So here you are, engaged and just getting started with your wedding planning... or maybe you've been at it for awhile and can't figure out how to sort through all your options so you don't make a mistake that will put a tear in your eye on your wedding day.
I'm here to help! I'm Robert and I am a wedding photographer with 300+ weddings photographed over 15+ years. Over that time, I've been asked and have answered countless questions from couples trying to navigate the often overwhelming and confusing waters of deciding on a wedding photographer. Below are 10 of the questions I've been asked the most and answers from my perspective. Hopefully some of my questions and answers will surprise you. I'll also highlight what I consider to be the important things to look for in an answer to each question. If you like the info, please share it, bookmark it, pin it etc.
What is your style?
I think so often photographers get this question and in their minds kinda turn their heads sideways like a dog thinking "Say what? Don't you know that by looking at my pictures?"
Well, obviously they don't say that and those of us who have been around awhile and have gotten that question asked, then had the ensuing conversations afterward, know that the word style means more than just the kind of pictures you take. It also means "How do you work." and "What are your thoughts on posed vs unposed pictures?" and "Do you always do those pretty pictures of the couple after the ceremony?" So this question is actually many questions in one.
My answer is usually something along the lines of "I like my posed pictures to look unposed and my unposed/candid pictures to look posed." In other words, I want all my images to look intentional but natural. I love capturing moments or making it look as if I did. The main driving force behind how I work is being ready, willing and able to capture the moments that are fleeting at best but make for the most powerful memories long after "the day". Then I work on documenting all the pieces and parts of the day to preserve those memories as well.
One of the most overlooked things related to style is personality, which directly contributes to a photographer's ability to effectively (and painlessly) deliver consistent results from every wedding. If a photographer claims to be spontaneous and all about the moment then it's paramount that they be able to mesh with your wedding party, your family, etc so everyone has their guards down as much as possible. This is something you can generally get a feel from when talking you potential photographers on the phone, in person or via video chat. It's as simple as the feeling you get when you talk to your photographer. Do they make you feel confident? Do they make you laugh? Do they seem like they would fit in at your wedding? If you don't feel comfortable with them in the hour or so it takes to meet, it's likely you won't on the wedding day either. Pay attention to that.
Of course style can relate directly to the way a photographer decides to treat his images. Do they deliver 100% black & white? Do they mix black & white and color? Do they deliver all color? Is there style pretty "straight" or do they manipulate their colors/tones a lot? I will say that most of the prevailing opinions on wedding photography are that most over-processing can end up looking dated after that particular trend dies down. A good example of this is selective color where maybe the red roses in a shot are color and the rest is BW. It's totally up to you which style(s) you prefer and it's absolutely a conversation you should have with your photographer BUT I'll leave you with this; the adage for photographers is "Shoot what you show and show what you shoot." Meaning that a photographer's portfolio should fairly accurately represent what they LIKE to shoot. If you don't see a particular type of shot (say, group formals), ask about that. More often than not they shoot them, but don't advertise that because it's either not something they love doing OR they don't excel at it. If you are ok with that, then it's fine to concentrate on what they are good at and be rest assured the rest will be fine.
Important thing to look for in an answer: How does their verbal explanation compare with the images you've seen? Can you imagine the approach described resulting in the types of images you LOVE from this photographer? If not, feel free to ask them to tell a story about a particular image. You'd be surprised how much we can recall the specifics of making most of our images.
What kind of camera system do you use and why do you use that one over the others?
I don't think it actually should matter too much to you what camera your photographer uses. Nearly every camera above the base level consumer DSLR or Mirrorless will deliver perfectly acceptable results in the hands of the experienced professional so the exact model someone shoots with isn't really critical. The reason to ask this is to force your potential photographer to show that they have thought about and can explain their choice of equipment especially as it relates to how they shoot.
