Once your guests have left, your wedding cake has been scoffed, your dress cleaned and boxed away, the only items remaining from your day are your husband (or wife!), your wedding certificate, your wedding rings and your wedding photographs. Remember this, it is rather important! There are countless guides out there for ‘choosing your wedding photographer’ which give good advice, but not many go into the details of what is really important. So how do you pick the right photographer for you? As a professional photographer I hope to give a different perspective on things you might consider. However, I am not going to go into price structures or which packages might be best for you, as they are down to personal choice, and ultimately how far your budget will stretch.
Where you need to start though, is to think about the style of shots you like. Pick someone who’s work you really love, and then go from there, considering the following. The reality is, that anyone can pick up a camera and call themselves a wedding photographer. All you need is a few good images captured at friends weddings, a £30 website, and you are off. And with no single national governing body, it can be really difficult to establish who is a professional and who isn’t. You don’t necessarily need to hire a professional of course, but if you do want to, then you need to know that is exactly what you are going to get.
This is key – yes, every photographer has to start somewhere, but do you really want your wedding to be work experience for your photographer? Ask how they will adapt to challenging light, changes in the plan, how they can be in two places at once, or how they deal with bright light, or indeed no light at all (winter weddings). If they don’t know, then perhaps it is time to walk away. Shooting in the darkness of a church and then straight into midday sunlight can catch a lot of people out. I am often asked if I have covered a particular venue before, though in fact the experience to be able to adapt to a new venue and make the best of it is far more important. A good photographer knows how the day flows, what the usual pitfalls are, and how to be in the right place at the time, because they have been to hundreds of weddings.
You will have chosen to get married at a particular venue and at a particular time of year for a reason. Consider how this will affect the photography, and what the photographer can create. You might have a dream of beach shots at a winter wedding, though when it comes to the day, battling along a beach in sub zero temperatures will be the last thing on your mind. Think about your day, what it will give a good photographer creatively, and what you might be able to expect. Light is like air to photographers. However, a good photographer will be able to make the most of what they have.
A good photographer will understand light, and now where to find the best dreamy light on your day, adapting to give you the most incredible images. This should shine through in their portfolio.
2) What style – Documentary, reportage, journalistic, fine art, creative, traditional, I’m confused!
And so am I! The first three are largely similar, whilst the word traditional strikes fear into many a wedding photo-journalist. The days of a stiff album with stiff poses and choreographed shots of garters are perhaps gone, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get what you want. Fine art photographers produce beautifully styled images with gorgeous colour palettes, whilst creative photographers are looking for ways to get new and unique shots which will really get you thinking. Choose the underlying style you are looking for, but don’t be afraid to ask for different shots. It is your wedding, if want a mix of styles, then discuss this. For example, my style is primarily documentary (record what I see on the day with quiet observation to capture the perfect natural moments), but I also create some fine art images and creative shots along the way, thrown in for good measure and a well balanced album. Most can adapt on the day but you should connect with, and love their primary style, as that is for the most part what you will get.
Documentary, reportage or journalistic photography – capturing the unexpected yet essential moments from the day
Creative photography, where the photographer creates beautiful moments Fine art photography – subtle beautiful colour palettes and an almost painterly feel
Ego or no go?
As above, find someone who’s general style you like, and ask them how flexible they are to work with you to capture your day as you want it. If they refuse to, and will only take what suits them, then perhaps they are not for you. The wedding is your day to be recorded, you are not models for the photographer to create art for their own gratification, or for that award winning shot! (see point 5)
This is a big, big area, one not to overlook. Even if you know little about apertures, megapixels, or focal length, there are a few things you should know, and importantly ask. If a photographer cannot get past this hurdle in your selection process, walk away. Seriously.
Photography is not cheap, especially if you want to do it properly. For holiday snaps, a simple camera will suffice. But when you shoot weddings, you really need to be on top of your game. I spend thousands every year upgrading my cameras to the best professional equipment available at the time, as I feel my clients deserve to have the best shots possible. Yet camera equipment is not infallible. I’ve had memory cards fail, lenses break or just lock up, all sorts of things can go wrong. Which is why a professional will have all of these areas covered, with spares and back ups.
What happens if aunt Mabel spills fizz all over the camera by accident, how will they carry on? Do they have a second camera? And if so (as they really should), is it as good as the one they were using in the first place? Weddings are not the time to be running off to find a camera shop for an emergency replacement.
