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APW Basics: Choosing A Wedding Photographer


Our most practical tips and tricks!

by Meg Keene, Editor-In-Chief

APW Basics: Choosing A Wedding Photographer | A Practical Wedding

It’s that time of year. The time of year you may well be getting ready to pick a wedding photographer. We do a lot of work with wedding photographers on APW (they make up the majority of our amazing sponsors). And if there is one goal I have for matching photographers with clients, it’s that the RIGHT matches are made. You want a wedding photographer whose work you love, and who’s personally a match for you. Any photographer worth their salt wants the right client for them, not just any client. APW has three in-depth articles on choosing a wedding photographer: part one on storytelling/lighting/composition, part two on wedding photography styles, and part three on the photographer themself. But today, we thought we’d boil it down to our most practical tips and tricks to help you find exactly the right match (or hell, to decide you’re going DIY on your photography).

1. Philosophy: For some wedding vendors, you really don’t need to care about their philosophy. Wedding photography is not one of those places. Chances are, you’re going to spend more time with your wedding photographer than with your Maid of Honor on your wedding day, so you want to make sure they’re someone you jive with. The simplest way to start is to sort through the vendor listings of a wedding website where you feel like you fit in. (Oh, hi, APW Vendor Directory.) Once you’ve found photographers you’re interested in, look at their About pages. Those pages are carefully constructed to give you a sense of who the photographer is, and how they work. Our own Managing Editor Maddie’s photography About page says, “As a wedding photographer, I believe that getting married is one of the bravest things a person can do. It’s messy and it’s hard work, and rarely the result of a perfect love story.” That sets out a very specific philosophy that might be really right (or really wrong) for you. Look for written philosophies that feel like they just click, and then see if that feeling continues when you meet with the photographer in person, or talk to them on the phone.

2. DO YOU LIKE THE PHOTOGRAPHER? Once you’ve narrowed down photographers whose work you like, and whose philosophy you seem to gel with, set up an in-person meeting (or G+ hangout). Then, figure out if you LIKE them. If you don’t, please don’t hire them. You spend enough time with your photographer on your wedding day that you should find them generally pleasant at minimum, possible-BFF-forever at maximum. (Only you know how much you care about love-loving them, but make sure you like them.)

3. Lighting situation for your wedding: Before we get too far into this idea of, “Just hire someone whose work makes you feel happy inside,” let’s have a quick reality check. The easiest wedding to shoot is a wedding in the daytime, with a ceremony under shade and great natural light. If that applies to you, ignore the rest of this paragraph. If, however, you’re getting married in a dark church or you’re having an outdoor evening wedding reception, it’s really important that you specifically look for a photographer that’s skilled with those lighting environments. Don’t assume that experience equals skill in low lighting. Look for weddings shot in similar lighting environments in your photographer’s portfolio, and ask them specifically how they would handle your particular situation. (Some photographers use external lights for dark receptions, while others may rely on their camera’s ability to see well in the dark.) If you notice that after it gets dark, all wedding photos in the portfolio are processed in black and white, that’s a hint that the photographer may not be super comfortable in darker situations. (Please note: your wedding in a gothic cathedral is not going to look like a wedding in a sunlit field, no matter who you hire. Nor should it.)

APW Basics: Choosing A Wedding Photographer | A Practical Wedding APW Basics: Choosing A Wedding Photographer | A Practical Wedding

4. Reviews AND Recommendations: Every photographer is going to have their strengths and weaknesses. It’s pretty easy to get a sense of what someone’s strengths are (let’s assume stunning photos are one of them). The trick is to get an accurate sense of what a given photographer’s weaknesses are, and then decide what you can live with. You can do this by a robust conversation with a photographer. (Just ask them flat out what their weaknesses are. A professional will tell you. Run away if they say they have none.) Or you can ask to chat with a past client. Here are a variety of weaknesses I’ve observed in various photographers (most of whom are kick-ass people and artists): not super good time managers on the wedding day, slightly socially awkward, slow delivery of photos, slow or poor client communication, not cheerful and outgoing with the couple, don’t take direction well. The trick is to figure out what balance of strengths and weaknesses will work for you. I could care less about photographers being good time managers, or delivering my photos late. But I want someone who’s amazingly nice to me and does everything I ask on my wedding day, plus offers to loan me earrings if I lose mine. Lots of people feel the opposite way—they don’t care how nice their photographers are, as long as they’re organized. As you’re interviewing photographers, figure out what your needs and deal breakers are. Just remember that you’re not perfect, and your photographer won’t be either. The photographer-client relationship is personal, so just figure out how best to be imperfect together.

