Congratulations on your engagement! Pop some champagne and celebrate! Now, guess what? It’s time to narrow down the hundreds of photographers that are in your local market.
I have talked to many a bride who have found the process of vendor selection to be somewhat daunting. Sifting through countless local photography sites and looking at so many pricing options that it’s all become mental mush.
After countless consultations, answering thousands of questions, and helping clients figure out what they’re looking for, below are my top ten things you should know before you hire a wedding photographer. This list is geared to help you narrow down between your top few “true” wedding photography professionals who make their living at photography. Questions like, “Do you bring backup gear” and “Do you have insurance” are assumed to have already been answered with a resounding “yes,” as questions like these are geared more for a wedding photography novice.
As an additional side note, a lot of the pricing references below are based on what I’ve observed in the Ohio wedding photography market. Because there is so much diversity in the industry, not everyone will fit into these categories and I encourage you to meet photographers and explore on your own, but use this as a general guide to help you get where you want to go.
1) Photo-Journalistic vs. Artistic vs. Traditional Shooting Styles
There is a spectrum for photographic shooting style that has photo-journalism on one end, traditional on the other, and in-between the two falls artistic. How do you know which shooting style is right for you and your wedding day? The answer is, which a lot of photographers won’t tell you, most weddings require a little bit of all three styles to create the perfect collection. It is how much of each style they utilize that will be what you’re ultimately deciding on.
A lot of clients these days are drawn towards a more natural approach to their photos, which does not typically include grip-and-grin photography and robotic line-em-up poses. They are also not too terribly exciting or fun to go through for the photographer or the couple. There are some photographers who exclusively shoot in this style, but it’s an older style that seems to be fading by the wayside.
So why do any traditional posed photos? A lot of family members from older generations love these photos, and over the years I’ve started to understand why. Formal photos at the front of a church or outside are a great way to document what people looked like at the time of the wedding. As people grow older, and life changes with its ups and downs, those photos become more valuable. It is not always possible at larger weddings to do organically inspired photographs for everyone outside of the bridal party, so the traditional methods serve as a quick and accessible way of including family members and people of importance in the wedding day.
I’ve had many couples reach out to me after their wedding thanking me for their posed family photographs, as members of their family had since passed. It’s one of the beautiful things about photography. Not to sound cliche, but it really can preserve the memory of those important people in your life. Not every couple opts to have posed family photos, or any posed photos at all, but when they do, it’s important the photographer knows how to manage large groups of people quickly and efficiently.
Artistic photography is mostly about composition and fulfilling the photographer’s creative vision. Some photographers are more pose-oriented in this approach, while others are more prompt-oriented. This style allows the photographer to construct the shots and couple in a way that makes them look their absolute best while retaining artistic and creative ingenuity. These are the photos you will most likely hang on your wall or put in your wedding album, so a little framework is given to the process to ensure a stunning outcome. A lot of photographers call themselves photojournalists or documentary photographers but are actually mainly shooting under this artistic style.
There is a true art to being able to tell a visual story and not interject yourself as a photographer into that moment. Photo-journalistic photos are pure and true-to-life. They are taken from an observer’s prospective. A quiet, artistic fly on the wall. You will never hear a photo-journalist say “look at me and smile!” These photographers have an impeccable sense of timing and innate ability for anticipating the opportune time to take a photo. Getting ready photos, ceremony photos, reception photos, and most importantly some of the portraits all require a photographer who has mastered this art.
2) Editing Style
The wedding vendor selection process has changed a lot since our parent’s generation, and in my opinion for the better. Couples are treating their wedding as a creative extension of who they are, which always makes for a memorable and genuine celebration. It’s only natural that the wedding photographer matches the style of the couple in the way they photograph an event. “But what if I don’t know what my style is,” you might ask.
You don’t need to know your style as much as you need to know what you like, and in that, you will find your style. Do you love beautiful vibrant, colorful images? Are you in love with a soft faded vintage look? Are you drawn to contrasty, black and white photos? It’s important to take timelessness in consideration. Style and preference usually change over the course of our lives. To your best estimation, do you think you will still like that photographic style 30 years from now?
Also, editing style is a great way to see a photographer’s experience right off the bat. If every photo in their portfolio is edited in a different style, the photographer you are looking at has probably not landed on their brand style yet. Always look for consistency. Consistency in editing style is a great signifier for professionalism and experience.
3) Raw files
If you don’t know what a RAW file is, good. If you do know what they are and you are wanting them as part of your wedding collection, you are most likely looking to hire a novice. A true professional will not even consider giving their raw files out, with some commercial exceptions. This is because editing style is very much a part of the brand of the photographer you are hiring.
