HOW DO I FIND A WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHER
1. GENERAL – WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHER
Photography is so much more than just having a nice camera or taking a lot of pictures to cover your bases. The first thing we hear from all of our assistants trying to become professionals is, “Wedding photography is much more difficult than I thought it would be.” Our answer, “Of course it is!” The goal of this article is to help prevent you from hiring the wrong photographer, or even worse, “Uncle Joe.”
This section will cover more of the soft-skills that your photographer needs to posses. These are areas that you need to pay attention to during your meetings and conversations with professional photographers, because they are not things that you can really determine by asking a question. We recommend that you read this section first, then head on over to our section called, “15 Questions to Ask Your Wedding Photographer” for more specific ideas on what types of questions you should be looking to ask.
2. EXPERTISE – BEING TECHNICAL AND CREATIVE
A professional wedding photographer must not only be completely versed in the technical side of the trade, but he must also be artistic and creative. Those are two completely opposite personality traits. How many people do you know are very technologically savvy and artistically creative at the same time?
Having great camera and technical skills will allow the wedding photographer to capture properly exposed, well lit images regardless of the lighting situation and time constraints. On the other hand, having great creative skills will allow the wedding photographer to approach each shot with a unique perspective and artistic vision ensuring that the shots are not just photos, but artistic imagery.
Just as important (if not more important) as their technical knowledge and creativity is the wedding photographers interpersonal skills. How well do they get along their clients and those at the wedding? Are they outgoing, personable, charismatic, professional, and honest?
Not including engagement shoots, bridal shoots, etc, you are going to be spending a full day with your photographer on the most important day of your life. A wedding photographer with a personality that matches your own is important to the overall experience of your wedding.
Once you get past technique, creativity, and personality, the next thing you should be looking for is experience. Is the wedding photographer actually a professional photographer, or is this their “weekend gig”? How many weddings has this photographer shot?
While experience is definitely important, some of the best and most hard- working wedding photographers we have met are experienced photographers, but relatively new as wedding photographers. In situations where you love the photographers style, but are concerned with them not having enough experience, ask to look at their entire collection of images from each event they have shot.
To help you out further, when we take applicants for assistants and associate photographer positions, we base their level of experience off of how many weddings they have shot as the lead photographer, i.e. not under another professional photographer’s guidance or direction.
• 1-5 Weddings – Inexperienced
• 6-10 Weddings – Amateur (Qualified as an assistant photographer)
• 10-20 Weddings – Knowledgable
• 21-30 Weddings – Experienced
• 31+ Weddings – Professional (Qualified as an associate photographer)
5. QUALITY – QUALITY OVER QUANTITY
When seeking a photographer, don’t get caught up in the amount of products each photographer is promising. Stay focused on the actual quality of the work provided. We realize that some people are working within a budget. Think to yourself that you can always purchase an album, or additional prints later (even 5-10 years later), but you can’t change the quality of the photographs taken at the wedding after the wedding day.
We strive to tell clients, if there is something you need to cut from your package in order to make it more affordable, start with the products. Cut the prints from the package, remove the album, but don’t go with a cheaper photographer because they are willing to give you all the products you want up front. If you can, always keep at least two photographers in your package.
6. ASSISTANTS – HAVING MORE THAN ONE PHOTOGRAPHER
We often are asked the question, “why do I need more than one wedding photographer?”
Well, if you were to look at a wedding written up like a movie script, you would see a primary story line surrounded by smaller side stories that are happening at the exact same moment. For example, during a wedding ceremony, the main story is obviously the bride and groom. However, there may be multiple side stories occurring at the exact same moment, such as mom or dad wiping the tear from their eyes, or the flower girl sitting in the corner picking petals from a rose in her hands.
No matter how good a photographer is, he/she cannot be at all places at the same time; and so, to compensate, we use multiple wedding photographers, each with a different focus. For example, our lead photographer focuses strictly on the bride and groom. Our second wedding photographer would focus on reaction shots from the family, guests, etc. Our third (when needed) would focus on creative imagery by constantly surveying and moving around the scene to find unique angles and compositions of our subjects.
