How to Find and Book a Wedding Photographer

After booking the reception venue, finding a photographer was the most important/stressful task on my wedding to-do list. I’m an extremely nostalgic person (just thinking about how there will never be a new episode of Charmed again makes me tear up), so I know I’ll be looking back at our wedding pics all the time after it’s all said and done.

Piper_w

Image via charmed.wikia.com

My two fave things: weddings and Charmed. By the way, I kind of love her dress.

I’m also worried about PWD—I took a quiz in Brides magazine to see if I was susceptible and I am!—but I think having lots of amazing wedding pics to peruse after it’s over will help a lot with that. They’re the only tangible thing left over from the day (actually that’s not true at all—what about the dress that you can never wear again, the favors that guests left behind, the dying centerpieces, the freezer-burnt top tier, and all the other junk I’ll have to haul back home and figure out what to do with?), so they’re pretty important.

cry+fac

Personal pic

I don’t want to be making this face after the wedding!

To begin this part of the wedding planning, I turned to Google Docs, natch. (No, they don’t pay me to promote them. But they should! I could do so much for their exposure! [That was sarcasm.]) The tab was artistically titled “Photographers,” and it included cells for name, email address, website, date contacted (very important for all Google Doc spreadsheets for vendors!—especially if your email client deletes things at will!), and a bunch of other cells.

googled

I blurred out the names in case some of my data was incorrect, or if they’ve changed their policies since I created this doc. There are a lot of question marks in this spreadsheet, so I didn’t want any vendors to get pee-issed at me.

As you can see, before you can decide who would make a good photographer, you have to decide what you want in a wedding photographer. Here’s what I (we!) wanted:

  1. The entire package had to be $2,000 or less.
  2. We needed 10 hours of coverage, from getting ready to our send-off at the end of the night.
  3. We wanted two photographers, or at least the option of adding a second shooter (while staying under budget).
  4. Similarly, we wanted an engagement session, either included or tacked on for a price under budget.
  5. I also wanted rights to the photos because I wanted to be able to edit them, post them all over the innanet (like here, for example), and most importantly print them at the cheapest photo-printing place I could find. (Hi, Walgreens! Hey there, Vistaprint! Wassup, Shutterfly?)
  6. Surprisingly enough, we didn’t want prints or an album included. I’d much rather get a cheaper package without any actual prints or an album than pay more for an overpriced photo book that I could make myself for cheaper. (Be prepared to hear a lot of that nonsense throughout my posts, by the way.) I’ve heard of people spending more than $800 on a wedding album! While I get that those albums are extremely well made, and I did just rhapsodize about how important photos are to me above, I don’t really care that much about the quality of the album (at least, not $800 worth).

We also included cells in the Google Doc for our opinion of each photographer’s photos. This is most people’s main concern when booking a wedding photographer, but to be honest I didn’t have much of an opinion about it. Most wedding photography looks the same to me as long as it’s done professionally, and I usually just get caught up in the content of the pics, rather than the photographer’s composition/skills/what have you.

awkphot

Image via Awkward Wedding Photos

This is my idea of a bad wedding photo. Then again, if the bride weren’t riding the groom like a damn animal, the pic might be quite lovely.

So this was more of Mr. Unicycle’s domain because he is really into photography from a photographer’s standpoint. He likes to take pics of flowers and spiders and junk, so he knew what to look for more than me. (True story: when we finally met our photographer, I asked her if her black and white pics were shot that way or if she Photoshopped them. Mr. Unicycle laughed at me because apparently you don’t take digital pics in black and white. Who knew? Uh, everyone except me, apparently.)

So after I scoured The Knot, Wedding Wire, Weddingbee, Google, and even some old fashioned magazines for photographer listings, emailed everyone, and filled in my precious Google Doc, it was time to figure out who met enough of our criteria to warrant a meeting. The spreadsheet included companies like Timothy Whaley & Associates, as well as individual photographers like Victoria Sprung. I started to realize there wasn’t really a need to do any kind of statistical analysis like I did for our venue search. I didn’t have to assign a value to each pro and con and calculate which photog would be the approximation of perfect for us because they were mostly…not even close to perfect for us. The ones we could afford didn’t offer what we wanted, and the ones who would do what we wanted cost an arm and a coupla leggz.

arm+and

Image via mychinaconnection.com

Granted, my idea of an arm is like, $10. A leg is maybe $15. I’d pay you to take my firstborn.

