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How to choose and hire a wedding photographer

When hiring a wedding photographer, be sure not to sacrifice quality just to save a few dollars.  Although cost is certainly a consideration, you have only one shot (no pun intended) to get the wedding pictures that will properly capture your wedding day.  Quality wedding pictures will bring you a lifetime of memories - of a once in a lifetime occasion so always try to obtain the best wedding photographer that your wedding budget allows.

Since wedding photographers are limited when it comes to the number of weddings and special events they can shoot on a specific day, it is wise to look for a wedding photographer 9 to 12 months prior to the wedding if possible.

TIP: Some of the better photographers are booked up to 2 years in advance.

Ask friends, relatives and work associates for wedding photographer recommendations.  Numerous resources are also available in the local yellow pages, on the Internet, and in local publications as well.  Start making a list.  Be sure you are going to be contacting "wedding" photographers.  Although most photographers can take good photos, an experienced wedding photographer will have a much better grasp of the unique "when's" and "where's" of photographing a wedding that allows for better pictures.

Call the wedding photographers on your list and inquire about date availability, prices, etc. and ask that a brochure be sent to you.  Some photographers also have examples of their work available for view online.  If there is no brochure available ask if it is possible to meet with the photographer to see photo examples of their work and carefully look at the quality of the wedding pictures.  Do the people and the pictures look natural?  Does the shot appear to be in focus?  Was the photo taken in proper lighting so you can see the detail of the shot?  Does the photographer shoot in the type of style that you are looking for?  Did the photographer you are speaking to take the shots - all of the shots?

Photographers usually charge for their services in 1 of 3 ways and some charge by a combination of them; 

  • by the total number of shots taken (whether good or bad),

  • by the package, or

  • by the hour

Depending upon your budget you will have to decide which fee method best suits your needs.  Personally, since you only have one shot (excuse the pun again) at getting great pictures of a once in a lifetime event I would rather pay a little more money for a better photographer who will get quality shots and then opt for fewer pictures if budget was a consideration.

In the case of a wedding, prior to the wedding day be sure to make a list of the pictures that you want to be certain to take, i.e. Bride alone, Bride with Groom, Bride with Parents, Bride with Attendants, Groom alone, Groom with Parents, Groom with Best Man, and so on.  Be sure the photographer receives your list.  Ask a friend (with a copy of the list in hand) to assist the photographer in getting those shots on the event day.  You can find a list of "must have" wedding pictures in our guide.

During your conversations with the wedding photographers you should explain what types of shots you are most interested in, i.e. mostly formal, mostly candid, etc. and find out what shots he/she recommends.  Also, briefly outline the "must have" wedding pictures that you have in mind. 

Remember, each photographer has different creative styles and capabilities and it is possible that their creative insight relative to "behind the scenes" candid shots, series shots, etc. may enhance the outcome of your photos.  However, be hesitant to contract a photographer who seems totally "fixed" on a specific style of photography that you are not thrilled about.

Looking at the photographer's wedding photo albums and a thorough conversation with the photographer will help you determine if his/her style will match your expectations.  Remember, personality is also an important factor in the selection of a wedding photographer since he/she will be interacting with you and your guests throughout the wedding ceremony and the wedding reception.  If they appear to have an attitude, go somewhere else.  An attitude is an added dynamic that you will not want to have to deal with on your wedding day.

Following are some things that you may want to find out during your conversations with the wedding photographer...

When looking at the photo albums, ask who took the photographs.  If you like the style of specific photographs you should be speaking directly to that person
Keep in mind that sometimes a photographer may employ other photographers.  If you like the quality or style of a specific photographer be sure that it is specified in writing that it will be that specific photographer who will be taking the photos at your wedding.

How many weddings do they shoot each year? 
You are looking for someone who has experience with shooting wedding photos because they will know from experience how to get the best camera angles, which shots are the most important, etc.

On an average, how many shots does the photographer take during a wedding?

How many hours does he/she expect to be on site?

Does the photographer shoot more than one wedding on the same day?
If so, depending upon the schedule it may severely limit the photographers flexibility on the day of your wedding.

Will the photographer you are speaking to actually be taking your photos? 
If not, you are speaking to the wrong person.

What equipment does the photographer provide? 

Does the photographer use an assistant?
The use of an assistant allows more options relative to lighting angles in posed and formal photo shots. There is minimal need for an assistant if the majority of the shots are going to be candid.

How are you charged?  Are you charged based on the number of shots taken plus the selected photos, the selected photo package, for time and number of shots, etc.?

Depending upon the selected option, what will the total cost be and what exactly will it include?

Who selects the photos to be included in the package, you or the photographer?

How many proofs do you get to view?

Does the photographer retain the digital master or negatives?
If so, this means that you will end up paying the photographer each and every time that you want a reprint.  Although some photographers will give you a song and dance about paper quality and processing quality or "safeguarding" the digital master or the negatives, it all boils down to profit.  Some photographers will give you a CD of the selected digital masters or selected negatives or all of the shots either as part of the package or for a fee.  Check the fees in advance and get them in writing.

If the photographer retains the digital master or negatives, how much does it cost to obtain reprints in the future? 
Get the cost in writing if you select a photographer who retains the master or negatives.

Does the photographer have the ability to add digitized special effects to selected photos? 
You may want to create a special photo memorializing your special event by enhancing or retouching the picture.  If he/she has the ability, what are the costs?  Get the cost in writing.

Does the photographer have the ability to archive the photos on disc or CD?
If so, what is the cost?  Get the cost in writing.

Does the photographer have any recent references or letters of recommendation that he/she can share with you? 
If not, go elsewhere.  Again, you are looking for experience and quality.

Does the photographer have a problem with guests or family members taking photos?
This is something that needs to be addressed up front rather than finding out the day of your wedding!
Some photographers may tell you that they have a problem with it because it will consume too much time to allow them to get the photos that need to be taken professionally. Others may feel for some reason or another that their photos should be the exclusive photos since the photo composition is their creation.  Others do not have a problem with friends and family taking photos as long as it does not interfere with the quality of the photos that they are taking.

Usually, it takes only a moment or two to allow guests and relatives to take a quick photo after the professional has taken their shots. Simply request that the guests wait until after the photographer is completely finished with the shot so that the professional's light levels are not messed up.  Remember, time is money and you will want to limit the time that family and friends are given to take their photo so the photographer has time to get all the photos that you wanted.  As far as "exclusive" photos are concerned, the actual concern is most likely that the private photos may reduce the number of prints ordered from the photographer.  The fact of the matter is that if the professional does his/her job properly there should be absolutely no comparison between the quality of the professional's shots and the quality of the private shots.  People who want a quality photo will order one and the people who do not will not  - regardless of whether private photos are taken.

Do they offer a guarantee?
Get it in writing.

Do they have a cancellation policy?
Get it in writing.

Be sure that all of the details are clearly outlined in your contract with the photographer, including the name of the specific photographer who will be shooting the wedding photos, locations and arrival times, number of shots, number of proofs, a list of "must have" wedding pictures, the total cost, the additional costs for reprints or to purchase the digital master or negatives, etc. as well as the cancellation/refund policies, etc.

For added protection, paying with a credit card is not a bad idea either since it can give you significantly more leverage than when paying by cash or check should something go wrong.

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