5. Price AND What They Offer: When looking at someone’s pricing, be careful to see what’s included in the package you’re looking at. Things like second shooters, additional hours, hi-res JPGs, albums, and engagement sessions may be included in the price quote, or might be extra money. Just make sure you’re not signing up to pay more later for things you definitely want (i.e., your wedding photos aren’t worth all that much if you have to pay $3,000 extra to get the files). That said, things like albums and prints can always be ordered later when you’re not facing the burden of paying for a wedding, so if you love someone’s art, but they don’t include as many bells and whistles with their package, go for the art.

6. PHOTOGRAPHER STYLE: I’m supposed to tell you to think about the photographer’s style (photojournalism, naturalism, modern traditionalism) and if you like it. But what I really want to ask you is do you like the photographer’s portfolio? Do you like the way they work? If photojournalism means they’re not going to take a posed picture of your granny, that might not work for you. Worry less about what the photographer calls their style, and more about if their photos speak to you, and if their style will work within the real-life context of your wedding.

7. Lighting and composition: We have a great APW article on how photographers in the exact same circumstances can tell very different stories with lighting and composition. If you’re into that sort of thing, you should take a read (it’s fascinating). But the bigger-picture question is what the photographer’s point of view is. We all view the world in a different way, and a photographer’s portfolio should show you how they set out to document that world view (hint: Christina Richards portfolio tells a very different story than Maddie’s portfolio [warning: NSFW] at Eyes and Hart even though they are in many ways similarly skilled artists). Look for a portfolio that reflects the way you want your wedding story to be told. Are you looking for sentimental, hip, documentary, classic, edgy, or something else? Don’t overthink it; you’ll know you like it when you see it.

APW Basics: Choosing A Wedding Photographer | A Practical Wedding

8. Post Processing: A lot of the work in modern photography is done in post-processing. When you’re looking at a photographer’s portfolio, it’s helpful to know that images don’t come out of the camera the way that you see them. This will help you pick a photographer whose post-processing you like. The most common types of processing at the moment are:

Clean: Processed to be true to life.

Light and Airy: Dreamy, lots of light, almost gauzy.

Film Emulation: This can range from dark and moody, to somewhat less vibrant colors. It’s meant to mimic the look and feel of film (for cheaper).

9. Seeing a full wedding: Once you’ve gotten a sense of a photographer’s work through their portfolio, I’d strongly urge you to ask to see a full wedding. Some photographers produce twenty amazing images from every wedding, but the remaining eight hundred images are a bit uninspired. While I tend to think that one to five amazing photos of your wedding is all you’ll use over time, it is important to make sure you’re getting what you’re paying for. A high-priced, experienced photographer should deliver consistently inspired work. A less expensive photographer building their portfolio should deliver you a few inspired images and solid documentary of the rest of the day.

10. Delivery: Once your wedding has happened, you’re going to want to get your hands on your photos. Now is the time to figure out how that’s going to work (and what’s going to work for you). Get a timeline for how fast or slow a particular photographer turns around images. Delivery of the full gallery can range from a week to six months. (Important note: faster isn’t always better. A lot of really talented photographers who want to keep prices low shoot a lot of weddings during the high season. Taking more time to deliver images sometimes gives them the time to deliver you flawless work.) What rights will you have? Will you get hi-res JPGs (hint: you want those), or will you have to order prints through the photographer? What publication rights will your photographer have? If you want control of where your photos are published, ask for that in advance. Sometimes asking photographers to not publish your work means they charge you a little extra, since free advertising is what keeps their costs down. Sometimes that’s worth it. And finally, find out if you’ll get access to your unprocessed images. Photographers generally request that you never publish unprocessed work, but styles change, and in twenty years, you might want them. Or you might not care. Only time will tell.

