Your parents have advice. Your aunt has advice. Your best friend’s cousin has advice. Well-intentioned words may be a dime a dozen, but professional tips and tricks are priceless when it comes to great photos and video of your wedding day.
Go with the pros
First and foremost, look for an experienced, full-time wedding photographer rather than someone who does it on the side, says Beth Baugher of True Love Photo. “There’s a huge difference between someone who photographs as a hobby and someone whose livelihood depends on your happiness,” she says. A professional wedding photographer will have the experience, the equipment and, most importantly, the vested interest in your happiness and satisfaction. Along with websites, Baugher recommends checking out photographers’ blogs and marketing efforts. These can reveal how active they are in the industry.
Be true to your style
“Style is everything to a couple,” says Stacey Bastian of Michael Provost Photography. “Is this photographer able to fit your style? If not, is the photographer willing to compromise and fit your style with their twist?” Even if your best friend is nudging you to hire her wedding photographer, you need to find a photographer whose style suits your own, or at least demonstrates versatility. Browse online and explore: Is the photographer well versed in classic black-and-white images, if that’s your desire? If you prefer a more modern or whimsical style, can she do that and still produce a few traditional pics for, say, your older relatives?
When you’ve narrowed down your favorite photographers—two or three is optimal—set up interviews in order to ask questions and see how your personalities mesh, says Jennifer Dunham Starr of The Memory Journalists. After all, you’ll be spending lots of time together. Your photographer should help you feel your best and most relaxed in any condition, says Rebecca Ford Soren of Ford Family Photography. “Ask them: How will they make sure your wedding experience is the memory you want to have for a lifetime?”
Anybody can get a great shot, but only a professional will produce content worthy of an entire album. “View at least one—and more is better—completed album or wedding,” advise Jeff Aldeghi and Tom Hopkins of Get Framed Photography. Look for strong images under a variety of circumstances: indoor and outdoor, bright sunlight and dusky twilight. If all images are lit the same way, “question how well the photographer will be able to handle other situations that may come up,” Aldeghi suggests. “They should offer details on the resources and experience they utilize for getting the best photographs at locations that match your style and event site,” Soren says. But consider more than just technical skill, Bastian adds. “I always tell my brides to look at the photos and see if they can understand the emotion of the couple. You want a photographer who can tell a story with pictures—candids, poses and all.”
Personal references from other couples go a long way, but vendors are a good source of recommendations as well. “Ask if the photographer is easy to work with, professional and willing to go the extra mile,” Bastian says. Baugher says that online reviews also are worth reading. Keep in mind that one bad review out of 20 need not warrant a raised eyebrow, but one out of four probably should.
That dotted line
To keep the day as stress-free as possible, review the contract—there should always be a contract—and ask questions ahead of time. Some questions Bastian suggests: “Are there extra charges? Do I have to pay for retouch or for black and white? What if I need you to stay over the hours I paid for? Will you be available if you are needed longer?” Aldeghi recommends avoiding predefined packages; you want what you want, so stick to it. “If the photographer wants to keep you locked into his package structure, he may not be the one for you,” he says.
Who’s my photographer?
"The contract should list who specifically is shooting your wedding and what happens if that photographer can’t make it come wedding day,” says Starr, who adds she never shoots a wedding without a second photographer. The tactic not only helps photographers cover a variety of angles, she says, but there is the peace of mind of a backup person and lens.
Get bang for your buck
Your package includes more than what happens prior to and the day of the wedding; the work really begins afterward, with the photo editing. Find out what you get for your money. Some photographers simply hand over a CD of photos, while others personally process all the photos before sending them along for viewing. “For that kind of production, a true professional is usually at a level where they have made the investment for top-quality equipment,” Baugher says.
Can your photographer take the heat? And the cold, the sudden thunderstorm, the disruptive children? Ask how he or she has faced challenges in the past: schedule changes, weather anomalies, equipment malfunctions. If the photographer is not forthcoming with answers, proceed with some caution, Bastian says. “Weddings sometimes do not go as planned, but as they say: ‘The show must go on!’”
The big question
Photographers all agree: Factor in all aspects—price, rapport, style, body of work, personality—when making your hiring decision. “Remember,” Aldeghi says, “photography is the one tangible thing left after the guests leave and the cake’s been eaten.” So the most important question—after the one that set you on this path—is this: “Why should I choose you to be my photographer?”