There are so many iterations of this guide already on the internet — so what in the world can I bring to the table that others have not already covered?
Sometimes, those lists are written by photographers who just want to sell you something. Sometimes, those lists are written by shoppers who are frustrated with the process and make a decision based on those feelings, then tell their decision-making process to anyone who will listen. Sometimes, those lists are written by people in the wedding industry who will swear on a stack of Jimmy Choos that their way is the only way.
I got married in 2009. Yeah, three years ago. As days pass, I grow more into being a business owner than a consumer. This is good in a sense — but it’s also not very optimal when I want to relate to my clients. So I read. I read threads on wedding-planning forums. I read wedding-planning books. I read these real-life frustrations by these people planning their weddings and I’m reminded of the days when I was staring at an Excel spreadsheet wondering where the money was going to come from. When I cried after getting a quote from a caterer. When I wanted to burn all of my DIY organza flowers in a big heap because they were so irritating to make. I loved my wedding, but I never want to plan it ever again.
What I’m seeing in these wedding-planning threads are the same issues: why is this so much? why does it cost so much to hire a photographer? I’m comparing these photographers side-by-side and I like this one better but the other gives more stuff and I just don’t know what to do…
So here’s the deal about wedding photographers: we run a business and our businesses pay for our groceries, our rent, our vet bills. Not everything we make goes into our pockets; a lot of it goes into the costs of the business, including a hefty chunk that goes into paying taxes. We are artists on top of that; we don’t want to burn out by creating the same image again and again, which is why a lot of us can physically shoot a hundred weddings a year, but we don’t want to. Some of us aren’t full-time photographers; some of us work other full-time or part-time jobs “on the side” but run our photography businesses legitimately, and we need to price ourselves so that it’s worth spending more time away from our families.
Sometimes, you can get lucky with price — find someone who is just starting out, someone who is underpricing their work, someone who isn’t a legitimate business yet (some won’t ever be, and that is just playing with fire), someone who cuts corners by not bringing backup equipment or is uninsured, and sometimes that is okay. But expecting that “all photographers are created equal” is not.
Okay, so full disclosure here: I am a wedding photographer. But I’m not writing this to make you hire me (though if you’d like to, you are welcome to contact me!) I just want to help.
After that long-winded introduction, do you still want to read my tips on how to hire a wedding photographer? Here it goes.
- You have to like their work.
- You should evaluate your budget.
- You and the photographer should get along (compatibility).
Those are the big 3. Let me stretch it out:
You have to like their work.
This is the biggest thing. Photographers are artists; we are not button-pushers. If you don’t like the photographer’s creative vision, the way that they “see,” there is no point in hiring them. Period. Don’t ask the photographer you’re interested in hiring, to emulate the work of someone else. Want a vintage look? Hire someone who processes that way. Want someone who grabs beautiful, momentous occasions? Hire someone who has that eye and those reflexes. Want fashion-y portraits? Hire someone who shows fashion-y portraits in their portfolio.
I honestly believe there is a photographer out there for everyone. You just have to look hard enough. If you find someone you love, go for it… don’t make yourself crazy scouring the internet for someone even “better.” There’s always something else to plan.
You should evaluate your budget.
We all have a budget, whether it’s $500 or $50,000. Be realistic that you’re not going to find a Meryl Streep of the wedding photographer world for next to nothing. A lot of the good-to-best of their profession have been doing this for a while, so they can command higher prices (and that’s true of any industry). It’s true that sometimes photographers will be flexible about their pricing if they really want to work with you — be it because your wedding sounds different, they want a more diverse portfolio, or because they really like you and know that you’ll be an amazing client — but we can’t do that for everyone.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this in a forum: “It’s between A and B. I love A’s work but B offers more stuff.” If you really love a photographer’s work, hire the smaller package from them and save up for products later. What is the point in having an album full of images you don’t really love, or a giant print on your wall of a photo you feel mediocre about?
I also see people talking about how there’s only a few hundred dollars’ difference between an excellent photographer and an average photographer, so in order to save that money they go with the average photographer. By all means, if photography is just a check box on your to-do list and you don’t care either way, pick the photographer who fits your budget better. However, if $300 is all that stands between you and an amazing photographer, reevaluate your budget and come up with a way for that money. I guarantee you will feel better about it once the wedding is over and the proofs come back. A few hundred dollars in a wedding can come out of anywhere — one order less of a side item from your buffet table, less-fancy napkins, forgoing a manicure… hell, just give up your Starbucks habit for a few weeks and you can find the money. My point is not spend all the money you have, it’s prioritize.
You and the photographer have to get along (compatibility).
Sure, a photographer might take beautiful photos and be the right price, but if you find their personality abrasive, or even hyperactive when you’re more mellow, or they go on about details when you’re really all about moments, then you might consider finding someone else. Talk with your potential photographer before you book them… have a coffee or enjoy a phone date. You don’t want to go through your photos later thinking, “I remember when we took this. He said an offensive joke and I will try not to associate this photo with his asinine behavior… but now that is all I can think about!” The photographer you choose will be with you for most of the day. I usually see my clients in their underwear. I have helped them go to the bathroom. That’s how close I get. You want to be able to trust that the photographer is on your side.
That being said, once you find someone, you’ll want to know a few more things that may make or break your interest in them:
Copyright vs. personal use: You will be hard-pressed to find a professional photographer who will give up their copyright to you. Signing away copyright means that they will not be able to use the photos for their business at all, and that doesn’t make any sense. If a photographer includes the high-resolution images of your wedding with a personal-use release (also called a print release), that frees you to take your digital files anywhere to be printed for personal use. You can’t sell them. You can’t edit them. Basically a photo is a finished product and all you’re able to do is enjoy making unlimited prints without paying for each copy you create.
Back-up equipment: Throw out that Knot list of things to ask your photographer. (You know which one I’m talking about.) It doesn’t matter what camera they shoot with — if you like their work, they know how to use their equipment. What you do need to ask is if they bring redundancies. If it’s just one camera and one lens and one flash, what happens if something breaks while you’re saying your vows? Ask them if they have back-up equipment. A professional brings at least two camera bodies, two flashes, and a number of lenses.
Expectations: Not every photographer follows the same workflow. Be sure to know how long it will take to see your proofs, to receive your album, etc. The industry average is probably anywhere from 4 weeks to 6 months. On that note, get it in writing. Have a contract in place. A good contract protects both parties from each other in a worst-case scenario. And on that note, read your contract. A lot of disappointing surprises can be avoided if everyone were clear about what to expect from each other.
I hope this helps some of you! If you can think of anything else to add, please let me know in the comments :)
You ROCK, Elissa! I love you for writing this :)