How to Choose a Wedding Photographer: 5 Tips to Keep You on Track
Post Summary: How do you choose a wedding photographer? There’s SO many options out there and SO many things to consider! I know it can be overwhelming so I’ve created this blog to be packed with 5 helpful tips to keep you on track towards saying “I do” to your perfect photography (and photographer!) experience.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed when trying to choose a wedding photographer. How do you know when you’ve found “the one?” Is it by the number of Instagram followers? Is it by how many weddings they’ve shot? Do you go by who responds to you fastest? Is there some oracle or fortune teller who specializes in wedding planning (if so, do oracles have Yelp reviews)?
It’s an important choice, maybe the most important wedding planning decision you will make, but it doesn’t have to keep you up at night and make you lose all your hair.
I want to help you through this process with the least stress and most confidence possible. Read on for some practical tips on finding your dream photographer.
*If you’re in a time crunch and you want the easiest answer on how to choose a wedding photographer that’s right for you, go straight to #5. If you want to take a more methodical approach and check all your boxes, then start with numero uno.
1. Let “style” be your guide
“Style” can quickly turn into a crash course in photography and leave you feeling like you need to study everything in order to choose a photographer. But it doesn’t need to feel like this. Let’s start with the basics.
All you have to ask yourself is: Do you like the photos? It’s simple, browse photographers’ portfolios and their Instagram feeds. Trust your eye and trust yourself to know what photos speak to you. With this approach, all you need to know is if the photos make you smile, cry, jump with joy, etc. If you’re feeling a flatline from a photographer’s work, move on.
Personality is also a big factor of style. In order to know what you want in a photographer, it helps to know yourself. Are you more adventurous, more traditional, more avant garde? Your photographer’s style should match your personality. Again, you’ll know it when you see it, so don’t overthink this one.
Now, to go a little deeper…
It’s best to go into this with eyes wide open. In addition to looking at portfolios and photo samples, you can limit the scope with more targeted searches. This is where Instagram and Google can come in handy, but be careful, it’s easy to fall into a wedding photography rabbit hole. Use hashtags and search terms to your advantage.
You don’t need to be a photography expert to know what you like. But there are some terms that can help you narrow down the field. Do you like candid over posed photos? If so, then you can look at their About page and throughout their website for words like documentary, photojournalistic, lifestyle, or candid. If you like the heavily posed or staged photos you might be more of a traditional photo fan.
On the flip side, if you like adventure or outdoor photos, don’t hire a studio photographer who poses heavily. This bit is important because if you focus too much on the pretty photo and not enough on the process, you can end up with a photographer who doesn’t match your style. Also, location is an easy way to determine your photographer. If you’re in San Diego and they’re in Boston, it’s probably not going to work unless they’re a traveling photographer. If you want an elopement, make sure you search for elopement photographers.
One other consideration in style is the photographer’s editing style. Every photographer has a different approach to their art so pay careful attention to the editing styles you prefer. Do you like more of a dramatic feel? Look for the dark and moody edits. Colorful folks might like more of the light and airy feel, which appears dreamy and offers lots of light. Some people are more about the raw and authentic photo with less edits and a more true-to-life feel.
One final note to keep in mind is that many photographers don’t just shoot in one style. Some incorporate aspects of different styles into their work. So, when you’re looking through their websites, instagram, galleries and so on, make sure you look at multiple sessions to see a photographer’s full range of style.
To say it again, you don’t have to be an expert in photo editing or photo styles to know what you like. You’ll know when you know, but hopefully, with a little fine-tuning in your search, you can get to your photographer sooner without feeling lost in a sea of wedding photography.
2. Get to know them (AKA when internet stalking is OK)
Hopefully someone has told you this before, but if it’s news to you, then listen close. You will be spending A LOT of time with your wedding photographer. On your wedding day, it’s guaranteed that you will spend more time with your photographer than any other vendor and it’s very possible that you will see more of your photographer than your spouse. I think it’s safe to assume that you like your partner. Well, you really need to like your wedding photographer too.
Start with Instagram and photographers’ websites. You can get a lot of personality from IG feeds, and especially from the About page on a site. There are also often pages like the Experience or Philosophy page that give more of an insight into what it’s like to work with this person.
There are as many photographer personality types as there are couple personality types. If you’re more of the calm, easy going couple, you want to find someone with a similar vibe. If you want to shout and dance all night, try to find a photographer who is more energetic and extroverted. You want a photographer who can embrace you as you are and vice versa. Don’t be afraid to say no to a photographer based on personality differences.
After you’ve gotten the general feel for a photographer and you think you may want to work with them, hop on a call. It’s difficult to know if you’ll click with someone just through emails. Hear their voice, ask the big questions, but also ask them for their favorite Office episode or what they do for fun. A wedding photographer doesn’t have to be your BFF but it doesn’t hurt to feel like you’re working with an old friend.
In short, finding a wedding photographer is kind of like using the Golden Rule in reverse. Think of how you would like someone to “do unto you” and see through their website, social media and a phone call if they are the right one for your special day. Decide what matters to you most in the personality of a wedding photographer. Is it professionalism? Rock star good times? Bubbly energy? Over the top niceness? Trust your intuition when choosing “the one.”
