Wedding planning takes time and research. Finding the right photographer to document your big day is not much different than finding the perfect person to marry. It is not a simple swipe left or right if their profile looks good. And face it. We all know people can look awesome on-line, but it is their personality, work ethic and practices that define them and their business.
Your photographer is the one vendor you will be spending the most time with at your wedding. They will be with you from the early morning getting ready moments, till your last kiss goodbye as man and wife. The last thing you want is to be followed around all day by some strange stalker wedding paparazzi. Finding a photographer who will make you feel comfortable, understand you and your vision, and well just be a friend through the process can seem like a daunting task.
Knowing where to start and what questions to ask before booking will help you find your perfect match.
Do your research on-line
Start by researching wedding photographers in your area. You may use Google, Wedding Wire, The Knot or other wedding vendor listings. Scroll through their portfolios. Do they show more than just the “posed” images? Read their About Me sections, find out who they are and what motivates them. Do their images speak to you, is their style something you love? Lastly, check out their pricing. I am a big believer in you get what you pay for, and the biggest deals are not always the best work.
Once you have narrowed down your candidates, select three or four to contact for an inquiry. (If you just fell in love with one photographer, good for you. Hopefully, your search is over) On the inquiry form you will be asked basic questions like your wedding date, venue, style and more depending on the photographer. If they have your date available, that photographer can stay on your list to interview in person, or through a quick phone call or Skype.
Prepare yourself for the interview
Make sure you are away from distractions and have a quiet place to speak with the potential photographer. Grab a notebook and pen to jot down notes. And most importantly, be prepared with a list of questions.
How many weddings have you shot?
This may seem insignificant, but there is a big difference in a photographer who is just starting out to one who has a number of weddings under their belt. An experienced photographer will have dealt with the stress and high pressure of a wedding day many times and will know how to conquer last minute changes, how to keep the timeline flowing smoothly and have a better system for capturing awesome images in a short amount of time. Are you having a certain religious ceremony? Do they have experience with the traditions or restrictions? A Catholic wedding varies significantly from a Jewish ceremony with the way the mass or service unfolds. If they have not experienced your type before, what steps will they take to ensure all restrictions and guidelines are followed? Experience does matter. That is not to say a newer photographer will not do a great job for you, just be aware. The photographer should be truthful with you and not misrepresent themselves.
What is your photography style?
You will most likely hear things like “documentary”, “lifestyle” or “photo journalistic”. Each of these terms may mean something entirely different to each photographer. Ask to see their work and have them explain their style to you. Do they edit dark and moody, or light and airy? Do they prefer color or black and white? Ask to see an entire wedding gallery from the getting ready images to the grand exit, not just a select few of the best of their best. Reception imagery can be tricky so if the first dances and party shots are important to you, make sure you view those too. Ask if they have a signature image or shot? Are they open to using props? Can you include your fur babies? Knowing how they work and if their imagery is more dramatic or fun and candid will assist you in determining if their style matches your vision.
Can I see a full wedding gallery?
Most photographers will have a portfolio of their best images for you to scroll through on their website or vendor listing. But it is the whole day, from start to finish that tells the story. Ask to see a complete gallery or wedding album. The photographer may send you a link to a past clients wedding or offer a printed album to view. Do they capture details shots? How are the family formals or posed images? Do they all look the same or is their variety? Make sure each segment of the day is documented how you expect and meshes with your vision.
How many images will be delivered, and will they be edited?
Current industry standard is 75-100 edited images per hour. Your photographer should include all of your edited Hi Resolution images with your wedding package delivered either by digital on-line private gallery or USB drive. Be wary of photographers who offer a set number of images with an upcharge for each additional selection. You may think 500 images for a full wedding day is a ton of pictures, but honestly 500 images could be shot prior to the ceremony. Confirm what their policy is. In Florida where I live, if you deliver the images on a tangible product such as a USB drive, then the entire package fee becomes taxable, where as delivering images through an in-line digital gallery eliminates the need to tax the client. Photographers will never include the RAW files for the images as they hold the copyright to those images.
Have you shot at my venue before?
If they have, make sure you see those images. If not, most photographers will offer to do a complimentary (or for a small fee) venue walk with you. This is where you will go through the venue and take note of all the available spaces and areas you may chose to have images taken in. When I do a venue walk with my clients, I make a list of possible locations for each segment of the day with a backup plan in event the first option will not work. I also note things like access to windows and natural light, how the lines or symmetry of the space is, is there enough room for posing, and how clean or distracting the background is. With wedding imagery, the cleaner and less cluttered the background is the better and more high end the images will be.
Will you be the one photographing my wedding?
This is probably the most important question you will ask. Many photography companies employ several “associate” photographers, and when you book them for your wedding you really do not know who you are getting. The business owner may have all the experience but your photographer may not. Get in writing who will be documenting your big day. If the photographer owns their business and works alone, do they employ a second shooter if requested? Know who will be the face behind the camera.
What is included in your packages?
Each photographer is different and each package or collection will vary accordingly. Ask to see a list of their current pricing and packages. Most photographers book 12 to 18 months in advance, so verify their pricing will not change and you are locked in at the current price. (I have heard of this happening to clients) If a package does not fit your needs, see if they offer an a la carte menu where you can create your own custom package to fit your needs and budget. Some photographers may be flexible in their pricing and offer booking discounts, where others are more firm in their pricing. Newer photographers may offer booking incentives, while more established and sought after photographers that are in high demand will not. Ask if they offer the option to add on services after booking within a set time period. For instance, you may select an 8 hour package and later discover you require 10 hours of coverage. Are they flexible and what is the additional price?
Can I see a sample contract?
