How to choose a wedding photographer

We are starting to plan for our wedding in October (yay!).

Mostly we have a very clear idea of what we want, we’ve got the venues sorted and everything, and strong notions about all the decorations and invitations &c &c.

I’m finding it overwhelming to try to wade through the wedding photographer minefield. All wedding-photography websites look basically the same to me.

Any tips for questions to ask or clues to look for on a website to help narrow the field?

Do you have Facebook? Ask your friends for recommendations.

I would first decide what you want as an end product so you can compare them apples to apples. Some factors to consider, other than the obvious price vs. quality vs. availability for your wedding date are:

  1. Number of people involved - is this a single photographer or do they have multiple people who can get pictures from multiple angles simultaneously and/or cover for each other if they get sick the day of your wedding.
  2. Reputation - What does Yelp say about the photographer prospects in your area? People are very nit-picky about their wedding so see what they liked/didn’t like.
  3. Will they do pictures before the wedding? Some people (like us) wanted pictures taken in very scenic spots around town not actually associated with the wedding. We got dressed up a week early and had them pick us up in a van and take us to all those places. Our photographer was also knowledgable about the best time of day at those spots to take the perfect photo and arranged the van ride in accordance with those timetables.
  4. Creativity - yes all photos of brides and grooms look the same in theory, but in practice, you will find some really stand out. For example, a photographer who shoots on top of a ladder at a downward angle will make you look less fat and hide a double chin if that is an issue for you, or they might have some clever angles/exposures the others don’t. Some use amazing lighting and shadows that are world class and others just take generic pictures. Those are particularly important if you are also doing some in black and white.
  5. As has already been stated, ask your married friends who they used, and more importantly, if they have horror stories, listen to those to either avoid those photographers or else use those issues as additional criteria.

I’m a wedding photographer, and this is where I would start. What are you looking for in your wedding pictures? I personally would start with referrals from your friends if you don’t have a really strong aesthetic preference.

If you shoot me more specific questions, I’ll be happy to answer them openly and honestly.

Personally, when I look at photographer’s websites, this is what I want to see: portfolios of complete weddings, not just a “best of collection,” so you have an idea of what to expect. I’d like to see at least four or so galleries like this, in addition to a “best of” collection. I don’t want to see the portfolio be mostly detail shots, but that’s because I’m very documentary minded. I want to see clean, well-lit portraiture that looks natural. I want to see story-telling images. I want to see a diverse selection of pictures that show me the photographer’s range and the variety of images I would expect from a wedding day.

But that’s only half of it. Beyond that, you want a photographer that fits your personality, as you will be spending the bulk of your day with them. This is where referrals come in, as well as making sure you meet several photographers in person (or perhaps on the phone) before making your decision. You want a photographer that is responsive, prompt with returning emails/phone calls/etc., delivers their products on time, etc. You also want to make sure they have a plan in place in case something goes wrong on their end (like a family emergency on your wedding day), and you want to absolutely make sure they have back-up equipment. I have at least three cameras with me on every shoot. I don’t think any serious wedding photographer would ever go out with one camera, but you never know.

I belong to several professional organizations, but my favorite is http://www.fearlessphotographers.com. You can see if there’s a photographer there in your area that might interest you.

Thanks, pulykamell. I actually think you are in my area – I’ll PM you with some specific questions if that’s OK.

I would ask for referrals (and I will), but all my friends who are married either got married elsewhere or are living elsewhere so may not be much help…

The wedding galleries that Puky mentioned, should have a means of communicating with those couples, contacting them and asking about their experience. Have a firm budget in mind, when you do the initial consultation with the tog. For due diligence, you should be looking at ten photography outfits before shortlisting who you want.

Declan

Sure. PM me or email me if that’s easier. Address is in my profile.

I think there is an issue with your link :).

If you want to be able to use the digital files for your own use (ie, to make a Christmas card, to make your own album, or whatever), make sure that you’re both on the same page about that.

Never hire work without a contract. Run screaming from anyone who refuses to be party to a contract. READ the contract! Is anything confusing? DISCUSS it. Do you disagree with anything in the contract? NEGOTIATE it. Don’t fear your contract. Love your contract! It spells out the understanding between you.

