How to Choose a Wedding Photographer

This is actually a blog post I wrote some time ago on another site, but I thought I'd add it here to get things going!

Your wedding day is one of the most important days of your life and you’ve spent months preparing for it, not to mention an awful lot of money! There’s the dress and the shoes and all those fittings, there’s the venue, the food, bubbly and of course the cake! Perhaps you’ve hired a very nice car to take you to the venue as well. You’ve also listened to a few bands to see if you like them. These are all things you are comfortable with and know a bit about – you know immediately if you like the look and sound of a band for instance, and you know if you like the style and fit of the dress. You’ve tasted the food and wow, that car is amazing!

But photography is a bit different. Firstly it’s important to have it. Full stop. Look at that list of things I’ve just mentioned – how much of it will you see again? The only thing you’ll keep is the dress and shoes and you won’t wear them again (although some photographers do beautiful post-wedding photo shoots where you get dressed up again). The only thing you have at the end, other than a wonderful wife or husband of course, are the photographs. Unfortunately I started my photography business after most of my friends had got married, but so many of them have said how they regretted not spending more of the photography at their wedding and how disappointed they were with it.

So, what should you look for when choosing a photographer for your wedding?

• You need to like them and feel comfortable with them. He or she will be with you all day, possibly from the bride getting ready when you’re all getting your make-up and hair done, to the end of the day. They will be interacting with your family and guests and will be organising everyone for group photos. So have a good chat and see if you like them. • Don’t ask a friend. It’s a huge responsibility and one of the most technically difficult forms of photography due to things like changes from dark churches to bright sunlight, having just one chance at key moments like exchanging rings or the cutting of the cake, darkened rooms with only disco-lights and so on. I still get nervous before photographing a wedding and always spend a few hours the night before planning shots. You want your friends to have a good time!

• Are they a member of a professional association? The main ones in the UK are The Master Photographers’ Association (MPA), the British Institute of Professional Photography (BIPP) and the Society of Wedding and Portrait Photographers (SWPP). To be a member of the MPA & the BIPP you must have qualified to Licentiate level or above and be insured. I believe the SWPP allows non-qualified members, but I know that they encourage people to get their qualifications. All of them provide many seminars and continued training for photographers of all levels and encourage continued development. They all have directories to allow you to search for a photographer near you.

• Do they come recommended? Often the best way of finding someone is from a friend’s wedding. Ask around and see who really liked their photographer and photos.

• You can ask about their style, are they traditional or contemporary for example, but I don’t see the point of this. They should have a good website that shows off their work so you should be able to see if you like it. Be careful that they haven’t cherry-picked their best ‘lucky’ shots though and ask to see a full set from a single wedding to see if they’re consistent.

• Similarly, do they use film or digital? A few years ago I think this was relevant but now you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who uses film (and you’ll be hard-pressed to tell the difference!). I must admit I do like to get my film camera out from time to time, and I miss the days of a simple camera without a gazillion options and settings – but digital is here to stay and I think it’s more important to like the photos than worry about what sort of camera they’re taken with. If you do find someone you like who is using film, it’s fine. • Flash or natural light? This is a tricky one. When I was training I worked with a photographer who always used flash and it does have its benefits – you get a nice catch-light in the eyes for instance. A good photographer will balance the flash so that the rest of the room is lit well so there isn’t a black hole behind the subject and it is a great skill. Plus flash can be used creatively for dramatic portraits. Some photographers prefer natural light, you can be a fly-on-the-wall and not draw attention to yourself and so capture more natural expressions. Camera technology allows us to take photos in near darkness now so it’s a lot easier. I’m in the second camp and prefer to avoid flash if at all possible as I think it draws attention away from the couple and towards the photographer, but sometimes I’ll use it, usually late at night. It depends on the conditions and what I’m trying to achieve.

• Copyright. A lot of people ask me for ‘full copyright’ of the photos I take. All copyright belongs to the photographer, except in special situations such as photographers working for studios where sometimes the studio owns copyright. If we gave away copyright of our work, we ourselves wouldn’t be allowed to use any of our images – so our websites wouldn’t be very interesting and we couldn’t show you our albums! What people really mean is, can they have copies on a disk that they can email to their friends and print out on their home printers etc.? So you’ll be looking for a clause in the contract (get a contract by the way – it’s good security for both you and the photographer) that allows you to do this. It’ll be called something like a ‘Licence to Reproduce’. Some photographers charge extra for hi-res images, some don’t. It’s a contentious issue! We’re running the risk of our lovely work being printed really badly and looking awful, plus we are giving away any possibility of earning more money from them – don’t forget, this is a business and our livelihood. However, personally I prefer my clients to feel happy and to show off their images to as many people as possible so I include the licence and the images on a DVD. • Albums. Is an album included in the price? What other album options are there? How much are they? If you want an album made, look at the photographer’s albums and see if you like them. There are a lot of options out there! You can start with an inexpensive ‘press’ printed coffee table style book. These are very popular and you can fit a lot of photos in them. The pages are made using a printing press which makes them much cheaper to make – however the quality can still be very high and some of the top album makers in the world, such as Loxley Colour in Scotland and Queensbury in New Zealand, offer press printed books. More expensive but of a much higher quality are the photo printed books that are made from proper photographic paper and then bound into a book. You can still get traditional style books with photos mounted behind matted board giving each photo a frame, but you can also get some very contemporary albums with rigid pages that lay flat and allow double page spreads and plenty of creativity. Some of the top end albums can cost as much as £2000 – and that’s what the photographer pays, before costing in design time!

• Cost. How can some photographers charge over £1000 just for a few hours taking pictures? This could be a whole blog in itself, but I’ll try to give you an idea. To begin with a professional, full-time photographer, must keep equipment up to date – two Nikon D4s, body only, will set you back nearly £9000 for instance, and computers need to be high end due to the large size and number of images we use, as well as good back up, insurance, membership fees, continued training, car and all those costs that go with running a business. Secondly, it’s a lot more than one day. I will always visit the couple twice before the wedding and visit the venue in advance to check it out – that can be a whole day in itself. Then there’s the day of the wedding. Afterwards I usually need three days to upload and go through all of the images – a professional will be shooting RAW images which are much larger than JPG and this takes time. If I’m designing an album as well, I take another two to three days. You should question someone who charges a small amount; they may be uninsured, be using outdated equipment or may not even have a back-up camera. They may not spend any time editing and just burn a disk straight from the camera. If you’re paying more for the cake than the photographer, something’s wrong!

• Will they have an assistant? I generally work alone, but sometimes feel the need for an assistant if it’s a big wedding or the logistics are complicated. It may push the price up a bit.

• Confirm who the photographer is. Some studios have a number of photographers working for them and you may think you’re getting one person, but end up with someone else whom you’ve not met.

I’ve made this list to help if you’re not sure what to do and want some help. There are plenty of very talented photographers out there who do it for a hobby and a bit of extra cash and you may be lucky. Someone even did a whole wedding on an iPhone once to prove it can be done (although notice that she was an experienced professional and still used some special equipment)! But I believe if you follow the advice below, you’ll reduce your chances of ending up as an article in the Daily Mail… And remember, they’re unlikely to be qualified or insured.

If you’ve been reading this because you’re getting married soon – Congratulations! I hope all your planning is going well and that whomever you choose as your photographer does a fantastic job!

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