How to choose your wedding photographer
As a wedding photographer I always strive to be the best photographer that I can be. I understand what makes a photo good, what makes wedding packages value for money and what is considered a good working ethic on many different levels. I know all of this through experience, listening to what clients value and a strive to always try and better myself.
In essence, I know what makes a wedding photographer a good or bad investment.
However I have read a lot of blogs on this subject and rarely do they offer information that is genuinely important or relevant when deciding on a wedding photographer that suits your needs.
Now for clarification, I have no intention of selling myself in this blog. That is not the point here. The aim is to be honest, realistic and to help couples with their search for a photographer in a market that is extremely saturated. I hope to offer the best unbiased advice I can regarding how to choose a wedding photographer.
I suppose the best way to word this would be as follows. As a wedding photographer with my experience and knowledge, if I was to hire someone to shoot my wedding, what would I look for?
Budget / Price
There is no getting away from this, your budget has a large factor on who you can hire. For me I value photography because at the end of your wedding day, when all the food has been devoured, all the songs have been danced too and everyone has gone home with a smile on their face. The only things that will remain will be your new journey with your partner, and your photographs.
Now most photographers don’t typically advertise their price list publicly. The reason for that is they fear you may take a quick look at their prices and walk away without truly knowing what they can offer you. It’s a valid reason, but none the less a little awkward as it makes your search for a list of potential photographers a little more time consuming. You will need to contact every photographer that sparks your interest.
But think of this as a positive because every reply you get will be an insight into the professional and personal nature of the photographer. These are your first steps towards choosing someone that suits your needs, so pay attention to their wording, and what seems important to them. If you feel like you are on the same page as the photographer then you are moving in the right direction. Just be weary of replies that over sell themselves (they focus more on their image as a photographer rather than what they can offer the you) and replies that are short and cold (like a price list with no addition text). Both examples might just be a case of a bad first impression. But they potentially show someone who may value themselves, or money, as more important than the clients happiness.
As for the price ranges of photographers. Well you can simply divide it into three different groups.
There is the main group. What I call the realistic group. This is the average price that people tend to pay. Most photographers are in this range but they typically vary by €200-500 from one another. In the grand scheme of things, there is not a huge difference in price but their packages can vary quite a bit. If you are in this range pay close attention to what they offer and any hidden fees they may have as this can change things quickly.
There is the “too good to be true” group. The prices here are considerable lower than the average to the point that it seems too good to be true. In most cases the photographer is cutting corners somewhere and most likely they are a “shoot & burn” photographer. A shoot & burn photographer essentially gives you all of the photos without any processing or culling. What that means is you get photos that have zero quality control along with an amateurish look. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. You may be lucky and get someone who is good, but if they are good and in that price bracket then they are undercharging for their service.
Lastly there is the higher than average group. Their prices are high but in most cases it is justified due to them being in demand, having an extremely strong and well established brand, and offering something unique that is inherently their own.
The initial advertised price you see may not be the final price. Some photographers like to play with the numbers to give the impression of good value for money. This can come in many different forms.
For example you might see a certain price for a full day, but later find out that their “full day” is actually only 8 hours and they charge extra for additional hours. Or the extremely obvious “prices starting from” quote. In this case the price you see is for the most basic, stripped down package. Some photographers say that they work with a second photographer but don’t actually include the price of said photographer in the package.
Hidden costs are not fun to deal with on any level. My advice would be to look for someone who is transparent, who displays their price without massaging the figures. Someone who is honest and makes any addition costs clearly visible from the start. That is the sign of someone being professional and genuine to their potential customers.
How do their photos look? What style is it?
There are two different aspects to style. There is the “method” or how they compose a photo. And then there is the “vibe” or how they process their photos.
Wedding photographers are not all the same and best way to describe differences in their method, is to include other photography styles.
So landscape, documentary, fashion, fine art etc. These are all styles that influence how a photographer will take a photo. How they compose and frame things. What they see as important information to have in a photograph. When you find wedding photos that you like the look of, try and find out what style that photographer is and look for other photographers within the same range.
Now as an example, let’s say you have decided that you like the documentary look of wedding photography. But after looking through various different photographers within that range you notice other differences in their photos. The colors, brightness, lighting etc. This is the vibe of the photographer.
Some photographers like their photos to look airy and bright. Others might prefer dark and moody. Some prefer low or high contrast while others prefer super realistic. Regardless of the terminology, the important thing is to recognise what you like to look at.
View a full album
Not all wedding photographers put up full wedding albums on their page. But it is important to view a full collect of photos from a wedding. If the photographer you are interested in doesn’t have a full wedding gallery on their page simply ask them for a link to one. They will gladly supply you with one.
Now this is important. Look through the gallery with a critical eye. You want to see consistency with processing. The vibe of all the photos should be the same. This is all one wedding, so it should feel like that. If should feel like one big story with all the photos connected. If the vibe of the photos changes too much or if the photos keep switching between color and black & white, then that can be very jarring and is a sign of a photographer who is missing the bigger picture.
You also want to look for attention to detail. A very simple and straight forward one is badly framed or crooked photos. These are big warning signs to me. It shows me that they were rushing when taking the photos, but also failed to fix the issue during the post production stage which is probably from a lack of attention to detail.