We went from having too many photographers (fo’ realz, we had about 40) to no photographer at all. I found myself telling Mr. Unicycle that it was kind of ridiculous for us to expect to get a decent photo package for under $2,000. “We’re kind of being cheapskates,” I told him. “Looks like you just can’t find anyone that cheap anymore.” (Yeah, go ahead and roll your eyes. I know I was an idiot. I mean, that’s almost what I spent on my car.) But we kept looking and filling in our Google Doc, still not finding anyone under budget. Until…

wait+fo01

Image via The Demotivators

We found one that was cheap n’ easy (as I like to say)! She had a cute website with pretty pictures (they passed Mr. Unicycle’s test, anyway), her price was well under budget, and she met every single one of our requirements. That photographer was Jennifer Shaffer Photography, so go check out her site (after you finish reading this post, of course). Here are some of her super cool pics:

jenn1

All photos from Jennifer Shaffer Photography

jenn2

jenn3

jenn4

I was ready to book her on the spot (you’ll notice I like to do things without thinking them through too much, [like the time I purchased Bump-Its (no, they don't actually work)]), but Mr. Unicycle convinced me that we needed to meet her first. We met up with Jenn at a Starbucks and talked to her about her wedding packages, her photography style, her business philosophy, etc. She showed us some wedding pics she’d taken and went through each one to explain what she liked about it, how she framed it, why she chose the location she chose, and a bunch of other photography lingo that I just smiled and nodded along with. This meeting made me realize just how important it is to meet with vendors ahead of time:

  1. Instead of just looking through Jenn’s portfolio and seeing beautiful brides and pretty shoe closeups, I was able to hear directly from her why she took the pictures she took. You are most likely not as surprised as I was to discover the amount of thought that goes into each shot. When I take pictures I just hold up the camera and press the little button thingy.
  2. We also learned that Jenn was a really nice, outgoing person, which was a column we hadn’t even thought to add to our Google Doc. But having a photographer you get along with and like being around is so important (It’s true—I’ve read it on legit wedding blogs before, like this one.)

If we hadn’t met Jenn first, we wouldn’t have learned either of those things! In the car on the way home from Starbucks, I was once again ready to book her on the spot. Mr. Unicycle thought we should try meeting with other photographers first just to make sure we were making the right decision. “But she’s perfect!” I whined. After about three seconds of me whining, Mr. Unicycle had one of those “Oh duh, you’re right” moments, and we decided to book her for our wedding date!!!

Do you make impulsive decisions like me? Are you cheap like me? (I had to throw in a little more self-deprecation. This post didn’t have enough.)

BLOGGER

Mrs. Unicycle

Location:
Chicago, IL
Wedding Date:
June 2012
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comments

  1. Member
    haelmai 321 posts, Helper bee @ 1:53 pm

    Oh, I totally had my Google spreadsheet going on, especially with photographers! I felt like Goldilocks on the hunt: this one’s too expensive, that one won’t give me the rights to the pictures. Luckily, we found one that is just right (and a steal if you look at their current prices!). :-)

  2. Member
    CupcakeKelly 135 posts, Blushing bee @ 2:05 pm

    I just laughed out loud when I read: “He likes to take pics of flowers and spiders and junk.” Bahahahahhaa.

  3. Guest Icon Guest
    Caitlin, Guest @ 2:33 pm

    You write a lot.

  4. Guest Icon Guest
    Sinterstein, Guest @ 2:35 pm

    I just got a whiff of how awesome this article was. Did you smell that? Smells good.

  5. Guest Icon Guest
    k, Guest @ 2:44 pm

    Ahaha I love that you used that picture!! I know someone who stood in that wedding! I looked up their photographer on their facebook pics before booking mine because I didn’t want to book them by mistake =P

  6. Member
    dalmatian 592 posts, Busy bee @ 2:45 pm

    Looks like a great find! I definitely Google-doc-ed it up for our photographer search as well :)

  7. Member
    mspony 9265 posts, Buzzing Beekeeper @ 3:27 pm

    Her photos are beautiful! Yay for finding someone that fits your criteria and is super nice, win win win!

  8. Guest Icon Guest
    Lexy, Guest @ 5:06 pm

    I have been making very quick decisions through the whole process because:

    1) We’re planning a wedding in just over 100 days from engagement to aisle.

    2) Hardly any of these are life or death decisions. Most of the time a *good enough* choice will do.

    The photographer was an extra quick decision. A dear friend of mine is a professional photographer who’s standard rate I could never afford but he cut me a deal and I’m getting more than I wanted for 1/3 of the price.

    Also, it’s not being impulsive, it’s being decisive. Making a decision based on available data efficiently and standing behind your decision is the hallmark of a good leader. Own it.

