When Rob and I first got engaged we had planned on just enjoying that time in our lives for a bit. We didn’t want to rush into planning. But then people started asking so many questions. Had we set a date? Had we selected a location? When was I going to get a dress? The questions alone stressed me out. Mostly because I didn’t know the answers. There were just so many options. I can be very decisive when it comes to work (the right moment to take a picture, how to tackle a project) but when it comes to personal decisions, it’s more of a challenge for me.
I’m the type who circles my favorite store three or four times before I go to the register to buy anything. I need to make sure there was no missed opportunity, no hidden gem, nothing that I had previously overlooked. But in the busy pace of wedding planning, that’s not always an option. You can’t always circle back to a vendor or venue because, unlike that stack of sweaters at a store, they might not be available anymore.
When it came to planning our own wedding, Rob and I decided to tackle each task one by one. Small chunks are much easier for me when it comes to large personal decisions. Whenever we started to feel overwhelmed, we would step back and prioritize. And then maybe enjoy a glass of wine.
So we know how it is, all you newly engaged couples out there, furrowing your brow and stressing over all the checklists and vendor options before you. I promise, it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. And we’d like to help, at least with the one topic we happen to know the most about: wedding photography. Unsurprisingly, we believe that selecting a photographer is one of the most important decisions you will be making in your planning process. Your photos are one of the very few things from your wedding day that will increase in value over time.
Of course, we'd love to think our team includes the perfect photographer for every couple out there, but we know this is not always the case. Even if we're not what you're looking for, we still want you to have amazing photos and find the perfect photographer for you. So I've put together a step-by-step guide to help you find the perfect photographer for you.
1: DETERMINE YOUR STYLE
There is no shortage of wedding images to look at when you’re a newly-engaged couple. From magazines and blogs to Pinterest it’s a virtual flood of photographs. Start narrowing it down to the type of images that speak to you personally.
What type of style do you like? Classic, story-telling images? High fashion, dramatic images? Light, airy romantic images? Knowing what style you like best is a good way to help narrow down the many photographer’s websites you're going to be visiting.
Do keep in mind that photography trends come and go, so make sure that you are selecting a photographic style that you will love far into the future. You don't want to look back and see that your images are the equivalent of the white bell-bottomed tuxedos that were popular in the ’70's.
2: SEEK OUT RECOMMENDATIONS & READ REVIEWS
In most cases, your wedding day (or engagement session) will be the first time you’ll be working with your photographer. So it’s worthwhile to seek out the advice of those who already have worked with them. You can ask your friends and family who have already been married about their wedding photographer. Look through their pictures and, even more, ask about their experience. Also, ask your venue coordinator, florist or wedding planner which photographers they truly enjoy working along side. This will give you insight into how well your photographer will work with the other vendors that are part of your day.
For the photographers that you are interested in that you don't have personal recommendations for, check the web for reviews. Do they post client testimonials on their website? Check sites like Wedding Wire, the Best Business Bureau, even their Facebook Business page to see what other brides have to say.
Don't be afraid to ask a photographer for references if you can't find any online, they should be more than happy to share these with you.
3: CHECK OUT THEIR WEBSITES
Websites are a photographer's virtual storefront. It's a reflection of who they are and the way they want to present their work. Imagine each photographer's site as if it was an actual store. Would you feel comfortable going inside? Would you be able to navigate it easily? What do you think about their images? Could you see yourself in any (or all) of them? Is their style reflective of your own?
Does the site feature a lot of weddings? Is their work consistent? An experienced photographer knows how to work in a variety of venues, lighting situations and weather conditions. If from image to image it almost looks as though a different photographer could have shot every event, this could be a red flag. You'll probably be hiring this photographer a year or more in advance of your wedding, so knowing that their work is consistent is a good indication that when they show up for your wedding day, you can be confident that you'll love the results.
Bottom line, how do you feel when you look the images? You should have a reaction to them. If the images don't make you emotional (make you smile, make you excited for your wedding day, even maybe make you tear up a bit), than that's probably not the photographer for you.
