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How a Wedding Photographer books her photographer

So as a wedding photographer, I have a lot of experience helping brides find the right people to make their wedding day perfect.  However, as a bride myself, having to search for my perfect twin wedding photographer; well it was an eye-opening experience.  First, it gave me incredible insight as to being on the other side of table and camera.  Second, as a wedding photographer, I realized that as a seasoned pro, I even made some assumptions and almost made some mistakes myself.

Being in this industry, just about every meeting I have with each prospective bride has a list or tips, either from a book or the internet, of questions to ask your wedding photographer.  Some of them are incredibly silly and some of them are justified.  I’m hoping to through this blog, to give a different perspective of booking your photographer for your wedding and asking better questions to ensure that you are getting a professional photographer that meets your needs and style.  Here is my list of 10 things to do before you book your wedding photographer:

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1.  Ask Questions, but the RIGHT questions: I get the question in about 50% of my meetings, “What is your style?”  Do you like that photographer’s work?  Yes?  Then you like their style (or product) most likely.  Also, ask questions that are important to you.  Another question, “What equipment do you use?”  If I told you the equipment that I use, are you going to look it up?  Are you familiar with the industry’s models?  Probably not.  However, that question is a good one to weed out a “fauxtographer.”  Do they own a camera that you could buy at Costco?  Do they only have 1 camera, more than 1 lens, memory cards, batteries?  Do they know off the top of their head what lenses they own and what they use each one for?  These questions are better ways to establish a professional photographer.  Or Ask if they are a member of any professional organizations (like PPA or WPPI), if they have any accolades and see if they are constantly learning new techniques or finding new products.  And find a photographer who VALUES PHOTOGRAPHY.  If they value photography, chances are they have been photographed and they paid for a good photographer, not a tripod, to do their photos.

2. And Ask More Questions 🙂 lol : This was a mistake that I even made.  I assumed that because I saw the “end product” on a photographer’s website, that was what my wedding or photos would look like.  Not necessarily true.  Ask the photographer about their editing process (Lightroom, Aperature, Photoshop) and ask if that editing is included in the package, how many of those you would typically get and (I would hope) that you get the color and the black & white?  Do they do other touch-ups as well (like whitening teeth, smoothing skin, etc)?  In my case, I found out that in 2000 images taken, that I only got to chose 8 photos to have edited and they were only “touch-ups” not the full editing style that I admired so much.  Whose fault was that?  Mine, I didn’t ask the question.

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3. Ask to see a Real Wedding:  Photos that are on a website are “portfolio images” and are carefully selected from each wedding.  Asking to see another person’s wedding (most photographer’s host the images online for guests to see) will give you a better idea of the variety of shots, edits and end product that particular photographer will deliver and then hopefully there will be no surprises.  Make sure what you see is what you get.

4. Don’t Book the 1st Person You Meet (just as you didn’t marry your 1st date!): I’m sure you looked for weeks or even months online before you even met with a photographer, however, meeting with them in person is a completely different experience.  You want to make sure your are comfortable with your photographer, so even if you are a destination bride, talk via Skype or Facetime to get to know them.  And It’s fine to take a few days to think about it and talk with your groom candidly about what you thought.  A high pressure, book now sales pitch can lead to buyer’s remorse later on.  Generally, with my clients, I encourage them to take their time and I will call them if I receive another inquiry about their wedding date.

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5. Which leads me to….READ the CONTRACT!: I tell clients to read the contract for a lot of reasons.  1, my fiancee is an attorney and there isn’t a contract we have signed without reading, and a few we never signed because of it.  2, the contract should specify what happens in those worse case scenarios (a horrible accident means your photographer can’t photograph your wedding), how quickly you get your images and IF you get your images.  3, check the contract for what you are saying your photographer CAN do with your images.  Can they submit them later to a stock photography website to be purchased by anyone for any purpose (like a political billboard or ad campaign?) 4, are there any “hidden” charges that you aren’t aware of?  Many packages don’t include tax, shipping on albums, travel fees which are all valid charges but many clients aren’t aware those aren’t included in that initial price.

