As a seasoned wedding photographer who has also worked with a lot of other photographers, I’ve come up with this advice I intend to send to anyone currently shopping for wedding services. This list is composed in order of significance to you, the couples seeking to hire. My advice assumes that A.) You recognize the value in having an amazing photographer, and B.) you care greatly about your photographic experience and about the quality of your images and the value of the service you seek. If you do not prioritize an exceptional photographic experience, that’s (boggling, but) completely fine, and I recommend you have your guests photograph your wedding.
I am incredibly straightforward and realistic with advice, so don’t let some talking head and a free album charm you away from what you deserve from this experience. I know it’s hard, the wedding industry is a whole world within its own, but you can do this, because your experience is valuable and your time is worth it.
WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHER SHOPPING LIST
1. QUALITY. Top of the list. This seems so obvious, but it’s amazing how many couples hire a friend just because they “know someone” or a discount can be given, even if their quality is passable. Passable may not be acceptable. Scrutinize the portfolio, because if “passable” is their best work, move on. This is your special event and you want high quality memories. Make sure you shop others, compare styles, learn a little about technique, and decide on a style that appeals to you. You’ll know what you love when you see it.
Portfolio reviewing tips: Amateur photographers are notoriously incapable with proper lighting in dark or interior situations. Also with posing. If all you see on their website is outdoor imagery and the same posing template applied to all, please ask to see what else they can do. It could be their weak spot. A portfolio is basically an ad to draw your attention. Froot Loops doesn’t look the same in your bowl as it does on the box with that amazing background. Look beyond the portfolio. You never know until you ask. Ask to see specific images from a venue similar to yours as well.
2. SERVICE. Not all pro photographers are created equal. Family and baby photographers are not wedding photographers (unless weddings are the greater percentage of their work.) I’ve worked with them and I’ve heard their stories. Weddings are their own set of skills, for real. Customer service is usually what makes independent photographers so much better than Big Box (contractor) photography, but not all know how to handle customer service well. Planning a wedding is hard. It’s stressful. You want vendors to communicate easily and clearly with you, and this goes for all of the vendors you choose. What you’re looking for is someone who can make things stupid easy for you so you don’t have to worry about a thing. Book that person immediately!
Service red flags: Rule out vendors who take too long to get back to you. If you’ve already booked them, you may want to consider cancelling and going with someone else. I’m serious. It’s also an indication they’re not invested in you. Slow communication will compound and increase your stress later. You don’t need that.
2. PERSONALITY. (Yes I put two 2.’s on here, because service and personality often come hand in hand, and both are pretty darn equally impactful to you as a client. You’ll see.) It is quite common for couples to continue working with their wedding photographer for other life events. It’s often an investment of soul and friendship, and that, my dears, is where the joy and authenticity comes from in those posed-not-posed shots. Comfort level. In the short term, you want to select someone who jives with your own personalities. THIS AFFECTS HOW YOU APPEAR in your images. If a photographer talks too much, doesn’t appear to listen to you or keeps recommending things against your ideas, even if you’ve got to the engagement session and they’ve asked you to pose strangely in ways you weren’t comfortable with, this person is not right for you. If you’re uneasy at all in front of their camera, IT WILL SHOW in your images. In addition to all that, alongside customer service, this person should be stupid easy to be in touch with. You should never worry about why your photographer is taking too long to get back to you. That happens when they have too many bookings and too much going on to focus on you or prioritize your requests. NOT ACCEPTABLE.
Interview tips: If a photographer says they shoot 40+ weddings a year, was loaded with shoots this past week, or in any way indicates that “it’s been so crazy lately!” DO NOT hesitate to ask them to elaborate. Photographers being way busy can indicate that they’ve taken on too much work, that their turnarounds can be ridiculous, or that they’re just trying to snag as many bookings as they can… which in future speak means they won’t have time to personalize and available for you. Turnaround times greater than 3 weeks is ridiculous for anything. ANYTHING. Overbooked photogs are going to be way less focused on you and way less easy to get in touch with. But if they’re still super cool and you want to work with them, this is something you may need to discuss or compromise on.
3. PRICE. Oh look, lastly: price. Yes. While price is certainly important, it also should be understood that, duh, weddings are expensive. My basic point is: shop based on quality, service and personality first. Then talk about price if it’s a major factor for you. You are paying a personalized artist to cover something extremely significant to you, for you personally. You are not going to a store and buying a box of Photographer. Do NOT approach this as just “checking the box”, because you’ll regret it later. This is a custom design service. This is you hiring DaVinci so he can sit you for that Renaissance painting that will be on the walls of your castle for decades. This is wedding photography. If you want it to be your ideal, you can generally expect to pay $2500-$4000 on it, depending on your photographer and region. If cost is your first factor, apply that where it first matters and make the wedding smaller, or you just might want to consider eloping. Not joking. PRIORITIZE. Also, a photographer who’s amazing and sincerely wants to work with you may be a little flexible in working with your budget, so it never hurts to discuss making things work for you too.
Also a great thing to consider, considering you’ve already hired a professional to take amazing, high quality, emotion-packed images: Going Unplugged or Going All In
INTERVIEWING YOUR PHOTOGRAPHER
Guess what? You’re the boss! Woop! You have to interview this person to see if they’ll be right for the job. Take this list with you. If you’ve never interviewed someone for a job before, don’t feel shy to ask probing questions, cuz you’re in charge here, and don’t let some photog’s ego tell you otherwise. Couples typically don’t know what to ask, so I’ve provided these questions you never knew you had anyway. Take these and probe your photographer. If they’re amazing they will appreciate your tenacity to find just the right one for you. Here are some interview questions to get you started (my answers in comments!):
What hobbies do you have? (personality)
How do you work on improving your craft? (quality, investment, professionalism)
How has your business changed throughout the years? (commitment)
What’s the worst client you’ve ever had and how did you deal with them? (service, personality)
Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years? (commitment, tenacity)
What professional goals do you set for yourself? (personality, professionalism)
Are you covered with liability and insurance? May I see proof? (service, professionalism)
What’s the biggest challenge you have faced or do you face as a wedding photographer? (personality, service)
What other areas of photography do you work professionally in? As a hobby? (personality, service)
Unless you’re a photographer yourself it’s kind of a dead conversation to ask them what equipment they use, because you won’t know what that means to you. If you see amazing images in ways that stand out from the others, you’ll know their equipment is tops and that they know how to handle it. If you see fountains of great emotion and beautiful expression all over their portfolio, not just stoic posed shots, you’ll know they know how to work with personalities to evoke those fantastic emotive moments. Great photographers are also psychologists who understand humans and know how to read people, so if your consultation is feeling stiff in any way, wave a little red flag at your fiancé.
Interview at least 2-3 photographers. Weight your decision based on professionalism, personality-jiving and their commitment in you, and you can’t go wrong. Good luck!