Photo by A Brit & A Blonde
Capturing your wedding day for posterity is a huge responsibility. Besides your significant other, the photos are the one thing from the wedding you’ll have for years to come. My advice is to always hire the best wedding photographer you can afford. And I speak from personal experience – when yours truly married, we had a friend shoot the wedding and if I could redo anything about my otherwise awesome wedding day (even the rain was great), I would do whatever it takes to hire a professional wedding photographer. Seriously, I have no decent photos from our wedding. And it still bothers me, almost 15 years later.
Yes, a good photographer is going to cost a fairly large amount of money. No, they aren’t driving Ferraris. The reality is that it is a business that requires expensive gear, takes skill, hours of editing and there are only 52 Saturdays in a year. It’s tempting to hire a cheapie shooter off of Craigslist or a college student who likes photography but I really encourage you to hire an experienced pro. And one that has shot weddings. Not every photographer can pull off a wedding as it’s a very different skill set than photographing something like buildings (that stay still) or wildlife (that is barely tolerating their MIL who decided to wear a bright red dress).
Weddings are stressful (no surprise) and the photographer has a heap of high expectations weighing on his/her shoulders, such as…
- all the “must have” shots while dealing with Uncle Bob who fancies himself a photographer and is set up in the middle of the aisle, right in front of the couple (can I emphasize the need for an unplugged wedding?)
- trying to get all the shots when the wedding is running an hour behind schedule because hair and makeup took too long/the bridal party arrived late after an evening of partying
- dealing with highly emotional people
- dealing with people who’ve had a few drinks
- dealing with very tense people
- dealing with ceremony location restrictions
- losing the natural light
- dealing with different lighting situations (outdoor, indoor, cloudy, sunny)
- knowing how to pose people to look natural and interesting
- making uncomfortable people look comfortable in front of the camera
All while keeping their cool.
On top of that, they have to make sure that their very expensive gear is clean and functioning with batteries fully charged. A good photographer will meet with you before the wedding to get a feeling for what your expectations are and who you are as a couple so you have a comfortable connection on the wedding day. A good photographer will have two camera bodies (cameras have been known to seize up) and a few different lenses, flash/lighting gear, tons of extra batteries and a number of memory cards. A good photographer will guard those memory cards with their life and not erase them until they’ve been downloaded to their hard drive and also backed up to the cloud. A good photographer will then spend hours culling all the photos, editing and color correcting them so they look their best. Then they upload to the website, likely do a blog post and send everything to the clients in a nice package. Maybe there’s more editing to create a wedding album. When you hire a photographer for 6 or 8 hours on the wedding day, they will spent triple that amount of time with pre-wedding prep and post-wedding editing.
Being a wedding photographer is so much more than just having a decent camera and a passion for photos. Unlike portraits or family photo shoots, weddings are a once in a lifetime event. There are no do-overs and the photographer has to capture the day as beautifully as possible, regardless if the weather didn’t cooperate or the lighting in the church was less than ideal. You don’t want to be the couple whose photographer didn’t bring extra batteries and couldn’t finish her last hour because her camera died, thus missing the cake cutting, first dance and parent dances (true story). You don’t want to be the couple whose photos were lost because the photographer didn’t download and back up properly before reusing the memory cards for another wedding (true story). You don’t want to be the couple who hired an amazing nature photographer only to end up with all the indoor shots being blown out by inexperienced use of flash (true story). You don’t want to be the couple whose photographer took a break in the middle of the ceremony to crack open and down a beer (true story).
The saying “you get what you pay for” is true, especially when it comes to wedding photography. This is the one area of the budget to not skimp on – if it means serving chicken rather than roast beef at the dinner or choosing the basic linens in order to save some money, do so. People won’t remember the meal or the tablecloths but you’ll have the photos for the rest of your lives.
When searching for a photographer, be sure to look through a number of their entire weddings, not just selected photos on a blog post. Were they able to capture the day? Do you get a sense of story? Are all the key shots for you there? Do you like their style ie if you like mostly posed shots, a photojournalist likely isn’t your best fit. How are the photos edited? If you like bright, crisp colors, don’t hire the photographer who edits her work to create a darker, moodier feel. Most importantly, though, is how do you feel with this person? Your wedding photographer will be with you throughout the entire day so you want to like them.
To help you in your quest the find the perfect wedding photographer for your day, I’ve created this questionnaire you can download and make notes on during your meetings. If you love someone’s work but can’t afford 8 or more hours, consider compressing your wedding day schedule a bit so you can hire them for a shorter time. For example, have them start about an hour before the wedding, when you’re getting the final touches from the hair/makeup stylists (no one really wants photos of them before they’ve been styled and made up). After the ceremony, move right into cocktail hour and the photo session. When the reception starts, have the cake cutting, first dance and parent dances before speeches and the dinner. Have the photographer finish by dinner, since they won’t be able to take decent shots (who wants photos of Aunt Betty chowing down on the salad?). This way, you’ll have all the important photos with the photographer you want in your price point.
Hiring the perfect wedding photographer comes down to whose work makes you go “wow” and will make you go “wow” 10/20/30 years down the road. Have fun and good luck!