As a wedding blogger, I deal with wedding photographers and brides all the time. I've heard complaints and horror stories from both of them, and there's just no doubt about it, wedding photography is a tricky business. Couples have big expectations of their photographers, and wedding photographers work really hard to make those dreams come true. Most wedding photographers I know feel like they've run a marathon the day after they shoot a wedding! But if those expectations don't line up perfectly, there can be disappointments on both sides. I hope today to help prepare you to have a great experience hiring and working with a wedding photographer for your big day!
When I got married, the craze of artful, incredibly styled weddings and wedding photography hadn't hit my part of the world yet. My husband and I hired a friend of my mom's who was just getting into photography and had only photographed one wedding before. We paid her $500 and she gave us 100 edited photos...and over 3,000 unedited photos on CDs. There was no contract, and we handed her a shot list on the morning of the wedding of the photos we thought we wanted. Thank goodness it worked out okay! They aren't wedding blog worthy, but they remind us of our wedding day and they captured the joy of the celebration.
Now that I work in the wedding world, I might do things differently. And I certainly have a lot of advice to dish out to couples about how to choose and hire your wedding photographer!
The first thing you and your partner need to decide is how high a priority your wedding photography is to you. My husband and I were really young, had a tiny budget, didn't have a clue about what even happened at weddings, and just wanted to make sure we captured some memories of our wedding day. So we weren't in the market for the best wedding photographer in New England at the time. We hired someone who fit our tiny budget, and the photographs reflected that it wasn't our highest priority. They were good, but not great.
But if your wedding photographs are one of your highest priorities, that's a different story. Knowing and deciding that as a couple will help inform your search for a wedding photographer from the beginning.
The second piece of information you and your partner need to decide before starting your search for a wedding photographer. You need to know what you'll roughly be willing to pay for a wedding photographer. Keep in mind that the average cost of a wedding photographer in the United States is just over $2,300, and premiere wedding photographers can cost twice that. You'll find cost differences based on where you live in the U.S., but that's a ballpark figure to work with.
We're not going to recommend too much haggling over price with your wedding photographer, but there can be some exceptions. My friend Rachael and her fiance were planning a destination wedding in France. When they found a photographer they loved who was out of their price range, they explained their situation. The photographer chose to cut his price because the wedding was abroad and a few days in the South of France was appealing!
This may seem obvious, but you'd be surprised how many couples don't do basic research into wedding photographers before they hire one. All wedding photographers are not created equal, whether you're talking about budget, service or style. Spend some time at your computer looking through the portfolios of wedding photographers in your area. Make notes of what you like and dislike in the various wedding photos you see. Do you like bright light or more moody shadows, do you like candid photos or posed ones? Do you get an overall good gut feeling from certain photos? Talk with your partner about what you both want to see in your wedding photographs, both immediately and fifty years from now, and which photographers really pull you in.
It's important to keep in mind that you can't replicate someone else's wedding photos exactly, even if you hire the same photographer. Different settings, light and details will produce very different photographs. If you're considering a photographer because of their bright, glowing photographs, but you're planning a January wedding, know that your photographs will not be the same - no matter how good your photographer is.
A Shot List or Not
You're probably going to read in many places and books and advice that you should compile a list of photographs you want your photographer to definitely get on your wedding day. That's often called a shot list, and it might include shots li. It's common advice that couples should compile one to make sure you get what you want, but don't be surprised if your photographer says they won't work to a shot list. Some photographers find this helpful, and some want you to trust them to capture the whole wedding without being micromanaged.
In my opinion, there should be a happy medium between the two. If you have a special relationship with your grandmother or niece or nephew, that's something to say to your photographer to let them know that you'd like photographs of or with them. But you might not need to make a list of every single photograph you think your photographer should take on the day. And if that's what you would prefer, you might want to look for a photographer who likes to work that way.
Meet or Skype
The best way to find out if your photographer will be a good fit for you is to meet them in person, Skype, or at least talk on the phone. Sometimes, just emailing back and forth doesn't give you a good sense of the photographer's style or personality, and vice versa. Most photographers I know will happily chat with couples to make sure everyone is on the same page before any contracts are signed.
Sign on the Dotted Line
After our post about contracts last week, you know you need one for your photographer! They should have a standard contract that can be tweaked based on your specific needs or circumstances. Make sure you discuss all the nitty gritty details like exactly when the photographer will arrive and leave. If your wedding is running very late, you'll want to make sure your photographer is booked to stay until the last of the festivities. I've known wedding photographers who have had to leave before the cake cutting and first dances because the wedding has run so late and they've already stayed hours after their contract is up. Most photographers will work with you, but this is definitely something to think about when you're putting everything in writing.
This contract should also include the timeframe when you can expect to see the wedding photographs, so you can start looking forward to that date once the excitement all dies down! Many wedding photographers will give you a sneak peek of photographs a week or two after the wedding, then the full set of photos at a later date. Don't forget to ask how you'll receive the photographs and what, if any, printing is included in your contract.
Hopefully this information will give you a head start on hiring the photographer that is the best fit for you and your wedding. And I'll leave you with this little tip. If you're getting a little stressed in this process of hiring a wedding photographer, ask yourself what you want your photos to remind you of fifty years from now. I think most people will say the joy of their wedding day, which is easier to find in a wedding photographer than you'd think!
Emily Westbrooks is an American-born writer and blogger based in Dublin, Ireland. She is the Online Editor for Confetti Magazine, one of Ireland's top bridal magazines. She also writes her own lifestyle blog, From China Village, where she chronicles her adventures in Dublin, travels around Europe, DIY projects and Irish design. She shares her home with her husband, one cat, and four sassy chickens!