46%. It’s the percentage of brides who regret not spending more on photography. How do you not fall for that mistake?
Well… does this sound familiar?
You’re meeting with a photographer, and they’re promising you wonderful things: that they’ll shoot your wedding for a killer price, that you’ll get amazing photos, and you’ll get them fast. At this point a little voice inside your head thinks – is this too good to be true?
Most likely, it is. Most likely, this is an amateur photographer who declares “they’ve done it before” (at their sister’s wedding), that they have a professional DSLR (well it’s not professional, but they got it for Christmas), and that they “took these shots, so they could do it again” (even though another photographer had posed the entire scene, and they were too busy clicking to pay attention to what the professional was doing).
I’m describing 80% of guests at any given wedding. Yup, most people think that they can do it. And I don’t blame them at all – our jobs as pro photographers is to make it effortless. If it looks super hard, you’re doing something wrong!
Wedding photography is one of the most arduous kinds of photography – it’s an event that only happens once, that has many moving parts, and that evolves in rapidly changing conditions. That photographer who is promising you the moon is taking a huge gamble on you. To them, you’re a stepping stone to this thing they think they can do, and why not, they’ve gotten compliments on their photos so far – how hard can it be? Here are 10 questions to help you sift through the smoke and steer away from photography nightmares.
1. So tell me a little more about you work? What are the next steps?
If you haven’t done it many times before, you imagine that wedding photography starts, and almost ends, on the wedding day. If your photographer answers with “well I’d show up on your wedding day and start taking photos”, or if they say that they wouldn’t see you again before the engagement session, you’re in trouble. Photography requires a lot of work if you want it to be exactly to a complete stranger’s taste. Would you walk up to a stranger on the street with a dish in your hand and be 100% confident that they’ll love eating it? No, you can’t. You have no idea if the person is a vegetarian, allergic to apples, or so diabetic an ounce of sugar would kill them. Photography is a little bit like food – in order to guarantee the other person will love it, you’re going to have the take time to ask the right questions and if you can, let them sample your “food”.
2. Do you have a sample group shot list I could take a look at right now?
If the answer is “I don’t have one I can show you right now, but I can get one to you later”, your photographer clearly hasn’t done many weddings before. Group shots are an art – trying to get 100 or even 200+ people in one shot without taking 4h isn’t an easy feat, and should be by no means underestimated. If you don’t want to spend all day taking group photos and mourn the “Just the two of us” shots you really want and would cherish for years to come, you need someone who is organized about the formals and knows how to elegantly get groups of people to do things efficiently. And if you’re not prepared ahead of time, it’s not something you want to improvise.
3. Can I see a full wedding, start to finish, of just your photographs?
Another sign of trouble if you can’t see it right there and then. The real trouble with photographers is that you could actually be a guest at 10 weddings and take 10 photographs that would make an amazing portfolio. If you shadow the pro photographer and taken their shot, you’ve just clicked a button and capitalized on their work. Does that make you a pro? No. Does it make you look like one? At first glance, yes. And that’s why portfolios can be very deceiving. Asking for a full wedding start to finish is a really good way of seeing “through the photographer’s eyes”. You’ll also be easily able to tell if they were the “main photographer” for the day or if they were shadowing someone else. The angles won’t be the ones you expect to see. If what you see is barely acceptable, know that this photographer is taking a gamble with your wedding day. To them, you’re a stepping stone to their portfolio, and they’ll learn from mistakes made at your wedding.
4. Can I see a completed album?
If your photographer doesn’t have an album to show, then you’re in the definite red zone. The zone where the photographer doesn’t even know where to begin; where you’ll get improvised guesses as to what to do where and when. Whether you want an album as part of the memories of your wedding day or not, your photographer’s ability to show you one demonstrates a creative process. You should see the story of the day. You should see what’s important to the bride and groom, details they cared for, the tears of joy from their parents, the palpable emotion of the ceremony, the obvious fun in the photos taken as a couple. The album is where a photographer really can execute and perfect the vision they had i mind. A great photographer shoots for you and shoots for your album. They know that if you choose an album to pass onto your children, it should skillfully take your through the emotional rollercoaster of the day, it should highlight the amazing details you sweated over for a year, and it should do it in a manner that looks completely effortless. No accidental black and white next to color, no poorly composed shots, no “forgotten” moments. It’s all there, and it looks easy.
