How To Choose a Wedding Photographer: Lighting And Composition

There is plenty of advice on the internet on how to find a wedding photographer. And you know, most of it is actually pretty good. I assure you that is not a thing). But recently in the comments of some of our sponsored posts, it’s become clear that a lot of the advice out there is geared toward people who already have a handle on photography, people who can look at a photo and say, “Yup, that’s a great image.” But there isn’t really a ton of information out there for people who are at a photographic square one.

Most of the time when I meet with potential clients, they say the same thing. They don’t want their parents’ wedding photos. They want natural, unposed documentation of their wedding from someone who isn’t going to interrupt the natural flow of the day. The good news is, many (and I’d argue most) wedding photographers have already moved towards this kind of wedding photography. With the exception of a few photographers who have built a reputation on the fact that they will pose and move you during the events of the day to create perfect images (and please do ask photographers about this. There is nothing worse than being poked and prodded and posed all day if what you really wanted was someone to hang back and blend in with the scenery), a good majority of photographers are going to capture your wedding as it happens. But if most wedding photographers are approaching their work from a similar logistical standpoint, well, the end results couldn’t be more different. So how do you know what makes a good photo? What should you be looking for when you look at a photographer’s portfolio?

I think it all comes down to storytelling. Each photographer has a personal take on the best way to tell a story through photos. The way a photographer perceives storytelling is going to inform what they take photos of, how they take them, where they are when the important events happen, and everything else in between. And there are a few variables that photographers manipulate that will make all the difference from one portfolio to the next:

Lighting: If you talk to any photographer, they’ll tell you that lighting is 90% of what makes a photo good or bad. One of the best ways to understand lighting is to hold up your hand and face your palm toward a window. Then start rotating your hand back and forth and look at the different ways shadows are cast on your hand as you move it around. If you face your hand directly at the window, the light falls very evenly and cleanly, but if you start moving your hand at a ninety degree angle away from the window, it creates shadows that make your hand look moody and dramatic. This is what photographers do all day. We analyze light. So as you’re looking through photographers’ portfolios, you’ll start to notice that we all play with light differently. Some photographers prefer really bright photos that make the world look light and airy, while others use light to create mood and emotion. For example, take the photos below. They are of the same bride, taken moments apart, but the light is totally different, and therefore the photos are totally different.

As you start looking through photographers’ portfolios, pay attention to the lighting quality in the pictures. Are they dark and moody? Bright and romantic? Each photographer has a certain style, and there will most likely be one that you mesh with better than others. You may also notice while you’re looking through portfolios that some photographers refer to themselves “natural light photographers” which just means that they only use whatever light is available, rather than using a flash or other lighting setups. If you are getting married somewhere dark without a lot of windows, you will want to make sure that the photographer knows how to create light when it isn’t there. Every lighting situation is different for photographers, so make sure you’re looking at photos that have similar characteristics to your venue. An outdoor wedding in the middle of the day with bright sun requires a very different skill than a New Year’s Eve reception in a dark church. (Also, a hot tip: ask to see some reception shots, since many of us don’t include those in our portfolios. Because if you are having an art gallery reception with no light, you want to make sure we can handle it. If all the reception photos are a little blurry and have been converted to black and white, then low-light situations are probably not that photographer’s forte. If you see lots of backlighting and what appears to be bursts of light behind the dancing, it means that that photographer has the ability to create standalone lighting in situations where the light is nonexistent.)

Composition: After lighting, the next thing you want to look at in someone’s portfolio is composition (hint: Meg talks about this a lot in sponsored posts, because she went to art school and composition is something that gets drilled into you there). This basically means, how did they set up the photo? Even when photographers are capturing moments as they happen, we’re still looking for interesting ways to tell the story. Take the below photo, for example. It uses the backs of the the bride and her father’s heads to frame the groom’s face as she walks down the aisle. By doing this, not only do your eyes know exactly where to go the moment you look at the photo, but you also get the added storytelling of seeing the groom’s face from the bride’s perspective.

As you look through portfolios, ask yourself: Are all the photos taken from the same perspective and angle? How does the photographer make things more interesting? Are there moments like this picture below, where they get down underneath the action? Anything that makes you feel like you are in the moment is good composition.

