As the saying goes, memories last a lifetime, so it is important to find a wedding photographer who will help you remember your wedding just the way you want. That’s a lot of pressure, and finding a photographer isn’t easy. Some places will yield better leads than others, and while some are great for getting started, you don’t want to rely on them too much. A wedding photographer is more than someone with a good camera. Wedding photography requires a specific skillset that includes leadership and interpersonal skills for getting through the portrait part, discretion for capturing the best candid shots and an excellent sense of timing to be able to get all the big moments as well as the myriad other things happening at once at a wedding.
Here are some tips for navigating the search:
Referrals: Check with all your recently married friends, coworkers and acquaintances. Find out who they used, if they were happy with the process, if they liked the final prints and albums and how much they paid. Is there anything they would do differently? This will also help you price out the average cost in your city. Just remember not to book based on a recommendation alone. What your friend wanted and needed for her wedding is not necessarily what you will want and need. Nonetheless, a referral is a great way to start scouting the talent in your area. Also check with other vendors you’re working with, including wedding planners, your venue site and caterers. They’ve worked with hundreds of wedding photographers and will know the best and worst of what is out there.
Wedding planners: They’ve seen it all. They can tell you who worked well at certain locations, who handled mistakes with grace and who screwed up beyond repair. That said, they sometimes don’t see the final prints or albums so they might be better judges of personality and work style than of photography skill.
Venue recommendations: When you book your event site, many times the rental coordinator will give you a list of suggested vendors, including photographers. Depending on the venue, some vendors on the list may give a kickback for being recommended, so it’s best to thoroughly do your research. A good reason to check with your venue is that they will know which photographers know their site. If the photographer is familiar with the setting, she will know the spots with the most beautiful backdrops and best lighting. A photographer who has already worked at your venue is a great asset.
Bridal shows: Bridal shows and conventions are a great way to get the lay of the land, comparison shop and see what types of packages are out there. There are a few things to beware of, though: new photographers may purchase exhibition space to build their business, so you might not find the most experienced of the bunch; and big photography studios also tend to have booths. Photographers at big studios vary greatly in skill and experience, so do not book until you know exactly who you would be working with and have seen examples of that person’s work. Don’t book a photographer at a bridal show. Gather business cards, go home and do your homework. A good photographer will be eager for your business but will not pressure-sale you into booking immediately.
Online searches: So many results pop up when you search “photographer” + your city that this is not the best approach to finding someone. You’ll get an overwhelming number of results, and the ones at the top will inevitably be the big studios that have a lot of money to spend on advertising and search results placement. However, there are good ways comb the internet for reviews of photographers you’re interested in. Instead of a Google search, try a reputable website like Professional Photographers of America (ppa.com) and Wedding and Portrait Photographers International (wwpionline.com), both professional membership organizations with searchable directories. These photographers will likely be more experienced and serious about their profession.
Publications: Ads in magazines and brochures are a little iffy. Many top photographers get business by word-of-mouth and spend little money on advertising. By no means discount photographers you find in ads, just be sure to follow up by browsing their websites, review boards and maybe an in-person meeting.
More do’s for finding a photographer: One of the most important things you can do before settling on a photographer is to decide what style you like best. As you’re searching, take note of the shots and poses you’re drawn to, and narrow your search to photographers who styles match what you like. Also have a ballpark budget before you begin to help eliminate some photographers right off the bat. There are so many photographers that you don’t want to waste your time looking at those you cannot afford. And lastly, look at dozens of online photo collections as well as actual photo albums of friends’ weddings as well as from prospective wedding photographers. The more you see, the better idea you’ll get of what you want and what different photographers can provide.
More don’ts for finding a photographer: Don’t rope a friend or family remember with a good camera into shooting the wedding. Wedding photography is complicated, and getting it right takes practice. This is one area most wedding planners recommend not skimping on. Don’t pass on a photographer just because he’s a little bit above budget. Try negotiating and bargaining a little – you may be able to eliminate a few prints from the package or pass on the album to bring the cost down to your budget level. Don’t book only based on personality – yes, you will be spending an entire day with this person and you better like him and feel comfortable with him, but if his photos are not what you are looking for, a good personality won’t fix that. On the other hand, don’t book a photographer if you’re not comfortable around him. Ultimately, you want someone you get along with and who provides the pictures you want.