Things To Consider When Selecting A Wedding Photographer
Big or small, your wedding day should be one of the happiest days of your life. Planning your wedding is an exciting, yet potentially stressful affair. There are many details to work out and a lot of vendors to meet with as everything comes together.
The following are some of the most common things to consider when selecting a wedding photographer. Each of these items have been shared with me by brides (during our initial consultation) as happening to their own friends or relatives. So, they were naturally interested in not making the same mistakes when hiring me for their own wedding.
Of course, everyone’s tastes are different, and what one person thinks is an acceptable product or service may not come close to meeting the wants and needs of another. However, the items listed below are the most common issues that tend to affect the widest percentage of engaged couples when selecting their wedding photographer.
DON’T SELECT BY PRICE ALONE
The most common mistake is most definitely in selecting a photographer solely based on the price paid. The phrase “you get what you pay for” is very true when it comes to artistic professions such as photography and videography. When you simply go with the lowest bidder in photography, you are generally selecting someone who is either (A) inexperienced, (B) not confident enough in their own work to put a higher value on it, (C) not in high demand, or (D) cuts corners on quality of products or amount of time they will devote to you.
Additionally, some of the lowest bids may come from studios known in the industry as ‘wedding mills’. These are the kinds of studios that focus on quantity over quality. Instead of having one primary photographer or even just a few prominent photographers on staff, they have a large pool of on-call photographers with varying skills and experience levels to fill in at events as needed. In most cases, you don’t get to pick your photographer. In many cases, you won’t even know who your photographer will be until they show up the day of the wedding. It should also be mentioned that the larger, national chain wedding mills generally have a reputation for giving great customer service pre-contract, but once the contract has been signed, the client is treated like a number (check the BBB for reviews/complaints). Trusting a wedding mill to handle your wedding photography can be a real gamble, not only with your photography quality, but with your overall customer experience.
If your budget just simply will not allow you to hire the level of photographer that you would prefer, you may have no choice but to go with a less experienced photographer or a low budget studio. As the old saying goes, “The bitterness of poor quality lasts much longer than the sweetness of low price.” Try to remember that after the food has been eaten, the cake has been cut, the dress has been put in storage, your honeymoon is a distant memory, and the kids are growing up and going off to college, the one thing you will have to look back on to remember your wedding day will be your photographs. So, if your wedding photographs are of utmost value to you but budget is a concern, perhaps saving a dollar here and there in other areas of the wedding (the food, the cake, your dress, the limo, etc) will allow you to allocate more funds towards getting the quality of photography you dream of.
The caterers, cake bakers, dress makers and such will not like me saying that, just as I wouldn’t like to hear them say the opposite (ex: “hire a cheap photographer so you can spend more on your wedding dress”), so let me clarify. If budget is a concern, you need to decide what is most important to you. Everyone has different tastes. One bride may want the most expensive dress money can buy, at the expense of having nice flowers, a fancy venue, a big cake, and a high-end photographer. Others may value the photography more and may trust that the professional photographer they hire will be able to make any venue/dress/cake look great! So, the bottom line is that when deciding what percentage of your wedding budget to spend on photography, you must first determine how much you value good photography.
DON’T WAIT TOO LONG TO BOOK THE PHOTOGRAPHER YOU WANT
In all her excitement, a new bride-to-be immediately starts planning all of the details of her dream wedding, right down to her dress, shoes, venue, number of bridesmaids, her flowers, the cake, and even the color of the luxurious stretch limo that will whisk her and Prince Charming off into the sunset! She’s thought of everything a girl could possibly dream of to make her wedding day the most glorious, romantic day of her life. And yet, she hasn’t even contemplated the importance of preserving all of these momentous (and expensive) details with the all important wedding photographs!
Waiting until the last minute to book your photographer can result in:
- Your preferred photographer is not available because they are already booked with someone else
- You no longer have enough money left in your budget to be able to hire the photographer you want, or to get the package you want, because you’re already over budget after spending in excess for more trivial elements—like too many wedding favors, extra hot hors-d’oeuvres for your cocktail hour, or even an overly expensive DJ to play music at the reception.
HAZARDS OF USING A FRIEND OR RELATIVE INSTEAD OF HIRING A PROFESSIONAL
Rather than hiring a professional photographer, some brides risk not having any quality photographs of their big day by allowing a friend or relative to shoot the wedding for them, usually as their “gift.” The quickest way to ruin a friendship is to volunteer to photograph the most important day of your friend’s life and then screw it up.
Landscape and nature shots can often be reshot if need be. Botched portraits can usually be reshot as well. But a wedding photographer only has ONE chance to photograph your wedding day correctly. Weddings are very risky events that take a special kind of photographer. The pressure to not screw up is why many very talented photographers focus on other specialties and pass on wedding photography completely. If so many professional photographers recognize the risk involved and pass on the chance to mess it up, what makes your non-professional photographer friend or Uncle Bob with his Digital Rebel think they can do better? And don’t forget that friends and relatives can’t offer you professional prints and products.
