Today we’re bringing you Associate Editor Maddie‘s third post on choosing a wedding photographer (girlfriend has knowledge, since she’s a wedding photographer herself). Today’s post is arguably the most important of the three, because it talks about the best way to find a photographer you flat out like. And as a reminder, if hiring a photographer isn’t for you, check out our two wedding photography DIY posts for help, along with our archive of weddings with DIY photography. And now, Maddie.
In the first two How To Choose a Wedding Photographer posts, I talked quite a bit about the pictures part of choosing a wedding photographer: lighting, composition, style, etc. That’s largely because I’m a big ol’ photo nerd and I like to gawk at portfolios (so pretty). But if we’re being honest, I actually think that all that stuff is kind of icing. I mean, I do like my cake with icing, but you know, you don’t totally need it.
Yes, it’s important to jive with a photographer’s style and artistic philosophy so that you love your photos when they’re done, but I actually think that the most important part of choosing a wedding photographer is the person behind the camera. The reason is, of course, because your wedding photographer is one of the few people you are going to spend the entire day with. And nothing is worse than spending a really joyful day with someone who makes you feel really uncomfortable (or worse, really angry).
The most surefire way to know whether or not you will like a photographer is to meet them in person. Set up a coffee date or go grab some beers and figure out if you like their energy, sense of humor, hairstyle, whatever. If you can’t meet in person, I recommend either a Skype date or even a phone call, just anything to get a feel for what they’d be like while hanging out at your wedding. (Editors note: Meg says she met Heather and Jon of One Love Photo by phone only, and met them in person only the day before her wedding. She had a gut level feeling that she liked them, and guess what? Now they come hang out at her house when they’re in town sometimes. So phone can be great, but an email meeting is usually not good enough.)
Why so adamant about getting to know each other in person (or by phone)? Well, part of it is that sometimes online identities aren’t exactly, ahem, accurate representations of who we are in person (and sometimes that’s for better and for worse. I know lots of photographers whose actual personalities are way cooler than their online persona). The other part of the equation is that it’s also good for us to get to know you. Not every photographer is going to be a good fit for you, and there’s nothing worse than finding out the day of that your expectations don’t meet the reality of what the photographer can provide. Most of the time, we’ll know if that’s the case, and if we don’t think we’re a good fit, we can point you in the direction of someone who is. (And I’m not talking about the jerks who won’t work with you because your wedding isn’t expensive enough to get them featured in a magazine. I mean that if you want someone who’s going to direct the photography rather than document it, your photographer should be honest with you about whether or not that’s something that they do.)
Then once you figure out if you like a photographer personally, it’s also really helpful to get to know them professionally. Because we all have our quirks (as artists are wont to do, ahem). But since it’s probably unreasonable to ask someone to demonstrate how they work when you’re hanging out at the Starbucks, I thought perhaps I’d give you some helpful questions that you can ask your prospective photographer in order to glean a little bit about their M.O.:
How do you approach the day? Do you direct or document (or fall somewhere in between)? This question is probably answered somewhere on the photographer’s website, but I think it’s a good one to get in person too, because it’s going to give you the best idea of how they’ll interact with you on the day of. And know your priorities going into this question. Do you want to make sure that certain moments are captured in a classic way? Ask if the photographer does that. Do you want someone who isn’t going to interrupt moments as they happen? Make sure that’s their priority too.
Is there any part of the day that you don’t or won’t photograph? This is one of my favorite questions, because I feel like it gives a lot of insight into the kind of photographer you’re talking to. For example, some photographers are all about getting the shot at any expense, while others would rather sacrifice a photo if it means keeping the moments uninterrupted. Again, it’s a matter of personal preference. I, for example, tend not to photograph during prayers, moments of silence for lost loved ones, or if grace is being said. So if there are specific rituals that you are going to want captured, make sure the photographer is going to be okay with that. On the flip side, if you don’t want your photographer going all paparazzi on you at the altar, make sure to ask in advance if that’s something that they do. (Some of us have rules about going behind the couple during the ceremony. Some of us don’t. Also, if your officiant is clergy, they definitely might have their own rules here.)
