First let me start off by saying I'm not trying to pitch myself ;) In fact I haven't been shooting weddings for a few years now and won't be until I have my basement studio finished (if even then). However, I'm often approached by people asking if I'll shoot their wedding and always feel the need to write up a long email referring them to other photographers as well as give them tips on what to look for. I realized today that I've probably written over 50 emails like this so I finally decided to just make a blog post about it so in future I can just link them to it ;)
There are tons of photographers to choose from.
With the price of digital SLR cameras these days everyone seems to be getting into the biz, this is both good and bad for you. A fancy camera does not a photographer make ;) There are a lot of up and comers that are undercutting established photographers, a few are amazing and are a steal of a deal where others simply shouldn't be working. On the flip side some of the "established" photographers out there are really quite terrible. So what do you do?
First off ask your friends/family that have recently been married who shot their wedding and ask to see their wedding photos. Word of mouth and testimonials from people you know carry way more weight than a fancy website and/or ad campaign. Remember, a photographer's portfolio is their best work and not always typical of what you're going to get so trust what you see in your friends album over the portfolio.
Here are some questions to ask yourself as well as the prospective photographer:
- How many years have they been shooting weddings/how many wedding have they shot? An experienced photographer that has shot a lot of weddings will probably cost more but it might be worth it because they'll know how to handle any situation that comes up. On the flip side a newer photographer, other than being cheaper, might be more in-tune with newer styles and may not take shots that seem as "old fashioned".
- Engagement Photos. Often packages will include engagement photos and as I photographer I always preferred to do both the engagement photos and wedding photos. This gives the bride and groom a chance to work with the photographer and build a rapport with each other so that when the big day comes everyone is comfortable with each other. From purely a customer stand point my take is that the only reason for engagement photos is to have a nice photo for the wedding invitation, the rest of the photos are forgotten after the wedding. If the package includes it then great, if it costs more then its up to you to decide if you really want/need them.
- What if it rains? Amazingly even some of the high end photographers don't do a proper job if it rains. Rain means shooting inside, preferably with the proper lighting equipment and skills to use it. This is where most photographers either lack studio experience, proper gear, or studio space to do it properly. Note that this is why I've decided not to take on any weddings for now, I simply lack the studio space to accommodate a wedding party. Ask the photographer what the backup plan is in the event of inclement weather. If they have a studio available to them with proper equipment ask them to see examples of the shots, if they've been shooting weddings for any length of time they will have certainly been rained out at least once.
- Backup equipment. One thing that almost nobody asks the photographer is whether or not they have backup equipment. It's not unheard of for a camera to suddenly fail during a wedding shoot (a photographer's worst nightmare ;) but this again is where a seasoned pro will be covered and a newer photographer may not.
- All day, just ceremony & formals, or by the hour? Most photographers will offer at least 2 of the 3 if not all of them. Which one you should choose is really up to you. You'll want to cover the ceremony and formals as a minimum and that is often much cheaper than all day coverage. Are the "getting ready" shots worth the extra price? Same goes with the dance, if you're cool with just "documenting" these extras then skip the all day coverage and collect pictures from your friend's digital cameras.
- What is a second shooter and should I pick a package that has one? A second shooter is a second photographer that helps ensure the main photographer doesn't miss a moment, also by having one you'll get photos from multiple angles which can yield better coverage during say the ceremony. Generally only the higher end packages offer a second shooter and depending on the photographer/package they might only be there to help cover the ceremony.
- Full resolution files on disc or ordering through the photographer? Nowadays with the digital revolution more and more photographers are just giving the files to the client on a disc and letting them make as many copies as they want. It's worth it to pay a little more for this feature as ordering through the photographer is generally expensive and some of the prices I've seen for enlargements are downright un-ethical. If you do get a disc though I highly recommend making a few extra copies as backups and keep one at a friend/relatives place as an off-site backup.
- Photo editing, wedding album, hosted gallery etc. One thing you need to ask, especially with cheaper packages or inexperienced photographers, is whether or not the photos are edited and to what level are they edited. Is it just basic exposure & colour correction or does it include blemish removal etc. As for the other extras you might want to save the $$$ and do it yourself. I recommend www.blurb.com to all of my friends for photobooks, they are really economical and offer a very professional method for displaying your photos. Hosted galleries are almost pointless nowadays since you can do it yourself on facebook or flickr. One more thing about the photo editing, if possible see if they photographer will even be willing to throw in the original or "RAW" files, this way if the person doesn't do a good job editing the photos you'll still have the originals which could be edited properly at a later date.
- Wedding Insurance, say what? Chances are you probably didn't even know this existed, don't worry because most photographers don't either. It's actually ingenious really and I'm surprised more people don't get it. Some photographers offer it but I believe the bride/groom can purchase it on their own as well. If you're planning a big/expensive wedding I recommend giving it some thought. Here is just an example of some of the things that can be covered: Personal Liability, postponement/cancellation, wedding photographs, wedding gifts, loss of deposits, wedding gown & attire, wedding jewelery.
- Location location location.Where are you planning to get your photos taken? A few quick things to remember when choosing a location is that public places (parks etc) generally can't be booked for private gatherings and during peak wedding season may be inundated with other wedding parties. Here in Saskatoon a popular place is the Boffin's Club gardens, what most people don't realize is that you can't actually book this place. You can call them and they'll put your name down but they'll do the same for the next photographer that calls too, if you're lucky they'll let you know how many other weddings are marked down for that day. In short, try to have a backup plan and discuss this before hand with your photographer.
- Agreement of service expected. To be honest I'm not actually sure if this is common or not but I think it should be if it isn't. Basically before you hand over any deposits write out in point form what the package includes AND what the photographer's liability is if for some unforeseen reason they are unable to deliver (gets into an accident on the way to the wedding etc). Essentially this is a contract for services, if they are asking for a deposit to ensure you don't bail on them its only fair that you have some assurances as well.