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.