How to Choose a Wedding Photographer You’ll Really LOVE

Did you know that there are approximately 99 trillion wedding photographers** to choose from for your upcoming wedding? If you’ve already started searching, then you’re well aware of this very accurate, scientific calculation of mine.

Some people have an easy time pinning down the perfect photographer for their wedding. Maybe they LOVED the wedding photographer at a friend or family member’s past wedding. Or maybe you have a talented friend you already know you’re going to hire. Whew! … you’re fortunate! That’s one HUGE item you can check off your list!

But if you’re like a lot of couples, you’re going to have to do some leg work and search around until you find the right person for the job. At first, it may seem pretty easy to rule out a portion of the wedding photographers you come across online. Some just aren’t good (in your opinion). Or some are wildly, wildly out of your price range.

So you make that first cut. Easy.

Now you’re left with 88 trillion wedding photographers. As you drift from one web site to the next, you find yourself loving, well, most of what you see from all the different photographers. You can see that they all have different prices (in fact, you might be a little confused why the pricing varies so much from one photographer to the next. More on that later.). You’re not 100% sure what you SHOULD spend on a photographer. And you’re not 100% sure what “style” of photography you want anyway. You just know that each site you’ve looked at has beautiful photos that definitely represent the quality of photos you’d like for your wedding day memories.

And this is why you’re feeling overwhelmed. When the choice doesn’t seem SUPER obvious, then it suddenly becomes a difficult one.

YOU’RE NOT IMAGINING THINGS. THERE ARE A LOT OF REALLY, REALLY, REALLY GOOD PHOTOGRAPHERS OUT THERE!

There really ARE so many incredibly talented photographers in business today. Try not to let this overwhelm you. It’s actually a really great “problem”. Somewhere out there is truly THE perfect person for your special day. And with some patience, you’ll find him or her.

As you’re looking and chatting with photographers, here are a few things to keep in mind.

1.) Personality is EVERYTHING!

Imagine if someone who truly gets on your nerves was with you throughout your entire wedding day … right there by your side while you’re getting ready … standing at the alter … cutting your cake. Now imagine that as you’re gritting your teeth and trying not to roll your eyes every time she speaks, she starts photographing your less-than-pleased expression. And she keeps doing it over and over and over again. That’s what it’s like being photographed on your wedding day by someone you just don’t like.There is no vendor that you will spend more time with on your wedding day than your photographer. You need to not just tolerate this person … but genuinely CLICK with them.

Wait. Can you tolerate him or her if the price is right? Or because your Mom really wants that specific photographer? Simply put, NO. You shouldn’t. Because it will show in your photos. You’re not hiring someone just to capture static photos of your centerpieces (although, those are important too!). You’re hiring someone to capture EMOTION. Therefore, you want to hire someone that elicits GOOD emotions from you. Someone whose energy and presence makes you feel calm, reassured, and happy. You want to feel like this person truly cares about YOU.

If you FEEL good in your photographer’s presence, this will show up in your photos.

Now, here comes the hard part. A photographer’s web site may give you some insight into who he or she is as a person. But you’re going to have to go farther. This brings us to our next point.

2.) In-person meetings are so important!

Meet with prospective photographers in person. Or at the very least, via Facetime or Skype. This is the only way to see if you really “click” with the person. It’s a lot of work to schedule meetings … especially if you’re considering a handful of photographers. But it will pay off in the end. Honestly, something as silly as the photographer’s voice, laughter, potty mouth, etc. could drive you batty. And if so, the person isn’t right for you … even if her work is outstanding.

With so many photographers out there these days, there’s no reason to settle for anyone other than a person who just feels like the perfect fit. 

You want to wait until you find the person who leaves you thinking, “this girl needs to come hang out with my friends and I! Where has she been hiding all these years?!”

3.) Listen to the photographer’s story. 

A great question to ask a photographer while you’re having your in-person meeting is this: “What led you to become a wedding photographer?” And “what’s your favorite part of this job?” Now … sit back and listen carefully. Watch the photographer’s face. You’re looking for someone who starts to come alive as he or she speaks about her job. Not just someone who does this to make ends meet.

Remember, with trillions (literally) of photographers out there, you don’t have to settle. If you aren’t hearing excitement, passion, and joy in the voice of your future wedding photographer as she speaks about her work, then this is probably someone you don’t want to hire for your wedding.

4.) Pricing varies … it helps to understand why.

