Top Five Questions To Ask Your Photographer

Today’s Guest Shutterbug is Joe Milton, founder of the International Society of Professional Wedding Photographers*.

Getting married is not one of those things you do everyday, well, unless you live in Hollywood. But for the rest of us, planning a wedding is unfamiliar territory. How often do you plan parties for 100, 200, 300 people or more? When it comes to hiring a wedding photographer, you’re entering into a strange new world of “packages,” wedding albums options, high resolution files, slideshows, and the list goes on and on.

How are you to make sense of it all and make an informed choice when hiring a photographer? When you meet your photographer, come prepared to talk about your wedding but also know what questions to ask. Here are five basic questions that every couple should ask their wedding photographer before signing on the dotted line.

1. Can I read through the contract?
The contract should at the very least describe in detail what you are getting (prints, albums, slideshows, CDs of files, hours of time, etc.), when you can expect to get it, how much it costs, when your payments are due, and what fees are refundable or not. If there are any terms in the contract you don’t understand, don’t be afraid to ask! When problems arise between clients and photographers it is often due to misunderstandings or assumptions regarding the contract terms.

2. Can I see some sample albums of complete weddings?
Every photographer should be able to show you some samples of complete weddings they have shot. If they only show you a couple of highlights from selected weddings, or if every picture they show you is a bride and groom portrait, you won’t have a very clear idea of how your pictures will turn out. All photographers should be able to show pictures of a complete wedding day, start to finish, and include pictures of people getting ready, the ceremony itself, the formal group pictures and portraits, and the reception. If they can show you a few examples, you’ll quickly get a feel for their style.

3. How much experience do you have?
Wedding photographers have to be able to adapt to every situation during a wedding, and they have to react instantly and with confidence because there is oftentimes no second chance. Surprise situations happen all the time at weddings, such as a bride’s reaction to seeing a long lost cousin, or the groom spontaneously picking up his bride and swinging her around. An experienced photographer is more likely to catch these moments because they are used to anticipating key moments and they know their equipment inside and out so they won’t be caught fumbling for camera settings. Also, the variety of photographic challenges at a wedding is enormous. Some venues are dark, some are lit with fluorescent lights, some have mottled shade, some outdoor weddings have constantly changing light. Perhaps there are uncomfortable situations between family members, or the florist is late and throws off the whole schedule. An experienced photographer should be able to tell you how many weddings they have shot and describe some difficult situations they have overcome. The better photographers tend to cost more precisely because of that experience and their work should reflect it.

4. How much direction or posing do you do during the day?
This question speaks to style and how you will interact with your photographer during the day. Some photographers take a strict photojournalistic approach, and don’t do any interaction or intervention during the day except for perhaps some casual posing suggestions during the formal group portrait session. Other photographers will want to take a more hands-on approach and prompt you to twirl, dip, kiss, throw your veil over the groom’s head, etc. and guide you through a number of poses. They may also take control at certain parts of the day and tell you to move into better light, or coach you on how to stand for the cake-cutting. It all depends on what you want, so before meeting with your photographer, decide on how much time and control you want to give your photographer. Typically, photographers are comfortable operating in a certain way, so be sure to have them describe how they operate and see if that works for you.

5. Do you have insurance?
Professional wedding photographers should have the proper insurance for their business. This will protect them against equipment theft, but it should also provide liability protection in case Great Aunt Sophie trips over the photographer’s camera bag and breaks her leg. If your photographer doesn’t have insurance, it’s usually an indication that they are just starting out in the business, or they aren’t taking their business very seriously.

So there you have it, five basic questions to talk over with your photographer. Most photographers are dedicated and passionate about what they do, and their enthusiasm should make it a fun and lively conversation. The key thing to remember is, don’t be afraid to ask questions, even after you’ve signed on the dotted line.

*The ISPWP is an organization of the world’s best wedding photographers with strict membership requirements in areas of experience and professionalism.

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  1. Guest Icon Guest
    Laura B, Guest @ 3:04 pm

    In general, I’d agree with these questions…but only as a starting point. These questions really only help you weed out the “bad apples” to get down to a short list of reputable photographers.

    From there, you need to probe deeper:
    Can I speak with a couple who’s wedding you have shot in the last six months?
    How much experience do you have with the location/venue/type that I having?
    What is your typical method?
    Do you bring an assistant?
    How many different cameras do you bring?
    Film vs digital?
    How long before we see proofs?
    How long before we get our actual album?
    Who covers your expenses?
    What is your mark-up fee (both for out of pocket travel and also for stock/equipment)?

