I used to be a wedding photographer. It was a crazy and fun decade of my life (your 20s often are). I basically got to go to a big party every weekend . . . even though that party was a lot of work.
During that time, I learned a lot about what made photography successful on a wedding day. Spoiler: It’s not just about finding a talented person. It’s about building a relationship with someone creative who can help tell the story of your day through their eyes. Here are tips for picking the right photographer for you:
1. Know what you like, and be clear about it. The Internet abounds with amazing wedding photography. I often asked brides (sorry to be sexist, but other than weddings that had only grooms, 99 percent of my point people were brides) to start a Pinterest board of photos they like, and then go back and look at the collection to see what stands out. Once you have 50 or more photos pinned, you can see some themes. Maybe you pinned a lot of getting-ready photos, romantic portraits, or funny dancing. Now you know what events during the day are most important to you.
Then look at the style of the photos. Did you like photos that were taken using natural light (i.e. bright photos that were taken outside or near windows)? Or did you like fashion-magazine style photos where the photographer obviously used a flash? Maybe you seem to like candid photos, or maybe a mix of candid photos and creative portraits. Maybe you hate the idea of posing for portraits. Whatever emerges, use this as a guide when you’re hunting for someone to photograph your wedding. Then you can share the Pinterest board with them . . . just don’t ask them to re-create everything on it. Photographers hate that.
2. As with any large purchase, ask people in your life if they have recommendations. A lot of listings are pay-to-play, meaning that photographers get better placement on a website if they pay, and some venues charge photographers to be on preferred-vendor lists. You probably know a lot of recently married or engaged people. Ask those who are married if they like their wedding photos and how the day went with their photographer, and why.
3. Pick a photographer you click with (no pun intended): You will likely be spending more time on your wedding day with your photographer than your husband or wife, so make sure you like them and that they understand you. I once booked a client I met at a wedding expo because I accidentally swore when we were talking. She liked that I seemed like someone she’d hang out with. Her wedding day was a lot of fun, and the photos were relaxed because she and her husband were comfortable. Also, from the time you book to the time you get your album could be a period of two years. You’re tied to your photographer for a while, so make sure you trust them.
4. Ask the photographer if you could see a couple of examples of full, finished weddings instead of just looking at their online portfolio. Obviously a photographer is going to put his or her best work on a site — who wouldn’t? But you can get a better feel for the continuity in their work from seeing a wedding day from beginning to end, either in an online gallery or in a printed album.
5. Talk about cost candidly. A lot of people didn’t want to offend me by telling me they had X for a budget. But I felt that the ones who were upfront and open about what they were able to spend had the best experience. Why? Because buying wedding photography is not like buying a car. You’re not just getting a product at the end, but rather a whole experience that helps you remember one of the most important days of your life.Heather Ciras can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @heatherciras.