Love is in the air. Engagement season is upon us.
By now, you’ve seen it everywhere:
“When it’s all over, when the cake has all been eaten, blah, and the rice has all been swept away, blah, blah, all you have left is Each Other! the Rings! the Memories! and the PHOTOGRAPHS to relive those memories for.ev.er. Blah, blah, blah.”
Yeah, yeah, yeah. We get it. But what does that mean when it comes to hiring the right photographer??!
Fundamentally, it means you need to fall in love with a photographer who’s right for you. Moreover, it’s up to you to decide what your highest priorities are in choosing what that means to you.
I know I know. Awfully vague. Such is the way of highly subjective, abstract concepts.
Your wedding day is about what you want it to be. A blog post can’t decide that for you. Only you can decide what is most important to you. If capturing beautiful images of your wedding day is important to you, use these 5 Essential Priorities to guide you in booking the wedding photographer of your dreams:
1. Style. Style. Style.
Make sure you fall in love. I cannot stress this enough. This is where the dream starts. You MUST find a photographer whose style you adore, whose style gets you excited and makes you feel a connection and a relevancy to your own life, whose style you can picture yourself in.
You may want a photographer who captures in a traditional, posed style; is trained in a candid, photojournalistic approach; who utilizes a dreamy combination of fashion and experimental techniques; is an astute documentarian with the ability to see the tiniest of details you might otherwise miss; or a photographer who delivers some delicious blend thereof. It’s all out there. Great news. There is a photographer who’s just right for you.
This does NOT mean you must hire a photographer who specializes in weddings. This is propaganda neatly packaged for you in some dark recess of the wedding industry. Some of the best wedding photographers I know don’t advertise for weddings at all and only take on a highly exclusive list of wedding clients each year. While, yes, some extremely talented photographers choose to build a business exclusively on wedding photography, there are many photographers (like myself*) who enjoy shooting a variety of assignments and are proud of their versatility. Almost as common are photographers who enjoy a broad range of assignments and create separate websites for different genres, (primarily because that same dark recess of the wedding industry has told them brides require photographers who specialize in weddings.) The point is, it’s all smoke and mirrors and the photographer’s variety of experience does not devalue their capabilities, but can actually be an incredible asset.
All of this to say, the linchpin of finding the photographer of your dreams really is finding a style you love. Not to disregard professionalism. It’s extremely important, too, and we’re getting to that.
Now that you’ve found a photographer (hopefully several!) whose style you truly love and can picture yourself in, are they professional?
What this means for weddings is, while not necessarily exclusively a wedding photographer, YES, they have experience shooting a variety of weddings. A fantastic place to start, always, is asking friends and family for referrals, particularly friends who’ve recently been married and whose photographs you adore. ;) And you probably don’t want your uncle or your sister to take your wedding photographs… unless they happen to be professional.
I cannot stress this enough:
YOU DO NOT WANT A GREEN WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHER.
You DO want a photographer with technical expertise. You DO want a photographer versed in a variety of ceremony styles. You DO want a photographer versed in a variety of lighting techniques. You DO want a photographer who knows their f-stops from their shortstops. You DO want a photographer with backup gear, liability insurance, and a history of delivered images.
The saddest of wedding photographer horror stories are the ones that result in zero images delivered ever. It’s infinitely worse than stories of some blurry, dark or too far away, not enough images, or missed moments. Stories of the photographer who got in the way a few times, took too long on portraits, or didn’t wear the right thing to the wedding don’t hold a unity candle to the story of no. images. delivered. ever.
It’s so extreme you might not have even thought of it, yet I’ve heard this story far too many times to recount. This shouldn’t happen to anyone. Ever. Vet your photographer. Read reviews. Request references in lieu of reviews. Please make sure they don’t have a negative review of images never received. It doesn’t matter how beautiful the photographs are if you never get to see them.
3. Chemistry. Chemistry. Chemistry.
Make sure you get along with your photographer! DUH. But man, you’d be amazed at how many stories I’ve heard about brides and grooms who simply didn’t click with their photographer.
On this note, it’s imperative to meet your photographer in person. At a minimum, chat at length on the phone. How can you know if you get along if you don’t spend time talking to them? If you’re booking a photographer out of meeting range, some offer Skype consultations now, which is pretty cool. (Technology is amazing.)
Not only should you get a friendly vibe, you should feel a genuine connection. You MUST trust your photographer to see you and to photograph you how you want to be seen.
“A great photograph expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed.” ~ Ansel Adams
Great photographers experience emotional connection to their subjects and possess a keen knack for the decisive moment. Great photography is all about empathy and connection.
Without it, at best you have a properly exposed, well composed, aesthetically pleasing, two-dimensional record of the event. Without it, you just have pretty slips of paper, mere shadows of evocative memories.
You will absolutely get the best resulting photographs with a photographer who is not only talented and professional, but whose vibe you feel.
Oh yeah. Pricing. I know you were expecting this, so here we go.
The general wedding industry guideline is that photography should cost 10-12% of your total budget. (Hey, I don’t write this stuff, just sharing current guidelines found here, here, here, and here.) For an average $25,000 – $30,000 wedding, this falls in the $2,500 – $3,000 range. Frankly, it’s a little on the low-ball. It’s not the worst. You can certainly find a good photographer in that range.