Tools: Most wedding photography advice will tell you to ask your photographer what kind of camera he or she uses. Unless you are a camera buff, this is usually a wasted question (heck, most of the time I don’t even know what the best camera on the market is). But as you look through portfolios, you’ll notice that certain photographers have different tools that they use to tell a story in their own voice. I’m a hopeless romantic, so for me that’s a lens that I’ve hacked onto a sink plunger that makes soft photos like this one.

A lot of photographers like the warmth of film. Film has a texture and a quality that just can’t be reproduced in digital format (no matter how hard we try). Also, if someone says they use film, it means they were probably trained in a darkroom and have an understanding of cameras that goes beyond digital, so not only will your photos look different, but the experience of being shot on film will be different than working with a strictly digital shooter.

Other photographers like the quirkiness of toy cameras that make cool square photos like this one.

As you’re looking through portfolios, keep an eye out for what identifies the photographer’s portfolio as distinctly their own. It might be that they take super crisp images with really high quality lenses. Or maybe they use their grandfather’s camera to take old school black and whites. A photographers’ favorite tool will tell you a lot about the way they see the world (and while you can get an idea of this from their portfolio, don’t be afraid to ask them about it. I could geek out forever over my plungercam. And any photographer who uses film could spend hours telling you why).

At the end of the day, it all comes down to storytelling. Sure, according to Wikipedia or any online photography forum, there is a right and a wrong way to take a photo. But when it comes to wedding photography, what you’re really looking for is a storytelling technique that matches your idea of how your wedding will be. For example, I was recently photographing a wedding with my assistant and I took a photo of the couple dancing that I really loved. She laughed and shrugged and said to me, “You are such a romantic.” I was kind of surprised, but then I realized that I had specifically chosen to tell a story in a way that made the moment very romantic. This story, for example:

… is very different from the story of Meg’s wedding below, even though they were taken in the exact same room, in front of the same windows. (Though, hint, look at this photo from Meg’s wedding taken by a photographer friend for a similar moment to the one above, taken with a different kind of camera.)

So ask yourself, does the photo you’re looking at have a sense of humor? Is it romantic? Is there a softness to it? Does it look crisp like a magazine image? The story a photographer tells is going to be your story through their eyes, so you want to make sure that they match up.

The conclusion: if all of this seems like a ton of information to digest, then keep it simple and look for two criteria: Do you like the photos and do they make you feel happy? Not a super visual person? Then it’s totally fine to ignore the first question and move onto the second: Do you like the photographer and do they make you feel happy? More important than lighting, composition, or any fancy technology, those are the power rules to live by.

But! That’s not all! We know you guys have a whole variety of questions, so next time we’re going to be talking about photographic styles and what the heck “Wedding Photojournalism” is anyway. Stay tuned.

Photos by: Christina Richards, Jesse Holland, Jessica Schilling, Emily Takes Photos, Hart & Sol West, Jonas Seaman,, (again), Hart & Sol West, Rad + In Love, Jessica Schilling, Lauren McGlynn, Hart & Sol West, One Love Photo, Lauren McGlynn

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  • Jashshea

    Oh! This is wonderful (and very helpful). We chose our Photog a) because he’s super talented at capturing emotion and b) because he’s a good friend of both of us and that will make my camera shy groom more comfortable (uh, I hope). Thanks!

    • Laura

      Aah, I wish we knew any photographers. Hopefully we can hire someone cool who will help us feel comfortable and natural.

    • That’s part of why I chose our photographers. They’re good friends of mine, and my husband had gotten to know them from visits back home. The wife did our engagement photos, and we had fun just hanging out with her. On the wedding day, it was wonderful to tool around with friends to get our photos done. It definitely set my husband at ease.

  • Sarah

    Another suggestion, one obviously based on my experience in print and digital news – you can sometime get a phenomenal photographer for a great deal if you go to your local newspaper and ask their photo staff if any of them freelance weddings. You might not get the dreamy and romantic photo type – it’s definitely not what photojournalists train for – but it’s guaranteed that a competent sports or news photographer is very good at capturing fleeting emotions and rapid fire action in any light. And most of them have really prime gear.

  • Margaret

    It was very hard to judge photographers by their portfolio because basically, I didn’t care that much about documentary photography and the kind of photography you’re describing here was just not what I wanted. But it is everywhere when you look at photographer’s portfolios. I can’t think of more than a handful who put group portraits in their portfolios these days. I DID want pictures that looked like my parents (well, my parents have two photos of their wedding, but that’s another story) and my grandparents. I wanted family portraits of everyone gathered together, looking their best. Full stop.

