Finding the right wedding photographer for you!

So, you did it! You're getting married!  You have settled on the date, the ceremony site, and the reception venue!  So, what's next?  Well, if you're here the obvious answer is the wedding photographer!  But how do you find the right one for you?  Well I will help guide you through what I went through with finding my own wedding photographer, and what my wedding clients ask me!  

First you have to ask yourself a few questions!

What is your budget?  What are you willing to spend on a wedding photographer when all is said and done?  Knowing your photography budget is the starting point!  There are probably 100 photographers within a few miles of where you are sitting right now, so you need to be able to thin them out a little bit!  In my market the average price of a wedding photographer is $3500.00, but you can find people offering deals from $500.00 to $15,000.00!  So, knowing where you stand is important!  And yes, you can find good photographers on the lower end, but there are things you want to watch for.  I will get into that a little later.  Alright, do you have your number? So, let's move on! 

The next question you will want to ask,is what are you looking for in terms of products?  Do you want albums?  Wall art?  Prints? Digital options?  The reason you should think about these things, is because it changes the way a photographer will shoot things!  Example:  If i know a client wants an album, I try to shoot specific shots zoomed way out with the couple on the right side of the frame when I'm shooting for an album.  Why?  Because my favorite albums are press printed books that the cover photo wraps around the back of the book.  Usure if you want printed products?  Check out my thoughts on prints!

bride with her bridesmaids photo

It also will change how much time you want the photographer there!  Again, if you are building an album, I want the album to be able to tell the story!  If you only want the photographer there for the ceremony and a couple of hours at reception, then you are missing big chunks of the story and your album will have a couple dozen similar looking shots of the ceremony and the reception.  Probably not the look you were going for!  A lot of photographers out there offer all day coverage.  They shoot from sunup to sundown and get a few shots of everything in between!  For a little more reading on this check out my blog on Should I have a photographer at hair and makeup?  Another question about coverage, is do you want a second shooter?  Many wedding photographers use a second shooter (second photographer).  This allows the photographer to be in two places at once!  So, if you are getting ready in the hotel, and your fiance' is getting ready at the church, it isn't an issue to get shots of both.  Another plus with having a second shooter is if for some reason is having issues, the second can take their place.

Next, what kind of style do you like?  This is the part you get to start actually weeding through the photographers!  There are a ton of different styles.  I'm not even going to get into listing them, but Adorama Photo has a list with descriptions you can find here!  Once you have figured out what style or styles you like you can start the search.  I use traditional pen and paper, but if you are bookmarking them in explorer or chrome or create a separate list, because it will probably get long!  Just start writing down or saving every photographer whose style you like.  I personally wouldn't bother checking prices or availability at this point.  Just compile your list and go back through every once in a while, to see if you still like the first ones you added.

MN Bride in Boots

Alright, so you have your list!  Now it's time to start getting it down to a manageable number!  Now is where you go through and check out pricing and availability.  Now most photographers have either a price list, or at least a starting point on their website.  If they don't have a pricelist on the website, it doesn't mean they are out of your budget!  I for one don't list my prices because I don't have any packages!  I custom price everything to fit the clients.  My investment page just explains how I price.  So, if the photographer is one you really like and they don't have any prices listed, go ahead and shoot them an email.  Once you have your possibilities you can start emailing and inquiring about availability.  On average for the popular months like June, September, and October especially will start booking 12-18 months in advance.  So, don't be surprised if you get a few unavailable emails, or don't hear back at all!  Just move on to the next!  If you are burning through your list of photographers, expand your search!  Google maps is a great way to do this, and it will give you business listings for your area, and is expandable.  

Once you have it down to your top picks, then it's time to set up a face to face meeting!  On average you will spend more time with your wedding photographer on your wedding day than you will with anyone else, including your spouse!  So, you want to meet them!  The first thing I tell my clients is I would love to grab a coffee with them.  It doesn't matter if you talk about photography or weddings, you just need to know if this is a person you would be okay spending your wedding day with!  And let me share a little secrete about photographers.... we are usually kind of introverted people!  If you find them awkward or quiet, that's  pretty normal!  Let them talk about photography, and they will open right up.  

Hopefully by now, you have an idea of exactly who it is you want shooting your wedding!

So what questions do you ask?

Bridal magazines love to list their things to ask a wedding photographer!  They ask things like "what kind of equipment do you use?"  That's like asking the caterer what model of stove they use!  Honestly, if you asked that question would you understand any of it?  So, here are a few questions I actually do think are relevant, and why.

What is your backup plan if you can't shoot the wedding last minute?  This is one you should know and have the "in case of emergency" contact!  On your wedding day isn't the time to think about this! Anything comes up before the day of your wedding is likely covered in the contract.

How many years have you been in business?  Why?  60% of wedding photographers go out of business their first year.  An additional 30% disappear in years 2 and 3.  So if you are working with a photographer who is under that mark, make sure you are getting the digitals and copyright release, and do it in a timely manner after the wedding.  Bonus is that if they are fairly new to wedding photography their prices will reflect that normally!

Is wedding photography your primary source of income?  If they are working a full-time job besides doing wedding photography it isn't exactly a bad thing, but they might be a little slower getting the products to you!  The plus side is if they are not relying on photography as their sole income, you might be able to get a more experienced photographer for not as much money!  (Sometimes!)  I might phrase it a little differently though like "so do you just do wedding photography?"

How many weddings do you book a weekend?  Some popular photographers will book Friday and Saturday weddings.  While again this isn't an indication of a problem, I can say that I did it once, and I was exhausted for the Saturday wedding!  Two 18-hour days in a row is a hard thing to pull off at my age!  

Can I see a copy of your contract?  This should spell out most of the questions you need to know about the deposit, refund/cancelation policy, turnaround time on photos, dress code, and any other policies they may have.  If they do not have a contract DO NOT HIRE THEM!  You want it in writing what to expect!

At this point it's all up to you!

Have they answered all your questions?  Are you getting what you want for what your budget is?  What does your gut tell you?  If you are happy with everything so far book them!  I can't tell you how many times I have met with clients who wanted a couple days to think about it that have called back only to find I have booked their date.  Most photographers will not hold a date without a contract and a deposit.  So, if you find one you love, act on it!  I know it's expensive and scary, but if they made it all the way through this list, they are probably the one for you!

Bonus Tips

If you are on a tight budget, check out newer photographers!  Facebook community pages, Thumbtack, even craigslist are places new photographers like to work from.  Just make sure you get a contract and have a good feeling about them.  

If you have a referral from your sister who got married a year or two ago, don't expect the same price!  Photographers change their pricing all the time!  We gain experience, a new piece of equipment, or our schedule is filling up.  So, don't be surprised!

If you have no photography budget, or just can't afford someone you really want, ask about payments, or the possibility of doing coverage only, and worry about prints and products after the wedding!  It is expensive, but it will be worth it!

farm bride

And finally....

If I missed any questions, feel free to shoot me an email I try to answer any questions I get whether or not you are interested in booking with me.  Or you can check out my Frequently asked questions page!  I hope this helped you, and I wish you all the best in your upcoming marriage!

Click here for a pdf copy of the guide!

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