This article is intended for engaged couples looking for a wedding photographer, but other photographers may find this useful as well – feel free to link to this page, but please do not duplicate its content in any way.
I don’t know why, but most couples I meet up with here in the San Francisco Bay Area have almost no questions for me aside from Are You Available and What Do You Charge – both of which are answered well before we meet up! I surmise this is due to the ease of narrowing down prospective photographers by checking out portfolios and reviews online, and the actual face-to-face is reserved for Do I Like You or Not. This is all well and good, and saves everyone a ton of time, but I feel there are still plenty of questions couples should be prepared to ask their potential wedding photographer, some of which may save them a lot of heartache later. And because a list of questions is useless unless you can qualify the answer as good or bad or neutral, I’m supplying my take on why each question is important, and how I personally deal with each issue.
Is this list self-serving? To a degree, of course it is – but that in no way takes away from its usefulness for couples struggling to pick the best wedding photographer for their specific needs and budget. These questions are in no particular order of importance, and I will add to this list as I think of important new topics to cover.
- Is this your full time job?
Important Because: This is a HOT topic with strong opinions out there, but it is an important question to have answered. There are plenty of photographers that portray themselves as full-time pros (or surreptitiously hope the topic doesn’t come up), but actually have day jobs and shoot on the side. There is nothing inherently wrong with this (we all pretty much start this way), but going with a highly-recommended and well-reviewed full-time pro is is more likely to lead to reliable professionalism at every stage; from initial contact to the Big Day – and well after your wedding. People who shoot weddings “on the side” may have day-job pressures that affect their schedule, threatening their ability to be there for you when you need them most (assuming they are even interested in the business by the time your wedding day arrives). Lastly, a full-time pro is more likely to take more precautions with preparation at all stages with a client – as their livelihood depends on happy clients. Can you find a great part-time photographer? Of course! I know and recommend a few, as those are the individuals who will likely turn that work into full-time businesses – but if you are shopping for high-end wedding photography, you deserve the best the market has to offer.
- What's your price range?
Important Because: Weddings can be expensive affairs, and quality wedding photography is no small part of the wedding budget. There’s no fixed percent that’s “normal” – I’ve been hired for both small budget and large budget weddings, and the only consistent theme is how important photography is to the couples. Many couples planning a wedding suffer sticker-shock over how much wedding photography coverage can cost. Even part-time photographers are charging $2,500 to $5,000+; and many pros command prices in the $7,000 to $15,000+ price range. You may be tempted to put your potential photographers on a spreadsheet to compare packages – but seriously this the quickest way to end up with a meh photographer. The “Best Value,” in this case, does not always equate to the best match for you – in personality or finished product. Cost is no guarantee of hiring a complete ass of a person, so definitely meet up in person if at all possible! But for the sake of not wasting your time or the photographer’s ensure their starting price is not a galaxy away from the most you can possibly budget. My wedding package prices are a result of both limited supply (25 to 30 weddings per year) and high demand – which means my prices increase every year. I *love* weddings, and have no desire to take the 70 weddings per year burnout road. Ultimately, you need to go with the photographer you can envision spending your entire day with, the one you can rely on to be a consummate professional, make you laugh when you’re feeling nervous and stressed; the one who will charm your finicky parents and chat up your photographer uncle; the one who shares your vision, and isn’t afraid to expand on your ideas with their own creativity.
- Can we see samples of full weddings you've shot?
Important Because: It’s rare that a photographer’s website will highlight all the photos from any given wedding. Why is that? I think “client privacy” is the main reason given – but I can tell you that only 5% of my clients request their galleries remain private. I’m guessing that many photographers would prefer to steer you to their “best of the best” – but this doesn’t show you what you can expect from a whole wedding – just the highlights of many weddings. In my opinion this distorts their actual capabilities – are they not proud of every photo they edit? Are they hiding mountains of mediocrity with a carefully crafted portfolio? Even if a photographer insists client privacy is their reason to hide full weddings, there’s no reason they can’t give you access to a few for your review. Showing off full galleries ensures potential clients they aren’t compiling a bunch of photos from weddings they assisted vs. acting as primary photographer – with all the responsibilities and pressures that comes with the job.
- Would you consider yourself an expert with off-camera lighting?
Important Because: If you are attracted to my “magazine-style” photography, then you need someone that is an expert in off-camera lighting, and not just a “natural light” photographer. Many clients say my photos look incredibly natural, but they are almost all artificially lit! This level of competence takes extra physical and mental effort, while still leaving enough brain power to masterfully direct groups of people. This is of course completely a style-driven decision, but if you’ve been drawn to my website and photography, I can tell you this is a major factor in my style.