    So, I just met with people, asked them if they’d do boring family portraits, leave out the fancy stuff and that was that. In retrospect, I could have probably gotten what I needed for a fraction of the price I paid, but live and learn.

    • Those kinds of photographers do exist, but because they are often less expensive, they tend to not advertise in a high profile way; frankly, this is the kind of shooter you *can* find on craigslist. (but be careful! and ask to see a lot of portfolio, from multiple weddings.) This is also a place where talking to portrait photographers can be an option, especially ones who do a lot of large family portraits.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      Yes! Yes! Yes!

      We were more interested in the posed, “formal” shots, too. In a way, it made it a lot simpler. I had a long time pre-engagement and at the beginning of the engagement to get a sense of what various words typically meant in terms of the final photographs.We’re in a major metropolitan area, and had a fairly generous budget, so we could have met with dozens of photographers if we wanted “photojournalistic” style. Instead, I eliminated all photographers who said their specialty was photojournalism, and any who described their style as “contemporary.” I think I also crossed off “fun.”

      Then, I went looking for photographers who had posed photos in their online portfolios, and posted prices. Of course, my search wasn’t exhaustive, but I found 6 or so within our budgets. We met with 4, liked 2, and hired the less expensive photographer.

      That said, Maddie’s conclusion is right on.

      Also, having Maddie write this series is right on. Far more helpful than anything I read for brides about wedding photography was a book for aspiring wedding photographers from 1994 I found at a used bookstore. 1) It helped me think about special directions for our photographer, including having a more comprehensive list of must-take shots than anything I’ve found online. 2) It had the best day-of timeline information I’ve found. A lot of this was because it was sort-of from a guest’s perspective, certainly not the bride’s. 3) Because it was kind of old, it gave yet another perspective on what’s really traditional. My favorite example: It advised that photographers decline all food offered by customers.

      • Heh, I totally get what you were going for, but it still makes me giggle that you eliminated any photographer who was “fun.”

        • ElisabethJoanne

          We’re bookish introverts. What’s usually called “fun” stresses us out.

          To lay all my cards on the table, our photographer is German, and fits the stereotypes. While I don’t think he’s necessarily someone we’d like hanging out with after the wedding (depends on whether he likes discussing obscure movies and ancient philosophy), he is someone who gets our adherence to checklists and timelines and believes me when I tell him, “I can get you literally every word of our 90-minute ceremony, except the 8-minute homily, 3 months in advance, but not 6 months.”

    • meg

      Also, interesting note: there are lots of ways to tell a story using the same pictures. So photographers will tell it one way, and different bloggers will tell it differently. (Wait, this all relates!)

      The bulk of APW sponsor photographers actually shoot *killer* group shots and posed portraits. But you’ll never see them here. Why? Because I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to post a shot of someone’s family in a public space. I have pretty strict rules about what I think is ok to make public for a wedding, and what I think deserves to be treasured privately in a family photo album. So you’ll almost never see a family portrait here, and you won’t see a shot of couples exchanging rings (another one of my privacy rules). Plus, you usually won’t see a posed couple portrait, because if I’m editing a post for STORY (which I am) those are not pictures that push the story along. What they really are is important historical moments for a family.

      Wedding photographers are going to have different rules about what they post on their own sites, and their clients are going to have different privacy requests. So if you don’t see posed photos by a photographer, that might not mean anything. That might, in fact, be one of their core skill sets, it’s just not something they feel is appropriate for public consumption.

      In short: don’t make assumptions, ASK. And that is a behind the scenes of how things often work online.

      • ElisabethJoanne

        That’s a good insight into APW. Of course, I was looking at the photographer’s own websites, where they post more photos and have their own privacy standards. There, I don’t see any reason not to mention and/or display a core skill set. Mentioning also fits in with a vendor directory listing or sponsored post, and I know I’ve seen mention of posed shots in sponsored posts, even if the photos aren’t on APW. By that time, we’d hired the German, though.