If all the photos flow together and nothing seems off, then the photographer did there job seamlessly.
What are your rights?
This is extremely important. Now all photographers will own the copyright to their photos (be weary of photographers offering you ownership of the copyright).
But what is the reality of the photographer owning the copyright? Well they can use the photos on their page or blog to help advertise to gain more clients. Most people have no issue with that and if anything, they are generally happy to have their wedding featured on a blog. But If you have an issue with that it should be mentioned to the photographer before signing a contract so it can be amended.
So what are you allowed to do with the photos?
Every photographer has a different contract but I would consider it standard to be able to share your photos anywhere you want without watermarks. In fact, there should be no watermarks on anything. Now out of courtesy you should credit the photographer on social media sites as it’s just a nice way of saying thank you to the photographer. After all it may get them more work.
You should also get high resolution photos which are print ready and be allowed to print with whoever you wish. Anything less than that and I would walk away.
The delivery time is from when the wedding ends to when you get your digital photos (wedding albums are generally excluded from this time).
After the photos have been taken, the photographer enters the editing, processing or post production stage. It can be called many different things but it is essentially the finalising of the images. Adding that vibe that I previously talked about.
Delivery times vary from photographer to photographer. If your photographer is professional and respectful they really shouldn’t make you wait too long. After all you want to see the photos as soon as possible. I think 4 to 8 weeks is the average but I personally would want them no later than 4 weeks from the wedding day. If a wedding photographer is too busy then there is a good chance that their delivery time will reflect that.
How many weddings do they shoot?
This is in some way connected to my last point. Of course you want your wedding photographer to be an experienced working professional. But a photographer can only take on so much before it starts to effect their delivery time. A busy wedding photographer will of course try and book themselves up a much as they can. But they will still be realistic and leave time for post production and sorting out wedding albums. If you see any photographer advertising how they have more weddings than there are weeks in a year, be very cautious. Odds are they are cutting corners somewhere and most likely it is in the post production stage.
Number of photos
I’m going to use a full day wedding package as an example here. From preparation to the first few dances. If the wedding photographer is good and delivers amazing photographs then I would be happy with as few as 300. Of course that is low, but my point is that 300 would cover all the important stuff. Most photographers offer more than that. 500 - 600 is a good average. You have enough photos for the important things and enough left over to add more detail and context to your wedding day. But there is a point of diminishing returns. Keep in mind that the more photos there are in a package, the longer it will take to process them. It also gets to a point where additional photos don’t actually add anything more to the story. They are just subtle variations of photos you have already seen.
So when looking for how many photos you will get, try and be realistic. You want a healthy amount, but more is not always better.
Professional flush mounted wedding albums look amazing. But for most people, knowing what wedding albums to get (if any at all) can be extremely daunting. Especially if someone lists off various different sizes, shapes, covers and colors. Things can get confusing quickly. But to be honest, you shouldn’t be forced to deal with that before any photos are even taken. It’s hard enough picking a photographer, let alone what cover I want on my wedding album.
Obviously being a wedding photographer myself I would sort out my own albums. But under normal circumstances I would generally recommend printing your books through your photographer as they are properly accustomed with the photos and flow of the day.
Choosing a wedding album should be simple and straight forward. With that in mind I would want my photographer to give me a rough price of their wedding albums before hand (it’s good to have some idea of the costs). Once I have viewed all of my wedding photos and decided on the most important photos to have in the album, I would then chat with the photographer and ask for their advice. They can help guide me to an album that would best suit me and I would trust their judgment regarding compiling the album and adding in the additional photos.
So find out about albums from your potential wedding photographer. They should make the choice easy and straight forward, not hard and confusing.
Does the photographer offer a engagement shoot with the package?
The engagement shoot will run nothing like your wedding day. But it will give you a chance to talk to your photographer face to face about all the important aspects of your wedding. This is hugely important as only so much can be said via email or on the phone. You should leave your engagement shoot feeling more confident about your choice of photographer and about the plan and schedule of the day.
If you are nervous about something it is a lot easier for the photographer to calm your nerves face to face. Not only that but it breaks the ice and allows you a chance to see how the photographer works. Granted the environment of an engagement shoot is completely different than the wedding day, but you get a rough idea.
And to top it off, you should get some nice photos too ;)
If I was looking for a wedding photographer I would without a doubt look for someone who is unobtrusive, polite, creative, respectful and above all, professional. I want someone who walks the line balancing a passion for photography with professionalism. A prime and unfortunate example would be a photographer who walks a few feet in front of you as you walk up the isle. Not only is the photographer being disrespectful to everyone by blocking their view, but the photographer is putting their needs above your needs. In essence they view themselves as more important as you on your day. They might have a passion for photography, but they certainly are not showing any professionalism.
So I want a photographer who respects their clients and who puts their needs first. You will get a first sense of this through your first email from them. But that is only a hint.
Check out their Facebook or Instagram page and read their posts. I want someone who puts their clients first and lets their photography speak for itself rather than speaking about their photos and awards.
Hopefully this guide will aid you on your search for a wedding photographer. To me these are the key areas that make a photographer a good or bad investment. At the end of the day you want wedding photos that you can hold close to your heart for years to come. So choose wisely and let your photographer capture your beautiful day together.
All photos are from Louise & Erik's lovely and intimate wedding.