As we move into the New Year, there is a lot of discussion online about weddings and photographers. Just this week, I have seen several discussions online about brides asking for recommendations for photographers and the usual stream of names of people with wildly varying skills, resources and capabilities.
Remembering back to my own wedding and the complete mess that the ‘professional’ photographer got themselves into and the impact on the day, I thought I’d put pen to paper. Now, this will be a long blog posting so please bear with me and if you do nothing else, please jump to the end and read the section about insurance – You really don’t want to be left with no record of your day and the prospect of asking your guests for whatever they managed to capture of your special day.
So why my concern? Back the the 1980’s we were still largely using film based cameras and whilst equipment is a lot better these days, things still do go wrong and you want to make sure that you limit the effects of those issues – or that your photographer will.
When Joanna and I got married we employed a local professional photographer and he arrived with his assistant and two cameras. Following the ceremony we assembled for the traditional group shots and he found that his main and his backup cameras failed. His assistant had to rush back into town to retrieve a third camera to complete the brief. However with guests getting tired and hungry, they moved on to the reception, leaving Joanna and I at the church with close family for the last few shots. By the time we got to the reception, everyone was seated and the meal was cold. We’d missed our opportunity to welcome people on the way in with a drink and the whole day was clouded in disappointment. Back in those days we did not sue, but things are very different now.
Jump forward too many years than I care to remember and another wedding, this time a request to act as a second shooter for a friend at my daughters gymnastics club. The contracted photographer turned up with a small over the shoulder camera bag and a mid to low end camera body and kit lens. No assistant and no real idea about shooting a wedding. This was going to be interesting. Fast forward a few days and I had a call from a very disappointed and somewhat distressed bride. Not only were the images badly composed and poorly exposed, the photographer had tried to compensate by making them artistic, changing the colour balance and all manner of weirdness. Thankfully, whilst I was there to capture the other side of the wedding, I’d picked up on the possible photographic mess unfolding during the wedding and I changed my brief on the spot to capture the documentary side and also some of the formal side. Needless to say, I think that I saved the day and this is now the second time that I’ve been in this position.
Now I should qualify this blog posting. Whilst I am happy to cover weddings, I am not a Professional Wedding Photographer and I deliver a service that is based purely on results with no promises. I’m also the first to recommend that brides opt for a professional service from a reputable Wedding Photographer.
So what are my top tips for brides looking to secure a reputable wedding photographer:
- Stills, Video or both?
For your day, do you want traditional photographs or full video, or even both. Will you employ the services of a Professional Wedding Photo Company to undertake both, or will you employ different specialists to cover these very different genres?
- Think about what style of photography you want.
There are many styles of photography for weddings but the three main styles are Documentary, Portraiture and Fine Art.
In brief, Documentary is where you give the photographer free reign to capture all aspects of your day and to try to tell the story for the period that they are hired for. This usually means more of the casual shots that most people like and less of the posing, groups and the like.
Portraiture is where the photographer will spend more time posing the bride, bride and groom, wedding party, family and friends into a pre-agreed series of images. This is the more traditional style of wedding photography which can often be found in ‘The Wedding Album’.
Then we have the Fine Art photographer who will concentrate more on the small details of the day and get a little creative. They look for interesting angles, blur backgrounds, use props or focus on foreground items with the guests in the background, maybe some post processing techniques, etc.
At the very early stages of looking for a photographer you need to jump onto Google, search for wedding photographs and create a mood board of styles that you like. This will help you to narrow down your shortlist and it might also help you to realise that you might actually need two or three different photographers to get what you ultimately need. This then leads to budget considerations and those of exclusivity because a lot of professional wedding photographers want to own the event and make sure that it is their images that you purchase. From my point of view, it’s your day, so hold out for what you want and if that means two or more photographers with different objectives, so be it.
- What do you want covered?
The second thing that I believe you need to think about before looking for a photographer is What Do You Want? This is hugely important because without knowing what you want, you’ll end up leaving your photographer to do what they want and you’ll definitely end up missing something that you later wish you’d had captured.