The most important quality in a wedding photographer for me, was unobtrusiveness. I hate being photographed, and if a photographer were to follow me down the aisle, I would straight up murder them. I read a review on indiebride.com (now sadly defunct) that said this guy “snuck around like a ninja” and I knew that was the photographer I wanted! He was amazing.

Whoops. I have no idea how that happened. Of course, this should be it.

Yep. This one is important. Everybody seems to do it a little differently. Some have a surcharge for the digital files with a print release; some have an embargo period before you can get the files; some simply do not release them (getting rarer and rarer, but not likely to be seen except in the real high-end); and others just don’t care.

Absolutely. If they don’t have a contract, that’s a big red flag, in my opinion. As a photographer, I would not want to work a wedding without a contract. It’s not just for the consumer’s benefit; it also protects the photographer and spells out exactly what is expected. Any “professional” wedding photographer who is working without a contract is not a professional, in my opinion.

Agreed.

Wait. Indiebride is gone? It does seem to redirect to a Huffington Post page now. When did that happen? How the heck did I miss that?

Many ‘wedding photographers’ have not been in business very long and do not have a true education in photography that can only come from long experience. Many sold their pickup truck to buy some digital Canon camera a couple of years ago, and have never even shot a roll of film in their lives. Digital photography attracts people who think photography is easy. If I were you, I would avoid those whose examples include a lot of ‘Dutch angle’ shots. They are fashionable but a few years from now they will look ridiculous. Only 1 in 10 is any good.

We were concerned about the photographer being unobtrusive. I had a horror story about a wedding I had been in as the maid of honor - as we started the recessional, the photographer got in front of us to take a picture, then stopped the recessional so he could take portraits of the bride and groom in front of the chapel door. The music ran out, and we all stood looking uncomfortable waiting for him to finish - none of the guests could leave or anything. He also videotaped the processional at the start of the wedding from the altar, and the priest literally had to take him by the shoulders and move him out of the way so that he could access the wedding couple to marry them.

I found telling that story to photographers and watching their reactions to be informative. It apparently worked, because our guy got wonderful pictures without getting in our way at all. Seriously, during the “first dances,” he had pictures of each couple (me and my new husband, his parents, my parents), looking into the camera and smiling - and none of us could remember having seen him while we were dancing.

This next bit is an oddball observation, and it will exclude a fair number of good photographers, but you may want to think about it anyway. Our photographer and our videographers were all very devout Christians. My husband and I are atheists, and we did not get married in a church. Nevertheless, they took our wedding very seriously. It was clear that, like us, they didn’t consider the wedding to be a photo opportunity, but an important ceremony that they were there to record, not to disrupt.

I am a bit worried as I have no idea what the going rate is. Money is not a super-serious concern but I don’t want to be spending more on photography than on the rest of the whole (small) wedding. Is there a site which lists price ranges to be expected?

I also like the idea of the photog being unobtrusive. Any suggestions for how to non-offensively ask about that appreciated.

And another question: is it normal to have a photographer also take some video or is that usually two separate people (possibly working for the same firm)? We don’t want a video of the ceremony, just a sort of brief thing from the reception…

We will be being married in a church, which I know has its own guidelines. I would be surprised if this is a surprise to any local photographers, but it’s a good point to bring up, for sure!

In the Chicagoland area, I would be suspicious of a photographer charging less than $1500 for the basics (about 8 hours of shooting, editing, and the digital rights to the files for personal use.) And many pros would argue that’s way too cheap, but I think you could find someone in that range that is solid, if not quite as experienced, if you look hard and know what you’re looking for.

I wouldn’t worry about causing offense. Just straight out ask the photographer about their approach and how “hands on” they are.

It’s usually different people. For example, I only do photo. All the colleagues in my price range only do photo. But there are certainly studios that do both and provide both photo & video, and there are some photographers who do take a multimedia approach, although that is fairly uncommon, in my experience.

Churches are all over the map in terms of guidelines, from being completely permissive to sticking the photographer in the back of the church and not letting them move during the mass. Typically, the usual rules are no flash for ceremony, don’t go on the altar, and if you need to move around, move around inconspicuously along the back and sides of the church, not in front (although you can shoot from the center aisle.) Unless you’re planning to get married at Old St. Pat’s. Then, unless you have a photographer from their white list, you’re not having any ceremony photos.

Not Old St Pats!

Try here. You may not be interested in picking anyone from that list, but it will give an idea of the kind of range you might see for your area.