I used to moderate a forum with 10,000 brides on it. (That was a fun job and I miss it!).
One of the questions that comes up often in a community like that is ‘What should I look for when hiring a wedding photographer? What questions should I ask them?’
There are articles out there, written by editors (not brides, not photographers) that outline huge lists of questions.
The questions are sometimes those which result in answers the couple may not even understand, such as ‘please list the gear you use, including flash and light meters‘, or ‘what programs do you use to process our photos‘.
Not that we want your wedding photographer using iphones and editing your photos in Picmonkey – but one could reasonably assume that if you love their photos enough to communicate with them, it may not matter how or what they use to get the photo. Further, specific gear and editing systems do not indicate that they are truly a professional; these are things that are easily purchased with money. Knowing how to use them is the difference.
What’s more, it’s human nature to give people the response we think they want to hear, especially when being interviewed. There has to be so much more than ‘satisfactory responses’ to a list of questions when making a decision on what wedding photographer to hire. If you send that list of questions to multiple photographers, you and your partner have to sift through and compare purely on ‘features’ and ‘benefits’.
It is for these reasons that I highly recommend not using those long lists; they are overwhelming to both parties involved (the couple and the photographer) and actually set this very important relationship off on the wrong foot!
Here are things to look for in a wedding photographer, and what you really need to ask them before signing on the dotted line.
Look for a truly personal connection
Having a personal connection to your wedding photographer is so important, and so often overlooked.
This person will be with you for some of the most intimate moments of your wedding day (getting into the dress, seeing your partner for the first time, and those romantic moments after the ceremony when you are away from guests). Hiring a photographer that feels like a friend will make your day that much more memorable.
Take this a step further; is this somebody who believes what you believe? Imagine this. . .family is so important to you. The people you invite are there for a reason and you get teary just thinking about having them by your side.
There are photographers out there who don’t share these feelings or beliefs. There is nothing wrong with that, it’s just different. Those photographers would not be a good fit for you – speaking to the point again that the personal connection means more than anything. A photographer that you personally, emotionally connect with will share your beliefs about family and will naturally gravitate towards creating images that highlight that for you.
A photographers about page and social media feeds are a great place to start, in learning who they are and what drives them.
Look for a photographer who specializes in, or is at least very experienced with weddings
This is not to say that a photographer who has never done a wedding before can’t be amazing, but the truth is that wedding photography requires a specific skill set.
Being a wedding photographer means gracefully navigating a steady stream of curveballs, from lighting to personalities to family to weather to emotions, and doing it all for 8-10 hours straight with little time for a break. It is not uncommon for vendors to have to skip lunch on a wedding day, not to mention here in Colorado many of our wedding venues are a 2+ hour drive.
(Fun fact, on average, I walk 8-11 miles on a typical wedding day!)
A wedding photographer who is experienced will have a strong handle on working through a wedding day no matter what comes up, and will be able to do it with a phenomenal attitude.
Don’t try to fit a photographer into a box that they don’t belong in, and watch out for photographers who ‘throw bologna at the ceiling’
The truth is that there are a LOT of photographers for you to choose from. So be picky!
Don’t hire a photographer that doesn’t exactly fit your vision. For example, asking a photographer who really focuses on hands-off, candid images to do a long list of family formals and posed bridal party images is never going to work in your favor.
When you are looking at their portfolio, their blog posts, and their social media, what are they focusing on? If they really seem to love details, and that’s the last thing on your mind, you likely aren’t a good fit for each other.
On the other side of this fence, is the idea that photographers may ‘throw bologna at the ceiling’ to fit into the box they think you are creating for them. Their portfolio may scream ‘I love posed bridal party photos and head-to-head romantic images‘ but when you indicate that you are seeking a very hands-off candid approach, they tell you that they can do it no problem (while secretly cringing inside). They throw bologna at the ceiling and hope it sticks.
The personal connection mentioned above is huge to making sure you are all on the same page.
