… And Two Questions to Ask Yourself Before you Hire Them.
We’ve all seen the lists of 20, 50, or 100 questions to ask your wedding photographer. As photographers, we’ve answered them all as well. While these lists of questions are usually great, most of the time they leave out what we feel are the most important questions to ask your wedding photographer before you hire them. We’ve been asked everything from what we’ll be wearing on a wedding day, to what happens if we die before the wedding day, but we rarely are rarely asked the questions we feel have the most important answers to finding the best photographer for your wedding.
Obviously, it is important to ask your wedding photographer anything you don’t know about wedding photography, or feel hesitant about. We know this is likely the first (and only) time you’ve planned a wedding, so you might not even know where to begin! There is no such thing as a stupid question, and we mean it, when you are about to spend a large amount of money on a wedding vendor. Asking questions, and a lot of them, are what will prevent you from surprises and possible regrets down the road, that no one wants when planning a wedding! This is a list of what we feel are the most important questions to ask your wedding photographer before you hire them. This list isn’t meant to replace other lists of questions, or replace the questions you might have on your own, but they are imperative to know the answers to before you hire a photographer for your wedding!
Before you even start meeting with a photographer (or photographers) you should have an idea of what photographic style you like and don’t like. This can be as simple as the fact that you’ve liked a few photographers over the years on Facebook and have followed their work. You may see their wedding photos pop up in your news feed, and you have an idea of whose work you like the best. Everyone is naturally drawn to a style of photography, whether it is soft, warm and romantic, or dark, contrasty and bold, or somewhere in the middle. If you pay attention, you’ll also notice if you prefer a more candid style versus a posed photographs. (I won’t go into all the different styles and sub-styles of photography, just know there are a lot of options!) If you don’t happen to be familiar with a few different photographers’ works, spend a couple days looking through a number of different portfolios so you have an idea of what style you are drawn to. (This search may be, and actually should be, different from the one you’ll do to actually find your wedding photographer.)
When you have an idea of the type of photographer you are drawn to, start researching photographers in your area or price range who are of a similar style. Browse their websites extensively! All that information is lain out for you: the potential bride or groom. Once you have a few choices, begin narrowing down and contacting a few of your favorites to check if they are available. (If you aren’t sure when a good time to book your wedding photographer is, make sure to read last week’s Wedding Planning Wednesday post!) You may even have had a wedding photographer already in mind before you got engaged! Set up a meeting with your favorite photographer and start asking away…
#1. Do you have an assistant or a second photographer? How do you utilize them? What is their skill level? Do you work with them on a regular basis?
Our advice is if you can have two photographers at your wedding, you should. But, before you spend X amount of extra dollars for your photographer to bring along a second, you should ask them a couple questions to make sure you are getting your money’s worth. If the primary photographer usually brings along an assistant, check to see what that assistant’s job is. Do they carry bags? Hold lights? Or do they actually have a camera in their hands capturing moments? An assistant who is there primarily to carry gear and hold lighting is not a second shooter, isn’t worth paying extra for. You should also ask about what kind of experience your second photographer will have. For it to be worth it to you to pay for a second photographer, they must be able to capture images up to snuff with the primary photographer’s work, and thus worth delivering to you. You’ll also want to know whether or not the photographer has worked with their second shooter previously, or if they just hired someone off a photography forum for your date. A photography team of a primary and second who work together on a consistent basis is much more valuable to you as a bride than a non-shooting assistant or a second shooter who may have never shot a wedding before. Usually, finding a husband and wife photography team is a great option for getting two photographers, but be weary of the quality of the spouse’s work as well. You should make sure they are skilled at photography, and weren’t just handed a camera for a cheap second shooter option!
#2. Do my digital images come with my wedding package? In what form? How large am I able to print them on my own?
It is important to know whether or not you are receiving digital images with your wedding package, or if your photographer requires you to purchase them separately from wedding day coverage. In the digital age, there is becoming a divide between two types of photographers with two different philosophies; shoot and share photographers and product photographers. Shoot and share photographers believe in sharing your digital images with you, and product photographers value printing and displaying your photos. You should decide what type of photographer fits you best. We fit into the shoot and share type of photographer, and we believe passionately in this approach! But, you should also know that not all digital files are created equally. Without getting too techy, there is a certain standard images should be to print clearly and sharply. Some photographers deliver images so small that the image could only be reproduced at 8×10 size before you start to notice a decrease in image quality due to the size of the image exceeding that standard. Be sure to ask your photographer how big you could print their photos on your own. Some require you to go through them to print anything larger than an 11×17. This might be fine in the short term – but what would you do on your 50th anniversary when your kids wanted to print one of your wedding photos really large?
#3. Will you have back up equipment with you on my wedding day? Is it equal to your primary equipment?
Equipment failure is probably one of the most frightening things to have happen to a photographer on a wedding day. Just the other weekend, right before the ceremony, my camera had a card error and I had to grab my backup. Because we were prepared, I had a fully functional camera back in my hands in two minutes and didn’t miss a beat. Before you hire a photographer, you should make sure to ask if they have back up gear. As well, their backup gear shouldn’t be a drastic downgrade from their primary gear (although any back up is better than no back up at all!) Ideally, their back up gear would be identical in performance to their primary body. An analogy would be if your DJ’s speakers and subs stopped working and instead he grabbed his iHome. Your party just wouldn’t be the same.
