How To Choose A Wedding Photographer
I should actually name this post, "How To Choose A Wedding Photographer And Not Regret It Afterwards"! Hopefully this little guide will help you to start your hunt for an awesome wedding photographer on the right foot. The first step in anything is always the hardest, but it always get easier once you've set off in the right direction... which is what this article will help you do. So, make a cuppa and gain access to biscuits... you'll feel a whole lot better once you've read this!
Wedding photography is exciting, getting the right photographer will help you to feel inspired about your wedding day!
I'm almost starting with my final point first, but the ultimate indicator that you have chosen well is when you catch yourself actually looking forward to having your photo taken (well, at least not dreading it). I'd say that the vast majority of my couples start out knowing that they need a professional photographer to do a good job of catching their wedding, but dread the idea of actually having their photo taken (is this you? Huh? HUH???). They will have heard nightmare stories from their friends, all about how their wedding photographer almost ruined their day by bossing their guests around and trying to control everything with clipboards. When I first start chatting with couples who are interested in booking a wedding photographer, I quite often hear things like, "the photographer at my sister's wedding physically stopped people entering the Church until they got their shot" or "the photographer shouted at a guest when they put their bag down on a table"... "our friend's photographer fired a gun into the air as a warning shot". Ok, so I made that last one up... but you've got to sex these posts up a bit haven't you? On the other hand, there are many awesome photographers out there who are going to love being at your wedding just as much as you and your guests do. They'll make you feel so relaxed and so comfortable that you completely forget they're there! Then when you get your photos back... they're all bangers and are so, so... YOU! That would be great right? Well, this post is all about how to distinguish great photographer from... er... those other ones... and how to choose the right one!
First up, you've gotta love their style.
Wedding photographers are not all the same and you'll find that there's a huge variety of different styles to choose from. Ideally you'll want to find the style you most gravitate to and hire someone who specialises in that particular style. Some photographers have a dark & moody look, they don't worry too much about showing happy & vibrant images - they're after powerful & dramatic photos that require a certain level of cooperation from the couple. Then there's "Fine Art" wedding photographers, they mainly shoot on film cameras (not digital) and aim for a very organic/analog result. I really like this style, but it will often come with a premium price due to the cost of film & lab developing. Wedding Sparrow is an excellent Fine Art photography blog, well worth a sniff if you'd like to find out more about film photography. There are traditional wedding photographers too, who will spend more time curating and staging couples in a particular way to achieve a particular look. These guys are absolutely ideal for couples who want lots of formal & posed family photos. Lastly, there's the documentary & candid wedding photographers (like me) who like shooting weddings like a fly on the wall. Their focus is to get natural & exciting photos that tell the story of the day, without too much interference or direction. This is best for couples who want that natural, fun look with lots of genuine emotion and popping colours. I'd have a look at all these styles (Instagram is great for this, just use the hashtags... eg... "#fineartweddingphotos" or "#candidweddingphotography) and see which one speaks to you the most. Or jumps off the page and slaps you.
Did you just think of Will Smith?
You'll want to find someone who makes you feel uber comfortable.
I think the secret to getting great looking wedding photos (not awkward looking ones) is more about how you and your photographer connect personally and less about things that would seem more obvious, such as cameras & lighting. If you have a similar sense of humour for example, you'll probably genuinely enjoy their company and feel like you've known them a lot longer than you actually have. This will really help you feel at ease on the day and you'll look exactly that in your photos. Wedding photography is absolutely unique to other forms of photography, most of which require you to master "camera skills", building compositions and getting everything just right. With weddings, it's very much: "human being first, photographer second".
So, how exactly can you tell if you’re gonna connect with a photographer if you’ve never met them?
When you're initially searching, all you've got to go on is their website & social media platforms. However, if you look out for the right signs... it is possible to get a good idea of what they're going to be like in person! Let me break it down:
Do they make a good first impression? A good homepage should have some large images right at the top... possibly a carousel with about 5-10 photos. The photographer will have chosen their very best pictures that reflect their style and priority for their work. In short, these few images should give you a really good idea about what kind of photographer you're looking at. Are all the photos similar, are they all quite different? Do you get a sense that the weddings they show are the sort of weddings you'd quite like to go to??? Or would you absolutely hate to be there? Looking at the people they are showing, do you reckon you could hang out with them... or not in a million years? Wedding photographers tend to work with people who are quite like themselves, so keep that in mind when looking through their photos.
Hopefully, they'll be lots of photos here to to get a really good idea about a photographer's particular style. First off, have they actually got a style? Are you able to notice consistency throughout their work? For example, have they edited their photos so they all match and look good together... or is it a convoluted mismatch of colours. Are there lots of staged/posed photos from a traditional photographer, or do you feel like you're peering behind the scenes? I personally feel that good wedding portraits should show people engaging with one another! Do you notice this at all, or is everyone looking at the camera... because they were asked to? See how you can backwards engineer photos to gain a pretty good sense of who you're dealing with? Pretty cool right! (you're becoming a pro now). Again, are they weddings you'd be happy to go to? Are you seeing people you could hang with? Do you think everyone looks pretentious, or fun?
* About page:
This page is the photograph's opportunity to dive home their personality and let you know the sort of character they are! So, do they actually do this? Is it more about their work than it is about them? Did you learn anything about them personally? Lot's of photographers tend to bang on about their experience as a pro, what gear they use (who cares), how many awards they have (most of them are fake), their qualifications... stuff like that. However, all of this is a bit pointless if you don't like their photos! Do they mention any of their interests or hobbies? What sort of films are they into? How do they spend their free time? Do they have family/pets/friends? All these little details will help you see the person behind the brand. If you don't see any of this... perhaps the photographer doesn't see it necessary to connect personally. Essentially, you're looking for someone who effectively says, "this is me"... giving you someone to relate to.