        • meg

          Well, again, the reason is privacy, often. Vendors can choose what’s in a directory listing, but I actually think a lot about how I want to talk about weddings in a public space, and I think that creating appropriate boundaries of privacy is a really important part of APW’s mission around weddings (it’s not all for sharing!). So. That’s why I make that editorial choice! Anyway, long story short: ASK.

        • MEI

          I think this is a great reminder to people that your wedding photography doesn’t have to be “blog-worthy” because even progressive non-WIC-y blogs have certain rules. Full disclosure: I totally had a little flip out before my wedding where I was like “Oh noes! I am only really getting family formals and posed couples shots taken by a talented relative because I don’t care about photography…but my wedding could never be on APW!” Which…yea. I’m pretty sure someone from the APW community would have given me a hug and been like “Umm, lady, no. You’re being crazy. Step away from the computer.”

          So in case you’re like me and just want some simple family formals you can hang on your wall next to your parents and grandparents formal photos but are freaking out that they won’t be APW-worthy, much less WIC-blog-worthy: Hugs. And: “Umm, lady, no. You’re being crazy. Step away from the computer.”

      • Kat


        I know lots of wed photographers who do those posed family shots, too be honest, they’re just not the shots that make a potential wedding couple go “OH! OH! I HAVE TO BOOK THAT PHOTOGRAPHER!!!”

    • It’s always a good idea to see at least one complete gallery from a wedding photographer you are considering, and I think almost everyone would have several family group portraits in a full gallery, even if they are not prominent in their blog posts or portfolio. I don’t show a lot of family formals on my webiste because they tend to be pretty traditional and are almost all done in the same spot for a wedding so they get repetitive to look at. But if you looked at a complete set of photos delivered to clients, you would see a ton of them, and I could go on and on about how important I think they are to take, how to best plan them, and how much of a priority I make it to get them all. So if there is a photographer you like some things about, but don’t see something else that’s important to you, ask and they can probably point you to some examples even if they aren’t front page on their website!

      • meg

        Exactly to this! Also, note from personal experience, you might want to ask to see a wedding that’s somewhat similar to yours, if they’ve got it (as opposed to whatever they shot last weekend). I remember going through a gallery for our photographers that was a super traditional ballroom wedding, and having this freakout “This is not what I want!” moment. Well, duh. I wasn’t going to have pictures of a garter toss, because I didn’t have a garter toss. So similar weddings are smart.

        • Yes! I would send different full galleries to different potential clients to try to match up with the most similar to their own wedding. So if someone inquired about a church wedding, they would be referred to some of those, rather than a gallery of a courthouse elopement, rustic vineyard wedding, or backyard wedding. Without knowing details about venue or theme plans, I would just send galleries for my 2-3 most recent, but if I could show some that were a closer match, that’s ideal.

          • Lauren K.

            At the end of the day, after months of wishy-washy-ing, looking at full weddings made the photographer choice for me. I had narrowed it down to two, and I realized that when I was going through one person’s albums, I was watching the ceremony unfold, and with emotion. The other person didn’t have that, and I realized I wanted it, so I hired the first person.

  • I kinda feel about wedding photography the way the Supreme Court feels about porn. I know what I like when I see it.

    That said, I feel like for me, I could have found (and did find) multiple photographers whose work I really liked. So for me, how to pick a photographer was less about the portfolios (because I liked a whole lot of them) and more about personality.

    People say that it’s important to find a photographer who you really like because that person is going to be with you all day and if you are going to have someone be with you all day, they should be someone you like. I also read a bunch of sponsored posts talking about how a certain photographer made her/himself invisible which was supposedly a good thing.

    Before I got married, this seemed a little contradictory. If my photographer was going to be invisible, why did I care if I really liked them? I didn’t get it.

    But now that my wedding is past, I understand. It IS important to find a photographer you really like, but I’d argue, not because your photographer is going to be with you all day. I mean sure, the photographers are around a lot, and especially during the getting ready prep and the portraits, you will be interacting with them a lot. But once the ceremony starts, I think that your photographer (if they are a really good one) is going to be more invisible. And the reason they are going to be more invisible is so that they can capture you in the moment without you being aware of the camera. So that they can capture the real emotions of the day, as opposed to your “camera face.” I swear, I honest to God thought after the wedding ended that I wasn’t going to have almost any photos of me of the reception because I did NOT remember our photographers shooting me on the dance floor at all. Of course they were there all along. I was just too caught up in my wedding to remember it, which is as it should be.