In my opinion, a camera is just a tool so asking a photographer what model of camera they have in order to determine how good they are is like asking a mechanic which kind of wrench they use to decide if they can fix your car. Yes, having a tool capable of doing the job is certainly important but more important is that the person using the tool chose it for a reason and uses it accordingly. Having shot everything from 4x5 large format film cameras to medium format to now various formats of digital equipment over 26 years as a professional, I can tell you that not every camera or every camera system is for every photographer. I currently use a mix of Nikon and Sony gear but prefer my Sony due to it's ability to shoot very quickly and show me what I'm going to capture before I press the shutter button. I know for sure that some aspects of the system would drive other photographers nuts and things about other systems that I don't much care for but I made my choice very carefully. Yes, there are bigger, badder cameras out there but having tried a lot of them, I have chosen a system that fits the way I shoot (more about moments, working fast, etc). In other words, I think it's most important that the photographer has built a system that works for them and that they be able to explain why they feel that way.
Important thing to look for in an answer: Does the photographer seem to have a good understanding of how and why they use the system they do. Are they able to explain how it leads to the type of pictures they show on their website, in sample books, etc? If not, it could mean they don't really have a firm grasp on how and why they do the things they do and it could be a sign if inexperience/lack of confidence.
What experience do you have?
This is one that isn't necessarily asked directly but usually comes up in one form or another over the course of a consultation. I'll say this right away; I am not one of those veteran photographers who believes the newer photographers don't have anything to offer or will mess up your wedding. I just simply believe there is obvious and intrinsic value in experience that no amount of raw talent or amazing "vision" can beat.
Moreover, I believe it's really helpful for a wedding photographer to both have experience with weddings AND other disciplines of photography. I started out shooting sports, then fashion, then back to sports, event coverage and portraits, finally finding a permanent home in wedding photography with healthy side of portraiture. I believe that diversity has allowed me to experience different situations that lend themselves to performing better on a wedding day. For example, nothing is as pressure filled as shooting the final minute of an NBA game with a playoff birth on the line... knowing you have to nail the winning (or losing) play with a single image. Living up to that pressure over the course of 10 seasons gave me the confidence to approach those "must have" moments of every wedding without anxiety. Likewise, shooting models and fashion for years taught me the value of lighting, location and posing. Having done well over 300 weddings, I've also see most everything that can (and usually does) happen during the course of a wedding day... and I know how to deal with it. The easiest way to think about it is this; the more experience your photographer has, the more able they are to be creative in the most intense moments rather than just simply capturing a "usable" image and THAT leads to those unforgettable shots you'll cherish for years.
Important thing to look for in an answer: Experience is important but it's not necessarily the most important thing. Life experience can be as important as experience behind the camera. I have seen plenty of AMAZING photographers who were good from day 1 simply because they had a knack or certain life experience that had trained their eye to capture beautiful photographs. I have also seen veterans of 20 years not be able to make a compelling image at a wedding. So it's important to consider experience along with a body of work as well as how they relate to each other. Ultimately your photographer's experience will be as much an insurance policy as anything else and like all insurance we hope to never need to use it... but are glad it's there when we do.
How much are your packages?
Ah, the million dollar question that is usually the first one asked by many potential clients. My packages start at around $1800 but just telling you that doesn't really tell the whole story nor does it convey my personal mission to work with anyone who wants to work with me.
Whether this is your first stop to try to sort out how to choose a photographer or you've been around the block a few times, you either have or will hear photographers say something like this "Long after your flowers are dead, your programs are lost and your friends have moved away, you'll still have my pictures." I have said that myself a number of times over the years and there is absolute truth to that but it fails to address a few things that are more true now than ever before. First, there are a lot of photographers, and good ones at that, vying for that slice of your wedding budget and you will pay ONE OF US to do the job... it's not like you're considering me vs nobody. Second, you now have way more information than every before at your disposal to know what a decent photographer should run you and you've probably used that info to determine your budget. Just know that in general, and in my experience, above a certain price (usually $1000 or so which is a good base for part-time photographers) a photographer's rate reflects their cost of doing business. In other words, their overhead. Do they have a big staff? Do they have a grand studio downtown? How much advertising do they do? How much do they need to make to live the lifestyle they want to live? Those things could possibly affect the quality of the finished products you receive but many do not. Some of those thigns WILL affect the overall experience (not always for the better) you have dealing with them. Basically photographers/photography companies come in two flavors; large studios with multiple photographers and smaller solo operations. Obviously there is a benefit to the larger operation in that more hands make lighter work so sometimes they can be in more than one place at a time (multiple photographers) or take your call while also shooting a wedding. For a solo or smaller company like mine with just 2 photographers who also act as administrators, editors, etc, you may have limited opportunity to talk to us but you will always be talking to who will eventually book, shoot, edit and deliver your final product. Considering how important I believe personality is, I obviously feel like this CAN be an advantage assuming you like your photographer. The bottom line is that budget is a concern for nearly all couples and we recognize that but you should not feel like you HAVE to pay a ton more to get great results. Doing your research, asking questions like I'm giving you here, should allow you to find a good photographer in your budget.
