Melissa and I have met with hundreds of couples to discuss photographing their wedding. My couples come in with a list of questions, usually from The Knot or a similar site. These lists are a great starting point but we’ve noticed that most leave some blinds spots. We’ll go over the following from a wedding photographer’s perspective:
- Why you won’t find the most important thing on a website or price list
- Why you should be suspicious if the photographer gives you the copyright
- Why asking how many photos you get is the wrong question
- Why you should always ask about specific photos
- Why not all shot lists are created equal
- Why asking about a photographer’s gear is pointless
- Why you shouldn’t worry if your venue is new to the photographer
- Why the wedding day is just a small part of the photographer’s job for your wedding
The Most Important Thing Isn’t on the Website or Price List
For most couples booking a wedding photographer is a balancing act of budget, style, and personality. The better the fit across those three areas the better chance you’ve found the perfect photographer for you. In my experience, personality fit is the most critical area. Finding a photographer who makes you comfortable, both on and off camera, improves every aspect of your wedding photography experience. I would recommend being flexible on budget before personality fit. Of course a photographer would say that, right? Look, as owners of a small business Melissa and I definitely appreciate the need to stay within budget. But we’ve also seen the powerful effect of a great client-photographer rapport and consider a reasonable wedding budget increase of a few percent to be a worthwhile investment to get the photographer you truly want.
A Primer on Wedding Photographer Jargon
Photographers tend to have a lot of names for things and it can be difficult to understand what you get in return when paying for our services. Here’s a bit of a primer to make sure we’re all speaking the same language.
Almost without exception a professional wedding photographer will keep the copyright of the images but you get a personal use license allowing you to share and display your wedding photos. A personal use license may or may not include the right to print the photos. Check with your photographer to see the specific terms offered. Are there drawbacks to the photographer giving you the copyright? Not really, other than it is a good indicator that you’re dealing with someone who likely doesn’t have a lot of experience.
Collection, package, program, bundle, and similar terms mean the same thing. They’re just, get this, collections of individual products we package together (usually) at a discount versus line item prices. You’ll find photographers all along the continuum of collections vs a la carte. At Rentham we sell primarily through collections, which I believe helps clients by simplifying the dizzying array of product combinations and options.
In general coverage is what a wedding photographer does on the day of your wedding and is limited to a specific number of hours. Be careful of photographers who offer “all day” coverage. Does that actually mean 24 hours or just whatever feels like a really long time? It is better for everyone to understand exactly how much time is being booked. Many collections also include additional sessions, which is a photoshoot related to the wedding but done separately from the wedding day itself. An engagement session is a good example. Be sure to take advantage of any sessions included with your photography package. They’re a great way to build a rapport between you, your fiancé, and the photographer. Sessions are also great for adding more variety and depth to the photos.
Albums and books come in two major varieties: handmade and press products. Most higher end albums are handmade by companies that specialize in album printing and binding. The pages are photographic paper bound to a heavy substrate so they feel more like solid boards. The cover of high end albums is often customizable. Press products are more affordable and widely available because they don’t require a specialized lab. But you’ll notice right away they don’t have the same quality, heft, or feel as handmade albums. The pages are thinner paper and cover options are generally limited to synthetic, faux materials.
In digital photography RAW files are roughly equivalent to film negatives, and professional photographers generally don’t release those. Industry standard for client files is high quality jpeg. You might hear these client files simply called digitals. Check with your photographer to see if they include web ready files, smaller files created for the web that can’t be printed, or high resolution files which are much larger and created specifically for printing purposes.
How many files you get depends on the photographer’s editing style. Editing is the process of distilling a bunch of loosely related photos into a cohesive visual narrative. To deliver the most impactful story writers hone their message by editing things out. Photographers do the same thing with images. What the files look like depends on the photographer’s retouching style. It is common for wedding photographers to do a basic retouch on all delivered images, but isn’t universal. Be sure to ask about your photographer’s retouching policy.
