How to choose your Wedding Photographer
Real Planner Advice: 10 Steps to choosing your Wedding Photographer (and Engagement Photographer) by Real Wedding Planners at Lisa Sammons Events
Before we begin about wedding photography advice, we’ll start with engagement photography.
Getting engaged is such a special time in your life, and you should mark & document the occasion with photographs.
Here are some fun ways to incorporate this expense into other areas:
If you think you don’t have the money in your budget for this, think again!
Make the most of your money by getting creative and using one of your images for your Save the Date!
Savvy Brides and Grooms choose one of their images and add text, and create a beautiful keepsake Save the Date for their invited guests.
You can also use your images to announce your engagement in the newspaper, and to give as gifts to your family for the holidays. Make the most of your shoot and give your images function rather than just having 1 image hanging on your wall at home or in a book on your coffee table. Have fun with it!
This creative couple owns Breathe Crossfit and the fab Shaun Davies had the creative idea of shooting part of their engagement shoot at their business to emphasize their lifestyle and really personalize their shoot. So fun!
Choosing the right photographer for all of your wedding related events is important in the early days of engagement. Do your research and have ideas to personalize your shoot before you start researching photographers. When you set up your photographer interviews, bring your ideas! Reputable photographers will come prepared to your initial meetings with ideas for you, and examples of their work as well.
We’ve included this important “step” in our Top Ten Steps to a Happy Engagement: See our Ten Steps to a Happy Engagement here for more information.
Hiring a photographer is a challenging task, but also vital as you cannot recapture your moments once they have passed. Not to worry, we are here to help explain what to consider when you are choosing your photographer.
As always, the best way is to consult your wedding planner. They will have many solid recommendations for you that are tried and true.
Step 1: Do your research
Since the introduction of digital photography, there has been an increase in photographer options available at all different price ranges and styles.
Real Planning Advice: Take your time and do your research, whether you have a wedding planner or not. Do not have “uncle” Joe do your photographs, do not have a family member do your photographs for your wedding present, even if they are professional photographers and you love their work. (we’ll explain why later in this article). If you are not sure what you like, start using Pinterest if you haven’t already. It will help you get a feel for the style and look of photography that you like.
One word of caution, due to the digital photography “revolution” there are many amateurs happily working on their photography hobby that may be titling themselves as wedding photographers to hone their craft.
Your wedding photography is not the place to experiment with a “newbie” or “hobbyist” photographer. Here are a few steps to protect yourself from the amateur photographers. Please remember that photography is a trained profession, and not a craft to be taken lightly. It’s not just about pointing and shooting a camera, it’s about light, composition, and editing, just to name a few.
Step 2: Choose the (your) style of engagement and wedding photography you want for your shoot (engagement and wedding events).
Not sure what your style is yet? Not to worry! We know you probably have a Pinterest account, so start there to just see what type of photos jump out at you. Another way is to simply Google, Yelp, or ask for a recommendation (Your wedding planner is a great resource for the recommendations, they book photographers frequently and will know what style will suit you)
Step 3. After you decide what wedding photography style appeals to you, then you move onto inquiries.
This is important: Your wedding planner should handle these directly in order to start the negotiation process with you. If you reach out on your own, generally wedding planners cannot “back”-negotiate. To save yourself time in the search, only inquire to those types of photographers that suit your style (it sounds like that is a simple thought, but you would be surprised how brides & grooms get waylaid in the process of inquiry.
This process will take several weeks, sometimes even over a month, that is why we include it in our Top Ten Steps of what to do right after you get engaged.
For styles: Some brides and grooms like traditional, formal shots; others prefer candid or photo-journalistic images. Some like eclectic, others modern. Please keep in mind, because photography equipment has naturally advanced throughout the years (a note for parents reading this) wedding styles have changed a lot since your parents were married.
Real Planner Advice: If you are sourcing your own photographer and not going through your wedding planner, do not get “taken in” by the offer of a “free” engagement shoot if you book a particular photographer for your wedding.
A lot of photographers offer this… which is very nice!
But it is a marketing tactic to get you to hire them for your wedding.
