Wednesday, 31 August 2011

How to Choose a Wedding Photographer

How do I Choose a Wedding Photographer ?

As I've worked as a professional photographer since the late 90's, I have had plenty of experience working for businesses, companies and private clients. In that time, I have had the pleasure of working with great professionals, but I have also observed fundamental changes in the industry.

With the advent of cheaper digital cameras, a lot of people think they can become professional photographers overnight.

I have approached this article with a view of not only trying to avoids the crooks, but with the aim of showing you how to get the best out of your photographer once you have decided who to use. Although you should be friendly with your wedding suppliers, it is also a business and, as a client, it's important you get what you need on such an important day. As it can be difficult deciding on suppliers I have put together this article to give you a few things to mull over when choosing a wedding photographer.

What is the style of your wedding?

All wedding photographers shoot in different styles and many have the flexibility to adapt that style to the client's needs. If your wedding has a vintage feel you may want you photos to reflect this aesthetic, so choosing a photographer who has a suitable style may be a good place to start for you. As a note of caution I would say that if you wedding photos look very 'now' it inevitably means that in five years time they will look very 'then'.

As fashions change so much, if you want your wedding photographs to be a little more timeless then the style of your wedding photography should perhaps be simpler with less use of effects and Photoshop processing. This may not be a consideration for everyone but hopefully as a married couple you'll be looking at those photographs for many years and hopefully won't be thinking, 'Jeez I wish we didn't go for the whole gangsta rap thing now!'.
To get an idea of the wedding photography style you prefer you should look at plenty of websites and bridal magazines. Wedding photography has changed over the years and generally speaking stiff formal group shots are out and a more casual reportage style is in, so while it’s nice to please everyone, the style of photography needs to reflect your tastes and requirements.
People often talk about 'reportage' style wedding photography as a new thing. Compared to the 1940's it is, but actually people have been doing this for decades. It basically means not setting up every shot and just capturing the action as it happens. As a photographer who has plenty of press experience I can honestly say that reportage photography may sound easy but it is a skill. It's not only timing but concentration and a creative nimbleness that only comes with experience.

Before you choose a photographer to shoot your wedding you should ensure that you see all the images they provide to their clients from a single wedding. All wedding photographers put the best images on their websites so ask to see a whole wedding and one that they have shot recently too. That way you get a feel for the overall quality as well as the specific content.

How much should I spend?

When choosing a wedding photographer you will be typically spending about 10-15% of your wedding budget. This is after all a serious investment. I know this question can sound a little cold but apart from the rings and maybe a few presents, the wedding photographs are the one thing that really remain after the day itself to keep those memories fresh. People often say when it comes to wedding photography that you should spend as much as you can. Now I know as a seasoned pro that actually price doesn't always reflect the quality of the photography. Some photographers will charge £400 for an album that I know full well will cost them half that. Some photographers will give you a copyright free disc of full quality images whereas some will again charge you £350 for the privilege. So as you can see there is no hard and fast rules on pricing and the quality of the photography may not have anything to do with the price of the package.

That said here are some facts you may not know about my overheads. I bring around £15,000 worth of equipment to a wedding, and annually spend another £7000 on operating costs. If you imagine that the preparation for a typical wedding includes two to three hour-long meetings (including travel) and maybe a venue visit, the actual day shooting, album design and subsequent tweaks. All in all it can work out as much as the equivalent of six days work. Photographers offering low cost weddings are likely to be cutting costs in terms of equipment and editing time - there's no such thing as a free lunch!
A recent survey at Rock Your Wedding suggested that the majority of people pay between £800-2000 for wedding photography, and the average for full-day coverage (bridal prep to first dance) falls between £1500-2000, including an album.
When you're choosing a photographer, do have a close look at their prices. Don't just go for the cheapest one to save money on the honeymoon or you may end up seriously regretting it. You do after all, get what you pay for.

What do you get?

