Finding your wedding photographer can be tough, there’s so much riding on your special day and there are no repeats. With nearly everyone with a camera claiming “Pro Photographer” status finding your perfect wedding photographer can be as tough as finding that special someone. To help couples navigate their way to the perfect fit, I’ve compiled my years of experience into a list of how to find your perfect photographer. Now obviously wedding photography is a large way that I support my family and I would prefer you to book me, but I promise to be as un-biased as I can.
1. Search all available resources and compile a list of possible candidates.
This includes all available online resources as well as offline resources. Ask friends, family if they know anyone good, get their website URL (If they don’t have a website, stay clear as this is a MASSIVE red flag). Look online at review sites such as Google business reviews (easiest way to find is through google maps), yelp and facebook page reviews. Check their Instagram feed, do they have a lot of followers? (Great photographers don’t always have large followings but if someone does have a large following, it should add to their credibility). Throw out any options that have clear red flags and continue on.
Be careful asking people in a status update for good photographers! What happens is each person who comments, leaves a link to their preferred photographers’ facebook page which alerts that photographer with a notification. The last thing you want is a bunch of photographers contacting you directly which ends up being an awkward scenario when you don’t use them, after all you can only pick one.
Once you have a solid list of great photographers (10-20 should be plenty) go through their portfolios and keep the half that really speaks to you on an emotional level. Hold on to the other half as backups if your first pics don’t work out.
Now you’ve got a great list and a perfect place to really start digging deeper. Call them up and be sure to go over each of the following.
2. Find out if they’re available.
This is the easiest way to find out if someone is going to be your prefect wedding photographer. The problem is, I don’t know of a single wedding photographer who has an updated availability calendar on their website. So finding out availability becomes more efficient at the first phone call. If they’re not available, find out if they have anyone they recommend.
3. Feel out their personality and how they treat clients.
Ask them questions about how they do business, this will tell you if they’re more about serving themselves or serving you. Yup, that’s true, there are quite a few wedding photographers who are much more interested in serving themselves and doing everything on their terms than delivering what YOU want. When talking with them, read between the lines, try to find out who you’re talking to. Here’s a list of questions that will help you find out how they will be to work with:
“How do you deliver the photographs?” – By far the most efficient way to do this is with a web hosted gallery that has a streamlined full resolution image download ability. If they deliver images this way, consider it a big plus because it’s a sign they stay current on the latest technology and look to make life easier for both you and them. If they still use the DVD delivery method of burning images to a DVD, be warned, that is a big red flag of someone that is outdated (which may carry over into outdated camera equipment) and will make your life more difficult.
“Do you include digital files? Or do I have to order prints?” – In today’s world, if they require you to order prints and don’t include the digital files, RUN! This is still the biggest bait and switch tactic in photography. The reason is, often times they’ll advertise a low sitting fee price to get you to sign a contract, then explain later that you have to buy each individual image from them in the form of a print (which will usually be very expensive) and will also charge a very large additional fee for all the digital files because if you buy the digital files, it cuts into their huge expected profits from the prints. Make sure that all the pricing is clearly stated up front from the beginning, there are no do-overs on your wedding!
“What else is included in your wedding packages?” – Do they include a wedding album? Second photographer? Slideshow at the reception? etc… Be smart about this and understand what you’re getting. If something you need isn’t included, make sure you can add it on. I will add that your photos will be MUCH better if you have a second photographer. Wedding photography is almost always a two person (at least) job. Sure you can only have one person but do you really want to miss half of the action? There are a LOT of things that happen on a wedding day and having two sets of eyes really helps tell the complete story.
