10 Keys to Choosing the Best Wedding Photographer
Anyone who has already chosen a wedding photographer and now has their wedding photos in hand will tell you it was not easy choosing their photographer and making sense of the many, many similar packages and services offered. Unfortunately too many brides will tell you their wedding photography never matched their expectations after they made their choice. The following tips are offered by a professional wedding photographer who has done a lot of research on what is being offered in the Columbus, Ohio area, seen what is being offered at wedding shows and has personally photographed hundreds of weddings.
My purpose is simple: to help you make a well informed decision and make sure you end up with excellent photography that is within your budget for your wedding day. To be completely upfront, I do want your business and I feel that if you care about the quality of your wedding photography and understand the differences in the levels of service and the details offered, I will earn your business – especially if you see my work online or in person.
#1. Know your wedding photographer by type:
Wedding photographers can be generally grouped into 3 levels and can vary quite a bit by price and quality though the actual packages and number of prints offered don’t vary that much until you understand what your exactly getting.
Expensive (you get what you pay for).
The most expensive local wedding photographers usually have an excellent reputation, an impressive retail/studio, usually work larger, higher budget weddings and use assistant photographers and lighting crew, etc., They can charge from $6,000 – $16,000++ for their services and vary quite a bit in terms of style and artistic capability. The quality is very good and availability on Saturdays in prime season is very low, they are booked at least 12-24 months ahead. They almost always offer albums, prints etc. which will cost you between $500-1,500++ additional and they typically provide great results at a very low risk if they fit your budget – but make sure you get the actual top photographer at the studio (not an intern or secondary photographer) if your going to pay $5,000+.
The Middle Ground (the best value if you think your wedding photography and album quality are important).
Wedding coverage and package prices range from approx. $2,000 – $6,000. Most of these types of photographers shoot in the high quality (RAW) and work on each image you order themselves before it is printed (like us). In my experience it is always an advantage to choose a photographer whose work and style you love, who owns and operates their own business, who does not pay others to do work they book and most importantly, who spends the time after the wedding to work on your images and albums to provide a high level of quality and personal service. Don’t let fancy retail studios fool you, sometimes you can find excellent, quality photographers who do not operate out of a retail studio location and you get the advantage of not paying for the $4K++ a month costs a retail studios typically needs in expenses.
Lowest cost (better than your friends taking the pictures).
At the bottom end of the market are occasional photographers, crags list advertisers and students. Everyone has to start somewhere and these are the people trying to make a buck while teaching themselves about wedding photography. They typically come equipped with only the basic camera gear and have little experience in shooting weddings, or any other event. The smallest hick-up during your wedding day may throw them for a loop and their equipment may run out of battery power/card storage because of ill planning or it may break down, and they will not have a back-up.
#2. Wedding studios that offer volume wedding photography
Another low cost alternative are the wedding studios that offer volume wedding photography through a hired team of part time photographers – ‘The Pros’, Davids Bridal, Bella Pictures and many others. Beware of these types of wedding photography shops!
These type of groups hire many photographers (mostly weekend only photographers who work normal jobs weekdays and or are students), they pay super low rates (for example you pay $1000 plus, the photographer gets $15 an hour!) and these type of wedding photography groups offer the lowest cost packages with lots, and lots of prints and proofs and or a CD/DVD included at low prices. Costs for this type of photographer for weekend packages can range from as low as $500 to $1500 and the artistic quality of this range of photographers is usually really poor – though the online or album photography portfolio may look good it is important you see the work of the actual photographer you are getting for your date. In general these are poor wedding photographers and you can see way too many posed, un-natural images of brides and grooms with fake smiles and bad composition. Most of the time photographers at the low end give you your images as shot (most shoot only in low resolution jpg. mode but advertise “high resolution DVD with all images”!) At the lowest prices, these businesses have to use every trick in the book to put in the very least (paid) time per wedding after its shot, use automated software to enhance the images and book VOLUME – as many weddings every weekend they can – too many of these lower cost photographers simply don’t like their work and only do it for a the (little) money they receive. You normally never know which of their “photographers” you will get as most hop from shop to shop if one offers a few dollars more per hour.
