How to Choose Your Photographer
You’re engaged! Time to celebrate and then start talking wedding plans. If you are having a wedding there are a lot of little details to think about. Where do you start? Maybe you know you don’t want to have a large wedding and instead are planning an intimate destination elopement. Ditch the myths that elopements don’t require a professional photographer. My favorite affairs to photograph are intimate weddings or elopements. If you are looking for some great tips for eloping check out this post on Wandering Weddings.
No matter how large or small your wedding celebration is, hiring a professional photographer to capture all the love, emotion and in-between moments during your celebration will be well worth it to have images of your celebration to hold onto forever.
Time to Research
Once you’ve set a date it might be time to start researching wedding photographers. Generally speaking photographers are booked 6 months to one year out. I know from experience narrowing down a photographer can be tough. There are so MANY creative, talented individuals in this industry and I had a huge list of potential photographers to choose from.
Likely, you have already read an article or two from wedding publications such as The Knot or Martha Stewart Wedding on how to pick a photographer. I have seen some brilliant articles around photography but unfortunately have read some articles that were solely geared to saving as much money as possible while planning a wedding (like suggesting you DON’T have to feed your photographer on a full day wedding) and those that clearly did not value photography as an art or as an important piece of your wedding day. While I know from experience how important it is to save money when planning a wedding I believe you get what you pay for and your wedding/elopement photographs are going to be what remains after your wedding day comes to an end and memories fade.
Where are They Cutting Corners
I don’t want to claim all inexpensive photographers are not good at what they do; everyone has to start somewhere and many do have a great eye but as you determine where you need to cut corners on wedding planning maybe those insanely cheap photographers are also cutting corners somewhere too. When you hire an experienced wedding photographer, you aren’t just paying someone to be a warm body to click the camera. You are paying for the experience. Their experience shooting weddings and THE overall experience from start to finish. Your wedding day is going to be filled with amazing moments, emotions and don’t forget those little imperfect moments too….. one of those imperfect moments should NOT be worrying about your wedding photographer.
Here are some tips to help you find the perfect photographer for your wedding:
1. Have a clear idea of the STYLE you like. This will help you narrow down the selection of photographers. Are you attracted to more traditional photography, posed images and pretty smiles starting at the camera? Do you prefer a documentary feel where the photographer goes unnoticed with no posed images? Is a candid style that captures the big emotions and little details to tell the story of the entire day your preference? Are you looking for someone who is going to unnaturally and stiffly pose each image, interrupting the natural moments from happening or someone who is easing going and naturally goes with the flow, capturing the dirt on your dress while you walk through a mountain field, quietly soaking in the beauty of day?
2. Get to know your photographer. Do your personalities mesh well? Your photographer is going to spend a greater chunk of the day with you…. make sure you can tolerate them and maybe even like them. 😉 Just because your family feels obligated to use the local photographer you have known since you were a child…. doesn’t mean you need to. I saw this happen once and said photographer ended up passed out drunk under a tree before the reception started. NO JOKE. It’s your wedding day. Pick someone who’s work you are drawn to. I love getting to know each of my clients better — doing this creates great rapport which is actually important when creating images filled with REAL emotion. When you look at a photo, I want you to feel something. Check out Google for review listings of photographers.
3. Ask them to see a real wedding. It’s ok. Don’t be shy. It’s easy to post the best of the best on social media or share amazing stylized images from a stylized shoot working with amazing vendors (so every images is picture perfect) but what about those real moments and real couples? Ask to see a full gallery of a real wedding and your photographer will happily share.
4. Backup. Backup equipment is crucial. PLEASE ask your photographer if they shoot with backup equipment. You don’t want your photographer showing up to shoot your day with only one camera body. What if the strap breaks and the camera falls to the ground before the ceremony has started. What if the camera body is used frequently and the shutter breaks (this does happen). Do they have multiple lenses incase it a guest accidentally spills a beverage on the one lens being used. That being said, if your photographer is shooting with multiple professional bodies these can be $3,000 + each. Equipment is not cheap and it needs to be upgraded, cleaned, calibrated on a regular basis. Gear is not everything but the type of glass shot with can affect image quality and your photographers ability to shoot in inclement weather.
5. Insurance. Since we are talking business stuff ask your photographer if they are insured. Professional photographers should be covered in case something happens to their gear or something accidentally happens to one of your guests involving the photographers equipment…. like a light stand falls over on a guest on the dance floor and injures them or a kid doesn’t like being photographed and they throw a rock and damage photographer’s camera. Trust me, I’ve had this happen too.