Photos: Flash & No Flash by Eyes And Hart; Airy by Corinne Krogh; Natural by Emily Takes Photos; Moody by Corey Torpie; Desaturated by Marble Rye (All APW Sponsors)

Meg Keene

Meg is the Founder and EIC of APW. Her first book, A Practical Wedding: Creative Solutions for Planning a Beautiful, Affordable, and Meaningful Celebration, was published in January 2012, and has been a top three bestseller on the wedding bookshelf ever since. Meg has her BFA in Drama from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and son. For more than you ever wanted to know about Meg, you can visit MegKeene.com.

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  • Amanda B

    Wow – great article! I really wish I had this when I was looking through dozens and dozens of photographers. We ended up loving our photographer, her style and photos! It was really important for us to gel with her. What I found interesting is that all the ones I liked and met with had similar personalities, laid back and down to earth. I had one wedding photographer candidate that didn’t call me on time for our initial phone call. Huge no-no for this potential client! Let’s just say we passed on him…

  • Vivian Chen

    THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU x a million for posting this. As a wedding photographer, I could not have said all this better myself! Such important and honest points. Umm… totally linking this article on my FAQ page. :)

    • Meg Keene

      You go for it <3

  • Jessica Nelson

    Sorry to share a horror story, but its an easily avoidable one… The photographer at one of my former co-worker’s wedding at her purse/camera stolen at a different event a few days later. She hadn’t transferred the wedding files off her SD disk yet, so all the wedding photos were stolen too. They’re sharing the story with local news sources to try to get the card back but…this wouldn’t have happened if the photographer had backed up her pictures right away. So #10, delivery time, might not matter, but I think it’s worth asking how the photographer backs up/downloads the images. I’m sure most are pretty paranoid about doing it right away, but maybe asking about it will motivate them to download it that same night, rather than the next day.

    • Vivian Chen

      That’s my nightmare! I always wear a fanny pack (oh so stylish, haha) on my body with all my SD/CF cards in it during weddings so even if my equipment is stolen (another nightmare!), at least I have the files, which are irreplaceable. Definitely a good question to ask your photog.

    • http://blog.stephaniecourt.com/ stephanie court

      Definitely something worth asking! I’m super paranoid about something like this happening so I keep my cards on me during weddings then download/back up immediately after the event. It usually means staying up super late on wedding nights but it’s totally worth it for peace of mind.

    • celinad6

      Same thing happened to my engagement shoot photographer the night before our shoot. He was doing a wedding and his camera was stolen (luckily the police recovered it a few days later). Unfortunately, he didn’t think it was important to tell us about this until two hours before our shoot…after I wasted a day getting ready, including spending $40 on my make-up. I’m glad he got his camera back but his lack of communication was the reason he didn’t get promoted to wedding photographer.

    • Meg Keene

      So, you should ask that if you’re worried but, you also should know that anyone who doesn’t do a double back up THE SECOND THEY LEAVE YOUR WEDDING is not a professional (in the proper sense of the word). That’s blunt, but true. Photographers often shoot weddings with backup cards (so if one card fails, you’ve got another) and they’ll back them up the SECOND they leave your wedding. No drink for them till they do.

      IE, this is a good question to ask if you’re on the fence about how actually professional a photographer is. If, however, you know they’re a real pro, this should NEVER EVER EVER BE AN ISSUE. All caps justified.