  9. Member
    msfox 1635 posts, Bumble bee @ 5:44 pm

    Haha love this – my photog search and revelation could be pretty much your exact experience. Your requirements, your experience.. even finding and meeting “the one” at Starbucks and wanting to book her right then and there! Research is exhausting, but it pays off, no?!

  10. Member
    knvprincess143 1036 posts, Bumble bee @ 6:34 pm

    High Five on the spread sheet that is the shizznit!!! I love me some spread sheets.

    Thinking photography makes me break out into hives and I started hyperventilating just reading this. I pride myself in my thriftiness, it is an art and talent and this one I can’t figure out, it makes me feel, well, broken. It is expensive market with hard, small, uncut-able corners. I don’t like that, not one bit. So I’m avoiding it for now.

  11. Member
    unicycle 476 posts, Helper bee @ 6:55 pm

    @Lexy: good point! I have to keep reminding myself that these aren’t life or death decisions!

    @knvprincess143: i know, don’t spreadsheets just make life better? And I totally hated thinking about photographers at first because they all seemed so expensive and there were SO MANY of them, but it all worked out!

  12. Member
    mole 1242 posts, Bumble bee @ 7:56 pm

    We were pretty impulsive with our photography search too. A friendor is shooting our Milwaukee party, but we ended up finding our Vegas photographers after about 4 hours of lazy internet searching! They have been great so far, though, and we really like the photos that they keep showing us of recent weddings.

  13. Member
    Future Army Wife 2213 posts, Buzzing bee @ 8:22 pm

    So I met with our photographer last night. She said that many couples buy the 10-12 hour packages and don’t use them (just an FYI). And you’re far more organized than me with the spreadsheets haha.

  14. Member
    msdoe 639 posts, Busy bee @ 8:33 pm

    Haha I love those “oh duh, you’re right” moments! :) I am glad you found someone great!

  15. Member
    jaguar 6199 posts, Bee Keeper @ 10:42 pm

    Okay, I am SUCH a Charmed fan. I officially love you! :)

  16. Member
    MrsKeAloha 1044 posts, Bumble bee @ 4:00 am

    I really wanted to be a spreadsheet gal. I wanted to say to my fiance – this is why… but when it came down to it. I use this cute little spiral notebook that fits in my purse that says LOVE on the front with a big Heart – my 9 yo niece got it for me, and said it was for Wedding Planning notes. She’s so Smart! Anyway, on separate pages I wrote vendors in my price range names address phone questions, during meeting I took small notes and at the end I either X’d it out or kept it. When it came to my photographer, I went impulse, Husband and Wife, great personalities, I left their office stopped by a post office and mailed the deposit. When I got home I emailed them that the paperwork was on its way. I think sometimes you just know it is going to work for you.

  17. Member
    MrsKeAloha 1044 posts, Bumble bee @ 4:03 am

    @Lexy:
    Congrats on your engagement and upcoming wedding. I am a little jealous – 100 days, I wish. Wedding planning is fun but I am ready to get married. Very Exciting!

  18. Member
    colli459 875 posts, Busy bee @ 5:07 am

    I definitely still have my google doc going, complete with tabs for all the different categories of vendors, as well as a tab for the budget/cost differential and guest list (keeping track of addy’s, yay!) I get made fun soooo much, but it really is helpful! Way to be!

  19. Member
    SoCoBlue 906 posts, Busy bee @ 5:45 am

    I don’t feel as weird now over my love for Charmed! lol I actually named my kitten Piper.

  20. Guest Icon Guest
    Photographer Aspen CO, Guest @ 6:25 am

    I have packages that offer an album and packages that don’t offer an album, but I always try to convince the couple to get one (even though I don’t make much profit on it) because statistics have shown that 90% of brides never get around to making an album themselves. In about 5-10 yrs that dvd won’t work anymore and/or the technology won’t be there to play them. So most couples will be loosing their wedding images and have nothing to show the kids and grandkids.

  21. Guest Icon Guest
    Photographer Aspen+CO, Guest @ 6:29 am

    Oh, and also, don’t get our prints done at Walgreens – they use the cheapest paper and ink possible and those image are going to fade pretty quick.

  22. Member
    unicycle 476 posts, Helper bee @ 8:18 am

    @missfenway: that’s awesome! Charmed rules.

    @Photographer Aspen+CO: hahha i was wondering if someone would call me out on that! Don’t worry, I’m SURE Mr. Unicycle would throw a fit if he knew I was considering Walgreens. I’m the cheapskate of the relationship hahahha

  23. Guest Icon Guest
    Erin J., Guest @ 8:21 am

    @Photographer Aspen+CO:

    And most of the time the color doesn’t even come out right.

