How do you choose the right wedding photographer for your special day?
The internet is full of advice on wedding photography, but a lot of it is geared towards people that already have photography experience. There isn’t really a lot of information out there for people who are at square one.
Most of the time when we meet with potential clients, they say the same thing: they want a natural, un-posed, journalistic record of their wedding from someone who isn’t going to interrupt the natural flow of the day.
When I guide them though my experience of what this means, and fully understand their needs and vision, most couples find their perfect balance between posed and un-posed moments, and a good expectation is set for the day.
The best photographer for your wedding, and trust me you can get the best photographer for your day, is one who exhibits a few consistent traits that you can see and relate to. This is what we will discuss in greater depth below.
Before we get going these are the elements we will be exploring. You can click on each of them to be taken straight to that section.
1. Posed vs Journalistic
Many wedding photographers already use a journalistic style of approach to represent the flow of the day ‘just as it happened’. But some moments need that extra guidance from a professional to capture the best possible photo, something which does not always work if it is not facilitated.
It is important to establish a balance though, so do ask your potential photographer about this. Most wedding photographers approach their work from a similar logistical standpoint, however you will often find the end results couldn’t be more different.
So, for some practice - take a look at the gallery below. Can you tell which of the photos were wedding journalism and which were posed?
2. story telling
Each wedding photographer has a unique approach to representing a story through photos, this is what resonates with you as the viewer. You will likely find that the right style (for you) will touch or communicate depths of emotions to you in split seconds.
The ability to tell a story will pre-determine how the photographer positions or captures important moments at your wedding, and is something to think about when considering if a photographer is the right fit for your vision.
Some variables that photographers manipulate to tell their unique take on the event will make all the difference from one portfolio to the next.
Composition, lighting and tools are some of the first points to consider:
Composition is the way the photographer utilises the frame to capture the moment. In other words - how did they set the photo up?
The angle and incorporated elements in the frame should tell the story in an engaging way.
As an example some of the below photos show the brides perspective of the groom, but uses the bride and father of the bride as key elements to focus the viewer on the groom and his response in seeing the bride.
This guides the viewer's eyes exactly where to go the moment you look at the photo, and also accentuates the story of seeing the groom’s face from the bride’s perspective.
Important questions to think about when reviewing a portfolio will be:
Are all the photos taken from the same perspective and angle?
How does the photographer make things more interesting?
Are there moments like this picture below, where they get down underneath the action?
Does the photo make you feel like you are part of the moment or removed from it?
Any experienced photographer needs to understand not only light but quality of light, i.e. how light behaves in certain instances and where to get the best lighting in any situation.
Many people do not understand that it is shadow that defines and shapes objects, not just even light and natural light. Shadow can be utilized to shape, accent and even create mood.
Photographers instinctively understand how the quality of light will affect the story they are attempting to capture, or what quality of light they need to seek.
When you look at a photographers portfolio look for the way they utilise light - have they used lighting to change scenes from bright and open to dramatic and moody or contemplative?
For example, take the photos below. They are of the same brides, taken not long after each other, but the light is totally different, and therefore the photos are totally different.
Ideally you are looking for a photographer that can create a mood that resonates with you or one that can work in any kind of light. This also ensures that they can cope with any lighting scenario on the day.
Consider if their portfolio is…
Dark and moody?
Bright and romantic?
Bland and flat?
Balanced and varied?
Some photographers refer to themselves as ‘natural light photographers’. While beautiful photos can be taken with just natural light, this can only be taken so far. This is when artificial light needs to be utilised.
It is important that you see work in your photographers portfolio that shows artificial light being used both in the day and vitally at night at the reception. You should ask your photographer if they use strobe, flash or video lighting as part of their typical wedding shoot.
Every lighting situation is different for photographers, so make sure you’re looking at photos that have similar characteristics to your venue. An outdoor wedding in the middle of the day with bright sun requires a very different skill than a New Year’s Eve reception in a dark church.
As you’re looking through portfolios, keep an eye out for what identifies the photographer’s portfolio as distinctly their own. It might be that they take super crisp images with really high quality lenses. Or maybe they use their grandfather’s camera to take old school black and whites. A photographers’ favorite tool will tell you a lot about the way they see the world.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to storytelling. Sure technically there is a right and wrong way to take a photo, but when it comes to wedding photography, what you’re really looking for is a storytelling technique that matches your idea of how your wedding will be.
So ask yourself, does the photo you’re looking at have a sense of humor? Is it romantic? Is there a softness to it? Does it look crisp like a magazine image?
The story a photographer tells is going to be your story through their eyes, so you want to make sure that they match up as much as possible.
A quick conclusion of Story Telling…
If all of this seems like a ton of information to digest, then keep it simple and look for two criteria:
Do you like the photos and do they make you feel happy?
Not a super visual person? Then it’s totally fine to ignore the first question and move onto the second:
Do you like the photographer and do they make you feel happy?
More important than lighting, composition, or any fancy technology, those are the power rules to live by.
3. Settle on a style
Before researching photographers, you'll need to decide what type of photography style you prefer. This will determine who you'll want shooting your wedding.
