How to Choose a Wedding Photographer
Gosh, this is such a packed topic! Unfortunately, in today’s industry of “everyone can buy a nice camera” having a high price point doesn’t guarantee a qualified photographer. I’ve heard so many horror stories of people choosing the wrong wedding photographer, and it breaks my heart every single time. It’s so not okay to take advantage of someone on their one and only wedding day. SO to help combat that, I’ve decided to give tips on how to choose a great wedding photographer! A lot of couples will only work with a wedding photographer once, and have no idea what questions to ask.
My first tip is: have a contract!
I’m never going to tell you not to hire your sister/neighbor/friend unless they aren’t actually a professional photographer. Reason being that almost all of my weddings are for friends and family! So I’ve been that person. However, just because you love them does not mean they won’t let you down. Always, always, always, get a contract. No contract, no hire.
Tip number two: Meet them in person!
If distance can’t manage an in-person meeting, at very least FaceTime or Skype them. Your photographer should be available to answer your every question. If they take some time to get back to you, give some grace, but if they never get back to you at all… that’s your first red flag. A photographer that isn’t responsive is either running a scam, or is too busy for their own good and shouldn’t be taking on more clients.
Hire someone within your budget
This is probably more general just good life advice. Personally, I think if you’re hiring outside of what you can afford you’re just going to be unhappy. You’ll feel stretched, and then wind up angry at the photographer for a choice you’ve made. If you don’t have the funds set aside to invest in the photographer you really love, either talk to them about it or cut costs elsewhere in other parts of your wedding budget.
Some photographers are willing to do less hours at your wedding, at their typical rate, to make something work for you if you really, really love their work. Make sure you let them know how much you value their work, and don’t try to undersell or bargain with them. Their website may or may not reflect whether they are okay with this or not. Many photographers do not have flexible rates, and that’s okay. Small business owners need to stick to their guns and make sure they bring in enough money to have a sustainable income. (You won’t believe how much taxes are)
With that being said… a smaller budget does not mean you won’t have beautiful wedding photos. A lot of photographers want you to believe you have to pay more for good photos, and what you pay is what you get. That can be true to some extent, but is not always the case.
For my own business, I have made it a point to keep my prices on the low end, especially for weddings. The reason behind this is that I don’t believe in perpetuating the wedding industry’s cost inflation. I don’t think it should put you in debt to have a nice wedding and I refuse to be part of that. But I do understand that photographers need to eat too, and when it comes time for me to get married, I will most likely be investing the most into photos because that’s what’s important to me.
After who you marry, the next most important choice about your wedding is your photographer.
That may sound extreme, and some people honestly don’t care that much about pictures. (Those people are likely not reading this) But your photography is going to determine whether or not you can pull out an album 20 years from now and show your kids what your veil looked like, or describe how it felt to be a groom.
Have them do your engagement photos.
Most photographers include this in their wedding packages. I always recommend shooting with your photog prior to the wedding. Why? Because maybe they take amazing photos but they made you feel super awkward. Or they didn’t give you enough direction. Maybe their voice is just too annoying for you to handle. These are all red flags. Making sure you have a photographer who you get along with and has fun with you is so important!! This is one perk of hiring someone you know or have worked with before. You should feel like your photographer is someone you could be friends with and you want there on your wedding day.
Another reason to have them shoot your engagement photos is turnaround time.
Unless you think your photog is really worth it, and you are willing to wait, AND it was made very clear prior to hiring, you should not wait more than 3 weeks for your engagement photos. Big red flag! For wedding photos it should be no more than 1-2 months, unless the exceptions stated above apply. I would also not recommend signing a contract for wedding photos prior to receiving your engagement photos unless you are absolutely sure you want to hire them.
Turn around time is where it gets sticky, guys. I hear so much of “oh we had an amazing time and loved our photographer… but now it’s been 6 months with no sign of our photos”. Or the oh too typical “I paid my photographer, but now they aren’t returning my calls…”. Honestly, I get so upset about these scenarios. SO UPSET. It makes me sick to my stomach. I can’t imagine someone ever taking advantage of someone on their wedding day, but it happens all the time. This is where you want to make sure you have your contract, and you have a signed copy of it.
Make sure whomever you choose, you love the way they edit! If you like their photos, but they make everything too orange, hard pass. Don’t assume they will give you any unprocessed photos, because most of the time they won’t. Your grandparents don’t want a super contrasted, half way slanted photo of you hanging on their wall. They want something timeless and beautiful.
Choose someone who can work with your venue.
Keep in mind where you are getting married! If you’re getting married in a club with all the dark lighting and flash set up will be required, maybe don’t hire a natural light photographer. It’s okay to ask! I would never be offended if someone was like “Hey, I know you prefer to work outdoors, but do you have any experience with flash photography?”.
This is something you probably aren’t thinking about, but you should be. Most contracts will go over what happens in the event of an emergency (personal illness, family tragedy, bad weather, etc.). Those things are clearly unavoidable, horrible emergencies that we hope none of us encounter. The contract that I use protects me from liability in those cases.
But what about for you? As the couple, if emergency strikes, what ways are your photographers looking out for you? Again, it is okay to ask these questions!!
I have been extraordinarily blessed that none of these things have effected my business yet, but this year I am doing a few things differently to ensure that they don’t ever! First of all, I’m adding second shooters to every wedding. I’ve written another post on if you actually need a second shooter, because sometimes they do get in the way, but in this case it is part of my emergency management. If something should happen to me on your wedding day, you will not be left without a photographer because my second shooter is already scheduled!
I’ve also instituted a second camera for myself (making at least 3 cameras shooting at your wedding) that way, if there is a problem with the memory card, or if one of the cameras breaks (it’s technology, it does that) all of our eggs are not in one basket.
Back ups. Your photographer should be backing up your photos immediately upon returning home. Yep, I know they are tired, probably stood more than 8 hours today, and maybe someone forgot to feed them, but those photos need to be safe. Right now I back up on my desktop, keep them on my memory cards, have an external hard drive, and will be adding cloud storage to that this year as well. My second shooters keep copies of their shots, too.
That may sound extreme again, but you only have one wedding day. Those photos can’t just be retaken. About half of the awful stories I hear about wedding photographers is that they had it all in one place and that thing broke. That’s just not acceptable. Your photographers should be backing your photos up all over the place. If you ask them what plan they have in case of emergencies like the ones above, and they say nothing, that’s a red flag. Run! And run fast!
Read reviews, talk to people!
Word of mouth is great. If you know someone who has worked with a photographer you are considering, ask them about it. If you don’t know anyone, go ahead and check out their reviews. Facebook is great for this because a photographer can’t control what people say, and as far as I know, they can’t remove a bad review. A bad review doesn’t automatically mean a bad photographer, some people are just jerks, but take it into consideration. There is at least a bit of truth in every review.
Is it normal for my photographer to ask to be paid in full prior to the wedding? Yes! I take a deposit at the day of booking, and the rest 6 weeks before a wedding.
Do photographers keep back ups of my photos after they’ve given them to me? A lot do! I keep mine forever, most will back up for a year after.
When should I book my photographer? Right after your venue and date are set! Most photographers book 1-2 years out and can fill up quickly.
I sincerely hope this post has helped you with this big decision! I want clients to have blissful weddings, and great photography! Even if that sometimes means I’m not the right fit, the most important thing is the couple!
Happy Wedding Planning!