For example, do you want the whole day to be captured or just the service. These days, brides like some shots whilst getting ready in the morning, having her makeup done and the father of the bride’s first sight of the bride. If you opt for the service only, all of this will be missed. In addition, do you want the bride getting ready and the groom with his best man before the service? If you do, now you are into the need for two or more photographers and the one man and his camera doing things on a budget is no longer going to meet your needs.
If you are only going to have the service covered, do you want one camera out the front of the venue capturing arrivals and another inside capturing the bride walking though the door and the groom waiting as the guests arrive. Again, a need for multiple cameras. During the ceremony, do you want the perspective of the bride only or both the bride and groom. Again, this will dictate whether you need multiple photographers.
Even before the day, do you want some images of the bride in her dress before it gets messed up on the day. Maybe you would like some before wedding shots of just the bride and some post honeymoon shots with both the bride and groom in their wedding attire. This then leads to multiple day shoots. You might also wish to think about venues for these shots. For instance, I knew of a couple that shared a love of horses and they wanted a themed post wedding shoot at their stables. They knew the stables inside out and helped the photographer to plan the shoot and there were some great shots which resulted in a quite unique set of images making the shoot really special for the couple.
Along with a comprehensive list of bride and groom posed shots, detail shots of rings, cake and more, you need to also think about which family group shots that you want. You know who’s who and who’s important to you both, not the photographer. You should provide the photographer with that comprehensive list and instructions to capture those shots, come what may.
Then you need to also think about the reception and your photograph requirements for that part of the event. Do you simply want a roving camera or would you like a photo-booth, printed photographs at the event and one of the nice touches is a photobook of your guests where the image is printed, added to the book and the guests can leave a short message next to the photograph. Again, this could mean multiple photographers with you throughout the day and a fair amount of logistics to be organised. At a wedding that I video’d for a friend, I set up a side room during the reception and the family and friends recorded messages to be added to the end of the main wedding video. This was super popular and it made a lovely memory to return home to following their honeymoon.
- What is your budget?
This is a tough question but one that will help you rule out a lot of things. Unless you are lucky enough to have an unlimited budget and that’s not most of us, you will need to set your expectations accordingly. This might mean that you know a decent amateur photographer and you employ a professional wedding videographer, or vice versa.
Either way, you still need to ascertain your reasonable budget and then seek people or organisations that can deliver all (or most) of what you need within that budget. HOWEVER, be careful of resources that appear too cheap. Remember my friends recent wedding. The photographer charged a lowly £400’ish for his services, there was no real brief or written expectations and the results reflected that.
The photographs and/or your video are your lasting record of your day. Personally, I’d prefer to skimp on the cost of the catering, take one less car or compromise elsewhere, but I’ll admit that I am a little biased on this topic.
Once you have your budget though, you’ll be better armed to go and seek someone who is prepared to commit (in writing) to delivering your needs within that budget. It will also avoid time consuming phone calls and meetings talking to people that are going to be way outside of your financial reach. With many professional wedding photographers charging several thousand pounds and some over £10,000, you really need to maintain control over what you are prepare to commit to.
When you have your budget or even before (to help you set a budget), you will be able to begin looking at the countless packages that are available. Film, prints or digital, copy-written files or those with reproduction rites, traditional wedding album or digital slideshow, free or to purchase proofs, the choice of packages are wide and varied.
Even when you have settled on a specific photographer that can meet your style and needs, they may well have numerous packages to choose from. Choose a package well before your day that best meets your needs and budget and agree the details and costs of that package with the photographer in writing.
It is now time to reach for Google, local adverts, wedding fairs and other resources to find wedding photographers that can meet your needs and budget.
Before you arrange to meet anyone and using online and other resources, you should look to checkout their published reviews. These should be third party review sites and not reviews published directly on their website – note that some websites link to a web service to provide a live feed and these are fine. Make sure that the reviews are good and keep in mind that people are quick to complain when things go wrong and a little less eager to compliment good service.