#4. Do you have the ability to back up my images during the wedding day?
Perhaps the only thing worse than camera equipment failure is a corrupt memory card. Time and time again in the wedding photographer world we hear about lost wedding images due to corrupted memory cards. The professional camera industry has remedied this situation by introducing cameras with dual memory card slots and given photographers the ability to store images simultaneously on two cards, decreasing the chances of losing wedding images. Not all photographers have gear that has this ability, or if they do, they don’t take advantage of it. Be sure to ask your wedding photographer what measures they take to ensure they don’t lose your wedding images, both during the wedding day as well as before they have been delivered to you. This question (and the answer to it) might be one of the most important questions on this list.
#5. How comfortable are you shooting in all lighting conditions?
Wedding days provide all sorts of different lighting challenges for photographers, from the bright, harsh sun to a dark church with high ceilings. There are many different ways a photographer can compensate for lighting issues, but one of the most challenging is a dark church or reception venue. Make sure your photographer has a solution for a dark venue. If you don’t see any images in their portfolio in a dark venue, or at night, ask to see some! Photographers who are skilled with flash or other lighting techniques will happily show you the spectacular images they created in a dark church, tricky reception venue, or outside at night. If your photographer is unable to use flash in a creative and flattering way, whole portions of your wedding day photos may be undesirable. However, if your photographer is able to transform even the darkest night or venue using flash, the result will be beautifully unique portraits for you!
#6. Can I look through a full wedding you’ve shot recently?
I’m going to hit you with a little insider scoop and honesty here: the photos on our websites, and what we post on Facebook are the best of the best when it comes to our work. You may see between 5 and 10 of the best images from each wedding in a portfolio or on social media. If you check out a wedding blog post, you’ll see significantly more than that; between 50 and 100 images. However, that is still only about 8-10% of the images delivered to a client. As reassurance, ask your wedding photographer if you can look through a full gallery they’ve delivered to a bride. This will give you an idea of what the other 90% of the photos delivered to a bride and groom look like. Check these photos for consistency. Not every photo will look like the best of the best, but they should all be up to snuff with what you’ve been seeing in their work (another good reason to follow a few photographers!) If there is a big difference in quality and style throughout there work, consider this a red flag.
#7. Do you have references from past brides and grooms? Are they unbiased reviews?
Before you hire a wedding photographer, you should make sure you have a good idea of what the experience of working with them will be like. This means everything from e-mail correspondence, to wedding day, to how long it will take them to get your images and products to you. The best way to do this is to read what past brides and grooms have to say about their experience with the wedding photographer you are considering. Don’t just look at the testimonials page on your photographers website; those blurbs are hand selected rave reviews. Ask for an unbiased review site like Wedding Wire, Google+, or Facebook. Make sure to read the current reviews carefully (older reviews, 2+ years old should be considered, but not carry as much weight as current reviews). Look for comments on how the bride felt, what it was like communicating with the photographer, and any complaints. It is also a good idea to look into posts to the photographer’s Facebook page. Check for comments like “Hi I e-mailed you X days ago about X and haven’t heard back.” Lots of recent comments to that accord might be red flags!
#8. Do you have a backup plan if you are unable to attend due to unforeseen circumstances or an emergency?
Although this shouldn’t keep you up at night, things can happen that could prevent your photographer, or any of your other vendors from being present at your wedding. (Heck, it could even happen to you!) In the unlikely event of a disastrous situation that may prevent your photographer from being present for you, they should have a back up plan in place. Every photographer’s plan will be different, and there is no real right or wrong answer to this answer (besides, “Gee,I’ve never thought about it before!”), but make sure their back up plan makes you feel comfortable and confident, in case they actually have to use it.
Now that you’ve heard what your photographer has to say, you have a couple questions you should ask yourself as well…
#9. Can I see myself in their wedding photos?
When you choose a wedding photographer, you should do so because you love their style. This means you like their poses, their composition and their editing. The biggest mistake you can make is hiring a photographer thinking you can change their style. (Remember when I talked about finding a style you liked earlier?) This is very important! Hire a wedding photographer who takes photos you can see yourself in, because that is what will be delivered to you, since a true professional photographer should have a consistent style developed. If you can’t see yourself in your wedding photographer’s photos, chances are you are going to be extremely disappointed in the end.
#10. Do I feel comfortable with this photographer? Does their personality mesh with mine? Do I feel like I can trust them?
I can not stress the importance of this question enough. It is extremely important that not only do you like your photographer’s style, but that you are also comfortable around them, mesh with their personality, and are able to put all your trust in them. Your photographer will be spending more time with you on your wedding day than practically anyone else, including your groom. If your personalities clash, they annoy you, or you don’t like their ideas, find a photographer who would be better suited to you! There are tons of professional photographers out there, and everyone is different. From sophisticated to adventurous and everything in between, find a photographer who is right for you and your wedding. This is one reason why meeting with your photographer in person, or over video call, is important. If you don’t know if you got a good feel for a potential photographer during an in person meeting, schedule an engagement session with them as a trial run to get a better idea. You should also be able to trust your wedding photographer wholeheartedly. You should trust their judgement, their creative capabilities, and their professionalism. After all, by hiring them, you are essentially saying you trust them with all the memories from one of the most important days of your life.