A final note, remember that no one is one-sided or so easily defined by blanket personality traits. Your photographer is a human just like you, so after you’ve decided you love their photo style, get to know them as a human.
3. Do NOT hire “Uncle Bob” or your family friend with a nice-ish camera
Don’t do it! Please, please, please, in the name of love, don’t let an amateur be the one capturing this once-in-a-lifetime event!
If this sounds judgey or over-dramatic, I apologize, but I can’t stress this enough. I’ve seen too many couples who were trying to cut back on expenses so they let a friend or family member who just got a new camera shoot their wedding. I have never seen this situation turn out well. I’ve been told the saddest stories of entire family shots being over-exposed and ruined, photos with grandparents who passed away a few months later blurred and out of focus, missed first kiss shots, and the list goes on and on. You might get a few good photos, but you are pretty much guaranteed to end up with so many missed moments and a feeling of regret that — hate to break it to you — is never going away.
You only get one day. So you have to make it count and you have to make the memories last. The ONLY way to do this is through honest and heartfelt photos. I don’t want to shortchange your brain, but memory is known to fade and flicker. In the end, it’s the photos that are going to hold your most treasured moments. Don’t leave it up to Uncle Bob to document memories that you’ll want to last a lifetime.
Memories are irreplaceable. If you have to make budget cuts in other places in your wedding, that’s understandable, but don’t cut out the photos.
Hate to get on my photo soapbox, but photography is really so much more than just pointing and clicking. It’s knowing how to shoot in any kind of light. It’s sizing up an event, a crowd, a moment and knowing where to be at the exact right time to get that magic shot. It’s mastering all the tech: shutters, lenses, flashes, editing softwares, light modifications, exposure control, cropping, printing, etc. It’s anticipating reactions and capturing emotions. It’s telling a story with images and focusing on everything — from the sky to the strand of hair on a cheek — in order to do so. It’s being patient, flexible, assertive, rational + passionate all at the same time.
Yeah, it’s a lot. But you shouldn’t have to worry about it. That’s why you leave it up to the professionals.
You wouldn’t want someone with just a box of Band-Aids and a scalpel to perform open heart surgery on you, so don’t hire someone who has a decent camera and likes shooting blurry pictures of birds to capture the most important day of your life. You will end up scarred and each time you look at your luke-warm photos the wound will reopen.
I’m almost done here. If you can’t tell, I’m very passionate about this. I’m so emphatic, in fact, that I’m not even saying all this because photo is my passion and my livelihood. I just want you to be happy. You have so many photographers to choose from. If I’m not you’re one that is totally fine, but please choose a professional with experience and the photos to prove that they know what they’re doing. Photography is very much a get-what-you-pay-for field. If you need to be thrifty, that’s OK, just remember that the photos will be the only part of the ceremony that will be with you for life. (Except your person, of course).
4. Before the BIG day, schedule a test run
How do you test run a wedding?
Before you start wondering if you missed some new trend in which couples do a complete dry run of their wedding, don’t worry. The test run is just an engagement or couple’s session before the wedding. It’s the absolute best way to get to know (see #2) your photographer.
I always strongly encourage booking the engagement shoot, even if you’ve already done one. It’s an opportunity to get to know your photographer more and for them to get to know you. You can learn how they work and get yourself more familiar with the process. The engagement shoot is especially recommended for those who shy from the camera and feel wary about getting their photo taken.
Literally every single couple I’ve ever worked with says that the engagement shoot made them feel more comfortable on the big day. It helps loosen you up and lessens the stress. It lets you know what to expect so you can calm your worries.
Get all the jitters out, ask all your questions, and see what it’s like to work with this person. It may not be exactly like test-driving a car, but I promise, if you like your photographer, you’ll get more mileage out of the photos than any car.
5. Trust your gut!
When you throw style, personality, price and all the other logistics into a pot and boil it all down, you’re either left with something mouthwateringly delicious or something that doesn’t taste quite right. It might be the corn and tuna casserole kind of not right, but if it’s not sitting so well with you, you don’t have to eat it!
Hopefully these food metaphors are making sense. The moral of the story is: go with your gut. You can look at a hundred different photographers, you can scour the internet, wedding forums, Facebook groups and on and on, but you are still going to eventually have to make a choice.
If you have followed all the above steps, then you’re in a good spot. When it comes to making that final decision, try stepping back, taking some deep breaths and remembering what’s most important about your day. It’s for you and your boo to love each other like there’s no tomorrow.
In an ideal world, you should fall in love with your photographer in the same way that you fell in love with your person (very different, of course!). But the principle is the same. When you know, you know. You get that feeling of certainty and clarity. Doubts disappear. It feels easy and effortless.
Go with it. Trust the process. And trust your photographer. That’s all I want for you.
Hope you picked up some tips to help you through this process. It’s not easy, but try not to let it stress you out. When all is said and done, your wedding should be the most special day of your life. So take time to choose the right photographer to see you through your day.
And remember, my door is always open (figuratively, of course because by door I mean my email). If you have any questions about the process, I’m happy to answer. Even if it’s a question you have about another photographer and how to choose who’s right for you. I just want you to have the best possible experience and the best photos.
Here’s to you and the best day of your life!