Choosing the right wedding photographer

Let me start this out by saying that this is not a sales pitch for my photography services as a wedding photographer. On the contrary, I do not offer my services in event or any other kind of photography at this time. I also will not recommend any other photographer or offer suggestions for photographers in your area.  Back in the day, I worked as a DJ and as an assistant for a family catering company. I worked more weddings over the course of ten years, in varying roles than any one person should. In all honesty, I worked enough weddings to know that I am jaded and seen it all; and would never want the responsibility for shooting a wedding.  With all that out of the way, lets discuss some of the considerations when choosing the right wedding photographer.

Not scared off? great.  First, a word of warning, too many “photographers” (or as I call them, Digital Camera Owners) think that they can make a living shooting weddings. They buy that awesome camera from their local big box store, watch a couple YouTube videos and they are ready to put their ad up on Craigslist and quit their day job. The problem they face is that they are new photographers and don’t have a lot of (or any) good shots to demonstrate their ability to create awesome images. To resolve the problem, the new photographer will take the high road or the low road. The low road is quick and easy, they do an image search on flickr or other sharing site and “borrow” some of the better images they see and put them in their advertisement. The smarter ones will at least go the route of ensuring that the images they “borrow” come from photographers outside of their area – most don’t. The ones who take the high road will put their services up on Craigslist for free or super cheap to “build their portfolio”. This generally means I just bought my camera and you are going to get exactly what you pay for.  This is where the new bride or groom enter the scene. They see the beautiful (“borrowed”) photos from the advertisement, or their budget is so tight (who doesn’t have a tight budget these days?) that they choose the cheapest alternative, and hope for the best. Generally the bride and groom will end up with underexposed, out of focus or poorly lit photographs of their wedding day. If you are new to photography, don’t know how to operate your camera, don’t understand exposure and composition or worse, didn’t take the images they put on their site to begin with – it’s not going to end well. In the end, you can take the photographer to court, get your money back etc. but the fact remains that you are going to end up with shots from uncle Joe who has got a “great camera” as the best shots of your special day.

Sounds scary right? how can you avoid the impending horror show that your wedding photos will be?  This is where an event photographer would tell you that they can take great shots and if you choose them it will all be fine.  You need to think about what is good enough. Decide on four or five things that are important for your event and focus on those. If photographs of the day aren’t in the top four or five, then talk to uncle Joe with the great camera and see if he will shoot the day for you as a present.

Good Enough

Everyone has got a camera on their phone, everyone is a budding photographer and chances are that you are going to have the bulk of your guests taking photos at any given time during the event. Social media sites like Facebook and Google Plus are offering higher resolution options for uploading your photos, perhaps asking everyone to upload their images to share is good enough for you.  It really depends what you want to use the images for. Nobody likes images of themselves, that is a given, but consider the possibility of having a big (30X40 inch) print or canvas done of one of the great images to commemorate the day. If you go the phone pictures route or point and shoots from the guests chances are that the quality won’t be good enough for larger prints, but would be just fine for social media sites. This is where you need to not only think about right now, but later down the road.  The take-away here is that you can crowdsource your wedding and forego the cost of a photographer all together. Just because its tradition to have an event photographer there doesn’t mean you have to. You just need to be aware of the consequences versus the benefits.

The traditional approach

Perhaps crowdsourcing your event is not an option, and you still want to go with the traditional wedding photographer. Choosing the person to shoot your event is a lot like choosing the person you want to take you skydiving. Maybe that cheap skydiving company isn’t going to be the best choice. A photographer looking to build their portfolio likely  has not done a lot of events and the last thing you want to worry about on the day is someone who has no clue what comes next or is unprepared.  Unfortunately, most times  you have to quickly become an expert in everything to plan your event. Asking questions and talking about some of the events the photographer has done is a good starting place, ask what they do during the day, how they prepare for the day, and what happens to the images after the event. Find out what the long term storage solution the photographer uses. Ask what rights you have to the images after the shoot. Be aware that the person taking the photo technically is the copyright holder of the image, and as you are paying them for a service expect to pay more for full rights to the images if you need them. Once you have amassed all the information you can about them, ask for a few references and call them. Review sites like Angie’s List and Yelp can be good, but take the good and the bad reviews and average it across the board. Remember that a business owner will seed good or glowing reviews and it may be tough to tell the real from the seeded reviews. With some minimal detective work. you can contact clients of the service provider and hear what they have to say.   With all that being said, remember that even the best photographer can have an off day or miss a shot. If you are going to put the documenting of your special day into the hands of someone you haven’t researched you might as well consider that budget skydiving company as well.