Remember we spoke about the style that you like earlier in this posting. Keep this style in mind (or refer to your mood board) and look through numerous online portfolios to find a suitable match. Remember though, photographers only usually put their very best work into their portfolios to impress you, so you’ll want to ask to see some (a handful) of ‘complete’ wedding shoots to get a real measure of the quality of their work and what you can expect them to deliver for you.
Now this is an unusual one and something that a lot of people don’t think about. You’ve checked out the photographers website, their portfolio and their reviews, all of the official stuff. Now go Google them, check out their Facebook pages (personal and professional, most of us have two Facebook profiles or in my case a personal profile and a page for M4Photo, check for them on LinkedIn and see what they talk about, what they are interested in, etc. You will be with your photographer for a lot of your day and you’ll need to get along with them and be able to communicate on many levels. Depending on the bride, the photographer might also be with her whilst getting dressed and having her hair and makeup done, can you trust the photographer to be professional, discrete and enable the other people to get their jobs done unhindered. Social Media is now a great tool for finding out about the individual well before you talk on the phone or meet in person.
Another thought with regards to their portfolio and example wedding albums. Look at the images that are available. Are they composed well? Are they in focus with the subject obvious? Is the lighting good and do they tell the story of the wedding? If you are looking for posed shots for your wedding, are there similar posed shots in the examples and are they also well lit, in focus and composed well?
Also look for their packages so that you can have a better idea of what you want to purchase before they walk through the door and try to sell you what they want you to buy. Also check for multiple discounts. For example, your package might include a photo album for the bride and groom, but what about a second or third copy of the parents, can you get a bulk print discount?
Lastly, remember that some companies employ numerous people and photographers come and go. What you see in a company portfolio, might not necessarily reflect the caliber of photographer that is scheduled to attend your wedding. Make sure that you know who is being assigned and then checkout that person online and meet with them in person.
- The Interview
So, you now have your shortlist of several photographers that can meet your needs, budget and who you think that you can work with. Now is the time to get to meet them. My advice would be to arrange a couple of meetings. Firstly, at their premises. This should be a super professional meeting on their turf where you can see how they work or how they live. If this is a large photographic company, make sure that you meet the owner or manager AND who will be shooting your wedding and their assistants. For a follow-up meeting chose a location that you prefer and where you are more in control. See how they conduct themselves at both locations and deal with you taking control. During your wedding day and associated photo shoots, you’ll be leaving them largely in control but you also need them to meet and deliver on your exacting needs.
Don’t be put off meeting your actual photographer or photographers face to face. This is the only real way that you will be able to gauge what they are like as a person (or people). Can you get on together, do you trust them to deliver and do you trust their integrity and professionalism?
Before you get into the details of your wedding and your needs, get to know the photographer. Maybe ask to look around their studio, talk in general about some previous engagements, what makes them different and why you should contract them for your wedding. This will settle your nerves and enable you to take a little more control over the meeting and get to know them as an individual and not just your photographer.
If you are not happy, cut the meeting short and walk away. Still happy, now it’s time to get into the detail. Think about everything mentioned earlier: Discuss your preferred style, review your mood board, discuss what you need from them during that day – all day, bride getting ready, groom before the ceremony, single or multiple cameras at the ceremony, posed or documentary style images, media and what will be ultimately delivered. What images do you want captured, for example father seeing the bride for the first time, cars pulling up at the venue, bride walking into the church, bride and groom poses, parents pose, wider family group shot, etc. etc.
Now let the photographer demonstrate how they can meet those needs, with examples where possible. This should then lead into the packages that they offer. Remember your budget and your previous research of their packages, be guided by them and let them sell you their services but remember what you want and what you can afford.
Think also about image size and format. Do you want lower resolution images to simply post on Facebook or an online gallery. Do you need larger resolution images for printing to various formats, including large canvas prints. Also consider what your parents might wish to have produced. Do you want moody black and white or full colour, digital or printed media, or a mix of all things – remember your budget and don’t get too carried away.
