I always like to joke with my couples about how awesome and ‘brave’ they are to pick me as their wedding photographer – OUT OF A GAZILLION other options they had. No, really! I feel like the ratio of photographers to all other vendors is astronomical! You can’t go five seconds at a vendor gathering without bumping into a dozen wedding photographers. And that’s just the photographers. When you add in the myriad of venues, caterers, and music options, planning your wedding can be VERY overwhelming. Here’s a quick list of tips to help you navigate through the chaos of hiring a wedding photographer for your big day.
#1 BOOK YOUR VENUE FIRST
Photographers shouldn’t sign a contract with you unless you have your venue and date set in stone. (If they do, that’s RED FLAG NUMERO UNO!) That’s because everything else falls into place around that one specific date. You may have a date in mind, but until you book the venue that date is just a wish, not a reality. Photographers have multiple clients and cannot guarantee that they won’t book another client for your date until you sign a contract with them. So before looking into anything else – lock down your venue(s)!
#2 DO YOUR RESEARCH
First thing’s first – set your priorities. Photos and videos are the crown jewels of wedding memories – they last long past the other trappings of the day and become heirloom reminders of your wedding day. It is important that you budget for it accordingly. Do research on wedding websites by searching within what you believe is a comfortable budget range for you. This will give you a general idea of what you can expect to get within your price range and let you know if you need to re-adjust your budget.
After you set your budget, it is time to find those photographers whose art makes your heart skip a beat. Some are light and airy, some are dark and moody, some are in between (like me). Make a list of the photographers you think will be a good fit.
Then it’s time for a deep dive: look up their reviews online, look through their website, check them out them on Facebook and Instagram. Narrow down your choices so you can start sending out inquiries and start your phone consultations. Remember what I said about there being so many photographers? There is a photographer for everyone. Every style! Every budget!
#3 FIND SOMEONE YOU NOT ONLY LIKE, BUT LOVE
When a bride or groom-to-be contacts me, the first thing I tell them is “let’s chat on the phone and get to know each other better!” Since I assume they already have a basic knowledge of my pricing, that phone call is not meant to be “let’s talk money and legal stuff” – it is for them to get to know me and my personality, and vice versa! They’ll probably wind up knowing what my cat’s favorite treat is, and I’ll find out what song they love singing in the car. This may seem strange, but in my experience, it is a crucial step in the process.
We photographers and videographers are the ones who start the day with you and stay with you all the way to the end. We are there when you ugly cry with your best friends after putting on your dress, we are there when you see your fiance walking down the aisle, and we are there when you are holding hands at the altar while vowing to spend the rest of your lives together. (We’ll also be there when you drink a little too much and let loose on the dance floor and show everyone else how it is really done!)
Literally, we are with you AT ALL TIMES – heck I even took one of my bride’s to help her at the restroom because everybody was busy breaking down, and she HAD to go. So yeah, it is important that you like our personality as much as you love our work! And it is important that we like you back too. Personally, my first motivation is not money. Regardless of money, I cannot be stuck with a bunch of people I have no emotional connection for 8+ hours just because they have a giant budget and wanted to hire me. It is important to me that we lay our cards out before anything else to get to know one another and set realistic expectations to avoid any conflict in the future.
I asked some of my couples to tell me more about how they decided to book their photographer (aka me) but this can apply to any other photographer.
“Can you fill me in about your process? Like, how did you first get a hold of me? How did you decide to go with me?
“First, I asked publicly for recommendations, stalked people’s wedding pictures and decided those weren’t the folks for me. Then I got on various wedding websites/social media platforms and did some serious digging on everyone that was in my price range (and some that were so NOT in my price range), until I found your photos – they spoke to me… those were the kind of images I wanted on my big day. Aside from your beautiful work – when you told me that if I don’t like your personality then you weren’t the photographer for me… I was SOLD, that’s MY WOMAN. The most important advice I would give a bride is to find the vendors that work well with their style. You can’t change who you are, and the process is so much better if you’re with people you enjoy a communicate well with.” (Melissa B. – Philadelphia, PA)
#4 LISTEN TO YOUR HEART
Sometimes your perfect photographer may not be that super popular photographer everybody is talking about. Sometimes it might be someone who has just been in the industry for 2-3 years, sometimes it’s that new photographer who recently moved to the area… I’m not saying “Go hire a newbie” – oh no, that is another topic altogether, but don’t be scared to give them a chance, talk to them on the phone or meet them in person. I always have newbies reach out to me and I’ll keep advising them to assist and/or second-third shoot for seasoned photographers first.
“You know how I always joke to you about being SO BRAVE and pick me to photograph your wedding when I had just moved to the area and had absolutely no network/popularity in DFW? What impacted your decision given the fact there are way too many photographers out there? How did you start your search and came to make a decision?”