    AND MOST IMPORTANTLY– actually meet with your photographer once or twice before the wedding. It sounds obvious, but many couples (typically those doing destination weddings) have been known to hire a photographer sight unseen. Take a temperature check and meet them in person.

    Probe deeper than these 5 questions and you will be rewarded.

  2. Member
    Squishy622 167 posts, Blushing bee @ 3:58 pm

    Great advice! Joe’s shooting my wedding in 2 weeks…Hi Joe!

    Amy

  3. Guest Icon Guest
    Brandon Powers, Guest @ 10:35 pm

    All are good questions but there is one biggie that is often overlooked. Make sure the photographer you meet with is the actual photographer who will shoot the event. It’s not uncommon for a photographer to rely on “associate” photographers to cover many events. The photographer uses his or her name for marketing purposes but only takes on select events to shoot him or herself while farming out the rest to other photographers. Studio names like “So and So Photographers” is tip off. Now there is nothing inherently wrong with this system but more than one bride has been surprised when on her wedding day a complete stranger with a camera shows up instead of the photographer she met at the studio.

  4. Guest Icon Guest
    Jo, Guest @ 9:10 am

    Great questions to start off with, but I think perhaps the most important part (after you weed out the bad apples and confirm that you like the photographers artistic style) is personality. Make sure you click with your photographer. our photographers will be with you for several months before your wedding, all day on the day of, and working with you for a few months after your wedding to complete your album. If you like your photographers, you will get better pictures because you will be more relaxed with them. And you will enjoy the whole process a lot more.

  5. Member
    ispwp 55 posts, Worker bee @ 12:30 pm

    Hi Amy! :)

    Great points everyone. And I agree, this is just a good starting point for the conversation with your photographer. After doing hundreds of consultations, I found that a lot of people didn’t know what kinds of questions to ask a photographer so I asked myself what would be my top 5 most important questions and came up with this list.

    From talking to other photographers, it became clear that a lot of problems and misunderstandings occur if these types of issues aren’t discussed ahead of time. I hope it’s helpful!

    Joe

  6. Guest Icon Guest
    Rachel, Guest @ 1:57 pm

    how come all of us wedding photographers are the only ones responding to this post?

  7. Guest Icon Guest
    Kat, Guest @ 2:47 pm

    I’m very grateful to the wedding photographers replying to this post! I haven’t yet booked one & appreciate all of the tips & questions to ask that I can find :)

  8. Guest Icon Guest
    Brandon Powers, Guest @ 4:41 pm

    @Rachel:

    Because we’re our biggest critics!

    @Kat:
    Good luck Kat!

  9. Member
    PhotOle 3 posts, Wannabee @ 5:52 pm

    love the post.

  10. Member
    sherijohnson 35 posts, Newbee @ 10:32 pm

    lots of good advice here and even as a photographer, it is good to guide people to know what to look for to sort through different vendors because an educated client then knows how to compare “apples to apples”

  11. Guest Icon Guest
    Zoya, Guest @ 11:03 am

    I have to answer these questions everyday. So I have come up with a FAQ on my website. Take a look…

    http://www.zoyaphoto.com/faq.htm

  12. Guest Icon Guest
    Michael Graham, Guest @ 5:44 pm

    Here are my 2 cents on how to hire a wedding photographer.

    Hiring a wedding photographer may seem like a simple task, but choosing someone to capture all the moments and details of that special day can be much more difficult than most couples realize. The professional you select will create a photographic record that will be treasured by your family for generations, and making this decision is a critical step in the wedding-planning process. In some instances, hiring the wrong person might not only result in poor wedding photos, but could also have a negative effect on your entire wedding day (for example, imagine a sloppy-looking photographer running around, blocking the guests’ view and constantly distracting you from enjoying your day).

    One of the most common and unfortunate mistakes couples make is hiring a family friend or an enthusiastic relative to photograph the day. Some may even ask guests to take as many photos as possible with the hope of piecing together an album composed of candid shots, most of which are unusable. Keep in mind that even with the proper equipment, photographing a wedding properly is a daunting task requiring significant experience, the finesse’ to be virtually invisible, and most importantly the talent and artistic vision to capture the memorable details and emotions of your wedding day. It is certainly not a job for the faint of heart.

    How, then, does one choose an accomplished, professional wedding photographer? The key items to consider are your personal preferences in photography, your budget for the event, and the professional relationship and chemistry you have (or don’t have) with the photographer.

    Wedding photography is usually classified as traditional, photojournalistic (candid), and artistic. There is a wealth of information online regarding these categories, if you would like more explanation of each. Although some photographers may declare that they are “hardcore photojournalists” (the current buzz-word in the wedding photo industry), I believe that a good wedding photographer must be able to do all the styles equally well. It is important to review a good selection of the photographer’s work, and you should love most (if not everything) you see. You should insist on viewing complete wedding albums to see how your final album could look. If you don’t feel an emotional connection with the photos, you need to interview another photographer.

