Shopping for a Wedding Photographer?

This isn’t as easy as selecting your venues, buying “the dress” or the bridal bouquet for one simple reason: You are not able to see the pictures that you are buying until after you have made your decision. In the end, you are buying on faith. For a lot of people, the price ends up being the most determining factor, which really doesn’t make a lot of sense when you consider the fact that is NO DO-OVERS with your wedding day.

Here are some of the Guidelines that may help you choose the photographer that’s absolutely right for you!

Personal Referrals

Start by building a list of several wedding photographers.  Begin by asking friends and relatives for recommendations.  People who have had positive experiences with their photographer are always glad to share the names with you.  Then, when you meet with the photographers, you will have an immediate frame of reference to start from with your discussions.

Visit the Websites

Make sure that you visit each photographer’s website.  Take the time to review their portfolio. Ensure that you are concentrating on the photographs and not the flashy website design.  Good photograhers normally show a lot of their recent wedding work on-line.  Create the list of the photographers whose style, photos and information really appeal to you.  If you like a more photojournalistic style, don’t short-list a photographer who has a more “traditional”  style.

Interview

Call or e-mail the photographers on your short-list.  This will provide you with some basic information such as the photographer’s availability on your wedding date, their photographic specialities (i.e. candid, photojournalistic, free-style or traditional), and a rough idea of their rate and what you receive for that fee.  It will also tell you something about the photographer’s personality and whether or not you “click.”  This is important!  The photograhper will be one of the integral parts of the most important day in your life, so make sure that you select the person that you feel “good” about.

Appointments

Make appointments with the photographers who sound promising so that you can view their portfolios and discuss the details.  You and your fiance should both attend the meetings and, if possible, the bride’s parents or anyone else who may be involved in paying for the work or being closely involved with the photographer, i.e. wedding planner or coordinator.  Write down all of your questions before you arrive for the appointment and take notes during the discussions.

Get Specific

The more questions you ask up front, the more confident and relaxed you will feel on and after your wedding day.  If in doubt, ask!  Professional photographers are used to being asked all kind of things during these appointments.  There is no such thing as a dumb question!

Questions You Should Ask

  1. How will we see the photographs to choose from? (i.e.  on-line gallery, printed proofs/book  or contact sheet.
  2. Will you help us select the final photos?
  3. How easy will it be for our family and friends to order reprints?
  4. What are the costs with the various levels of coverage?  Are there different options for the coverage?  What’s included in each level?
  5. How much are the extras or additional options?
  6. What type of album comes with my coverage?  What is the cost?  Are there alternate choices available and if so, are they an extra charge?
  7. How much money am I likely to have to spend before I’ll be happy with my wedding day coverage?
  8. What is your photography style? (photojournalistic, traditional, candid, free-style, etc.)
  9. What is the costs for duplicate prints, albums, enlargements, Thank You cards, etc.?
  10. Do we receive the digital files?
  11. What is the timeframe for receiving our proofs after the wedding?
  12. How long do I have to select the prints for the album, Thank You cards, enlargements, etc.?
  13. How about an engagement session?  Is it necessary?
  14. How long have you been in business?
  15. How long do you plan on staying in business?
  16. What is your philosophy about photographing weddings?
  17. Do you charge travel fees?  What if you have to stay overnight?
  18. Will you have a second photographer or assistant at my wedding?
  19. How much is your overtime rate?
  20. Do you have a backup photographer?
  21. What is your payment policy?
  22. Do you give any guarantees about service and photographs?
  23. Will you be shooting my wedding personally?
  24. Do you have a contract?
  25. What do you plan to do at my wedding that will make my photographs unique and personal to me?

There are numerous more questions that you can ask your photographer.  Most professional photographers will provide you with very clear explanations about their services before you even ask the question.  Many will have full packages or collections that include number of  hours of service, digital files, prints or albums, enlargements, etc.  This will make it very clear about what level of service and products that you should expect.

Once you have narrowed down your list to one or two wedding photographers, ask them to show you the complete coverage of at least one entire wedding.  This will give you a much better idea of what you should expect than just a collection of the best shots from several weddings.  Look at whether or not the photographer captures individual characteristics and personalities in the images.  Do the pictures show feelings or are they just standing around looking self-conscious (one of the best ways is to look at the family photos)?  Do people look natural?

A very useful trick: Ask the photographer to analyze your face.  Most professional photographers do this automatically when they meet you, although they may not mention it during the interview.  It helps them achieve the most flattering images with the best angles and so on.

Cost

Price is often the one obstacle that prevents wedding clients from selecting the photographer who can give them the best value.  Problems usually come up when “within the budget” is misunderstood.  It is tempting to spend “a little more here and a little more there” but the financial limits must be in place.  Within the framework of the entire wedding day, it makes sense to evaluate the photography budget in relation to the money being spent on flowers, food and music, when, at the end of the day, pictures are the one thing that you’ll have after the day is over.

Rates vary significantly according to experience, talent and technique.  In general, fees for competent photography will begin around fifteen hundred dollars.  Spending less than this is a gamble.  A true wedding photography specialists, one with a reputation for consistently delivering the best, might begin at two to four times that amount.  International destination wedding photographers will be significantly higher than this.

There are also significant differences in how photographers price their services.  Some offer a basic package with a specific number of hours for a set fee; others may have a fixed price for the entire wedding day and charge for all the extras; still others may offer a package that provides the wedding day coverage with prints, albums, etc.  Make sure that when you are comparing photographers, that you are comparing “apples to apples” or “oranges to oranges” and not “apples to oranges”.

Make sure that if you are planning on giving prints to the family, that you include this cost into the wedding photography budget.  As a rule, most wedding clients end up adding additional prints to the original package and spend a little more than the original budget because they liked the photographs so much.

Commit

By this time, if you have asked the good questions, you’ll know if this is the photographer for you.  You’ve probably spent a great deal of time communicating with your photographer.  Keep in mind that photographers are trained professionsals and that they deserve to be treated as such.  Go to your meeting prepared to leave a deposit and sign the contract to reserve your date.  You may want to ask a few more questions about the last-minute details.

  1. What is the policy about wedding date changes?
  2. What happens if the photographer is not available on the alternate date?
  3. What is the policy about an unforseen cancellation?

If the photographer is right for you, and is available, and if you’re convinced that it’s worth their fee — make the committment and relax.  This is one of the best and most intelligent decisions that you’ve made in planning your wedding.

Bottom Line

Years from now, the money that you spent on your wedding photographs will be irrelevant.  What is important is getting great images that capture the joy and love of your wedding day in a medium that will last long after the gown is cleaned and put away, the food is eaten and nobody remembers the music.

(Article published June 30, 2011 on Professional Wedding Photographers of Canada)
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