How to Choose a Wedding Photographer You’ll Love

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! With love in the air, what better time to talk about weddings and photography?

A short time ago, a friend of mine who lives in the Midwest, asked my advice in selecting a photographer for her daughter’s wedding next autumn. We sat down together viewed the on-line portfolios of photographers her daughter was considering.  

My own studio now accepts only a limited number of intimate, family weddings each year. Based on my years of experience and current working knowledge, I offered my friend some tips, which I’ll share here, to help in making their decision on a wedding photographer.

Your wedding is one of the most romantic days of your life.  Careful selection of your photographer will result in visual memories that you will enjoy for years to come.
Your wedding is one of the most romantic days of your life. Careful selection of your photographer will result in visual memories that you will enjoy for years to come.

Not surprisingly, foremost in the minds of most engaged couples and their parent is the price. Prices vary, depending on where you live, whether the photographer is a true professional or a hobbyist, how much experience they have, how much in demand they are and what’s included. Keep in mind that as with everything else, you usually get what you pay for. There are professional photographers out there that will fit your budget and many will work with you to come up with a plan that will satisfy your budget and your expectations.

Most of the time involved in the professional’s wedding work, and the cost, is not in the actual photographing the event.  About 7580% of a wedding photographer’s work, and thus their costs, occurs in the post-production end, in the editing, design,art and finishing process. The more photos the photographer takes, the more time that must be devoted afterwards to their preparation.

The bride and groom married on a boat in a beautiful ceremony but which also presented a challenges in controlling the light and exposure.
The bride and groom married on a boat in a ceremony that was beautiful but which also presented challenges in controlling the light and exposure.

I explained this the other day to a father of a groom who wondered why the photographer of his son’s wedding didn’t just download everything the next day and hand it over to them to see. To be sure, some photographers may actually do this.  If they do, they either have a very large production staff or they don’t care much about their work. RAW digital images from the camera, which is what most professionals shoot, are rarely perfect. They need color correction, exposure adjustment to bring out details in the shadows or the brighter parts of the image, called highlights. Most professionals also use a variety of ‘actions’ in their photo editing programs to punch up the color, correct complexions, brighten eyes, soften the light, or other special effects that will result in images that convey a romantic or exciting emotion.  This takes time, probably much more time than many non-pros are aware of or, perhaps, simply not willing to spend.

Following the ceremony, the wedding couple led guests in promenade preserved in this image.
Following the ceremony, the wedding couple led guests through a sculpture park in a promenade preserved in this image. Finding different points of view to create dramatic images is part of a wedding photographer’s job and talents.

Another consideration in a photographer’s price is the product. What, exactly are you getting when you contract with a photographer? And how good will the product be? By that I mean, if the photographer plans just to hand you a CD with the finished images (and be sure they are finished), will it be an archival CD? I personally discourage purchasing CDs only. The reason for this is quite simple. Technology. It changes so quickly. Prints or an album whether a book or an actual album, offer you a more permanent record of your big day. There’s no guarantee that you will be able to view or download from the CD in years to come. CD drives are already vanishing from some computers. Storing your priceless wedding images on an external hard drive or on the cloud isn’t foolproof either. For these reasons, I advise everyone to make prints or at least a printed book or album, of any event or subject that you’d like to have in years to come.

As for the albums, there are many fine products available today to couples. Professional photographers have a range of album styles that can be customized to fit you. Professional products differ from those generally available to consumers in that the quality control is much higher. The papers used in the final product are finer and often archival. The binding used is tougher. The selection of covers and designs wider and often sturdier. Reproductions of the image are held to higher standards. Quite likely, the album’s inside pages are custom designed especially for you. Yet another reason why it takes time to produce and why a professional’s cost is greater.

Compatibility is a huge factor in finding a photographer for your wedding. If you like photographer, you're going to be more relaxed and enjoy the wedding festivities.
Compatibility is a huge factor in finding a photographer for your wedding. If you like photographer, you’re going to be more relaxed and enjoy the wedding festivities.

A key factor in choosing your photographer is compatibility. How well do you communicate with the photographer and how well do they listen to you? Do they offer you advice about how to make your wedding photography go smoothly? Are they knowledgeable about the location of the wedding? Do they provide you with options for the images important to you? Do you the two of you click? Weddings can be as stressful as they are fun. The last thing you want is a photographer who’s disruptive, distracting to your guests, inappropriately dressed or imposing.

Today’s popular photojouralistic style of wedding photography means that photographers are less involved in “setting up the shots,” except perhaps for the wedding party groups. Still, your photographer should have a good working knowledge of how to make you look your best. There are little tricks and tips to how to stand, hold your hands, kiss, and cut the cake, for example, that can make a huge difference between a great image and an awkward-looking snapshot.

As a wedding photographer, you must be ready for anything, including a pair of doves about to take flight.
As a wedding photographer, you must be ready for anything, including a pair of doves about to take flight because there are no ‘do-overs’ for missed shots.

You may have friends or receive names of those who “do photography” on the side or as a weekend hobby and who are happy to photograph your wedding. They may be great but a word of caution. There are no “do-overs” when you shoot a wedding. Everything must work on command. Equipment can fail,weather can change and people can be difficult (or unfortunately sometimes drunk). Your photographer must be able to adjust to a situation quickly and still capture for you the images of your wedding day. Not all amateurs are as adept. You also don’t want to risk ruining a wonderful friendship should the photos not turn out as you had hoped.

Review the photographer’s portfolio, get together for a consult to meet and talk, study the plans available, revisit your budget, ask for referrals and then relax. If you’ve done your homework, you’re likely to end up with a photographer and wedding photographs that you’ll love.

Not your typcial wedding photograph, but this candid image of the bride seen through the beautiful hanging moss remains on my personal favorites.
Not your typical wedding photograph, but this candid image of the bride seen through the beautiful hanging moss remains on my personal favorites.

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