Friday, June 1, 2012

Choosing a Wedding Photographer

10 Tips you won't hear anywhere else!
By Richard Spears © 2012

Okay, I lied. You might hear some of these in other places. I think that one person wrote a list of tips for planning a wedding years ago, and the list has been reprinted ad nauseum by every magazine and wedding site. So you're thinking “this guy has never been a bride” (very true) so what could he possibly know? I've been in the wedding business for a few years, and went through a few weddings of my own. For an event that is supposed to be one of the happiest of a woman's life, I know about the stress that planning a wedding can create. Take a deep breath, pour a glass of wine and relax. This is going to be fun.

There are two universal truths on this subject: Number one is that weddings are expensive. Number two is that the wedding will cost you more than you planned on. Cost is the factor that sometimes separates the wedding we want, from the one we get.

If you can afford a wedding planner, they are worth every penny. Your wedding planner becomes your best friend. They have connections with literally hundreds of vendors, and their reputation is on the line. The planner will relieve a lot of the stress and make sure that the vendors you select will give you a great wedding.

If you are like most brides however, you'll plan it yourself. You'll save a lot of money, and pull out some of your own hair. Since you don't have a massive contact list of the best vendors in town like the planners do, the internet becomes your new best friend for research. Whether you are picking a baker for the wedding cake, a caterer, or a photographer, these tips will help you pick the right one for your special day.

  1. Research a year ahead of your wedding. Most of the wedding professionals fill up their calendars 6-8 months in advance. If you contact a photographer in January for your wedding in June, don't be surprised that most of them are already booked.
  2. Consider a date other than a Saturday evening. Sure, traditionally the majority of weddings are on Saturday, but why not break the rules? The odds of booking vendors and locations will be better on a Friday or Sunday. You might even get a discounted rate.
  3. Evaluate the photographer's website. In this modern age, the website is the artist's business card. A sloppy website can be an indication of sloppy work. Look for good examples of their work in an online portfolio. You'll get a quick idea of their sense of style, and artistic ability. Look for their ability to tell the story in pictures. Look for the emotion in the pictures.
  4. Pricing – One of my biggest red flags in dealing with a photographer or other wedding vendor is when they won't discuss the pricing. If it says on their website or they tell you on the phone that they would rather talk about the cost in person,... they are getting you ready for the sales pitch. My philosophy on buying anything from plumbing services, to a car, or a vacuum cleaner, is that the price should be clear and up front.

    Let me also say that in this industry, there is a perception that the best photographers are the most expensive. That is not always the truth. In this very competitive market, there are a lot of incredibly talented artists who are young and just getting established in the area who have to work for dirt cheap because they don't have a reputation or extensive customer list yet. On the other end of the spectrum is a friend of mine who is a “top tier” photographer who is highly in demand for weddings. He has admitted though, that he hates doing weddings. He lost the passion for it years ago. Still his clients fly him around the world to shoot weddings.

  5. When you have narrowed down your list, call or meet the ones that you like best. This is a business that requires people skills. You'll need to listen to your gut instinct after talking on the phone, or meeting for coffee. Do they have a friendly personality that is easy going and makes you feel comfortable?
  6. Although you've already seen their work on the website, ask to see their portfolio or album when you meet in person. This will give you an idea of their professionalism. They should have 8x10 portfolio or wedding album available for you, along with testimonials from previous customers. Wedding albums have become the bread and butter for many photographers. When you see their album, you'll also get a sense of their talent for design.
  7. Interview them as if they were interviewing with a Human Resources department for a job (and they are!) Don't be shy about asking questions.
  8. Equipment – This is a tricky subject because sometimes the amount of equipment they use will be minimal. Some of the best wedding photographers in the world will shoot an event with one lens and no external lighting. Generally though, a professional who takes his work seriously has put a significant investment in the equipment they use. Ask what camera(s) they use, and what their favorite lens selection is for a wedding. (the most popular is a 50mm, an 85mm, and a 24-70mm zoom) Ask them who inspires them.
  9. Re-touching – These days, most photographers are as talented behind a computer as they are looking through the camera. If they don't, then ask them if they use a 3rd party to do re-touching. Ask to see some “Before and After” pictures so you can see their style and talent at making each image look better.
  10. Ask for references and then call ALL OF THEM. Ask the other brides what they thought of the photographer's professionalism and personality. Were they on time for each appointment? Did they deliver proofs or albums exactly when they were promised? Was he/she dressed appropriately at the wedding? Did they put everyone at ease during the portrait sessions? Was the bride happy with all her pictures, and feel like it was worth what she paid?

Deal Breakers
When you are going over your list of potential photographers, these should be the brightest RED warning flags that should cause you to scratch their name off the list:
  • Fail to contact you within 24 hrs of leaving a message or sending an email
  • Lack of a website or online portfolio
  • If they refuse to discuss prices over the phone or online
  • If they are more than 10 minutes late to meet with you
  • If they don't have a standard contract

There you go. Ten tips to help you choose a photographer for your wedding. Choose wisely. The memories from your wedding are too import to take for granted.

Richard Spears

Richard is a free-lance writer and photographer


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