How do I go about choosing a wedding photographer?
It’s that time of year when lots of couples are planning their wedding and choosing a wedding photographer. There have been many discussions on various Facebook Groups around the subject and several “I have been let down by my photographer” posts. As a result I thought it was a good time to would update this blog post with some advice on what to look for when choosing your wedding photographer.
Choosing a Wedding Photographer is a real minefield! I just did a quick Google search for Wedding Photographer and got 12.6 million results! Where do you start?
The cost of hiring a wedding photographer.
When you look at a wedding photographers’ websites, some have prices and some don’t. A quick look at the prices will show the range of costs is astonishing. Some charge as little as £250 others can charge £5,000. I know one who charges £10,000! You will need to have some sort of budget in mind. Everyone has their own budget for their wedding and we would never criticise anyone and suggest they are spending too much or too little. It is fair to say that, in general terms, you get what you pay for. A full time professional will clearly charge more than someone for whom photography is an opportunity to earn a little money on the side. Our suggestion is to go for the best photographer you can afford.
I have a friend that is good at photography.
If you are thinking about asking a friend or family member to take your photos PLEASE think again. Wedding photography is a real test of ability and is very stressful. I know some brilliant photographers who struggle when faced with photographing a wedding. If you miss a key moment, it has gone and you won’t get it back! During the ceremony it will probably be very dark and they almost certainly won’t be able to use flash. I know your budget may well be tight, but when the day is finished the party will be over, the flowers dead, the food eaten, the drink will have all gone and you will be left with the most important things from your day – your spouse, your rings and your photos.
Asking a friend or family member to take on that responsibility is a big ask, they won’t be able to enjoy the day and get good photos, and it is unlikely they will get great photos. Every year we hear from couples who have done just this and then come to us and ask if there is anything we can do with the photos. Sometimes we can rescue some, but there have been occasions where there simply were no salvageable photos and the couple are left with no real photos to remember the day by.
Has that persuaded you to hire a professional wedding photographer? Now we start the process of choosing the right wedding photographer!
The next thing you should do is get some idea of your budget and draw up a short list of photographers.
Ten questions to ask when choosing a Wedding Photographer
Having drawn up the list, here are 10 questions we recommend you look to ask when choosing a wedding photographer (and I have included our answers!):
1. Can I meet you?
It is important to meet the photographer before deciding to book them. You are inviting them to your wedding and they will be following you around on the biggest day of your life. You will probably spend more of your wedding day in the company of your photographer than virtually any other person! It is important to know you will get on with them! You certainly don’t want someone you find irritating following you around on your Wedding Day!
Just as important: check that the person you are meeting is the person who will be there on the day. There is no point getting on really well with the sales person you are speaking to if someone completely different is going to turn up on the day! We have seen couples who have booked a lovely person and then a couple of students have turned up on the day to take the photos. They may be lovely people, but you want to meet the actual people who will be taking your photos!
2. Can I see several complete albums showing the full day?
You may look at their website or Facebook page and see some lovely photos, but its so important that you see several complete albums of weddings they have taken.
We have seen photography websites featuring photos not taken by the photographer. They could be bough stock images or even photos taken by other photographers. (Just take a look at Stop Stealing Photos to seem some examples of photographers who have allegedly done just that!)
Assuming the photos were taken by the photographer, anyone can take 1000 photos and get one good one to display on a web site. When you are choosing a wedding photographer look at photos from several weddings covering the whole day. Check that the photography is all of the same standard (hopefully good!) even in difficult situations (eg dark churches and first dance) and also check that the style of photos is what you are looking for. Check the quality of the album itself.
3. What does the price include?
Make sure you are very clear what you get for your money. Ask questions even if you think the answer is obvious. Never assume anything. e.g. if you are getting the photos on disk or USB, are they hi resolution images suitable for printing? Are they watermarked? Do you have a license to you print them and put them on Facebook? (Be aware if you see the words “copyright free”: it is almost certainly not true and simply indicates that the photographer does not understand copyright law). If something is not included, and you may want it, ask how much that would cost.
4. Do I get a contact and what are the payment terms?
NEVER book without signing a contract. The contract should contain the definition of what the photographer is committing to provide. We have seen examples of couples being let down by a photographer and having no contract to fall back on to prove what they should have had and what the terms are (e.g. cancellation). We have also seen examples where photographers will not provide the contract until the deposit has been paid. How do you know the terms you are committing to when you pay the deposit unless you have seen them?
Expect to pay a substantial booking fee which will be non-refundable. When will the balance need to be paid? Make sure you check what payment methods are accepted.
5. What equipment do you use?
The answer is not important as such. What is important is that they are confident in talking about the equipment. A Wedding Photographer has to deliver instantly under pressure. There is no second chance, they need to understand their equipment inside out so that they can concentrate on you and not on he camera settings! Make sure they have two of everything. The last thing you want is a man with a camera and that develops a fault on the day. Without a spare equipment how will they take your photos! We have heard of one wedding where the photographer had to use his mobile phone for a while and then borrow a camera from a guest.
