Communicate Your Expectations to Your Wedding Photographer Because You Can't Get Those Pictures Later

it happens all the time if you don't communicate with your photographer in advance and let him or her know what is and what is not important to you on your wedding day.
12/24/2013 11:44 am ET Updated Feb 20, 2014

I just had a sad conversation with a recently-married friend (not a client) about her wedding photos. After a respectful email exchange with her photographer, she finally convinced her vendor to turn over ALL of her wedding pictures, despite the fact that the contract didn't require it. Why did this bride believe she was entitled to all of her pics? Because, truth be told, the ones the photographer selected and sent to her clients were more than bad -- they were terrible.

The bride called me for advice after the first pictures arrived and I told her to communicate her displeasure to her photographer and explain the problem in writing. Wedding vendors want our clients to be happy and this wasn't a difficult fix. Sometimes the photographer's faves and the bride's picks aren't the same -- and at the end of the day, the photog wants a happy bride who will give her a good referral to another client. I figured that if there were lots more pictures the bride hadn't seen, this wasn't yet a pic-tastrophy. But it turns out, I was wrong.

Hundreds of pictures and the bride didn't get one single usable wedding portrait of her and the groom together in the first batch. Even now, after she's got more than a thousand to pick through, she's only found a handful that could be considered "portraits" of the wedding couple. How is it even possible for that to happen? A professional wedding photographer should know who the stars of the day are. But it happens all the time if you don't communicate with your photographer in advance and let him or her know what is and what is not important to you on your wedding day. Especially if you're using a friend or family member to do your pictures, or a commercial or artistic photographer who doesn't usually shoot weddings. In my friend's example, unfortunately, they just chose a bad wedding photographer.

My girlfriend didn't need or want 30 pictures of wedding guests' shoes. Nope, not kidding. Really, there are 30 pictures of feet. And a bunch of pictures of panties showing on the flower girl. And more pictures than we could even count of the groomsmen's boxers showing (they wore kilts). What's with the foot and underwear fetish Ms. Photographer? I mean seriously. It's the worst. And even now, with all of the pictures at her disposal, this bride is going to be hard-pressed to create a wedding album she loves.

It's doubly disappointing because the photographer had been provided with a requested shot list, and most of the pictures were not taken. Should the bride have noticed that? No, it's not her job once that list is in the photographer's hands. She took the time to make it, the vendor needs to do her part. Most of my clients don't even do shot lists because REAL wedding photographers need very little direction about which pictures are must-haves. Real wedding photographers get the detail shots of the cake and guest book table and beautiful table settings and dᅢᄅcor before the guests arrive and start setting their purses and wet cocktail glasses down on everything, cluttering up the pictures.

I dealt with a visiting novice photographer not too long ago and was appalled most of the night. She had brought her husband as her "assistant" but his job was basically to hold up the umbrella or light. The family photos were disorganized and took twice as long as necessary because she was holding the shot list (hers, not the bride's) in one hand and trying to check things off in between each set of pictures she took. It was like she got the list from a "what to tell your photographer to shoot" article in a bridal magazine but failed to do her homework and memorize the damned thing. I wanted to slap her when I saw that, but instead, I stepped in and took control and found the right family members and got the pictures wrapped up so everybody could get out to the reception. They NEEDED cocktails by the time she was finished.

Don't misunderstand me -- she was a very nice girl. But she lacked the experience and professionalism to be shooting a wedding as a lead photographer. She's got about another 20 or 30 to do as somebody's assistant to get the hang of things. A good photographer is somebody the guests don't really remember after the wedding except to compliment the pictures. But a bumbling mess is a topic of conversation, and believe me, she was. The kicker was when I walked into the great room of the villa, where part of the reception was being held, and found her and her "assistant" sitting on the floor directly outside the guests' powder room with laptops, camera and gear spread out all over the floor. Really? We have a staff room for that. I kindly explained that and she told me she was fine. REALLY??? Then I more firmly explained that the staff room was the "appropriate" place to be sitting on the floor with your legs stretched out and crossed as you download pictures and chat with your spouse. Not in full view of all of the guests. She got the hint - okay, it wasn't a hint, I actually told her she needed to move - and relocated.

During dinner, one of the guests popped over to the staff table to dish gossip. Not uncommon, there are always wedding guests chatting up the wedding planners. This guest was bored because his date was looking at the wedding pictures. What??? Oh no she didn't - oh yes she did! The photographer had downloaded the pictures onto her iPad and was circulating it around the dinner table during the wedding reception for everybody "oooo" and "ahhh" over.

Do I even need to tell you how tacky that is? All of the guests at the wedding already saw how beautiful the bride looked, and how fantastic the wedding was. And they don't need to have their attention taken away from the bride and groom during the reception to look at pictures the bride has yet to see herself. But they feel obligated when an iPad is being passed around the table and everyone is expected to scroll through the display.

Let me explain one very hard, fast rule of being a professional wedding photographer: EVERY bride has a right to go through her professional pictures and neg the ones she never wants to have see the light of day. With camera phones and social media, it's impossible to control how many bad pictures your friends might take and post. But your photographer has a professional obligation to let the bride have first peek - and even if the bride is relaxed about that, it's really wrong to share the pictures during the dinner and the toasts when the guests are supposed to be focused on other things. It was all about saying "Hey, look at me - I'm a great photographer."

Look, it doesn't matter if you're the best photographer in the world if you don't have the professional decorum to coordinate family photos and know better than to spread your gear out on the floor 15 feet from the guest book table. And the whole iPad at the dinner table thing doesn't even warrant further comment - it was beyond tacky. None of this reflects poorly on the wedding couple, just on the inexperienced photographer. I hope her pictures were wonderful. And I'm praying the bride is happy with them because she was a beautiful bride with a fabulous wedding that should have been documented properly.

My clients don't have to worry about the photographers that I recommend because I've worked with all of them on numerous occasions and can attest to both their talent and their professionalism. They'll get the right detail and family shots, and whatever other special things you've mentioned to them. But if you're hiring somebody you found online, or somebody recommended by a friend, you need to make sure you have a conversation ahead of time with the photographer about what is important to you for pictures. They can't read minds any better than a wedding planner, so if you would prefer to have as few pictures of your stepmother as possible, you need to tell the photographer that in advance. If you prefer candids or actually do want pictures of dinner (some photographers assume you do not want pictures of people eating), you have to let them know. If you don't want 50 pictures of the flower girl and ring bearer being cute, tell the photographer how you feel. If you want to make sure there are no pics of your MoH breastfeeding at the table, explain that. If your father has a tendency to strip to his undies and jump in the pool and you don't want it documented professionally, let the photographer know because otherwise that display will surely be in the memorable photos they didn't want to miss taking for you.

My friend wishes she'd had that conversation with her photographer before the wedding. Clearly a shot list wasn't enough information. The lack of pictures of obvious things tells me the photographer wasn't very good at her job, but perhaps she could have done better. With that said, it's your wedding. Share all the information you can and make sure your photographer "gets it" about what you care about on your wedding day. It's not about what they want to shoot, it's about what pictures the bride and groom want to have forever. My girlfriend may have to settle for a nice coffee table book of shoes and underwear.

Until next time, happy wedding planning from Weddings in Vieques and Weddings in Culebra!