    • Maddie Eisenhart

      This is a great point, and I’ll echo Meg’s comments below. Most professional photographers have serious protection processes in place to make sure this doesn’t happen (I, for example, shoot on backup cards, plus I have two fireproof hard drives in my office, and I carry a drive of undeveloped digital negatives with me for any weddings I haven’t delivered yet. I’m also like Vivian in that the cards do not leave my body after a wedding until they are on my computer.) The good news is, because most serious wedding photographers are as paranoid as I am, they’ll be able to tell you right quick what their backup methods are. So it’s an easy question to ask during an interview (A simple, “I’m worried about digital files getting corrupt or lost. Do you have systems in place to make sure that doesn’t happen?”) A pro should be happy to put your mind at ease.

    • Amber Marlow, theAmberShow

      I take the subway home from most elopements in NYC, and I tuck the CF cards into a special cloth bag that goes into my bra for the ride home. You can mug me and get my cameras – they’re insured!

  • Michelle

    These are great! However, my fiance are planning to crowd-source using Instagram not as an addition to professional photography, but as our only photography. We decided to do it for a few reasons, mainly, we’re on a tight budget (read: I’m 150k in debt from grad school) and we feel like it’ll be a really fun option for the people we love most to capture the day as they see it. I’ve gone through the wonderful wonderfully helpful post from Emily of Emily Takes Photos and the “How To” article, but any further posts on how to get guests to participate, what tips to give folks so that the images they capture are as wonderful as they want them to be would be probably the best thing ever. Also, don’t worry, I’ll report back on how it went after July 19th!

    • Eenie

      Have a way for people to upload pictures from a computer. Not everyone has a smart phone, and some people might have nicer cameras that will take nice pictures. Maybe remind people to share any photos from the day in the thank you note?

      • Jenna

        This is a really good suggestion. Asking people with nicer cameras to also take photographs and share them with you will give you higher-quality images that will enlarge better for larger-sized prints.

    • ML

      I used a wedding website called Wedding Woo and it aggregates all Instagrams with your hashtag to the site so even people without Instagram can view them. It’s also a good way to remind people of your hashtag since presumably they will be there to check out your other wedding info. Also, this is definitely one of those details to drop to all your friends before the wedding to give them a heads up this is important.

      • Meg Keene

        I think The Wedding Party App is also good for this.

    • ART

      We are doing the same (I think there is an APW post on crowdsourcing photos!) Same budget issues and not feeling like we really need or want pro photos. What we did is set up an IFTTT account and have it automatically download photos from Instagram (with hashtag), a flickr group, and facebook (with tag) to a google drive folder. Then we put all the info about how to share through these three methods on our website, and I had postcards printed at Vistaprint that also have that info so people can pick one up at our welcome/guestbook table and take it with them – that way if they use a non-internet-connected camera, they can add them to our Flickr group after the wedding, or facebook, or whatever.

      I also added a note on our website to let us know what else people might use for photo sharing, so we can set up other IFTTT recipes or find other ways to collect them.

      • ART

        oh, and the guests don’t have to deal with IFTTT stuff, that’s just bac-end for us. all they have to do is tag a photo or add it to a group.

    • Karli Kruschel

      I read somewhere about a couple making an Instagram scavenger hunt for their guests. You can print it out or create a sign big enough for guests to notice, and put things like “our first kiss”, “laughter”, etc. That way people know what you want and it’s fun for them to capture those moments you really care about!

    • Meg Keene
  • http://thesixthletter.wordpress.com/ Liz

    SIGH. I wish I’d known about APW sooner in my wedding planning process! It all turned out amazing, but might’ve been less stressful with this kind of information!

  • Guest

    We couldn’t afford to pick the absolute best photographer due to budgetary constraints. We simply cannot afford to spend over $2,000 on one, and all the photographers I would have loved to have for stylistic reasons were more expensive. The one we chose did a great job on our engagement pictures (in my opinion) and has really grown stylistically since we booked her. I was worried at first since she was pretty inexperienced but I feel like now I have nothing to

    • Meg Keene

      If you pick someone talented, they’ll often grow a LOT, and fast. That’s been the story with a lot of APW advertisers who started with us early on. Our photography budget was only a little more than that, and we lucked our way into amazing photographers. (They also gave us a bit of a deal because… they liked us. IE, they gave us a better package than we could have otherwise afforded. So that happens too. If you have less money, being super nice and accommodating really helps.)