    So, if your photographer is not going to be spending a TON of time interacting with you, why is it important to find a photographer you really like? I’d argue that it’s because a photographer you you really like, who you have a genuine connection with, will be able to do a better job capturing your emotions – your love, your joy, your stillness. Just as an officiant who gets YOU (and by you I mean you and your spouse) will do a better job with the ceremony, a photographer who gets YOU will do a better job capturing the ineffable magic in your wedding.

    When I look at my wedding pictures, I can see the love of our entire community in them. And I can also see the joy our photographer (Emily Takes Photos, she’s awesome, hire her) had in taking them.

    So I completely agree with Maddie that lighting, composition, etc is all important. That you should really like someone’s portfolio before you hire them. But chances are, if you live in an urban market, you will find several people whose portfolios you really like. And if that’s the case, I think you pick the one you have the most chemistry with.

    • I agree with everything you said! But also – Elissa (of Elissa R Photography) is super stealthy and I totally forgot she was there EXCEPT the 3 or so times she helped me get completely out my dress so I could pee. She was the only one around! (And also she is super awesome like that.) So I think even if they do disappear, you just never know what they might be doing to help you out that day so you better like them :)

      • Copper

        now that’s going the extra mile for a client!

    • Wedding photographer here (and thank you for the shout-out, Rachelle! Warm n fuzzy!). A fun thing I do so that you FORGET that I’m around is that I start off REALLY CLOSE TO YOU during your getting-ready photos. I’m like 3 feet away from you and your friends in the thick of things. It takes about twenty minutes before people loosen up and just start talking normally and ignore that I’m around. I find that this is great because you’re already training yourself not to see me. By the time the ceremony rolls around and I’m twenty feet away snapping photos of you with a long lens, I’m invisible.

    • Aww *heart*

  • Megan

    Our photographer is a good friend of my fiancee’s from college. When we decided to have some engagement photos done (since there are exactly zero good pictures of us together), Robyn was the natural choice since we had all become good friends. We knew almost nothing about her style. What we got was PERFECTION. Since she knows us and our aesthetic (aka neither of us are dark and moody), the photos turned out feeling just like us. We are so thrilled for her to photograph our wedding, and so lucky to have found someone we connect with so well.

    • Taylor B

      We asked a friend of mine from undergrad (10 years ago!) whose photos I fell in love with on facebook. Our engagement photos are stunning, and have gotten rave reviews from friends and family. She had never met my fiance, and we hadn’t seen each other in years, but she captured our happiness and comfort with one another and our silliness in just a few hours following us walking around our neighborhood. I will cherish the photos she took.

  • Oh! I have another comment I forgot to mention in my epic comment above!!

    Always ask to see a full set of pics from an entire wedding. What a photographer puts on their blog is not necessarily the full range of stuff they do. For example, I think a lot of photographers err on the side of putting a lot of “detail” shots on their blog, because people who look at pretty wedding blogs like looking at all the little details. But that doesn’t mean that that’s all your photographer DOES. They might be great at capturing raw emotion, but they might not put all those shots on their blog. Or as Margaret noted, often portrait shots don’t make it on blogs. But most photographers still DO portraits because most brides still want SOME portrait shots, and if you look at a full set of pics, you’ll see them.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      I don’t exactly disagree, but I also think that a photographer will want to put their best work on their website. If you want a photographer who specializes in posed photos, and there’s 0 such photos on their website, they’re not for you. I strongly dislike the shoe photos, the ring photos, and the boob-holding getting-ready photos. Again, if those are the photos a photographer chooses to highlight, I don’t think they’re for me.

      That said, I had a lot of choices. If I were in a smaller area, I would have considered a greater percentage of the photographers in the area, because multiple vendor meetings, especially at that early stage, were valuable for us.

      We did have “photojournalistic” photographers say that of course they take the posed photos, they just don’t highlight them on their websites for the marketing reasons Ruchi mentions.

      • meg

        See my comment above. It’s important to remember that the photos photographers put online are *someone’s personal wedding photos.* So, they might take a great shot of me and my family, but might feel that it’s not appropriate to post that in their online portfolio (or I might tell them not to). So if you like the feel of someone’s overall work, you should always ask about what you don’t see. In my world, photographers who treat photos with respect and privacy are the kind you want to work with anyway.