I know it would be so much easier for brides and grooms if all photographers followed a similar pricing structure. But that’s never going to happen. And simply put, that’s because there will never be two identical wedding photographers. We’re like snowflakes : ) Each photographer is going to offer you a completely different background and skill set. Some will have completed extensive amounts of professional development. Some edit all their photos themselves. Others don’t. Some limit the number of weddings they take per month in order to maximize the energy they can offer clients. Others regularly shoot 3 weddings in a weekend. Some work part-time as photographers. For others, this is their full-time job and only means of supporting their families. Some have been shooting for 10 months. Others, for 10 years. Some are shooting with an arsenal of incredibly expensive equipment. Others have minimal gear. All these differences factor into the price a photographer needs to charge his clients.

Once you understand why the differences exist, it can help you to feel less frustrated by them!

What’s one of the biggest things that will cause a price increase? Years of experience. Once a photographer has literally hundreds of weddings under her belt, she now can offer clients something that newer photographers can’t: a guarantee that she can handle anything your wedding throws her way. She’s already done it all! She’s worked hard over the years learning and growing. As with any business, the more experienced the worker, the higher the salary.Is it really important to you that your photographer has at least five years of experience as a wedding photographer? If so, then you may have to pay more.

Can you find a newer photographer with a lower price who is awesome?! Absolutely. Will you know beyond any shadow of a doubt that this individual can smoothly handle anything your wedding throws her way? No. But for some, the lower price makes it worth the gamble.

Lastly, when it comes to pricing … remember that every photographer offers different end-products. Some will give you all your digital files. Others have lower prices for their services, but then require that you purchase files or prints from them after the wedding. So carefully consider the overall cost of each photographer’s packages.

5.) Decide if you want a trendy style, or something more timeless.

When I first got started in wedding photography 10 years ago (eek, hooooow is it that long ago?!), selective color was THE coolest thing ever. You may not have ever even heard the term “selective color.” Waaaaay back then, people wanted their photos in black and white, with the flowers left in color. Or, maybe the groom’s bow ties in color. I mean … people LOVED it. These days, very, very, veeeery few people want that effect on their photos. It’s just NOT the style anymore. But if that’s how your photographer edited your photos 10 years ago … that’s what you would have in your album today. You may or may not still like the style.

Five years ago, light and airy was the all the rage. Photographers began shooting with film again (great way to get this light and airy look!), or editing their digital files with film overlays to get the look.

And today? It’s all about muted and earthy tones. And elopements to Iceland ; )

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with trends. And there’s nothing wrong with wanting to have your photos captured in a trendy way. It’s simply important to remember, that one day, that trend will be a thing of the past. Will you still love your photos? If so, then look for a photographer who is clearly ROCKING the latest trend. Conversely, if you know that you’d like something more timeless (i.e., classic black and whites, true-to-life colors), there are plenty of photographers who specialize in this type of “classic” photography and you’ll definitely want to work with one of them.

6.) Here’s something important to remember about solo shooters: they could get hit by a truck the week before your wedding.

I reeeeeeeeally hope this doesn’t happen. But it could. This fact scares some people enough that they opt to hire a photography studio that employs a large number of photographers. You may not get to choose which photographer you work with on your wedding day, but you can be absolutely certain that someone will be there. (After all, if one gets hit by a truck, there are 24 others.) The downside to this, of course, is that since you don’t get to choose your photographer, you may or may not like his personality or style of shooting.

Most people opt for a solo photographer … or one not associated with a large studio. And this is simply because, as mentioned in the number one point, personality matters SO much.

The likelihood of your photographer getting hit by a truck is low. But here are a few things to check with the photographer you’re considering hiring:

  • Has she ever had to miss a wedding due to illness?
  • What happens if she is unable to attend the wedding? Do you get a full refund? Will she help you find a new photographer? Does she have a backup person standing by?
  • What are her thoughts on this subject? (Sidenote: A good photographer takes this point seriously and won’t poo poo it. She should be able to clearly answer your questions about this subject.)

Like all things in life, there’s a little risk involved in going with a solo photographer. But most of us take this job seriously. We know people are counting on us and we work hard to take care of ourselves. We show up injured, ill, or 8 months pregnant. It’s just part of the job. But juuuuuuust in case something were to happen, it’s always good for couples to have a backup plan in mind. Maybe have the number of a big studio with 29 photographers handy juuuuuust in case you have to call them at the last minute.