      • Molly Pollard

        Oh for sure (that was me, by the way). Comment got cut off, sorry.

        She is turning out to be super nice and accommodating, actually. She has really rolled with the punches with us, too. We went from having our wedding & reception in one day (original plan) to a courthouse wedding and reception on two different days. And she was totally up for that and wants to help however she can. Even if the photos don’t end up stellar/totally unique, I’m glad we got such a nice one. I’m sure regardless of what happens, the photos will be great because of what they capture. I’m not worried.

  • emilyg25

    I would add to look outside your geographical area, especially if you’re not on a super tight budget. I was really frustrated early on because photography was our top priority, but I just couldn’t find a local photographer whose style I liked. Then I stumbled on a sponsored post on APW from Kelly Prizel, who’s based a few states away. We loved (lovedloved) her style and philosophy, so we inquired and found out that her travel fee to our area was totally reasonable and worth it.

    • MC

      Seconded! And in fact, the photographer we loved from one state over is the same price as our second choice, who is in our same state, including travel fees! So if you live in a place with a slightly inflated wedding industry, definitely good to look around.

    • Helen

      Same! We’re in New Zealand, getting married in Sri Lanka. My fiance saw Corey Torpie’s work here on APW (she’s in NYC), fell in love and sent her a “this is probably a ridiculous question, but…” email. Turns out, not nearly as ridiculous as expected! Always worth asking :)

      • http://karenmadrone.wordpress.com/ Karen

        One of the reasons we picked our photographer is because she doesn’t charge for travel. Check out Amanda Summerlin. Her work is amazing. We had a Skype date many months ago and hired her right away. I can’t wait to get to know her in person. In any case, her policy of not charging for travel within the U.S. is definitely a point in her favor.

  • http://www.missgiggles.com/blog Giggles

    Taking photos on our wedding day was one of our favorite parts because we had so much fun with our photographer. So much so in fact that we called her again when we needed to update our family photos with the birth of our little one. Personality was such a huge part of our experience. That, and I love how the eyes pop in her photos.

  • Amy March

    Eek! I clicked through to Maddie’s portfolio only to find full frontal nudity. Great image but can you please give a NSFW warning?

    • Meg Keene

      That’s an interesting discussion point in that is a photographer branding themselves really explicitly (pun intended). That’s messaging that the client who’s going to close the tab is not the right match. Which is actually a perfect illustration of the conversation!

      • Cleo

        I would beg to differ. My decision to close a tab that unsuspectingly links me to full frontal nudity (no matter how beautiful the photo) when I am at work or in a similarly public environment is not related to my desire to hire the photographer nor is it related to my taste level.

        An NSFW tag would be helpful so I’m not caught unawares in my very open floor plan office.

      • Amber Marlow

        I’m super comfy with nudity, and would *enthusiastically* hire a photographer that featured nudes, but don’t want to click open a nude link without warning in a coffee shop.

      • Amy March

        Glad to be interesting and all, but refusing to tag nudity NSFW even when requested feels really hostile to me, and is outside the norm for web communities I participate in. Like I said, Maddie’s work is stunning, but nudity at work isn’t. To be honest this really makes me feel unwelcome here.

      • Maddie Eisenhart

        What? People don’t like surprise nudity at work? I kid. Sorry for the full-frontal without warning, guys. I’ve been updating my portfolio a bunch lately and I think this post was written before I made that photo so front and center. I’ve added the NSFW tag to the part of this post that links to my portfolio. And sorry for not responding sooner, Tuesdays are my day to focus on photo biz things, so I was only half in the comments yesterday.

        • Amy March

          Thanks Maddie! I really appreciate it.

    • Helen

      Brilliant! Made me go looking for the link…

  • http://www.blackgirlunlost.com Jubi The Great

    This is perfect timing – I met a photography group that seemed great at a wedding fair last week and my fiance and I have an appt with them on Friday. Hiring the right photographer is the 2nd priority for us, after finding the right venue, and I’m so worried we’re going to be disappointed with our photos after our wedding, so I’m trying to do a ton of research now and ask lots of questions.

