Finding the Best Wedding Photographer
Looking for a wedding photographer and feeling a little overwhelmed? Here’s how to find the best wedding photographer in 10 executable steps
Every choice you make dictates the outcome of your wedding day. Indoors vs outdoors, DJ vs live band, etc. Even your pre-wedding festivities are often considered the most important as they largely dictate the spirit of your whole bridal party and effectively set the tone for the entire wedding.
Most of those choices are self-explanatory but your choice of wedding photographer requires a more layered research process. When it comes to your core choice in the visual realm, it’s ironic that you are truly blind to the final product until after the fact. This means that careful research insofar as photographic acumen, artistic approach, and not to mention the affability and personality of your photographer, should all be of paramount importance in your hiring efforts.
Read on to uncover the strategy to sourcing the most perfect person to put behind the lens during the most important moment of your life!
Step 1: Artistic Approach
Ahead of perusing your local photographer listings, you must first come to a decision as to what type of photographic approach your photographer should have. There are numerous stylistic approaches to photography, but let’s look at the most common four: Classic, Editorial, Portrait and Documentary.
The Classic Approach
The classic approach endows the photographer with a tremendous amount of interpretive power. Your photos will capture the moment, but they will also capture your photographer’s frame (no pun intended) of mind. You’ll find that a lot of photographers who specialize in the classic approach have a penchant for black and white, and tend to favor candid pictures wherein the photo subjects are, or are seemingly, unaware of the photographer’s presence.
The Editorial Approach
The editorial approach is a sub-style of Classic and is frequently characterized by asymmetric framing and incongruent lines. Often the photo subject will be an ironic expression of something else, for example the sweet little five year old ring bearer’s side profile watching the vows being exchanged.
There have been some award worthy captures using this approach, but if you’re going to go this route you should have a thorough familiarity with your photographer’s portfolio. You don’t want the pictures to be so far off the beaten path that they no longer represent your special day as you remember it.
The Documentary Approach
A.k.a. "The Groom’s Favorite," this photographic approach is most associated with the modern groom’s predilection for honest memory making. In lieu of careful consideration as to what gets captured, the goal here is to capture the extravaganza as a photo journalist. The shutter clicks away, as many captures are pulled in as possible, and the boat load is assessed once the trawler is back on the boat.
Before you judge, this is actually not a bad approach to photographing a wedding. If your other visual elements are in place: venue, decor, color combinations, bridesmaids’ dresses, makeup artistry, etc. a photographer can afford to be rather heavy-handed behind the shutter and still capture some gems.
The Portrait Approach
If your idea of a wedding album is more Grant Wood this would be your ideal photographic approach. This approach is characterized by a wide assembly of every possible person combination against every background imaginable, and tends to cause a lot of outtakes as it is merely haphazard chance that 20 members of your extended family can face the sun, smile and all keep their eyes open at the same time.
While this is the most conservative approach to wedding photography, many portrait shutterbugs go off the beaten path with some carefully styled and posed photographs that appear more candid.
Step 2: Research
You’ll feel inundated at first, but you have to start somewhere. Begin by perusing local listings, reading reviews, getting referrals, and looking at lots of photographers’ website portfolios to see how they capture the moment and venue in question.
You’ll also want to pay attention to each photographer’s personality as expressed through their nature of self-promotion, client responses and website character.
Step 3: Contact
If everything seems to check out, you’re not done yet. Hold your horses we’re only two steps in! You’ll need to set up interviews to see who you’re dealing with. Price, approach, portfolio, and online presence are still only parts of the equation.
You should feel a human connection with your photographer and trust that they’re the type of person who would comfortably interface with your wedding crowd.
Step 4: See It All
The same way you might be inclined to take dozens of pictures before posting one on Instagram, photographers take dozens of pictures before posting to their portfolios. Prospective clients are shown an elite selection of highlights spanning a wide range of weddings.
It’s imperative that you ask to see full galleries of previous weddings in their entirety so that you can get an accurate picture (sorry for the puns) of what your gallery might look like.
Step 5: The Narrative
It’s best to start your evaluation from the perspective of the wedding narrative you wish to tell. Did the photographer capture parents’ expression during vows? The first dance? Wedding dress details?
Having a narrative vision for your wedding album beforehand will help you quickly decide whether or not the photographer you’re interviewing is going to be an appropriate match or not.
Step 6: Personality
Do you click (…I’m really sorry) with your photographer? Do they get excited when you describe your vision? Do they bring constructive preproduction to the table as well as allow you to have some executive control? You want to make sure you’re dealing with someone you can communicate with in the high-energy excitement of your big day, and someone you can communicate with even more later.
When the confetti settles and the chaos is over you’ll still be in touch with one wedding professional and that professional will be none other than your chosen photographer.
Step 7: Your Name Here Please
Unless you’re having a remote destination wedding merely with nuclear family in attendance, you’re likely to want to hire more than one photographer. Most photographers preemptively enlist help from a colleague or an understudy so you should make sure you’re connecting with everyone on the team since they’ll be equally responsible for your final product.
Moreover, larger studios have a number of main photographers on staff or even contractors they delegate jobs to so unless you explicitly write into your contract that you want the specific person or persons you’ve been dealing with, you could very possibly end up dealing with different people altogether.
Step 8: The Total Package
Wedding photography packages range from $2,500 on the low end to as much as $15,000 on the high end. Before you brazenly point to the low end of the spectrum and move on to Step 9 you have to understand the dynamics of photography pricing.
A $2,500 package will probably give you no more than a bare bones product, which excludes overtime, intellectual property rights, and sometimes even full delivery of the gallery. A $15,000 package, on the other hand, might include the retouching of a certain number of images, a romantic engagement shoot, fun coverage of your bachelorette party the week before, and maybe even a videographer.
You might find that going with a more expensive all-inclusive package will save you from a bank breaking number of add-ons.
Step 9: Know Your Rights
It’s commonplace for a photographer’s standard contract to stipulate that the photographer owns the copyrights to all the photos taken at your wedding. This grants them the flexibility to use the images for self-promotion without any say on your part. In turn, it means that you cannot post or share the images of your own wedding unless they come stamped with a watermark or a photo credit.
You’ll need to know all of this before putting pen to paper. If this seems ok to you, proceed with caution. If you forecast that this could cause some serious drama, preemptively negotiate these hitches out of your contract and be prepared to pay a little extra for the benefits of flexibility and peace of mind.
Step 10: Postproduction Process
It takes four weeks or more to get all your photos back from your wedding. "But they’re shooting digital images, why can’t I have them the very next day?" The reasons are multifold, but the main reason is that your photographer is shooting in a lossless RAW file format which is countless times larger than the compressed JPG files they’ll ultimately hand over.
Shooting RAW files makes the editing process much smoother but it also makes it more resource intensive and takes quite a bit longer, depending on your photographer’s setup. Either way, they’ll usually still have an entire work week which will solely be devoted to editing your album before you can so little as receive the proofs. Depending on the package you initially chose, you may also receive some extra goodies such as a bunch of fun custom edits or artistic filtrations, collages, hard copy products, you name it.
All of this takes a long time but in the long run, 40 years from now when you and your hubby are showing your little grandkids what it was like when Grandma and Grandpa fell in love, I promise you it will all be so worth it.