Details Matter . . . .
6. Ask about the DETAILS. What is included with the package? Are the images fully, individually edited? Will they only be edited with an additional fee? Will the photographer try to sell you the digital files in addition to the original package price? TIP: Make sure your photographer has a contract. For that matter make sure you sign a contract with all of your wedding vendors.
7. Turn around time. I think this is so, so, so important to find out. The photographer you are planning to hire offers a cheaper rate….. maybe it is because they have a full time job and photograph weddings on weekends. With their full-time work, will their turn around time be months? Understandably because they are working another full-time job. Do you want to wait 5-6 months to view your photographs? Same goes with studios who advertise they shoot 100 weddings a season. Do you want to wait 6+ months to get your wedding images? What is your client experience going to be like…. can your photographer give you individualized and thoughtful attention if they are shooting a bunch of weddings or will your wedding just be another number?
8. Don’t “Uncle Bob” it. Say your uncle shoots sports photography for your little cousins and since he does a great job you think he will do a great job shooting your wedding for free! Money saved, right?? Not quite. You will in fact save money but your wedding photos might not turn out how you envisioned and that will be a sad day. Wedding photography is a whole other game. I would be lying if I didn’t say it can be stressful. You don’t want to miss a shot or mess up on someone’s wedding day. (Blessed are those who first hired me years ago when I was just beginning my career. To my dear cousin, that includes you…. Thank you for trusting me enough to hire me at the age of 17).
9. Pinterest. Who doesn’t love Pinterest?? While it is great to find inspiration and look at all the pretty pictures please don’t expect your photographer to re-create identical images from your Pinterest boards. While I am sure some photographers might not mind this; you are hiring a professional, an artist and to ask them to recreate someone else’s work is going to result in stiff/ posed unoriginal images. Hire someone you can trust. When your photographer suggest going juuuuust a little further to catch the last light, trust that it will be worth it and the end result will be some epic photographs.
Here is a Pet Peeve.
10. Ok, so this one is a personal pet peeve that I can’t resist posting. If you are looking for a wedding photographer, really if you are looking for any wedding vendor, don’t inquire about said services and say, “I am looking for someone who doesn’t charge and arm and a leg.” Long, deep sigh.
Most wedding vendors understand most people are not working with a bottomless budget but DINGDANGIT, everyone has a different option of what expensive is. Cheese and crackers! NO ONE I KNOW ACCEPTS PAYMENT IN BODY PARTS. Why not be a little up front about what your budget is and see what you might be able to get with that. If you haven’t done so already, check the photographers website and see if they have some pricing information already listed. Time is valuable and photographers don’t want to waste your time. So if they are way out of your budget and you can’t budge on budget or amount of coverage maybe you should skip contacting them.
I’ve also seen rants on fb where people rant about photographers “ripping everyone off.”
I promise you that photographers who charge over $2,500 are not trying to rip you off. There are a lot of costs that go into running a photography business. Staying educated and up to date on technology and the craft, not to mention paying taxes and overhead, hours spent shooting plus hours spent editing each photo one by one. There are so many reasons photographers charge what they do. Are you a Walmart shopper or prefer shopping at Nordstrom? Do you get your hair cut at Great Clips or a specialized salon with a stylist who has years of experience?
11. Bonus tip: Once you have narrowed down your photographer, hire them for a “test” run and book an engagement session. This is a great way to spend a couple hours with them and see if your personalities mesh, you feel comfortable spending hours with them on your wedding day and you get great images you love. Win, win! This is extra helpful if either of you are camera shy as it will help you be more relaxed on your wedding day. If you are eloping, many couples choose not to have an engagement session and that is ok too. You can opt to meet your photographer for a coffee or safely via Zoom (thanks, Covid) for an opportunity to chat and get comfortable with them.
Gwen Shoemaker is a seasoned professional photographer with 13 years of experience capturing the beauty of human beings all around the world. From Iceland to Antarctica, and Colorado to Bend, Oregon, Gwen’s passion for love and adventure has led her to specialize in wedding photography. Known for her ability to capture moments of raw emotion, she’s been humorously described by a client as an “emotion vulture,” always ready to swoop in and capture the perfect moment. Gwen’s love for travel and new experiences began when she studied abroad in rural Spain at the age of 17 and has since taken her to 15 different countries. Interestingly, it was in the least populated continent, Antarctica, where she found her true love. Gwen seeks to work with clients who share her love for the universe, are madly in love with their partners, and are full of joie de vivre.