Many future brides and grooms are young and have had little to no experience dealing with photographers. After the wedding is over, all the bride is going to have, other than her new spouse, are the pictures. So, choosing a photographer is a very important decision and the couple should take care and caution. Not all couples are able to afford a professional photographer, but for those who can, I present them with 10 things about photographers I think they should know to help them make a more informed choice.
1. One thing you will probably notice that really stands out when looking at photographers websites is that their prices vary wildly. Should we assume that if one charges $10K and another charges $2K, the more expensive one will be five times better? Should be at least better, ya think? Guess what...prices aren't necessarily commensurate with quality.
I could (and probably will) devote an entire future article to why prices vary so greatly. However, if a photographer is high priced, you should have a reasonable expectation of great work. This doesn't mean you shouldn't expect good work at any price, but with one exception:
2. The exception is that with novices, you'd be wise to lower your expectations.
I'm starting to see some newbie photographers on Craigslist who are advertising shooting for free. Obviously, they are just trying to build a portfolio and there is nothing wrong with that. I'm not saying a noob won't do a good job. Although we all have to start somewhere, it's your memories of what I'm sure you are hoping is a once-in-a-lifetime-event, so, just be cautious. I recommend using a novice photographer only if that is all you can possibly afford.
3. Many photographers are moonlighters who have another primary career and are shooting weddings to supplement their incomes.
No problem with that, economy is tough and many people are looking for extra work, and hey, there's that cool DSLR camera in the closet that's not used much, so why not put it to work? Some of us are full-time and photography is our only source or primary source of income. It's hard to say if, on the whole, one is better than the other, but you can safely bet that full-time shooters are more experienced within a given time frame as well as the fact that a full-timer will show up or he doesn't eat.
And this happens, too; a part-time shooters might be merely testing the waters , doing weddings to see if they like it. Weddings are contracted for months in advance, so what if the photographer decides he doesn't want to be a wedding photographer anymore just two weeks before your wedding? I'm not knockin' moonlighters, I was one once -- in my first year of shooting. Am I trying to put doubt into your mind about part-time shooters? Yes, I am. But, to be fair, there are no doubt moonlighters who are committed, and talented. Just be cautious, remember, you have only one chance to get this right. There are no reshoots in wedding photography.
4. Some photographers do not have studios, and their meeting place will be at a coffee shop. Because digital photography allows a photographer to proof his shots in real-time, digital photography has lowered the intimidation factor of shooting weddings. This has caused a flood of newbies, and the resulting influx of beginners has caused prices to drop on the middle to low-end of the business. Because of price competition, some professionals have gotten rid of their studios. They do this to keep costs down and be competitive.
Whether or not you believe this to be a lack of professionalism is a judgement call. But, many of the "affordable" photographers are talented and committed to their professions.
5. Some photographers will have great photographs in their portfolio, but you are uncomfortable with them as people. Spend some time with them on the first consultation, see if there is good chemistry.
Keep in mind they are going to be near you throughout a large part of your wedding. If you love his work, but don't like him, my advice is not to hire him.
6. Photographers cherry-pick their pictures for their portfolios so not all of your proofs are going to be as good as the portfolio on which you based your decision to hire. I recommend you to go beyond the portfolio in your determination to hire.
I strongly recommend that you ask the photographer for logins and passwords to their online galleries of complete weddings -- not just their blog, it won't have complete weddings. Compare photographers' work by looking at complete weddings, never their portfolio alone. Now, if they refuse to do this, well, if I were the potential client, I'd move on, but that's just me.
7. Don't assume some wedding photographers' high prices are overpriced.
Some photographers charge what seems to be a small fortune, but know that this particular photographer is probably aiming at a different demographic than the one you are in. They have reasons for charging what they do for the demographic (maybe they are famous or industry leaders and it's all about what people in a given demographic will pay, it's just market economics). There are plenty of photographers in your budget range serving whatever market demographic you are in, just look a little harder.
Many photographers who service the middle class have basic packages in the $2,000 range, and this, though it may seem a lot, is not a lot at all. In truth, many wedding photographers who serve the middle class demographic do not earn a living as much as the average person in that demographic and they really do this because they love doing it. Though you might think $2,000 is a lot to charge, consider that a busy wedding photographer with only one assistant shoots about 30 (give or take) weddings a year and nets half of what he grosses. Do the math, it's not a lot for a professional person.
8. Good photographers are booked several months -- up to a year or more -- in advance. Don't wait till a month or a few weeks before your wedding to book your photographer.
If you do, all you might find are beginners and possibly photographers who are not that good.
9. Some photographers are your friends or are relatives. My advice is: Don't hire them!
Why? Okay, chances are they will do just fine. But, if they don't, it's going to put a strain on your friendship. So you expect your friend to shoot your wedding for free? Are any other of your friends handing you a $2,000 gift? The day he or she shoots your wedding is a day he can't book for that date. This is a great imposition. Think about it. If she is doing you this big favor, and you notice shots are being missed because she is partaking of the festivities (she is a guest, after all, eh?), you're not in a very good position to ask her to "get back to work" -- you'll feel like you are imposing.
If you must hire a friend or relative, make sure they are experienced wedding photographers. Pay them a reasonable fee (I can see a discount, sure) that way, you won't feel like you are imposing on them.
10. Some photographers styles are very, well, stylish, and others are more documentary, more matter-of-fact, and then some are a mix of both. Go with what you like, not what magazines or friends tell you should like, this is a once-in-a-lifetime-event -- you are the one who has to live with the pictures, you have only one chance to get it right.
But, if you are interested in my opinion, if every other shot I saw in the photographer's portfolio were tilted (supposed to be 'artsy'), I'd wonder if the photographer had too much too of the wedding champagne.
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