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How To Choose a Wedding Photographer: Part III


by Maddie Eisenhart, Digital Director & Style Editor

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.

How To Choose a Wedding Photographer: Part III | A Practical Wedding

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)

Maddie Eisenhart

Maddie is the Managing Editor of A Practical Wedding. She’s been writing stories about boys and crushes since she was old enough to form shapes into words, but received her formal training (and a BS) in the art of talking from NYU in 2008. In her spare time, she takes pictures of people in love. Maddie lives on a pony farm in the Bay Area with her husband Michael, her Mastiff named Juno, and her roommate named Joe.

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  • Jashshea

    That header picture is amazing. AMAZING. Reading the article now.

    • meg

      That’s all APW’s own Emily, of Emily Takes Photos.

  • kyley

    Perfect timing!! I have read and reread the first two posts in this series. This weekend I am meeting with a photographer I’m quite excited about, and it’s the first photographer meeting my partner and I are having, so these suggested questions could not have come at a better time.

  • Kara

    I’m far from an emotional person, but I knew I had to book my photographer immediately when I cried during our first meeting as he described the first look. I’d met with many photographers already that day and none had evoked even close to that amount of emotion.

  • Julie

    To follow up on the importance of getting to know your photographer – (and its probably been said before but bears repeating). Your photographer is likely one of the people that you spend the most amount of time with on your wedding day – you want to be comfortable and not feel awkward around them. We interviewed several different photographers and it was pretty clear at the end who my now-husband and I felt most comfortable with which I like to think led to better shots.

  • http://www.stephaniecourt.com Stephanie

    Meeting in person is important for both the couple and the photographer. Besides all the great reasons you mentioned here, it also gives you a chance to just have a conversation with each other. I firmly believe the better the communication, the better the photos. I also think the questions you’ve provided are much more insightful and helpful in hiring a photographer than some of the ones I’ve seen from other wedding websites. I’ve had couples ask, for example, what kind of gear I use only to kind of glaze over when I answer. It’s important to ask the questions that really matter to you and are important to your wedding, not the questions you think you’re “supposed to” ask.

  • Littleredcat

    You know, I didn’t think nearly this hard about my photography. I cared about it enough that I was willing to pay, but maybe because I didn’t have any of this information at the time, I kind of went with my gut (and an APW vendor) and figured that was good enough. And to be honest, I remember seeing my photographer at three points in the day. One was when we did a few post ceremony shots of the rings, two was when she asked if we wanted her to stay extra (we were cost shy about asking for the extra hours up front so left it open as an option) and three was when she said goodbye. I guess she was around for all of our (semi) formal shots too, but i remember that as fun in front of the camera with my nearest and dearest. She told us in our meeting that her style was that we would never notice her, and that was perfect. I wanted to spend my day with my friends and fam, not my photographer. Even though she was awesome. In retrospect though, these are such good questions to ask, because I have been to weddings since that felt like a photoshoot and am incredibly thankful that my photographer didn’t try to pose me all day.

    • Maddie

      Yes, this is exactly it. Only you and your partner know the level of involvement you want from your photographer (I, for example, take way better pictures when I’m part of your “group” so I like to be friends with my clients. But I know that would drive certain couples crazy) so the most important thing is just to make sure you match up.

    • meg

      It’s interesting that was the case, and that it can be pretty different. We had pretty fly-on-the-wall photographers, but we still saw them a lot. I guess, more specifically, I’d say there were sort of in our energy airspace that day. And they TOTALLY made our energy airspace better (even if we weren’t chatting). I remember them being around, or laughing as our friends made jokes when we were getting ready, or what have you. And it would have bothered me if I hadn’t liked their vibe, I think, even though we specifically hired them to stay OUT of the way. But then, say their is Christina Richards, who is the MOST fly on the wall photographer I’ve ever worked with. When she’s shooting me at an event, I tend to totally not notice that she’s there… but when I do notice, I’m HAPPY she’s there, and I guess that’s the bit that matters to me. That and the amazing photographs.

      And then some people WANT photographers who are everywhere, up in everything, all the time. That is *not* me, but some people love that.

      In general, I’m a fan of not overthinking the decision. But that works if you know more or less what you want (here, I’m going to go with my gut, done). But we’ve had a lot of readers say they feel pretty lost and want guidance in the process, or want to know more about photographs. So we’re throwing this out there in the event that you are looking for some help. ALL of the ideas in these posts would be way too much, but if one or two sticks, and helps you make a choice you’re struggling with, brillant, perfect, done.

  • LMS

    Maddie, these posts have been so informative and helpful – thanks!

    I’m curious whether anyone has dealt with a situation that we are likely to face – having to tell someone you know who’s a wedding photographer that you’re not going to hire them for your wedding. In our case, he’s a good guy overall, but (a) he’s sort of a negative person, which makes him stressful to be around and (b) his photos, while objectively fine, just aren’t really what I’m looking for. To make things more complicated, he’s closely connected with two other people I’d want at our wedding, who I’m afraid might get offended on his behalf if we don’t hire him.

    We should probably just be kind but honest and then deal with the consequences like adults, but it’s kind of stressing me out. And we’re not even engaged yet!

    More an interpersonal issue than a photography issue, but I’d love to know if anyone else has faced a similar dilemma.

    • Maddie

      I say be honest with the person. If the friend is a professional, there shouldn’t be an consequences. Because photographers, of all people, should understand how important it is to have a connection to the work of the person you hire. So you can tell him his work is stunning, but you’re thinking about going with a different style.

