How to choose the perfect wedding photographer

With so many wedding photographers out there, each with their own plethora of packages and options to choose from, it can often be daunting to find the right match. It’s easy to get caught up comparing prices, the number of photos in each package, or the hours of coverage — but these are only a handful of important factors when it comes to picking a wedding photographer. 

Thankfully, the Focal team is here to help!

We’re here to remind you that you aren’t just buying photos in a package. (Remember: You actually have to be in the photos!) That's why it's important that you have a good relationship with your photographer and that the experience is fun and enjoyable. After all, great experiences equal great photos.

But what else do you need to know before you land on that perfect photographer? Leave it to us:

Decide what priority photography is for you

Taking the time to research photographers, understand packages, and pick the right one can be a time-consuming process. Amongst all the other aspects of wedding planning, it can get pretty overwhelming. That’s why it's so important to decide what the priorities are for your wedding and figure out where photography fits into that list.

All too often, photographers are the last addition to wedding plans, but leaving it to the last minute comes with an element of risk: often, the top wedding photographers are booked months — sometimes years — in advance. If your photos are truly important to you, you may want to consider booking your photographer in advance — even before things like venues, what's on the menu, or who's seated with who. (We've even seen couples select their photographer first, and then work around their availability to plan the rest of the wedding.)

Think about what style and experience you want

When you hear “photography style” you might think of the colours, tone or editing that are common to a photographer’s photos, but in reality these factors only make up a small part of a photographer’s overall "style". While, It’s easy to find the style of photos you like - you shouldn't stop there. It’s also important that you consider the experience that goes along with producing that style of photos.

Here’s an exercise to help you out - When you envision your wedding photography, consider how you feel about these factors:

Natural vs. Posed

Candid, authentic and in the moment photos are amazing, but their nature means that they are unpredictable. There's no guarantee you'll get a particular shot you want. Sometimes having that spectacular timeless moment of you and your partner dancing in front of the castle is worth a bit of posing. But, if you aren't set on having certain photos, a more natural candid photographer may be the one for you.

Director vs. Bug on the wall

How much do you want to notice the photographer at your wedding? Are you ok with them stepping in to direct you or your guests in order to get certain shots? Are you open to redoing certain shots and investing time into getting it right? Ever see those flowing veil shots? They take a lot of takes - which can sometimes mean 10 minutes of you posing while someone throws your veil up in the air over and over! Contrastingly, would you prefer a photographer that stays out of the way and simply captures the action as it comes? If you want your photographer to stay out of the way, are you ok if they potentially don't capture certain moments?

Natural vs. Artificial Light

This is more of an experience decision as it really depends whether or not you are ok with having big flashing lights going off through your wedding. While natural light is the best when it behaves. A lot of the time lighting can be complex and unpredictable. Particularly indoors or in dark environments, photographers are at the mercy of light. Having a photographer that uses artificial lighting such as flashes or “hot” lights means that you will have more consistency in your photos.

At the end of the day, different couples want different things out of their wedding photography. For some, it's that perfect timeless shot that they can frame and hang on the wall. For others, it's making sure that all the moments are captured - be it the guests, the food, the venue and all the little details. Whatever it is that you’re looking for it’s important that you find a photographer that shares your vision. Some photographers are experts at playing the “fly on the wall” and capturing the authentic moments as they come. While others, focus on “creating” the perfect scene so you have that grand, spectacular and timeless shot forever. It’s good to discuss your needs with your photographer so you can figure out if they are a good fit or not. If creating that perfect shot is important to you then you need to be prepared to invest some time on your wedding day with your photographer making it happen! That might mean multiple takes, the photographer directing/posing you etc. The opposite being that if you are looking for a more “documentary” style photographer, you want someone that won’t bug you too much during your wedding day, but just be there to capture the moments. If they get that perfect grand timeless shot, that’s great, but if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. Whatever you want out of your wedding photography, it’s good to think about your needs and expectations so you can find a photographer who is the right fit for you. Just remember a photographer’s style isn’t just how their photos look, it’s the experience that they provide to get their photos to look that way. Be sure you are on board for the ride they’re about to take you on, because if you have a bad experience - it’ll reflect in your photos.

Convey your vision

Unfortunately photographers’ can’t read minds, which means it’s really important that you convey your vision to them if you have a specific idea of what you want for photography at your wedding. A super simple, yet effective way to do this is to set up a Pinterest board and pin photos that fit your vision. If your photographer can see the style and type of photos that you’re looking for, then they’ll have a great idea of what you want. It will also help rule out some photographers because they will say that your vision doesn’t fit their style. For example, we had a bride that was very specific about getting photos at night in front of parliament. She showed us some sample photos that depicted couples in front of old buildings with lots of bright lights. While many people wouldn’t see the problem with this, it's actually a very specialized request because night shots are some of the most difficult to pull off for photographers. Some of the photographers she talked to simply said they couldn’t do it. 

If you have a really specific vision or a particular shot that is very important to you. Make sure you convey it to your potential photographers so there are no missed expectations. 

