Choosing a Wedding Photographer | Things You Should (and Shouldn’t) Ask
What should you consider when choosing a wedding photographer?
Congratulations! You’re engaged and planning to marry the person of your dreams! There are few times in one’s life that are as exciting as embarking on the journey of marriage with your best friend.
But, before you say “I do”, there is a ton of planning to be had- planning which can be both fun and extremely overwhelming. While there are lots of things to consider when planning a wedding, choosing a wedding photographer is one of the most important. After all, when the day is done- your flowers will wilt, the food will be gone, and that fancy dress will be stored away.
All that you will have left are your rings, your wedding photos and each other.
Fifteen years ago, it was a lot easier to choose a qualified photographer. Most photographers used film, and so only those with a serious grasp on photography would choose to embark on weddings. It was easy to see a full portfolio and there were far fewer photographers to choose from. With the advent of digital, anyone can purchase a fancy camera and decide to open up shop. After all, they can have marginal success using the “spray and pray” method. Obviously, this is not the photographer you want photographing your wedding!
So how do you go about choosing a qualified photographer? What types of questions should (and shouldn’t) you be asking, and what exactly are you supposed to be looking for? I’m hoping that in today’s blog post, I can help break this down for you and make the process of choosing a wedding photographer a lot easier.
Here, I give you what I think are the 3 most important things to do when choosing a wedding photographer:
1. Ask to see a full wedding
As I mentioned above, anyone with a digital camera can take 5000 images and get lucky a few times. When meeting with your photographer, I highly suggest that you ask to see a full wedding gallery. Not just an album- but a full wedding- one that was actually delivered to a client. If possible, ask to see a wedding that takes place in similar conditions (dark church/harsh mid-day sun, etc.). This will give you an idea of what your wedding gallery might look like.
2. Meet your photographer
Or, at the very least, Skype with them. Out of all of your vendors, you will spend the most time, during your wedding day, with your photographer. You will actually spend more time with your photographer than your spouse. (Go ahead and let that sink in.) It is important that you click with your photographer and that this is a person you want participating in such an important day of your life.
3. Choose a photographer that specializes in weddings
Weddings are a very different photographic animal than most other forms of photography. Unlike newborn photography or family/child photography, weddings vary consistently- from the types of venues, to time of day, and everything in-between. Your photographer will have hectic timelines to consider, multiple other vendors they need to be able to work with, and very little control. Wedding photographers need to be able to think fast, and adjust accordingly. Most importantly, there is no ‘do over’. It’s okay if the photographer offers other services too, but their main focus should be weddings. I could write a whole separate post on why you should only hire a photographer that specializes in weddings, but just trust me on this one. Okay?
Okay, so now that we have discussed the 3 things you should do before choosing a wedding photographer, we can now talk about what things you should (and shouldn’t) be asking your wedding photographer.
Do ask: “Do you have insurance?”
In today’s digital world, we see many pop-up photography businesses, run by novice photographers, trying to make a dime off of their hobby. Many of these businesses are not properly registered with the state, paying taxes or properly insured. You 100% want to make sure that your photographer (and all of your other vendors) are properly insured. I have both equipment and liability insurance. A few years ago, I was burglarized and most of my gear was stolen. Thanks to being properly insured, my gear was replaced in time for my next wedding. Keep in mind that most small businesses are not going to be able to out-of-pocket $30,000 in a week- so insurance is a must.
Possibly more important than equipment insurance, is liability insurance. What happens if a guest is injured by some of the equipment? Most venues will actually require proof of insurance from your outside vendors, so it is important to verify this from the start. You don’t want to hire someone and then later find out they they are not allowed to work at your venue. Also, hiring an insured photographer also helps ensure that you are hiring a legitimate professional. Most hobbyists won’t be shelling out $800-1100 a year on liability insurance.
Don’t ask: “What type of camera do you use?”
If you’ve already used steps 1-3, you can trust that your photographer has quality equipment. While professional gear is needed to properly photograph a wedding, it really comes down to skill. It’s not just about having the latest and greatest gear, it’s about having the skill to properly use it all. If you’ve seen full weddings and several rockin’ sample albums (along with a stellar website) then the photographer has a solid grasp on how to use their gear. It doesn’t matter what model Nikon or Canon is hanging around their neck.
Do ask: “Do you have back up gear?”
