How to Choose a Wedding Photographer
Photography is more than just a service - it is an investment. Hear that one before? While it might sound cliche, there is a lot of truth there. Once your wedding is over, the only thing that you truly have left are your memories and your photos. They are what you will show your children and your children's children. They are how you will retell and relive your wedding day.
When choosing a photographer, you are putting a huge amount of faith in this person to capture your day as you want to remember it. Here are a few helpful tips for choosing the right photographer to capture your wedding day.
1. Realize that not all photographers are the same. That might sound kind of obvious, but as a photographer who receives inquiries from all different kinds of brides and grooms, I can tell you that many people don't actually take this into consideration. Often, brides tend to think that photographers are there to create the photos that they, the bride and groom, want. While this is partly true, here is a more accurate statement: photographers each have their own style and will create photos consistent with that style rather than creating images to match a bride's style. Choose a photographer who works in a style that you love...don't choose a style and tell a photographer to create work in that style. Make sense?
With this in mind, look for a photographer whose work you LOVE, not a photographer who you can mold into your vision. Why? Each photographer has a great deal (hopefully) of experience in one particular style. They know how they need to shoot to get that look, and they know how to edit to get that consistent look. Hire someone who is an expert in their own style and trust them to create images similar to what their portfolio already represents. You still might think that we are professionals capable of creating things in many styles. While this is true, I have been told by several photographers whose work is generally much brighter than mine that they "can't shoot dark." I have been asked how I get that "dark and moody" look. If you want "dark and moody" styled photos, don't pick a photographer who has spent their career shooting and editing bright. It might not come as naturally as you would think to just switch it up. In addition to this, photographers spend hours and hours curating portfolios and creating a specific look and public appearance so that a potential client says "I know that photo is by so and so" just by looking at it. It is really a lot of work to ensure a consistency throughout a session, let alone an entire portfolio. When a client requests a photographer to do something out of the norm, two things can happen: 1. The photographer will struggle to create something that doesn't inspire them, that they don't like, and that they aren't skilled at or experienced in creating and, 2. There becomes an inconsistency in their portfolio, and the photographer is probably praying that no one will see that one session that wasn't consistent with their style. I am speaking from experience here.
2. Understand the different styles of wedding photography available to you. With the previous point in mind, here are a few styles of photography that you will have to choose from and what they mean. a. Traditional - This style of wedding photo is going to look familiar. It will probably look like your parents' photos: properly exposed, framed in a way that you would expect (no cut off heads, for example), and traditional poses with people looking at the camera and smiling. There will be candid moments caught too, but primarily, these photos will be "smile at the camera" kind of photos. They will look how things look to your eye - natural color, usually saturated color (green greens and blue blues), usually sharp not grainy or hazy, and not overly styled or with no heavy effects or a filtered look to the photos. They may have a little more equipment than other photographers - multiple large flash setups on stands to ensure a well lit photo, for example. Think portrait studio kind of lighting. b. Photojournalistic/Lifestyle - This style takes a much quieter and more journalistic approach to photographing the day. This is the kind of photographer who will sit back quietly and take photos of the day as things happen. It will look like you are peeking in on someone's life, like you are really there, not like a series of posed photos. These photos often contain more emotion and drama than traditional photos and really capture the day as a documentary would. The actual appearance of the photos will vary from photographer to photographer - some can be brighter and more colorful, while others might be a little darker and more moody, BUT the thing that will remain consistent across all photojournalistic wedding photographers is the candid, unposed nature of the photos. These photographers will in a very unobtrusive way, usually not bringing much in the way of stand up flashes or external equipment. They want to be able to move without being noticed and capture moments as they happen. c. Film - Yes, there are still film photographers out there! Film photos have a very distinct look and, in general will look a little less sharp than a digital photographer, perhaps with some haze and grain, and beautiful contrast and colors that are hard to come by in the digital world. Many Instagram filters are designed to imitate a film appearance for example. Each film photographer will shoot a different way and have