Recently, three good friends inquired about wedding coverage for either themselves or their immediate families. While I was humbled and honored that they were considering me to document such an important day, I could not help but think, “What if there is a better photographer match for them?” It is not that I wanted to discourage them from hiring me or that I felt in any way incompetent; it is that hiring a wedding photographer entails much more than affording a package and liking a few photos from their portfolio. With that in mind, I wrote the following text to help them make an informed choice.
The flavorful food, the exotic drinks, the beautiful décor, all of that will be gone past your wedding day, but your photos, whether in print or digital format, will be the only visual memories you will have to bring back the magic of your big day. Given their importance, I kindly offer the following advice.
- Interview more than one photographer, and do so as soon as you can. Some wedding photographers are fully booked a year in advance.
- You must like (or love!) his/her current work as your wedding photos will be consistent with it.
- In addition to their website, check their social media accounts. These can give you a better understanding for personality and other traits you may consider important.
- Interview her/him In Person (I cannot stress this enough). Do you feel comfortable around him/her? Will you want them around you ALL day? If you do not feel comfortable having a male main photographer document your getting-ready photos, ask if he has a female second shooter to cover that portion of the day.
- Request to see at least one full gallery to give you an idea of what full-day coverage looks like: getting-ready, bridal portraits (my favorite!), ceremony, formal portraits, ring shots, venue details, candid shots (my second favorite!), dancing, etc.
- When you meet, he should go over your timeline with you and offer some insight into it --but not to the extent a wedding planner would do; those are separate jobs.
- Do NOT ask your photographer to come at 7 am for 1 hour, at noon for another hour, in the afternoon for a few more hours. No! Your photographer cannot book any other clients in between those slots. Therefore, coverage is continuous.
- Review the contract (a contract is a MUST: it protects you and him/her).
- Once you book and pay for the retainer, he/she will probably ask you to compile a list of the important groupings (family/bridal party/etc) for the "family formals."
- Ask questions, as many as you need to:
- When will we get our photos?
- How many photos should we expect for the number of hours we are hiring you for?
- Will we get high-resolution files with no watermark? (some photographers charge extra for that)
- Do you design wedding albums and how much are they? (if you are interested; the quality is NOT the same as the Costco or Shutterfly ones)
- Do you have backup gear in case your photo equipment fails?
- What if your memory card gets damaged? (most professional cameras have dual slots so that you write to 2 memory cards simultaneously)
- What if you get a flat tire or run into traffic? (a reliable photographer will leave early enough to accommodate for that)
- What if you get sick the day of? (hiring a second shooter he/she trusts and who can take over if needed would be crucial here)
- Do you carry insurance liability? (we set up light stands which guests can trip with, to give you just one example)
- Will you back up our wedding files somewhere else? What if your computer's hard drive fails?
- How many weddings have you shot and/or second shot?
- Why do you shoot weddings? (optional question)
- Will you share our photos on social media? (you can request not to if you want to keep your wedding photos private)
- Book an engagement session if your budget and time allow for it. You will get to know your photographer in a relaxed environment, learn to pose for the camera, and feel more confident for your wedding day. May I add that it is an excellent opportunity to do a trial run for your hair and makeup?
- Be considerate to the photographers you interview. Show up on time.
- If they disclose their package pricing beforehand, do not schedule a meeting with them and try to haggle, especially if you know you definitely cannot afford them. Do meet if you think you may be able to stretch your budget to be able to afford their excellent work and customer service.
- If after meeting them, you feel that they are not a match, send them a brief note thanking them for their time and letting them know of your decision.
Wedding photography is hard. Sometimes we leave at 7 am and come back at 1 am next day. The main photographer has to invest about 40 hours of work per wedding (meeting with clients, planning, getting equipment ready, shooting non-stop for an entire day sometimes in stressful situations, offloading the files and making backups, going through thousands of photos to narrow it down to several hundred (called "culling"), editing all of them (the files are in raw format and are not ready to be turned in as they come out of the camera; they are not jpg files) and retouching a few like bridal portraits more extensively (this depends on the photographer; some will charge extra for any photoshopping as it takes additional effort, meaning more hours of work). If the photographer is running a legitimate business (business license, liability insurance), then you have to pay taxes on that self-employment income. I mention all of this to give you an idea of what wedding photography entails and why it appears to be expensive.
Lastly, I hope that the well-meaning advice helps you choose a wedding photographer who is the perfect match for you! :-)