The number one question I hear most often at bridal shows…
…and other things I guarantee you the Knot won’t tell you when asking, “How do I pick a wedding photographer?”
So, you’re engaged and planning your big day. First of all, CONGRATULATIONS!!!! Welcome to one of the most exciting times of your life! It’s time to unleash that Pinterest board you’ve had hidden since your third date. Ok, your first. You knew right away, didn’t you? Of course you did!
What you may have not know though, despite a few friends who’ve recently gotten married insisting, is wedding planning can be stressful! Picking your date, your colors, narrowing down your bridesmaid list…all of the decisions you have to make along the way can be daunting. And that’s not even mentioning deciding on the best vendors, specifically a photographer!
With all of those decisions in mind, I wanted to take the opportunity to help make one of the most critical decisions you need to make easier. “How do I pick the right wedding photographer?”
This is by far the most often asked question I hear, besides “how much does it cost” of course, at bridal shows. Both are incredibly important and I’d love to answer them for you.
I personally rank the top 3 criteria I talk about when answering this question in order of importance this way.
While this seems obvious there is a bit more to it than most people think. Yes, a lot of it is subjective but the most important thing to think about is, do you like their work? Ok, you dig it; but don’t stop asking questions there. An even more important consideration is, is it consistent? Do the images you’re being shown reflect a consistent style, feeling and quality? Are the images of the bride and groom a consistent quality with the getting ready images, the details, family portraits and the reception images? If not, that's an indication that the photographer you're considering might not have a fully developed wedding day skillset yet. Also, think about if these images were delivered to you and you were the couple in them, would you absolutely love them? Does the photographer you’re considering have several, meaning A LOT of examples of weddings they’ve personally photographed? Or are they only showing you a best of, hand picked selection portfolio images? Naturally every photographer should be showing his or her absolute best but what about the rest of the day? How can you tell how that will look? The best way answer this questions is by viewing several complete wedding albums from them. No, not blogs, albums. What’s the difference? Simply put, a blog is a highlight real from the day and is essentially another type of “best of” similar to a portfolio. An album however, in its very nature, will have images from throughout the day and will most accurately reflect how a photographer photographs a complete day.
And finally, and in my opinion the most important question you should ask when evaluating a potential photographer for your wedding day is, “are these incredible images you’re showing me from a real wedding or a styled shoot?” This is an absolutely critical question and quite honestly, the one that really separates the “pros” from the “fauxs.” Why is it so important? The answer is simple. Wedding days have a lot of moving parts. Some days are perfectly smooth and provide plenty of time for photographers to get the beautiful images they are are dying to provide for you. Other wedding days, through no fault of anyone necessarily, do indeed have the occasional bump and detour along the way. Things like inclement weather, coordination of family members for portraits etc. can all shorten the time a photographer has to take those beautiful images you fell in love with when selecting them. Managing and adapting to changes such as time constraints well is one if the true marks of a professional. In contrast a styled shoot is a fairly stress free environment when the photographer has vastly more time to create. They are usually planned for and designed ahead of time so photographer knows what to expect including the light conditions etc. Being a wedding photography is an art. And wedding photography artful. Art is not always easy to create under shortened time constraints. The reason this is so important is because before you plunk down your hard earned money on your wedding photography investment, you should be confident the photographer you’re interviewing has been through their fair share of wedding day turbulence and has still been able to provide the same level of quality as they did on any other day given any amount of time. Think of it like a job interview you’ve been on. Many employers ask questions like, “can you tell me about a particularly stressful situation and how you handled it?” Same idea here!
This one gets overlooked a lot. How do I know that? Because every time I mention it I see a light bulb reaction and people usually say something like, “yes, that makes total sense!”
The personality of your wedding photographer is important because, well…we’re going to be with you all day! It’s important to choose someone you feel like you have a connection with and could see yourself being around during your entire wedding day. I’m not suggesting you need to become bff’s but you should definitely feel like they’re easy to be around and will help relieve some of that potential wedding day stress rather than add to it. This question may be a bit more difficult to answer because it’s not quite black and white. My personal way of answering this for couples is this is to do my absolute best to meet with every couple in person for a booking consultation. If that's not possible then an intentional phone meeting will be scheduled. During this meeting I focus more on us getting to know each other than actual wedding day logistics which we review in detail during what I call the pre wedding consultation, a topic for another day. This is really step one, or step two if we’ve already met in person at a bridal show. It helps all parties involved including parents if they’d like to join us, become comfortable with one another. It’s where you get to see how your potential photographer answers questions and provides solutions to the details of your day. Obviously you should review work beyond their portfolio including albums etc. but most importantly it’s where you determine if this is a person you’d like to have at your wedding photographing your day.
For me the next step in the process happens following your decision to book but is in my opinion the best way to help get the image results you’re looking for on your wedding day. It’s also why I offer a complimentary engagement session to all couples who select me as their wedding photographer. Being in front of your photographers lens is easily the best way to get to know them and be comfortable. How they speak to you and your fiancé, how they direct the session. Are they courteous yet clear in their direction? Do they give direction? I’ve had more people than I can count tell me how relieved they were that I knew how to pose and position them and didn’t just have them standing there not knowing what to do. Basically what it boils down to is, we've all got hands and no idea where to put them when we get our picture taken, lol! It takes so much pressure off of you so you’ll able to relax allowing your authentic expressions to come through in your photographs.
