03 Apr How to Choose A Wedding Photographer
(Thanks to Rachel Downey for the above photo of me working!)
I meet with a lot of prospective clients, and I often have people ask me….what they should be asking me. They’ve never done this before, and I have! I love it when people ask me what I think they should know. There are so many misconceptions about how to pick a wedding photographer, so I thought I’d go ahead and write out a list of steps that I think are really important to making the best, most informed decision for your day.
1) Find Photographers Based On Photos That You Like
The easiest way to do this is online – do a Google search for photographers in your area or weddings at your venue. There are websites like The Knot and Here Comes the Guide which can help by collecting lists of vendors. Furthermore, searching for weddings at your venue or asking for referrals from friends might broaden your scope. Don’t just go for the cheapest option or the first suggestion that falls in your lap. Pick photographers whose photos speak to you. Look for images which aren’t only pretty, but something which you can picture yourself and your guests in. Many of the magazine-style images out there are created with models on special photo shoots. They might or might not represent the type of work that a photographer could produce on a wedding day.
2) Ask to Look at Full Galleries
This is one that might be controversial among photographers. We work hard to curate the best 30-70 images from a wedding day for our blogs and portfolios. Therefore, it is hard sharing the more ordinary images with prospective clients because we know they’re comparing them with the “best of the best” from other photographers. This is exactly why it is a good idea to ask to see a couple of full galleries when you’re interviewing prospective photographers. For your wedding, you won’t only get the best 80 images – you’ll get all the “standard” grip-and-grins as well as the less exciting in-between moments and not-ideal lighting situations.
Seeing a full gallery will give you the best idea of what your final wedding photos will look like, how many images you’re likely to get, and what kind of coverage you’ll have from that photographer. Make sure you don’t get distracted by the specifics of the wedding you’re looking at – their gorgeous venue or flowers, etc. Look instead at what the photographer chose to capture and how they chose to capture it.
If you know exactly what you like and why, great! I would just say, ask yourself if you’re likely to feel the same way in 20 years :). On the flip side, many non-photographers have a hard time pinpointing a photographer’s style. Sometimes you just like something, and maybe you don’t know why. In that case, it’s a good idea to collect a bunch of images you like (try to get a collection that isn’t just portraits of the couple, but samples throughout the day, or even a full wedding gallery) and ask yourself what you like about them.
What stands out? Is it the colors? Is it the composition? Do the images make you feel something? Why do you think that is? Is there an emphasis on documenting the day (how I would classify myself) or an emphasis on portraits and details? Is it what the photographer chose to capture or how they chose to capture it? Maybe it’s the editing – some photographers soften certain colors for a dreamier effect, some like to bump up the contrast for more punch. Try to really go with your gut and be honest with yourself. Finally, ask yourself that question again – am I likely to feel the same way in 20 years?
4) Be Realistic With How YOUR Wedding Will Look
When you’re looking through photos, see if you can find ones in similar settings as your wedding will be. If you don’t see anything like that from the photographer you’re interested in, ask them if they have shot in a similar setting. How would they shoot in that environment? It’s hard to imagine what your church ceremony images will look like if all you see are glowy outdoor sunset portraits.
Keep in mind that light is basically the most required thing for photos – seeing how your photographer handles the type of light you will have at your wedding can be very telling. Candlelight, mid-day daylight, evening light, church light, bistro lights, hotel reception light, etc – it’s all different. Just because a photographer hasn’t shot in exactly your situation doesn’t mean they wouldn’t do a good job. But, it is always good to know that they would know what to do or how to handle the situation.
5) Set Up A Meeting
Once you have a short list of photographers you really admire (I’d recommend narrowing it down to 2-5 you really like who are available on your wedding date), see if you can set up an in-person meeting.
6) Make Sure You Like Your Photographer As A Person
This might seem obvious, but sometimes it gets overlooked as people hone in on the final result and forget about the person. In reality, your photographer is one of the people you’ll spend the most time with on your actual wedding day. Make sure you like their personality and approach. Ask them how they work the day-of. Will they be giving you direction throughout the day or stay at a distance? Will they go with the flow or try to stick to an agenda? Imagine what will actually work best for you on your wedding day.
7) Come To Your Meeting With Questions
Many photographers will use the meeting to get to know you and your personalities. I always ask clients questions to try and better understand what their values are for their photos and what types of images mean the most to them. Likewise, it’s a great opportunity for you to get to know your photographer. As mentioned above, everything works better when you and your photographer get along and are on the same page in terms of expectations. You want someone who understands what you value and values the same things in images. Find someone you can trust to do their thing on The Big Day. This way you never have to worry they aren’t capturing the things that are important to you.
If they have samples, maybe ask them why they took certain images or why they included them in the samples. Ask what they are most drawn to photographing on a wedding day. Also ask the practical things: how the booking process works, how interaction leading up to the wedding looks, if they bring an assistant, if they have backup gear, why they love shooting weddings, etc.
8) Consider Your Budget
It’s normally the first thing people ask about, and I do not want to dismiss the importance of the often large financial expenditure of weddings. BUT, I do not believe a budget should be your primary deciding factor unless you’re really in a bind.
Take a hard look at your overall budget and see if you can come up with a range of acceptable budgets. The lower budget being “we’d really luck out if we found someone we love at this rate“, all the way up to “we’d be willing to spend this for the perfect fit“. I’ve found that the client’s budget is often based on what they expect to spend, not what they would be willing to spend if they knew it was the going rate. Make sure your expectations line up with what is actually the going rate for your location and the level of photographer you’re looking for. Rates for photographers vary widely, often (but not always) in conjunction with experience, expertise and confidence.
9) Imagine the Memories
Imagine the memories that are to be made on such an important day, and how priceless they will be to you as the years go by. Think of the things you will most want to remember, relive, and share with others. Pick the person who best understands that and represents it in their work.
Below are some of my favorite wedding photos from last year which weren’t posed or staged. These moments simply happened and now the memories of them will live far beyond the event itself. You may browse more in my Wedding Galleries.
Liza Head aka Juniper Spring Photography is a documentary wedding and fine art portrait photographer based in San Jose, California.