I recently read an article entitled ’50 Brides Reveal What Their Photographers Could Have Done Better’ on Bride Box. It crushed me. The list of things that went wrong with these photo shoots all seemed like unforced errors that could have been prevented beforehand with a little better communication.
First, let me get this out of the way: in wedding photography, as in every aspect of life, you get what you pay for. This is not to say that quality photography begins at a certain price. But if in your search for a photographer you find a deal that seems too good to be true, then it probably is – either because the photographer is inexperienced, or is simply not going to deliver as promised. The time it takes to prepare for, shoot, and edit a wedding is extensive, and in the New York City market, quality photography begins at around $3,000 for a 10-hour wedding. Photography takes up a significant portion of any wedding budget, but years from now the memories you captured on your wedding day will be what you cherish, not your menu, dress, or the DJ’s playlist.
The way to make sure you get what you pay for is to first and foremost do your homework. Here are a few tips on how to get the wedding photos you want:
Meet with your photographer in person. Ask to meet the photographer in her/his studio. What ‘vibe’ do you get from the photographer sitting across from you? Establishing trust is essential for good photos. Stiff poses and unnatural expressions are a clear indicator of a lack of trust between photographer and client. A photographer with whom you have good ‘mojo’ will let the real you shine through in the photo. You will be spending 10 to 12 hours with your photographer, so you better like the person behind the lens.
Ask for references from past clients. When you contact these references (I would recommend contacting at least three), have a list of questions ready including: did the photographer deliver the photos on time? Were you happy with the editing? Did your album live up to expectation? How did the photographer act during the wedding? Any red flags? Also, take a glance at past reviews on Google, WeddingWire, and Yelp. Reviews can be faked, but check for consistent themes to the reviews.
Ask to see a full wedding delivered to a client. It’s a buyer beware market but a photographer’s past work should be representative of what your wedding will look like. You want to make sure that the photographer’s style and technical ability is consistent, and that the photographer can deliver more than simply 20 good photos for a website portfolio. You need to like at least 90% of the photos, from getting ready through to the reception. Check both for the quality of the photos (in focus, good exposure), as well as for the mood of the photos. What you see is what you get, and if you don’t see what you want in a representative album sent to a client, then don’t book that photographer. If you want mainly candids, then make sure that the photos delivered to the client reflect this. Want lots of artsy photos? Make sure you see these in the photos given to the other client.
Spell out exactly what you want and read the fine print on the contract. Get your delivery time in writing. My own delivery schedule is to give clients the best 20 to 30 photos online within 24 hours, then deliver all of the edited photos via a private client gallery in four weeks’ time. If your package includes an album, protect yourself by spelling out the materials, paper quality, number of photos, and delivery time in the contract. Contracts are meant to be amended, so never feel bad about questioning the legalese or asking for a thorough explanation of the terms.
Create a shot list with the photographer beforehand. If you have specific people, things, or events you want photographed, then get it in writing and emphasize the importance of these items to the photographer during your meeting. I have a checklist for my clients, which I call my ‘homework.’ On the document, I ask clients to list any special family members (say, a grandmother visiting from across the country) or DIY projects they want to make sure I photograph. I create the shot list with my client beforehand and go over the list with my client in a homework meeting (usually via email or phone) to make sure we’re on the same page. Furthermore, I use Pinterest to create an online visual mood board so that my client and I are speaking the same visual language. This is what should be happening between you and your photographer.
Visit your venue with the photographer. It’s always best to bring your shot list to life with a venue visit. Invite the photographer to come with you to visit your venue so you can do a dry run before your wedding day. I often end up doing two venue visits: once with the client early in the planning process, and then again without the client two- to three-weeks prior to a shoot so that I can see what the lighting will be like during the wedding. Does the photographer not show any interest in the venue visit? Well, you have to ask yourself, why?
Make sure you give the photographer enough time. Great photos don’t just happen. They take planning. You are stressed, and believe it or not, so is the photographer. If you want a lot of artistic photos or dreamy portraits, then you need to give yourself enough time to slow down, relax, and get in the mood to have your photo taken. Creativity can’t be rushed. So on your wedding day, plan for at least :30 for couple portraits, :30 for family portraits, and :20 for bridal party portraits. I also like to add in additional time for the bride and groom alone (:15 for the groom, and :20 for the bride).
Do a test shoot to see how you work together. One of the biggest complaints in the article was wishing that the photographer had given the client more direction during the wedding day portraits. The easiest way to see how your photographer performs at portraits is to schedule an engagement shoot. Most of us are not professional models, so we need a little help when it comes to making sure we look best in front of the camera. Does the photographer send you some photo tips beforehand to make sure you are prepared for the engagement shoot? (I do.) Does the photographer have a shot list planned out for the engagement shoot? (Always.) Are there locations planned out for the shoot? (Yep.) Your wedding day will have the added stress of family, friends, and fancy attire. So if your photographer is not performing well under completely controllable conditions during the engagement shoot, how well do you think the photographer will perform when time is short and stress is high on your wedding day? Bottom line, how a photographer performs during the engagement shoot is a testament to how well the wedding day portraits will go. It goes without saying that if you are unhappy with the engagement photos, make sure your contract has a clause getting you out of the contract for the wedding.
By the way, the photos accompanying this blog are of Lidia and Josh, whose wedding I had the pleasure of photographing at Columbia University. Enjoy the pics!
‘Getting Ready’ Location: NYLO Hotel
Ceremony Location: Holy Trinity Church
Reception Location: Faculty House at Columbia University
Wedding Cake: Ron Ben-Israel
Florist: City Blossoms
Bride’s Dress: Martina Liana from Bella Bridal Gallery
Groom’s Attire: The Ludlow Shop
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If you would like to view more images from my wedding photojournalism portfolio, then please visit my website — KellyWilliamsPhotographer.com