PHOTOGRAPHER: Meagan Lindsey
You’re engaged! And now it’s time to delve into the often daunting process of selecting the vendors who will team up to create the magical moment you’ve been dreaming about. The stakes are high. The average couple spends anywhere from six months to more than a year planning their big day, investing anywhere from five to six figures to make it happen. According to Brides magazine, the average wedding in Southern California in 2018 cost $44,000, and in New York City, the average cost is closer to $80,000. And yet, a wedding day, like any other day – no matter how special, beautiful, and momentous, is over in the blink of an eye. Your wedding photographer is therefore unique in being the only vendor who will deliver a product not immediately enjoyed during the celebration – but to be treasured, daily, in the form of memories and easily accessible art (you can frame it on your wall or make it your computer screensaver!) for the rest of your lives.
As wedding designers, we cannot help but feel that choosing your wedding photographer is one of the most important decisions you will make during your wedding planning process. Who wants to be the couple who spent tens of thousands of dollars, only to walk away with pictures that look like they were snapped on your grandfather’s phone because you decided to just go with the photographer who happened to be offering a promotional discount on Instagram instead of doing your due diligence, and securing the best photographer for your style and needs?
This week, we are putting together some pro tips to help you book the photographer of your dreams!
PHOTOGRAPHER: Brian David Weddings
FIND YOUR STYLE
First and foremost, when beginning your hunt for a wedding photographer, you should begin by considering your preferred photography style.
All the best wedding photographers specialize in a particular type of photography that gives their images an identifying style and flair associated with their name. Be wary of a photographer who claims they shoot “all styles” or “any style you want”. You are not looking for a jack of all trades, master of none. Not to mention, if you view their portfolio and see dozens of different shooting styles and coloring techniques on display, you will surely not adore all of them, and how can you guarantee which your wedding photos will most resemble?
Start a Pinterest board to save all the wedding photographs you most admire from wedding blogs and Instagram, and then scroll through everything to see if they have a style in a common or a style you identify the most with. This will give you a jumping point to start your photographer search.
PHOTOGRAPHER: Sanford Creative
TYPES OF PHOTOGRAPHY STYLES
Some popular styles of wedding photography include:
- Traditional – Traditional wedding photographers emulate a more classic approach. Expect plenty of posed photographs of the couple and group shots, as well as a thorough execution of a traditional shot list that focuses on all the typical key moments of a wedding (e.g. first kiss, cake cutting, champagne toast, bouquet toss).
- Photojournalistic – The photographer takes a more informal approach to shooting, capturing more candids and natural moments and fewer traditional posed shots. This style of photography may suit couples who dislike the overly posed look of old-timey wedding photos and prioritize the capture of emotional authenticity. A photojournalistic style also benefits those who are camera shy, and may seek a photographer willing to shoot like a fly on the wall.
- Fine Art – Fine art wedding photographers sometimes incorporate elements of traditional or photojournalistic styles into their work, but are particular keen on creative styling and may step in to subtly adjust someone’s pose or the position of objects in order to get a more beautiful shot. They will also try and pounce on spontaneous opportunities for artistry, and make efforts to not only capture a key moment but to find the most creative way to frame it. Post-production editing and coloring techniques are involved to fully achieve their vision. Many fine art photographers also have a signature look. Some examples:
– Bright, airy, and softly romantic like the photos on Style Me Pretty
– Dark + Moody (often has a slightly desaturated coloring)
– Boho honey brown tones
– Saturated rich, vibrant colors
– Blue-green tinged imagery (often seen in the work of many fine art photographers in the Pacific Northwest)
- Dramatic – Such photography is often the opposite of photojournalistic. The photographer may focus on atmosphere, posing, and creating a mood or landscape that can seem almost heightened or surreal. Expect lots of backlit pictures, off-camera flashes, dramatic lighting, silhouettes, shadows, and theatrical skies that appear exceptionally stormy, fiery, or dusky. Images tend to be razor sharp with high contrast. While this is not for everyone, some couples enjoy the look of these glamorous photos, even if they are not a mirror reflection or realistic documentation of their big day. This style of dramatic photography can intersect with the HDR photography style, though the latter is falling out of popularity, with most couples these days finding the look too over-processed for their tastes.