Having multiple photographers enables our team to broaden the coverage and creative eyes at the event. While we recommend two photographers regardless of the size of your wedding, we tell clients that it is almost required if you have 100-200 people at the wedding. For clients with very large weddings, i.e. 200+, we recommend three photographers
HIRING UNCLE JOE – A FICTIONAL STORY BASED ON REAL EVENTS
While the names and locations in this story are fictional, it is based on real and unfortunate wedding photography horror stories that we have heard first hand from friends, contacts, wedding guests, clients, etc.
IT ALWAYS STARTS WITH THE SAME LINE
“My Uncle Joe has an amazing camera, I think I am going to just pay him $500 to shoot my wedding.” While Uncle Joe may be very good, here are a few reasons to go with the professional.
As we have previously said in the “How to choose your wedding photographer” section, wedding photography is so much more than just having a nice camera. Uncle Joe may have a nice camera, in fact, let’s say Uncle Joe is a lawyer and photography is his passion. So, not only does he have a nice camera, but he has the best camera money can buy at the moment, the Canon 5D Mark II ($2,700). Even more so, Uncle Joe loves shooting in his spare time so much that he even bought a full set of Canon L Series lenses and accessories ($15,000).
Already, we are assuming that this Uncle Joe is much more prepared than 99% of the Uncle Joe’s out there. Now let’s assume that Uncle Joe frequently goes out, once or twice a month and shoots nature and urban scenes with all of his great equipment. Uncle Joe even had some of his work published.
Wedding time comes, and Uncle Joe is feeling great and confident that he is going to do an awesome job. Uncle Joe starts with some outside shots of the preparation location and everything is looking good. Then Uncle Joe steps inside where the preparation is taking place. Uncle Joe doesn’t like manually exposing his pictures, so he shoots with the cameras help. Unfortunately, the camera is only so smart.
Uncle Joe starts snapping preparation shots and notices that his lens isn’t wide enough. So, he quickly goes out to the car to swap out his lenses since he wasn’t anticipating this problem. When he gets back, the bride’s makeup is done, and now they are working on the hair. Uncle Joe didn’t take any time to check out the lighting prior to the shoot, so he has no off camera lighting, or any additional lighting equipment. So, Uncle Joe figures that he can just raise his ISO settings super high so that he can capture enough light to properly expose the scene. This works, however, little does he know, that every picture shot will be too grainy to blow up beyond a 4×6 print.
Uncle Joe now heads over to shoot the groom. Uncle Joe looks at the scene and adjusts his camera settings based on what the camera reads. Unfortunately, because there was so much black in the scene from the suits, the camera was over exposing all of the shots to compensate. Uncle Joe didn’t realize though, and just kept chugging away.
Let’s say this is a simple wedding and now it’s time for the ceremony. Uncle Joe scopes out a great spot, pops on his zoom lens, and waits. The groom makes his way in, and Joe shoots him like a pro snapping 50 shots as the groom is coming down the aisle. The only problem is that all 50 shots are out of focus because the subject was walking towards Uncle Joe, and his focus settings were not set for moving subjects.
The father and bride begin coming down the aisle, and just the same, Uncle Joe fires away taking 50 more shots. Again, none of which are crisp and in focus.
The wedding ceremony is going great, and Joe grabs several great shots. But Uncle Joe realizes again, that his camera lens isn’t wide enough, so Uncle Joe runs to his bag to grab a different lens. On his way back, he sees the couple just as they kiss for the first time. Uncle Joe missed it. He also didn’t think to shoot any of the bride or grooms family during the ceremony, as he was trying not to miss anything in the ceremony.
After the ceremony, it’s time for formals. Uncle Joe guides everyone to his favorite spot outdoors where he has a beautiful shot of the view. The subjects are facing away from the sun, so that he can capture the grandeur of the scene. Because the formals are being shot in the bright noon-day sun, Uncle Joe doesn’t realize that the camera is under exposing the entire scene since the background is so bright.
Uncle Joe takes only a few family formal shots, and only one shot of each set. Little to Joe’s knowledge, every shot is coming out too dark and completely underexposed (See below)
Reception time has arrived, and Uncle Joe has already worked 10 hours! He figures that he should relax and enjoy the wedding too since he is family. So, he gives his camera to his young son who loves photography and tells him to shoot.