Ultimately, you should like your photographer. You should enjoy being around them. Your wedding is a day that you will remember for the rest of your life, so you want to look back with fond memories of all the moments of the day. That should include the time you spent taking pictures. Ideally, your photographer should make you feel at ease and relaxed while they are getting shots of the two of you, your bridal party and your family.
Seasoned photographers know when to blend into the background and just capture what's unfolding in front of them (like when you're talking with your father the few minutes before you walk down the aisle, during all of your ceremony and first dance) and when to step forward and make sure everything moves quickly and smoothly (like helping keep you on time in the morning and helping to gather and set up family for those important group shots). After talking with or meeting a potential photographer - ask yourself, would you feel comfortable having this person around during some of your most emotional, personal moments?
Ask them: how did they get started photographing weddings? What drew them to this line of work? This is a great way to judge their personal level of passion for not only photography, but for wedding photography specifically. That is why it's very important to know exactly who will be photographing your day. Some large studios have a number of photographers that they work with and don't assign yours until a few weeks before your wedding. This can be problematic because even if you don't like the photographer they assigned you, there's probably little you can do about it so close to the date.
The very best way to test compatibility is to do an engagement session. It's the perfect opportunity to see how the photographer works and to find out how comfortable you feel with them. Believe it or not, getting your picture taken can actually be a lot of fun, with the right photographer.
5: KNOW YOUR BOTTOM LINE
We might be a bit biased, of course, but we firmly believe that photography should be a significant part of your budget. These are more than just photographs - they are the first heirlooms of your family, the images that you will show your children and grandchildren. It's not really the place where you should skimp.
You'll probably quickly discover that wedding photography can be expensive. There is a reason for that. It's because the photographer(s) is committing quite a bit of time to you - not just for the engagement session and wedding day, but also for hours of editing, travel, and prep and post work that is a part of every shoot. That's not to mention the other expenses - employees, gear, software, shipping, insurance (health/business), etc. So, with that in mind, make sure what you have budgeted is actually realistic in comparison to how much your favorite photographers are charging. You might find that you'd be better off cutting corners in another area of the budget to make sure you can hire that dream photographer. A great photographer can make even the most inexpensive wedding look gorgeous.
Of course, it has to be said that one of the biggest challenges in hiring a photographer is that it may seem like photography prices are all over the place. Two photographers could seem to charge the exact same amount. Let’s say one includes just a photographer (or two) for your wedding day and the other includes the photographers, an album for you, and an album for each set of parents. The second one seems like a better deal - right? Maybe, maybe not.
The most important thing when hiring a photographer is that you love their photos. Really, really love them. Because that "better deal" really loses it's value if you have three albums filled with images that you think are just "okay.” It's a much better deal to hire the photographer whose images you absolutely love. Albums can always be added after the wedding - with the full confidence that those albums will in fact be filled with images that you will adore.
6: DON'T JUST JUMP IN
It's an unfortunately common story: a couple that hates their photos because they decided to cut a few corners and hire "a family friend" or a photography student looking to try their hand at weddings to "save money." Really, this could be one of the most expensive mistakes you could make. Nothing is as costly as a regret, especially when it comes to something like the documentation of your wedding. Hiring a friend could work, if (and usually ONLY if) that family friend is a professional photographer (we have photographed some of own friends and families weddings over the years).
Just beware of anything that seems too good to be true. I know it might seem like photographing a wedding is an easy task, but it's one of the most challenging photographic experiences there is - a variety of lighting situations and managing a time schedule all while watching for unexpected moments to capture and arranging group photos. Professionals know just how to do this in a way that makes it seem simple. Really good ones actually have fun while doing it. Of course, there are the exceptions to the rule. Sometimes a person new to the field can do an amazing job and you could love your photos. You just have to ask yourself if that's a chance you're willing to take.
In our home, we display images from our own family weddings - parents, grandparents. We keep those old wedding photos out as a reminder that what we do is more than just take a photo, we are preserving a memory so generations can appreciate them well into the future. It's why we take what we do so seriously. You should look for a photographer who understands the weight of the responsibility of the job they are undertaking in capturing your day.
The wedding industry is flooded with tons of options for brides and grooms. Weighing those options can be difficult, but hopefully with the help of this checklist you can find a photographer you can trust who will leave you smiling long after your wedding day.