As a wedding photographer, it seems that every time I meet with a couple for that first meeting over a beer or coffee, 1 out of every 2 couples brings me a list with 200 questions they got from their wedding planning binder or Pinterest. Now, don’t get me wrong! Being prepared is awesome. But most of my couples don’t usually know what the questions mean or why they’re important. Questions like “what’s your style” or “how long is your turnaround time” are important questions, but as a professional, I always want my clients to feel educated by the time they email me and meet up with me. There are so many decisions you have to make about planning your wedding and undoubtedly, choosing a wedding photographer is one of the most important decisions you’ll make because your photos will tell the story of your day. It’s up to you to decide who to trust with such an important job and my goal is to help you find that person not by using a checklist, but getting to the bottom of what’s important to you! Use these eight tips on how to choose a wedding photographer to make the process a breeze.
#1 What weddings made you happy?
Have you been to a wedding recently that you LOVED? Wedding photos aside, think about a wedding that felt true to your personalities and had you dancing all night. Maybe you danced under the stars on top of a mountain or had the best food you’ve ever eaten at an urban downtown warehouse, either way, finding the right photographer starts with figuring out the vibe of your wedding that you want. A lot of photographers’ work is reflected by their personalities and their strengths go hand in hand with what they like to shoot. If you loved the urban wedding you attended with a rooftop overlooking the city, you want to find a photographer that excels at finding cool nooks and crannies in an urban potentially busy area and knows how to handle off-camera flash in that setting. If you loved the mountain wedding you attended that lasted all night, you want to find a photographer who captured the spirit of the outdoors and handled the unpredictable weather that day. A great photographer should be able to handle any lighting situation or a venue whether it’s indoors or outdoors, but each photographer also has their *it* factor and magic that they excel at. Find the photographer that is the best at what you love and you’ll already find yourself ten steps ahead of the game!
#2 Ask your friends
Reputation and personality go SO far in the wedding industry. It can also be very overwhelming to start with simply a google search. Ask around to friends/family who recently got married and ask if they had any amazing experiences with any wedding photographers. Also, it’s great to notice great photos on IG or Facebook that your friends’ have posted, but broaden your search beyond just finding a photographer who takes pretty photos and find a photographer your friends and family had an AMAZING experience with. A talented photographer can take gorgeous images, but a great person will make you feel comfortable in front of the camera, make an effort to get to know your wedding party & family, and go above and beyond to make you feel important.
#3 Pretty Pictures Aren’t Everything
While we are on the subject, let’s put this out there: nice photos are only a small part of the process. Photographing a wedding is a huge task with multiple steps that need to happen in order to correctly deliver a full wedding gallery. While it’s easy to jump to the photographer with the most Instagram followers or pictures on their portfolio that are out of this world bonkers, it’s important to do your research. Whenever I meet with a new client, I have already sent my clients about 10 full wedding galleries that I have delivered to clients. All photographers only show their absolute best work in their portfolio or on Instagram, but it’s important to see a full wedding gallery to notice if the photos are consistent, whether the portraits feel natural vs posed, if the family photos are well lit and have variety, and if the photographer handled the light situations all day consistently. Did they photograph little in-between moments? Does it feel like there are enough candid shots of guests that each guest appears in the gallery? Also, in the world of social media, it’s really easy to buy followers and trick audiences into believing that by having more followers, they are more popular and more experienced.
#4 Ask About Their Back-Up Plan & Security
Yes, yes. We’ve all heard stories about our great Uncle’s wedding photographer who lost the film or didn’t develop it correctly and lost all their wedding photos. It’s a tragedy. I hear a lot of people tell me how amazing it is that we have such advanced technology in the photography world that this doesn’t happen. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but guess what? Technology is only as good as its user! A lot of people who aren’t photographers don’t realize that it is a wedding photographer’s MOST important job to have a solid back-up system in place to store their files. 7 years ago, when I was just starting out, I had a memory card corrupt and lost an entire memory card’s worth of portraits fail me. Luckily, I had 2 cameras and I had portraits on the other camera, but I made the mistake of using cheap memory cards and not having a backup system in place. Don’t know much about technology? That’s ok! I’ve broken down a list of MUST HAVE’S for wedding photographers and yes, I encourage you to ask your wedding photographer if they follow this set up:
- Does the wedding photographer have more than 1 camera body in case one fails on a wedding day?