Look for consistency and diversity in their portfolio
Look for consistency that draws you in. This consistency is their style; it takes years to develop and you have to love it.
We all have our habits, from what lenses we use most often to how we photograph a ceremony to how we pose our couples to how we process our images. A photographers portfolio can tell you a lot about what they value and why.
Additionally, look for diversity that indicates they can do all of the things that will be important to you. Are they showing that they can do more than romantic photos from the same perspective over and over? Can they show you that they know and understand how to light dark reception spaces? Are they showing that they can work in sunlight and on a cloudy day and still produce consistent images?
It is ok to ask to see an entire wedding start to finish.
**Red flag alert – super inconsistent portfolios and images that look very high end despite a low price tag may be a red flag that the photographer you are considering is actually ‘borrowing’ images from google to use in their portfolio. If you have any hesitation, ask them, or look elsewhere.
We’ve found a photographer that we love! We love their style, and have a personal connection to them. Now what?
You may find that emotionally, your gut is telling you to just go with it. Perhaps you anxiously await them replying to your inquiry, hoping they tell you that they are available on your date. This is a GREAT sign that you are off on the right foot!
Now I want to offer some information about what every truly professional photographer should be doing.
You may find that your photographer is established and professional enough that you don’t feel the need to ask a million questions to defend any hesitations you have. Years of positive reviews and how they approach you as a potential client can speak to their professionalism; your confidence and trust in them is a huge piece of the puzzle.
That said, it is smart to know that the person you are hiring is not a fly-by-night outfit who has much less experience than is presented on their website, or is not going to lose your wedding photos because their dog knocked a hard drive off the desk. It is ok to ask questions!
Mistakes happen, and life happens; however, professionals will have systems in place to combat these things.
Here are wedding photographer ‘must haves’, that you may want to ask about:
-A professionally written, robust contract that outlines everything from the date and locations to the retainer, package, due dates, weather and ‘act of God’ related mishaps, editing, image delivery timeline, how images will be delivered and in what format, harassment and other safety related issues, permits, travel fees and other fees, date changes, venue changes, how to cancel the contract, who will take their place in an emergency, and a model release among other things. They should know and understand their contract and be willing to answer any questions you have!
-Back-up gear and equipment, including redundancy in camera bodies and lenses in case one fails on the day of the wedding
-Lighting gear for receptions and dark spaces
-A back up plan for files that includes off-site/cloud storage so if their computer crashes, they don’t lose your wedding images
-Professional second photographers, unless it was agreed upon that the hired second photographer could be inexperienced and is portfolio building (sometimes done to save money on the price of the photography package)
-Relationships with colleagues who they trust to photograph your wedding, in the extremely rare last minute occurrence that prevents them from showing up (hospitalization for example)
Additionally, here are some important things you may want to know about, if they weren’t answered by the photographer you wish to hire.
Many of these should be outlined in detail with the collection you are choosing, but don’t ever be afraid to ask for clarification.
-What does an album look like? What does the design process look like? What can we expect from the album credit we are purchasing?
-What do you mean by ‘digital files with a print release’, and are they going to be high resolution? How will you give them to us?
-How long will it take to get our photos, will all of them be edited, and how do you deliver the proofs?
-What happens if your 8 hours is finished but we decide we need more photography (or, with ‘full day’ collections ‘how do you know when to leave?’)
-What is the most important thing to you about our wedding day?
I hope this helps many of you get off on the right foot with finding, choosing, and working with a wedding photographer that you absolutely love! A good relationship will mean a great experience, which will in turn mean great memories and beautiful photos that you love.
I personally believe that my role as a wedding photographer goes far beyond simply taking photos. Being by your side on your wedding day means that I may be directly responsible for what the day ultimately feels like to you and your friends and family, and I take that seriously!
If you have any questions, I’m an open book and would be happy to chat! Not only that, I still have room for a few more 2017 weddings and would love to work with you if you are a sentimental couple who plans to get married outdoors.