So, how about cases where your friend or relative actually are professional wedding photographers? (And, I mean specifically wedding photographers — not professional photographers of other specialties who have never shot a wedding.) In those cases, as long as you like the style of your friend/relative’s past wedding photography, you are lucky. They are not so lucky. Not only is your friend or relative no longer a guest at your wedding, but now they are working during your wedding. And, just imagine how they would feel if they missed the first kiss or other key shots that were important to you?
I am professional photographer, but would I want to photograph my own son’s wedding, or my best friend’s wedding? Absolutely not! I would rather be there for them as a Dad or best friend, and enjoy their day with them, and not have to worry about making sure I get all of the important shots for them.
TIP: Disposable camera favors are a bad idea! Not only are they budget hogs—a couple can spend hundreds, possibly thousands, of dollars on buying and developing these cheap, often defective cameras—but they wont provide a return on your investment. You won’t get fun candids of the bride, groom and guests. You’ll most likely end up with a lot of pictures of cut off heads, blown out skin tones, red eyes, a dark room, the floor, and so on. Let your professional photographer catch professional-quality shots of all of your guests for you instead.
POTENTIAL ISSUES WHEN CHOOSING A PART-TIMER OR HOBBYIST
Many wedding photographers have “day jobs” other than photography. Since they are not full-time photographers, there is a chance that their primary job may interfere with their ability to meet with you as needed to plan your big day. Worst-case scenario: At the last minute, their primary source of income (day job) requires them to work the weekend of your wedding, so your photographer cancels on you. You get your deposit back (hopefully), but now you’re scrambling to find a replacement and everyone you call is already booked! Might not happen, but it could.
Along those same lines, part-time photographers may have problems delivering your prints and products in a timely manner. Since their time is divided between their day job and your wedding, there are potentials for long delays in the post-production of your images, prints and wedding album. A lot of the most common horror stories from brides involve not receiving their final products for a year or more. For the most unfortunate, they don’t receive their products at all.
And while there are exceptions, generally a part-time or hobbyist wedding photographer will not have the same caliber cameras, lenses, and other equipment as a full-time professional wedding photographer would have. Lower-end cameras and lenses used by most hobbyists do not take good images in low-light situations. Instead, the resulting images are either too dark or are blurred with grain and noise due to the process used to digitally brighten the image. This is most critical in situations where the ceremony location is relatively dark and does not allow flash photography. The top-of-the-line cameras used by most full-time professional photographers work very well without a flash in low-light situations.
Furthermore, most part-time or hobbyist wedding photographers will not have backup cameras, lenses, flashes, and other critical equipment should something malfunction. Your wedding photographer should not have any single points of failure on a day as important as your wedding. Most full-time professional wedding photographers not only have backup equipment, but take better care of the equipment they have, since this is their sole source of income.
Lastly, what if a guest trips over the photographer’s bag or light stand and breaks an arm or hip? A full-time professional wedding photographer would (or should) have their own business liability insurance. Most part-time photographers will not. Many venues, including state parks, actually require proof of this liability insurance from all vendors working the event.
DOES THE PHOTOGRAPHER SHOOT SOLO OR USE A SECOND SHOOTER?
Most seasoned professional wedding photographers shoot their events with a “second shooter”. Different from an assistant, the second shooter’s primary job is to get detail shots (the venue, the flowers, the guests, etc.) so that the lead photographer is free to focus primarily on the bride and groom.
Having a second shooter allows coverage of the ceremony and reception events from different angles, ensuring that no important events are missed. Second shooter coverage allows:
- less distractions during the ceremony and other key events. A single photographer would need to quickly move back and forth during the ceremony to ensure that they capture the faces of both the bride and groom as they faced each other — or settle for staying in one spot and get just the back on the bride or groom’s head. Two photographers allows for minimal distractions by not having to move as much to capture all angles.
- pre-ceremony photography of the bride AND the groom while each gets ready in a separate location
- the lead photographer to focus on the bride while the second photographer focuses on the groom when they first lay eyes on each other at the start of the ceremony
- the lead photographer to capture the “money-shots”—such as the first kiss—while the second photographer captures the parents’ reactions of tears and smiles
- the lead photographer to capture the bride tossing the bouquet and bouquet sailing through the air while the second captures the often hilarious scramble of single women pushing and grabbing to secure the prize!
- A safety backup for the rare missed shot opportunity! Any professional wedding photographer who has shot more than a dozen weddings will have experienced an “Uncle Bob” darting in front of and blocking the professional shot with their own camera just as the couple is about to kiss for the first time. This is when you’ll see the lead photographer look quickly to the second shooter and mouth nervously, “Did you get that?” Having a second shooter means one less single point of failure for the lead photographer.
BEWARE OF CHEAP PRINTS MADE AT DISCOUNT STORES
Some couples looking to cut costs may look for photographers who are willing to do a “shoot and burn”. This is where the photographer photographs the wedding and then turns over the high-resolution images on DVD to the couple. The bride plans to take these images to the in-store labs at Wal*Mart, Costco or a similar discount store where she thinks she can save some money.