Sometimes, you’ll see really talented, but really new, photographers get a camera set up and start taking weddings. They do this with the anticipation of using the money to purchase additional gear in the future. This season alone, I’ve had 3 flashes go up- all while at a wedding. Your photographer needs to have the additional gear to continue shooting your wedding with no more than a hiccup. If your photographer only has one camera body and one flash- what will they do when a guest spills their drink on their gear?.. or a waiter knocks over a flash stand? (happened to me last month). You’ll want to make sure that your photographer is equipped with the proper amount of gear. They should have a minimum of two bodies, along with multiple flashes, lenses, etc.
Do ask: “What happens if you are sick on our wedding day?”
Trust me, this is a scary prospect, that no photographer wants to think about. I would have to be *really* sick, and pretty much incapable of moving, to miss someone’s wedding. But lets say your photographer has the flu (or any other highly contagious illness that could be passed on to your or your guests) or was in a car accident. What is their back-up plan for themselves? Let’s face it- life happens and not everything is within our control. While I’ve never missed a wedding (*knocks on wood*) I’ve come close… twice. And, both times I was so glad that I had a plan in place! Don’t hesitate to ask your photographer what their plan is for your big day. A true professional will already have a plan in place and will be happy to share that information with you.
Don’t ask: “Do you give discounts?”
Weddings are expensive, and I won’t deny it, so is wedding photography. The reason for this is that legitimate photography businesses are expensive to run. This can also be a whole separate blog post, but just think of having to pay for taxes, accountants, all of that gear (and back up gear), repairs, classes, computers, hard-drives, memory cards, bags, light stands, editing software, insurance, professional dues, etc. This doesn’t even touch on all of the expenses that a self-employed person takes on- like health insurance, office equipment, etc. The list goes on… Running a business is expensive and photographers base their prices on what it takes to operate that business, and still get paid at the end of the day. After all, I know I put about 40 hours into each wedding client! That’s a lot more than the 8 hours or so I spend with a couple on their wedding day. Just know that a photographer’s prices are not arbitrary; they have been carefully calculated based on all of these factors.
It is okay to ask: “Is it possible to create a collection that fits our budget?”
Photographers understand that planning a wedding is a huge financial endeavor and that most people have budgets they need to stay within. Now, I know that I have tried to craft my collection options based on what is most popular and what I think best serves my couples. But, I also know that every couple is different and what may be important to some may not be to others. I am always open to adjusting a collection to best suit a couples’ needs. Perhaps it is a smaller size album or taking out the second photographer. Some photographers will offer fewer hours or less album spreads. While every photographer will have a different business model, it certainly doesn’t hurt to let a photographer know that you are working within a certain budget and then ask if there are any options for you. (Please do know that if the photographer has a starting price of $3000, you are not going to get photography for $1000). While photographers just can’t give away their services, many times, a photographer may be able to adjust a collection to better fit your needs. (Keep in mind that, most often, the items offered in collections are already discounted from what you would purchase a la carte. So, if you are working on a tight budget, you may fare better to book everything you need upfront, rather than adding things on, after your wedding day.)
Don’t ask: “How many photos will you take at our wedding?” or “Can we see ALL of the images you take?”
The answer to this first question varies a lot, based on how many hours your photographer is with you, how many locations you have on your wedding day, how many photographers will be in attendance and a myriad of other factors. You can trust that your photographer is not going to stop taking photos just because they’ve reached some arbitrary limit. We happen to like taking pictures- so no worries there!
However, you can also trust that your photographer is a professional and will do a great job at culling your images and choosing the best ones to show you in your final gallery. No one wants to see images of themselves blinking, talking mid-sentence, making an awkward face or any of the ones that are out of focus or blurry. You are hiring a professional for a reason- let them cull through the images for you. Photographers aren’t going to hide quality images from you and they will only want to you see the best. Quality wins over quantity- every time!
Do ask: “How many images can we expect to receive in our gallery?”
Again, this will vary, based on many factors- but most professionals will be able to give you a rough idea of how many images you can expect to receive.
Hopefully all of this information has given you a better grasp on what to consider when choosing a wedding photographer! Obviously, there are many other questions you may wish to ask- like what their payment policies are and how long it will take them to deliver your final images. Be wary of any photographer that is okay with proceeding without a written contract or offers you “tax free” options. Also, be sure to ask about your options for albums, canvas collections and other finished products. After-all, you’ll want to make sure you have an awesome way to display and enjoy all of your beautiful wedding images!