You’ve all seen the articles in bridal magazines:
“12 Questions to Ask Your Wedding Photographer” or “What to Look For in a Photographer”…
I firmly believe that every bride should do her due diligence and research for herself. As a professional, I see hundreds of thousands of photographs per year. Working as an Editor for Getty Images as well as a major Bay Area Newspaper, I have had the privilege of editing and critically assessing the work of the most talented photographers in the world. Art can be subjective, but there are times when a photograph is in fact, very objectively amazing, or … just plain awful. Today, I continually peruse and view thousands of wedding images per week. And, I think the “12 Questions” articles are missing six essential points:
1. Beware of the $3,000 deal
Let’s say you receive a quote for: 8 hours coverage, a wedding album, a disc and an engagement session for under $3,000 – be very careful (in fact, with this kind of coverage, I’d be concerned with a quote less than $4,000!) This is a red flag for either: someone inexperienced (just getting started in wedding photography) or very traditional (ahem…prom photos, anyone?)….
The single biggest mistake most new brides make is thinking that wedding photography is a commodity they can easily shop to find the lowest price – as though we will all provide the same quality for the money.
A basic good used in commerce that is interchangeable with other commodities of the same type.
A commodity is a product that is the same no matter who produces it, such as petroleum, notebook paper, or milk. In other words, copper is copper. The price of copper is universal, and fluctuates daily based on global supply and demand. Stereos, on the other hand, have many levels of quality. And, the better a stereo is [perceived to be], the more it will cost.
According to Webster’s Dictionary & Wikipedia
Does photography sound more like petroleum or a stereo to you?
Photography is highly specialized, and there is a huge difference between poor, average, and sublime photographic work. These photographers consistently deliver work that is simply sublime.
Remember, you are not just hiring a ‘photographer’. There are a million photographers out there. Instead, aim at hiring someone for his or her aesthetic sensibility and creative vision.
It takes a decent budget to get a decent result. Good reliable gear with backups cost money. Training cost money. Quality wedding prints, albums, books and gallery wraps cost money. What could have more value than the wedding album – the first family heirloom of a brand new family? Think about it.
Don’t make the mistake of budgeting so strictly that you lose out on quality. This is not an area to go cheap on! (Don’t believe me? Ask around, sadly, it is not that uncommon).
To learn more about what couples spend on their vendors in your area, this is a great resource: http://www.costofwedding.com/ Simply enter your zip code and see the statistics on how much people are spending on their wedding in your area. It’s a great tool – and it helps you know what the market level is expected for pricing, and what to risk/not to risk.
2. “Have you shot at my venue before?”
This is a common question we receive from brides. The truth is, whether or not your photographer has shot at your venue is not that important.
Good photographers will be prepared to adapt to any situation that arises on your wedding day. Suppose your wedding photographer has shot at your venue a couple of times – thereby passing the “Have you shot here before?” test – but it was always on a beautiful, sunny day with clear skies. But, on your big day, it’s raining! Is it going to matter to you if they say, “You know, it’s always been sunny before, so I didn’t bring [insert crucial piece of equipment here]. Since I don’t have it, I can’t shoot your ceremony.” Yes, it’s going to matter! You trusted your photographer to be prepared, and they should be!
Shocking as it may sound, it’s actually better if they haven’t been to your venue before.
Do you remember the first time you visited a great landmark, or traveled to a new country? Do you remember the excitement in which you snapped away with your camera and absorbed your surroundings? The creative juices were flowing with your excitement for all the new sounds and sights. The same goes for a wedding photographer! The first time I shoot at a venue, I am thrilled with creative ideas and outlets with settings and backgrounds I’ve never used before. It’s often where I make my best pictures.
After having shot at a venue 2, 3 or 4 times, I know the ropes – but the thrill is not the same as the first time there.
In lieu of asking whether a photographer has shot at your venue before, you might want to ask, “What is your experience shooting an evening wedding inside a cathedral?” Or, “Tell me about a time when you were shooting outside in the middle of the day, with no canopy or shade.” This is how you’ll separate folks who are inexperienced from the experienced wedding photographers who will always deliver professional results.
3. “Friendor” = Hiring a photographer friend | OR | a professional photographer who doesn’t normally shoot weddings
There’s a lot of warnings out there about using “friendors” for your wedding, mostly because you know how things can go when money exchanges hands between friends. (Or if it’s done for free… that’s a whole other issue)
Questions to ask yourself:
• Do they have the proper skills/ talent/ experience to perform/produce the wedding service they have so kindly offered? [ A wedding isn’t a dress rehearsal – if they forget the extra camera battery your wedding might not be the fairy tale you dreamt.]
• Is the photographer is a professional but normally does not shoot weddings?
• What happens if you are not happy with the results of their work? They are a friendor after all, how will you complain and or ask for more, or something different [and still remain friends if they get offended?!]
• Do they have insurance – most likely they don’t – what happens if they inadvertently [or even directly] cause an accident causing harm to you, the venue, property or a guest? Who pays up? -Most likely you!
• Will you have a contract, or a formal agreement for what they are providing – if your hired a professional you most certainly would!
• Do you have a back up plan if they get sick or can’t come? They’re [most likely] not a professional/ working in the industry so wouldn’t have a partner/ back up vendor they would use regularly.
If you answered “no” to any of the above questions, run for the hills!!! Mixing friends and business is sticky and ESPECIALLY sticky with the amount of expectations and pressure of a wedding.
Wedding days are what I call a “typhoon” – they are very fast paced and a LOT is happening at once. Arranging family photos takes previous experience to know how to direct a group of 50-100 people with ease, anticipating the timing for ceremonial elements to a ceremony (as well as reception: i.e. cake cutting, bouquet toss) is something that an experienced wedding photographer is in place for because of their experience – and – last but not least – partnering with other vendors (such as how to work with a videographer) takes experience shooting weddings.
• RE: The above: Does your photographer regularly shoot something OTHER than weddings? As in: commercials, music videos, films, documentaries, anything non-wedding?? If your photographer is accustomed to shooting video in a different environment than a wedding, there is a learning curve.
NOTE: It took me TWO years of continuous weddings to learn how to anticipate the biggest (and smallest, easily missed) moments at a wedding. I missed many of them in my inexperience. I also didn’t have the experience to guide family portraits and the bride ended up directing the show in those early years… ugh. Don’t risk it.
All of these things are so totally critical to making beautiful wedding photos, and making it look easy. How many of you have heard of wedding photographer who carried on with painstakingly slow portraits so long that everyone was sick of it, or they were so bossy and uncomfortable to be around? Or they just didn’t have the command and confidence to clearly direct everyone because of their inexperience/timidity?
Part 1 of 2