3 Questions You Should Ask When Choosing a Wedding Photographer and 3 You Shouldn't
If you have been planning your wedding long, you probably have come across articles from The Knot and Wedding Wire and wherever else about questions that you should ask potential photographers. Along with their average photography budget, they got these questions horribly wrong. I know because I have seen them and been asked them. Here is the thing - knowing what equipment your photographer uses gives you absolutely no clue about their experience or skill level. It merely tells you how much money they spent on gear (if you happen even know what their equipment list means). Here is what you actually for real should ask a potential photographer and other important things to consider while on the search.
1. DO ask how we would describe our style - this might be answered simply by reading the main page of their website or taking a quick gander at a portfolio, but this is a hugely important thing to consider when booking a photographer. Why? Let me tell you a story.
About a month ago, I booked a wedding for next year. When it came time to discuss the engagement photos, we emailed back and forth about location and time and settled on a place. We marked our calendars and began planning. The next day, I received an email asking if I could make her photos "brighter than normal." This was a huge red flag for me. You see, many people believe that a photographer can take photos in any style and can switch it up on request - bright, dark - whatever. While that is true - we have skill and the ability to make photos brighter or darker - our expertise, experience, training, and knowledge are all based around the style that we have perfected over the years and striven toward over the course of our business and brand development to create a consistent and recognizable style and portfolio. Just take a scroll through my - or any photographer's - IG feed (for real, go peruse - @littlebluebirdphotography_mi ). If there is one thing I am proud of, it is the consistency in my editing. My clients know exactly what they will get from me, and I will never deviate from that. As for the bride who asked if I could make things brighter, I politely explained that my clients usually book me for that dark style in my portfolio and for that reason I don't deviate from it. I encouraged her to check out some brighter photographers (and even provided names) and told her that I would be happy to release her from her contract if she discovered they were a better fit for her. Because - really hear me on this - literally the MOST IMPORTANT THING to me is that my clients will LOVE their photos. If that means they should be with a different photographer, then I am still happy for them to have found the perfect fit. Because really, the other way, both sides end up miserable. This bride did end up switching and thanked me profusely. With that said, think about what style you want and consider the style of the photographers whose work you are perusing. Is it light and airy? Is it darker? Is it vibrant? Is it colorful? Is it muted? Ar there dark shadows? Are the poses fun and silly or more serious and dramatic? How are things framed? How are stories told? These are all things that factor into a photographer's unique style - and I truly believe this should be your number one point to consider when choosing the perfect photographer for YOU.
2. DO ask what a typical wedding day looks like for them. Again, your specific preference here may vary. The difference between this article and ones you may have read before is I am not here to tell you the right or wrong answer - because there isn't one. You may be looking for a beginner who has never photographed a wedding before. You may be looking for someone who will photograph your wedding for under $1000. You may be looking for someone who has years and years of experience and charges $4000. You may be looking for a cousin with an iPhone. Neither photographer is the universally correct choice. What matters is what suits YOU and YOUR wedding the best. But back to the question - are you looking for minimal coverage and involvement? Or are you looking for someone who helps you plan your timeline and ensures that everything runs smoothly and on time throughout the day? What do you expect from your photographer? For example, I start talking about the wedding day timeline about 2 months prior. I will ask questions like: Do you want to do a first look? How many are in your wedding party? Are getting ready photos a priority to you? Where are you getting ready? Etc. From these questions, I draft a suggested timeline that gives an idea of how long different photo groups take. I arrive and take photos of details, candid getting ready photos, bride getting her dress on, portraits, etc. (after all, I have done this a time or two before, so why not rely on my knowledge?). I function as a fly on the wall for most of the day but then become very hands on with portraits and pose everyone exactly where I want them, tell them where to look, where to put their hands, how to hold the bouquet - pretty much everything. I use mostly natural light when available and then a flash when necessary. I don't use large studio lights and am very non-intrusive when I work. Do you want this in a photographer? Maybe. Maybe not. But if you do, better to know now rather than find out on the day of. On the day of, I try to keep us on schedule. I communicate between the venue and the bride, the dj and the bride, etc. I have put in veils. I have bustled dresses. I have dried off bouquets. Fixed makeup. Put on boutonnieres. Calmed brides. Safety-pinned ripped dresses. Wiped down ceremony chairs after the rain. If I can help in any way, I do - but that is really just because I have been involved in so many weddings, I feel comfortable and know what needs to be done. As a side note - just because your venue has staff and a coordinator, this DOES NOT mean that they will do these things for you. I recently worked a venue with numerous staff who simply ignored a few of the bride's request, one of which was to help gather a few family members for a photo. Of course, I stepped up and did what I consider to be my job anyway, but the bride had expected the coordinator to help - well - coordinate.
3. DO ask for examples of photos in many different light scenarios. Most photographers will have a variety already presented on a website, but if they don't, ask to see these things. Don't see example photos of reception dancing? Ask to see some. Don't see examples of photos in the kind of venue you have? Ask to see some. Don't see ceremony photos? Ask to see some. Don't see any candid photos? Ask to see some. Don't see any indoor photos? Ask to see some. Why? There are photographers who pay to go to workshops and styled shoots and pad their portfolios with gorgeous images in perfectly ideal light with no pressure and perhaps even posed by someone else. So what happens when the lighting is the absolute worst during your ceremony? Or when you first dance in in the dark? Or when there is full blazing sun on half of the wedding party and shade on the other during the ceremony? Or when you have to take portraits in full sun because of the timeline? You need to know that they can function and produce equal quality work regardless of the circumstance. Simply asking about their equipment will not answer this question. Nothing speaks louder than an actual portfolio.
And now for the 3 questions that you shouldn't ask - and they might surprise you.
1. DON'T ask about equipment. You probably saw this one coming, but seriously. Unless you have an extensive photography knowledge, a list of equipment is not going to mean a thing to you. Secondly, it tells you absolutely NOTHING about a photographer's style, their quality of work, or their experience level. This question will however irritate 100% of the photographers that you ask.
2. DON'T ask how long they have been in business. This isn't really an offensive question, and I don't mind being asked (7 years! Wooo!), but similarly to question 1, it doesn't tell you how competent they are on a wedding day. I know photographers who went to school for photography and have been in business for years - and I would not recommend them to ANYONE. Why? Some of them are rude to clients. Some of them never truly developed their skills. Some of them can't think outside the box. Some of them never continued to advance their craft and produce work at a low quality with outdated styles. On the other hand, I have seen photographers go from a beginner to hugely popular and very skilled in one year that I would recommend in a heartbeat. So again - this question really does not tell you anything valuable when it comes to deciding whether or not to book someone.
3. DON'T ask what settings they use. Similarly to the equipment question - will the answer tell you anything that you understand? Possibly. But the thing is - settings vary constantly throughout a wedding day. If I were to be asked this question, I would literally say "just about all of them." And it would be true. A wedding photographer needs to be the most adaptable kind of photographer imaginable because we have to produce quality work no matter the circumstance with zero do-overs.
To recap - I have said it before and will keep saying it: There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to selecting a photographer. The most important thing is finding the photographer who is right for YOU and suits YOUR needs.
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