It’s a little bit after the holidays, which means it’s Booking Season here in wedding-business-land. There are so many engagements that happen over the holidays (Thanksgiving-Christmas-Hanukkah-New-Year’s) that when January rolls around, people are getting their ducks all lined up in a row with wedding-planning, and usually they get the big 3 booked around this time: venue, planner, photographer.
As such, I go on a lot of job interviews. Yup! Being a wedding photographer means that I meet with many potential couples to see if we’re a good fit personality-wise — they know my work from my website, but I think it’s really important that we click in person, because I’m going to be spending a lot of time with them on their wedding day… and if they don’t like me, well, it probably won’t be a good experience for either of us!
I like meeting new people and talking with them, and seeing if our expectations for wedding photography are on the same wavelength — for instance, if someone comes to me asking for all sepia and lots of cheesy poses, I gently steer them towards someone else who is more their fit. But one of the more frustrating parts about the interviews (or meetups, if we’d like to be less formal) is when someone pulls out a notebook and there are 30 questions from some wedding website for me to answer, including stuff that has no bearing whatsoever on the kind of job that I will do.
I get it — this is a new experience; you don’t hire a photographer every day; you are taking notes from a business that has been guiding many other couples in a similar predicament, so obviously they have some knowledge about this whole adventure, right?
These are the top 5 questions that I recommend you ask during a face-to-face (or Skype video, or phone) conversation with your potential photographer.
1. Do Ask: Are you the photographer who will be shooting our wedding?
It might not be obvious, since some photography businesses are called “Name Photography,” where the Name is the assumed photographer you will be booking. (For example, Elissa R Photography is me, Elissa!) But some Name photography studios have associates or partners, as do the bigger studios, so it’s good to double-check to make sure that you know who is actually going to be at your wedding. Not all photographers are made equal!
Some photographers don’t meet with you before the booking (some use intermediaries like office managers or wedding planners), but my advice still stands. Be sure that the work you are looking at is the work of the person you are hiring.
2. Do Ask: Could we see a full gallery / a complete wedding?
At the end of the consultation, I tell all of the couples meeting with me that, before they commit to booking me, I would like them to see a full gallery or two of weddings that I have shot and delivered to real couples. This is for the benefit of everyone involved. Any photographer can put together a portfolio of great images, but it’s the whole wedding that matters to the couple. This way they see the consistency of my work (and get a better feel for how I approach certain situations — I usually offer to share full galleries of weddings that will be in similar locations, size, or lighting, such as churches or outdoor ceremonies, nighttime receptions, elopements, and so on). It also helps me because it sets the couple’s expectations: this is how a gallery is divided up, this is how my family formals usually look, this is how many shots of the cake cutting you might receive, etc.
3. Do Ask: Do you bring backup equipment?
Some lists will suggest that you ask “What do you shoot with?” This is a silly question — if you like the photographer’s work, what does it matter what s/he shoots with? Nikon, Canon, whatever. The question you should be asking is about redundancies. If the photographer has only one camera, what happens if there’s an error while you’re reciting your vows? A pro will bring at least 2 camera bodies to a wedding. Myself, I shoot the ceremony with two cameras in case one unexpectedly fails.
4. Do Ask: May we look at a sample contract?
Transparency, to me, is a big part of being a trustworthy business. Before people meet with me, they receive an e-pamphlet of information about how I work, turnaround time for images, the basics of album pricing, etc., but there are so many other holes to fill in. During our meeting, we talk about a few of these things, but the contract really addresses every point: package components, monetary retainers, liability, act of God (natural disasters, death, and so on), album pricing, payment terms, copyright, session arrangements, and so on.
Checking out a contract (and actually reading over it) helps you to understand what to expect from the photographer, and their expectations from you. Contracts should protect both parties in case the relationship goes in an unintended direction.
5. Do Ask: What is your approach to shooting?
This is much better than the “what would you say is your style?” question that most magazines instruct you to ask. “Define your style” is difficult to classify, and besides, if you’ve seen the photographer’s work and have gotten to the meeting point, it probably means that you like their style, no matter what it’s called. The bigger question that affects you, as the client, is their approach. How close do they get during the ceremony (physically, not with a long lens)? Do they do a lot of instruction — are the photos in their portfolios candids, or re-staged moments?
For example, I try very hard not to stand in between the guests and the couple during the ceremony — my approach is to circle the outer areas of the ceremony site and use a lens with a long reach. Other photographers might crouch in the aisle in the front row and take photos during the ceremony that way. It’s not bad, it’s just different. You, up on the altar, may not notice, but your guests probably will.
I honestly think those are the big 5. If you’re meeting with the actual photographer whose work you were attracted to in the first place, if s/he shares several complete weddings with you so you know what to expect out of your own delivered wedding photos, if you know that your photographer has extra gear in case of sudden malfunction and can keep shooting, if you have access to a sample contract and can read over and understand all contract terms, and if you’re comfortable with the photographer’s approach to shooting your wedding day, I think that covers a whole lot!
Biggest thing, though: personality. This isn’t a question, it’s a matter of being comfortable with the photographer. Like I said, we photographers spend most of the wedding day near you, so be sure you get along! Most of my couples know me pretty well from my personal blog posts and we can bond over things like pets, Downton Abbey, and nail polish. :)
Can you think of any questions? Curious about anything? Have something to add? Leave it in the comments!