  24. Guest Icon Guest
    Melissa, Guest @ 1:49 pm

    We found an expensive photog whose style we loved but was way, way out of our price range. They suggested another photographer who was just starting her business but they had worked with her and could vouch for her style and experience. She was under budget and awesome and we love her and one day she will be charging the big bucks too. So if you really like someone’s work but they are way out of your price range, see if they can recommend someone just starting their business.

  25. Guest Icon Guest
    Melanie, Guest @ 4:40 pm

    A few things, from the perspective of a wedding photographer:
    1. There is a reason that wedding photographers charge what they do to photograph your wedding day. First, it covers the 8-10 hrs of shooting on your day. Second, it covers the cost of hours upon hours of editing your photos (seriously, think about how long it would take to edit every little detail of thousands of photos). Third, shooting weddings is EXHAUSTING, even though it might not seem like it would be. I pretty much collapse into bed when I get home.
    2. The reason that photographers are very hesitant or refuse to give a copyright release is for the exact reason that you stated above in item number 5. A copyright release does not mean you can edit the photographer’s photos. That is illegal, and since client’s are obviously not Photoshop pros, they make the photos look terrible. What photographer wants crappy versions of the previously good photos they took floating around “all over the innanet?” You might as well just slap them in the face.
    3. The part you said about printing your photos and album as cheap as possible would make any photographer want to cry. There is a reason that high quality prints and albums are necessary, and it’s because a) crappy prints equal crappy photos and b) your prints will last a fraction of the time a high quality print will. Also, party of the reason that an album costs $800 is because your photographer, once again, put in hours and hours of design time to make it!

    Long story short, I am completely baffled the photographer you found charged you less than $2,000 for everything you listed above, especially because she is a pretty good photographer! In my opinion, she is not doing herself justice. Also, you could probably do her a favor and not describe her as “cheap and easy,” since that is probably hurting her more than doing her good. No photographer wants to be seen that way.

    Think about it, brides. It may seem like a lot, but you are receiving high quality products that , with proper care, will last you your whole lifetime. You are paying for hours of someone’s time out of their day to make your day look perfect. Is that not worth the price?

  26. Guest Icon Guest
    Ricki, Guest @ 5:26 pm

    I would be furious if I were Miss Jennifer Shaffer! Has she seen this blog post about her work being “cheap”? You just informed the world of her worth….cheap. She is worth far more than that, she just doesn’t see it yet. Her photos are beautiful, and yes, she will raise her prices when she realizes what her time is actually worth.
    Have you ever heard the term, you get what you pay for? When you are hiring someone with low prices, you are hiring someone that is just starting out and has little to no experience. How long has the photographer been photographing weddings? Have you asked for reference letters? Don’t always believe the testimonials you read on their websites, you never know if those are made up or not.
    One criteria that you should add to your wonderful Google Doc is “Customized packages”. There are photographers out there that will work with your budget. Maybe less hours, since most wedding photography becomes repetitive after about 6 hours anyway.
    Anytime you alter someone else’s work you are breaking the law. You admitted that you would be doing that with your wedding photos in your blog.
    There are many factors that a photographer puts together when figuring out their pricing. Time spent actually photographing the wedding, time spent going through each individual photo taking out the ones that someone closed their eyes in, removing blemishes from the bride’s face, removing any distractions from the background of photos taken at a busy park. This is time away from their own lives to give you the best possible wedding photos. This could be time away from their own families, their friends. Most wedding photographers will spend just as much time, if not more, in their office going through and editing your photos as they did actually taking the photos. What is your time worth?
    And, do you know that no one can force you to buy an album from them? You may just ask them if you can remove the album from their package and lower the price a little. Many will offer that as an option. That falls into the custom package column on your Google Doc by the way.
    Knocking photographers for charging what they are worth is not cool. All you are doing is showing those of us that value our work that you are not the client we want. We want the client that values their wedding photos, that wants their photos to last a lifetime, just like their marriage hopefully will. What happens when you, God forbid, lose your spouse to illness or an accident? What photos will you have to hold on to after that? Will you have those faded images printed at Walgreens, or that cheap wedding album made at Wal-Mart, or will you have high quality images on high quality paper, and maybe an album with high quality pages that is guaranteed for life and has an image printed on a metal cover with a beautiful leather spine and cover? Think about that when choosing your wedding photographer, not how “cheap” they are.

  27. Member
    akenne21 2 posts, Wannabee @ 11:25 am

    I created a website that allows you to easily browse photographers in your area. Photographers can add their packages, pictures from their portfolio, equipment, and other information that would be useful. The website is http://www.photographerhq.com

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