        • ElisabethJoanne

          I see the issue about non-customers’ photos online. (So did the photography contracts we reviewed.)

          One more clarification on my end: Posed photos of just couples in their wedding clothes were hard to find. Photos of brides (including their faces) in robes, or holding their boobs, and grooms in undershirts, were common. We met with a couple photographers who had a few of the posed shots on their websites, with the rest being “details” and “story telling.” They said of course they take all the posed shots, they just put what’s more popular on their websites for marketing purposes. It was, however, very hard to “like the feel of someone’s overall work” when they had very few of the kinds of photos we were most interested in for us to review. If I had this series before we had to hire our photographer, that would have helped.

  • Liz

    I love this advice, but I think it would have stressed me out if I had read it before we hired our photographers… we are getting married in a small city, and hired the best (like, at least as nice as the photos we take ourselves was a hard criterion to hit) photographer who 1) fit our budget, and 2) was not on vacation the weekend of our wedding.

    We didn’t think about any other factors, because we didn’t have to/couldn’t be very discriminating, and I think that’s ok too.

    • meg

      Yup, that’s why we have the two basic rules at the end of the post. These posts are for readers who WANT to know more, and have specifically asked for more detail. That’s not everyone, and that’s totally fine.

      Also, for some people that are more visual, all of this will be instinctual. I knew exactly what I wanted, and I didn’t need a post to break that down for me (but not everyone is like that! which is cool too!).

  • Erica

    I forget where I read it or heard it (heck, it very well could have been APW), but the advice I found most helpful was this:

    Find a wedding photographer who not only has a portfolio of styles you like, but that has a personality that will make you feel AWESOME on your wedding day. You spend more time with your photographer than any other vendor (and possibly the groom, too), so you want someone who can make you laugh, smile, feel drop dead gorgeous, and without crossing too many professional lines, act kind of like a friend – someone you just like hanging out with and who has your back. While she takes f*ing gorgeous pics of you. Amen.

    I found my photographer at a friend’s wedding two years prior. I was in the wedding and fell in photog love with not only the style of the pictures Beth took, but also her warm, spunky, and honest personality. So, when it came time to finding my photographer, I started by asking Beth if she knew anyone in my area (Northern Virginia) because she was the only photographer I knew, but she lived in Chicago. After a few more Facebook messages, I discovered she liked me just as much as I had liked her (yay!) and wanted to shoot MY wedding! Yippee!!!! We figured out the logistics and made it happen.

    Not only was Beth the happiest, smartest, and just plain fun vendor that day, she was also super human. She talked me down when I needed a pre-ceremony pep talk about relaxing before I hyperventilated my veil off, allowed me to be me with a suggestion every now and again for a bigger smile, and even got a giant bee out of my dress when we were in the field shooting. She was my super hero.

    Anyways, I can’t stress enough that you should meld with the personality of your photographer. You need someone who gets you, and who will coax you gently into being the best you, both on film and for the entire day.

    P.S. I don’t know if I’m allowed to do this, but here’s Beth’s photography blog. She’s based out of Chicago, but does travel. And she’s adorable and makes you feel like happy Queen for the Day! And she’s tall. Which is awesome because she can take really cool shots from higher angles. (Meg and Co.: She’s a winner for APW Vendor Directory. Just sayin’.)

    • One More Sara

      I referred my photographer here to get into the vendor directory. If you think your photog is awesome and that more APW couples would like her, tell her! It was really simple for my photographer to get in the vendor directory (not to mention totally affordable advertising), but the initial contact needs to be from the photographer to APW.

  • Jessica

    Love the advice to find someone you like… I don’t know ANYTHING about photoraphy (like wine… um it’s good? is usually my resonpse) so when I found Marj Merges (THANK YOU VENDOR DIRECTORY), I was so impressed with her advice… She typed it up on her page “Surround yourself with people you really like on your wedding day. Like genuinely like, value, and respect. And then trust them. That’s really about it.”

  • Analise

    This is amazing. SO SO helpful for those of us with no photography training! More please!