What the bride doesn’t realize is that the main reason prints from discount in-store photo labs are so cheap is that the photo paper used there is not archival quality paper. Additionally their color correction process is made for quantity, not quality, so prints come out looking a lot different from the original image shot by the photographer. Remember grandma’s old pictures that are now faded and yellowed? Well, that is what those cheap prints of your own wedding will look like in as little as 10 years.
Discount labs are great for casual snapshots, like vacation or camping trip photos. But for an event as important as your wedding day, you should ONLY get your images printed by a professional lab using archival quality paper such as Kodak Endura paper. Kodak Endura paper is guaranteed not to fade or yellow for up to 100 years on display, or for up to 200 years in dark storage (such as a box or in the pages of an album).
Top-level professional wedding photographers offer only archival quality prints to their clients, and most top-tier wedding photographers do not offer “shoot and burn” wedding packages in order to maintain consistent quality end products for their clients. They are looking out for the client’s best interest by ensuring that the art created from the client’s memories will last a lifetime.
CHECK THE BETTER BUSINESS BUREAU (BBB)
Since a wedding is a once-in-a-lifetime event, most brides-to-be wisely seek out referrals from friends and family who had great pictures and great experiences with their own wedding photographer. However, when the bride does not have a good referral to go by, she may have to find her own photographer through the Internet, bridal shows, the phone book, and so on. Once she finds a photographer whose work and package options seem to fit her needs, the next important step is to do a search for that photographer on the Better Business Bureau’s web site. (Click HERE to view our rating on the BBB.)
There you can check to see if they have been in business long enough to be listed there with a rating and client feedback. If they are not listed, it may be a red flag that the photographer has not been in business very long. If they do have a listing, you’ll be able to view their BBB rating as well as read information about their business, find out if any complaints that have been filed against them with the BBB, and also read comments (positive or negative) left by former clients.
TIP: Check the BBB for information about any vendor you’re considering booking for your wedding. I’ve heard stories from brides about a friend who’d had a bad experience with a vendor, and when they went to the BBB website to file a complaint, found a whole list of similar complaints and bad reviews from other clients on the vendor’s listing. If only they’d done some research before hiring the vendor, they could have saved themselves from a lot of stress.
SELECT A PHOTOGRAPHER WITH THE STYLE YOU PREFER (TRADITIONAL VS. PHOTOJOURNALISTIC)
In the “old” days, the photographer would always guide you through your day, directing you where to stand, where to look, how to look, when to look, and so on. They would not cover moments as they happened, but would take charge during each segment of the event in order to “make” the moments happen.
Times have changed, and wedding photojournalism has grown widely popular. Also known as “candid photography” or “wedding documentation”, this contemporary shooting style allows the photographer to work unobtrusively like a fly on the wall, capturing moments as they happen, many times without the subjects even knowing that they’ve just been photographed. Although unobtrusive, the photographer is still able to catch all of the important key shots. Like a LIFE Magazine photojournalist, this type of photography requires the photographer to have an extra talent for anticipating the unexpected and being prepared to get the shot on the fly.
Choosing the style of photographer that matches your own style is critical. It is important that you not only like the style of the shots in your photographer’s portfolio, but also that you like the method the photographer will use to capture those type of images at your wedding.
Older couples who are used to the traditional style of wedding photography may hire a contemporary photographer based on their portfolio alone without realizing that the photographer shoots in a candid, photojournalistic way. The couple may later feel odd and irritated when the photographer does not direct their every move, feeling as if the photographer is not “doing their job”.
Conversely, a contemporary couple may hire a photographer based strictly on their portfolio without realizing that this is a hands-on, traditional style photographer who will be directing them to pose often, look in the camera, say ‘cheese’ and hold the pose for a series of shots. If the couple expected a more candid-style, they will definitely notice the constant interruption during the flow of their day by the traditional-style photographer.
Alternatively, there are photographers who use a blend of traditional photography with the new photojournalistic style — providing a bulk of candid images with minimal interference along with a touch of staged portrait shots. This typically satisfies the differing tastes of a younger bride and groom and their parents, who may be carrying some of the costs of the wedding and therefore expect to get the kind of shots they like (the pose and say ‘cheese’ shots).
So before booking your wedding photographer, ask a lot of questions:
- Get pricing and package options, but don’t base your selection on price alone because you will get what you pay for. And, having the lowest bidder shooting something as critical as your wedding photos may not be a wise choice.
- Find out if they are full time or part time and ask about their availability and product delivery schedule.
- Ask about having a second-shooter to work with the lead photographer.
- Ask about available products; inquire about quality, and if a product is supposed to be heirloom quality, ask the photographer about what makes it so.
- Find out the photographer’s rating with the BBB; if the photographer isn’t listed, request testimonials from past clients.
- Find out about the photographer’s shooting style, and make sure it’s compatible with your expectations to ensure a smooth and stress-free day!