Uncle Joe is so exhausted that he doesn’t shoot for the rest of the night. I mean, he is helping out the bride and groom so much by saving them money, and doing it for so cheap that he figures it shouldn’t matter anyway.
Since Uncle Joe doesn’t have the software, or even know how to post produce images. He simply gives the bride and groom a DVD with all of the images burned to it. The bride and groom sit down, dying with anticipation and pop the DVD into the computer to start looking through their uncles beautiful work!
100 pictures into the 2,000 pictures Uncle Joe shot, the bride is already in tears, as every photo is too dark, too bright, blurry, or just not that good. Furthermore, the bride and groom notice that there is no shot of their first kiss, and the only reception shots were of Uncle Joe’s son shooting all of the kids at the reception.
While this story in particular is fictional, each one of the events and outcomes are from real situations that we wedding photographers hear about all of the time. In fact, so many of our client’s guests have approached us during a shoot to tell us about their “Uncle Joe” experience, and how they wish they had hired us to shoot the wedding. So, why does this happen to Uncle Joe? Because the bottom line is, while Joe had all the professional gear (which is unlikely in the first place), and experience shooting nature and outdoors scenes he doesn’t have the following:
• The ability to quickly adjust his camera settings based on different lighting scenes. Most of the time wedding photographers have 2-3 seconds to adjust settings on the fly, any more than that, and the wedding photographer is almost guaranteed to miss something.
• The knowledge of how his camera reads and interprets light in order to compensate for under or over exposure. In these situations the wedding photographer must rely on his experience rather than the camera’s readings.
• The foresight to be prepared for each situation with a secondary camera prepped with a different type of lens. Professional wedding photographers will always scope out the wedding venue and scenes prior to the wedding and plan ahead.
• The carrying cases needed to always have his necessary equipment and accessories on him at all times. Professional wedding photographers will always have their equipment readily available on their person, or nearby.
• Experience shooting fleeting moments that you only have one chance to capture. A first kiss typically only lasts 1-2 seconds, and you don’t necessarily know exactly when it is going to happen. The wedding photographer must be staring through his lens, ready and prepared for this moment to happen.
• Experience and knowledge required to anticipate angles and approaches to each scene. Knowing where to stand, and what angles to shoot is something that only comes from experience.
• The energy to work non-stop for 12-18 hours without breaks. This is a wedding photographer’s job, they don’t rest or take breaks. Our team staggers their breaks during non-crucial moments of the day, and even then there is always one or two additional wedding photographers shooting while one is on break.
• The ability to create unique lighting scenes, and supplement natural light with his own lighting. Understanding light and lighting is something that comes from study, training and experience. Being a master of lighting is impossible unless you have tried shooting in every possible lighting situation.
• Experience in guiding and directing large group formals. This is where the wedding photographer’s personality and tact are so important. How do they interact with the bride, groom and their family.
• The knowledge of advanced focus techniques.
• Experience in taking extra shots of crucial pictures such as during formals in case of blinking, awkward expressions, etc.
In addition to all of this, there is so much more that Uncle Joe would need in order to take professional quality wedding photographs from start to finish.
While there are a lot of areas in your wedding budget that you can save money on, wedding photography should not be one of them. If you want to have professional- quality, creative imagery of your wedding day that will be timeless heirlooms to be shown and handed down to your generations to come, you will need a professional wedding photographer.
Often times, wedding photography studios such as our own, will work with clients in customizing their packages in order to fit within their budget. If that is the case, choose quality over products. Choose to have 2 photographers rather than just one, and forgo the album, prints and slideshows for now. We understand that newlyweds are often on a budget, as they are starting their new lives together. So, wait on the products until later in your life. Three, four, even five years from now when you and your family is well established, go ahead and order that album, or those large prints. It might be better to wait to buy gorgeous and real imagery, than to have low quality photography slapped into an album and ready for you when you get back from your honeymoon.
To sum it up, while you can always order products later, you can never order better quality and more creative imagery after your event.