Oh, and obviously package contents can and do vary widely from photographer to photographer. The key things you are looking for are; hours of coverage, number of photographers, high-resolution edited files and any additional sessions included (engagement, bridal, post-wedding, etc). Beyond that, you may have albums, prints, slide shows and other less common add-ons. In the words of a planner friend of mine "The most important thing is to get the photographer you want taking pictures for you on your wedding day. Without the pictures taken, nothing else matters." The point is that you can usually work out price with the photographer you want so long as you're in the ballpark AND you can wait on some of the printed add-ons like albums or prints. If you are having trouble comparing photographers' packages, it may be helpful to try to ask each of them to quote a "lowest common denominator" package that just has the essentials of time, files and any extra sessions because wedding albums and prints very WILDLY in cost to produce as well as markup from one company to the next. Getting those products out of a quote for comparison sake can allow you to make a more fair judgement on each photographer's actual price/cost.
Important thing to look for in an answer: Does your potential photographer fit within your budget? That's the most obvious one but beyond that, are they able to give you the time and options you want. Keep in mind, the time is the key. Make sure they are going arrive early enough and stay late enough to capture all the important moments of your day. A quick way to calculate the time you need a photographer is to figure out what the last thing you want photographed at the reception and then work backwards. For example if you need your photographer there until your sparkler exit at 10pm then you will likely need at least 6 hours to get all of the ceremony and reception in. Likely 8 hours to allow some getting ready shots. But if you use the end as your starting point, you can easily tell if you are looking at enough time. FYI, some photographers, including me offer unlimited time. In fact, I PREFER to shoot this way and not because it pays more but because it's easier to tell the story of your day when I start at the beginning and finish at the end. It never hurts to ask about this option, especially with me. You'd be surprised what my answer may be in terms of working within your budget.
What do you need to know about my wedding to give you the best chance at success?
This is another thing that can vary from photographer to photographer but in general, there are a few things that can help us do our job.
Any information about your locations can help a lot. When you talk to us, it's really helpful to know for each location we're going to be photographing in the following; How brightly lit is it? Are there windows? What direction is the light coming from during your ceremony/reception (if outdoors)? Can we use flash? How high are the ceilings and what color are they? Obviously if we've worked your venue before, we can skip some of this. Please try to share this info not just about your ceremony and reception locations but also where you'll be getting ready.
While that's all great for us to know and CAN help, often times we're going to notice things you would not so maybe an important detail would not be something you'd think to pass on. With this in mind, some photographers like to scout locations, others don't, preferring to rely on their versatility to overcome any obstacles presented by a location. I am one who doesn't do much scouting unless asked to do so by my couples or planner. Having dealt with nearly every lighting/shooting condition possible, I carry the gear necessary to overcome it all... and have the experience to adapt quickly. So for me, I LOVE surprises. I LOVE the challenge of new places and new situations.
One thing that many people think is a crucial part of info to us photographers but really isn't is guest count. Since it's not usually my goal to photograph every single person at your wedding, the number of people attending doesn't tell me much beyond your probable budget. That IS information that I can use to determine how much I should charge you but it's not really that helpful in producing better work for you.
One thing that most people wouldn't really think to share is dinner type. Simply put, in my experience a buffet style dinner is easier work around in case things are running a bit late than a plated dinner that relies heavily on timing of service. What that means for a photographer is that we usually have a tad more flexibility to get that last sunset shot and go over our time by 10 minutes with a buffet than a plated dinner.
Important thing to look for in an answer: Basically you just want to know what each photographer feels is important to THEM in terms of planning for your wedding. This is another opportunity to assess the photographer's experience and how they work in different situations.
Will I get my raw files/digital negatives?
