A practical and realistic guide to finding the right wedding photographer
This is a topic that’s near and dear to my heart. As a professional wedding photographer, a one-time bride, and a believer in the power of photography, I want all couples to have wedding photos that capture their relationship and their wedding day in the most beautiful and authentic way possible.
Unfortunately, choosing the right person to capture your wedding can be confusing and difficult. There are so many photographers out there, many of them look great online, and it’s not always clear how to compare one with another.
When most people look at a photographer’s website, they’re seeing whether the photos are pretty or interesting. This is a great start to determining whether you like the photographer’s style. However, you can go a lot deeper by asking yourself the following questions as you look at someone’s work:
Does her work show that she can shoot different subjects in various conditions and lighting?
A wedding day is made up of many different scenes: the couple getting ready, the first look, the family portraits, the detail shots, the ceremony, the couple’s portraits, the reception, the send-off, and more. These scenes take place in different locations with widely varying lighting. A wedding photographer has to quickly select the right equipment, camera settings, framing techniques, and posing strategies for each of these scenes.
Some photographers are very gifted at capturing one of these scenes or one type of lighting. For example, they may be really great at posing couples for portraits or getting a stunning shot of the rings. They may specialize in natural light, bounce flash, or off-camera light.
That kind of specialization in one area can make for truly exceptional photos of that one thing. However, you want to make sure the photographer is also capable and confident shooting all the other scenes and conditions. If her portfolio shows only one type of image (all portraits of the bride and groom or all outdoor photos, for example) simply ask if you can see an entire wedding she’s shot for someone else. You can even request a wedding that has a style or venue similar to yours.
(Asking to see an entire wedding also helps protect you against scammers. Believe it or not, there are people out there who steal images from other photographers websites and pass them off as their own. It’s very hard to prevent this kind of theft as things like watermarks can be photoshopped out of images. If you want to be sure your photographer is legit, you can pick your favorite image on their site and ask to see more from that wedding or that session.)
You want to be sure your photographer can beautifully capture the entire day in a way that fits you. She should be able to handle all different types of lighting, settings, and posing. After all, once your wedding is over, you want to remember the whole day, not just the favors or the first look.
Can you picture yourself and your soon-to-be spouse in his photos?
When you’re planning a wedding, it’s easy to get caught up in pinning gorgeous photos of model brides standing under grape arbors in Italy. If you, like me, are not a model and will not be married in Buenos Aires, Paris, or Bora Bora, you have my permission to stop pinning those photos. Instead, look for photos that truly fit you—your personality, your relationship, and your emotional reactions.
As a some-time client of other photographers, I’ve found that my favorite images are not the prettiest, dreamiest, most “on-trend” photos of myself. My favorites are the ones that capture real emotions: the love I have for my husband, the way my mom hugs me, or my excitement at seeing a friend.
In fact, I've had the experience of hiring my "dream photographer"--the person whose work is always featured by magazines and top blogs, whose workshops sell out, whose weddings look like styled shoots, and I was actually disappointed with my photos. Though they were beautiful, they didn't look like me. They didn't capture my relationship with my husband. So, at the end of day, they didn't mean very much to me. I've heard from other friends and family members who have had similar experiences, and I can tell you it is SO important to work with someone who really cares about you and your relationship.
A photo can be beautiful without being moving. Look for a photographer whose work moves you emotionally and you won’t be sorry.
Will her work stand the test of time?
Photography is a really trendy industry. A few years ago, photographers were using photoshop filters to make their pictures look yellowy. Before that, lots of photographers were also using spot color to make an entire photo black and white except for, say, the red bouquet. This seemed like a really cool idea to most couples at the time, but now it looks dated.
Right now, the trend is moving towards a film photography look. This type of work looks soft, muted, and almost dreamy. I personally find it lovely when it’s done well. What could be more classic than film, after all? Yes, when it’s done well, film photography is gorgeous! But, when it’s not done well, or when it’s poorly imitated with filters or editing presets that wash out people’s faces or make the photo too grainy, it’s really a bummer.
Some photographers go the opposite direction and make all their photos very colorful and sharp. This is an eye-catching look, but it can quickly seem overly dramatic when you have a whole album or wall full of super colorful and contrasting photos.
I'm not suggesting that either of these "looks" is wrong. I think it's great that there are so many ways of seeing and capturing beauty. I just want you to be aware of some of the trends so you can more easily distinguish between shooting and editing styles and find someone whose work is consistent with your aesthetics.
Whatever your current preferences for photo colors, textures, and “looks”, just remember, trends come and go. Choose someone whose work will look good to you twenty and forty years from now.
These are your wedding photos and they should be timeless, not trendy.
Are his past clients happy with their photos and their experience?
Your best resource for evaluating a wedding photographer is always going to be a glowing referral from a friend or family member. No one but a former client can tell you exactly what it was like to work with someone. There are so many things that can’t be evaluated through an online profile: Is he responsive when I have a question? Is he kind and helpful throughout the planning process? Was he unobtrusive on the wedding day? Did his final product match my expectations? These are things that his past clients can tell you.
If you don’t have a solid referral from a friend, you can check out Wedding Wire or The Knot to read reviews of your photographer. Both of these sites make wedding vendors pay to be listed in general search results, but you should be able to search for someone by name and see what former clients have to say about them.
One quick word of warning about reviews: it is possible for companies to fake reviews by using different email addresses or having their friends submit them. If you get a weird vibe from some of the reviews or from the photographer, you should double check their legitimacy by asking if you can contact one of the reviewers personally. You can also look to see if their work is published by a reputable blog or magazine as these publications are usually very choosy.
Do I feel comfortable around her?
The last step before booking a photographer is usually meeting with her in person. At your meeting, be yourself, tell your story, share your thoughts, and see if you genuinely click with your photographer.
Couples often overlook the intensely personal nature of wedding photography. They don’t realize how much time they will spend with the photographer and how closely they’ll be interacting all day. In reality, your photographer will be following you and your families for seven to twelve hours on one of the most special and emotional days of your entire life. Depending on how your schedule is constructed, they may even spend more time in close contact with you than your future spouse!
With that in mind, try to find a photographer who makes you feel at ease. She should be able to capture your joy and tears without being intrusive. She may also need to step in and help give you confidence about your appearance, offer help in pinning the boutonniere, or suggest alternative plans in case of bad weather or delays. You should feel like you can trust her to be kind and helpful and diffuse stress rather than add to it.
Answering the questions above will help you choose your ideal photographer. Of course, that person also has to be available on your wedding date and be within your price range. If you find that your ideal photographer is already booked, ask if they can recommend a fellow photographer who does similar work for a similar price. Established photographers usually have a great network within the industry.
When it comes to pricing, only you can decide exactly how much beautiful wedding photos are worth, but there are some general guidelines that can help you. For a more in depth discussion of pricing, scroll through my wedding rates and FAQs page. You can also check out this blog post about how photos help us remember and celebrate our wedding.
If you have more questions for me or suggestions for other couples, feel free to comment below. Best wishes in your search for a wedding photographer and for great happiness in your wedding day and your marriage!