You do a quick internet search and whamo – five billion listings for wedding photographer! Are you kidding me? Next, you try a wedding magazine, a popular one, and check the listings. Row upon row of little thumbnails and listings. Where do you start? Whom do you trust? And can it be less overwhelming?
Know what your budget allows first, before you look.
If I could have had any photographer in the world, the one I would have chosen would have cost us the same as our entire budget. Yes, entire budget! Okay, so we had a tiny budget. 😀
Agree to how important photography is to you, and how much you want to spend. If it is important, add on an extra $1000 to give yourself some shopping room. If it’s not that important to you, then don’t go above the budget you set, and save that money for what IS important to you.
Start with what you know!
First, ask your venue if they have a list of trusted photographers. Many venues keep this list up to date, some don’t, and some actually require the vendors to pay to be listed. Keep an open mind and check them out anyway. Also, ask the person you’ve been working with at the site if they have recommendations. Sometimes they may give you a few extra names not on the lists.
By getting venue lists first, you’re hopefully guaranteeing that you will eliminate those photographers who have only been doing this for a handful of times and threw a few images up on a website. In fact, ask all the venues you visit for their list! Heck, ask your DJ, your florist, your dress shop…everyone!
Visit each of their websites
Which one really appeals to you? Do you see a pattern of styles you like more than others? There are many styles out there, some like me specialize in documentary style, others “editorial” style (like a fashion magazine), and others are more traditional.
Do you see yourselves wanted a lot of posed photos? Why not, right? To show off the dress, the hair, the tux… if so, lean more toward the editorial style. Photographers like me who are documentary like to get our couples back to their party as soon as possible, so we don’t spend as much time with poses and set ups.
Get in touch with no more than five
Five? Why so few? If you go over that number, you’ll find yourselves overwhelmed with the responses and will not be able to keep them straight. By only approaching five or fewer, you can ask questions, take notes, meet in person or by phone, then decide if you need to explore further. At this point, be sure to do some research on Yelp as well as asking for a past bride’s referral or two.
By Email: what to find out before committing to a meeting
Your time is precious – and so is theirs. Ask three things when emailing photographers to weed down to your top three:
1. My date is ______. It will be at ______. Are you available?
(Why do you tell them where the wedding will be? Travel time. I’ve had to decline weddings in Carmel on the day after a wedding in Healdsburg and I’d rather tell them ASAP so they can move on to another photographer)
2. We’re budging between $ and $ thousand, will that fall within your packages range?
(It’s nearly impossible to compare photographers by price because there are so many different variables! But by providing what you’ve budgeted, you’ll be pleasantly surprised how many photographers will go out of their way to help guide you toward something that works, and lets you see quickly if you’ve budgeted enough for your taste level.)
3. Is it possible for me to see an entire wedding on Pictage or on an online proof site?
(The big one! By seeing an entire wedding, you will see what YOU can expect to get. Ask them to pick a wedding that’s similar to yours, ie, outdoors, church, nighttime, etc.)
Meet face to face with only your top three
Again, to keep things from getting overwhelming, only visit with the top three photographers you’ve selected. You’ll be looking for a great fit personality wise, as well as the kinds of products they offer.
In Person: ask the “Anderson Cooper” BIG Questions
Ask every photographer these questions – these makes more sense to you as the client rather than “what kind of camera do you have?” It will quickly separate the professionals who know what they’re doing and do it well from those still “fakin’ it to make it.”
1) How many weddings have you shot as the lead photographer?
2) Are YOU the one who will shoot my wedding? If not, who will be and can I meet him or her? If so, will that be in our agreement?
3) Do you carry insurance to cover the cost of redoing some photos if something happens to my images? What about liability?
4) In case something happens to you and you can’t shoot our wedding, what will you do? Is that in our agreement?
5) Do you color balance my images to make sure they look as beautiful as my day was?
6) Do you bring back up equipment?
7) Are your second shooters actual professional photographers, or people learning on the job?
8) Are all the images on your website from weddings where you were the lead photographer? Were they from you as a second shooter? Were any of the brides models, paid or unpaid, on your website?
9) Can I see an album? Is this the same that’s in your package? How long is this album guaranteed to last? Is this same retouching you’ve done on the images you’ve shown us in this album the same as what we’ll get with our album? Or is it extra?
The Decision: go with your gut!
If something doesn’t seem right, let it go and move on to the next photographer.
Sign with the one you love
But what if they’re out of your budget? Two things –
First, if all of your favorites were out of your budget, it may mean your budget wasn’t realistic to what you want. You’ll either need to go back and adjust your budget to fit your taste level, or reassess the photographers you’ve chosen.
Second, if they’re only slightly outside your budget, see if you can find a way to make it work. Does the photographer offer a registry so guests can help with the costs? Do they have a payment plan? Is there something they’ve included in a package that perhaps come out?
Photographers always prefer to work with couples who really love their work and usually will try to help if they can, but understand that they’re also running a business and may not be able to offer substantial discounts, especially if they’re already offering their package as low as they can go.
Tell the world!
By telling your guests who your photographer is and that you’d love to register with them, enterprising guests will see this as a great opportunity to get you what you want. We’ve seen many a dent in an album thanks to registries! Also, if your photographer is on Pictage, each guest who pre-registers often gets a “thank you” credit towards their print purchase.
Best of luck on your photographer search!