A part of my job is getting to know other photographers and “talking shop” with local wedding vendors. We often discuss nightmares we have heard about or seen happening to local brides and cringe. It helps keep me on my toes and thinking of every different contingency to protect my clients from heartache. Here are just a few tips I think are imperative to ask your potential wedding photographer and yourself. It is great if a person comes to you highly recommended by a friend or other vendor but I cannot stress enough the importance that you do some digging yourself first before booking.
1. Will they be available the entire day of your wedding in case you should desire more hours of coverage?
I recently stepped in and shot just one portion of a wedding day for someone because their photographer informed them the week of the wedding that they would not be coming prior to 1pm that day. You need to know that you have that day booked off with them and what their limitations are concerning hours of coverage (some will not work over a certain number of hours). You don’t need to know exactly what your timeline will be before reaching out to book a photographer but it will give you peace of mind to know they won’t be booking other gigs or making other plans the same day as your wedding.
2. How many weddings do they shoot on a weekend?
This is controversial. Some photographers are full of energy and they can keep up with 3 weddings in one weekend. Sometimes these weddings are located hours from each other meaning your photographer will be up pretty late and driving very early to get to you on time. I personally have turned away weddings for this very reason. I know my physical limitations and try to work within them. It will be up to you to decide if you are ok with this. This is by no means a deal breaker. Go with your gut on this one and don’t be afraid to ask.
3. (This is one to ask yourself) Could I be friends with this person? Are they “likeable”?
Yes they are doing a job for you but this is a job that involves a level of comfort. Someone may charge the right price but you just don’t jive with them. Trust me when I say that on your big day you want someone who you AND your wedding party will like. Finding the perfect combination between a person who brings an awesome experience to your wedding day on top of bringing their artistic eye and technical expertise is the perfect combination when searching out the right photographer for you. Another reason why this can really pay off for you is that photographers who easily make friends usually have a network behind them that they can use in a pinch. For instance; they know who to go to in case of emergencies, and those people are happy to come to their aid. This means they know who to call if for instance a card malfunctions after the fact. They know who to ask to replace them if they should all of a sudden get appendicitis. Never underestimate the power of networking and genuine kindness.
DISCLAIMER: Just because someone is your friend or a family friend does not mean they are a good fit. They may not have the same artistic style as you, or they may be LESS professional than another photographer, in a way that could and has ruined a wedding day for many brides. Having said this if your friend happens to be super professional and very talented, hire away! (but get a contract).
4. Do they use a wedding contract?
If a photographer’s contract is done properly it will not only protect them it will also protect your best interests as well. It will clearly state expectations for your own peace of mind. It can also give you an indication of what the “in case of emergency” procedure is with your photographer. ALWAYS get a contract. Friend, family or not. Anyone who shoots weddings without one is a huge red flag.
5. Do they have insurance?
This is important, and in fact I was asked this by a bride not long ago, because her photographer friend had told her to (now that’s a good friend). Insurance covers many things that could happen on your wedding day. Including any property theft of the photographer’s equipment or damages any drunk guests may inflict – to their equipment or perhaps to themselves (if they trip over a stand). The very fact a photographer has taken this precaution speaks volumes about how seriously they take their business. And trust me, you don’t want amateurs capturing your big day.
6. Do they have a back-up camera and lenses?
Professionals always have two camera bodies at least with them and several different lenses for different purposes. This means that if for some reason one camera dies inexplicably (yeah it happens) they aren’t deterred and just grab their other camera and keep going. I CANNOT STRESS THIS ENOUGH. They have to have two camera bodies and several lenses or do not hire them. Unless iphone pictures of your big day are fine with you.
7. (Another one for you) What does your spidey sense tell you?