Before I share my thoughts on price and more specifically how it relates to value, I would like to preface by saying I am a small business owner with a family consisting of a wife and 4 sons between the ages of 2-12. I am by no means making light of anyone’s specific budgetary flexibility. I fully understand the value of every hard earned dollar you make and am respectful of your decision with whom to invest it with. I believe that products and services with a proven track record of providing quality should indeed cost more than those with a less substantial history and quality. While I personally am not the most expensive photographer I am also not the cheapest. I do however believe that the price I have established for my service and the products I offer includes significant value that will outgrow your initial investment long after the last click of my shutter at your wedding.
So, you might be wondering… Why is price my third most important question to ask about? Shouldn’t it be the first? Well, maybe… Kinda sorta… No.
To understand why I don’t think price is the most important consideration when choosing your wedding photographer I think it’s worth considering a few things in addition to things I’ve already mentioned. One is fairly obvious; this is your wedding day! The day you’ve spent years dreaming about and planning for before you were probably even engaged. It’s a big deal! You’ve invested considerable amounts of time money and effort planning this day. You found your person, said “yes” to the perfect dress and are ready for this day to be as perfect as you’ve always dreamed. But there's one problem, you hired your cousin’s sisters brothers former roommate who happens to own a digital camera a professional photographer much less a professional wedding photographer. Ask any professional family, landscape or commercial photographer and they'll all tell you the same thing, weddings are different! It's a once in a lifetime event that there is only one opportunity to get the shot. There is no time to redo missed moments and no such things as repeating the first kiss. The good intentions of the unqualified offering to photograph your wedding as a gift would be much better off gifting you the gift of a qualified professional photographer. I know what you're thinking, "did he really just say that!?! Saaaaay whuuuuut!?!" Lol!!! Ok, perhaps I took that a little far but the idea I’m getting at is, why would you trust the most important day of your life to someone who happens to own a piece of equipment that a professional also owns to do their job? Play that out over another area in your life and you’ll see where I’m coming from with this. Would you allow a friend who happens to own a thermometer diagnose a potentially serious illness instead of a doctor? Of course not! So why would you do that with your wedding day? It makes no sense but happens all the time. It’s incredible how many couples I meet who share their stories of regret from not having hired a qualified professional photographer for their wedding. Including my wife and I…
Having said that I do believe in budgets and understand that everyone’s is different. I do however strongly encourage couples to consider if theirs is consistent with the level of quality they would like. The same standards apply whether your budget allows for a $1,500 or $15,000 photographer. If you are investing your hard earned money with a photographer or any wedding vendor for that matter you deserve a quality result.
Interestingly though, if you are a couple who has a more flexible budget you may be in an even more challenging situation when selecting your wedding photographer. This is possible in large part due the growth of digital photography and social media. The fact is there are a bazillion people with a digital camera who have become “photographers” with little to no experience or training advertising their service on social media. I don’t know about you but one of the first things I do when I see a new business I’m interested in purchasing a product or service from is look from them on Instagram and/Facebook. For better or worse “social proof” has become one of the most important factors in our buying decision as a society. The idea that “if something is popular it must be good” has become a dominant idea in our culture and quite honestly isn’t necessarily true. Popularity can of course be an indication of quality but is certainly not one I would use as an final indication of whether or not I will purchase something. Social media can be a valuable tool in evaluating the credibility and quality of a business but the relationship between popularity and quality is far more blurred than simply assuming that because something is popular i.e. a business has 10k-30k plus followers it’s actually good. I can tell you first hand that I am emailed, called and private messaged several times a day by so called marketing companies who promise to increase my Instagram and Facebook followers by tens of thousands and put me first on every Google search know to mankind. Often their strategies include getting more followers for my business from people from across the planet who have nothing to do with my business or have ever or would ever use it. What all that means as a consumer and more specifically one who is choosing who they would like to photograph the most important day of their life, is that the all the hype is often just that, hype. Because of this it is incredibly important to use other credible means of evaluating who's product or service you will choose. The influence of social media is a good starting point but in my opinion should not be the deciding factor of such an important decision especially as it pertains to justification of price. There are a ton of incredibly popular photographers on social media who's prices are more in line with their number of followers than it is with their end product. Meaning, they're really popular and expensive but their overall quality is poor. Yea, I said that too. But I also said I was going to tell you things I know others aren't. So, there you go. I'll also add to that though that there are many incredible photographers out there with huge followings who are worth every cent of their asking. The idea here is make sure you're doing your homework and not just relying popularity to determine value. Get a full picture by seeing more pictures of the entire day. Not just the highlight reals.
So, how do you combine all of these ideas into one final, “I’d love to book you” decision? My suggestion is to make sure you’re evaluating photographers on things that will matter to you in the short and long term. How they interact you will be a direct indication of how they'll interact with family and guests. You might also ask yourself, "are the other vendors I’ve I'm interviewing and already booked recommend working with them?" "Do they provide the type of quality images I would love to see myself in and share for years to come?" Finally, if they are the right photographer for you the combination of their work and personality will be consistent with a price you would expect to invest. But remember, popularity does not always guarantee quality. Meet with any potential photographer you are considering and be sure to ask for as many examples of complete wedding day coverage as possible beyond their portfolio and blogs. Of course I love and use both in my business but I know albums for instance offer a much more complete view of a wedding day.
Lastly, good luck in your search! If you have any questions anything I've mentioned or comments please let me know. The goal of this blog is to help you make an informed decision about your wedding!
The ideas above are based on questions I’ve received during the 5 years of my professional photography career. They are essentially the same answers I’ve given to hundreds of engaged couples and I hope they can be of benefit to you. Please feel free to leave a comment below if you have any thoughts or questions about this topic.
Please contact me at [email protected] if you would like to meet for a booking consultation and hear my answers to all of the questions I’ve asked in this blog, talk soon!
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