  • sb

    One thing I haven’t seen mentioned: talk with your photographer about who gets the rights to the images after the wedding. Some of my friends were unable to post pictures on facebook, had to buy all prints from the photographer, couldn’t submit them to the newspaper, etc. Some people wouldn’t be bothered by that, but I was and made sure that our contract gave us the full rights to the images. We’re even allowed to edit them further, send them to blogs (with credit to the photographer), and do other stuff–plus we have say over what our photographer does with them! I wouldn’t have wanted my wedding pictures to be sold for stock photos without my knowledge or anything.

    • meg

      This is an important point, and something we should touch on later. Some quick notes: you will almost NEVER get copyright (nor should you), but asking for the ability to get your digital files and post them online is fair game. You’ll also almost never get rights to modify an image and post it in a public space, which is all fine and good too.

      Another thing to consider is what your privacy needs are. If you’ve noticed, there are about 20 photos of my wedding online, period, full stop. We altered our contract so that no pictures could be shared online ever without our permission. Not everyone wants that level of privacy (I mean, most people DON’T), but it’s the best contract I ever signed. And you’re allowed to ask for privacy if you need it, though different photographers will agree to different things, which is cool. If you want total privacy and that’s not really a particular photographers deal, they should just let you know, no hard feelings.

      • One thing to consider is that some photographers might charge more for such a privacy clause. If you come across this, don’t be offended and don’t take it personally, since some photographers would have otherwise used the images for their own marketing purposes. Think of it like this: a beginning photographer is more likely to shoot for less than they’re worth with the hopes of building their portfolio and having photos to market themselves with. If, however, they were unable to use said images to help build their career, then it wouldn’t be worth it to them to shoot for the lower cost, and would therefore quote a higher price.

        While a photographer works for YOU, they will determine their worth and cost, so if you come across this situation where they charge a bit more but protect your privacy, that’s fair. Not all photogs will charge this (most probably won’t), but if it’s not something you agree with, then they’re not the best fit for you.

  • Carrie

    if someone says they use film, it means they were probably trained in a darkroom and have an understanding of cameras that goes beyond digital

    Maybe — but it does not therefore mean that a photographer who shoots digital has a lesser understanding!

    My husband is a photographer who trained in a darkroom and started his career shooting film. He has a serious mastery of the technical details. But he’s purposefully chosen to go digital. Digital photography doesn’t require any less technical mastery (if you want to do it right, anyway). It’s just a different choice about how you work.

    He’d also disagree that digital images necessarily have inferior texture or quality compared with film images. I think whether an untrained eye could even tell the difference really depends on the camera, the film, and the photographer.

    Basically, I wouldn’t stress out over whether a photographer uses film or digital. Much more important to look at the images themselves.

    • meg

      To clarify, Maddie, who wrote this post, shoots digital, so she’s certainly not making a judgement call that film is better. We just felt that it’s important to clarify that they are two different skill sets, and often two different kinds of training. Mostly what we wanted to highlight here is what it is about the photo quality of film that’s different, because you hear a lot about film, but most people don’t really know what that looks like/ why it’s different. In short, some people care, some people don’t, but having information about the differences is nice.

      I only wanted to look at photographers that shot a mix of film and digital, but I’m a little bit of an unusual case. There is no reason that you SHOULD care about film, but if you happen to, that’s great too.

  • Morgan Bellinger

    I like and agree with 98% of this post but have to disagree with this:

    “If you see lots of backlighting and what appears to be bursts of light behind the dancing, it means that that photographer has the ability to create standalone lighting in situations where the light is nonexistent.”

    Lots of wedding photographers think that good reception lighting is a couple of lights on stands in the corners of the room. But backlighting is not necessarily good lighting, and the “bursts” of light you’re talking about (flare?) can be more distracting than anything.

    Brides and grooms should ask themselves if they want their reception photos to look like all of the other reception photos in the photographer’s portfolio, or if there’s something unique about the lighting or architecture or design of their reception space that they’d like to capture.

    When you’re a photographer with a couple of years of experience and you’ve dealt with one low-light reception by setting up flashes on stands in the back of the room, every medium-to-low-light reception starts to get that treatment, and all of your reception photos start to look the same.

    Thanks for a great post!

    • Maddie

      That’s true. I was speaking more about zero light situations where you have no choice but to create lighting (like outdoor receptions for example), but for indoor receptions, a good indicator is just whether or not the photos look natural or if you can tell that there was a flash used.