- Does the wedding photographer have duplicate memory card slots in their camera body to ensure even if 1 fails, the card is backed up twice?
- How many external hard drives do they use? Everyone does this differently, but a photographer SHOULD use no fewer than 3 external hard drives/sources to back up the photos.
- Are your hard drives stored in separate locations? What if someone robbed your house, do you have one in a safe or in a separate location?
I store my photos across 4 external hard drives AND in an online backup system. If my house burned down, I would still be able to download all my weddings from my online backup system. Just so you understand how serious this is, a professional photographer should spend in the ballpark of $2000-$10,000 a year on their backup system alone!
#5 Meet Your Wedding Photographer in Person or Facetime Them
Listen, I am a millennial and I hate the phone as much as the next person. It’s so easy to default to email or doing everything on a phone. However, and i can’t stress this enough, the only way to know whether you truly click with a photographer is whether you meet with them in person. Most of the time, I meet with clients in person or Facetime them because I view it as a personality test. If the conversation is easy, we laugh, have shared common interests, I know it’s a great fit! Typically you can get a good feeling through email and their personality on social media whether you will connect to a person, but whether you feel connected and comfortable around someone is only possible to know in person! If you don’t feel comfortable with them face to face at a table, then surely you won’t feel comfortable with them when they are holding a camera in their hands.
#6 Do an Engagement Session
I encourage all my couples to book an engagement session with me. Why? It’s not just about getting a couple save the date options. An engagement session is almost like a last interview! It’s a great way to get cozy and comfortable with your photographer. You will have a better idea going into your wedding day what your photographer expects of you and how they work so that you can spend your wedding day focused on experiencing the moment, and not whether or not you’re “doing the right thing” in front of the camera. A great photographer should help you relax and feel like yourself! Also, did your photographer deliver your photos on time? Were they organized? How many photos did they deliver? Questions like this can be answered with an engagement session to better feel out your photographer and feel 1000% confident you made the best choice!
#7 “How Many Weddings Do You Take On Per Year?”
I get asked often why I charge what I do, how many weddings I’ve shot, how long I’ve been in photography, etc. All of these questions are valid, but there’s almost nothing more insulting to a photographer than asking point-blank why they charge what they do. Don’t do it. Wedding photographers don’t charge their rates based solely on their market or their experience or whether it’s their hobby or day job. Pricing should always be a reflection of the value and experience the photographer has. For example, I have been a photographer for 7 years, I’ve shot over 300 weddings, and have been published over 50 times, but that’s not why I price myself where I’m at. Yes, I have a lot of great experience, but I charge what I do because I choose to only work with a limited number of clients per year so that I can deliver the best experience possible. I also invest in my updated back-up system, the best insurance, and several ends of the back-end of the business that make my business more sustainable and give it longevity. There are ways to ask a photographer to explain their experience or their value without demeaning the rate they’ve decided to value themselves. Just because one photographer charges double what another one does also doesn’t mean they are twice as experienced or twice as skilled, it usually depends on their workflow and what their schedule is like. I know some photographers who shoot 60+ weddings a year and some who shot 5. It’s entirely dependent on the photographer and the kind of experience you want.
#8 Choose a Photographer Based on How Their Photos Made You FEEL, Not By the Preset or Editing They Use
I like to make it very clear when I meet with couples that my focus is less on my “style” when I shoot, and more about the interactions and direction I give. I don’t consider myself a light/airy photographer OR a dark/moody photographer. Rather, I edit my style to reflect the emotion and interactions of my couple. I’m somewhere in the middle and tailor each session to the couple and their personalities. In the photography world, a lot of presets are available to purchase and slap on a photo, but taking the original photo is a lot more work than slapping a trendy filter on it and calling it good. When you’re comparing the work of different photographers, don’t focus solely on style, but rather focus on the personalities of the couples in their photos and how they make you feel. There are a rare few couples that could model effortlessly with no direction, but a great photographer is the one giving them directions to look the way they do. Notice whether moments feel awkward, forced, or unnatural because it is always the job of the photographer to create meaningful, natural moments for you during a shoot!
Looking for more wedding planning tips? Check out this ultimate guide on how to elope in Idaho and fall in love with these amazing locations for your Idaho fall engagement session!