Real Planner Advice: Yes! Absolutely consider using the photographer you to use for your engagement shoot for you wedding. If the photographer you choose for your engagement shoot offers a complimentary engagement shoot, talk to them and see if they will be willing to credit back the engagement session photo shoot fee as a deposit credit for your wedding day shoot if you decide to hire them.
Our advice (if you don’t have a wedding planner) Test out the photographer in the engagement shoot and see:
#1: Do you feel comfortable with the photographer during the shoot?
#2 Do you like their finished product?
#3 Were you comfortable with the process?
#4 How much editing notes did you have to give them to get to “your” style?
This will help you decide if they are “the” photographer for your wedding. You want the process to be easy, fun, and relaxed. Again, having the right “person” is important, it’s a very intimate relationship.
Going back to the hiring piece for the engagement shoot, if the photographer you want to use offers a complimentary engagement shoot, WONDERFUL! But ask them if you can see how you (and they) do during the engagement shoot process and if they will first let you hire them for that piece (at a price) and if so, if you are happy with the results and you do decide to hire them for your wedding, will they then apply the price of your engagement shoot to your wedding “package” as a credit.
If you are not happy with the engagement shoot experience, then you know it can be re-shot at a later time if need be with someone else.
Pay the photographer and thank them.
Move on to someone that is more your style and that can deliver exactly what you want. This doesn’t happen much as savvy Brides and Grooms do their research properly before their engagement shoot. Where this type of disconnect happens is when B&G’s try to get a “deal” or a budget-photographer. They are most often not happy with the results.
This is not your photographer’s fault, remember, you get what you pay for.
If you want high-tech images from an experienced photographer, then hire one right out of the gate.
If you don’t, you will get “budget-y” looking engagement photos.
A note here about “hiring” a family member or friend to do your wedding day photography.
Real Planner Advice: We strongly advise against this…. even if your family/friend is a professional photographer.
Here’s why: Would you invite this person to your wedding?
If so, then they can not be a Guest and your Photographer.
Additionally, the family/friend will most likely not accept a payment and say ” this will be your wedding gift”.
We have seen this many times. It always ends up badly.
Whether the “service” and planning before with this family/friend becomes too lax and casual, creating unnecessary anxiety before (and during) your wedding day.
We’ve also seen the “gift” of the shoot (with no contract, because “oh, we don’t need a contract, it’s a family/friend” ‘s gift to us” …..and then after the wedding day, all the images are watermarked and set up on a pay per image site only. Very sad.
We can say this enough, you can not re-shoot your wedding day, so hire a professional, and eliminate any issues before, during, and after with a solid contract.
4. DETERMINE YOUR BUDGET:
Photography pricepoints average out to about 12% of your wedding budget. Consider how important the list of budget items is to you in the whole picture. If Florals are “your thing” and that is what your spend a large chunk of your budget on, you might be able to compromise and go for a “middle of the road” photographer. If you have started your research, you already know that goood wedding photography does not come cheap. Again, you get what you pay for. We can’t say that enough.
All photographers price lists are different, but all come out to about the same price at the end of the day. Whether it be an “ala carte” price list, or a package.
Real Planner Advice: You will save yourself time and money going with a professional photographer from the get go.
Step 5. Look at local (local to your wedding location) wedding photographers’ websites with your fiancé.
Make sure when you are searching that you see actual copyrighted images from the photographers’ sites. Not only are you looking for professionally shot and edited images, but you are also looking for a photographer that has solid experience. Weddings especially require photographers with endurance and that can handle a long shoot – between 5-8 hours, a shoot that will be in several locations, many different exposures. In addition, professional photographers need to meet the challenging requirement to organize large groups of people in any one particular set up shot.
For Engagement Shoots: Ask if the photographer is willing to shoot a few locations.
An engagement picture photo shoot is best done in various locations to ensure that you get a wide range of shots to choose from. While some photographers may be willing to shoot in several locations, others may not like this idea or may charge you significantly more to do so. Real Planner Advice: Have suggestions or ideas about where you see your engagement shoot: “Waterfront pier” or “Fall landscape background” and/or Traditional Portrait shots. We recommend you pick 1 “thematic” location like the beach (for example) and then have traditional “formal” engagement/portrait shots as well. Then you have the best of both worlds. An experienced photographer will be able to suggest the appropriate locations that best suit your needs.
