Friday, December 18, 2009

What to look for when booking a wedding photographer?

The busy engagement season is upon us and brides starting their search for that one and only, THE photographer.
I get asked sometimes during consultations: "what questions should I really be asking?". The demand for bridal guides and advices from pros seems to be higher the closer we get to Holiday season. I don't just mean the list of questions provided by your favorite bridal magazine. These are - unfortunately - rarely helpful. Let's be honest - most of them are frustrating to the photographers (not because we can't give answers but because they are...artificial to say the least) and not really helpful to the brides. So I will try to take a more common sense, simpler approach here coming from my own experience and feedback from my clients. What should a bride be paying attention to when hiring a wedding photographer? First and most of all:

1. The quality of work

There's never a second chance to make the first impression. Correct but not quite in our profession. The website can be polished to maximum with photos edited to perfection, presenting a selection of the best shots from the past few years and... that's great! Hail to the kings of editing but what will matter at the end of the day is how does the coverage of YOUR wedding turn out so yes - you have the right and you SHOULD ask to see an entire gallery from a recent wedding. With most photographers nowadays it will be online so ask your photographer to e-mail the link to you or write it down. Spend some time at home to go over the gallery. How well did the photographer manage to cover different parts of the day? How consistent is the coverage? Is there enough emotional moments? Is there a good variety of images (details, close-ups, wide angle shots showing an entire scene). Are the reception shots well lit? Is the light pleasing (soft, directional, modelling) or do the photos look similar to what comes out from your own point & shoot camera when photographing in a dark room? Are vertical photos free of harsh side shadows behind the subject? Are the photos focused where they need to be or are too many of them blurry and unclear? Are skin tones from indoor shots, ceremony and reception looking the same as on the photos taken outdoors? Be critical, all of these questions will indicate your photographers technical proficiency as well as editing skills. It's one of the most important days of your life that's about to be documented so do not get diluted by the shot of a cute flower girl that is easy to get - look for some signature, unique and compelling photos that you haven't seen anywhere else. Raise the bar high!. Don't just settle for something that looks average or inconsistent!

2. Photographer's personality

Just as important as the quality of work. Wedding photography is about the relationships. You are about to hire someone that will be around you during the entire day so do not kid yourself - if you don't "click" during the consultation - let it go. You absolutely HAVE TO feel comfortable around your wedding photographer (even about the way they dress). Unless they are a hard core photojournalist there will be a few moments during your wedding day when you will be posed, they will give you direction. Being in front of the lens can be intimidating, especially when a lot of friends and family are watching. Friendly and organic relationship is the key here! Pay attention to your photographer's personality and behavior. If there is anything annoying about it - take it into consideration when making your final decision!

3. Photographer's experience

How long have they been in the business? Are there testimonials from previous brides available? How many weddings can you see on their blog? How many do they say they photographed? All of these questions can mean a lot to you... or not. You have to be the judge here. Some brides will consider this one of the most important factors and will only hire a photographer that has been around for longer than Rolling Stones and some will appreciate fresh approach and young spirit more than twenty years worth of portfolio. Experience can be good if it doesn't overshadow photographer's readinessto progress and change when necessary. Seasoned photographer can be great as long as they remain open to new ideas and use their experience wisely. Sometimes the lack of experience means clear and uncontaminated mind - when accompanied by great talent it creates a great recipe for the new star of wedding photography. Whether you discovered one - unfortunately has to be your own judgement but maybe this analysis will at least let you realize what you are looking for!

