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The Insider’s Guide to Choosing a Wedding Photographer

Tips & Tricks

As we approach wedding season, brides, grooms, and photographers alike work to assemble seamless itineraries leading up to the big day. I have firsthand experience speaking with a wide variety of wedding photographers regarding their client relationships and have embarked on my own year-long wedding planning experience. Here are a few tips I have learned by being both the client and the photographer.

Choose a Style

There are a lot of talented photographers out there, each with a particular style. Look at the work of the photographers in your area and gauge what you are most immediately and instinctively drawn to. This will greatly help narrow down your choices. Here are some examples:

Traditional Photographers: Heavier on posed photos with a pre-planned shot list. Good for couples who don’t want too many surprises or who need the logistical organization of a shot list (good for large parties). Usually everyone at the wedding is well captured with a traditional photographer.

Photojournalistic Photographers: A record of the day with little to no pre-planning. Emphasizes fleeting moments, energy, and emotion. Rituals, like cake-cutting, sometimes get skipped in favor of capturing a candid smile. Focus is on the couple at the sacrifice, sometimes, of the wedding party as a whole.

Artistic/Illustrative Photographers: Similar to traditional photographers as far as coverage goes but with updated shooting styles. Results will be more stylized and can include dramatic lighting, unorthodox posing, unusual backgrounds, and extreme angles.

Film Photographers: A growing trend among wedding photographers is to harken back to pre-DSLR days and shoot film. Borrowlenses’ own Sohail Mamdani’s wedding was shot entirely on film. There are obvious limitations to this method but if you and your photographer have the constitution for this risk then the rewards are great.

Most photographers shoot a combination of these main styles but don’t assume this! Find out if, for example, a photojournalistic photographer is willing to do posed shots if you want them. Many will oblige but some won’t – avoid the surprise and find out!

Emerging versus Seasoned Wedding Photographers

We have all heard the horror story of photography gone wrong because someone based their choice on price rather than experience.  It’s fair to seek out photographers who fit in a particular price point rather than stretching your budget for someone who doesn’t. However, the key is to not underestimate the importance of wedding photography when determining your budget in the first place!

Pictures are one of the only things that you will have as a take away from your big day and will continue to bring you joy for years to come, unlike other details such as the flatware rentals, flower arrangements, or party favors. If you have to choose between all of these things, go with the photographer whose work you love and can envision having in your home afterwards.

Photographers price themselves in relation to their experience based on whether they have ironed out their workflow kinks, built a strong personal style, and have good client testimonials. If you are working with someone at the higher end of your budget, they should have confidence in what shots need to be taken, how to work with any lighting scenario, and are able to put you at ease if anxiety sets in during the big day.

Experienced photographers are a self-sufficient entity who you can count on to capture the beautiful moments of your unique day – they rarely need guidance and they definitely don’t need to be babysat.

Betting on a newbie wedding photographer who is trying to get their foot in the door and build a business can save you a ton of money and is a good alternative if you are on a shoestring budget. The benefits of choosing someone with less experience includes being eager to go above and beyond for their clients because they want to encourage word-of-mouth marketing as well as create dynamic imagery to improve their portfolios.

There are, however, a few things to be aware of if you do go this route: new wedding photographers make mistakes that, from a photographer’s standpoint, are necessary for growth. There will most likely be a few missed photo opps and some poorly executed shots. If you go into this with eyes wide open then this is a great money saving option.

If hiring someone with little experience puts you on edge, there are other creative alternatives to keep your budget down. Consider hiring a photographer for half of the day to shoot the ceremony and family/wedding party formals and encourage your guests to capture the reception with their own cameras and send you the files.

Another way to get your photography costs down would be to see if your photographer-of-choice would be willing to shoot your event without a second shooter (more on this later). Not every photographer is willing to make that compromise but if you understand the concessions that have to be made to the shooting list to cut down on cost then it might be a worthy sacrifice to make in order to afford your favorite photographer.