The best wedding photographer will have a balanced approach and utilise several genres of photography. Couples are ill advised to choose a photographer that specializes in just one style unless they have very specific requirements.
We have elaborated further on different photography styles on another page, you can click the button below to go there now.
Past photos are important, but it is also important to meet your potential photographer in person. If you like what you see on their website, and they are within your budget range, call to see if they're available for your wedding date.
If the photographer is already booked on your date, you may want to see if they have an associate or can recommend another shooter with a similar style.
Be prepared to talk about your venue, your wedding style and what you envision for your photos - at the end of the day, the wedding photographer works for you.
Carefully review potential photographers websites and blogs to check out photos of other weddings they've shot. This will give you an idea of their style.
Is the feedback from previous clients positive? How does the photographer respond to questions, what is their average feedback time?
Consider the design of their website, this may hold some clues to their personality and style. If available check out their Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages too.
6. Ask to see past wedding albums
Don't base your decision solely on what you see in a wedding photographer's highlights gallery or album. This usually comprises a portfolio of the best of the best.
To get a well-rounded idea of their work ask to see two or three full galleries from real weddings they've shot, so you can get a better idea of what your complete collection of photos might look. And ask to see at least one or two complete albums of weddings that are in similar settings to yours.
When reviewing a photographer's album, look for the key moments you want captured. Also look for sharp images, thoughtful compositions and good lighting.
It's also very important that you detect sensitivity in capturing people's emotions; make sure the photographer's subjects look relaxed, and that their are lots of candid moments captured
7. Make sure your personalities mesh
In order to get the best photos, go with a professional who has a firm grasp of social graces but is bold enough to direct respectfully while going the extra mile to capture great images.
It is important that their demeanor puts you at ease and doesn't irritate you in any way as they will be on your heels for the whole day. The more at ease you are the better the photos will turn out
This is equally relevant for your guests. To get the best photos, your photographer needs to be assertive enough to seek out great moments, relaxed and easy going enough to conjure up natural smiles and stances, and calm enough to be a positive influence.
8. Confirm back up photographers and second shooters
Be sure that the photographer you interview is the lead photographer on the day of your wedding. Since all the above elements determine the way the story develops, a different photographer could produce a different style contrary to your expectation.
Be sure to include specific stipulations in the contract about who will cover for the photographer should something happen on the actual day. Check whether the photographer will bring any assistants to your wedding, and if so, how many?
If you have room in your budget, consider hiring a second shooter. The main benefit to having two shooters is that you get twice as much coverage, and you get to see entirely different elements of the day that may have otherwise been missed.
If you are having 250 guests or more attending your wedding you may want to consider three shooters, just to be sure your day is captured from all angles.
9. Compare packages
Wedding photography packages can range from $2,500 all the way up to $15,000 plus on the higher end of the spectrum (depending on what your requirements are).
Ideally, you want your photographer to be there for your full wedding day - from when you start getting ready until after you make your grand exit from the reception.
While packages vary, most include about six to 12 hours to cover everything from pre-ceremony events, such as getting ready and first looks, to the end of the reception. It's usually better to pay for more coverage if there's a chance you'll run over and you definitely want your photographer there until the end.
Also consider whether you'll want to do an engagement shoot or have your photographer shoot other events during your wedding weekend - bridal brunch, dress fitting, mock run and setup of venues if this is a family affair.
10. Ask about your rights
Most contracts stipulate that the photographer owns the rights to all photos taken at the wedding, even the ones of you.
In other words, the photographer can use them for promotional purposes (on their website, blogs, publications and even in ads).
That also means that you can't just post the digital proofs they send you. Unless you negotiate otherwise most photographers have a policy that you can only share watermarked images or images with their credit on them.
If you want to print the images yourselves or order an album from another source, you'll have to buy the rights to the images.
11. Get the post production details
Professional photographers shoot in RAW - a format that allows them greater ability to manipulate the digital information to produce the final image. This however means that they require specialized software to upload, process and edit all those files.
It varies, but many photographers spend an additional 40 hours editing images from a single wedding, so it can take up to six to eight weeks to get proofs back to you (depending on how busy they are).
Talk to your photographer around your time based expectations, you might be surprised at what they can achieve with the correct amount of planning and additional assistance.
Some discussion points that will be of value:
How many images should I expect? Will they be high resolution or low resolution?
Will I be able to get prints made myself, or does the photographer retain the rights to the images?
Will the proofs I see be the retouched versions, or does that happen after I select the photos I want? Speaking of retouching, ask about retouching options and special effects (which can range from simple white balancing to beauty retouching and stylized art effects like super-saturated colors) and the additional cost for both.
Ask about same-day processing and slideshow options at the reception i.e. a slideshow you can show guests within 2-3 hours after the wedding.
Ask about photo booths
Although we may be biased, one of the most common things we hear is couples regretting hiring a ‘cheap’ photographer for their wedding.
It can seem overwhelming having to consider all of the above information, however your wedding photos will be one of the few things you have to remember your special day, so it is worth taking the time to find the perfect photographer.