Step 6. Set up a meeting/interview with potential photographer:
Set up time to meet (whether via phone or in person) with several photographers. A reputable photographer will offer examples of their work before asked. If they do not, kindly ask to see a few complete wedding shoots taken in circumstances similar to those of your wedding. They should be able to provide complete engagement and wedding examples for you to see – from start to finish.
Be sure to view the photographer’s professional portfolio. Most photographers have portfolios displayed on personal websites or blogs. Ask them to provide you with examples of engagement photographs they have done in the past. This will help give you a good idea of the type of pictures to expec
TIP: Take note of the photographer’s personality and appearance. If they don’t come neatly dressed for your first meeting, that’s a flag. You obviously will want someone that presents themselves professionally, especially on your wedding day!
Also! After you have met, how do you like this person? (You’ll be spending several hours together on your wedding day) .If the photographer comes to your meeting/interview dressed inappropriately, that is a concern….
Real Planner Advice: #1 you will want to feel comfortable with your photographer. If they are bossy, or abrupt, that might not be for you. Remember, this is a very intimate relationship. If you choose them for your wedding day, they will be in the room with you while you are getting dressed (for “getting ready” shots) and will be around you all day….You want to feel relaxed with them around you.
Step 7: Pay attention to the types of weddings the photographer normally shoots.
Make sure the photographer is willing to work with you. Try to find a few examples of engagement photographs you would like to do, or brainstorm some ideas. If your photographer does not seem to respond well to your suggestions and seems to want to “control” the shoot, they may not be the best choice. On the other hand, if the photographer has shot gorgeous and high quality engagement photos, it may be ideal to trust their opinions and skills. Bottomline, you are hiring them because of their experience and past work. Let them do their job. Do not try to make them work outside of their “style” – (see above, only consider photographers that shoot in your preferred style).
Step 8. Make sure you’re interviewing the person who will actually photograph your wedding.
In your inquiry process, you may be speaking to a “sales” person or a Lead photographer that will not be present the day of your shoot.
You want to meet the person who will actually work with you. You will want to make sure you “gel” with YOUR photographer and are getting the experienced person you have researched. It is common for their to be a photographer’s studio under 1 name “John Smith’s Photography”, and then there might be several “staff” photographers. If this happens to be the case, ask to see that “staff” photographer’s portfolio and insist they attend your meeting/interview so you feel comfortable with them. This is another area where a wedding planner comes in handy, there is room for fee negotiation when this is the case..
Make sure when booking that you are interviewing the actual photographer for the day. Many photographers are “John Smith Photography” but may have several “staff” photographers. Make sure you are speaking to “The” photographer for your wedding day during your process. There’s nothing worse than building a relationship with someone that you plan on having be present for your wedding day and then when it comes to the day, a staff member arrives in place of the person you have hired. This is an important question to ask during your interview. (your wedding planner should address this during the interview process.
Real Planner Advice: Photographers can be one of the higher-end priced vendors on your vendor list for your wedding. The reason: You cannot get these moments back in time, choose wisely. Remember… you get what you pay for. This is an area where we advise that you do not skimp on.
Step 9: Discuss the choices with your fiancé and make your decision together.
He might say, “it’s your day, you decide” Which is so sweet, but remind him that there will be a photographer with him during the “getting ready” time before your ceremony, so he should feel comfortable with your choice so he is relaxed during your wedding day.
Step 10: After you have decided, contact your chosen photographer and ask for a contract.
Make sure you get everything in writing in the contract – No item is too small. A professional contract is designed to protect your interests as well as the photographer’s. Please keep in mind that they will most likely ask you for 30-50% down to book the date with them. This deposit, as with all vendors, books the date for you so they do not take any other clients. Doing so inhibits any bookings with any other clients for that day. If you cancel with them, you will lose your deposit. This is not bad will on the part of any vendor (wedding photographer in this case), it is to protect the vendor from the loss of business from that day. If you cancel, they will not be able to recapture their business for the day.
Real Planner Tip: Feel confident about your choice and know that you have done your research and have chosen wisely.
Article: Lisa Sammons – Owner/Principal Planner & Lead Designer – Lisa Sammons Events /Contributor & Features Editor: Style, Inspiration, & Design
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