It's the most important day of your life. You've planned for months, or even years, for every detail to be absolutely flawless. And after your big day has come and gone, the one thing you'll keep forever is your wedding photos. These pictures are going to last for generations. And on occasions for the rest of your life, you will flip through the album to reminisce on your most precious day together. The photographer is possibly the most important vendor at your wedding (I might be slightly biased lol), so how should you choose the one that's perfect for you? These days, it's very easy for someone to become a "photographer". There's no licensing requirements, and the cost of starting a business is very low compared to other industries. Therefore, there is a never-ending sea of photographers that are under-qualified, under-experienced, or over-priced. Here's my guide to picking your wedding photographer, from my experience of photographing hundreds of weddings!
1. The most important consideration is that you like the photographer's images. If you're not connecting with the images, or moved by what you see, move on to the next website. Concentrate on the images and check for image quality. Are the images sharp and in focus? Are they exposed properly and composed artistically? Do you like their editing style? Ask the photographer if they use flash, natural light, or both. Almost every wedding I have worked has required flash at certain points, not as an artistic preference, but technically. But in general, it doesn't really matter which equipment the photographer uses, as long as the photographer is capable of consistently delivering professional results that appeal to your artistic tastes. The best way to judge that is by seeing as many images the photographer can show, from as many different weddings and situations as possible. The bottom line here is to make sure you like the images shown, and they fit your tastes and expectations.
2. The next consideration is your budget. I would suggest a price range that reflects your overall wedding budget. As always in life, it seems you get what you pay for, but there are also exceptions to the rule. Look for good value in the relationship between quality, experience, and price. Unfortunately, the prices aren't often displayed on the website. You may get a "starting at" price, but usually the photographer wants you to call or email, so they can give you the sales pitch. I personally display my prices and packages, as I think it makes things easier for both the bride and myself. There's a huge range of wedding photography prices out there. There's beginning photographers, students, and friends-of-friends if you're on an extremely tight budget. This should be an absolute last resort. Do you really want to trust your most important day ever to someone inexperienced? Most professionals will have pricing starting between $1000 and $5000 and require a deposit to book the date. The deposit can range from a smaller flat fee to 50% of the package. Make sure to see what's included in the packages. Ask if you're getting the image files and permission to use them. I wouldn't even consider a photographer that didn't provide the files, but if you do, prepare to buy your prints and products only through the photographer at their often high prices. Is there a set number of hours, or is it full-coverage? How much are extra hours? How much is a second photographer? Are bridal and engagement portraits included? These are questions to keep in mind while comparing prices.
3. Now let's talk experience, because in the wedding world, experience is everything. Weddings are often hectic, and almost never go exactly as planned. An experienced photographer has seen it all and knows how to adapt to the situation. Please remember your wedding can't be redone if your photographer messes it up! We have all heard horror stories. The pressure is real and you want someone that can handle it. Here's some things to check while assessing your photographer's experience level. The website is very important. It should look and feel professional, as well as have plenty of images of many different weddings. If you're only seeing a couple different brides in the portfolio, it's either because they haven't shot many weddings, or they're not proud of many weddings they shoot. Does the photographer specialize in weddings? If not, that's okay, but remember that a photographer who's great at shooting portraits, landscapes, sports, etc isn't necessarily great at shooting weddings. You should check for reviews on the website and better yet on their Facebook business page, where they are harder to fake. Testimonials are very important. Is this the photographer's full-time job, or a side gig for extra income? Ask if you can see an entire wedding gallery as it was delivered to the clients. It's easy to take a couple of great shots over the course of the entire day. But how do all of the pictures that aren't in the portfolio look?
4. Lastly, consider the photographer's personality when you meet them. And let me stress now that you meet the photographer in person prior to signing any contracts or paying a deposit. The only exceptions to this are destination weddings where meeting in person isn't practical. In that case, have a lengthy telephone conversation. It's important that you feel comfortable with the photographer, and that your personalities compliment each other. Since weddings are often chaotic behind the scenes, it's important your photographer is patient. You also want someone who is polite, as they'll be mingling with your family and best friends, and you'll be spending a good bit of time with them. A good photographer should be outgoing, personable, and hopefully fun. In summary, try to make sure this is someone with whom you will enjoy doing business.
In conclusion, weddings can become very expensive, very fast. With all of the time and money you're spending to have an amazing celebration, make sure you spend an appropriate amount to document it in an amazing way! And whether you're on a tight budget or having the biggest party of the year, use these tips to make sure you get the best value possible. I would love to hear how you picked your wedding photographer, so feel free to comment with what factored in your decision. And if anyone has questions, just comment and I'll answer!
Thanks for reading! I'm Trevor Mercer, a wedding photographer from Columbia, SC. I've been photographing weddings for over 10 years, and as a second-generation wedding photographer, I literally grew up in the business. I'm now providing wedding photography and videography for weddings in my state and well beyond, and I'm a 2016 winner in the Knot's Best of Weddings. I decided to start a blog and share everything I've learned about weddings through the years, and I hope it helps make your wedding planning a little easier. Please subscribe, share, and comment with your input or questions!