Most professional cameras have dual memory card slots, so there are always two copies of every image. Any available chance I get, I make a third back up to a laptop. On the way home, I make sure I carry the memory cards in different places in case my car gets stolen at a petrol station. Call me paranoid, but I never ever want to be in the position of having to tell a couple I have lost their photos, even through no fault of my own, it makes me sick just thinking about it. Ask your photographer what their back up strategy is. If they haven’t got one, then don’t take the risk, it just isn’t worth it. No amount of compensation will ever replace the photos from your day.
4) Getting your friends to photograph your day for free
This sounds a really good idea, especially if your mate happens to be a wedding photographer – happy days. But if they aren’t, is it worth your friendship? Will your friend who is really good at taking pictures of cars be good at adapting to your wedding and all it entails?
Of course, you might be over the moon with what they give you, but likewise you may be very disappointed, and you can guarantee that will have a lasting effect on your friendship, either way. Getting a friend to help with wedding tasks is the best way to save money, especially if they have the talent. But friends also like to be guests, and of course you want them to be too, enjoying the day. In my experience, the two don’t mix, it is really difficult to focus on the job whilst knocking back champagne. Will they stay focused after that? It’s unlikely!
If they are friends, then isn’t it better to keep it that way? Yes, you might save some money, but your wedding photos will be the only memory of the day. Perhaps balance how much you spend on cakes, decorations, flowers, and invest in a photographer, or ask a friend to cover something such as the cake or the flowers, which means they can be part of the day. And will your friend have a contract and insurance, or be able to fulfil point 3 regarding equipment? Probably not.
5) An award winning photographer?
This is perhaps one of the biggest areas which can be misleading. It would be easy to book someone who declared themselves as award winning, there is that added confidence in their ability. Or is there? Do you have to be award winning to be good? Photography awards are often won for single shots, which will of course be worthy. But replicating that at your wedding might be difficult. Of course, someone who has won numerous awards will be worth their salt, but award winning could also mean they won the local village show for a nice photo of a sunset. Technically, they can call themselves award winning, so be wary. Ask them if they have any formal training, or qualifications. These are of course not necessarily required, but show diligence to the craft.
6) All day coverage…. Well up until the first dance anyway
Many photographers offer full day coverage, but what does this really mean? To me, the full day covers every element that happens, from start to finish. If the first dance is not the last thing that happens, then why should a photographer end their ‘full day’ coverage there? What about your friends drunk dancing, or the fireworks perhaps? How about some gorgeous night time shots of the venue with all those hundreds of candles you bought especially (as my wife did).
There is a balance, I have worked 14 hour days and been dead on my feet at the end, but then for me that is part and parcel of doing a good job, its how I earn my money, fitting 2 normal working days into one. But then that is not everyone’s cup of tea, and it can be too much. It is easy to forget whilst enjoying your day that the photographer is on their feet for the whole of it. So bear in mind what you want to be covered, and how long a photographer will really stay for. If your wedding runs over (as they often do), will your photographer charge you for an extra hour? Will you be worrying about a hefty supplement to your bill? It is your day, and if you want full day coverage, make sure that is what you get.
Moments like this only happen towards the end of the night, will your photographer still be there?
7) Insurance and contracts
A photographer really, really must be insured. That’s professional liability in case someone trips over a tripod, or indemnity in case they don’t deliver the goods. It’s just one of those essential overheads, make sure they have it. I always recommend to clients that they have wedding insurance, which will cover the cost of a photographer or other supplier not turning, up, or the cost of re-shooting the wedding if need be. Not something you ever want to think about, but it is worth being covered. Even the best photographers can get run over by a bus, or break down en route to the church… what is their strategy? Good photographers will have a network of others they can call upon in absolute extremis to provide cover, and they should endeavour to do this, rather than just telling you they can’t make it.
Weddings are formal affairs, as they should be. Yet I have seen countless photographers who turn up in jeans. No really. What does this say about a photographers professionalism if they can’t be bothered to at least make an effort to look smart, and what does this mean for the quality of the photos? Of course, the photographer should never look smarter that the groom, there is a line! But at least they should make an effort. Jeans might be comfortable, a t-shirt practical, but it just looks unprofessional. I always wear suit trousers and waistcoat, polished shoes, and a tie. Yes, it makes my life that little bit more uncomfortable on summer days, and I get through a lot of trousers as I tend to kneel quite a lot to get some shots (or sit on a slug as I did last week), but that’s just the way it is. What they wear when they come to meet you might give you a clue.