Sometimes More is Just More
There is no way for a photographer to guess how many photos they will deliver from your wedding. But a photographer’s editing style does’t change wedding to wedding. Wedding photographers generally fall in one of two camps: deliver (nearly) everything or deliver a hand picked selection. Ask your photographer how tightly they edit their work. Don’t always assume you need everything. Melissa and I got all the photos from our wedding photographer. And I mean all of them. Looking through them all feels like a chore.
A quick tangent: there are some wedding photographers who do what we call shoot and burn. They shoot the wedding then literally dump their memory card directly to a USB or DVD for delivery. The good, the bad, and the ugly — straight from the camera to you. You mostly find these photographers in the very low budget ranges, but a few do somehow manage to slither their way into the higher ranges. Don’t accept this lazy excuse for service. Even if your budget is $500, try to find a photographer low on experience that has big aspirations for their photography business. They’ll put far more passion and care into the product than someone running a photo assembly line.
How to Make Sure You Get That One Shot
Don’t assume that because you saw that one picture you love in the photographer’s portfolio that it will automatically be taken at your wedding. Make sure you ask about getting that shot. Remember, a photographer’s portfolio is a body of work put together of a span of years. Specific shot ideas come and go for photographers, but we don’t mind going back to an idea that a client loves. You’ll also want to check that the shot you want can actually be created given the constraints of your wedding.
For example, a bride wants brilliant autumn foliage colors but her northeast Ohio wedding is in the second week of November. Those colors will be gone on the bride’s wedding day but she may be able to work with her photographer to introduce those autumn shots through things like an engagement or bridal session.
Work with your photographer to budget enough time to get those shots you want. Creating great wedding images can require a substantial amount of gear and finesse. As you are planning your day remember to allocate extra time for the photographer to setup, breakdown, and load their gear between locations. Your photographer will be able to help with the specifics of your wedding day plan.
On Shot Lists: Most wedding photographers welcome shot lists. Things get trickier, at least for me, with requests to recreate another photographer’s work. I don’t mind doing an updated version of a shot you and your sisters have taken together at every wedding over the years. But it’s time to have a frank discussion when I’m presented a Pinterest board full of specific shots to mimic, many of which aren’t even a style I show in my work. If you have requests like this make sure you have an honest, direct conversion with your photographer early in the process.
Gear is a Poor Predictor of Professionalism
What you really want to ask the photographer is “hey, how can I be sure you’re a professional?” Inexplicably many published lists ask this via proxy with the question: What kind of gear do you use? But in photography gear is a terrible indicator of both proficiency and professionalism.
Trust your instincts here. While no one thing can tell you unfailingly if someone is legit, evaluate the photographer overall. Is their web presence well designed and professional? Are their emails prompt and well written? Do they have a dedicated space, in their home or at a studio, to meet clients? Are they insured? What are the terms of their contract? Do their forms and documents look well designed or just lifted from the internet and dumped into Word? Do they have client reviews and testimonials available? Do they have a lot of product samples to show you?
Should You Worry About Hiring a Photographer Familiar With Your Venue?
One of the most common questions we get from potential clients is if we’ve previously worked at their venue. There are undeniable benefits to having experience with a venue, but don’t get lulled into thinking familiarity is a substitute for creativity. Something as simple as the catering staff moving a few tables around can completely trash a photographer’s static plan for that venue. The best wedding photographers can adapt and still create something beautiful while dealing with challenges. Ask your photographer to tell you about a time when everything went wrong. What did they do to improvise and get the shot?
Photography Alone Isn’t Enough
Wedding photography is a service industry and creating a great wedding experience for a client is so much more than just taking the photos on the wedding day. Look for a photographer who will take you step by step through the process of not only buying wedding photography but getting the most out of it. Look for a photographer that, after the wedding, will guide you to the products that are perfect for you, your wedding, and your home. Will that photographer take care of you a year from now when your cat, who is a jerk, knocks a glass of wine on to your wedding album? Look for a trusted advisor and friend that will make your wedding experience amazing.