Here Is Your Guide for How to Hire a Wedding Photographer

In six steps (or less)

close up shot of a camera with a woman in the background

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).

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  • JenC

    I definitely second meeting with the photographers in person. I spoke with two photographers who were in our budget and arranged to meet them. The first was more promising before the meeting, he used all the buzzwords on his website and when I spoke to him on the phone he seemed great and his prices seemed fair. The second photographer was a married couple, they’re website was a little less mobile device friendly and when I spoke with the man he seemed more distracted than the first photographer.

    I met with the first photographer and he told me how we would do the day. I asked if he did posed photos because I wasn’t too keen on those and he told me in no certain terms that we wouldn’t be doing posed photos because it didn’t fit his style. Ok, fine. He told me we had to do a fake cake cutting and he wouldn’t do our first dance because he “wouldn’t be able to get any better photos than any other guest would get”. I asked if we could change the hours and skip photos of me getting ready for a chance to have our first dance photographed. He told me every bride wants photos of them getting ready and I wouldn’t miss my first dance over those photos. I asked him if he needed a list of photos we’d like and he asked me “would you tell your mechanic how to do his job?” I left that meeting feeling like I was being demanding and the dreaded bridezilla.

    At the next meeting with the married couple it was just easy. They explained how they liked to take photos and what they liked to focus on. They asked if there was anything different about our wedding or anything we wanted captured. When I asked about poses they said we didn’t have to do poses if we didn’t want and we could do a quiet walk and they would hide and take unobtrstive photos. When I asked if they’d be there for the first dance, they said it was one of their favourite bits. When I asked about a photo list they said not to make it too long but absolutely to give them a list because how did they know what bits we wanted capturing. It just clicked with them and I completely trusted them. I made the decision to book them without my husband having met them as he studying at the time. They met him a couple of weeks later and he agreed (phew!) our personalities all just clicked. We got the feels with them.

    Trusting our photographers just made everything easier. I could ask them what they thought about something and knew that the passion they had for their job and their experience would give us the best possible option. Towards the end I actually deferred to them for a lot of our timings for the day, which we had no problems with. During the day, it was so cold and it was too cold to have some of the photos taken. Our photographers came up to me at our reception and asked us if we wanted to go through the list of photos we wanted, the formal portraits and the group pictures and I told them no because I trusted them to get the best possible photos without relying on a list. We don’t have as many formal portraits as we’d have possibly liked before the wedding but instead we have such wonderful photos. We have a photo of my mum, his mum and my step mum all laughing with a glass of red wine each. I have a photo of my older flower girl putting on her dancing shoes and my younger flower girl mimicking her on the floor. I have the most awesome photo of our first dance where we are slowly dancing in the middle of the floor and everyone is madly dancing around us, everyone is on the floor and so happy but just letting us have a moment. I wouldn’t have those pictures if I didn’t follow up with an actual meeting because I would have gone with first photographer. It’s hard to always meet all vendors, especially planning from a distance like we did, but if photography is a priority to you I think make the effort to meet them.

  • This is all such great advice! I would add one thing, so that you can learn from my mistake. :) I think when I was wedding planning, I loved looking at portraits of brides and grooms. Bridal couples are so fun to look at! So when I was looking at photographer websites, I was bored looking at the ones with lots of pics of like, kids and grandparents and friends, and favored sites that were heavy on portraiture of the bridal couple. And we loved our photographer, but she was definitely really strong on portraiture and light on pics of guests.

    So when we got our pictures back, guess what? There were a million pictures of my husband and me, and not as many of our families and friends as we were hoping for. (I mean, there were plenty of those too, just lots more of us.) It turns out that when they are your own people, they are a lot more fun to look at pictures of than strangers on websites!

    • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

      I’ve photographed a few weddings, and my co-shooter and I would always make a point of going around and getting photos of every guest there, usually as they were waiting for food to be ready, but were at their tables. I have never been a guest at a wedding where I saw the photographer do anything similar. Some of them, I didn’t show up in the photographer’s album at all, and others I’m only in the photo that I specifically asked them to take of me. (No, it’s not my day, but if I’m all dressed up at a friend’s wedding, I want one photo of myself there for my memories.) If you want photos of all of your guests (because when are you going to see all these people again), definitely let your photographer know you want them, preferably in advance.Related, if you want particular formal shots of various combinations of relatives, write up a list and have someone on hand with a pencil to make sure they’re all taken. I shot a wedding where we asked the couple to provide a list, but they never did. Aside from their very first dance, they were on the dance floor for about 3 songs, because their various relatives kept coming up with new pictures they wanted taken, cornering one of us to ask us to take it, and then dragging everyone back outside, including the bride and groom. They were gracious enough to humor all their relatives, but gosh, I’m sure that’s not how they intended to spend the majority of their reception.

  • Rebecca

    It was so hard to figure out what kind of photography I like. The part about knowing your venue was a big help. A lot of my favorite shots were these incresible dramatic ones – with like cliffs or the ocean or just huge open space. But they were mostly in really dramatic places with pretty small guest lists. And our wedding is bigger and in a pretty but definitely not that kind of breathtaking place.
    Once I started thinking about it in term of our ceremony venue, essentially a grassy knoll, it was easier to compare photographers. It seemed pretty much everyone had some shots from outdoor field weddings.

  • Caitlin

    I’m plus size, so my big thing was “are there any plus size brides in the portfolio?”
    The average size of a woman in the US is size 12, right? So many photographers magically only had size 6 and smaller brides featured. I assumed they either had no experience with bigger brides, or were ashamed of their work.
    The photographer I picked features every wedding she does on her blog and I appreciated being able to see a variety of body shapes and sizes before signing the contract.

  • sofar

    Making sure your personalities mesh is HUGE. I interviewed a bunch of photographers who were like, “What’s your VISION for your wedding? What aesthetic are you trying to convey? Send me a link to your Pinterest board! You have a Pinterest board right?”

    And then I talked to a guy who was like, “OK so I just like to take a bunch of really great pictures of all couple’s loved ones. That’s about it.” And I was like, SOLD.

    • NotMotherTheresa

      Yup! Moreover, it’s not necessarily JUST about your personality….also, think about the other people who are going to have to be in lots of pictures (at least if any of them are what could be considered “difficult”)! Honestly, in my case, I sacrificed a teensy amount of style in favor of getting someone who I knew could work well with grouchy old men, because I knew that my family was full of those, and that not just every photographer has the personality for dealing with that. Since I knew I wanted lots of great pictures with my dad and grandfather, I prioritized an ability to work with them. There were a few photographers who I thought seemed a *tad* more talented, but knowing that everyone would get along well was more important.

      • sofar

        Totally! I knew our photographer wouldn’t be a total pretentious douche and alienate everyone. He also radiated an aura of CALM, which was necessary considering how many children we needed photographs of.

        I hope you got lots of heart-melting pics with your dad and grandpa!

        • NotMotherTheresa

          The wedding was three weeks ago, so I’m still waiting to see the pictures! But if she did even a half decent job (which I’m certain she did), they will be amazing, because they definitely both melted when they saw me! They may be a couple of impossible old curmudgeons at times, but fortunately, they’re just as expressive of positive emotions:)

  • Sarah Porter

    As a wedding photographer, I really resonate with this post

  • idkmybffjill

    Could you maybe share how to word an inquiry email in regard to budget? I’m married now (yay!) and ADORED our photographer (who was right on budget and had his rates available in his first info email) – but found this to be the trickiest part. Like… I’d email, ask for more information, not get any info on pricing, and then have to say – love your work, what is your range? And it always felt like a lot of wasted correspondence for everyone.

    Should I just have led with, “Hi! Love your work, here’s our date, here’s our budget – should we talk?”.

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  • Chimlin Dao

    As a destination wedding photographer i like your article which is very helpful for finding a good photographer on your special day. It is very important to meet the photographer and tell her/him about your requirements and doubts.

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  • Simon Booth

    I think that a better way these days is to use a social photography app like HappySnapz (Android) and to encourage all attendees to do the same. It’s much better to have 100 photographers taking shots at all angles than a single photographer desperately searching for the best angle.

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