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If you’re looking for a wedding photographer, chances are you’ve already read an article from The Knot, started a Pinterest board, followed a dozen photographers on Instagram, and asked all your married friends for recommendations. (You may also have half a dozen tabs open on your computer, an excel sheet with a running list of pricing and packages, and a headache from hearing that photos are the only thing that lasts.)
I’ve totally been there.
I planned my own wedding before I was a photographer, and I stressed so much about choosing the right person to capture it. I checked out dozens photographers, looked at friend’s weddings, asked for recommendations, compared prices–I did my best to find the perfect person. After doing all that work and hiring an incredible photographer, I was still a little disappointed with my photos. They were beautiful, but they didn’t really capture me and my husband.
In other words, my photographer was great, but he wasn’t the right fit for me.
The sad thing is, I hear this kind of thing from friends all the time about their wedding photos. We all work so hard to hire a great photographer, but many of us are disappointed with the photos in the end.
So how can you hire someone who will actually capture your wedding day the way you want to remember it? Get some inside information from a wedding photographer, of course!
You probably didn’t realize it, but photographers have to hire each other all the time–for portrait sessions or for second shooting at weddings. And we know exactly how to see if someone has the right skills and philosophy for us!
Today, I’m going to share my top five secrets for finding the right wedding photographer. (I actually shared these tips on my blog a long time ago, and they’ve helped so many couples that I decided to update them to include the latest trends for 2019.) So, without further ado, here they are:
This is definitely the most important advice I can give anyone, but it takes a bit of explaining to show you why it’s so important.
Wedding photographers think of weddings differently than their couples. We see the day as a series of 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 that will be part of your wedding day.
The best way to do this is to see an entire wedding gallery from one of their previous couples.
When you look at photographers online, you’re only seeing their highlight reel. Since there are so many photographers these days, we post only our very best work and the images that we know prospective clients want to see.
Generally speaking, the pictures that are popular on Instagram and in the major blogs right now are portraits of the couple and all the detail photos: the cake, the flowers, the dress, the shoes, etc. These photos are popular with prospective couples because they show ideas for decor and styling
Things that are less popular include the family photos, the reception photos, and the real candid moments with friends and family. Even though these photos may be some of the most meaningful images for the couple and their family, they don’t help other couples plan their weddings, so they don’t help photographers attract new couples.
I’m guessing that you want some great family photos and candid photos from your wedding. If your photographer doesn’t include any family photos on her website, how do you know she’ll take the time and put in the effort to make good lighting and get everyone posed well for your family photos?
Ask to see a whole wedding, of course! Then you can see what she did for family photos at another wedding.
As a side note, I used to advise friends not to hire photographers who show only one kind of image on their site, but these days I’m more understanding about why other photographers do this. I struggle myself to know whether to post things that are popular or to post things that I know my couples will learn to value more over the years (like family photos). It’s a balancing act for me, but I respect any photographer who does good work–whether they show all of it or not.
To sum up, 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 flowers or the first look.
When you’re planning a wedding, it’s easy to get caught up in pinning and bookmarking epic images of models wearing designer gowns standing on cliffs overlooking the ocean.
But at some point you should stop and ask yourself, do I really see myself in this photo? Will my wedding be in a place like that? Do I want a photo where I have an expression like that on my face? Would I rather look like a model or look like my ecstatically happy, totally authentic self?
Photographers really do specialize in certain kinds of weddings, and you will not be happy if you hire an epic elopement photographer to shoot your fun-filled, hometown wedding. For one thing, that person specializes in staging dramatic photos in beautiful locations, so they can’t replicate that kind of work in your average location.
You also have to look at the kinds of expressions that person likes to capture. A photographer who works with models or likes highly posed images where couples look like models may not be able to capture your real relationship. Really, helping couples be themselves in front of the camera is one of the hardest things to learn and not all photographers can do it.
Finally, that person will probably not do their best work for you because they aren’t doing the kind of work that excites them. (Photographers are people too, and we have dream clients just like you have dream photographers!)
So, whatever you are planning, look for photos that truly fit you—your personality, your relationship, and your emotional reactions. If you are a more subdued person who wants a more traditional style of photography, by all means, hire someone who shows that kind of work! If you really want someone to capture the playful relationship you have, look for someone who shows that kind of work.
To get a little bit personal here for a minute, I’ve found that my favorite images are not always 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. Because this is what I value, this is what I try to provide for my clients. I hope that shows in my website and my writing because I want to work for couples who value the same things as I do.
To summarize, try to look beyond whether an image is gorgeous or unique. A few photos like that are great, but you also want photos that look like you! Remember, a photo can be beautiful without being moving. Look for a photographer whose work moves you emotionally and you won’t be sorry.
Photography is a really trendy industry. When I got married, 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 so dated.
With the popularity of Instagram, most people know how drastically a filter can alter a photo, so it’s become easier for me to explain how editing works. Photographers often use a more advanced form of filtering called a “preset”. These presets can be used to make a photo look dark and moody, light and airy, bright and vibrant–the possibilities are endless. Most photographers have worked hard to create a unique “look” so they have a recognizable brand and appeal to a certain niche of clients. Because there are so many of us, we all want to stand out somehow.
I’m not suggesting that any 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.
Right now, you can see a lot of photographers going for a sort of dark and earthy look with lots of brown tones. It’s a really cool look for lots of photos, but I do wonder if people will miss seeing some green in their photos after a few years go by.
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.
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.
Talking to a friend who has used a photographer is an invaluable resource, but sometimes you find a photographer without a solid referral. In that case, 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 to submit them or having their friends submit them. If you are unsure about your photographer, ask if you can email directly with one of their past clients or with a wedding planner who has worked with them.
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 with you and your loved ones 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.
Finally, you might be wondering why I’m so passionate about this. Honestly, I love and believe in the power of photography so much that I feel sad when I hear from people who are disappointed in their wedding photos. I want everyone to have photos that beautify and nourish their marriage over a lifetime, and I truly believe there’s a photographer out there for every couple.
If you have more questions for me or suggestions for other couples, feel free to comment below or send me an email.