  • Scarlet

    Does anyone have recommendations for photographers in Austin, TX? I really like some APW sponsors out of state, but I won’t be able to afford the travel fees involved so I’m looking for someone local.

  • Tuppet

    The person we had spoken to was not the photographer who turned up on the day, who had very poor English and questioned our choices (like why was my dad driving me to the church in his convertible, wouldn’t it be better to rent a car?). The reception was quite dark and so most of those photos are pretty poor quality despite having repeatedly talked about this with our contact at the studio. The photographer was late to my house because he spent too long at my husband’s family house, so we don’t have any family photos from my family and I was dressed before he arrived. During the ceremony our priest stopped and asked them to move repeatedly after instructing them beforehand not to block the aisle. The photos we have are nice but don’t show much in terms of post processing, and I’m still trying to get the albums and video from our photographer 7 months after our wedding. We ended up standing outside freezing for ages so he could get the perfect courtyard shot (which is grainy and out of focus because it was dark by the time he finished), which stopped us spending more time inside the science museum venue because somehow the studio didn’t tell him that we had permission to go inside and he didn’t understand us when we said we wanted to move.

    We chose the photographer because the images in their studio were beautiful, the albums we were shown were of high quality (ours is not nearly as well presented and has lumps of glue on the spine) and they could do both photography and videography with a team who worked together regularly, on the promise we would meet the entire team before the day. I had doubts after paying the deposit but ignored it, and the longer I wait and more I try to get things from them the more I regret being pressured into having a video which made me go with a combined studio and limited my options.

    I still don’t think the philosophy of the photographer is the most important thing to look for (I spoke to four and didn’t find any of them to even have a philosophy) but some of the other aspects… I wish I focused more on the option to talk to the actual photographer and less on the ability to get everything done by one place because it would be easier… it hasn’t been easy in any way.

    • emilyg25

      That’s an excellent point. I think this article assumes that you’re dealing with individual photographers, not groups. But yes: Be sure the photographer you meet with is the photographer who will shoot your wedding!

  • http://karenmadrone.wordpress.com/ Karen

    We chose our photographer (Amanda Summerlin) based on her FAQ1, 2, and FUQ page. Check her out: http://www.amandasummerlin.com/wedding-photographer-faqs-1/. A sense of humor is a must. And she travels for free. We haven’t worked with her yet but I have high expectations. And she’s an APW vendor.

  • Sarah Brown

    I love this so much. I can not stress enough how important it is to make sure you not only like your wedding photographer’s style but you like them! I’m a wedding photographer myself and I always make my personality really well known to everyone to make sure they can tell if we will mesh well together or not. I don’t want to be hired by someone who is annoyed by me, then they will only feel annoyed and look annoyed in their photos! It’s so easy to find someone who is really talented but take the time to find someone who is also fun to be around because trust me, you’ll be seeing more of your photographer than pretty much anyone else on your wedding day.

  • http://cuvikingadventures.blogspot.ca/ Jenny/Adventures Along the Way

    I am glad to see Tip #3! I got married at night indoors, and the reception was in a black theatre space with theatrical, ever-changing lighting. NOT easy to photograph and certainly not something every photographer (or every camera and lens) can handle. So important to ask about this if you get married or have a reception in a low-light situation….

  • Kim Kennedy

    Hi.. Useful tips for both wedding couple & wedding photographer. Really a great help. Would love to know more such useful tips. Thanks for sharing. http://www.aucklandweddingphotography.com provides beautiful wedding photographs that you will cherish for lifetime.

  • citizeness

    Hi there,
    Question for you all: I found someone who I like on the basis of the above tips. But our photographer has never been to our venue. It’s a super funky museum in Baltimore — the American Visionary Arts Museum — and a few other options for photographers have definitely shot weddings there before. Do you think experience with a venue is important? Is it more important if the venue is a bit offbeat? Many thanks and APW has become my bible for all this wedding planning stuff.

    Thanks!