Module 2: Picking Your Photographer

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Choosing a wedding photographer isn’t easy. In the mid-Missouri area alone, a simple google search will give you over 85,000 results to weed through. Even if you looked at each and every one of those websites, you are still going to have at least a handful that you may want to work with, so how do you choose? I would love, love, love to tell you “hire me!” because basically I’d love to work with everyone who crosses my path, but the truth is there is a chance I may not be the one for you. And though it would pain me greatly to see you go, I know we’re not ALL a perfect match. So! To help you sift through your plethora of options, I’ve broken down the process of picking a perfect photographer (because who doesn’t love a good alliteration, eh?) to give you a good starting point for narrowing it down.

To start, you will want to do a full-blown search of all the options in your area. There are a few ways to start this process:

  1. Ask your friends for recommendations
  2. Look at TheKnot.com or Wedding Wire
  3. Use Google

A few notes about these methods:

  • The Knot and Wedding Wire won't have all of the photographers in your area, so be sure this is not your only destination when finding your potential photographers.

  • When using Google, get pretty specific with your search terms. Go beyond the standard "wedding photographer in (insert city name here)." Use words that describe the kind of wedding you plan on having, such as "church wedding photography" or "outdoor wedding photographer." This will narrow down the search a bit and help you find photographers that have experience with your kind of wedding.

Now, this process will likely turn up thousands of search results for you to dig through. This can be a little overwhelming. So we have come up with a system for helping you narrow down your options. We call it the Three P's of Picking a Wedding Photographer. We have written a full-blown blog post about this process over at the King's Things Photography Blog if you want some detailed instructions for this part, but in general, you want to use this three-filter process to narrow down your options:

Portfolio

Your photographer’s portfolio should first and foremost speak directly to your heart. Take a good long look at the photos on their website. Do they match the style you found in your pin board? Are you drooling over them? Love the style and the lighting and the personality that shines through? Could you imagine yourself in the photos with your fiancé? Do you find yourself waking up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night shouting “I gotta have that photographer!!!” A bit extreme, I know, but you get my point: If you don’t love what you see, you won’t love what you get and if you are putting all of this time and money into planning your wedding you deserve to love the photos you get when it’s all said and done, right?

So as you sift through the thousands of options available to you, before you ever look at a pricing page or their “about me” or any other part of their site, look at their portfolio and ask yourself “do I love these?” 

Using your checklists from the first section of this planner, look carefully at the photographer's portfolio. Do their photos match the style you like? Do they have experience with the kind of wedding you are planning? Do you love their work? Narrow your list down to the top 5 portfolios based on your preferences and move on to the second filter.

Personality

I cannot stress to you enough how important this one is, guys. No matter how skilled the photographer or how beautiful their portfolio, if you don’t jive with them personally you are going to have some trouble on your wedding day. Setting up an initial meeting with your photographer should mostly be about learning who they are, how they work and if you guys will get along. Yes, ask them about how many cameras they have and what their style is and if they have a assistants etc., but don’t just listen to *what* their answer is - listen to *how* they answer them as well. Are they communicating properly? Are they upbeat and positive? Are they *too* upbeat and positive? Can you imagine this person being right by your side and interacting with your friends and family the entire wedding day? In general, do you feel they are trustworthy and responsible? The answers to these questions are just as (if not more) important as knowing if they have a journalistic style and if they will bring 4 assistants to your wedding. If you don’t like or trust them personally, that discomfort will shine through in your photos and more than likely you’ll be unhappy in the end.

Schedule a meeting with the photographers to get a sense of their personality.Use these meetings to narrow your list down to your top 3 choices.

Questions to ask during your meetings:

This is a sample list of questions you can ask your photographer during the first meeting. Remember, your goal is not only to listen to *what* they say when they respond, but also to pay attention to *how* they say it so that you can get an idea of their personality.

  • What is your favorite part of photographing a wedding? (to get a sense of their passion)
  • How would you describe your style? (to learn more about their style and approach)
  • How many weddings do you photograph on a weekend? (to get an idea of their workload)
  • What kind of gear do you use? (to get an idea of their level of professionalism)
  • Do you use second photographers? (to get an idea of how much coverage you'll get on the wedding day)
  • How do you handle bad weather or lighting conditions (to see how organized and prepared they are)
  • How long have you been photographing weddings? (to get an idea of their skill level)

KEEP IN MIND: There are no right or wrong answers to these questions. You are just trying to get a feel for how they run their business and what it will be like to work with them. The answers are important, but just because a photographer doesn't have a $10,000 camera or have only been photographing weddings for a few years does not necessarily mean they are not fit for the job.

Price

I have saved price for very last for a very good reason. I know a budget is a very big part of how you plan a wedding and your first instinct is going to be to look at the photographer’s pricing sheets and pick the least expensive one you can to save money. Trust me, I get that. But also trust me when I tell you that skimping on your wedding photos is a big, big, big mistake and price should be the very last thing to disqualify a photographer. And yes, I may be a little biased here because I *am* a wedding photographer but hear me out on this one.

I will be the first to admit that photographers are expensive. But the old adage rings so very true (and so very loudly) when it comes to hiring one for your wedding: you are going to get what you pay for, I promise. Being a professional photographer requires a lot of investment before we ever show up to your wedding venue. Purchasing great gear to capture the best possible photographs; making time for consultations and creating shot lists and going on pre-wedding site visits; being responsible and squared away with insurance to cover our clients and ourselves; paying assistants and second shooters etc. All of the elements that go into providing the best possible wedding photos creates costs that need to be covered, be it in time time or money, and you should be weary if your photographer is asking for too little. Not always, but a lot of times it means they don’t have what it takes and won’t be able to capture the wedding as beautifully as you deserve. There is a quote I read somewhere that I think sums this up perfectly: "If you think hiring a professional is expensive, try hiring an amateur."

That being said, a budget is a budget is a budget. As a small business owner, I totally understand how important it is to carefully choose how you spend the money you’ve got. So! Once you have found a list of photographers who have portfolios that you love and who have personalities that click with yours, carefully consider the investment you are willing to make that fits within your budget and narrow it down from there. You may still have to scratch a few of the expensive dream photographers off of your list, but at least you know you've done so because you’ve considered the value of all your options and are not just going the cheapest route possible.

FILLING OUT YOUR PLANNER:

Step 1: Make a list of all of the photographers that caught your eye during your initial searches.

Step 2: Based on their portfolios and your visual preference notes, narrow this list down to your top 5 choices. Circle them on this list. 

Step 3: Use the Photographer Notes pages to help you schedule and conduct meetings with these photographers and narrow your list down to your top three.

Step 4: Figure out what you can afford to spend on your photographer.

Step 5: Using your notes, your budget and your gut instinct, pick the photographer you'd like to hire! Contact them about booking, signing a contract etc. 

Step 6: Once all of the paperwork is taken care of, jot down all of the payment information in your planner for future reference. Copy info into your calendar as well.