What is included in your packages? Again, this is probably included somewhere on the photographer’s website (or if not, they will probably bring a price list to the meeting), but asking this question in person will give you an idea for whether or not the photographer is going to encourage you to purchase something later, or if they charge extra for certain items like digital negatives, engagement sessions etc. Also, don’t forget to ask about digital usage, watermarking, and other online restrictions. If you want access to your digital images, so you’re not stuck ordering expensive prints from your photographer forever, make sure that’s something they do. But it’s not all about restrictions. Some photographers make beautiful physical products while others choose to focus on exclusively on digital products. If you want an heirloom album of your wedding photos, make sure your photographer provides that service, or can point you in the direction of someone who does.
My wedding is going to be in the dark/in the mountains/on the moon, is that something you have experience with? The general rule goes that most professional photographers should be able to handle any photographic situation. But even among professionals, that isn’t always the case. So if your wedding is going to include any challenging lighting (read: dark) or if it involves going to exotic or hard to reach locations, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask if your photographer has done something like it before. Which leads me to…
Can we see a complete wedding (preferably a recent one)? It is totally acceptable, and I’d dare say totally necessary, that you ask this question. Any photographer can pull a few great photos out of a wedding to use in their portfolio. But you don’t want to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for two good photos, so don’t be afraid to ask for a full wedding. Also, during peak wedding season, most of our portfolios are probably a little outdated (we tend to update them after the season is over) so if our style has changed at all, you’ll be able to tell by looking at a relatively recent gallery.
What is your favorite part of the wedding? Our favorite part of the day is always going to be where you get your best photos, so if you’ve poured your heart and soul into one aspect of the wedding and that part is your photographer’s favorite thing in the world, then you’re probably going to end up with magic. And magic is awesome. But at the same time, if you can’t wait for the dance party, and your photographer finds that part exhausting, you might not be a perfect fit.
If I could give you one piece of advice for putting this how-to to good use, it’s this: don’t be afraid to ask really specific questions in order to communicate your non-negotiables. If digital files are a must-have and the photographer doesn’t normally provide them, ask if they can be worked into the package. We all have our own secret list of things we’re willing to bend on, and things we just don’t feel comfortable saying yes to. So if the answer is no, then they aren’t the right people for you and it’s perfectly fine to say thanks but no thanks and move on to someone else. From the photographer’s perspective, it sucks to not get hired, but it sucks way more to get hired and then feel like you can’t deliver. So don’t worry about protecting our feelings. Our number one priority (or at least should be) is giving you the best possible service, and we can only do that if we are aware of what’s most important to you.
Of course, this isn’t a totally exhaustive list of questions you can ask a prospective photographer (and if some of them don’t matter to you, by all means, ignore them!), but it’s a good jumping off point to figuring out if you are going to be a good match. And consider yourself released from the obligation of finding one of those actually-exhaustive list of questions to ask a photographer online, and using it. Do you actually care what lense and equipment they’re using? Does it mean anything to you? If the answer is no, don’t worry about asking the question.
Even though I think it’s really important that couples get along with (read: don’t feel totally uncomfortable around) their photographer, you also shouldn’t feel pressured to find someone you will be best friends with either. If photography isn’t something that’s really important to you, or if you just want a client/vendor relationship with your photographer, that’s totally fine. The priority is just making sure you won’t hate having them around. The rest is just… I guess… icing.
Up next, we finish out this photography miniseries with a post for the serious photo enthusiast: how to get the most out of your wedding photographer. So stay tuned! In the meantime, if you’re curious about whether or not you should ask your photographer a certain question, or if you had a question that was particularly helpful in your selection process, let us know in the comments.
Photo by: Emily Takes Photos (APW Sponsor)