Once you have settled on a package, talk about what the photographer will deliver and their timescales. Reconfirm what the photographer will deliver and more importantly when. Traditionally, photographers captured a hundred images which were produced as proofs for you to choose and purchase. These days, we take one or two thousand images and sometimes more. These take time to process and an overnight service might not be reasonable. In the same way that a busy wedding photographer cannot be left to leave the processing of your images until quieter times and they leave you hanging for weeks or months waiting for your images.
Also think about retouching services. Do you want your images ‘as taken’ or would you prefer some retouching of all images, some images or none. Maybe you have a stress spot pop up on your nose during the day, what would be the cost to have this removed from your favorite selection of images or the whole portfolio?
If you are buying digital images, could you remove the spot and undertake some post processing yourself, and would the photographer allow you to post process their images? Remember that the copyright always stays with the photographer and many photographers do not like their images to be manipulated in any way, this is why a lot of professionals still only want to provide prints and not digital media.
- Confirm EVERYTHING in WRITING.
I cannot stress this enough. You are likely to be spending a lot of money on one of the most special days of your life. You must get everything that you have agreed verbally in writing. This includes your explicit and detailed requirements, how long they will be with your and on what day/s, whether there will be one, two or more photographers, what they will deliver and when, in what style, in what quantity, etc.
Also look at their terms and conditions, what happens if things go wrong, what recourse do you have, what protection do they have, who can you talk to in the event of a complaint or non-delivery.
If no written agreement and contract is forthcoming, think about what is being offered and be ready to walk away if you cannot guarantee results to some reasonable level.
- Insurance and Accreditation
This leads me on to my key point. You have agreed everything, you are going to have a wonderful day and a lifelong photographic memory of that wonderful event in your life. But what if something goes wrong? IT DOES and it’s not always the photographers fault. Equipment fails and unforeseen things do happen.
My father was once at a wedding where the photographers camera got whipped out by a passing car whilst he was posing the group and he had no backup camera. I was at another commercial event where the photographers camera gear was stolen and he had just the camera he was holding and the one lens left on the camera.
I maintain Public Liability Insurance for personal injury if someone trips over something under my control, etc. However, I don’t maintain cover to completely re-stage a wedding and I know that a lot of weekend photographers cover weddings for a few hundred pounds and also fail to have adequate cover.
What would you do if your photographer shot the whole wedding and their memory card failed and you had no images at all?
The cost to run the wedding again is horrendous. A wedding costing you £5,000 could run into ten or a hundred times that amount where the guests need to be asked back for a re-run. Someone could need to cover their travelling expenses, hotel expenses and compensate them for their time in losing another day. Then there is the venue, cars and caterers to re-book, flowers, officials, church or registry office, etc. etc.
Does your Professional Wedding Photographer have suitable insurance to make sure that they can deliver on what you have contracted them to deliver or make good in the event of total catastrophe.
Also ask about any accreditation and awards. Such things can be a sign of a quality service. Also ask about memberships. Most professional wedding photographers are a member of the Society of Wedding and Portrait Photographers and this can be seen as a commitment to their business and professionalism.
It would be worth asking your wedding photographer if they have such insurance and association membership. Also, be careful to check the insurance cover. Not all photographer insurances extend to re-staging a wedding owing to the horrendous cost involved.
So, if I only shoot with one camera and I don’t maintain insurance to re-stage a wedding, why this posting? I have written it to try to help brides and grooms to consider what they should be thinking about and asking when seeking the services of a professional photographer. There will no doubt be other things to consider, after all this is not part of M4Photo‘s core business offering and I reserve the right to edit and enhance this posting in the future.
However, if you are holding a wedding on a budget and you would like the luxury of a second photographer to capture the other side of your day, please check out my wedding page and / or give me a call or drop me an email.
Finally, I hope that you have a great wedding day and that you have loads of great photographs to make a lasting memory of your special day.