Choosing A Wedding Photographer: A Primer

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Nearly every client that comes to me says the same thing: “I’ve never hired a photographer before so I don’t really know what to ask.” That’s entirely normal! Choosing the best wedding photographer is a tough task. Most couples who decide to plan a wedding know just a few things about the process, but must make a decision about which wedding photographer will best document their day. I hope this article is helpful as you are considering your options.

Photography is an important decision. I want to have great photographs from my wedding day.

The hard part is how to translate that into knowing what you really want, and then identifying a wedding photographer who can give you that.

I have given it some thought, and I think based on your answers to the following questions it will be much easier to narrow down what type of photographer is a good fit.

  1. Do you want to pose for a lot of photos throughout the day?

If the answer to this is YES, you may be looking for a more traditional photographer, one who will set up shots and pose you carefully for each photograph.

There are photographers that excel in this kind of work. I am not one of them – but if you ask photographers if they are “traditional” and if they pose you, you should be able to quickly identify those qualities.

If the answer to this is NO, you may be looking for a documentary style photographer or a photojournalist. I consider myself a documentary photographer!

What does “documentary” mean?  This style indicates that throughout most of the day, the photographer will be “hands off” and let events flow while photographing them as unobtrusively as possible.

  1. Do you want to take posed family photographs?

If the answer is YES, be sure to ask your photographer about this. In my case, I take a list from each couple and set aside time on the timeline to photograph family groupings. Other photographers may handle it differently.

If the answer is NO, then you may need to check to make sure this decision won’t upset your families. It is your decision, but most people do want at least a handful of family portraits taken at the wedding. If you choose not to, then let your photographer know you won’t need them as we sometimes employ special lighting for those groups!

  1. Do you want to take portraits of the two of you together? How do you imagine looking in those portraits?

If you want all of the photographs of you as a couple to be “camera aware” (this means you’re facing and smiling at the camera), again a traditional photographer may be a good fit for you. They may pose you in a classic way, similarly to photos you see from decades past.

If you like the idea of your portraits being more natural, with the two of you interacting primarily with each other rather than with the photographer, you’re likely better served by a documentary photographer.

My goal when taking portraits of my wedding clients is to capture the unique relationship and chemistry between the two of you. You’ve just met me! Although I am a talented photographer and can offer you direction and help looking your best, the authentic moments that make a great photograph really show when the two of you are more focused on each other.

In capturing the love between the two of you on your wedding day, I will also strive to make you look your very best. A more “news style” photojournalist might create photographs with a grittier feel. For some couple, that realism can be an appealing quality. My perspective is more romantic, showing you in the most flattering light while maintaining authenticity.

That said, there is a time and a place for a few more traditional photographs facing the camera, so I always include a couple of those types, just in case!

  1. Do you like photos that are more classic and timeless, or do you like modern, more trendy styles?

There are many wedding photographers out there who employ trendier styles and effects applied in Photoshop to give your images a certain “look” that is popular. These types of trends come and go, and if you like a particular look you can probably find a photographer who offers something that goes with your aesthetic.

Popular trends in recent years include cross processing image (to look like the 70s), low contrast images (to emulate film), and changing the mood of photographs by posing the bride and groom in a particular way to create a different mood.

As a wedding photographer, my perspective is more of a timeless one. I want to provide images that will be seen by future generations of my clients’ families and I want them to remain timeline in their look. So I only present color and black and white images. Every photograph is edited carefully in a way that is classic.

I don’t use any trendy effects or change the overall look of the image in a dramatic way with post processing techniques.  In this way, I’m confident that the photographs will always stand the test of time and maintain their beauty and appeal.

  1. What’s the most important thing to you – the best images you can get within your budget, or getting a lot of images and tangible products?

At a certain point, there is a choice to be made between quality and quantity. At a given price point, you can afford a range of different photographers because most offer several different “packages”, “collections” or levels of coverage. Let’s take a look at how it might break down.

Example: You have a budget of $4800 for photography.

What can you get for this? Well, there are many options for what you can do with that budget.

  • Photographer A offers 8 hours of coverage, 700 photographs, and the edited digital files.
  • Photographer B offers 10 hours of photography, 1000 photographs, the digital files, and an album.
  • Photographer C offers 8 hours of photography with two photographers, 1500 photographs, and three albums (one for you and two family/parent albums).

If you were looking only at quantity, you might be thinking that Photographer C would give you the best bang for your buck, because you get the albums and more photographs. And that may be true; but it may not.

When it comes to photography, price shopping is hazardous because of the incredibly diverse styles and quality levels offered by different studios.

Photography is very subjective, and every single photographer is different.

What if you love the images that Photographer A offers? Their photographs are flawless and beautiful. The images from Photographer B are nice, but not quite as appealing, and Photographer C isn’t really your style. How would that influence your decision when it comes to evaluating the three photographers?

Each client must prioritize what is most important to them, but my advice is always this: choose the photographer who can offer you the most beautiful photographs, the ones you LOVE the most, within your budget.

Be sure to review 2-3 recent full wedding galleries from photographers you are considering in order to make an educated decision about which images really resonate with you. This is so important, because a portfolio is very limited. Viewing full galleries that were delivered to clients is a much better indication of what YOU can expect to receive.

Why do I recommend this? Because at the end of the day, three albums full of photographs you don’t much like are not really valuable. The worst stories I ever hear are from people who tell me about their friends who “hate their wedding photographs”. That’s heartbreaking. Again, I would stress that looking at full galleries from each photographer you are seriously considering is a crucial step. You must see what their clients are receiving – not just what’s shown in their portfolio.

  1. What is a reasonable budget for photography?

This is a tricky question, because it really depends on several factors; your overall budget and the important of photography.

The “rule of thumb” is typically 15% of your wedding budget would be allocated to wedding photography. So if you’re spending $20k on your wedding, you would want to set aside $3k for photography. If you’re spending $60k, you could allocate $9k. If you’ve read the article all the way to this point, I would suspect that you value photography enough to want to set aside an appropriate amount to get great images.

However, if photography is very important to you, but your wedding has a lower budget, it might be appropriate to allocate more and cut back in other areas. I’ve had several clients over the years who spent 25% of their budget or more on photography. They did this because the photography was a major priority for them and they allocated their funds accordingly. Some of my favorite clients fall into this category.

Jennifer Cody is a longtime wedding photographer and owner of Egomedia Photography. Image credit: Jennifer Cody