Wednesday, August 10, 2011

How to Choose a Wedding Photographer

I wanted to share some information that will hopefully help you along as you search for your wedding photographer. There are a lot of photographers out there and you could drive yourself crazy trying to compare everybody.  On a basic level, we all take pictures, but there are vast differences in styles and abilities; how we run our businesses; and who we are as people.  How do you settle on just one?  Well I’m sort of a nerd who likes to reduce things to formulas, so I recommend you follow the “3P” formula.  What’s 3P? 

Person + Pictures + Prices = Your Photographer

These are the three factors you should consider when comparing photographers.  Too many people try to reduce things to a price, which can lead to a lot of unhappiness.  I guarantee that there’s somebody out there that will photograph your wedding for free, and you’ll get what you pay for.  If you only want the lowest price, then have all your friends and family send you their iPhone pictures. Bam! Done.  Since this is more than just a dollar for dollar comparison, let me expound on the parts of 3P. 

Most photographers will start their wedding coverage by photographing the bridal party getting ready.  They arrive at the house or hotel room where the girls are applying makeup and admiring the dresses; and the guys are enjoying a scotch while trying to figure out how to attach a boutonniere without drawing blood.  The photographer is first on the scene and with you when you’re not perfectly put together.  Depending on how much coverage you have, they might also be last on the scene to document your grand departure from the reception via horse drawn carriage, classic limo, tandem bicycle, or whatever conveyance you dreamt up.  In between, they’re going to be moving you into different light, twisting your body for the best angles, and coordinating your gathered friends and family into the big group photos that couples might not appreciate, but mom really wants. 

In short, you will spend more time in close contact with your photographer than any other wedding vendor.  As a photographer I always try to spend some time getting to know people before I point a lens at them, and you should do the same before you hire somebody.  Meet in person, have a video conference, talk on the phone.  Read their blog if they have one.  You’re trying to figure out if they’re somebody who can confidently get the job done, working within the crowds and chaos of a big party, while being pleasant and having fun at the same time.  Keep in mind that bigger studios will likely have multiple photographers, so make sure you talk with the one that will actually be working with you.

*You want somebody that you like, and believe me, for the best results, you want them to like you, too!  Positivity and fun leads to beauty and creativity and extra effort; negativity will lead to a professional getting the job done and getting out. 

This one should be obvious.  This is what you’re ultimately getting for your money.   Photographers should have plenty of work available for you to check out. There are the technical things you can look for – are the pictures too bright, too dark; the colors over or under saturated; are they stylized with different colors; do you like the lighting; do the people look awkward or uncomfortable?  These are the sorts of things that photographers will nitpick other photographers’ work on.  What might mean more to you is do the images convey feelings? Do the moments look sincere?  Unless you have some education in art or photography, you might not know specifically how to describe what you like or don’t like, only that you like it or not when you see it.  If a photograph stirs some sort of emotional reaction in you, then it’s doing its job. 

Keep in mind that pictures are supposed to tell a story.  Most photographers, regardless of how they describe themselves, will take a combination of candid, photojournalistic, and posed pictures as they document your day.  Looking through a photographer’s past work should make it apparent whether or not they can tell your story the way you want. 

*Photography is both a creative art and a highly technical skill.  Ask a photographer to explain how they made some of their images to get some stories and see how much or how little went into making an image.  Sometimes less is more, sometimes more is more. 

Everybody has a budget, so you should determine yours by starting with a couple of questions.  Firstly, what is photography worth to you? This is where I remind people that while the food gets eaten, the flowers wilt, the tux gets returned, and the music vanishes into the air, you keep the pictures.  Albums and prints from your wedding will become part of your family’s heritage.  I didn’t get to taste the food at my grandparents’ wedding, but over 50 years later, I still see the pictures from their wedding on display.  That said, I know there’s a practical element to your budget.  Discuss with your spouse-to-be, your parents, or any other benefactors you might have.   

So you have your numbers, now what?  You can check out ten different websites, some will have pricing, some won’t.  Some pricing will be in packages, some won’t.  Even packages that look similar can have a lot of differences.  Some photographers make their money up front, some try to make it on the printed products, some on the rights to the photographs.  Unless you’re in the industry, it will be very difficult for you to do an apples to apples comparison from photographer to photographer without really digging into the details.  You should take the time to talk directly with the photographer and have them explain their products so you really know what you’re getting.  A few components to look at:

The variety of printed books and albums available is immense, as are the price ranges.  Two packages might both offer a “12x8 20 page album”, but those albums could have different cover types, different papers and finishes, different page thicknesses, and different numbers of images allowed.  One of those books could cost three times what the other does to make.   Ask to see an example of exactly what you are getting. 

It’s not unreasonable to ask for a photographer’s print prices.  Portrait photographers make money by selling prints, so will tend to have much higher prices.  Wedding photographers tend to charge more as a base, so will often have lower print prices

*DO NOT compare these print prices to what you can get at Walmart or your local drugstore.  Firstly, Professional photographers go to great lengths to calibrate their computer monitors with their printers to ensure the quality of the prints.  Secondly, all you’re paying for at a Walmart is the cost of paper and ink and a machine.  Purchased through the photographer, you’re buying the right to their intellectual property.

Digital Images:
Many photographers will sell DVDs or USB sticks with the files and some sort of rights release.  You’ll want to inquire about what the release includes (whether you can print anywhere, copy the files, post them on the internet, alter them, sell them, etc.).  You’ll also want to ask what quality the images will be.  “High resolution” might only mean that you can make up to an 8x10” print. 

Hours of coverage:
Many packages mention a certain number of hours of coverage, with extra hours available for purchase.  Most people want their whole day documented from beginning to end.  Others try to time things so coverage will end as soon as the cake is cut.  I try to warn people that I’ve never had a wedding day last fewer than six hours.  More often I’m on the clock for eight to ten hours.  I’ve seen ceremonies run late causing receptions to start, and causing the vendors to chase down stressed brides for extra money to stick around.  Neither you nor the photographer want this to happen, so make sure you hire them for enough hours to document your day. 

Extra photographers:
Extra photographers mean more angles for important events, catching more people in candid moments, and additional hands to help the primary photographer do their thing more efficiently.  If you’ve got over 150 guests, more than six bridesmaids, or an unusually large venue, a second photographer is good to have. 

Extra sessions:
Some photographers with big packages will include extra sessions such as engagements, bridals, or trash the dress.  Have you been engaged for a year already?  Will your dress not be ready until two days before the wedding?  You should be able to pull these sessions out if you don’t want them, or buy them separately if they’re not included.  Actually working with a photographer on short session before the wedding day can be a good way to become more comfortable in front of the camera.  Some of the same price questions apply with these sessions as with any other.  How long are they and what do you get?

As you can see, pricing and packages can get pretty complex.  Try not to be overwhelmed.  Talk with some photographers, see some examples, and try to figure out exactly what you want and don’t want.  Find a package or a la carte option that gives you just that. 

There it is.  3P - Person, pictures, and price.  I hope this has been of some help.  I keep my inbox open to anybody that has more questions about what to ask or what to look for in photographers.  I promise, I try to give honest and unbiased responses.  If I sent this to you directly, I probably already sent you my shameless, totally biased, self-promotional piece anyway. 

Best of luck!

Steve Hronek
Photo Steevo

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