If you're looking into hiring a wedding photographer, you may not have much experience with the profession. Although you can pick photographers you like, there is more to the story than just that. So, how can you make sure you're hiring the right photographer? Here are seven tips that can help ensure you aren't disappointed.
As we moved out of lockdown in the U.K and event regulations were lifted, I started to get a lot more messages from friends and acquaintances about photography. The bulk of these enquiries were asking for my advice on wedding photographers, which is a tricky topic to approach. For the most part, I'm hesitant to recommend anyone I don't know, but they aren't usually asking for me to decide for them, rather help them make an informed decision. For example, how do they know which photographers will be good? How do they know which ones will not let them down? Is the photographer charging a fair price? While these questions apply to wedding photography, they apply to more or less all types of photography that involve the hiring of a photographer. So, here are some of the tips I offer to anyone asking for advice on the hiring of a wedding photographer.
This won't be an exhaustive list, so if you have any tips you can share to help people, please leave them in the comment section below.
1. Ask for Full Galleries
When I am sent links to other photographers to review, I give the usual cursory glance at the quality of the first shots they show. This is typically an indication of their ceiling or best work to date, and while interesting, it's seldom useful. Instead, what you must assess is the photographer's consistency. That is, what is their average?
The best way to tell this is to ask for a couple of full, delivered galleries. In these galleries you want to look for key shots, the quality of most shots, any areas the photographer excels or is lackluster, and ask yourself whether you would be happy with this standard of results. With wedding photographers, if you can find a gallery at the same venue as you have booked for your wedding, this is a major bonus as the photographer will know good locations and the lay of the land.
2. Testimonials and Reviews
Testimonials and reviews are important to any business, but when you're entrusting something so important to someone you don't know, they can be crucial in ruling candidates in or out. Testimonials are typically cherry-picked, but if there are enough of them and they are verifiable, they can be comforting at least. With reviews, you'll likely have to do some legwork to find them all, using Google, Facebook pages, and so on. Search for the name they perform their wedding photography under (i.e. Robert K Baggs Wedding Photography — this isn't a promotion, I don't shoot weddings anymore!) and see what you can find.
If you do find complaints, do not instantly rule the person out, but rather read and assess it. I am in multiple communities of photographers where legal advice is the premise of the group, and I would say 75% of the requests for help are from photographers who are dealing with a problem couple. There's something about weddings that brings out the worst in certain people.
3. Meet With Them
I cannot recommend this tip enough. I appreciate it may not always be possible and you will just have to settle for a video call, but where possible, meet the photographer face-to-face. Typically in business, personalities complementing each other is a bonus, but not a requirement. With wedding photography, I would say it's far closer to a requirement. Not only does the photographer need to put you at ease and make you feel comfortable as you're having thousands of images taken of you, but you want to be able to have some sort of friendly relationship to give yourself the best chance of great, natural shots.
When I used to get wedding enquiries, I would offer a heavily discounted engagement shoot out at a nice location for a couple of hours. This would tick a number of boxes for us both: it would see if we work well in each other's company, the couple can see if they like my shots of them, and we can get to know each other without the pressure of the day. If you can do this, I'd certainly recommend it.
4. Experience With Specifics
This is a lesser-known tip and one that touches a number of other areas on this list, but it's an important consideration. Once you know your venue and the types of shots you want, you need to find a photographer who can deliver that and at the venue you have chosen. For example, if you're having a wedding in an old building in the middle of December, a natural light photographer will be — in all likelihood — a disaster. Conversely, if you're having a late morning wedding on a tropical beach in the summer, somebody who stylizes a lot of their shots with lighting techniques may not have the same impact you had hoped for. The former is far more likely than the latter and if your venue is particularly dimly lit, you are going to want to ensure the photographer you hire can handle it.
Now we move onto one of the most obvious considerations, but one that's crucial nonetheless: style. When you're choosing a photographer, you must find somebody whose style you enjoy. This sounds as if it needn't be said, but too often, couples ask a photographer to adopt a different style and that will rarely result in the sort of imagery they are hoping for. Rather, find a photographer who has delivered galleries in line with the style you like.
There is, of course, no right or wrong style, but as I mentioned in point four, be wary of exceptionally bright and airy styles if you're getting married in the bleak midwinter; those weddings are beautiful in a different way and you want to match the style of the photographer not only to your tastes but to the style of the wedding, too.
One of the most common supplementary questions I get asked after I have given most or all of the above advice is about price. Is this photographer worth the price? Is X a fair amount to pay? Which package should I pay for? There isn't a great deal of advice that can be given here as value is relative, however, there are some factors to weigh. The biggest red flag for me — and this is a little sad — is when the price is too low. The chances of you hiring a talented and experienced wedding photographer for your full wedding for three figures is dangerously close to zero. However, if someone is expensive, they damn-well better justify that price.
When I am looking at photographers who are above the budget for the person asking me, I'll focus on a few areas. Presuming they tick all of my other boxes mentioned above, I will then go to more advanced enquiries: do they have exceptional composition? Do they have unique work? Are there packages inclusive of more than the usual? One example of this would be our writer Jason Vinson, who I genuinely believe to be one of the most memorable and unique wedding photographers I have seen. I have no idea how much he charges for his wedding packages, but he ought to be above the average because his results are anything but average.
7. Avoid Friends and Family
I've done a lot of weddings for friends and family, despite my better judgment, and I would like to recommend that you avoid it where possible, despite the fact I have no horror stories to share personally. There are so many reasons that it deserves an article of its own, but I'll summarize: the downsides almost always outweigh the upsides, for both parties. If anything goes wrong it'll be a disaster as you're not just a client to the photographer, money becomes an awkward discussion, that person won't be able to enjoy the day if they're working, and so on.
Photographers, What Tips Can You Offer?
Most of the articles and guides to hiring wedding photographers are written by wedding planners and wedding blogs, which have their views colored by one side of the relationship. As photographers, we have our views colored by the opposite side, and so, this can be a way to balance out the scales. If you're a photographer, add your tips in the comment section below to help people Googling the question in the title.
The most important thing about wedding photography is to avoid making it too complicated.
The second is to be a friend to the bride and groom and their family.
The third is to be humble and avoid bringing your own talents into the spotlight. It's the bride and groom's big day, not the photographer's.
As an added bonus, I publish a photo book about the wedding. But first I ask them to select their favorite images from the cloud gallery. This helps me edit the book to suit their own taste.
One thing I wish for the future. Help from a second photographer will be nice. Then we have time to make a slide show that can be shown during the wedding party.