In honor of the wonderful, yet sometimes stressful, wedding season, here is some valuable photography wisdom for new wedding photographers and clients looking for photographers. When wedding photographers and clients are on the same page, magic happens!
This advice has been collected over the years based on my own experiences as an occasional wedding photographer (I am primarily a portrait studio photographer) and the many useful things I’ve heard from wedding photographer colleagues and the friends who have hired them.
Advice for Photographers and Clients Alike
These tips are written from the perspective of a potential client looking to hire a photographer (or a videographer). This doesn’t make it any less valuable to those behind the camera! On the contrary, knowing ahead of time what clients are looking for will position you for success as a new-to-weddings shooter. Plus, there are some valuable photographer-specific tips mixed in below.
Choose Wedding Photographers You Get Along With
Look for someone who meshes well with your personality. Be sure that your photographer’s personality and ways of interacting will also gel well with your wedding party and family (at least, for the most part). Remember, this is a person who is going to be following you around for 8+ hours. Make sure theirs is a personality that you will not grow weary of quickly. Meeting in person or on Skype is an essential first step – don’t rely on texts and email. If the meeting is awkward and forced, then it risks being that way on your wedding day.
For Shooters: This advice goes for shooters as well. It’s hard to turn down potential money falling into your lap. But if after a few meetups you still have a bad feeling about a client, it’s ok to walk away! This is a relationship that has to go both ways.
Know What Kind of Photography Style You’re Looking For
Think about the style of pictures you are looking for. Are traditional shots important? Then don’t choose a photographer with a photojournalist-only style. Love the documentary style? Then you might not want someone whose portfolio seems to be all about posed pictures. Every photographer has a vision – make sure it matches yours. Don’t try and force a photographer to be something they don’t seem to be. Also, what worked well for your friend’s wedding might not be right for you. Don’t accept recommendations without investigating the style.
For Shooters: Having a “style” comes with time and experience. When you’re starting out, don’t expect to have one of the styles below completely dialed in. However, always keep it in the back of your mind. Having a specific style can be seen as limiting but it actually frees you up to be more marketable to clients.
Common Shooting Styles to Research
A lot of photographers mix candids and formal portraits into their process but some are strictly documentary style and won’t do any “posed” looks. The benefit of documentary-style photography is that the entire day is relaxed since almost all of the photos will be candids, providing natural, effortless-seeming results. You won’t have to worry about gathering anyone at certain times for group shots. Your wedding album will look much more like a “story” than a standard “wedding album”. The drawbacks are obvious: not having formal portraits could disappoint relatives and you might regret not having them down the road.
As mentioned above, most photographers mix candids with portraits for weddings. One option is to hire a photographer only for formal portraits. Passing up on a ceremony or reception photographer saves money but you will be relying on your less-skilled friends and family to fill in the gaps. However, it’s very difficult to replace a professional when it comes to formal portraits. Some budget-conscious couples will hire photographers and videographers only for the ceremony. Know that half-day work is sometimes not worth the trouble for some photographers. If you’re on a budget, be very upfront with your prospective shooters. Most will want to work with you to create a package worth everyone’s time.
Fine art and lifestyle sometimes have that documentary/photojournalistic look but it’s actually pretty well planned out. Sometimes “fashion wedding” gets lumped into this mix. When you pick this style, you’re very much picking a very particular eye a certain photographer has. Having full trust in their angles, posing, and arrangements is key to loving your fine art/lifestyle images. With big risks come big rewards.
Common Editing Styles to Research
This is a very popular but specific style. If you don’t like it – don’t choose a photographer who uses it in their portfolio! Conversely, if you choose a photographer who doesn’t seem to use the style anywhere on their website, you can’t always expect them to just add it for you later. Matte looks can be a great choice for outdoor weddings in relatively dark places, like a woodsy park in the Pacific Northwest or a tent decked out in cafe lights. It can be used to take the edge off dark scenes for a softer vibe.
Black and White
Processing files for black and white requires a lot more than just converting them into “grayscale mode”. If you want a black-and-white look, you might be stuck with it. Ask before assuming a photographer does both color and b/w editing.
Think of this as “standard editing”. This could be as simple as just changing the white balance for all the files, all the way up to skin editing for everyone. Ask your photographer how much goes into their editing process. Every photographer’s style is a little unique but this is as close to a “universal look” as you can get. The benefit of this “style” is that it isn’t so strong that it will look dated in just a few years.
Ethereal/Glamour Glow/High Key
This style tends to intentionally overexpose the scene to give everything a very sunny and dreamy look. Sometimes it is done entirely in editing – usually, it’s a combination of in-camera and editing. This look is considered very pretty to most and is suitable for weddings. However, to some people, it lacks drama.
Filmic looks and matte looks sometime overlap but, overall, filmic looks attempt to mimic the results of film (note that using actual film is also a viable choice for your wedding but the pricing, turnaround, and editing expectations are wholly different). It’s a good idea to have someone test this look out on you before committing to it. What looks great on other people in a portfolio might look terrible on you – especially certain desaturated looks. Bold editing choices require test runs!