This question can also mean a lot of things depending on the level of photographic knowledge you have. If you are a photographer or dabble in it as a hobby, then likely you know that having the actual RAW files means a lot more work for you. To clarify, a RAW file is just a format of file that strips away any editing done in the camera or in post-production by the photographer. In the hands of most people, a RAW file is inferior in most ways not to mention they won't have the requisite software to open/process the files. Most photographers will not release their RAW files simply because they know that some percentage of what the final image will become is still left to be done. Depending on the photographer, that could be MOST of what needs to be done to get their images looking "finished" is done in post-production.
The reality is that there is confusion about just what RAW means. Many people think they are asking for one of three things; either the entire set of files shot on the day, a high-resolution file suitable for printing, or the un-edited straight-out-of-the-camera files.
I'll address all of those things. First, while you think you may want ALL the shots taken at your wedding, let me assure you, you don't. We take thousands of images at a wedding and a lot of what we do as photographers happens AFTER the capture to ensure what you see is the best it can be. For example, our decision making about which of 10 similar shots to give you and which to leave out ensures you get not only the memories you'll cherish but also the best version of those memories.
The second thing you may be asking for is high-resolution images. While that is a step in the right direction, it's not enough to have high-resolution images. You also want those images to be processed (or may call it edited).
The third thing, getting "straight-out-of-the-camera" or SOOTC images doesn't get you what you need to print, share or anything else because they will likely not look anywhere near as good as processed/finished files would.
I believe the following things are what you want as as finished product from your photographer as it relates to files:
- You want the set to be "culled" or edited down to include the best versions of each setting/situation your photographer captured.
- You want each file to be tonally/color corrected AND have any artistic enhancements done to it that the photographer deems necessary to "finish" it. This is where "vision" or "style" comes into play as they apply to how a photographer chooses to process their work. In other words, you should never see a treatment on a photographer's website/blog that doesn't match your final file provided.
- You want to be clear about the photographer's policy on retouching (removing blemishes, removing offending people/objects, etc) and have the ability to request it when necessary.
- You want to be able to ask the photographer to revisit their culling/edit if you are missing any people/moments/things from your set.
Important thing to look for in an answer: When discussing files with a photographer, make sure you understand exactly what you are getting. In my opinion, delivering anything but beautiful files, ready to print isn't doing you OR me any favors. We all benefit from work that looks amazing!
How do you feel about other people taking pictures at my wedding?
Ah, the "friend-tographer" question. This is usually about one of two things. A friend or family member who is actually a photographer or the idea that one or more people at the wedding will have a DSLR and will be taking pictures.
My thoughts on this have evolved over the years. I didn't used to have ANY problem with this even though my contract specifies I be the only photographer. I understand these days everyone has a camera, whether it be a DSLR or their phone. What I also understand is that more and more my couples are averse to having a hundred phones pointing at them during their ceremony so for that reason alone, I tend to suggest people let the photographer take the pictures.
In terms of a professional who also happens to be a friend, that is a situation that I've had go wrong one too many times to be super comfortable with it. What tends to happen is that your friend, knowing your family and other friends as they likely will, will be the one those people turn to when they want group shots done, a shot "just for them", etc. That's all well and good but too often that results in awkward at best moments when your paid photographer needs to say "hey, me too, look over here." It's best to make sure your family and friends know that your photographer is there for them too and anything they need, we can provide. Trust me, we don't mind following mom around the reception getting pics of her with all her friends she hasn't seen in awhile.
Now, when it comes to phones, there isn't much to be done about that. People have them and they will use them to take pictures. No way around it. The problem is when I am shooting formals and in 1/2 the pictures the groom is looking at his mom with her phone instead of me. So again, it's best to discourage people from using their phones during the formals/groups but a pro should be able to deal with it without ruffling too many feathers.
Important thing to look for in an answer: You need to both know what the photographer's stated policy per their contract AND how they deal with this kind of situation on the wedding day.
Do I need two or more photographers?
Simply put, most of the time my answer is "no" and that's based on the facts that A) It DOES increase the cost of your package and B) You may not need it as much as you think.