      But, if you want to avoid any controversy, you can always wait until you find someone you DO want to work with. Then you can let them down gently and say, “We love your work, but we just fell head over heels with X’s portfolio.” I mean, who can argue with that?

    • http://www.thekarths.com Naomi

      I can answer this as a photographer who was picked over a family friend. I knew nothing about it on the day, thankfully. The bride was firm, but honest in her dealings with the groom’s family, who had expected her to hire their close family friend who had photographed their children growing up, basically. She stood up for what she wanted (me) and in the very end, that family friend was so impressed with my work he ended up hiring us to photograph his own son’s wedding later that year.

      You have to fight for what you really want at times. I’m certain she’d tell you it was worth it!

    • LMS

      Thanks for the perspective! Naomi, I’m glad that situation worked out in your favor!

    • http://www.alacartealbums.com jeliza

      If the possible photographer is also someone you’d probably invite to the wedding, a good possible answer is that you want them to be there for the wedding and not have to be working through it. I must admit that photographing a good friend’s wedding was a weirdly stressful and detaching experience during the reception and participatory parts of the ceremony, particularly, and I doubt that the photos were improved by it.

    • http://www.stephaniecourt.com Stephanie

      It sounds like you got some good advice already but I just wanted to chime in as someone who’s experienced both sides of the coin. As a photographer, I’ve photographed my very close friend’s wedding (and I’m doing another friend’s in two weeks!) but I’ve also had friends choose other photographers over me. If the guy you mentioned is truly a professional, he will understand the value in having a photographer who truly fits your personality and vibe. Honesty is absolutely the best policy but rather than telling him straight up that he’s a negative Nellie, you can explain that you were looking for someone with a particular vibe to help you stay calm and mellow on the day of. Phrase it in terms of positives for you rather than negatives about him. When the friend who didn’t hire me started her wedding planning, she and I went out for coffee and she explained that she was thinking of hiring another photographer simply because she a) liked the mood of their photos (not that she didn’t like mine, just that theirs spoke to her more) and b) wanted me to actually enjoy the wedding. I completely understood and told her not to even think twice about it. There’s no rule that says you MUST hire a photographer simply because you knew them before you were engaged. :)

      Oh, and by the way, if the guy is not understanding or holds some sort of grudge against you for not hiring him, then he’s not really the type of person you’d want around you on your wedding day anyway, right?

  • Lesley

    A work buddy recommended I check out her friend’s photography business, and she even kind of qualified it, “I mean it’s not for everybody but if you like it I think he does a great job. And I like it.” So I looked at it and LOVED it. I looked at some other photographer’s stuff in our area and some of it was fine and dandy but none of it struck me in the same way. And then my dude and I met with him and we clicked instantly. We hired him that same week. He was the first professional we hired after the venue. He was the only photographer we met with.

    It was all based on an initial good feeling from viewing his work that extended into a great feeling when we met him. The pictures we got from our wedding were mind blowing.

    When you meet someone and you click, HIRE THEM. If you like being around them in general, you will so glad they are there to help you on your wedding day.

  • http://www.stefaniecepeda.com Stefanie

    Dear Maddie,

    I could not agree more. Awesome.

    Stefanie

  • E Ashida

    Maddie – this series (including this post) is awesome! I couldn’t agree more with going with a photographer that you think is “groovy” and whose work you admire. By the time we met our photographer (the fabulous Chloe Jackman), we didn’t have it in us to bring a random checklist of questions that we were supposed to ask. We did, however, invest time and energy in getting to know her and her work. We were so glad that we did because we feel that she was a great fit for us.

    For our friends who like a more comprehensive set of things to consider, your series is awesome. It gives a fuller sense of what matters in photography for us neophytes. Thanks for penning this series for us!

  • http://www.jamesbroomephotography.com James Broome

    Couldn’t agree more!

    I’m a professional wedding photographer in the Manchester area, and it really is SO important to connect with the bride and groom ahead of time, to sit down with them and really get a feel for what THEY want from their photos.

    It’s all well and good for a photographer to have talent, vision and so on, but at the end of the day, if they don’t capture the wedding in the style the happy couple are after, they haven’t done their job properly!

    Equally, it reaslly is important to have a photographer who ‘blends in’ to the day and captures it ‘unseen’ rather than sticking out like a sore thumb with a camera!

    Great post, loads of good advice :)

  • Lilah

    Another thing that is helpful is to look at their portfolio to get an idea of the photographer’s style and what your pictures may look like too. Plus, most photographer’s have an online album or website that you can look at too.
    http://lauragaylorphotography.com

  • Karis

    Question: most of the photographers I’m looking at always include an Engagement Session in their packages. We don’t really want engagement photos – to be honest, I don’t love photos of myself in general, so I’m definitely looking for more of the photojournalism approach for the wedding. Is the engagement session included in general as a way to get to know the clients better? Do you photographers out there think this really helps? or can you suggest another way to get the same result without a separate session?

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  • http://www.WeddingsJournal.com Stacey

    Choosing a photographer for your wedding is so important! Great article :)
    I’m sending this link to my best friend who’s in the process of planning her wedding.

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  • Jessica William

    Hi, choosing a wedding photographer can be daunting task for many couples. So, thanks for this awesome tips. Really very useful. See this http://www.aucklandweddingphotography.com/ for professional wedding photographers in Auckland.

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