As you might know if you follow me on Facebook or Twitter or read my blog, I've written a book on wedding planning from the point of view of a photographer who has seen a lot of weddings! The book is chock full of practical tips about everything from choosing a gown to narrowing down your guest list. All of the information is designed to make your wedding look great and run smoothly - the goal for all wedding planning.
The book is available on Amazon as a Kindle download (you don't need a kindle, you can read it on Kindle software on any device) as well as a audiobook on audible.com. You'll find the kindle download of The Insider's Guide to Wedding Planning here and the audible version here. The kindle download is $2.99 and the audiobook is $4.86 or one credit if you're an audible member. If you're not, you can get the audiobook for free by signing up for a free 30 day trial at audible.com or click the same link and listen to part of the sample chapter on wedding dress shopping for free as well..
I thought it might be nice to give you a taste of the book by excerpting part of the chapter on wedding photography. If you have questions about what you read, please feel free to contact me!
Excerpt from Chapter 6 - Choosing a Photographer from The Insider's Guide to Wedding Planning:
"Which brings me to the most important aspect of choosing a wedding photographer - your eyes. What you see is what you get (WYSIWYG). Photographers are often very good at talking, but no amount of explaining what they do beats looking at the images themselves. Unfortunately, unless you're being coached by a photographer friend (who knows what they need to look for), no one ever shows you everything you need to see. If there's a big secret to choosing the right photographer, this is it.What we put on our websites is our best work. Of course, right? But a wedding day is very long and goes from day to night in most instances. You might find a photographer who has perfect images when the lighting is just right, but really falls off when it gets dark. So which images do you think she's going to show on her website or in his sample albums?
Would you choose a venue if they didn't allow you to look at the inside even if the outside was beautiful? Would you order a cake you hadn't tasted? Why would you settle for only seeing part of what a photographer can do when those skills are so important to the images you're going to have for a lifetime?
You have to ask to see it all - full galleries of full weddings. The very same type of gallery you will be given after your wedding is over. If they have one from your venue, better still, but more importantly try to match time of day to the time of day of your wedding because lighting is the biggest skill set a photographer has and you need to see if they can pull it off through all your images.
You will get push back when you ask for this. Many photographers will tell you it's a privacy issue or it's too many photos or, my personal favorite that I heard from a perspective client trying to see full galleries, "You don't want to see all those closed eyes." They were right! And you don't want to see them in your gallery either. Really good photographers are proud of their work and their skills and they don't like the fact the industry has been overrun with people who don't always know what they're doing. If someone doesn't want to show you a full gallery, there's probably a reason they don't want you to see it. Move on. And as for the privacy issue? I've had two couples in all my years of shooting weddings who asked me in advance to keep their images private and even they changed their minds after the wedding. Most are more than happy to help others make their decision.
Why is this so important? Because photographers can be really good sales people. By and large we're pretty personable and can sell you on ourselves fairly easily. But you're not just hiring a person you want to hang out with or who your friends will think is cool, you're hiring someone who is going to document your wedding day and give you the images you'll be living with for the rest of your life. It's a big job and not everyone is good at it or can afford the right equipment.
Follow these instructions and you'll know exactly what you're going to get from your wedding photographer:
1. Do a Google search in your area (you're likely to get thousands of responses) and talk to your friends who've gotten married in the last few years. Your venue and planner will also have a few suggestions.
2. Comb the websites and try to imagine yourself and your friends and family in their images. This is where style comes into play.
3. Narrow your list down to eight to ten photographers whose work and philosophy appeals to you. Read online reviews to get a feel for how they've treated other clients.
4. Get an idea if they're in your budget (a note on budgets below). Some have the prices posted on their websites, others will send them to you, while some will only give you a starting price.
5. Narrow your list down to four to six photographers.
6. Contact them and ask if your date is available and if they would be willing to send you 2 full galleries from weddings taken at a similar time and place to yours. If they're not available or they won't show you full galleries, then mark them off the list.