#3. Camera settings and file type are VERY IMPORTANT to the quality of the images you will get.
Avoid any photographer who tells you he/she wants to shoot your wedding in jpg. only mode on their cameras even if they tell you this really is “high resolution”. Any photographer who cares about the quality of their work shoots at all the important digital photographs of the bride and groom and or family in RAW mode. RAW mode is the highest, super high resolution mode possible on any professional camera but it is avoided or not mentioned by most photographers as it requires a lot of additional work after the wedding to convert files and enhance the selected images manually, in other words it can take twice the time per wedding to shoot in RAW mode (typical time I allocate to work on images is less than 10 images per hour – requiring as much as 80 hours of post wedding editing time!). Avoid photographers who offer to give you all the images shot at your wedding on a DVD! (in other words all your images shot in jpg. only mode and never actually worked on individually).
#4. Choose a wedding photographer with a people oriented personality who cares and wants to capture the smallest details of your wedding, your religion and your culture!
The fact is weddings in Central Ohio usually involve couples who come from different religions, cultures and backgrounds! In my company I really focus on understanding these differences and capturing the details of each religious ceremony, and culture in our wedding photography – no detail of your wedding you want captured is too small. I spend a lot of time understanding what is important to you both, and your families and making sure your guests at the wedding feel like they can request images from your photographer too. You get way more and better images when I do that well.
#5. Don’t get fooled by beautiful retail studio locations.
You are paying for that overhead and results vary tremendously from one studio to the other and the photographer they happen to assign to you. Your best bet is choose the photographer by the quality of their actual work by checking it in detail and finding out how long they have been shooting, how many weddings they shot last year, and how many weddings they have shot and how many years they have been in the business. If they shoot more than 25 weddings a year and they are very, very busy, they may not be your first choice if you also want a personal level of service.
#6. For the best price and package value, deal with the specific photographers you are interested and meet them in person.
Review their work online, speak to a short list on the phone to see if they are the type of people you want to spend 12 hours with on your wedding day. Don’t try to negotiate in emails until you see their work in person – it is a sure way to get a good deal but you may be disappointed after.
#7. Don’t just choose the same photographer your friend or relative did.
Do you love your best friends art? Would you love their furniture in your home?? Friends, family or not. style and taste vary a lot. If you absolutely love the wedding album from your friend’s wedding with a specific photographer, great. But choosing a style and personality is important as finished work for a lot of people. It is worth seeing and meeting with at least 3 photographers in person before deciding.
#8. Book your wedding on an ‘off’ day.
If your budget is limited you can save big (10-25%+) on photography, facilities, limos, and all the other costs of your wedding by choosing a non-weekend date. A great way to do this is picking a Monday/Friday on a 3 day weekend for your wedding or getting married off season in the colder times.
#9. Make sure you ask the photographer to review an actual wedding they shot with you in detail.
Not just a few images that were the best ones shot during the day. Ask to see the proofs on a computer, plus the images selected by their clients. The best photographers using digital equipment will shoot approx 60-100 images per hour on average and give you many selections of each type of image to choose from.
#10. The best photographers also shoot medium or large format film cameras.
Medium format cameras like a Hasselblad or Mamiya have always been the hallmark of a true professional and yield the highest quality results. These cameras produce amazing images that are 30-60 MP+ digital files but are way more expensive. If you and your family wants amazing large prints (16″ x 20″ or larger) or spectacular black and white or color portraits larger format cameras can be the best way to go for a number of reasons. If your photographer offers medium format options to the wedding package you know they are usually very good, experienced and care about the quality of work they offer even though these cameras are not used much any more mainly because of cost.