Every photographer should have and be willing to send you a contract for you to view PRIOR to booking. Read each line item carefully. What are their policies? How do they handle cancellations, are their any additional fees accessed, and what is their wedding day protocol? Clarify any questions you may have before you sign the contract.
How many photographers will cover my wedding? Do you have a second shooter or assistant?
The number of photographers required for your wedding really depends on the size of your wedding AND if the wedding party will be getting ready at the same location or if there will be multiple locations utilized. One photographer cannot be in two places at once, so if the bride is getting ready at location one and the groom will be getting ready at location 2, a second shooter will be necessary. If you are having a small wedding a single photographer is sufficient. The larger the wedding and the number of guests determine how many photographers will be needed. The lead or main photographer will be with you the entire day, where as a second shooter may come in for only a few hours to capture a certain portion of the day. Second shooters also offer varying angles from the lead photographers images, offering a different perspective. If you are interested in having a second shooter, make sure you discuss this option with your photographer and find out what added fees there may be if applicable.
How do you handle a wedding day and do you offer timeline assistance?
To me this is one of the most important questions to ask your potential photographer. Wedding days go by so fast and they are constantly evolving with many moving parts. Having a photographer with good time management skills and the ability to remain calm under pressure is paramount. Your photographer should know exactly how much time is really needed for each portion of the day, and offer to assist you with creating and planning your wedding timeline. They must have the ability to remain on schedule (even with delays and set backs) and stay in control with a gentle, but firm presence. No one wants the stereotypical moody photographer who dominates your day. Ask how they handle a typical wedding. What is their best practice for getting large group family photos? How do they transition from wedding party to couples portraits? Knowing how they work and feeling comfortable with them is more important than the final images. Truthfully, it is the experience that matters the most. Having fun and not feeling stressed or rushed will show in your final portraits. Make sure your personalities mesh and know your photographer will be your best friend on your wedding day.
Are you insured?
A professional photographer should be insured in the event their equipment breaks, is stolen or an accident occurs. Most venues require photographers to carry liability insurance and will often ask for a copy of their policy or certificate. Wedding days are a fast paced, carefully choreographed dance and sometimes mishaps occur. I cannot tell you the number of times a wedding guest has knocked over a light stand, or a just of wind took an umbrella flying. The photographer you hire should be covered through their own policy, and not have any damages come back on you.
How and when will I receive my images?
Your photographer should have a set time frame listed in their contract for delivery of your final images and in what format. Four to six weeks is pretty standard for delivery of your final gallery. Do they offer Sneak Peeks? Do they blog? How will you be notified when the images are ready? Lastly, how will you receive those final images? Will they be delivered via an on-line private gallery or by USB drive? If your package includes digital delivery, will you receive a print release so you may print the images yourself? Or are the images only available to print through their printing services at an extra fee? For me, I do include all the digital images with my packages and deliver a print release. But to be fair and fully transparent, printing at your local Costco or Walgreen does not compare to having your images professionally printed. Ask your photographer for their pricing for prints and their print packages as well.
What do they love most about weddings and why?
If you want to get a sense of the photographers personality, ask them why they chose weddings and what they love most about the day. You will want someone who is genuinely excited and honored to share your wedding day with you, not someone who thinks of you as a transaction. Your photographer should care about your love story and who you are as a couple. Knowing what makes you unique will aid them in capturing the true essence of your day and the moments that matter to you.
What happens if you have an emergency and cannot photography our wedding?
This is always an uncomfortable question, but one that needs to be asked. Even photographers who work alone should have a back up plan, or network of creatives they may call upon in the event of an emergency. A large company with multiple employees may have another associate photographer step in. As the lead photographer and owner of my own business, I employ two contracted second shooters who are very talented and mirror my style and business ethic. To this day I have never cancelled or missed a wedding, but I have a solid back up plan in place with trusted and talented photographers to cover me should the need ever arise.
How do they handle meals or breaks on a wedding day?
Most traditional wedding days run around 10 to 12 hours for a wedding photographer. That is a long time to be standing, crouching, running and going non-stop. Your wedding photographer should have in their contract how they approach and handle meals at your wedding. Most require to be fed with the bride and groom or bridal party and within eye sight of the action. You can place them at a table with your guests or other vendors, or arrange for them to have their meal at a side table. Once, I was placed in a back room with a small boxed “vendor” meal of a cold sandwich. Let me just say I was a little put off. Firstly, I could not see or even hear what was happening in the reception area (and it is my job to know and capture every important moment) and secondly, cold sandwich after 12 hours? Enough said. Be considerate of your vendors people. They are working hard to ensure all of your wedding day memories unfold perfectly and they deserve a hot meal. When I shoot alone, I require that I sit in the reception area along with the guests. If I have a second shooter with me or an assistant, we may eat simultaneously or we may switch off depending on the guest count and wedding size. This way I insure nothing gets overlooked or missed. This is also the time I download images from earlier in the day, edit a select few, and prepare the same day wedding slideshow if I am able. As far as breaks, your wedding photographer will not get one until after the main dancing begins. Up until this point they will be moving from one planned segment of the day to the next, and even finding time to use the restroom is difficult. As a professional, if they excuse themselves for a short break they should notify someone or the coordinator. No one wants to be searching for a missing photographer.
Well, this is my list of the top 15 questions you should ask when interviewing a wedding photographer. Above all else, the photographer should be confident in their work and welcome any questions or concerns. Finding the right person to document your wedding day is a big task, and takes time and effort. Do your research and do not be afraid to pick up the phone. Especially in today’s fast paced world where most communication comes through email or text, there is something about speaking directly with someone and hearing their voice and inflection that will help you determine if they are the one for you! Personalities have to mesh, and you must feel comfortable and a genuine connection with them.
I hope you enjoyed my article on 15 top questions to ask when interviewing a wedding photographer. Let me know if you think of any important questions you feel I have missed.