As a client, even if you purchase the digital collection of images as .jpgs, editing these images to change them could very well be a breech of contract. If you are not going to allow the photographer to execute what they do best, then why spend the money to hire them? With that said, some photographers have a price for everything, so with them, if you want to buy the RAW files, expect to pony up some major Benjamins.
4) Budget & What to Expect at Different Price Ranges
It would be downright un-American NOT to try and find the best deal for your hard-earned money. Keep in mind, photography may be the only thing you walk away from the wedding with that’s tangible. If you’re willing to drop 5k on a dinner that people will finish in 15 minutes, wouldn’t it make sense that you would spend the same if not more on a product that will last a lifetime? Ideally money should be just one part of your defining criteria and artistry, experience, personality and professionalism can help round out that decision. It is completely understood, however, that not everyone has the luxury of even having a wedding. Whether you elope in a courtroom, have a quaint, 20-person backyard wedding, or a huge, 200-300 person wedding, at the end of the day it’s about your story and your love. But know, on average, you get what you pay for.
This is the price range for those photographers who are students, new to the industry and are looking to start their portfolio, and hobbyists who enjoy photography in their spare time but wouldn’t consider themselves professionals. It is entirely possible that in this price range, the photographer hasn’t shot any weddings yet.
Generally speaking, they are still exploring their craft, so they will edit the photos in an array of different styles and will typically give you all of the digital images. Very infrequently will this price range offer you any sort of finished products, like books.
In this price range, you will find photographers who have done more than one wedding and who are more familiar with their camera. A more substantial portfolio is being established here, so their style is a bit more defined. However, you will typically find a lot of different editing styles in the same portfolio.
Sometimes an inexpensive printed option is offered. Flash photography, which is important for the reception part of the event, might be lacking for this price range and below.
This is a starting price range for a lot of mid-level professional photographers. In this price range, you might only receive a certain amount of event coverage and nothing else, or a lesser-expensive book option might be included as well. Depending on who it is, a digital collection of images is also a possibility, but typically speaking, is included with higher price ranges.
I would say most active, experienced and dedicated wedding photography professionals fall within this budget range. A solid portfolio has already been established. This is the range where you will observe true creativity from the photographers, as their knowledge and experience allows them to try new things and take advantage of any lighting situation.
Typically photographers in this price range are well versed in shooting in dark churches, lighting dark rooms for receptions, and lighting during sunset. These photographers have shot years worth of weddings and can pretty much walk into any situation and know what to do. They have a solid gear kit complete with top-of-the-line lenses, camera bodies, and lighting. They value on-going education and continually stay up-to-date with the industry.
Higher-end wedding coverage and products start in this price range and can go as high as $50,000+. Yes you read that correctly. And yes, there are some photographers that are completely worth every penny of that. Contact me if you’re interested and I can send you some links that will make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.
Photographers in this price range tend to win local and national photography awards and have been published online and in local and national print magazines. They are recognized not only for their skill, but more importantly, for their artistry. It is not uncommon that these photographers travel nationally and internationally.
5) Digital Images and The Book
There are a lot of different view points on releasing digital images as part of a package. Some photographers simply don’t do it. Some include them in their packages and some charge extra for them. Having the files and a print release are great. You can easily share them with family and friends, print your own photos and make your own products.
Before you decide the digital files are the ONLY thing you want with your package, however, think about this fact: technology is fleeting. Mac is currently making computers without DVD drives. That custom disk that you wanted so badly with your wedding package will be obsolete in less than 10 years. So what about a USB drive? Same thing- it will also be obsolete some day. Think of it like having all of your wedding images stored on a VHS tape. Yikes! Everything is moving towards cloud-based storage. It’s safe, reliable, and easily accessible. And yet, I’m sure someday that too will become, *sigh,* obsolete.
So what if I told you there was a way to preserve your wedding photographs for the rest of your life without having to worry about technology, upgrading systems or information storage. This method has been around for awhile, with the oldest one in existence reaching an estimated 2,673 years old. It’s called a Book.
In a world that is so digitally-based, the book offers a tactile experience that will be rare and precious for future generations. I’m not talking about the book that your parents had either, where the photos are all tilting in their sleeved pages.
It’s an extremely exciting time for wedding photographers and their clients because the options are endless when it comes to creative album design. The companies that make these one-of-a-kind, 100% custom, hard-bound heirlooms have really mastered their craft. Working with a photographer that not only is a great photographer but also has great taste when it comes to album design will really ensure you receive a product that you’ll want to have for the rest of your life.
6) See a full wedding album- both digital and print versions
Photographers now double as designers, arranging photos into book layouts and spreads. The DVD, USB or digital download will never tell your story in a comprehensive way like the book will. Having a photographer who is also successful as a book designer is extremely important. A photographer could have the most beautiful images and be completely horrible at telling the printed story, or vice-versa.