Most importantly, you want to steer clear of the unpassionate wedding photographer who is willing to shoot your event because it simply pays his or her bills and would rather shoot something else entirely. Look for photographers whose bulk of their portfolios is wedding photography and not just a bunch of other subjects with a small sampling of wedding photos.

Clearly Communicate Expectations

If you find yourself gushing over a photographer whose work mostly seems to be taken in the summer and you are having a winter wedding, take notice. You might be setting yourself up for disappointment at no fault of the photographer. Explain to your photographer which shots of theirs you like and why and then make clear comparisons or contrasts to your own wedding day plans. Beware of relying too much on Pinterest for ideas. Many Pinterest images are of staged weddings produced for editorial purposes. Expect to get your money’s worth but don’t lose sight of reality.

Make sure your photographer knows about any special events you expect to take place during the wedding. Photographers can’t read minds or predict the future. If there is going to be a special handing-off of a family heirloom during the ceremony, be sure to tell your photographer ahead of time! If there are particular people you must have pictures of, especially candids, then they will need to be pointed out. This goes for emerging and seasoned photographers. Make your wish lists even more thorough for emerging photographers.

The Numbers

When I began my photographic journey, I assisted wedding photographers and back then they shot with film and it was the norm to provide proof prints and a wedding album with every package. When it was my turn to find a photographer I was shocked to find out that since the digital takeover the industry standard has changed. Proof images are viewed digitally and often albums don’t come with standard wedding packages. Make sure you understand what is actually included in your package and how long it will take before you see the proofs from the wedding. Digital files take a fraction of the time to process  compared to film so confirm when, exactly, you will have access to them. Will you be receiving a DVD of images or an online gallery?  If you are provided with an online gallery, how long will you have access to it and do you have to purchase all prints through the photographer or will high resolution downloads be provided for you? A contract outlying these numbers is not unheard of.

Second Shooters

So, you have found potential wedding photographer, someone whose look fits your style, and they are in your price range. Victory! But wait, do they have a second shooter and what is that, exactly? A second shooter is someone who also takes pictures at your wedding, assists the photographer, and fills in the gaps when there are two places to be at once. A second shooter is a major asset for a photographer, regardless of the task they are given. The second shooter is on the side of the photographer, can troubleshoot when things go awry, help contemplate the best lighting situations, and run any emergency errands. If your photographer prefers to work without a second shooter, ask to look at a full album of a wedding shot on his/her own. If it encompasses everything you are looking for then you can be rest assured that they are fully capable of doing the job alone.

“I Didn’t Think of That!”

Wedding photographers can be a great resource for clever ideas when you are planning your wedding.  If they are the right photographer for you then they will be enthusiastic about sharing their experiences and can drop you golden nuggets of wisdom. Here are some examples of great advice I have heard from wedding photographers:

  • Get your photographer on the mailing list so they receive your Save the Dates, invitations, and any other printed materials you send before the wedding.  They will need these ahead of time for detail shots.

  • List the photographer as an attendee.  Seating them with the guests during dinner will ensure they don’t miss any important moments. Don’t have them eat away from the party with the rest of the vendors.

  • Inquire about what the photographer plans on wearing. There is a common dress code of all black, however, I prefer when photographers match the attire of the guests. This psychologically puts the guests more at ease, as if a friend or fellow guest of the family were taking their picture.

  • When it is time for group shots, aka “formals”, ask someone attending the wedding who is not in the pictures to get some snacks and drinks for the wedding party. This will make for a much happier crew of people who are more willing to be patient through the photographic process.

  • Relax! Expect things to go wrong and be candid with your photographer. If you are tense, it will show on your face and in your body language.

When it comes to choosing a wedding photographer, communication is key. Imagine all of the things you would like to know about an event if you were shooting it and pay that forward to the person you are hiring. Whether you are hiring a notice or a pro, your photographer will thank you and the coverage of your day will be smoother and, ultimately, more successful.

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Cortigiano is a food, lifestyle, and event photographer with a contemporary aesthetic. She received an undergraduate degree in photography at Drexel University and has gone on to work as a freelance photographer and teaching artist in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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