7. Go through the galleries the photographers sent you. There will be hundreds of images, so you'll have to look at them differently than their "best of" website galleries. The details and people in the shots won't be as meaningful to you as your own photos will be, but that's not really the point. You're looking for technical consistency, overall style and general quality. There's a big difference between someone who edits their images thoroughly and someone who just puts SOOC (straight out of the camera) photos into a gallery. If the image files are included in your package, you want to be able to make prints without them needing additional work. You don't have to look at every photo, but spot check throughout the day to make sure the photos are as good in the dark as they are in the day. Basically, you want to ask yourself if you would be happy with this gallery if it had been sent to you after your wedding.
8. Now (and not before!) take the photographers whose galleries you liked and contact them and ask to make an appointment.
9. Sit with them and get a feel for who they are on a personal level and ask them the questions below. It's important to like your photographer, you spend a lot of time with them, but it's secondary to the images they will be delivering. If you're choosing a package with an album or other product, look at the samples they have available. Again, the offerings between photographers can vary wildly. There's a big difference between a leather flush mount album and a photobook. You want to see what you'll be getting after the wedding.
I promise you if you go through these steps faithfully, you won't be surprised by the images you receive after your wedding. No matter what your budget is (and especially if it's low!) you can use this method to find the best photographer you can afford.
Which brings us to budget. There's a lot of sticker shock when planning a wedding and photography is not immune to that. I've spoken to plenty of people who can't understand why wedding photography should run north of $2,500 (and way more depending on what you want). Again, this is my industry, so you would be forgiven if you thought I was being self-serving here, but running a real wedding photography business is very expensive. "How could that be?" you say. "You're just taking photos and putting them on a disc." And if that's all your photographer is doing then you might be right. But good photographers do a lot more than that.
Professional looking photos require skill, experience and very good equipment. "My cousin has a good camera," you might say. Any maybe they have a decent consumer camera, but it's not same thing as a pro wedding camera which should run above $3,000. Getting images when the light is bad is equal parts know how and equipment. A good consumer camera simply won't do the job. And besides, one good pro camera is not enough. You need at least 2 and most photogs carry 3. It's not a matter of if your camera goes out, it's when. They don't last forever and your photographer needs to be able to turn around and pick up another one when it happens. You also need good lenses, not just the zoom that ships with the camera. Most good photographers I know carry 4-6 lenses to a wedding. They all serve a different function - from close up shots of the rings to wide views of the venue to photos taken with very low light (lenses work in conjunction with the camera), a one size fits all lens that does everything perfectly doesn't exist. When I walk into a wedding I have over $10,000 worth of gear hanging from my shoulders. Suddenly your cousin's $800 camera and kit lens doesn't look so good. I had a bride in a consult recently ask me why my photos looked really clear in the dark and other photos she had seen had little pixels showing up as dots. Good cameras and good glass (lenses). You can't do it well at all times of a wedding without it.
In addition, even if your photographer largely shoots natural light, they need lighting on hand and the knowledge to use it to cover all situations that arise. This is where the gallery viewing is very important. How does the photographer handle low light situations? Many churches are dark and most receptions are as well. When the DJ's turn on the special lighting that's in your package, they turn off the lights in the venue. Make sure your faces are still clear and the venue can still be seen in the background.
You also want a photographer who runs a real business which means they're insured, their equipment is insured and they're licensed with the state or city you live in. It's easy to charge less when you're mostly doing it on the side, but if someone gets hurt tripping over a light stand at your wedding, you want a photographer who has a solid liability policy and many venues require it.
So my advice to you is to hire the best photographer you can afford. Not everything at your wedding has to be top of the line, but it's more important at the end of the day to have good wedding photos than to have poured premium liquor to your college friends all night. They'll have a good time no matter what they're drinking. I've seen enough of them. I can promise you that.