- Editorial – Editorial photography blends high fashion and commercial photography styles with wedding photography, creating a look that is stylized, edgy, and artistic in varying degrees. If you want your wedding photos to look like they would be right at home on the pages of Vogue, editorial photography can be fun and add a touch of glamor.
- Destination – Sure, many destination wedding photographers might be fine art or photojournalistic photographers as well (though unlikely traditional). But traveling photographers for whom destination weddings are a specialty deserve a category of their own. They understand the importance of not only capturing the couple but of capturing the EPICNESS of the couple in their destination environment. This is not just about the couple, their wedding, their guests and decor. It’s about the couple, their wedding, their guests and decor in that specific landscape. It’s a cinematic moment and a destination photographer not only knows that – they are also accustomed to doing the legwork, and scouting the best locations, light, and secret photography spots ahead of time, even in unknown territory.
PHOTOGRAPHER: Pure Life Creative
CONSULT YOUR WEDDING PLANNER
Based on the wedding photography style you best relate to, you’ve now narrowed down your choices. Your next step should be to consult your Wedding Planner.
It goes without saying that the FIRST vendor you should always book is your Wedding Designer or Planner – and if you are not booking a full design package and only plan to have month-of coordination, this should STILL be the first vendor you book. Why? Because your planner – be they your full Wedding Designer or simply Month-of Coordinator, will give you invaluable advice every step of the way. This may be your first time getting married. They help dozens and dozens of people get married each year. The years of knowledge and experience they possess is something you are paying money to make full use of, and it makes no sense for you to tap this well only halfway into your planning process, after you have made twenty-five mistakes they could have talked you out of if they had been there from day one. While some people think doing away with a Planner saves money, the opposite is often true.
So assuming you’ve been good and booked your Wedding Planner right off the bat, always talk to your planner about your photography options. There is no planner in the world worth their salt who will deny you this opportunity because – HERE’S A SECRET: we are just as invested in having good photographs after the wedding as you. No planner wants to work a wedding only to see their beautiful styling and design amateurishly captured in unusable images after the fact. So truly – above anyone else, you can trust that your Planner will not steer you wrong, and would never recommend photographers who were not professional, suited to your aesthetic, or unreliable in skill or ethic.
Your Wedding Planner will also be able to guide you based on your budget, expectations, and specific needs. For example, have you fallen in love with that wildly popular Utah photographer whose work is all over Green Wedding Shoes? Only, your wedding is in NYC, your photography budget is half what she charges, and you can’t afford to pay for her flight and accommodation. Your Planner may be able to recommend a local option with a similar style who charges less, and also advise you how to redo your budget to afford a better photographer (maybe you don’t need a vinyl monogram on your dance floor, groom’s cake, 4 different cards in your invitation suite, or 500 customized gold foil cocktail napkins, hmm?). Also, maybe you want a photographer who is good at giving posing directions, a photographer willing to hike two hours up a mountain for your elopement, or a photographer who keeps a respectful distance so that you almost forget they’re there. Your planner is bound to know a good match for you!
PHOTOGRAPHY: Foolishly Rushing In
Wedding photographers, just like any vendor, have reviews online. Look on Yelp, The Knot, Wedding Wire, Facebook, Google, message boards, etc.
Comb through not only the photographer’s portfolio but also their blog. Do they do a lot of weddings? What percentage of their work did you like and identify with? Are a good number of the photographs you liked from real weddings, or only from editorials/styled shoots?
You want a photographer who has proved themselves shooting both editorial photography and real events. If all the photographs you loved were solely from styled shoots (zero guests, bride and groom are models, everything is amazingly styled and picture perfect) but the photographer’s real weddings did not impress you, then you may want to reconsider. An editorial is a wonderful way for a photographer to shoot an “ideal wedding” that fits their brand, so as to attract the kind of client they want. As vendors, styled shoots are an exciting way to flex our creative muscles and a rare opportunity to explore our artistry outside the restrictions of a client-vendor relationship. However, if a photographer chokes at real events and can only shine in a tightly controlled, curated setting, you may not want them working your wedding because it may be an indication that they are not sufficiently adept at dealing with unknown factors, pressure, different personalities, multiple subjects, sudden changes in environment/lighting, and even just going with the flow.