6. How do you backup the wedding photos?
This is a really critical question. It doesn’t matter how good the photos are that your photographer takes on your wedding day, if they lose them they are useless!
On the Wedding Day
On the wedding day do you “shoot” to more than one card? If the answer is no then what happens if the card fails? Potentially they have lost all the wedding photos.
Many cameras only use one memory card at a time and if that card is corrupted or fails then the photos on the card may well be lost or very difficult to retrieve. Some photographers still use on memory card for the whole wedding. That is a high risk strategy as card failure could mean the loss of all the photos. Others swap cards regularly through the day so that if a single card fails only the photos of that part of the day are at risk. This is much better, but still not ideal. Image if that card covered your ceremony?
Many of the professional grade cameras (such as the ones we use) will take two memory cards. We can then “shoot” to two cards at the same time. As a result, should one of the cards fail the images will still be on the other card.
After the Wedding Day
After the wedding day, how are you images backed up and how long will they keep the photos?
There have been stories of photographers not backing up the images immediately after the wedding and leaving the cards in the camera overnight and having them stolen. Also instances where the images are copied to a computer and then the computer disk fails and the images lost. A professional should secure the cards, back up to at least two computer disks and have off site backups to ensure that your images are totally secure. This all comes at a cost, and you may well find that some low cost photographers don’t have these facilities. As with all of these: know the risk before you book.
Its also worth checking how long they keep your wedding photos. If something happens and you lose the photos (eg you lose the USB or the album gets damaged) it would be reassuring to know that you could go back to the photographer and replace them
7. Are you registered with HMRC and insured?
This gives you a sense that it is a genuine business.
Check that they have Public Liability Insurance as a minimum! Professional photographer insurance is not cheap, so if a photographer has gone to the expense of taking out such a policy it does give you a sense of professionalism. Also take note that if you take out wedding insurance (and we strongly recommend you do) then in most cases your policy will not cover you if you need to make a claim and have not employed an official “professional” photographer.
While you are at it, make sure you have an address and telephone number for the photographer not just a Facebook Page or even a website. We are increasingly seeing people finding they have booked a photographer, the Facebook page disappears and there are no replies to emails.
You are going to be investing a significant sum of money in your wedding photography. Make sure you know who you are investing in.
8. Is the photographer a full time photographer?
Don’t get me wrong, there are many good photographers who do it on top of their main day job. In fact most of us that are full time photographers will have started out as part time.
I want to be clear: I am NOT saying don’t book a part time photographer. However, when choosing a wedding photographer, you need to make an informed decision. A full time photographer has to be good as they need to pay the mortgage! Also, be aware that if the answer is part time, their main job will always take precedence. The photographer may expect to be available on a the day of your wedding either because its a weekend or they have taken annual leave, but what happens if their main employer decides they need them on that day and call them in for the weekend, or cancel leave? I know it will not happen most of the time, but you need to be aware of the risk.
Ask them what their main job is and what would happen if they had to work on the day of your wedding. Get all the information and then make your decision.
9. What happens if the day runs late?
Weddings rarely run to time and the last thing you want is to get to a set time and the photographer leaves, missing a vital part of the day! Do they do more than one wedding on a given day? What happens if the one before you is running late?
10. Do you offer a pre-wedding/engagement shoot?
It may seem like a waste of money, but getting used to your photo being taken is vital. Also, getting used to the photographer will help you be more relaxed on the day. You also get to see yourself in professional photos before your wedding day. Don’t be afraid to tell your photographer what you do and don’t like about the photos, the photos may be technically perfect, but if there is something you don’t like about one, its better to give feedback after the pre-wedding shoot than after the wedding! Any good professional photographer would welcome the “heads up” before the wedding.
11. How long after the day do we get to see our photos and who chooses the photos for our album?
This can vary greatly! I have heard stories of it taking months. You will be really keen to see them after your wedding, so it’s best to find out up front how long you will have to wait? Can you book your viewing date so that you know, before the wedding?
Do you have a say in which photos go in your wedding album? Some wedding photographers will choose the photos they think make the best album, others give you the choice. Its best to know up front so there are no nasty surprises. It’s also worth making sure you understand how long your final album will take to arrive.
These are just a few of the questions we would recommend asking when you are choosing a wedding photographer you are considering. However, the most important question when choosing a wedding photographer is the one you should ask yourselves: “what do we want from our photographer?” Then decide what you are really prepared to compromise on. Make sure you get the photography you want and not the closest thing someone offers to what you want.
Finally, you are spending thousands of pounds on your wedding and the one of the few things you will keep for years to come will be your photographs so remember that when setting your budget. Choosing a wedding photographer, choosing the right photographer is one of the most important decisions and you will reap the benefits of the right choice for years to come. Choosing a wedding photographer is an investment you will benefit from for many years.
If you are choosing a wedding photographer, please contact us to see what we can do for you.
**Updated** 28th February 2017