Five tips for choosing a wedding photographer

Apparently, a ton of people get engaged over the holidays.  We hear from a lot of couples in January who are in the thick of wedding planning.  When we were getting married, I remember feeling like the beginning of the planning process was the worst, so many moving parts and so many different details and vendors that you’re trying to make work together.  In case you’re struggling through the early stages of wedding planning, today I’m offering the wedding photographer’s perspective on the most effective way to shop for a photographer.

1. Put hiring a wedding photographer second on your wedding planning to-do list.
You could be totally unconventional, like Jay and I were, and choose a photographer first, and then find a venue that’s available on the date that your photographer is available, but truth be told, this doesn’t make much sense.  Finding a venue that fits the size of your wedding, your budget, and your vision for catering, feels impossible sometimes, so tackle that challenge and then start thinking about your other vendors.  If photography is high on the priority list for you, I think it’s a good idea to start in on the photographer search as soon as you have a venue.  Photographers tend to book 6-12 months in advance, but of course there are always dates that are booked two years in advance and last-minute weddings that are booked the week before.
storyboard0172. Ask friends for recommendations.
If you’ve seen friends’ photos and really admired them, or if you were at a friend’s wedding and you really got a good vibe from the photographer, ask your friends first.  This can be especially helpful because while you can get a good sense of their work from their websites, it’s hard to know if someone is going to be dependable and a good personality fit.  Personal recommendations are really helpful on that front, if you like and trust your friends and your friends had a good experience working with someone, that’s a good indicator that it might be a good fit for you.

If you’ve tried your friends and need more options, you can try relevant instagram hashtags, just googling, or checking vendor guides on wedding websites (a favorite for us is A Practical Wedding).
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3. Make your first round of eliminations based on portfolios.
Now things get fun!  As you’re looking at portfolios, you’ll get a sense for what kind of styles you like.  Is it bright, airy images that speak to you? Or maybe darker, more dramatic pictures?  Are you drawn to photographers that tend towards photojournalism or who are heavy on the posing?  When you hire a photographer, you can expect your pictures to look a lot like what you see on their website.  So if you choose a photographer that showcases a lot of images with people who have skin as smooth as glass, you might expect some heavy airbrushing on your final edited pictures.  If the images on the photographer’s site look bright and fun, don’t hire that photographer and ask them to make dark and dramatic portraits for you.

If you really get a good feeling from a photographer’s website, ask to see a full wedding they have delivered to a client before you set a meeting with them.  Photographer’s online portfolios will typically showcase what that person believes is their best work and it’s good to see the final product of all images delivered from a wedding, to get an idea of some of the less gallery-worthy (in the eyes of the photographer) work that was still important to the client and to see what depth of coverage you can expect if you hire this person (you’ll find family portraits, for example, don’t often make the website homepage but are almost always included in client galleries).
storyboard0194. Think budget.
Photographers (and wedding vendors generally), are notoriously bad about putting pricing information on their website.  If there’s someone you like, don’t be afraid to send an email, let the photographer know your wedding date and how many hours of coverage you need  (check back next week for photography timeline advice), and ask for a price quote.  It can be hard to know what to expect to pay for wedding photography, and understandably so, because the range of photography skill and services is wide.  You maybe able to find someone who is very new to the business who will provide full-day coverage (typically, getting ready photos through the last formal part of the reception) who charges $1,000.  More experienced photographers, on the other hand, probably aren’t going to offer full-day coverage for less than $2500 and many charge between $3000 and $4000.  And of course there are higher-end options who charge more.  If you want to spend less but still hire a qualified professional, consider reducing your coverage time to cover just your ceremony and your formal photos.
storyboard0205. Have a conversation.
When you’ve narrowed your candidates to a short list, ask to look at the contract, determine what services you’ll receive and what your total price would be.  It’s most common for wedding photographers to deliver your final digital images and give you print and personal use rights so you can print those images yourself, but there are some photographers that may require you to buy any prints or products through them.  Other big differences — some photographers include a second shooter (especially important if you’re having a big wedding and having everything thoroughly covered is a priority for you), what albums and other products are included in your package price, and whether or not an engagement session is included.  Most importantly, though, you want to talk to the person you’re thinking of hiring to decide if they’re a good personality fit.  Phone calls work for this, if needed, but a cup of coffee or even an engagement shoot with someone you’re thinking of hiring is a better way to decide if this is someone you want to spend your whole wedding day with.  Look for someone who doesn’t stress you out, and for someone who seems like they won’t be flaky — the last thing you want three days before your wedding is a photographer not returning your emails about what time they should arrive.  This part of the process is time consuming and can be overwhelming, I’d try to keep it to 2-3 conversations with potential photographers at first, and then schedule more if the first inquiries don’t work out.
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Above all else, make a decision that works for you.  Whether that means skipping the professional photos altogether, or spending half your wedding budget on photography, if you’re hiring a photographer find someone who you are looking forward to working with and focus on the joy marrying your partner.  If you have other questions about hiring photographers, or wedding planning from a photographer’s perspective, we welcome them in the comments.

And if you’re looking for a laid-back team that loves candid moments and tells cheesy jokes to photograph your Colorado wedding, we’d love to buy you a cup of coffee.

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