“When I first started looking for photographers, it was like a sea of options: between Google searches and recommendations from The Knot, there were almost too many photographers to choose from, and many of them had similar portfolios. Every detail of our wedding was carefully planned to represent us specifically. I didn’t want “just another Pinterest wedding” that looked like it could belong to anyone, and I didn’t want my wedding photos to look that way either. I wanted a photographer who would take the time to understand what I like, especially since I don’t enjoy traditional poses or feel comfortable modeling for the camera. It was important to find someone fun and friendly with a unique portfolio, and we accidentally stumbled upon your website during our search. What finally made my decision was your story about moving here from Turkey, and instantly fell in love with your Astrolove photos. Your bio talked a lot about your own life, your development as a photographer, your commitment to getting to know your couples. That was huge for me. I assumed that if you were comfortable enough to share a piece of your life with potential clients, you probably enjoyed getting to know other people as well. My decision ultimately came down to choosing someone with a fun, unique portfolio and an amazing personality, and you had both! I am so happy I chose you, and it wasn’t something that felt “brave” to me. To me, you were the obvious choice – the ONLY choice! If I had to give any advice to other couples, I would say find a photographer who can help you make your day unique and is fun, friendly, and memorable.” (Jessica C. – Phoenix, AZ)
#5 QUALITY, NOT QUANTITY
The number of photos or the number of products you get within your choice of a package is not everything. You can always get quality prints anytime after your wedding – even if it’s years and years later. But you can’t get everything back together and replay your wedding day with a different photographer. It is important that you pick someone with knowledge and experience, who knows how to use light and create a great composition. We all work hard to earn our money, and you deserve the best for the time and money you put in!
#6 KNOW YOUR LIGHTING SITUATION, KNOW YOUR PHOTOGRAPHER
I’m about to get a little bit technical. It is very important that you know what exactly you need in terms of photography, and if your dream photographer is savvy enough to handle it. If your wedding is during the day, with perfect open shade reflecting natural light – no need to read further for this part.
But, if you have a dark church for your ceremony or your reception is going take place after sunset, you need to consider a photographer that knows off-camera flash – correction – you need someone who has mastered off camera flash and can work with any lighting situation. Regardless of whether your venue has tall white walls or no walls (hello outdoor reception!) or even if they will be shooting in complete darkness. Is that even possible? YES! And it is important to know what the photographer you are considering is capable of.
I’ve seen so many couples wind up disappointed because their photographer had amazing daylight photos but whose photo quality took a nosedive during their low-light wedding/reception. Think ahead and ask to see full wedding galleries of a few different weddings they have shot that have different light scenarios (indoor, outdoor, day, night, etc.). In theory, we all are awesome photographers – but don’t rely on theory, ask for proof!!! Which leads us to…
#7 VIEW REAL WEDDING GALLERIES
Once you narrow down your options and set in-person meetings, you need to see real wedding galleries. I put the best of the best photos online because there’s no way I can fit EVERY wedding on my site. And even if I could, I’m pretty sure nobody would look at hundreds of photos from each wedding! However, I always show real client galleries during our in-person meeting. I also bring some albums with me – so they can touch and feel how they’re like… Which will bring me to #8…
#8 KNOW EXACTLY WHAT YOU ARE GETTING, AND HOW MUCH YOU ARE PAYING FOR IT
This is a saturated market and we photographers have way too many different packages to choose from.
Is your wedding very small and short and sweet? Maybe 50-80 people, and 5-6 hours max? Perfect! One photographer will be enough. Is it a bigger wedding with a longer guest list and events happening at multiple locations at the same time? You should consider two (or more) photographers – to ensure everything is taken care of. Do you want an engagement session and is it included in the package? Does the package include digital files and/or prints? Do you get an album or do you have to purchase that separately? What does the album look like? Can you customize them? Can you print your photos on your own, or do you have to print them thru your photographer? Don’t be shy to ask questions! It is very important that you do this prior to signing the contract and putting down the retainer. This will avoid future conflicts!
#9 TURNAROUND TIME
The wedding is over, the cake vanished in 5 minutes, everybody danced the night away, now what? Every photographer, depending on how booked they are and how they post-process their photos, have different turnaround times. Just like anything else – make sure to talk this ahead of time so you know when to expect your photos. My turnaround is typically 6-8 weeks, if not earlier. (But I always post a few sneak peeks of the wedding the following day!)
#10 HAVE LOTS OF FUN!
This is the final and most important thing about all things wedding. HAVE LOTS OF FUN ON YOUR BIG DAY!!! Things may not go as planned. Maybe your nephew will poke the cake, or the power will go out and the generator won’t kick in for a few seconds during your vows, or the groom will step in a puddle of mud hidden under the grass…
As wedding pros, we have seen it ALL! What matters is how much fun you have! At that moment, small things are going to look like “This is it! Everything is ruined!” But believe me, none of your family or friends will notice those little things and will keep celebrating YOU. Don’t sweat the small things – look at the bigger picture! You just started a new chapter of your life with your loved ones your side!