Where do I start?
Choosing a photographer to cover your wedding is a big decision, and it's not an inexpensive one. If you're like most people, the tough thing about this decision is that you probably haven't had opportunity to hire a photographer in the recent past (or ever.) That means that you finally have a circumstance that is really, really important to you, but you have very little experience with making this decision. Gee. No pressure or anything.
Your photographer is an intimate participant in your event, and we have the power to be a great ally if you choose wisely. You spend hours and so much money planning a wedding day; if you're able to find the right intersection of style, personality and budget in a responsible photographer, you will be overjoyed with your experience, and the memories that you'll keep for a lifetime.
I'm happiest when I'm working with clients that are excited about the work that I do and the way I do it. My clients are happiest when they truly want what I offer. I believe this is true for most photographers that are passionate about their work. Believe it or not, I have turned people away when I truly feel they are making the wrong decision for themselves.
So I hope I can help you out now. Here we go:
1) Know what you're looking for.
Before you go perusing websites and making phone calls, you have to know what kind of lasting memories you want. HOW DO YOU WANT YOUR PHOTOS TO FEEL? Joyful? Authentic? Do you like images that tell a story, and have a natural look to them? Or do you want something edgy? Flawless? Glamorous? Maybe you prefer posed photos? Or something really specific - like a photographer that makes your photos look like they were from 1802?
I cannot stress enough: it is worth spending the money on a good photographer. I don't say this because I'm a photographer - I say this as someone that has had a wedding, and has been to many weddings. You will spend time, energy and money planning a meaningful wedding, and those memories are often sealed or defined by the way your day is documented. Find a photographer whose work you love, and that you connect with. You will never, ever regret that choice.
2) Know what you're looking at.
Every good photographer has a distinctive style that represents their artistic vision--the way we share stories through our lens.* (* If you're looking at a photographer's images and you don't see any evidence of a personal style, I recommend that you look elsewhere. There's a big difference between "taking a picture" and "making a photo." If you just want any old person with a camera, buy your cousin a camera.)
Some photographers love dramatic or glamorous images, and they're great at making those. Some photographers are great at the artistic boudoir-shots. I have a very photojournalistic style - I love for my images to pick up on natural moments, energy and intimacy, so you almost feel like you're back in the moment, experiencing what you see. Not everyone wants this - but the couples that work with me sure do.
It's not about Googling "photography styles." You don't need to be able to name what you're seeing to know whether you like it. It's this simple: as photographers, the images we showcase in our portfolios are indicative of our style, of what images make us proudest. If you look at a portfolio and think "I LOVE THIS. I want wedding photos that feel like these images," that probably means you like the photographer's style.
A good photographer can logistically pull off shots that aren't our primary strength, but we're going to be best at our own style. It's just the way we see things. For example, at events, I always get any group portraits you might request...but my best group shots are often the ones I catch in the midst of this process, when people are arranging themselves, laughing together, etc. I love that, and if you value natural, in-the-moment photos, you'll love my work too. But if you made the mistake of hiring someone like me when lots of posed shots are important to you, neither of us is going to be happy.
3) Work with someone you like!
THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT! Your photographer is going to be following you around during your event. We're often a stranger to you, yet we get the best seat in the house--we're front and center, and up close and personal at every moment. Here's where a combination of your photographer's style and your photographer's personality will come together to impact your day.
We're people. We come in all forms and personalities. So find a photographer with a personality that works for you.
No matter what style you're looking for, you should avoid Photographers that strike you as rigid, controlling, churlish...or jerks of any kind. This shouldn't require explanation: you don't want a jerk next to you all day! On the opposite end of things, You should also be wary of photographers that seem flimsy or unable to assert themselves - you want to feel confident that your photographer is in command of their own work when your wedding day comes.
It's a real skill to balance guidance with flexibility: we
should be able to guide you in an effort to get you truly beautiful
images, but must also be flexible and supportive, because ultimately it
is your day to enjoy, not our personal photo shoot.