“Do you have any restrictions on how I use the digital files?” – Sometimes photographers put restrictions on how you’re able to display your photos, especially on social media. This one is more understandable if there are restrictions because for most photographers, how they edit the images is their art form, their passion and their brand. They don’t want that brand to be displayed and look completely different from how they created it as it reflects what they do differently than how they advertise themselves. However, if there are restrictions like this, it does tell you a lot about how they view the images captured. Do they view them as a product that they create and deliver to their client? Or do they deliver it as a photo that they captured and will always be theirs but they lend to you for limited use? It’s possible that a restriction like this could become a problem and a hassle for you so it’s a potential red flag. (my shameless plug is that I don’t put any kind of restriction on the images I create)
4. Find out how they capture images in difficult situations
Nearly every wedding I’ve captured includes a very wide array of lighting situations, from full direct sun, to near pitch black wedding receptions. Even sub par wedding photographers should understand how to shoot in all lighting situations. A wedding photographer often becomes the one that directs what happens through a wedding day; make sure they have a personality assertive enough to handle directing large groups of people in the middle of complete chaos, great photographers will do that in a kind way that keeps the loving atmosphere flowing through the day. These are some questions that should root out those answers:
“What lighting do you use at the reception?” – If their answer is that they’re a “natural light photographer”, RUN! This is a red flag that should not be ignored. What it tells you is that they don’t know how to use lighting. Since photography is just as much about lighting as it is the subject, this should tell you they don’t know what they’re doing. Please note, a wedding portfolio will not show you if they don’t know what they’re doing because they simply won’t include bad images from a dark room that turned out horrible. Also note that there are photographers who call themselves “natural light photographers” who know how to use lighting and do when it’s too dark, but just prefer to use natural light. There’s nothing wrong with that and the results can often times look stunning. But you should confirm that they are prepared both with the equipment and understanding of how to use it in a way that will ensure consistent great results during your dimly lit wedding reception.
“I hate squinting in photos, do you have ways to help me not squint?” – There are several good answers for this, the most important thing you’re looking for is that they have an answer and a plan. BTW, The way this is typically done in high budget commercial projects is with a series of scrims (to shade sunlight from the subject) and using powerful studio strobes to add the light back in the way the photographer wants to mimic the sun. Most weddings don’t have the budget to hire the manpower to make this happen so be happy if your photographer brings in any combination of scrims or studio strobes.
“I hate the “raccoon eyes” look, do you have ways of getting rid of that?” – Really this is the exact same answer as above. Shade can do it, lights can do it, a scrim or even a reflector (although that adds in squinty eyes). Mostly though, you want to know they have a plan. If they don’t have a solution for that problem, they are probably amateurs and their answer may reveal this.
“What happens when the full sun is out and all you can see is really harsh shadows? How do you handle that?” – Again, same as above, have a plan. Full sun in the face may be their style and that may be the look you really like, photography is an art form after all.
“How do you deal with large groups? What’s the process you use? What if the sun is too intense for the photo to look nice and see everyone?” – I’ve approached large groups with a lot of different approaches because I like to experiment what works the best. Overwhelmingly the groups like and expect a photographer to take control of that situation and tell them exactly what to do. Make sure your photographer is comfortable bossing large groups around, it typically takes a large personality and isn’t easy. You should make sure either they have a plan for the order of groups and their posing or you have a specific plan, it’s in writing and the photographer will bring it so they don’t miss any groupings important to you.
“I want at least a few extreme close up photos of our rings, do you have a dedicated macro lens for that?” – The simple answer is they already have a macro lens, they don’t, or they don’t but they will rent one for your wedding. I know fantastic wedding photographers who don’t have a dedicated macro lens, but they do amazing things with the rings, however a dedicated macro lens will nearly always produce far better results of that shot. (Yes I personally love my macro lens, it’s amazing)
“I want a few wide angle shots of the full ceremony and the full reception, are you prepared with an ultra wide angle lens for that?” – Another simple answer, they have it, they don’t, or they’ll get it. It’s also possible that you hate ultra wide angle photos and don’t care if that shot is captured.
“I want our photos to look as sharp and crisp as possible, what camera and lenses do you shoot on?” – Typically the more money spent on gear, the better things look. There are lot’s of little exceptions to this but prime lenses (Lenses that don’t zoom) are almost always much sharper than zoom lenses. Also full frame cameras produce a better overall image than a cropped frame camera body. So assuming you want great image quality, if they have a full frame camera body, at least one prime lens, and a speed light, that should be the minimum gear requirement anyone should have for their wedding photographer.
5. Review their contract
Once things have moved to a place where you’re ready to book, they should have a contract for you to sign. Remember, contracts are actually a good thing because they protect both parties. If they don’t have a contract, that should be a red flag because you want to have a legally binding document stating that they will be there at the time and duration you require, also that they’ll deliver on the items you agree on. Review that document, and confirm that there isn’t anything crazy or unexpected in there. Yes, I have heard of wedding photographers simply not showing up, it does happen.
If your photographer passes all these points, congrats! Chances are you’ll LOVE them and you’ll surely avoid any of the nightmare wedding stories I’ve heard through the years.
If anyone has any nightmare wedding photographer stories, please don’t hesitate to add them in the comments below.