For a lot of people, figuring out how to hire a wedding photographer is usually done fairly early in the planning process. This is probably for a few reasons. It feels like one of the bigger wedding planning tasks (because it is, if you’re hiring a photographer), and if you’re planning to shoot engagement photos or additional portrait sessions, you want to go ahead and plan those out. Plus, some wedding photographers book out well in advance (and there are only so many weekends during wedding season), which means locking in the photographer of your choice is all about timing.
Or is it? Yes, obviously, timing is mega important… but when it comes to your photographer, there are other things you need to consider early in the planning process.
know what style you like
I don’t mean that you need a perfectly curated Pinterest-friendly Instagram feed before you start looking for your wedding photographer, but I do mean that you should have some kind of visual idea of what you want your photos to look like. Are you into darker, moodier photography? Cool, then don’t go with someone who skews toward overexposure. Do you want someone who shoots with film? Great, make sure you include that in your search terms. Are you ultra into an abundance of natural light? Sub-question: Will your venue actually be filled with natural light? Awesome, find those people. If you’re feeling totally lost, ask people you know who have amazing wedding photos who they hired, and go from there.
know your venue
Remember what I just said about natural light? Okay, good. I am personally a huge fan of natural light and venues that have tons of it, and a lot of my work reflects that. That’s because I intentionally share photos that I think best showcase what I do—and that’s what a lot of photographers do. So if you’re getting married in a dimly lit room and you hired someone who usually shoots outside in fields, just know that your photographer can’t transport all that light into a room that doesn’t have it. Sure, your photographer can and should be able to work with any venue, but if you’re choosing a photographer because of what that person excels at, it’s helpful if your wedding fits the bill.
And when it comes to lighting (a super key element in photography), the APW Planner has great advice:
When looking at a photographer’s portfolio, look for weddings shot in lighting environments similar to what you expect at your wedding. Ask how the photographer would handle your particular situation. (Some photographers use external lights for dark receptions; others may rely on a camera’s ability to see well in the dark.) If you notice shots taken in dim lighting are all processed in black and white, that’s a hint that the photographer may not be super-comfortable in darker situations.
sketch out a budget before you inquire
Maybe you don’t know exactly how much money you have to spend on a photographer, but few things are as hard on everyone as when a couple inquires with a photographer who is out of budget in the hopes that they will magically… not be. Everyone gets invested. You get invested in work you love, and your photographer gets invested in starting the booking process and breathing a sigh of relief because, hey! They still have a job. You don’t need to know your entire budget, but you do need to know if you have $1,000 for a photographer, or $2,500, or more than $4,000, and inquire accordingly.
meet your photographer in person (skype is okay, if you must)
I think few things are as valuable as an in-person meeting, for both the couple and the photographer. Because trust: the best wedding photos happen when the couple and photographer could be friends in real life, outside of the wedding. This doesn’t mean you will be friends, or that you even want to (it is absolutely fine to just want a client-professional relationship with your vendors), but it always helps to know the potential is there. You want someone who is talented, who matches your vibe, and who the two of you (both! Not just one of you) hit it off with. Sitting down with a cup of coffee or over a glass of wine is a great way to find out if someone is that person. And I’ll let you in on a secret: this goes both ways. Your photographer also needs to know if you guys all fit together, because few things are harder than having to meet expectations that were never realistic.
Luckily, most of the time a couple and a photographer are a great fit, because a lot of couples do research and set up meetings with photographers they think they’ll like. But every so often, for one reason or another, it just doesn’t work out, and that’s okay. Your photographer can probably point you in the direction of someone they know who might work, and no one’s feelings will get hurt.
have your questions ready
It is always a really great idea to have at least a handful of questions ready for your photographer when you sit down. Examples:
- How do you describe your style, and how would others describe it?
- Is there any part of the day you don’t or won’t photograph?
- Can other guests have cameras at the wedding?
- What do your packages include? Is any part of your package negotiable?
- Our wedding will be at the beach/in a dark room/at sunset. Do you have experience with this?
- Can we see an entire edited wedding?
- What is your favorite part of a wedding?
- How do you handle stressful parts of the day?
- What vendors do you most recommend we hire to help the day run smoothly? Do you have vendors you can refer us to?
- How long after the wedding will we receive our photos? (FYI: Faster doesn’t always mean better.)
- What rights will we have to the photos? What publication rights does the photographer retain?
On top of those, don’t worry about getting extremely specific. Like, the more details the better—your photographer might shoot fifty-two weddings a year, or more!—but that doesn’t mean that they’ve dealt with something that’s happening at yours. And even if it does, then great. You’ll find out they already know how to handle potentially adverse situations.
Try to get real reviews
Generally speaking, people tend to give glowing reviews of the vendors who worked on their weddings, and those people tend to deserve it. However, just because someone is amazing doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t have weaknesses. If you want to know how previous couples would describe the photographer, ask if you can be connected with one or two and then ask the couple specific questions (assuming they’re okay with it). Past couples may feel more comfortable laying out the positive and less-than-positive aspects of working with a specific person.
if you’re feeling nice, follow up
This is totally not required, but if you’re meeting with more than one photographer, it’s always nice to send a quick follow-up “Hey, we loved you, but went with someone else” email. Any photographer worth their weight in photos will appreciate knowing (and if they immediately try to low-ball or counter-offer, dismiss them).