As a wedding photographer and as someone recently married (yay!!!!), I see two perspectives on how valuable one's wedding photos are. My wife Katie and I love our wedding photos and our engagement photos at that. Every little glance at a print or even a digital brings back so much emotion from that special day.
It's amazing to me how poignant a photo can be. Not only is photography itself amazing, but add a wedding to that and you get a treasure out of it all. I look forward to keep looking back at my own wedding and engagement photos for as many years as I live and as a wedding photographer, I hope the same for you!
I have to give an obligatory shout out to the awesome wedding photographer that captured Katie and I's wedding and engagement, Shannon Boettcher, of fotoNovella. We chose her because we knew how she would capture our special day and knew that our story would be told through her photographs before even meeting her.
Now, on to the question:
How to find that wedding photographer for you?
If you've already started your search, you may have noticed that there are quite a number of wedding photographers out there. I don't think that's a bad thing - well, except for when you're the one looking and it might be overwhelming to have so many choices. The reason I mention that the number of wedding photographers out there is not a bad thing is the fact that every single one of them is different. Behind every wedding photography business are different individuals that have their own unique visions, styles, techniques, knowledge, personalities, you name it! Each photographer will capture your story differently or (sadly) may not even capture your story in some cases, at least in your eyes - this does happen.
Below are some pointers that I hope can help you in deciding on that wedding photographer for you. These are the same things I took into account when looking for my own wedding photographer for my own wedding (it's kind of difficult to document your own wedding!).
1) LOOK FOR RECOMMENDATIONS
This is a great place to start. A recommendation from a friend can mean a whole lot more than anything else. Did you love your friend's wedding pictures on Facebook? Or maybe while in a wedding, you loved how a friend's wedding photographer worked as you saw them doing their thing right. Chat with any married friends ask them how their experience was with their photographer. If the photographers are from bigger businesses that employ several photographers, ask for specific names of the shooters on top of the business name - this will help when getting into the interview stages.
This overall process will provide you with some names to look up and maybe even some names to not look into.
Social media is a great place to look. With Facebook, you can start with your just your news feed. Some photographers, including myself, use Facebook marketing to put their name out there to "targeted" people in an area. As an example, if you change your relationship status to "engaged" and you live within my area, you will definitely stumble upon some friendly Manny Avila Photography marketing. Of course, Instagram and Pinterest are other great places to look. With all these, you can search for specific hashtags to narrow down to photographers in your area. Make a list!
2) FIND YOUR STYLE
As mentioned before, every photographer has their own style. You have a style too! As you are looking at images, you'll find that you might be gravitating to certain styles more than others. Ask yourself, "why do I like these images?" Find those recurring themes, looks, lighting, etc. Do you seem to prefer candid and natural shots of couples or more formal shots? More on this on point 4.
Something to keep in mind here is your venue choice. Have you chosen a venue? Or is still in the works? If you haven't chosen your venue, then you might find that looking at all these wedding images might help you in your decision. If you have chosen your venue, then I would suggest to pay special attention to images that have been taken at your exact venue or at a similar venue.
3) Begin the investigation.
Now that you may have a small list going, it's time to dig deeper! Check out any blogs, instagram and other social media of potential photographers. Next, to go even further - I wouldn't hesitate in asking a photographer to see a full gallery. This isn't really something a wedding photographer advertises, but that doesn't mean it's not an option! A full gallery gives you an idea of what to expect, from start to finish. Because each couple has their own unique story, try to see if you can "get" the story just by the images you see. A full gallery should give you an essence of what the day was like and also give you clues as to how the photographer captured their story - what the photographer's approach to shooting is. This is important.
4) FIND THEIR STYLE
Think of the past times you've had your picture taken. Did you enjoy the experience? Or was it just awkward or not fun? Ask yourself why. For me, I never had photographers in my past try to make a connection with me. It was just about me tilting my chin down and relaxing my shoulders and putting my hands in my pockets and smiling and...well, you get the picture. While the stuff I mentioned is important, it's not the whole picture - you can have a couple be perfectly posed and still have no life to the picture. I have had friends come to me saying this about their wedding photos - they look great and they are posed great, but the "real us" isn't there. On the opposite spectrum, someone that pays little attention to posing might also not get the results their clients need.