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6. Destination Brides, a tip just for you: For those brides who are planning a wedding not in the area where you live.  Consider, if you can, booking a photographer in your area, and taking them with you.  This is especially true for those couples who are having their wedding outside of the U.S. and in a foreign country.  There are sooooooooo many pitfalls when booking the photographer where the wedding will be.  There may be a language barrier where you aren’t sure if you are communicating your desires and needs.  Contract wise, if there is a dispute, the venue (meaning court wise) will most likely be where the contract took place, meaning back in the country where you were married, where the laws are very different from the U.S.  If you are displeased with the pictures or product, what are the chances that you will be able to get in touch with that photographer again?  Lastly, portrait photographer’s like myself photograph more than just weddings.  If you find a local photographer you love, you’ll be able to use them in the future for maternity/newborn photos, family portraits and all the other happy moments to come.

7.  Communication should be EASY: I was absolutely surprised when I was searching for my photographer.  As a bride, I contacted several photographers and of say the 10 that I contacted, I received poor communication or no communication from almost 50% of them.  This is huge.  Now, of course I don’t mean an answer to an email in an hour, etc but I think 24-48 hours for a reply is pretty standard for email and phone call generally same day or also within 24 hours.  Even though we are busy giving 100% to our clients, we are also extremely connected and rarely are shooting more than 12 hours at a time.  If they are too busy or disinterested just to give you basic information about their service, how likely are you to get stellar service from them in the future?    Conversely, a photographer shouldn’t be stalking you either.

IMG_0330t_sm8.  Have a discerning eye: This is more an insider tip and trick as a photographer for brides to tell a good photographer from a great photographer.  When you look at the photographs presented to you, considering the following:  Is the body language of the couple forced, or does it look natural and comfortable?  Is the editing style timeless or is it more of a passing trend or cliché?  Do the photos look “over-processed”?  Does the light look natural and not harsh with shadows?  Are the photos you are drawn to because the people in the photo are beautiful or because the photo (the composition, lighting, pose and moment) is beautiful?  Did they capture that emotion, moment and feeling in the photograph beautifully?

9. Book your photographer before you BOOK your photographer:  What?  Yes!  I booked 3 photographers for 3 different sessions before I made my selection on which to choose.  One for engagements, another for headshots and another for family.  You know what?  I have gorgeous photos from all 3 photographers, I “checked” off some long overdue photos but the best thing is it SAVED me thousands of dollars.  Engagement photos are the BEST THING for you and your photographer.  You get to know how your photographer works and interacts, what their final product will look like and you get another beautiful series of photos to display in your home, use on invitations, etc.  If you aren’t happy with those photos, guess what?  It didn’t ruin your wedding day, you didn’t lose thousands of dollars and you don’t have the awful stress and disappointment making your heart drop.

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10. Don’t Cheap Out but Don’t Break the Bank, but regardless, get a professional:  For someone like me, obviously the photography is the most important thing to me for my wedding and in the beginning, I was willing to spend 50 – 60% of my TOTAL budget to book my dream photographer.  However, I quickly had to reason with myself (with the help of my fiancée) and be sensible about what I could afford.  Realistically, you should be prepared to spend 10-25% of your budget on your photography depending on your circumstances and needs.  If you need to save money, ask if the photographer will do a CUSTOM package quote for you so that you aren’t paying for things you don’t need or want.  However, would you want the cheapest, least experienced lasik surgeon operate on your eyes?  NO!  Trust me, the one mistake you never want to make is to have a friend of a friend, a student who wants to expand their portfolio, an uncle who has a nice camera or anyone BUT a professional photograph your wedding.   If you are unhappy, are you going to take uncle Bob to court?  Are you willing to sacrifice a good friend’s friendship (and enjoyment at your wedding) to save some money upfront (but not in the long run)?  There are PLENTY of opportunities for that friend to expand their portfolio by becoming an assistant or second shooter to a professional.  If you don’t book the professional, you will be breaking the cardinal rule and making the biggest mistake that you will regret for years to come.

Did I miss anything?  Any thoughts on these tips?  Please feel free to share or comment below about your own experiences and tips!

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