You finally set a date, picked your venue, caterer, florist, cake and the perfect dress that expresses who you are. Now, who will be the one to beautifully capture the story of your big day?
A photograph is all you have after it’s over in a blink of an eye, so this is something you don’t want to skimp on. Many photographer book popular dates two years in advance, so don’t wait until the last minute to start your research.
There are a lot of photographers out there to choose from these days, and it can feel overwhelming. Everyone these days including your grandma calls themselves a “photographer” in this digital age we live. It’s a good idea to pick an experienced seasoned photographer over a friend who offers to take some snapshots between glasses of champagne, or the ‘weekend warrior” who does some wedding photography as a hobby.
The internet is a great way to look at portfolios and see styles you like. You can get a quick feel for the photographer’s style and personality from their website, and it can be a good place to find whose work you really connect with. Magazines and many wedding internet sites now feature ‘Real Weddings’ so you can not only get ideas for your own wedding, but also see a photographer’s talent documenting one wedding from start to finish.
Personal referrals are probably the best way to narrow your search; ask your friends to see their wedding images and if they had a good rapport with their photographer. Look at your catering manager recommendation lists as they have worked with these photographers in the past. They often have recent weddings photographed at the venue you’ve chosen, and it’s a great way to envision how your wedding may look like and get ideas for where you might want to do your formal posed pictures.
Hiring a wedding consultant will not just give you more peace of mind; they can often show you albums of photographers they have worked with in the past, so you can let them do some of the screening process to narrow it down to 2 or 3. A professional referral is valuable resource as they usually have worked with other wedding professionals who they trust and are considered the best in their field of expertise.
For destination weddings, you may not be able to meet with the photographer in person, but some photographers have a personal interview video to get a virtual feel, and scheduling a phone interview or Skyping is a great way to see if you connect personality-wise. Next to your fiancée, your photographer is the wedding professional you will be most intimate with during and after your wedding, so it’s important to feel really comfortable with them. If your photographer is local, doing an engagement photo session is a great way for both of you to get to know each other before the wedding.
Ask if the photographer you’re meeting with and whose work you are viewing will be the person who actually shows up on your big day. Many studios typically do hundreds of weddings a year and may work with a revolving door of up-and-coming wedding photographers. The last thing you want is for a stranger to show up at your wedding, which can spell disaster if your personalities don’t click or you don’t like their work.
Find out what happens if your photographer is ill and can’t show; do you get your deposits back or do they substitute another? What happens to your deposit if in an unlikely event you need to postpone or cancel your wedding? Do they offer albums and image proof books? Are the high-resolution images included in the coverage (also known as ‘digital negatives’)? If you are doing a destination wedding or hiring a photographer far from your venue, what are their travel fees? Are engagement photo sessions included or priced separately? What is the cost for additional coverage time, and are they available to cover a rehearsal dinner or next-day brunch? Will the photographer contact you before the wedding to go over details like last minute changes to the schedule (i.e, a rain plan for doing your formal portraits indoors?)
Don’t hire the cheapest photographer on your list if they are not one of your favorites. To quote John Ruskin, “There is nothing in the world that some man cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper, and he who considers price only is that man's lawful prey.” Many photographers have a minimum number of hours they are contracted for, or they provide “complete” coverage of the day, typically 7-10 hours.
You can also hire your photographer to get coverage of your rehearsal dinner or post-wedding farewell party if you are having a destination event with many celebrations throughout the weekend. Within a few weeks after your wedding, your images are usually posted to a private website for viewing and ordering prints. Your photographer may also offer the images on a high res DVD (also known as ‘digital negatives’) or may be available for purchase.
If you know you want an engagement session, albums and other goodies, many photographers offer a package of goods and services that are written into your wedding agreement and save you money if you were to purchase them separately after the wedding. To hold your date, most photographers require a signed wedding agreement, as well as a retainer fee ranging from $1000 to 50% of the package price. The remaining balance can be due anywhere from 6 months to a week before the wedding.
Once you’ve made your decision on who you will be hiring, have your wedding agreement state who will be actually shooting your wedding, and make sure the work you are viewing in the studio is the person who will be showing up. Also get in writing what happens if your photographer is ill or cannot physically show up, and make sure any deposits paid will be refunded. Many photographers require meals for themselves and their crew, and if it’s in a photographer’s agreement, make sure you let the caterer know to make extra meals for your vendors.
Commissioning a photographer is like commissioning an artist to create a unique and personal work of art for you, so be very choosy on viewing portfolios, personality and what post-wedding services they offer to show off your wedding. It is the one thing you get to hold on to after it’s all over in a blink of an eye.
Melissa Mermin (Love Stories)