a questionnaire or shot list prior to the wedding day? The photographer can relieve massive amounts of stress if they are organized and ready for the day. Do they prepare a timeline beforehand and help you with the timing of your day. Will they communicate before your wedding? If so, when and how will they communicate? In your interview, you may want to get a feel for how organized they are going to be during and before the wedding. Communication is key to having a STRESS-FREE day!!
PRO TIP #14 - Hard Work is One Key, Talent is Another
Talent is one key, but all the talent in the world won’t make up for hard work. Asking the right questions will tell you if your photographers are going to work hard on your wedding day and after your day in the editing process. How can you tell if they are hard workers? Will they be willing to be there all day? Will they work 14 hours to be there for you if needed? You may want to know how many days it will take for your photographer to get you your photos (See Tip #7). Will this photographer be able to get you some sneak peak photos that same night? Great photographers will be willing to not simply do editing (toning, color contrast, color balance), but they will also be willing to remove blemishes and distractions from the photo, which takes more time. And please remember, even the hardest workers in the business need breaks and get those people some cake for crying out loud. Feed them and take good care of them. They are VIPs on your wedding day and they have your photos- so be nice to them!!
PRO TIP #15 - How Will They Handle Difficult Situations?
Sometimes, wedding days are rainy. Ask in your interview how will they handle rain? Do they bring umbrellas? What about a dark reception? What if a camera breaks on your wedding day? Do they have two cameras? What if Aunt Susie has a meltdown? Large groups can be difficult and time consuming. See how your potential photographer handle group photos. Think of what challenging situations may come up for your wedding and ask your potential photographer how they are going to handle that situation if it arises. You may even want to have a list of these questions prepared before going into your interview.
THERE IT IS! YOUR 15 TOP PRO TIPS:
Take this list and see if you can’t find the best photographer in your area or the world for that matter.
If you have made it this far, you can contact me at Stevenwaynejones@gmail.com or reach me at 805-234-2345. My wife and I work as Wedding Photographers in Branson, Missouri. We travel all over the Midwest for weddings and are excited to start doing destination weddings this coming year. Let us know how we can help you get an amazing set of pictures telling the full story of your special day.