    Couples also either under-budget for their wedding photography, or they try to shop around for the cheapest package, forsaking quality. As with any creative service, with most photographers you normally “get what you pay for.” If you see an all-inclusive package with albums under $2000.00, the quality of all the products and services is usually poor. If the package is above $5000.00, you should expect 2 photographers present, at least 8 hours of coverage, and high-end wedding albums (along with some extra items, such as proofs or parent copies). Make sure you compare apples to apples when reviewing various wedding packages, since they can be confusing. In most cases a typical wedding photography budget would be in the $3000.00 – $6000.00 range. Don’t treat your wedding photography as an afterthought – photographs are the most enduring and viewed remembrance of your wedding day (more so, even, than a video recording).

    Make sure you feel a personal connection with your photographer. Some of the best photos of the day are usually taken “behind the scenes” as the wedding party prepares for the day, when you will be interacting with your family and friends. You should feel comfortable inviting the photographer “backstage.” As a wedding photographer, I regularly get invited to see the most intimate parts of the wedding day that are normally not visible to most guests or even family. Your photographer should be calm and assertive and have a positive energy about them. Make sure he or she shows a genuine interest in you and your family. Do not hire a photographer that makes you feel that your wedding day is just another job for them. Your photos would certainly reflect that.

  13. Guest Icon Guest
    Art Ramsey, Guest @ 1:35 pm

    Do you have a professional backup camera? Ramsey Still Imaging uses 5 commercial grade cameras.
    What kind of special equipment will you use for any indoor semi-formal posed pictures? Ramsey Still Imaging comes with professional studio and lighting equipment with backup lights etc.
    Is there a photographer available to cover our wedding day if you get sick? Ramsey Still Imaging has a professional backup photographer. Our company has always been a dual team – Art & Arthur Ramsey – and we have never missed a wedding day. If one of us were to get sick, the other can do the work of the primary photographer with a replacement secondary photographer.
    What type of images will you shoot on the day of our wedding? During the capture phase of any shoot it is imperative that cameras are set to record the highest image quality providing the most data possible for post-processing. JPEGS are fine for the final images, but should never be used for capture. Ramsey Still Imaging comes prepared with 64 gigabytes of memory to record the data loaded and memory intensive images. We use only the highest quality memory cards and avarage 45-50 gigabytes per wedding.
    What type of computer software do you utilize for post-processing? Ramsey Still Imaging utilizes Adobe CS4 professional industry standard software. Software MATTERS!
    Do you have professional wedding photography experience? All too often we hear the horror stories of people who utilized inexperienced photographers to cover their wedding day. Experience is NECESSARY to cover a wedding day! Ramsey Still Imaging is a well oiled machine due to our enormous amount of experience.
    Does your company backup my wedding pictures after the wedding? Ramsey Still Imaging does a backup of all your wedding images the same day or next morning, at the latest.
    How many eyes will be involved in photo editing? How many times have you proofed a document alone and were sure of no errors only to have another set of eyes find problems? Ramsey Still Imaging believes that photo editing is no different. A second set of eyes also enables both photographers to fully express their creativity in the final images.
    How long will I have to wait to see my wedding photos? The reason why this is an important question is because the photos are best edited soon after the wedding day while the final images are still fresh in the photographers’ minds. This is the process the late-and-great photographer Ansel Adams called “visualization” in his writings. Ramsey Still Imaging will have your images ready for viewing within two weeks of your wedding day. This means we start editing within a couple days of your wedding day.
    Will you arrive on time? Yes, we give ourselves cushion for any unforeseen event. The link above is a wedding we covered in Duluth, MN and one of the images is the bride arriving at the hair salon. One time we had a flat tire, and still beat the bride to the hair salon!
    Ramsey Still Imaging used to provide video coverage, and at one wedding we covered video only (two videographers) and another company covered the photography. The photographer (anonymous,) with years of experience, came late with one camera, one tripod, and one flash. We could hardly believe our eyes and realized firsthand that many “professionals” are not professional at all, at least by our standards.

  14. Guest Icon Guest
    sara, Guest @ 1:48 pm

    For SURE stay way from Craiglist and WEDJ !!!!!

  15. Member
    MapleMoose 6294 posts, Bee Keeper @ 11:07 am

    Thanks for posting this and to all the people who replied. I am meeting with several photographers this weekend and now I feel a little more prepared. :)

  16. Member
    michaelandcarinaphotography 9 posts, Newbee @ 6:58 am

    excellent article!

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