If you want to make my mother cry, ask to see her wedding photos. She doesn’t have any. A family friend took them, something went wrong… now, over 45 years later she’s still upset about it.
I don’t want that to happen to you, so I talked to Steven Gross of Chicago's Real Life Weddings and Laura Huneycutt of Aki Photography in China Grove, North Carolina to get their top tips for hiring a great wedding photographer.
1. Get recommendations and referrals.
This may sound familiar, and with good reason, no matter what the vendor, this is really the number one tip. It’s the reason OneWed lets couples rate vendors. Your wedding reception site and other vendors will all have photographers to recommend, so will your friends. Similarly, your photographer probably attends 40 or more weddings a year, he’ll definitely have caterers, florists, and bands to recommend. If your photographer of choice is out of your price range, or booked, don’t be embarrassed to ask for recommendations of other photographers, either. It’s also a good idea to ask the photographer to give you one or two references from other brides and grooms. Take the time to talk to these people and get a sense of how happy they were or weren’t with the photographer and the final product.
2. Meet in person
Hiring a photographer is a very personal decision. This person is going to spend a lot of time with you on your wedding day, you need to like each other. No matter how talented the photographer, or how many recommendations she has, if you don’t like her, she’s not a good fit. Meeting in person also gives you a chance to see the photographer’s work in print, which brings us to number 3.
3. Ask to see a complete shoot, including outtakes
With the advent of digital photos, it’s pretty easy to make a picture, even a bad picture, look good online. Steven Gross recommends asking to see a complete job, including outtakes to get a good sense of the photographer.
4. Understand your budget and the package
Depending on where you live, and what’s included a photographer can cost anywhere from $500 to $20,000. Now $500 may sound good, but what if you spend $500 to hire the photographer only to discover that you can’t afford any prints or an album? Wedding photographers are notorious for backend charges, so make sure you consider the total cost of what you want when planning your budget. Make sure to ask the photographer about things like travel and parking charges, and how many people will be working your wedding. One thing you don’t have to worry about, photographers are not usually tipped the day of the wedding.
5. The digital divide
There’s no doubt that digital is less expensive than film, it can be double to shoot film instead of digital. But, going digital brings up new issues. Make sure to ask the photographer where he stores your digital images, are they backed up, if so where? How long will they be stored? How long do you have to order your album? According to Steven, 99.9% of today’s photographers are going digital, but film definitely still has its advantages. The tactile quality of photographic paper is better than digital, and the fact that it’s made out of metal instead of dyes creates a more permanent artifact.
6. Plan to get the most out of your photographer’s time
It’s only polite, and good sense, to feed the photographer and any assistants, you don’t want a shutterbug distracted by hunger. You want to make sure though that you’re feeding them at the same time as you’re eating. After all, you don’t want pictures of people, including you, eating. Speaking of which, do you really need those table shots? Candid photos of people in action are a lot more attractive than a group of people standing around a table with half-eaten food on it.
Another timing issue is the dreaded post-wedding photo session. Right after the ceremony is not when you want to be standing around getting your picture taken. You want to be alone with each other, or enjoying your guests. They didn’t fly across the country to stand around waiting for you! Take the time to enjoy each other! If you want portraits, consider a pre-wedding photo session.
7. Make a list of photographs you want
An experienced photographer will know to get pictures of family, close friends, the bridal party, and older people. But, think ahead of time about which formal portraits you want, and make sure to let those people know where they need to be when. See number six above though, don’t make the list too long, and schedule it at an appropriate time.
8. You’ve hired a professional photographer, ask your guests to leave the cameras at home
Digital cameras are ubiquitous, but that doesn’t make everyone a photographer. It may seem like a good idea to have your guests bring their own cameras and get those great candid shots, it may even seem like a cost-saving measure, after all, you won’t have to pay your friends for copies. But it can actually wind up costing you a perfect picture. If your photographer is setting up lighting, and suddenly three other flashes go off, the picture will be ruined. Steven remembers a wedding where he had the perfect shot of the first kiss, and just as he was taking it a guest held his camera phone up right in front of Steven’s camera. Consider a politely worded request on the program “Please enjoy yourself and leave the photographs to the professionals” or “Please no photographs during the ceremony.” Be sure to ask any photographers you interview how they feel about this, and how they’d handle it if someone did interfere with the photographs.
9. Make sure the photographer is an experienced professional
Obviously, everyone has to start somewhere, but do you want that somewhere to be your wedding? An experienced wedding photographer can help you solve issues from difficult family members to no-show ministers (Steven is actually the second photographer I’ve heard about who had to solve this dilemma). Ask about the photographer’s back up plan in case he or she has an emergency and can’t make it, ask if they bring backup equipment. Laura recommends even asking what they might wear to the wedding, not that there’s a right or wrong answer, but just to get a sense of their understanding of wedding protocol.
10. It’s all in the timing
A popular photographer may book 9 months to 1 year in advance, but as with all wedding vendors, weekdays, Fridays, and January-March are a little less busy and it may be easier to find someone on short notice.
Thanks again to Steven Gross and Laura Huneycutt for sharing their expertise, and don’t forget to smile for the camera!