The all day coverage is relevant here to, do you want someone who will be packing there bags at 8 on the dot if that is what you have agreed? It’s a wedding, things run over through no fault of your own, so you shouldn’t have your coverage curtailed. You invest a lot of money, and any professional worth their salt will understand this, and do they best they can for you.
9) Website and portfolio
Anyone can set up a good portfolio of images. A photographer might shoot 500 shots at a wedding, and get 1 or 2 that are amazing. Put these together with shots from another 10 weddings, and you have a portfolio of very good work. But do you want just 1 or 2 good shots from your wedding? Of course not. So, the only way to judge a photographer is to look through a few complete weddings. And if they won’t let you, then walk away.
Likewise with the website, it is very easy to set up a cheap site, but a more professional one will give you better indications about the quality of the photographer. Does the site answer most of your questions. Do they feel right. It can give you a really good feel about your potential photographer, but bear in mind that a flashy site can hide some of the other issues discussed here. Nothing beats a (no obligation) meeting face to face to get to know your potential photographer.
10) How many images, and at what resolution?
The great wedding photographer Jeff Ascough once said that if you can shoot a wedding in just 5 photos, you have done well. Of course, he is referring to exceptional images that convey everything about your day in just 5 shots. Most of us will never achieve this, but there is a balance. Each day is different, and the amount I deliver is based upon what happens during the day, and the opportunities for capture. Just bear in mind how many images your chosen photographer is likely to provide. They may choose to limit it to 200 or so, or they might give you them all (though some might not be that good!) The problem I find, is that some shots I don’t particularly like, my clients might choose as their favourite, because it might be the only one of a favourite grandmother. So I make sure my clients have everything. It is their wedding, they get to choose their image collection.
When a photographer says they will give you high resolution images inclusive, does this mean they will be at the maximum, or would you then have to go back to them for bigger copies at extra cost? There is nothing wrong with working like this, as long as you know. High resolution is open to interpretation, whilst full resolution isn’t.
A good photographer will anticipate moments and be in the right place at the right time, which can only come from experience. Your photos should make you love, laugh, and cry – they are irreplaceable records of a key event in your life.
11) The price – what is the difference between a £300 photographer and a £3000 one?
I’ve left this till last, because budget aside, perhaps the points above are more important than the price, and should be given greater value. You might be forgiven for thinking that spending thousands on a photographer will get you more, but not necessarily. It all depends what you are looking for. With wedding photography, often less is more, a more expensive photographer for example might give you only the very best images they are happy to put to their name, say a couple of hundred, which for a couple of thousand quid might not seem like much. Likewise a £300 photographer might snap a thousand shots and give you them all, but will they be any good? You might only pick a few that you really like, and if you are only paying them £300, are they going to spend the several days it will take to properly edit your photos.
There are many photographers out there who pick up a camera and think wedding photography is easy money, and then realise that it isn’t after all, but not before they have ruined your photographs. And if it is for the money, than that really is the wrong reason to be picking up a camera.
To establish the quality of a photographer you need to look a little into the economics. But it’s only one days work I week I hear you cry…. Well, there is the time required to meet your clients, research the venue, cover the photography on the day (and a long day at that, see below), and then at least 2 days of image editing, processing, uploading, making albums etc. Now ask yourself what would be reasonable pay for 4-5 days work? Then there are the overheads – a good website with client galleries can cost £1000 a year to run, and then there is insurance, travel, equipment to maintain and upgrade, the overheads can be significant, if you want to do the job properly. When editing a wedding shoot, I always open and inspect every single image, you just have to. And that takes time. So ask yourself, would a £300 photographer really go into that level of detail?
At the end of the day, the cost is all relative. Bearing in mind the photos will be your main memory of the day that you can keep forever (unlike that cake), is 10-15% of the total cost of your wedding a good investment? Wedding photography isn’t cheap, because it isn’t a cheap business to run.
Hopefully now you are better equipped to sort the wheat from the chaff when choosing a wedding photographer. Once you have chosen, and chosen well, get to know, and trust your photographer. An engagement shoot is perfect for this. You have chosen them for a reason, let them do what they do best. They have been doing this a lot longer than you, and will know what works and what doesn’t. By all means ask for things you want to be covered, but bear in mind that a good photographer will have it covered anyway. Let them do their job, relax, and enjoy your day, safe in the knowledge you have chosen wisely.