Ensure from the beginning that you are clear about what is in your package and what is not. Agree on a fixed number of hours and ensure you don't mess the photographer around with timings. If you don't know exactly how long they will be required to be there on the day you can still book them and arrange the details at a later date. Any decent photographer won't operate like a taxi. Weddings have peaks and troughs of activity and the packages I offer suit various different weddings. Timing are critical to ensure an organised day but your photographer need to be flexible as often the first dance can be later than planned or the speeches can overrun.
Ensure you are getting enough images from you photographer. It used to be the case with film that you'd expect 100 images from a six hour wedding. Nowadays I don't think this is at all the case. Typically a good photographer will provide at least 500 fully edited images from bridal prep to first dance. On occasion it can be up to 900 images if the package includes the later evening activities too.
It is also worth asking the photographer what they actually photograph at the wedding. A good photographer will not forget the small details such as place settings, rings and all the other little touches that make your wedding special to you.
What experience do you have?

This is often difficult to quantify as a 'non' photographer. The wedding photography market is more prone to dishonest amateurs than any other sector of the market. Nowadays there are courses that offer a day's worth of photography training with bridal models in full wedding gear for around £100. This means that all you need to do is go on a couple of these and you have a portfolio and can become an wedding photographer.
When choosing a photographer, I would suggest that you check whether or not they also do commercial or PR photography or have a background in press photography. This shows that the photographer has a proven track record in the industry. If in doubt, Google them every time!
I work throughout the UK as a corporate and commercial photographer. I started the wedding business about four years ago and was able to bring some of the skills needed when shooting for magazines and brochures into the (rather traditional) wedding market. I only take on 2-3 weddings a month, so as to ensure that you are not in a production line and I don't become an overworked grumpy wedding snapper. It is also far more enjoyable than photographing Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband.
What equipment do you use?

Always ask your prospective photographer what cameras they use. They should definitely take at least two to the wedding. Any pro will shoot with two cameras and maybe even keep a spare in the boot. Write the name of the camera on a scrap of paper and when you get home Google it! Is it a professional camera? A good wedding photographer should be using at least £10,000 worth of camera, lenses and other equipment to be prepared for all eventualities.
Here are a few points to consider summarised below.....

Are there positive testimonials?
Ask about the equipment the photographer uses – is it pro spec gear?
Is this their full time job, a part-time job or something they just do for fun?
Are the sample images taken from weddings they have shot themselves or ones they have assisted on?

Were any of the sample images taken at a wedding photography training session with models?
Which album manufacturer do they use and do they offer different options?
What's their USP? (unique selling points)

A contract should show the main details of the wedding, including starting and end times, monies including deposits and final payments, all the items and services the bride and groom should expect and contact numbers for both the photographer and the clients. Contracts show good intention and a professional approach.
Second photographers.
At a typical full-day wedding I will take around 2000-3000 images and edit them down to about 500-800 shots. I would politely caution against seeking out a wedding photographer who offers two photographers in a package as most of the pros generally agree that you don't get twice the pictures.
Often one of the photographers is the pro and the other provides the 'fill' or at worst lots of pics of your backs with the other photographer in the background. Generally all it does is make the day less stressful for the primary photographer as the secondary photographer does all the 'details' and extra candid shots. A dedicated photographer will do those things anyway and far more discreetly.
I know of a husband and wife team in Yorkshire and the guy told me that more often than not, his wife only takes ten or twenty decent shots but she makes the package look good. Finally in the church I can imagine two snappers being a pest. I speak as someone who has worked with a second photographer at a few weddings and often not found it as effective or valuable as you would imagine.
Why have an engagement portrait session?
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PersonalityThis is a very difficult thing to quantify and don't forget it works both ways. A wedding photographer knows when a couple are going to be a joy to work with on the first meeting in the same way that the couple will get a first impression of that photographer. Generally speaking you will be spending at least part of your special day with your wedding photographer so be sure to ask about their approach. How do they deal with people and can they integrate with your wedding guests?
At the very least you want to get an impression of relaxed confidence from the person you choose. Confidence is essential to ensure that the photographer can get the required result, and staying calm and smiley is actually the best way to achieve this. You don't have to be best friends after a meeting or phone call but it's nice if your able to have a chat about something other than your wedding.
Finally to get the best out of any photographer it's up to you to be organised.

You need to brief your hired artist with a rundown of the day. Basically just the essentials of what is happening when and what groups are required. You should also mention the style of pictures you would like and even specific shots if you require them. I won't go into too much detail here but needless to say it is a creative commission and input from you is essential.
Next: 10 Top Tips for Grooms

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