In choosing my own wedding photographer, I knew I wanted someone that would capture our story unseen (I don't even remember seeing my wedding photographer that often during the main wedding events, she was a ninja). For the couple portraits, we didn't want to be directed every step of the way unless we needed it. This approach is exactly the one I have. It's one that my wife and I work well with. We just go walk around, laugh, hold hands, kiss, do cute things and voilà! Of course it wasn't literally like this, but that's what we remember it being like. The direction by our photographer was subtle and non-obtrusive enough for us to not put more thought to it than necessary. We were too focused on being us and that's exactly what are photographs show. I strive to do the same with my clients.
So what's the alternative? The other group of photographers prefer a slightly more traditional approach and focus more on posed shots and therefore will be directing more. You'll see more seemingly posed or formal shots than natural candids in their overall work. This isn't a bad thing at all. It's just a different style and approach. You might find yourself preferring these types of shots more than the former. A thing to note is that this style decision isn't black and white. Taking my approach as an example, we let couples do their thing as much as we can to capture the essence of their relationship, but we will appropriately direct as the shoot goes on, as often as needed. We love providing fun ideas for you to try, but we try not to go overboard! A series of posed shots can still speak about the couple just as strongly as natural shots. While I'm not 100% reliant on candid moments, I do tend to prefer them. The opposite will be true of other photographers. It's a matter of preference.
Decide on what style you prefer and then aim for a like-minded photographer. For good measure, it wouldn't hurt to ask your potential photographer what their style is like during a shoot, before booking.
4.5) FIND THEIR STYLE, PART II
I wanted to add that when looking at full galleries, pay attention to the different lighting conditions and how the photographer handles them - especially if your wedding includes similar conditions (i.e. a dark church or a low-lit reception venue). A photographer can have awesome outside shots and still "suffer" indoors - or their indoor photograph styles may not be what you're looking for, especially in low-light conditions. Knowing this beforehand will avoid any surprises that you might regret later on.
With your list getting narrowed down a bit, it's time for the intensive culling. While I wouldn't go crazy asking a potential photographer 100 questions (yes, there are big lists out there!), below is what I believe are the most important topics.
First, make sure the date is available to the photographer. Next, if dealing with a bigger business, make sure you are talking to the right photographer. A bigger business will employ various photographers, each with their own sub-style even though they work for the same bigger picture. Don't be afraid to ask for some work samples if you're talking to a photographer other than the one you've looked into already.
On to another point, I believe it's important to ask the photographer if he/she has a second camera. As we all know, technology can fail (you know, when the coffee maker stops working, or your computer doesn't do what it's told - first world problems) and this includes cameras and lenses. Make sure the photographer carries a second camera that's similar to their main. Malfunctions and accidents happen (like in this video) - however, this is your big day we're talking about, so we want your photographer to be as prepared as they can for any potential malfunctions and accidents.
During the interview, pay attention to the photographer's personality. "Do they seem genuinely interested in what I have say?", "Can I get along with them?" While these seem like silly and basic questions, It's important that you feel comfortable with who they are as a lack of connection between the photographer and client will find it's way into the photos.
6) THE MONIES AND CONTRACTS
You may be asking, why save the money discussion until now? My answer stems from how much I value wedding photography (see my intro paragraphs!). I wish for everybody to be happy with their wedding day images. It saddens me to hear when a bride isn't happy with their photos (check out this article, it has examples too): Should I Book a Professional or a Friend...A Cautionary Tale). With your narrowed down list of photographers, ask the photographer what pricing options they have and what payment options they have. Your top choices might be out of budget - but I wouldn't cross a photographer off your list until you know all of the options available to you. A la carte options and payments options may be available and may best suit your needs.
As for the legalities, make sure you can see and understand full contracts before booking and do not hesitate to ask any questions. We all prefer there to be no (bad) surprises in the end, right? It's best when both parties know exactly what to expect from one another every step of the way.
7) GOOD LUCK!
Once you have selected your top favorites, have pricing information and any questions answered, now's the time to make that decision. I have no advice other than to go with your gut! That's what my wife and I did with our wedding photographer. She was definitely out of our budget but we couldn't let her go because of that and we all made it work - it was way worth it!