PHOTOGRAPHER: Mink Photography
TYPE OF WEDDING
The next thing to consider is the type of wedding you are having, and whether your dream photographer is well-suited to shooting it. Imagine paying $5000 to book your favorite photographer who shot all those panoramic weddings in the mountains and valleys upstate, only to have them travel to your industrial loft wedding and produce mediocre indoor images. It’s not necessarily true that natural light photographers are bad at shooting at night or with artificial light – but if there is zero evidence of such photography in their portfolio, then don’t be surprised if the images they produce are not exactly what you expected. After all, you have brought them into an environment outside their normal shooting comfort zone.
Try to book a photographer who has demonstrated ample evidence of fantastic photographs in similar venues to your own. And if you like their style but don’t see sufficient imagery that corresponds to your wedding look and venue, it does not hurt to request more images to get a better idea. Simply send an email to the photographer and tell them where you’ll be getting married, and then ask to see full client galleries from similar weddings!
PHOTOGRAPHY: Foolishly Rushing In
Time to send some queries! Email your top 3 to 5 choices to ask for their availability on your wedding date, price packages, contract information, and references. Going through this information may instantly help you narrow it down further – especially if a photographer is not available or out of your budget.
The contract information will allow you to assess ahead of time if the photographer has any policies you may find objectionable. Finding something iffy should not be an instant dealbreaker, however. Always feel free to raise your concerns and see if the photographer is willing to negotiate, or at least respectfully explain why a policy is in place. There may be reasons you have not considered. On the other hand, if the photographer reacts defensively and adopts a “take it or leave it” attitude, the red flag will have been raised and this is not an individual you want involved in your wedding!
PHOTOGRAPHER: Gene Kang
SCHEDULE PHONE OR VIDEO CALL
Schedule phone calls with the photographers who:
- Are available on your wedding date
- Are within your budget
- Garnered excellent reviews online
- Have a portfolio of work you are at least 80 to 90 percent thrilled with, if not completely
- Provided all information requested by email, and were a joy to communicate with
- Your wedding planner (and any other booked venue/vendors) either recommended, approved, or at the very least, did not object to (we in the industry are not inclined to trash talk other vendors. So if we ever raise objections to a choice, it’s for good reason!)
PHOTOGRAPHER: Birds of a Feather
Most professional wedding photographers will schedule a consultation over the phone or video chat when asked. Some will even prefer to meet in person!
At this point, you have hopefully whittled down your options to 3 or fewer. With all other factors (price point, skill) being similar, you want to go with the photographer with whom you can forge the best connection. Chemistry between the photographer and subjects is important – especially for photography that has the potential to be intimate, emotional, and authentic. You want to feel comfortable having this individual follow you around for 6 to 10 hours clicking and snapping away.
Come prepared with some basic questions, but also feel free to banter so you can get a feel of who they are as a person. While you may not already have a mood board at this stage of the process (unless you booked your Wedding Planner early enough to create a full design lookbook for you), you can send the photographer inspiration images for your wedding – or the design lookbook if you have one! This will give them an idea of the look you want to achieve, and how they can help you capture it. Do they seem enraptured by your wedding vision? 100 percent on board? Bored? Half-hearted? Fake enthused? These are all things to note, as they might affect your photographer’s creativity and ability to give your wedding their all, no matter how professional they are. If they already look bored and you’ve only shown them your third inspiration picture, this is not the photographer for you.
PHOTOGRAPHER: Pure Life Creative
As Wedding Planners, one area of our expertise is advising clients where to trim the fat when they have a tight budget but big wedding dreams. There are many small luxuries you can scale back on with very little consequence. It is our belief that your photographer should not be one of them.
You get for what you pay for. You can probably find a photographer on Craigslist to take your wedding photos for $100, but should you? If a photographer is the cheapest, he or she is probably the least qualified. A talented, popular, highly experienced, well-reviewed, and reliable wedding photographer is not likely to undervalue themselves by charging below the standard market rate in your area, and your Wedding Planner should be equipped to advise you on what the current market rates are.
This is the vendor whose artwork you get to look at EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Forever.
Let it not be only to think, “I wish I’d booked a real photographer.”
PHOTOGRAPHER: Sara Sotro