I've been a professional photographer for over 20 years. I started as an assistant for a wedding photographer in the 90s, holding up the reflector, reloading film into cameras (wow, this was pre-digital) and loving every minute of it.When planning our wedding one of the first things we start booking is our wedding photographer. There are so many of us and the photos are so amazing, how are we expected to decide? Who do we pick?
As well as being a photography company, we teach photography (including weddings) around the world and I wanted to share my check list for you to follow.
Is this checklist important? That's your call. I can tell you I do get a lot of non-wedding wedding photoshoots where the bride hasn't been thrilled with her wedding photography, so puts on her dress and we go out and do some formal photos again. Personally, I'd rather you get it right the first time, even if it isn't with me!
I originally thought it would be funny to say "Call Luke and Remember Forever" as step one, but then I realised not everyone shares my sense of humour - and I might not be the best fit for your wedding. I don't take every wedding offered to me, nor am I going to be the best fit for you... so while I'm happy to talk to you about your wedding anytime you want, here are some guidelines to make sure you get the best wedding photographer you can find - even if it isn't me. :)
Step 1: How long has your photographer been a photographer?
As a rule, at least 5 years is the starting time. They need to know what they're doing - a wedding is the most important day of your life, so while shooting a wedding it has to be the most important day of theirs as well. I teach wedding photography and when I tell my students that they shouldn't be shooting weddings for 5 years they get upset.
I constantly get asked "how are we meant to get experience? How are we meant to build a portfolio?"
For the first 5 years of their photography business they should be focusing (excuse the pun) on portraits of families, glamour, boudoir etc. and improving their craft. That is a perfectly respectable way to make a living and building a clientbase. For weddings, they should be assisting professional photographers at weddings and being the back-up shooter.
They should be guests at friends and family weddings and take photos as well (without getting in the way of the professional.) Wedding photography is a steep learning curve, and I've been a guest at weddings where I've seen clearly the photographer missed the first kiss, missed the exchanging of the rings, missed special moments - I can't imagine a worst feeling in the world.
Step 2: Where did your photographer learn photography?
I'm not suggesting a degree or diploma is the only way to learn, but learning needs to involve a little more than YouTube and Google. It's one thing to see some beautiful wedding photos and practice getting those - but a photographer should know how to control light. They should be shooting manual on their camera, manipulating light and not missing photographic opportunities while they change settings. Don't hire the photographer who says "I don't want to miss anything, so I don't shoot manual, I shoot AV/A/S/TV/P/Auto ..."
If they're not shooting M/Manual, they're letting their camera make important decisions about how your wedding photos are going to come out. Ladies, this isn't a good thing. In the days of film, you just knew your photographer knew what they were doing - it was film, you couldn't look on the back screen and retake the photo. Digital has made it too easy for people without the right training to shoot a wedding, and this is a little dangerous. Make sure they have learned what they need to learn. Ask where they learned from and how long they spent learning. Be satisfied with their answers.
I'm often told by photographers who don't always know what they're doing "that's ok, I can fix it in Photoshop ..."
Sigh. Which brings me to:
Step 3: Camera vs Photoshop
Photoshop is an invaluable tool and it's good your photographer knows how to use it. But it's not the be-all and end-all. Even using photoshop to enhance my wedding photography, most of the work is still done in camera. 95% of my photo is my photo, with maybe 5% of work done to it in post-production. So your photographer knows how to use Lightroom or Photoshop? Great! Have them show you.
Have your photographer bring up an unprocessed RAW image from their archive and have them demonstrate how they process the photograph. It's one thing knowing how to USE Lightroom or Photoshop, but it's very common these days for photographers to use presets. Presets are shortcuts usually programmed in by other people to make editing easier. It is easy now to put in a photograph and click a preset. Voila, wedding photo.
But when photographers do that, there is no individual attention to the colours, skin tones, details ... it is factory-produced editing and your wedding deserves the attention. Watch them process an image to make sure they can!
Step 4: How involved are they in the months leading up to your wedding?
Wedding photography isn't just about the day and the edits, it's the culmination of a love story between the bride and groom and as a photographer, I want to be there for a lot of that! I go to bridal dress fittings (and snap a few facial expression photographs) and bridesmaid colour selections (so I can make sure they will look great on camera) and I get involved in the discussions on decorating and styling your wedding - because after 20 years, I know what will look good on camera and what might not work. I work closely with brides to make their day magical - because magical equals better photographs.
A lot of student photographers get a little upset when I explain this and tell me that they have another job or school or they're a full-time parent, and don't have time to run around with meetings with the bride every 2-4 weeks. Sigh.
Step 5: Photography should be your photographers' ONLY job.
It goes without saying that if they're good enough at it, they should be able to earn a living from it - but it goes beyond that. It means they're a photographer - not an accountant/teacher/student/dogwalker/receptionist with a camera. Going further ... if they accidentally did screw up a wedding, (which I've seen) and you tell all your friends and they told all their friends ... it doesn't really affect them as it's not really affecting their business. They'll still make a living elsewhere.
If your photographer isn't 100% all the time focused on photography, (I did that pun thing again), then that's not who you want photographing the most amazing day of your life.
Step 6: How do they feel about mistakes?
When interviewing your photographer, don't just look at their portfolio. Anyone can select the best 10, 20, 100 photos and put them up for you to see. Ask your photographer to show you "Behind the Scenes at a Wedding." Ask them to show you the unprocessed RAW footage, so you can see what they're getting right before they use photoshop. You can see what angles they were using, what they got right, and also what they got wrong. Photographers make mistakes. When we do, we try to hide it :) Trust me, I do it all the time - but for a bride picking her photographer, we should be open. Look at the mistakes and ask them a) how it happened and b) how they fixed it. It's okay to book a photographer who makes mistakes, it's not okay to book a photographer who brushes over them.
Step 7: Over coffee and the killer interview process I've just given you, how relaxed are they seeming with you? How relaxed are you feeling with them?
The bride and photographer should become pretty close in the months leading up to the wedding. If they're doing it properly, they're at dress-fittings, style consultations, they've met you at the venue to show you where the light will work best for photos of the ceremony, signing the certificates, first dance etc.
In the months leading up to a wedding, my wife and I have brides (and grooms) over for dinner and movie nights. That's not a requirement for most wedding photographers, but in a more relaxed environment with a few glasses of red, I'm going to see a different side of you, and that's the side I'm probably looking to capture on your wedding day. I'd like to see it at least once, which is hard when our meetings are all while you're in Wedding Planning/Bridezilla mode.
Speaking of Bridezilla - I'm there for her too. Your photographer shouldn't mind getting those calls - because we know it's not about us, you're just projecting other stresses - and hopefully we're close enough now that you feel you can - and hopefully your photographer is aware enough of what's going on to be able to help you solve things. My brides often call me the extra Bridesmaid.
Your wedding is the most important day of your life. Every wedding I photograph is the most important day of mine. I always tell my students that a photographer can only take a wedding as seriously as they take their own photography and business. Brides, pick someone who'll put your wedding first. Please.
I know I've probably upset a lot of up and coming photographers with this post. If you're honestly putting the bride before your paycheck then you realise this is all good advice. I'm sorry, I really am. I'm very supportive of emerging photographers and am always happy to bring them to weddings as students and assistants.
But brides, this is YOUR most important day. This is YOUR fairytale.
It should be captured perfectly, respectfully, magically and amazingly.
Best wishes and good luck with your weddings!