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What I’d Tell My Sister About Finding a Wedding Photographer

I’ve been a wedding photographer in Maryland, D.C. and Virginia for nearly 15 years and I’ve seen some brides miss out on finding the ideal photographer for them because they may have started off asking the wrong questions. By “ideal” I don’t mean just me. I’ve gotten to know dozens of wedding photographers and they each have a style and personality that may suit one couple but not another.

If I had a sister and she was trying to narrow down her choices for wedding photography, I’d encourage her to skip these first three (very popular) questions initially, and instead start with the last three questions I suggest below.

I absolutely want to say that all of these are good questions to ask at an in-person meeting or during a phone appointment, but not in an initial email or bridal show encounter. Asking these first three questions too early can actually put you at a disadvantage because you might prevent yourself from meeting the photographer who can help you the most.

1) How much do you charge?

Everyone has a budget, so this is definitely an important question, but it shouldn’t disqualify a photographer right off the bat. You’ll understand pricing more if you meet with a few photographers who charge around the same amount and produce the same high quality work. If it turns out you really click with one of them and they’re slightly over budget, you may find that you’re willing to trim the spending elsewhere. Plus, you will learn something from every meeting. I always try to educate the couple, even if I know they aren’t going to book me, so that they walk away with more knowledge about the industry.

2) Have you shot at my venue before?

Living in the Baltimore-Washington region, couples have hundreds — truly hundreds — of venues to choose from. You’re not going to find a photographer who has shot at every one, and if you chose an experienced and talented photographer he or she can go into any venue and get great results. I always familiarize myself with a venue if I’ve never been there, either by showing up early or on a separate day before the wedding date. Even if I have been to a venue 10 times I will offer to do a walk-thru with the bride sometime before her wedding to brainstorm ideas for where she wants to shoot specific images or to just put her at ease.

3) How many pictures do you take?

A better question might be, “How many photos will you show me?” Or, “How many photos will you put into my album?” I typically shoot around 2,000 photos. For example, I might take 15 pictures of the cake cutting to capture the perfect one that will end up in your album. I narrow down those 2,000 images to about 800-1000, and that’s just part of the artistic process. Then there’s post production that could include cropping and enhancing the images. What matters is that you will love what you ultimately see. It is a complete body of work, which tells the story of your day.

What to Ask First in an Initial Email or at a Bridal Show

The questions below can help you get to know the photographer and his or her work more personally, because ultimately you’re looking for a certain chemistry combined with an exceptional quality of work.

1) Do you have reviews or references that I can see?

You’ll find the best recommendations (other than from your family and friends) from what other couples have had to say. Read their reviews to uncover what they liked best about the photographer. How do they describe the experience or the photographer’s approach? What made certain photographer standout from the rest? Click here to read reviews on Wedding Wire.

2) How do you describe your style?

You may not even realize that different photographers have different styles. My background is in photojournalism, so my goal is to artistically document the day and ultimately tell a story. The vast majority of photojournalism wedding shooters still will do formal portraits but the sessions tend to go by faster and are less stiff than the formals taken by a more traditional photographer.

Some photographers really excel at portrait-style photography. These would be called “traditional wedding photographers.” They tend to run down a checklist of photos to take. These images can look staged and not spontaneous, and can lack real emotion. Couples might remember the act of taking the photo more than they remember how they were feeling when the photo was made.

A third style can be described as “high fashion.” With this approach, you will see more images that focus on the wedding gown and other accessories. Instead of capturing spontaneous moments, a photographer will pose the subjects and set up supplemental lighting to create a more glamourous or dramatic look. This style requires extra time to set up for each shot, so you may find you’re spending more time with the photographer than you would with the other styles.

3) Can we schedule an engagement session or a face-to-face meeting?

If you like what you have seen of a photographer’s work on their website, on wedding sites or at a bridal show, set an appointment for an engagement session. These sessions usually last 60 to 90 minutes, are reasonably priced, and they can be the best way possible to get to know a photographer. Your next option is an in-person meeting. This is one of the most important days of your life and your photographer will be there by your side for it all. You will meet a few times beforehand to talk about the details of the day and you need to be able to communicate well and feel comfortable with one another during the months leading up to your wedding. Don’t underestimate the value of chemistry.

My best advice is to invest the time meeting with the photographers whose work and reputations you respect the most. Educate yourself first and consider the cost later. Once you have a better idea of how the industry works, and what you can get for your money, you can make the choice that makes the most sense for how you want to capture your day.

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