- Will I always have access to the photos years from now?
Important Because: I’ve heard too many horror stories about photographers suddenly going out of business, leaving current and past clients with nothing. The fact is, photography is easier to “get into” now than at any point in the past. Plenty of photographers see the wedding industry as a cash cow, ripe for the milking – but owning your own photography business is WAY more than just taking pretty pictures. There are so many other succeed-or-fail variables involved which I won’t get into, but the bottom line is you don’t want to involve yourself with any fly-by-night vendors. Because I’ve been in this industry for over a decade, I don’t put deadlines on when clients can purchase deliverables (files / albums) to force clients to pay for things they can’t necessarily afford all at once. I won’t hold your files or albums hostage. I’m in this business for the long run, and if you come to me on your 10 year anniversary wanting a canvas print from your wedding day, I’ll be ready to deliver.
- Are you the photographer that will be shooting my wedding?
Important Because: Many successful photographers (including myself) have associate photographers that will shoot for them under the same company umbrella. Usually associate packages cost less, and clients know up-front they aren’t getting the company owner – but sometimes it’s not obvious, and the last thing you want on your wedding day is some stranger showing up you’ve never met! I *only* use associates when I’m already booked, and am very up front when doing so. Barring an Act of God, you can count on me being there for you every step of the way. And if something should happen – my experience and professional contacts in the industry mean I am well positioned to send a qualified pro in my place.
- Will you book other events on the same day as mine?
Important Because: Whether your wedding is two hours or ten, you want to ensure your photographer is focused solely on your big day. I make it a point to arrive in the vicinity (especially for out of town weddings) hours ahead of schedule, just to make sure traffic or other hazards don’t impede my ability to arrive on time.
- What's your working style?
Important Because: If a wedding photographer is on the shy end, or perhaps more used to being a “second shooter” over the primary photographer (another great question!), they may feel more in their comfort zone along the periphery of your wedding – taking photos from the sidelines and not interacting as much with the guests. I don’t suggest the alternative means the photographer is in your face all day, but there should be a good blend of discreteness, casual interaction, and stepping up to direct large groups of people when necessary. There are many different types of photography that come into play in a typical wedding – posed formals, fleeting candid moments, photojournalistic fly-on-the-wall coverage, architecture, food – knowing your photographer’s style and approach to all these facets of your wedding will help you make a more educated decision.
- Are you insured?
Important Because: Many venues require vendors to have liability insurance (I am covered for two million). This is also another sign of a full-time pro who takes the responsibility seriously.
- Do you have backup equipment?
Important Because: Stuff breaks, especially when you’re a pro using the equipment heavily day in and day out. I have several layers of backup cameras, memory cards, flashes, etc. Whether you have a small wedding or a huge one, I bring all the stuff I’d potentially need in my vehicle, ready for any potential hazards or mishaps. If your potential photographer only has one camera, run away. Fast.
- I have a friend / aunt / uncle who wants to take pictures too – is that okay?
Important Because: Some photographers will have a clause in their contract prohibiting this very thing. My personal opinion is that this is totally OK – I’m even happy to give them tips on whatever gear they’re using. I only ask that while I’m taking family formal pics, nobody else does so at the same time – ensuring all eyeballs are on one camera – mine!
- Do you shoot color and black and white?
Important Because: You should know what to expect from your photos, and what your options are. When editing photos after a wedding, I pick whatever style I think will work best for that photo, and edit appropriately. I won’t overwhelm you with multiple versions of each photo (you’re already receiving a ton!), but if you’d like to see a color version of a black and white photo (or vice versa), I’m happy to do so at no charge (within reason of course).
- Why would I pick you over all the other photographers out there?
Important Because: Any professional should be well aware of what sets them apart from the many professionals saturating the wedding photography market. For me, it’s a perfect blend of my graphic design / magazine industry background, expert use of photography / lighting / editing, fascination with technology in general, passion and empathy for fellow humans, good humor and low-stress attitude that have led to my hundreds of blown-away clients and stellar reviews.
- Are there any hidden fees?
Important Because: It’s unfortunate that many aspects of a wedding can make you feel nickel and dimed – I make every effort to be completely transparent in my pricing every step of the way. My proposals include final, out-the-door prices, and if there’s travel/hotel fees you’ll know up front without having to ask.
- Are you handsome, witty, and do people like you?
(haha just kidding… just wanted to see if you read everything!)