If you’re really stuck on this point, let me see if I can help. I’ll tell you what I would do. I’d hire a solo photographer. I’m fully aware of the risks involved, but I also know that it’s worth the risk to hopefully get the photographer of my dreams at my wedding.

7.) Ask to see a few real-life galleries of full weddings.

Yes, the photographer’s web site has amazing photos … so you know she’s good. But it can really help you to know if someone is a great fit for your day if you can see an example of exactly what a client receives. Whatever is EXTRA important to you — whether it’s the candid moments or posed bridal party photos — make sure you see plenty of that in the gallery.

8.) Yes. You DO want an engagement session.

It can be tempting to try and save some money by opting out of an engagement session … but you don’t want to do that. Here’s why.

Couples who have engagement sessions always have better wedding photos. It’s true.

Why? During your engagement session, you bond with your photographer. You all get to know each other. And while you’re shooting, he’s learning about you two as a couple. He’s learning how to put you at ease. And you’re learning with each click of the shutter, that you trust this person more and more. You’re now 100% sure you’ve picked the right person. (Hopefully. If not, it’s probably not too late to make a change!) A few weeks later, you look over your engagement photos, and you’re thrilled. You LOVE them. You’re SO excited about this photographer being at your wedding. And that energy? That excitement? It carries through to your family and friends as you talk about how much you love those engagement photos … and what a blast the session itself was. Now you and EVERYONE around you are so excited about having this photographer around on the wedding day. He shows up, and it’s like an old friend has walked into the room. People aren’t nervous about this guy. He’s AWESOME! Thanks to your engagement session, you’re able to hit the ground running with photos on your wedding day.

In fact, the difference is so noticeable, that I no longer shoot weddings without first doing an engagement session. I know that my clients love their engagement photos. But the fact that their wedding pictures are actually BETTER because of the engagement session is the reason that it’s so important to me.

9.) Don’t waste money on things you don’t really want.

A few years back, I switched from offering albums in all my packages, to a streamlined package with basically only the digital files. I’ve found that for some people, this is truly all they want. They want to share their photos online, and then they want to be able to use their digital files to create their own albums, prints, etc. My clients are THRILLED that they own those files. And their excited to create their own albums.

There are people who choose to not work with me because getting a custom-designed album from their photographer is a priority. And that’s great because there are tons of photographers who offer custom-designed albums. But as I started to see more and more people prefer to make their own albums, I loved the idea of streamlining a package and making it more affordable for those who DON’T want the custom albums I used to offer.

For my clients who truly just want the digital files, it would honestly be a waste of their money to purchase a package with other items in it.

And you? What do you TRULY want? An album? Lots of prints? Digital files? If you can take a moment to really figure out what you’d like to walk away with after the wedding is over, it can really help you to choose a photographer who can offer you EXACTLY what you want. Remember, photographers are like snowflakes! And part of what makes us all different is the types of packages we offer clients.

10.) Hire a true professional.

Yes, a good personality is critical. But it’s not enough. You need to KNOW that you’re photographer will be there on time and ready to work on the day of your wedding. You need to know that he won’t curse out Aunt Peggy even after she elbows him while trying to get a shot of the cake cutting with her iPhone.

I’ve heard a few horror stories … like the photographer who literally shot the whole ceremony before realizing she didn’t have a CF card in her camera. I don’t understand how that’s even possible. But I was told she was medicated because she was going through a tough divorce and was just really struggling in her personal life. Life happens. And it happens to wedding photographers, too. But there’s NEVER an excuse for being unprepared, unprofessional, unkind, impatient, or rude. Never.

A true professional will be punctual for all meetings, will return your emails and calls promptly, will offer you detailed and neatly prepared information about her services, and will only work with you once a contract has been signed.If you notice from the start that communication is difficult, that meetings are frequently cancelled, or the photographer is late for meetings … these are all bad signs. Remember … there are trillions of photographers out there. Most of them are true professionals. If your gut is telling you that you’re talking with someone who isn’t, even if you LOVE her personality, move on to the next.

 

How about you? Do you have any wise suggestions for how to choose a wedding photographer? Please share in the comments below!

 

**Give or take a few.

…………………….

Kate Callahan is an on-location photographer who LOVES to capture authentic memories for families. She’s available for weddings, senior photos, child photo sessions, and family photography. Kate works with clients throughout the Hudson Valley, NYC,  Delaware (and the tri-state area), and beyond. She also writes motivational books for photographers. Find them at Dear Female Photographer.

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