You want to look for someone who can take beautiful photos and then translate them into beautiful books and products, even if you have no intention of purchasing any products. There should be a level of sophistication and thought behind the finished pieces. Seeing these is a great marker for taste and overall style. Keep in mind the notion of timelessness here as well. Will the album design still look beautiful and timeless in 30 years, or will the way the photographer arranged the photos look dated?
An online viewing gallery is not a story, nor is a stack of digital images a tangible keepsake:
Well thought out page layouts visually re-create the story of the day in an elegant way and are compiled into a book that will last a lifetime:
7) Second Shooter
Any seasoned photographer can creatively shoot a wedding on their own. There are certain instances, however, when you will want a second shooter. If the couple is getting ready in different locations and you want both locations photographed, you will need a second shooter for that segment of the day. For any church who places restrictions on where the photographer can go during the ceremony, you will want a second shooter. Some strict churches will not even let a photographer move from one spot the entire ceremony.
For this reason, a second shooter is needed to provide another view point for that portion of the day. From this photographer’s perspective, the more points of view, the better. I love having a second shooter work with me. It allows me to divide and conquer. This person can step in and act as a lighting assistant when needed, and various other roles that can help execute a creative shot. If you can afford it, adding a second shooter is great for rounding out your entire collection. Just make sure the person who will be second shooting is also a professional photographer, as this will get you the most from your investment.
8) The Engagement Shoot
There seems to be a shift lately where clients are now embracing the idea of an engagement shoot. A few years ago it was seen as an “add-on” or an “extra.” Some people still may not see the point in having one, so this one’s for you. Talking specifically to newly engaged couples, have you ever had photos taken with your partner? I don’t mean selfies at the bar. I mean true images that show the two of you together, interacting, and representing your unique relationship in an artistic way? My guess is that your answer is “no.”
The engagement shoot photos show a couple in a more down-to-earth way. It’s a way of capturing what you look like every day, as opposed to the wedding day when you’ll most likely be in formal attire. It also gives the couple a chance to have their photos taken so they can get used to how it feels to be in front of the camera.
This session helps both parties feel more relaxed and will give you a good feel for the style in which the shoot is conducted. Some people find out that they like to be put in poses, and that makes them feel more secure. Other people discover that they like a more natural, prompted approach. At the end of it all, it’s also fun to utilize the photos in creative ways, including having them as part of the wedding reception decor.
9) First Look
There are two very different ways to see your fiance for the first time on your wedding day. You can go the traditional route, where you walk down the aisle and see them for the first time standing on the other end. The other way is called the “first look.” This is generally a private space for just the two of you to be together. Both have their benefits and whichever way you choose is up to you. Sometimes photographers try to push for one or the other based on wedding day schedules. Keep in mind this is your wedding day, so never feel pressured to take an approach you don’t want to take.
For the traditional route, your fiance and guests see you for the first time as you walk down the aisle. It’s very romantic and guests of course love seeing the live reactions of the couple as they see each other for the first time that day. Bridal party photos and the couple’s portraits would then take place after the ceremony. Depending on how much time there is between the ceremony and the reception will depend on how much time you have for photos. The more time you allow for your photos, the more robust of a collection you will walk away with.
The first look is done before the ceremony. It is a nice private place where just the couple can see each other, be together, and talk with each other. They are free to hug, embrace, kiss, and talk, where none of those things would typically happen if they were to see each other for the first time during the ceremony. Bridal portraits would then take place after the first look freeing up the couple for their cocktail hour.
10) Reception Photos
If I were to critique a photographer’s portfolio based on technical skill, I would go straight to their portfolio’s reception photos. These are an Achilles heel part of the wedding for some photographers. The reception tends to be very difficult to photograph, as most are held at night in dark rooms. Getting lighting to look balanced and dynamic is a skill and an art form in itself. On-camera lighting can flatten a subject and can sometimes dull down the entire frame.
To compensate, changing the photos to black and white helps add contrast. The only problem with this is that you don’t want to be delivered an entire reception collection of only black and white photos. Off-camera lighting allows for the light to “wrap” the subjects, making them appear more three-dimensional. The photographer also doesn’t have to change the photo to black and white for it to appear striking. When choosing a photographer, ask to see color reception photos. It will easily help some photographers stand out among the rest.
What Should You do Now
If you are in the market for a wedding photographer in the Columbus, Ohio or surrounding area, then I encourage you to give me a call, or fill out the form here. We can meet, discuss the plans for your wedding day, and get to know each other over some coffee or tea.