5. Do you have other vendors I could ask for reference?
I know, you’re thinking – wait, shouldn’t I ask other brides for references? Yes, you should do that too. But vendors have no troubles at all telling you how the photographer was working – they weren’t as caught up in the actual events of the wedding, they have that outside eye to what’s going on with other vendors. Trust me, we all know who does an amazing job and who’s having a a bad day. And we’re happy to share the info
While you ask that question, you’ll also find out if your photographer can work with other vendors. If your photographer can’t work with other people, they won’t get you the photos you want. Sometimes you have to work with other vendors to make sure the flowers get there just a little earlier than planned, or that the cake is positioned closer to the light. That gets done by having great professional ethic and dedication.
6. What kind of backups do you have?
If your photographer doesn’t have a backup camera, it’s time to run. Is it expensive to keep a backup camera sitting there? Yes. Is it expensive to haul around computers, extra memory cards, extra batteries, extra flashes, extra power cords, extra lenses? Of course it is. But it’s the price of safety. Equipment malfunctions happen. Children running around and grabbing your equipment happen. Red wine flying into the air and landing on your electronics happen. And, sadly, multiple hard-drives failing happens (can you tell we speak of experience?). You shouldn’t have to worry about any of that: your photographer should make it look effortless, easy, like there aren’t ever any hiatuses. You should never even know that these things happened. No one cares why you didn’t get the shot – you should just get it. It is our job as professionals to do everything in our power to deliver on our promise. Make sure your photographer is equipped for the unexpected, because it inevitably happens.
7. What does this price include?
There are really tricky photographers out there. Some photographers tell you they’ll cover the event for a fixed price, but omit to mention that you don’t get a single photograph for that price, and you’ll have to pay prints separately for an exorbitant price. Or they’ll include low resolution files only, which makes them not printable, and then gauge you on print prices, or give you astronomical figures for full resolution photographs. Any pricing structure can work for you, but you need to know all the details ahead of time.
8. How much time do we need?
The good answer is “it depends”. Every event is truly unique – there might be religious traditions and timelines that are unique (like having a tea ceremony before lunch, or signing the ketubah before the ceremony), certain celebrations you’ve added for your guests (like a cousin singing, or professional ballroom dancers performing). Your photographer should help you understand your schedule, understand your vision, and should clearly articulate what they need to accomplish that vision. If they have a blanket “8h should do it” answer, you run into the risk that they won’t clearly communicate how much time they need, and they’ll either rush or completely miss shots that are very important to you.
9. Can we see a contract?
That is something you definitely want to take a look at. This uncovers a lot of the devilish details most photographers don’t even want to take about. It should cover cancellations, adverse events, pricing, insurance, everything. If your photographer can’t pull one up, they’re a complete amateur, and they’re taking big risks at your expense. Contracts should protect both parties – they’re here to protect you, too. If you don’t like what you see in the contract, you can only discuss it before signing it, so take the time to read through it before you make a commitment.
10. Can we have ALL the photos?
This is going to surprise you: the answer should be “no”. Wait a second, you say – why not? Because your photographer should want to take risks, and should have a clear creative process in mind. Taking a photograph to be processed in black & white is very different from taking one to be processed in color. The color shot might look amazing in color, but lack complete contrast in black & white, and lose its impact. And conversely, a photograph might look quite good in color, but truly stunning in black and white, where the power of the contrast enhances the shot. It is your photographer’s job to have that vision when they are taking the photographs, and in order to complete it, they should see the processing through. Giving someone else the editing, culling, processing to do isn’t just lazy – it’s a lack of creative point of view. You wouldn’t take a chef seriously if they asked you to dice up your own food and then cook it yourself. If your photographer is giving *you* homework, something’s really wrong with the picture.
So there you have it… Don’t be afraid to ask questions! Unfortunately, there’s no “take 2″ if your photographer doesn’t live up to your expectations. So if what is important for you to have after your wedding is beautiful photographs you want to display, share on with loved ones, and pass onto future generations, it’s worth taking the time to investigate. Don’t let questions stop you – you’ll sleep better at night