An exceptional photographer will run higher.
Professional photography is expensive. It’s expensive to hire because it’s expensive to do. Professional photographers have tens of thousands of dollars wrapped up in professional gear, not to mention costs like insurance, image processing and storage, gear maintenance, web design and maintenance, education and training, marketing and advertising, transportation to and from events… not to mention all the time they spend with you and working on your images. I could go on. You get the point.
The point is, this is your priority to make. If hiring the photographer of your dreams truly is a top priority, play with your percentages until you reach your happy medium. Decent, professional photography should run roughly 10-12% of your budget. Exceptional photography might run you closer to 20-25%.
Keep in mind that photography, like everything else, is typically higher in densely populated metropolitan areas, where the cost of everything is higher (including your photographer’s rent). That said, a rough breakdown for current pricing (in US dollars) looks something like this:
• 1,000 – 2,000 This is generally your hobbyist or “weekend warrior”. In this range, you’ll likely receive just a disc of images with little to no image processing/editing.
• 2,000 – 3,000 Here you find your low-budget studio with modest packages. You might also find mid-level studios with stripped down packages. This price bracket could include a small wedding album, or could include only digital files.**
• 3,000 – 5,000 This is a sweet spot, balancing quality and quantity. Here, you’ll find a plethora of mid-level studios with modest packages. This bracket typically includes an album, which is awesome.
• 5,000 – 7,000 The sweet spot of balancing quality and quantity continues here. You’ll find low-budget studios with all the works. And you’ll find quality, mid-level studios offering extras like parent albums and day-after sessions.
• 7,000 – 10,000 This is where you’ll find the mid-range studios with all the whistles and bells. You’ll also start to find some ultra high-end studios offering basic packages. High-end studios typically include albums even in their base packages as photography truly is not meant to be viewed solely on the computer screen, but in tangible items you can hold in your hands or hang on a wall. The sensual nature of touch and smell evoke memories in deeper areas of the brain. Plus, all that work your photographer puts into ensuring the color and contrast is absolutely perfect simply doesn’t come through on digital devices, where settings can vary wildly. Print products are simply more impressive and more meaningful, and high-end photographers won’t let you go home without them.
• 10,000 – 25,000 Here, you’ll find your mid-level and high-end studios offering everything. Maybe even the kitchen sink.
**Please note not all photographers include files. In which case, you could expect to receive a small book or box of hard “proofs”, which is the industry term for small, unretouched prints, typically in the 3″x5″ or 4″x6″ to 5″x7″ range. (Proofs used to refer only to small prints like this. Now soft proofing is often available online or on disc. It’s the same thing. In lay-terms, “proof” essentially means “not retouched”.)
Furthermore, I do not mean to imply that professional photographers (or their studios) are relegated to only three tiers. As everything else, it’s a continuum. This is just the broad idea.
You can choose to prioritize your budget however you deem appropriate. Maybe the location of your dreams puts the photographer of your dreams outside your budget. That’s okay. That’s a valid decision to make. Maybe the accumulative costs of the location, the cakes, the dress, the rings, and elaborate 4-course dinner add up together to make the photographer of your dreams outside your reach and you find someone you love almost as much. That’s okay. That’s a valid decision to make.
Maybe the photographer of your dreams just outside your reach is worth stretching your reach to accommodate. That’s okay. That’s a valid decision to make.
They’re all valid decisions.
There are many ways to budget for what your. If the photographer outside your reach is who you really, really want, get creative. Much like the honeymoon registries many couples utilize now, I’ve even seen couples opt for a crowd photography fund in lieu of (or in addition to) a traditional gift registry. Sometimes it’s as simple as rearranging a few priorities, like settling on one less course in the meal or skipping the third stop on your honeymoon… for now. You can keep the promise you made to yourself to travel more and throughout your lifetime and visit that third stop for your anniversary, but you really don’t get another chance to capture your wedding day.
5. Book early!
Once you have sorted out style, professionalism, chemistry, and budget, be sure to secure the photographer you want right away. You’ll want to start looking for a photographer early in the process. When you have a date set, and a venue booked, the next item really should be your photographer. Unlike many of your service providers, (like florists and cake makers,) your photographer can only shoot ONE wedding on your date. Exceptional photographers tend to book up quickly and far in advance—frequently as far as 18 months or more ahead of time. Some photographers limit the number of weddings they take on each year, each month, or each weekend, and may reach max capacity far in advance. If you don’t want to lose your dream photographer to an already booked date, make photography a top priority for booking early.
1. Find a style you love. 2. Find several professional photographers to choose from. 3. Make sure you your chemistry clicks with you photographer. 4. Decide how much to budget for your investment. 5. Book your photographer before it’s too late!
Please note these are not steps to follow strictly in a particular order, but simply the most crucial aspects of booking the photographer of your dreams. Feel free to prioritize however is right for you. That’s what it’s all about.
Do you have any tips, tricks, or relevant points I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments below!
Best wishes to you in your wedding photographer hunt!
Live deliciously. Love always,
*Full Disclosure: I am an experimental photographer specializing in weddings and more than weddings. Read more about my approach here, and see a portfolio of wedding imagery here. If you are interested in contracting me to photograph your wedding, please contact me directly to schedule a consultation.