Price is Important But It’s Not The Whole Story
To help figure out the style you want, browse for a photographer while pretending budget is not a concern. Once you’ve narrowed it down, then look at pricing. You might be very surprised by who is in your range and also within your style profile.
Look for photography packages, not individual prices. One photographer may have the price you like but then you discover you have to pay extra for add-ons. A larger package may save you money in the long run if it includes albums, keepsakes, and other important prints. The price advertised rarely tells the whole story. It is best to find out exactly what you’ll get directly from the shooter.
For Shooters: Figuring out what to charge is probably the most difficult process for photographers and videographers. Transparency among shooters is ideal, though not always provided. It’s hard to know what to charge if you’re kept in the dark about what your colleagues charge. Communication among professionals is highly encouraged. Most shooters, though, especially acquaintances, have a “rising tides lift all boats” attitude.
Ask other professionals what they charge for their industries. Finding out what time is worth to florists, sound engineers, caterers, bartenders, DJs, estheticians, and tailors is recommended. You’ll start to find ballpark rates for various levels of expertise which will help inform your own pricing decisions.
Communicate Your Ideas and Preferences to the Photographer
Photographers are not mind-readers. Discuss with your photographer portrait locations that are meaningful to you, such as your first-date restaurant, the park where the proposal happened, and other memorable places (if such location shooting is included in your package). Share any meaningful props with your photographer. Photographers usually have lists of poses they like to use. If you have one in mind, share it with them and see what they think.
Use an Engagement Session as a Dress Rehearsal
A lot of people use the same photographer for both their engagement sessions and the wedding. This is a perfect way to get to know each other before the big day! Engagement sessions can be a time to take a few risks and try out poses to see if they’ll work, discover what your “good side” is, and other details.
Create a Shot List
Wedding photographers are used to creating shot lists but clients often don’t think to make one, too. It is good for everyone to create lists and then compare/contrast them. Narrow it down into a “master list” for your photographer/videographer to work from. This is especially true if you have very sentimental shots you need to get covered – don’t just assume your photographer will know which jewelry is most sentimental, which relatives need generational portraits taken, or which areas of the wedding location have personal meaning.
Formal Photos are Important but Understand Timing
Choose a family member or someone from the wedding party to help gather folks together for formal group photos. It is difficult for the photographer to both prepare for a group shot and corral strangers. If the couple is seeing each other before the ceremony (“first look”), consider doing formal portraits before the wedding begins. This leaves more time for the reception. Otherwise, you have to fit formal portraits between the ceremony and the reception. This delays when people can eat, including the photographer. Here is when having a strict shot list is extremely important for timing purposes.
For Shooters: Schedule a time to refuel. This is more than just eating – this is time set aside for bathroom breaks, recharging batteries, backing up memory cards, and generally just getting refreshed. Weddings are among the longest assignments you’ll have. Don’t let clients assume you’re superhuman!
Know How to Handle “Uncle Bob”
Ask your wedding party to be mindful of looking at the photographer and only the photographer during group shots. They also need to respect their space so that they can get the best possible shots. If you have a family member who is also a photographer, discuss boundaries with them. With smartphones now ubiquitous, it is more important than ever to reserve resources for the people you actually are paying to document the big day.
Have a Planned Exit
Discuss your exit strategy with your photographer and videographer so that they are prepared when you leave the event. You may want to have a big send-off, full of sparklers or champagne toasts. Maybe you’re taking off in a limo – the shooters will need to know that! Make sure your package includes the send-off and pace the reception so that you’re not keeping the crew way over the agreed-upon time.
Enjoy Your Wedding Day and Leave the Rest to the Photographer
If you have already done the steps above, then there is no reason to worry the day-of. Let your photographer take it from there. Relax as much as possible so that they can catch you in the best light (figuratively but also probably literally). Come what may, in the end, the event will be absolutely beautiful, delightfully unique, and completely yours.
Photographers and clients alike – what tips do you have for each other? Communication creates the best kind of teamwork!
Bonus: What Gear to Use
If you’re a client, odds are you don’t have a lot of gear preferences – that’s what hiring a professional is for! However, it’s not a bad idea to find out a few things from your photographer to get a sense of their workflow. Examples of things to ask:
• Do you use flash photography or natural lighting only?
• Does the camera you use have a silent mode?
• Will you be carrying two cameras around or use an assistant instead? Or both?
• Should we make sure you can get very close to the altar or will you be using longer lenses from a distance instead?
• How much security will you need? For example – are you carrying everything with you at all times or will you require a place to stow all your stuff? Will there be any stationary setups for us to worry about (like lighting for portraits left unattended)?
For Shooters: What gear to use for a wedding is one of our most common questions from beginners. Here are some of our most popular and highly-recommended rentals for weddings, engagements, and other events.
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