Wedding photos provide memories of your big day for a lifetime, so choosing the right wedding photographer is an important part of wedding planning.
As you start your search it can be daunting to know what you’re looking at especially when you start seeing pricing and packages that are all over the map. I hope to help you understand the value of an experienced photographer so that you can make the best decision based on your budget and goals. The first step is to define what you’re looking for so that you can narrow down your priorities during your search.
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Know What You’re Looking for in Your Wedding Photography
A good starting point before even beginning your search for a wedding photographer is to determine what you’re looking for. Do you love photography and know that you’ll print photos and put them all over your home? Or are you really camera shy and concerned about having a photographer that makes you feel comfortable?
This is a great teamwork exercise for your new marriage too. You can talk about what you want, what’s important to you, and maybe even what you don’t want. Maybe you’ve seen a friend’s wedding photos that you love or have been a bridesmaid when a photographer made things go smoothly (or not so smooth.)
Your photographer will be around you a lot on what can be a very emotional and important day. Having trust in that person can help ease your stress. The same is true for all of your wedding professionals, the right person can help the day go smoothly.
And beyond the day itself are the wedding photos you get back, which by the way can be anywhere from the next day to many months later depending on your photographer choice and their turnaround time. Great photos can remind you of the magic of your wedding day, capture once-in-a-lifetime moments with your grandma, and be a source of comfort throughout the ups and downs of married life.
Therefore, before you invest thousands of dollars it’s worth the simple exercise of thinking about what you want from your photographer as a person and as an artist. Then, it’s about finding the best person for the job that fits within your budget.
Finding the Best Quality Wedding Photographer That Fits Your Budget
Once you know what you’re looking for in your wedding photographer it’s all about finding a quality person to fill those shoes. What that means can be slightly different depending on your priorities. In general, you’re looking for experienced photographers that are passionate and creative about what they do and who have personalities and photography styles that match yours.
Let’s talk through some of those important wedding photographer qualities and more specifically what to look for. Depending on your budget, you may decide to make compromises so this should help you decide where the best areas to compromise are. You’ll be looking for the best quality that fits within your budget.
What Makes a Quality Wedding Photographer?
There are four key things that separate wedding photographers in quality: experience, creativity, style, and personality.
They say that to be an expert at something it takes 10,000 hours of practice. That means that in general the more experience a photographer has, the better they will be. Of course, experience only matters if you actually use it to grow and get better.
An experienced photographer will know how weddings work, be able to predict important moments, and be able to guide you through wedding day decisions in general. They can handle changing lighting conditions and create powerful imagery regardless of your wedding venue. A photographer with experience shooting weddings is also reliable which will increase your confidence in that aspect of your wedding day.
Now, that being said, young and new photographers are hungry and passionate and constantly learning. More experienced photographers will be more expensive, if they’re not then they might have a business model of quantity over quality. Therefore, if you can’t afford the most experienced photographer, I always suggest looking for someone with natural talent who is hungry to create great work and build their business.
As I alluded to, experience isn’t everything. There is something to be said for natural talent. Someone with limited experience might have an eye for framing or emotion that sets their work above someone with more technical skills.
Photography is fairly technical and there are a lot of things to learn, but a creative person can still take incredible photos when they’re just learning. You want a photographer who is passionate about telling a story through their work which takes a special way of seeing. Creativity can be hard to spot but essentially you can get a pretty good idea by looking at their portfolio.
When you look at the images that a photographer puts on their website, you’re often seeing the images they’re most proud of. They might not be technically perfect but they show you what the photographer is striving for or passionate about shooting. You’ll also get an idea of their photography style which is the next thing to look for.
Wedding photography styles vary from airy and ethereal to dark and moody. There are traditional wedding photographers and fine art photographers. The style of photography will dictate the photos you get — for example, editorial style will indicate that you get a lot of images of the wedding details.
All of the styles of wedding photography have their own merit, the main thing is to find a style that fits what you’re looking for. If you want to feel glamorous you might lean towards fine art versus if you want a lot of emotional candids you are looking for a photojournalist. It’ll also be important to notice the editing style as some photographers edit in a more trendy way while others are more timeless.
Find a style of photography that is going to enhance your experience of viewing your photos for years to come and tell the story in a way that fits the memories in your head. And beyond their style of shooting or editing comes their personality.
Personality matters more than you might first think. Your photographer might be high-octane and run your wedding day like a Hollywood production or your photographer might be laid back and just capture images as they happen. They’re around a lot so make sure you enjoy their company and that they bring a stress-reducing presence, whatever that means for you.
The photographer’s personality can affect the experience of your wedding day. The right fit can mean you have an incredible day which invariably leads to pictures of you smiling through your best day yet! I always recommend a phone call, video chat, or in-person meeting to make sure your photographer checks all of the boxes and feels like the right fit.
Where to Find a Photographer
Now that you know what to look for, where should you find your wedding photographer?