4. The style

Is what you are looking at bringing a smile to your face? Is the content of the photos what you would like to be seeing captured at your wedding? Before you judge the photographer's style answer some questions for yourself, like: am I looking for someone contemporary and edgy or do I prefer safe and traditional? Do I like photos that are dynamic, unposed and show real moments or is am I leaning towards those carefully posed where the subjects are always camera aware? Pay attention to what the photographer says about their style on the website, in blog posts and in their own words during the consultation. Make no mistake - it's close to impossible for a photographer to change their style just for your wedding. What you see on their blog and their portfolio is how they prefer to work. If it's not 'up your alley' - don not schedule the consultation. Artwork is very subjective and that is totally all right. What some people will love others will hate. To some brides technical excellence and simple approach to wedding photography will be number one priority. To some artistic vision and wicked ideas will be more appealing. The important thing is to know what you prefer as a bride and as a person. Look for that before you even contact a photographer.

5. The presentation

How is the work packaged? Is it just a bunch of prints thrown on the table, a slideshow projected on a big screen or are they in beautiful albums? If they are in albums how are the albums looking? Are they similar to those your parents received for their wedding (I'm sorry but there is no compromise here - that is a definite RED FLAG! Steer away if the albums look like they were done 20 years ago!). I totally understand that no one updates their sample album inventory every season but the reasonable approach is to present at least one fresh and contemporary looking album with work no older than 2-4 years back. Finally when talking about their photographs, style and work is the photographer also genuinely interested in your wedding? Are they asking YOU questions or just going through their typical sales pitch? It is important for both sides to feel like they are communicating well so make sure there is a good balance between asking questions and answering them for your photographer. If they really care about working with you - they will be curious about details of your wedding arrangements. You should be able to tell whether they are treating your event with genuine interest or does it look like it's going to be just another job for them...

6. The price

Finally we come to one of the most important factors. Money and how much of can you/are you willing to spend. Of course budget is important and we, wedding photographers do understand and respect it. Weddings are expensive and there's nothing wrong with trying to save a few hundred dollars where possible. While there are definitely areas where cost can be lowered I will strongly discourage every bride to try and cut corners when it comes to photography. Your friend's friend with the newest DSLR is NOT the answer. Uncle Timmy will also not deliver the quality and level of work that a true pro who puts their entire heart and skill in what they do can. Going with someone who is offering to shoot your wedding for free 'to build their portfolio' - nope, not recommended either. They will have plenty of opportunities if they start working as a second shooter with a more established photographer. Just the same as you wouldn't like to have a surgeon perform his first surgery on you - don't put your weddings into hands of a complete novice. The difference is usually clearly visible when it is too late to change your mind. Just as there is a client for every photographer's price level - there is a GOOD photographer for every budget. If the photographer you really love and want to hire is a bit more expensive than what you'd be willing to pay think about why it is so. Are they really popular? Is there a lot of weddings on their blog? If so this is probably a good sign. What are other brides saying? Are their testimonials convincing and real?

7. The contract.

It's a good idea to read the contract. No, I mean it - you really should READ the contract. Most photographer's contracts are no longer than three pages. Make sure you are comfortable with all the clauses and the payment schedule. If you have questions - do not hesitate to ask them BEFORE placing your signature at the bottom. You are entering the legal agreement that binds both sides into certain responsibilities.

8. Technical details

While in general equipment is less important than the knowledge and skill that determine it's use, the latest digital cameras do offer considerably more creative freedom and dramatic increase in quality compared to a few year old models. Do ask your photographer how current is their equipment. Backup should be out of question. Every serious photographer will have backup equipment as well as business insurance. Those are basics and you should ask about them. If second photographer is mentioned in the contract/package that you are booking - who are they? Are they really a second professional photographer that is fully capable of delivering comparable quality of coverage or is it a student/apprentice?

If you are a bride and just got engaged = congratulations! I hope the above suggestions will help you making an educated choice for your wedding photography and therefore make the challenging task of wedding planning a bit easier! If you are a photographer - maybe this article will give you some ideas and help you prepare for consultations with your clients during this booking season. I will be happy to answer any questions or take suggestions. Please e-mail me or connect with me on Twitter and Facebook. Happy bookings!

1 comment:

  1. This is great! I have a list like this too, and am about to link you in the comments from there...