How to Pick a Photographer Who Isn’t Conspiring to Ruin Your Big Day

As my number of unique site visitors and readers approaches 7 billion, I realize that my absence last week must have come as a horrifying shock and crushing disappointment to nearly all of you. Don’t worry though, I wasn’t mad at you for not solving last week’s trivia, I was on my honeymoon. That’s right. I got married and decided to go on a trip to celebrate. I was gonna write a Will Do Wednesday beforehand and schedule it to post, but my ISP wasn’t having any of that. So here we are. A week later, but a week wiser too. So grab some left over cake and flat champagne and let’s talk about what really matters, the continuing survival of the human race as a species.

As we know, there are two primary threats to the continuation of life on this planet, the destruction of the environment resulting in the inability for life to exist on earth, and the ruining of a wedding day by a lousy photographer resulting in an outpouring of rage only describable as “horrifyingly just.” The only way to prevent this ever-imminent apocalypse is to select your photographer with care. “But how?” you wonder, “If only there were a list of three to four qualities to look for in a photographer that would help me make the right decision.” Sorry to read your thoughts, it’s a bad habit of mine. Fortunately, I have just such a list for you, and even if you aren’t getting married, this can probably be applied to some other lesser event, like your dog’s obedience school graduation or something.

Style & Chemistry

Just as character defines a person, style defines an artist. However, artists are people and getting along with the people you work with is critical. When it comes to your wedding or event, there are two types of photographers: those who are excited to be there, and those who are excited to be paid. Enthusiasm is a rare trait, but the difference it makes is absolutely visible in the final work. For those of you who don’t know, I got married recently (did you even read the intro?). I had the privilege of having one of my close friends and a former protégé shoot my wedding. You could not ask for more enthusiasm, and even without seeing the photos yet, I can guarantee they are going to be amazing.

For those who are not acquainted with skilled photographers, there is a great way to determine which photographers care about their clients. Look at how they present their clients on their website. Are they treated warmly and described fondly? Does the couple look comfortable while posed? Does the wedding party look like they are having fun? These are good signs that the photographer was easy to work with and was doing their job well. On the other hand, are the pictures of weddings all mixed together into one giant general wedding gallery? Is there no commentary about the event or couple? Do the people in the photos look bored, sullen, overly serious, or uncomfortable? Chances are these photographers are interested in shooting a lot of weddings, and care very little for the distinct uniqueness of each wedding. Photographers like this are all too common, and may deliver a technically well put together photograph that fails to capture the intangible magic of the event.

Once you have discovered some photographers that you think will be good to work with, look at their style. For weddings, you have a spectrum ranging from traditional to contemporary. Both extremes can get a little weird. On the traditional extreme, there are photographers who will come and take 12 pictures on large format film and develop it themselves. On the contemporary extreme, there are photographers who will show up with a Sony a6000 and an iPhone that they will use to take thousands of JPEGs of which you will receive all. The right photographer for most is well in the middle, with posing, framing, and editing leaning either towards a more traditional classicism or a more contemporary stylistic approach. Just don’t pick the avant-garde photographer who shoots the entire wedding in one exposure with a pinhole on wet plate or describes his process with the term “camera obscura” more than once. And for the love of all that is good, meet your photographer before the wedding.

 Skill & Professionalism

I want to tell you a story of two photographers. One shot my wedding, one shot my sister’s. My photographer showed up on time, had her gear ready to go, and worked hard all day. My sister’s photographer decided she wasn’t going to show up to shoot the wedding party at the agreed upon location between the ceremony and reception (which is how I ended up partially shooting my sister’s wedding). My photographer and I agreed to get no more than 200-300 photos, a large number, but still manageable to edit and curate. My sister’s photographer delivered over 1,300 photos including dozens of the backs of peoples heads, and specifically requested unflattering shots. As far as professionalism goes, there was a huge difference between two photographers. The skill between the two photographers was much closer, and a simple look into their portfolio probably wouldn’t clue you in to how bad the experience could be. The best way to discover these issues is to interview multiple photographers and see who has the best answers to questions about your events, and who responds promptly via email etc. Slightly less legal, but perhaps more effective is to assume the identity of their assistant and work alongside them for months. I’m sure there is a Craigslist service for that.

Skill is just as important as professionalism, and a little more apparent when going through the portfolio. Here’s a fancy tip for people who don’t know what to look for in photos: do one of those web searches for “how to take a nice family portrait” or “tips for making portraits better” and read an article. The articles will have tips like, “don’t crop the photo at joints,” “get the focus on the eyes,” and “consider the rule of thirds.” Then take a look through the portfolios of the photographers, there maybe times where the photographer breaks the rules for the sake of creativity, but there should be a healthy representation of good fundamentals and technical skill. Reading an article may take an extra ten minutes, but a lifetime of having better photos is arguably worth it.

The Budget

In a perfect world, all photography would be performed by robotic octopi riding upon a Pegasus, and the editing would be done overnight by Santa’s elves and gifted to you on a brand new 1TB SSD that smells like fresh laundry. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough LSD in the world to make that happen so you’re probably going to have to pay somebody to come and give it their best shot. Sticking to a budget and doing a wedding is hard. I know. Price for photography seems to depend on region quite a bit, and for those in an expensive city, it often is more cost effective to fly your photographer in from a distant land, like Iowa. Also, some photographers will do a free or included engagement session, which can save money by not hiring another photographer to do that service separately. Some people will find that price and quality often don’t match up quite as linearly as one may expect. My photographer cost less than half of what my sister’s did, a literal bargain (and I didn’t ask for the friends and family discount mind you). The point is, finding a good photographer and finding one that fits the budget can be equally hard. When they don’t intersect, find a photographer who is great, perhaps your first choice, and contact them with your budget and request a recommendation or referral. Many photographers know of others who they respect that are starting out and can work for less.

It may not be possible for all the stars to align, but following these strategies should get them pretty darn close. We’re doing everything we can to ensure the world isn’t destroyed by bad wedding photography. That’s not good for business after all. So avoid the Hannibal Lecter type photographers and find someone you get along with who seems to know what they’re doing. When all else fails, strap a GoPro to your now-obedient dog and have him do it.

Join me next week for: The Rising Age of the Dog Photographer

Trivia: receive 10% off any wedding or engagement design or get 10% off wedding photography when you email me the correct answer to the following question with the subject “Hellish Wedding Pics Trivia” (offer valid through September 26, 2015 and may not be combined with any other offer.)

Which lens mount system is natively compatible with the largest number of lenses?


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