My first recommendation is to get a referral and even better a referral from a reliable source. This might mean asking your venue if they have a preferred vendors list, you’ll then see the photographers that the venue likes working with based on their work, professionalism, or experience. Or you might ask a friend who loved their photographer for more information about the experience including checking out the full gallery of wedding pictures they got back.
If you don’t have a direct referral to lean on then you can either look for photographers online or in person. Some photographers go to bridal shows where you can meet them in person and get a feel for them, but that will be a smaller playing field. In contrast, there are countless photographers to be found online.
You can find wedding photographers on your favorite search engine like Google or Yelp or social media. There are also wedding planning databases like TheKnot and WeddingWire. Additionally, there are professional photography associations such as FearlessPhotographers or WPJA some of which require photographers to meet a certain standard to be listed on.
Buyer beware, the top listings on some of these services are going to be paid positions. Therefore, just because a photographer is listed first does not mean they are the best photographer. So let’s talk about how to narrow down your search.
What to Look for When Searching Online
When it comes to your online search, there’s something to be said for convenience so you can always search for a photographer near you or a photographer that has shot at your venue before. A lot of photographers will blog or post their work which means when you search your venue you’ll see wedding photography from that location and if there’s a photographer’s name that keeps appearing attached to photos that appeal to you, that photographer might be a good fit.
A photographer’s website and social media channels will give you a quick overview of their work and what’s important to them. Their website is showing you their brand and their style, so if it seems like a good fit you can save the tab and if it doesn’t you can move on. Look for the information we talked about above: how long they’ve been in business, how creative they seem, what their photography looks like, and how their personality seems.
There are a few other things that you’ll want to make a note of. If budget is a concern you’ll want to get an idea of the price range but don’t get hung up on that yet because you then need to know what they offer in their packages before you can compare pricing. I’ve also found quite a range in turnaround time so if getting your photos back quickly is a priority, you’ll want to look for that too. There are some skills that are harder for a newbie to master such as shooting pictures after dark so make sure their portfolio at least shows some photos shot with more challenging lighting conditions.
One of the hardest parts is narrowing down and comparing photographers. As I mentioned, photographers structure their packages in a variety of ways so it takes some discernment and maybe a spreadsheet to narrow it down. Or, you can always go with your gut and pick someone that feels like the right fit which honestly isn’t a bad option.
Steps to Choosing a Wedding Photographer
When it comes time to compare photographers, you’ll want to lay out a few different categories and make sure you’re comparing apples to apples when it comes to what’s included.
- Years of experience or number of weddings shot
- How creative you feel like they are
- What’s their style of photography
- What’s their editing style
- What kind of personality do they have
- What’s the price range
- What comes with the price
- When will you get your photos
- One photographer, two photographers, or one photographer and an assistant
- What sets this photographer apart from the others
You may also want to ask to see a full gallery from a wedding day so that you can ensure they are able to capture all the aspects of a wedding day. If your venue has challenging lighting conditions, you’ll want to make sure they can handle it.
Interviewing and Questions to Ask
Here are some things to find out about your photographer either from their website or from talking to them. A lot of photographers will answer the majority of the technical questions on their website so you can focus on getting to know them and seeing if it’s the right fit by the time you’re meeting them.
- How did you get into photography and why do you shoot weddings?
- I’m most excited about ____ on the wedding day. How do you capture that and how does that fit with your priorities?
- The most photographically challenging part of my wedding day might be _____. How will you handle that?
- Describe your packages and what the main ingredients are. How many photographers? Do I get digital files? If so, how many and how do you deliver them? Do you include an album or wall art or anything tangible? How about an engagement session?
- Describe your process before, on, and after the wedding day? When will I get my photos?
- Lastly, tell them about yourself and your wedding. How they respond and connect with you will help you determine if they’re a good fit.
Summing it All Up
In summary, choosing a wedding photographer can be a daunting task but having the right photographer can make a big difference both on your wedding day and in how you remember it. Aim to get the best quality that fits your budget by making sure you’re comparing photographers accurately. You can decide which areas you’re willing to compromise on whether it’s hours, products, personality, or experience.
I’ve never heard anyone regret having awesome wedding photos but I’ve absolutely heard stories of people who wish that had a better one. Just because someone calls themselves a wedding photographer or owns a camera, doesn’t mean they’re qualified to photograph a monumental day of your life. It may be one of the only times you’ll hire a photographer.
As starting a business is becoming as easy as putting up a website, I hope these tips will help you wade through the list of wedding photographers and find one that fits your vision for your wedding day. Start by determining your priorities and then find a photographer who will serve your needs.
About the author: Brenda Bergreen is a Colorado wedding photographer, videographer, yoga teacher, and writer who works alongside her husband at Bergreen Photography. With their mission and mantra “love. adventurously.” they are dedicated to telling adventurous stories in beautiful places.