  • Lynn

    When the photography talk comes up, I always get a little itchy. There’s a whole lot of talk about what you do and don’t have to have at your wedding and the same gets said about photography. But. Very rarely do we see weddings that feature DIY photography or low-budget photography. It’s like a mixed message.

    We didn’t have a lot of choice when it came to photography for our wedding. While pictures of the wedding were important to me, it wasn’t as important to me as having as many of our friends and family present as possible and providing them with a a great meal and some kick ass drinks. By the time all of that got taken care of, there was very little left in my budget for photography.

    I happened to find a friend of a friend who has been a concert photographer and who wants to get into more mainstream photography. She charged us $300, which was about what we could afford. I liked her. And she got some great photos. Pictures that really changed how I felt about myself and my wedding after I got them back from her (but mostly traditional photography…some great ones of people laughing, an awesome shot of Pooh and his mom dancing). But there’s a lot missing. Our family and friends filled in some of those spaces for us.

    Most of the time I’m OK with that. And then I start reading about wedding photography or looking at pictures. Which makes me itchy again.

    • meg

      So you know, APW has a whole section on weddings with DIY Photography. Basically, we tend to run every single DIY photography wedding that we get, but there are way fewer of them, so the balance on the site is going to reflect that unfortunately. If you had a wedding with DIY photography, and want to see more of them featured online, buy all means, send it to us! We’d be thrilled!

      As for your wedding, the best rule I can give is: NO REGRETS. That’s my personal wedding rule for myself. Because life is just too short.

  • Karen

    I really appreciate this post and the others to come regarding photography. I’m just amazed that photographers are able to capture moments so well. It is truly a gift. I appreciate the points in the comments about how photographers have more shots than what they put on the blog. My partner is absolutely opposed to pictures of feet and detail shots. I’ll explain to her that there is more to the photog’s pics than what we see on their blog. We’ll make sure to ask for a full wedding to see the breadth of their work.

  • This is kind of an amazing post.

  • That is a really awesome post and I think you nail it! I also took a stab at answering that question from a bit of a step by step perspective…

  • Kristi

    Awesome post! FYI: as much as we loved so many of the photographers in the APW vendors, and I feel many of them are resonably priced (especially for NYC!) all we’re still out of budget for us. Ah, Hart and Sol — we loved you! We were torn between DIYing our photography or hiring a family friend whose photos just did nothing for us but would have been free. The photography is so, so important to me. So we kept looking. We’re really in love with the photojournalistic wedding style, so I came across this site (wedding photojournalist association) and we were able to find a lovely photographer with an assistant for a considerably cheaper rate. We met with her and said that family portraits are also something that she does because most people do want those. Just something to think about! :)

  • This post was a breath of fresh air in a classic-APW way. Thanks so much, Maddie!

    I chose our photographer (found in the APW directory!) mostly based on budget, although it was important to me that her style matched what we’re looking for. But I don’t know that much about photography (of people, at least), so I have been worrying about whether or not she will be a GREAT photographer. Maddie’s last two tips were so freeing.

    The truth is, we liked her pictures a lot. And we liked her. So, done, and done.

  • I’m glad the point about the difference in skills (and equipment needs) between photographing an outdoor daytime wedding versus an indoor, low-light wedding was brought up. We did the indoor, low-light environment and were thankful our photographer got good shots. But I know it was challenging and required a certain level of quality in our photographer’s skills, but also quality of the camera and lens to achieve that. So, looking for examples that parallel your type of wedding, amount of light, and type of venue is great advice!

  • Littleredcat

    I picked out my photographer by looking at the (old) vendor listings on APW, contacting the two or three who worked near where I got married, met with the one who responded, was in my price range and could meet me on the one day I was in town, and that was pretty much it. I don’t want to brag, but I think I got the best wedding photos ever.

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  • At Capture Life Photography, based in Melbourne, we remember that its all about you… we aim to capture every special moment from the detail in the wedding dress to the first time you kiss as Mr & Mrs…. We know this decision is one of the most important, so that your entire day is captured for a lifetime in photographic memories. Take a look at our affordable packages and I look forward to hopefully meeting with you and your fiance’ to chat about your upcoming wedding day. or visit our facebook page.

  • Great article.This very helpful for to-be-married couples.Keep the good work up!

  • Kim Kennedy

    Hi Maddie, thanks for sharing such an awesome post. Really enjoyed reading it. For beautiful wedding photography please visit

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