a slightly different feel to their photos, so pay close attention to how their photos look in their portfolio - they could range from traditional to lifestyle, bright to dark. Most of the time, you will still receive digital copies, even though a photographer shoots in film, just as a side note. d. Natural Light/Fine Art - This style has to do with the actual appearance of the photos. Photographers who are more artsy than a traditional photographer will have photos that are edited in a way that will look a little more "filtered." They are digital photographers, but their photos have a more film-like, vintage appearance. They will look different than what the eye sees and have a more cinematic artistic appearance. They will also handle light differently - they will use window light or whatever light is available to set the mood for the photo, rather than always using a flash to expose everything the exact same way. You will see silhouettes and dramatic lighting, high contrast, and artistically framed images - you will often see photos that focus on details such as a single touch or just the bride and groom's outfits; often the photos will have people's head cut off and will not be the traditional face right in the center of the frame kind of shot. Often, the focus with these kind of photographers is emotion - they want you to feel something when you look back at your photos. These photos are frequently rather editorial in appearance, like a magazine ad. The colors may also look and feel a little different than a traditional photographer's photos - muted greens, dark shadows and blacks, subdued highlights, for example. It may seem like this kind of photographer requires less skill than a traditional photographer who usually delivers a brightly lit and tack sharp image regardless of ambient light - BUT this is not true. This style requires expert knowledge of how to use available light and how to use a flash in a way that looks like natural light - and the equipment to properly handle this kind of shooting.
An example of a natural light/fine art/lifestyle photographer's work - Little Blue Bird Photography
3. Know what you want. Now that you have a better understanding of the different styles available, determine what you want your photos to look like - do you want bright, looking at the camera photos? Do you want emotional, dramatic stylized photos? Do you want your photos to look natural or more artistic? Browse different photographers and get an idea of what you like. There is no right answer! It is completely up to you. Personally, I fall under the more natural light/fine art kind of photography and am also very photojournalistic. In the past, I have booked brides who really expected me to be more traditional, and they were rather disappointed and confused upon receiving their photos. This is not good for anyone. A photographer would much rather you book someone else than to be displeased with your photos. Always. Make sure you know what you want, what you expect, and what a potential photographer is going to deliver. Look at their portfolio - that is a perfect indication of what they will deliver. Those are photos were carefully selected to be representative of them and their work.
4. Understand cost. It is no secret that weddings are expensive, and a photographer is no exception. A good photographer will cost you anywhere from $2000 to $10,000 for wedding day coverage. Seem outrageous? It might, but let me explain. Photographers are just like you - we have bills and families and jobs. Taking photos might be our passion, but it is also our job, how we make a living and pay bills and feed our families. Secondly, photographing a wedding is far more than just 8 hours of shooting on the big day. It is hours of prep work before, communicating with clients, getting equipment ready, emptying and backing up cards, and then 60+ hours of editing and sorting through 2000+ images, designing photo books, ordering prints and other products, paying second shooters and babysitters, shipping shipping out products - and that doesn't even cover website maintenance and fees, equipment costs, insurance, and other business related expenses. Plus - if you could only work 10-40 days a year, what would you have to charge per day? Personally, I limit the amount of weddings I book per year to under 15 because I have three young children and want to be able to offer each and every bride my absolutely best and full attention and not feel rushed when editing. Now. I definitely understand that not everyone has $10,000 in their back pocket for a photographer - in addition to other wedding costs - but be considerate. Evaluate the importance of your wedding photos and the skill of the photographer. Understand that if you want the best, if you want a premium product, you will pay a premium price. Just like buying a luxury car or an expensive piece of furniture, you get what you pay for. With that in mind, decide what you can pay, and find the right balance for you of quality and price within your budget. Look not only at price but at what is offered in each photographer's packages - are the images included? Are prints included? Do they offer photo books? Do you have access to a professional print lab through them? Are any of those things important to you? Maybe. Maybe not. There is no right answer when booking a photographer - it is up to you, BUT in order to pick the best photographer for you, you have to know what you want.
With all that said, GOOD LUCK!