Having worked with other photographers and hearing all about how some do business I can say their are a few bad apples ( LOADS of great sweet awesome apples too!). Some unsavory photographers WILL lie to your face to get the gig. It’s a very saturated field and a lot of people are clamoring for a piece of the wedding pie and not all brides are savvy about what to watch-out for. They can’t tell the difference between a highly interactive and hands on professional photographer (one who eats sleeps and breathes what they do) and one who is moonlighting and will show up on the day-of and be nothing like what you had hoped. Money is their only “why” factor and they will say what it takes to get yours. Yes we all need money and we should get paid for our hard work but a good photographer should have an actual love for their clients and weddings. In fact it happens from time to time that people steal images from much better photographers and pass them off as their own online on listing sites like Kijiji or even on websites they create. One of my absolute favorite photographers had this happen to him and it was a long while before the matter was discovered and could be dealt with. In the meantime the unscrupulous photographer booked weddings with unsuspecting brides using stolen photos as bait. Be thorough about researching your short list of potential photographers. Look at their FB page. Check out their Instagram. Some due diligence may save you a ton of issues down the road. If they don’t have any social media presence, there could be something amiss.
8. Will they be the one shooting your wedding?
Many photographers subcontract others to work for them. This means that you may not be working with the person you wanted the day of your wedding. Be upfront and ask them. If they intend to give you another photographer ask for a portfolio of images ONLY taken by the photographer you will have so you know exactly what you will be getting.
9. Have they shot weddings alone or as the lead photographer?
Every photographer starts somewhere. I certainly seconded a bunch of weddings before I felt comfortable enough to shoot one of my own. Pricing should generally reflect experience, but of course, your style and taste are important factors too. Most often though, you get what you pay for. Consider if having a more experienced photographer will give you peace-of-mind.
10. What is their process for protecting image files?
Instead of film, most photographers now shoot digitally. Cards, like film, are not failsafe. Photographers all have different ways of protecting your images from this happening. One way is to shoot on smaller cards and keep switching out. This way if a card fails, it will only be a small number of images affected, not your entire wedding day. Another way is the one I use. I shoot to dual card slots. This means that I capture RAW images to two different cards at the exact same time. This method has never failed me once. The one time I had an issue with a corrupted card I simply pulled the other card and all of the images were intact on that one.
11. How long should you expect to wait for edits? Will they provide sneaks?
This only matters if you want your images pronto. We all have different work volume, process and editing style. For some, delivery may take one week, for others, several months. Neither process is wrong. The important thing is that your contract should specify your wait time so you know for sure when you will be getting your images. Do you love the photographers editing style and feel it’s worth the wait? Are you keen to hire someone who is so in-demand that it pushes their editing schedule back? These are all trade off’s. There is no right or wrong answer it is simply important to know the timeframe and set your expectations accordingly.
12. Will they be staying after shooting and do they drink at weddings they shoot?
This is more a note to you then a question for them and it depends on what you are comfortable with. We often get asked to stay and have fun after our shooting hours are over. While at this point we usually consider you good friends, it is not always a good idea. Through the day your guests have identified us as the photographers and will continue to come up to us asking for us to shoot pictures pretty much until we leave. Also, our cameras and cards now contain the images from your entire wedding. Leaving them in a car or at a table is not a good idea. I do not drink at weddings and I like to run home right after the shoot day is done and I have said my goodbyes, to immediately transfer all images to my editing rig and backup drives. I then look through to ensure all images are accounted for and to pick out the “sneak-peek” images to put aside to edit first. Sometimes errors happen during the conversion process so it’s important to watch for and correct these. This can be a lengthy process, and not something I’d want to do after a few drinks or while exhausted. Having said that, I have mastered the art of dancing with my camera in-hand. Sometimes it makes people laugh or smile which makes for some sweet pics. Finding the delicate balance between fun and professional in a photographer can be like hunting down a unicorn so when you find it, snatch it up! 😀
One last note: If a price is too good to be true, odds are, it is! So read the fine print and do your research. I have heard of people getting a “good deal” and the photographer literally forgetting to bring their camera to the engagement shoot. Photos are the record of your day and 50 years from now, you and your family will still be enjoying them. Invest in a high quality and experienced photographer and you won’t regret it.
I hope this helps a few brides. The best way to ensure the best experience for everyone is to ask as many questions as possible so everyone knows exactly what to expect.
Have a beautiful day!