This is a big day in your life, and it is our job to honor you through our work and our attitude.
As you know, a wedding can be full of crazy variables, and so is wedding photography. The best wedding photographer is calm, warm, excited for you and able to adapt without getting frustrated. Since this person will be attached to you, hovering over you and those you love at a time that you may all be excited, nervous, overwhelmed or emotional, it's important that you feel good about her or his personality. Trust your gut.
4) Understand what you're paying for:
It's hard to quantify photography work to set prices. Most photographers work longer and harder than our clients will ever realize. When I shoot a ten hour event, I spend an average of 15-20 hours on prep work (communicating with and meeting with you, visiting the venue, technical prep, pre-event photos, our engagement session) and anywhere from 30-50 hours afterwards (editing hundreds of photos, creating galleries, putting together a slideshow, compiling digital files for my clients, designing albums). Of course, we don't charge by the hour in the traditional sense, so we have to come up with packages that quantify and limit the use of our resources based on your event.
So what does that mean for you as a client? Here's a rundown of the common forms pricing takes:
-HOURS of COVERAGE: Some photographers have packages based on the number of hours they will cover an event. While the "hourly" price may seem high to you, it's because you're not only paying for the shoot time--every hour at an event means hundreds of additional images, which means exponentially greater hours of post-processing work.
-NUMBER OF PHOTOS: Some photographers base packages on the number of final images they will give you. This doesn't mean they won't shoot tons of photos, just that they will only select and work on a set number at the end.
-PHOTO RIGHTS/PRINTS: Some photographers don't charge a lot for their time, but instead make money through prints that they hope you'll purchase after your event. Some photographers commit to giving you a CD or USB drive with all your digital images. Some don't. If you are not getting digital images, you will have to pay for any prints/rights to images you want at a price set by your photographer. Similarly, if you're getting digital files as part of your package, find out if they are full-resolution and color-corrected. Some photographers may send you smaller proofs or un-corrected files, in which case you'll have to order through them to get photos in their full glory. This is completely within a photographer's rights as a business owner - just things you'll need to factor in to know what to expect.
-PRODUCTS: Hardbound, traditional albums are actually quite pricey, ranging in price from $800 to $2000 apiece. Most photographers won't make money on the product itself, but will charge you for the expense of designing (or outsourcing the design of) your album and other products. Now, if you're thinking long-term, nothing compares with a classic, bound, acid free, professional legacy album, which will last you for a lifetime. However, if you truly can't afford it, these days, hundreds of sites give you the freedom to design decent, soft paper books yourself, so you might consider a package that simply gives you all your prints in digital form.
5) Remember that we're human
Remember that your photographer is a person. While I've amazed myself with my ability to forget my bladder and stomach when I'm in the throes of documenting an event, I do still have organs. We will need to take an occasional break to use the restroom, to eat, drink or just to roll our shoulders and sit for five minutes after carrying heavy equipment for hours on end.
Most good photographers will know your itinerary well, in order to plan for those gaps--but it's always in good taste to consider a space in the room for your photographer to place their equipment and sit, and you should include them in your head count for a meal (many caterers offer a discounted vendor meal). If you've got a marathon event, with hundreds of guests - and you want images of everyone and everything - you may need to plan for a budget that incorporates multiple photographers.
6) Responsible business practices
At the end of the day, you're paying for a product and service. To me, Wedding Photography is about two things: the art of capturing moments, and the logistical business of working with clients/delivering on our promises. We have to be good at both. A solid professional will be communicative, and will clearly lay out what you can expect (and shouldn't expect), in terms of our presence during your event, and when to anticipate receiving your items once all is said and done. When you're dealing with someone that communicates well, it should make you more comfortable on your wedding day. It should also help you plan realistically afterwards. You should not have to chase your photographer for information -- we should be keeping you posted on important dates and information. Make sure your photographer's contract includes general timeline information, and look up reviews from past clients.