More people are calling themselves “wedding photographers” than ever before— and you only have one shot at choosing the right photographer for your wedding. Help! How can you increase your chances of having pictures you love and a great experience to go with it?
This is the advice I give my friends and family based on my 15 years as a wedding photographer. I know I’m not a match for everyone…but I still want you to find the best match for you. At the end of all your efforts and expenses, you’ll only have your wedding pictures to remember it all. Take time to make sure you choose the best wedding photographer for you.
6 factors to pay close attention to:
1. Do you respond positively to their images?
Different photographers specialize in different styles, and if they’ve done a good job curating their website or social media feed, you should get a strong sense of their personal style. Does imagining yourself and your family in their pictures make you feel happy? To they speak to your heart? Do they strike a chord with your personality? This is a gut-level reaction that is personal. (Hopefully, you and your fiance have similar feelings!)
Caution: Beware of styles that are trendy. Don’t choose a style just because it’s “cool.” Trends will come and go. Instead, aim for images that will be beautiful as heirlooms many years from now. I took my grandmother’s beautifully classic wedding dress and added poofs and bows that were trendy at the time. I regret it to this day.
2. Are they consistently strong with their skills?
I once gave my camera to my teen-aged son and asked him to take photos on the “auto” setting at a friend’s wedding. He produced 5 awesome images that were good enough to go on a website or social media feed. However, his other 1289 images (a technique called “spray-and-pray”) were sub-par, to say the least. My point is that someone’s website may be pretty, but it doesn’t really say much about their skills. For an engagement session, 5 great images may be enough, but for a wedding, consistency is a critical factor.
You get a much better assessment of a wedding photographer’s skills by looking at a full wedding gallery from an actual wedding. Any professional photographer should be able to send you a link to a full gallery. If they say they can’t, it’s a BIG RED FLAG.
When looking at the full gallery, consider how consistently good the images are. Are there lots of keepers and “wow” moments, or do most of the images leave you unimpressed? Are they delivering a good amount of final images? Are their pictures good once the natural light is gone? It’s easy to take pretty pictures with pretty light. Do they also have good skills working with flash or low-light situations?
3. Do you feel comfortable being around them?
If you’re a bride, guess who is going to be with you more than anyone on your wedding day? Not your mom, or your fiance, or even your maid of honor….it’s your photographer! So…if you want a great wedding day experience, find a photographer you enjoy being with.
How can you tell if you’re going to be comfortable around them? The best thing to do is sit down and meet them in person before you hire them. If that’s not possible, at least talk with them on the phone. You can actually get a good feel for someone’s personality just by talking to them. Just don’t hire someone based on email interactions alone. The more you can authentically interact with them, the better.
Your comfort level with your photographer will translate into the naturalness of your images on the wedding day. I once had my portfolio critiqued by a world-famous wedding photographer. His first words were, “I can tell your couples feel comfortable around you.” I had not expected this or thought it was anything noteworthy. Now, I realize that it was the best compliment I could have asked for.
Some photographers’ pictures look more natural and relaxed because the subjects really are more natural and relaxed. The vibe the photographer gives off is going to translate to the subjects in the picture. A nervous photographer is going to spread nervousness, and a confident photographer will translate that confidence to the subject. A playful photographer will encourage more playful subjects. See why personality matters so much?
4. Are they dependable?
Unfortunately, I’ve witnessed stories about photographers cancelling at the last minute, not showing up on time, or not showing up at all. I’ve received desperate calls from people who have been frantic to find a replacement at the last minute.
In choosing any wedding vendor, dependability is so important. It’s easy to create a website these days, but it’s not so easy to create a reputation. Ask your other vendors about your photographer. Find out how long they’ve been in business. What do third-party review sites say about them (Google, The Knot, Wedding Wire)?
If someone doesn’t have an established, positive reputation in their local wedding industry, you are taking a big risk.
5. Are they within your budget?
This factor is pretty self-explanatory, but I do have a little bit of advice. When it comes to spending your wedding photography budget, value the quality of the photographer and the amount of coverage you get over the products in the package. Every couple should create a heirloom quality album, but you can do this later if you are getting the image files. I would rather my couples choose more hours of coverage for the day. You can make products at any point…but you only have one chance to capture the moments, so capture as many as you can.
I would also recommend fewer hours of a photographer you love verses more hours with a photographer who just makes you feel luke-warm.
If you have a limited number of hours of coverage, consider prioritizing coverage as follows:
- Ceremony: the core focus of your wedding story
- Couple Pictures: the most treasured art from the day
- Family Pictures: Having a professional do this will make it easier and faster. To save time, money, and frustration, try to keep these to a minimum and be intentional about the groupings you choose. Many groups are fine with something less formal during the reception.
- Getting Ready: People underestimate the number of emotional moments during this time period, generally with your most special loved ones.
- Reception: Although it may be valuable to get a early reception images like the cake and the first dance, most of the reception is eating and dancing. This usually the time with the lowest number of special moments per hour. It’s also a time when having a professional photographer is less critical and cell phones can do the job.
Of course, I think you should get as much professional coverage as possible, but my goal here is to help people who are working with a tight budget to not have to sacrifice the quality of their only wedding images. Instead of hiring your inexperienced friend to do your whole wedding, get a professional to do the critical parts, and let you friend cover the final hours of dancing!
6. Are they prepared for potential problems?
Most obviously, you’ll want you photographer to have enough equipment to be able to continue when something breaks. A back up camera is a must, as well as flashes if your event lasts into the evening. Personally, I would never use a camera that didn’t have two card slots recording every image. The biggest potential equipment failure is a corrupt card. Often, a photographer may not know the card is corrupt until he attempts to load your images to his computer and they aren’t readable. Devastating!
Preparedness also takes the shape of experience. During my 15 years as a wedding photographer, I have experienced so many unexpected problems (either with equipment or with the wedding itself) that I am now able to react calmly to come up with a solution. If I can handle a bride who was too drunk to make it down the aisle (beware of bridesmaids who keep giving you shots), I can handle anything! Been there, done that! It is very valuable to be a calming voice at a wedding where things are not going as planned. Look for a photographer who can offer that to you.