What to Avoid & What to Look For

To me, having a great photographer was one of the most important details of my wedding day. We spent a quarter of our budget on the photographer, which was more than we spent on any other thing. And I absolutely stand behind that decision. You can create the most gorgeous details and have wonderful ambiance at your wedding. And many of those memories will be with you forever. But one of the reasons that I love photography so much is that it captures little atoms of a moment. It is a jumping off point for your brain to go down the trail of memories that follows the spark of the moment in a photo. The time and effort that I put into my details is perfectly captured in beautiful, well-exposed, sharp pictures.

If you go to a poorly executed website with poor pictures and hire the photographer because of their pricing, do not complain about the quality of photos you get afterwards. If they showcase underexposed grainy photos with selective color bouquets and goofy poses, just remember that those are their best work. Unless you can find a talented photographer who is just starting out and needs to build a portfolio and client base, photographers charging under $1,000 might not be your best investment. Repeat. Hire the young talented photographer who is building their client base? Yes. They can afford to be paid only $1,000 because they have to make due and it’s temporary pricing for them. However, professional full time photographers cannot make a decent living by charging that little unless they never get a weekend off. Four thousand dollars might sound like an insane cost for a day of shooting and it was certainly more than our budget.

Remember that your wedding photographer will not actually make four thousand dollars. They have to market, to hire a second shooter, spend hours editing, meet with you, prepare your proofs, e-mailing you, booking you and planning out the photo aspect of your day. Add paying tax on the bookings, gas money to get to the location, equipment and business insurance, website costs and more. If you break down their charges per hour, you might be very surprised at how much they are actually making. I only explain all of this because I keep hearing that people think photographers overcharge just because they can. That may be true of some, but professional photographers are worth the money.

How can you tell who is a fantastic professional photographer and who you should avoid? Below is my list of warning signs when searching for someone to capture your wedding day. Keep in mind that this list is my only a list of my opinions, created to identify what I wanted in a photographer.

Avoid Wedding Photographers Who:

–          Have terrible websites: Photographers are artists, and if their marketing “canvas” is a hard-to-read, non-intuitive mess, I click the red x.

–          Use color selection often: This warning sign might only scare other photographers, but unless it is done really well, it usually looks really tacky.

–          Photos with too much flash: I’m a natural light photographer who uses reflectors and low apertures keep my photos lit. There is nothing wrong with using flash if it is done appropriately. But I don’t think that every wedding day photo should have a full fill flash in it. It can create some stunning images, but it can also eliminate some of the soft and natural beauty of a setting.

–          Blurry photos. I love sharp, well composed photos. In the picture below, you can see that one person is sharply in focus and the photo is well set up. I feel like I’m almost standing there listening to their conversation!

I’ve been following the blogs, tweets and websites of photographers for years. I’ve spent a lot of time listening to the pleasantries and gripes that wedding professionals within the industry have experienced.

One piece of advice when it comes to choosing your wedding photographer? Do not go download an insane list of questions from a wedding website. I’m not even a wedding photographer and just reading the number of insulting, insanely high maintenance and totally inappropriate questions that some bridal bloggers suggest asking your potential photographer made me feel kind of furious. DO NOT be that bride, for the love of Zeus. I’m referring to the one who meets a photographer and asks her for eight hundred specific poses. Don’t do it. You need to hire a professional if you want professional pictures. You don’t go to the dentist and give him/her drilling tips. You don’t go to the gym and correct your trainer when he/she takes you through your exercises. Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t ask for ANY specific shots. If you have some special requests, I’m sure that your photographer will be more than happy to spotlight what you value. My photographer asked specifically if I had any important details or family moments that I wanted to document. I had three and she captured them perfectly. But do not bring an insulting list of poses like “hand on spouse’s shoulder” or “arms around one another’s waist”. These people are professional photographers. They actually do this for a living. If you can’t trust that they know what they are doing, you definitely shouldn’t be hiring them. I’d rather hire an artist and trust their vision than give them a paint by color any day.

On that note, here is the list of questions that I brought to my meeting with Julie Branyan:

  1. Photography style? Photojournalistic, posed, formal?
  2. Do you like whimsy, DIY, farmhouse, desert weddings (like my venue’s setting)?
  3. Do you use a shot list? How does a typical wedding timeline go for you?
  4. Do you feel comfortable with nighttime outdoor shots? There should be plenty of light but you never know!
  5. What equipment do you have?
  6. Confirm: the cd with full print rights means that I can print my pictures anywhere with your consent form, and this comes with every wedding package.
  7. How many shots do you get from a wedding before you cull?
  8. Have you shot weddings in such a unique setting with so many people? We might have between 100 and 300 and we’re eating on a porch in the desert. Weird right?
  9. Do we need to pay mileage/expenses if you’re driving out of Phoenix? The venue is just past Fountain Hills.
  10. Do you mind if other aspiring photographers take pictures around you? I don’t think they’d be invasive, but you’re not bothered by a couple other DSLR’s floating around right?
  11. We have a written contract – review – discuss worst case scenarios
  12. Who is your favorite photographer? Or a few?
  13. What is the sales tax here?
  14. Do you want to make a scouting trip to my location or are you comfortable just showing up that day? It is a little bit off the beaten path.
  15. Do you have liability insurance?
  16. Do you do “First Looks” and the like?
  17. Do you have a wedding that I can see in its entirety?
  18. Thank you for meeting with me! + Thank You Card

Let me explain a little bit about the questions I asked. First, many of these questions are more detailed than a non-photographer would need to ask a photographer. You probably don’t need to ask about equipment unless you know what constitutes good equipment. I would definitely ask if guests using DSLRs around the photographer bothers them. If you have a relative that will bring a giant camera to your wedding and give you some great shots, fantastic. But you might need to talk to some of them beforehand about making sure that they give your professional photographer some space. Some well-intentioned relatives have been known to invade the set ups, shots and space of professional photographers and it usually drives them nuts. After all, you do not want your first kiss shot ruined because Uncle Bob jumped in front of your photographer as they snapped the picture!

Also, several of my questions were more about learning how Julie shoots, who she is and what her temperature as a person is. I’m an anxious person and I would not have been able to handle a photographer who was snippy or rushed me around. Julie was absolutely perfect. She kept me sane during some of the wedding day moments that I felt absolutely ready to melt. I can’t promise that most photographers will do that (so hire Julie!) but she gave me that huge gift on my wedding day. She was comfortable, intelligent, hard working and self motivated. Of course I wanted a talented photographer, but not at the cost of having someone unpleasant or pushy. Everyone who was involved in our wedding day was special to me in some way. I wanted to have a consistently personal and loving group of people to celebrate with us on that day. And whether or not you realize it, your wedding professional team is celebrating with you. They are supporting your dream of a wonderful day with their very physical movement! Don’t hire someone that won’t support your dream.