Don’t judge a photographer by 1 photo

  1. It’s easy to get awestruck by some of the stunning photos that photographers feature on their portfolios - it happens to us all the time! But try to bear in mind that these photos are often the very best of the best from thousands of other photos. This is why we recommend you look through some full galleries from photographers that you’re considering. This will help give you a more well-rounded idea of how the photographer captures other parts of a wedding. Things like guest reactions, MCs speaking or the reception might not be as visually stunning, but they make up the vast majority of the photos that you are going to receive in your final gallery.
  2. It’s also important to see a photographer’s work in other environments. How are their shots in lower lighting for things like the dance? Do you love their indoor galleries as much as their outdoor galleries? How about direct sunlight (one of the hardest photography lighting conditions) or even rain?
  3. Looking through a couple different galleries to give yourself a well-rounded perspective of a photographer’s style will help ensure that they can deliver - no matter what happens on your big day!
  4. Lastly, if you’re planning to have a second shooter, it might be worth asking the photographer if they have a gallery that was with the same second shooter. This again will help you know what to expect as having a different second shooter could greatly change the style and feel of your final gallery.

What does your package really include?

When a photographer lists their packages for you, make sure you understand what else is included beyond the hours of coverage and the number of photos. For example, a big part of what you are investing in is the pre and post-production experience that you get from your photographer. These are things like:

  1. The consultations leading up to your wedding to get an idea of your vision, priorities and plan for the day
  2. Getting a sneak peek gallery shortly after the wedding to show off some of the photos rather than waiting many weeks until the full gallery is done. 
  3. The editing process - will your photographer include things like skin, hair touchups, photoshopping etc.
  4. The time after your wedding until you receive your finished gallery
  5. If your photographer offers things like prints or albums, what does the process look like for proofing (getting to choose which photos go into the album or are printed)?
  6. Will your photographer hang on to your photos for a certain amount of time in case you want to purchase more, or in the rare event that you lose them and need their backup can you receive copies?
  7. In addition, some photographers will include a 2nd shooter in their package or offer it as an add-on. Make sure you find out! Also, if you’re unsure about whether a second shooter is right for you - check out our blog post about why we think having a second shooter is important! 

It may feel like you are bombarding the photographer with questions, but a good photographer will be enthusiastic about explaining everything that they put into making sure your wedding photography experience is special.

Read reviews and testimonials

Wedding photography is a huge investment. One of the best ways to protect yourself is to seek out reviews from customers and vendors that have worked with the photographer before. Now, if you read any photographer’s reviews you’ll notice that customers never rave about the amazing lighting or composure they got in their photos. They talk about their experience and connection they had with the photographer. How they made them comfortable, confident or they didn’t even realize they were there! Great experiences are how great photos are made - which is why it’s so important that you find a photographer that you jive with! To do this, we recommend that you think about the qualities of a photographer that you want and try and find that in their reviews. For example, say you get anxious and unnatural in front of the camera - we recommend that you focus on finding photographers that have a lot of great reviews from customers about how they helped them relax or forget that they were even in front of the camera! Worried about how the photographer will be with your kids? Find someone with reviews about making the experience fun for children!

Other great qualities to look out for in review are things like quick communication, going above and beyond to make their customers happy or organization on the big day.

In the rare chance something goes wrong, what sort of backup measures does the photographer have in place to mitigate issues?

We’ve all heard a story about someone’s wedding where the photographer dropped the camera or the memory card gets corrupted. And while these are very extreme circumstances, it’s worth asking your photographer what they do in the case certain things do go wrong. It might not necessarily be as dramatic as dropping the camera, but things like flashes burning out do occasionally happen. It’s certainly worth talking to your photographer about whether they have had any situations where backup measures were needed. Whether it’s dual memory card slots in their camera, two cameras or backup equipment, great photographers will be enthusiastic to share what they do to make sure your special day is properly captured.

Read the fine print, but also discuss expectations

With the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, now more than ever it’s critical that you understand that contractual agreement you are making when you’re booking a photographer. However, it’s also important to remember that working with a photographer isn’t like buying something from a massive corporation. Please don’t forget that most photographers are solopreneurs, this is their livelihood and how they support themselves and their families. When booking, try and discuss what you might do if for some reason your wedding can’t happen. What does that look like? Will you be able to reschedule and for what dates? In the case that you have to change your wedding to an elopement, is your photographer willing to give you a refund for the reduced coverage? With this in mind, we believe that it’s both parties’ responsibility to go above and beyond just signing a contract and agreeing to the fine print of cancellations, refundability of deposits etc. That’s why at Focal we are recommending to all our photographers that they have open conversation about potential scenarios with their clients so that everyone is on the same page and understanding of expectations. We believe honest and sincere communication will prevent ever having to fall back on words in a contract. Having these conversations will help you and your photographer navigate the uncertain roads ahead together no matter what happens. 

Pulling it all together

At the end of the day, hiring a photographer for your wedding shouldn’t be a headache. It should be an exciting and fun process. You can save all the hard work for your wedding day when you’ve got to actually be in the photos! 

We hope that this guide has given you some perspective on what qualities you should look for to find a wedding photographer that’s a good match for you. However, if you’re still feeling a bit overwhelmed and would like to see some photographers and their wedding packages clearly laid out - you might want to check out the Focal marketplace!

Focal Marketplace

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