Need is a strong word and the only time I use in relation to a 2nd photographer it is when I need to be in two places at once. For example, if you want full coverage of the groom from the time he wakes up, through the round of golf and then as he gets ready with the guys AND you want full coverage of the girls at the spa, then getting hair/makeup done, etc, I can't really do all that alone. If you say you want empty room shots of your reception that is in a different location and because of shooting formals, I won't arrive before the guests are let in... I can't do both. Other than that, I am perfectly capable of shooting a wedding alone. That is NOT true of all photographers and you need to be clear when you talk to them how many photographers they will have, what their capabilities are and how integral to the final product they are. Not all 2nd shooters are created equally. You don't necessarily need to see their work but you do want to ask about their experience, how they are typically used, etc. Some 2nd shooters are fully independent and will be capable of most anything the primary is (and sometimes handle primary shooting duties).
A lot of photographers will tell you that you NEED two photographers. I tend to disagree and think it's a perfectly viable thing to discuss when it comes to packages, etc. If you discuss your plans and your photographer won't need to be in two places at once, you may be just fine with a single shooter, especially if budget is a concern but they may try to convince you otherwise.
The elephant in the room is the ability of a 2nd photographer to get other angles, different shots, etc. Obviously this is true and if your budget allows for it, having two shooters can be a great benefit. I don't usually talk someone OUT of a 2nd, I just am willing to discuss options that may or may not be offered by people who require 2 or more photographers to photograph each wedding.
Important thing to look for in an answer: Please understand how your photographer deals with 2nd (and more) shooters. How are they used? Do they feel they are necessary? If so, why? If they are slightly above your target budget, is it an option to get a package with just them as a primary?
What about videography? Do you do that?
No, I don't.
The trend in videography is being pushed mostly by still photographers and videographers who are shooting shorter "trailer" style videos that are highly stylized. While these can be amazing, and I know some people who do spectacular work, the tradeoff tends to be the couple splitting time between the photographer and videographer. That often results in the photographer, who in most cases is paid more and more is expected of in terms of specific shots, etc is forced to do more in less time with more distraction.
In my opinion, it is VERY possible for a videographer to capture beautiful video/sound without interfering much in the day's events. Some of the best wedding videos I've seen lately were shot by solo shooters who were nearly invisible throughout the day.
I firmly believe in the Disney approach to a wedding day where as much as possible the behind-the-scenes stuff should stay that way. Everything possible should be done to ensure that you as as couple and by extension, your guests can remain "in the moment" and enjoy your wedding without unnecessary distraction.
The worst case scenario is a video "team" who takes over a wedding and turns it into a reality TV production. I've seen it done. It's usually a disaster. So when you talk to a videographer, ask them how many people will be with them and what they will be doing. Ask how many cameras they run. Like with a lot of things, more is not always better and the last thing you want is people falling over cameras on tripods everywhere. Personally, I'd choose a talented solo shooter or two person team over a 5 person crew any day. It's your wedding day and it should feel like that. The more interference you have from us, the less possible that will likely be.
Important thing to look for in an answer: If a photographer also does video, ask how that works. Will the same people be doing both? Will one take precedent over the other? If you are hiring a separate company for video, ask about their crew size and how they work on a wedding day. Ask how they get along with photographers. You want to feel comfortable that they will not be too much of a distraction.
Is it possible to post your pictures to social media "same day"?
Welcome to the 21st century :) Yes, this is possible. Not only is it possible but it's great because along with the phone pics you have in Instragram or Facebook, you can have high-quality professional images to share, comment on and set as profile pics.
You should talk to your photographer about any hashtags and accounts you want them to tag with their images. One thing that led me to choose the camera I did was it's ability to easily send pictures to a phone. Most modern DSLRs do this now but not all the systems for doing it work as well in practice. If you are interested in having real-time social media posts done on your wedding day, talk to potential photographers and ask if that's a possibility.
Important thing to look for in an answer: If your photographer can do real-time social media posting, it's important to know if they will take time out of their shooting to do it or if they bring an assistant. You should also work out which platforms they can use.
That wraps up my top ten questions but I am always happy to answer any more you may have. Post them to the comments section and I'll do my best to answer. I hope you noticed that I feel like the goal with most of these questions is to determine if a photographer puts thought into what they do. If they do, and are able to articulate those thoughts, it's a good sign that they are competent and worthy of your consideration.