* Blog page:
This is where you'll get a more realistic idea of the end result you'll receive after your wedding. The portfolio (or gallery) is where you'll see all the photographer's best work and should be you first stop after landing on their homepage. However, blog posts will allow you to see a collection of photos from the same wedding... this is where you want to see a story unfold and be sucked in. Where does the story begin? Do you feel that the context has been built up well (external shots of the locations, details and the layout of venues, getting ready photos) or do you feel like you've just been dropped right into the ceremony, having no idea where it was or what was going on in the background? If you're looking for a more natural/candid photographer, do you feel like the wedding was photographed without too much interference and direction? Are people's smiles genuine... like they're cracking up at something really hilarious? Or do they look like they've been asked to smile or put in an awkward situation? Put yourself into those photos... how does it make you feel?
* Info/Pricing pages:
First of all, this page should definitely feature on a decent photography website, as it's very important for you to know exactly what you're paying for. I'm a big fan of putting my prices online and keeping things super simple. I think it's really frustrating if you click on "Pricing" or "Packages", only to find out that you have to fire an email off to the photographer to find out exactly how much they charge. Imagine Apple doing that with their new iPhone! If you find things easy and straightforward before your wedding day, chances are that you'll experience the same thing afterwards. If the photographer has communicated well here, hopefully they'll have answered most of your questions before you thought to ask them.
* Contact page:
Yep, even this one's important! Just in the same way that you want to make sure you're connecting with the right sort of photographer, they should also be keen to work with those on the same page creatively. The only essential details needed for an enquiry are your names, email addresses and the date of your wedding. However, look out for photographers who go a little deeper and show interest in who you are as a couple from the get-go. Perhaps they're interested in how you met, what you do with you free time and what sort of interests you have. If they give you the opportunity to express yourself when getting in touch, it's a good sign as they'll probably value the things that make you unique and try to show that in your wedding photos. You might find that you both have many things is common, you like their style, you laugh and the same things and you get on like a house on fire. What a difference that will make on your wedding day!
* Social media:
Let's take Instagram & Facebook for example (I don't bother with twitter - I think it's more for making political points, then regretting them a few years later when attending a job interview. I honestly don't even know what TikTok is). Again, are you seeing consistency on the grid... is it all business or can you see the person behind the brand. Do you detect any BS? A good example is when you hear, "this year is almost booked out 100%... only a few places left so get in quick" or "now taking bookings for <enter year>"... like there was a time when they weren't taking bookings and were turning everyone away ;-) All the photographers who are actually running a successful business tend not to go on about it, or create some sort of success illusion. If you notice any of these red flags, just remember that you're after honesty from someone who's down to earth and real. They'll never be a time when even the most amazing wedding photographers stop making epic fails... I've fallen off chairs, walked into walls, banged my head on everything, thought my camera had broken during some family photos... only for one of the guests to yell, "how about you take the lens cap off". Look out for those who don't just share all their success... it's never the whole truth.
* Google/Facebook reviews, social proof:
A great way to see what their past clients think. It's not just about making sure they have lots of 5 star reviews (although that's obviously a good sign), it's about looking a little deeper at what their past couples are saying. Do they mention things like, "made us feel at ease", "easy to work with", "fun & relaxed on the day"... think about how you want to feel - are you seeing good things in that area? If they've got lots couples raving about them... and a single 1 star review, it's likely that perhaps the vast majority have got it pretty much spot on... and one particular individual is a little deluded!
Experience is good, but it isn't everything.
Here's a great quote from the english novelist and poet Thomas Hardy - “Experience is as to intensity, and not as to duration.” If someone has been doing the same thing for 30 years, they're not as experienced as someone who's been keeping themselves fresh and trying new things for 5 years. In fact, when I stared out as a full time pro in 2012, I remember printing out my best 10 photos (pretty much all I had at the time) on my Epson Colour A3 printer and attending a local wedding show. There were two other photographers in this pretty ropey hotel and we were each placed as far away from each other as possible (they even gave us a collapsible table with a black drape thrown in). I had only shot a handful or weddings at that point (I was mainly shooting interiors & architecture) so my 10 best wedding photos were almost... my only 10 wedding photos! However, I was so hungry to be different and to be the most un-wedding person in the building... it was all I could think of. I had a big sign saying, "No awards, no following & no influence". Everyone thought it was hilarious and came over to my table first to take a selfie with my sign, I also had popcorn and sweets on offer. Even though I only had 10 photos, they were at least fun ones (mainly dance floor)... actually... they were the only fun ones at the show. I booked five weddings in four hours, the other more experienced photographers didn't book any at all. After the show had finished and I was packing everything into my car, one of the other photographers approached me in the car park... I'll never forget their words: "I hope you don't let any of those couples down, you've only just been born". I knew I wouldn't, because I was being totally myself all day and people had booked me for that very reason. All I had to do was be 100% me on their wedding day and have fun doing it, this became the very foundation of my style. I hope I never become "experienced" in all the wrong ways. Ya know what, if a photographer is brand spanking new and not very established, but you sense they're on fire... why the heck not?
The one thing you get to keep long after your wedding (except your partner of course) is your wedding photos!
The cake gets eaten, the flowers wither and die, you only get to wear your dress once and the confetti is biodegradable... but your photos, they're gonna stick around! You might as well invest in a photographer who's gonna take photos that are well worth getting out again and again. I really can't tell you just how many people have opted for a cheaper option, rather than going for someone they really loved... all for the sake of having a few extra flowers at the rear of their ceremony. They may not think anything of it at the time, but it can become a big regret after some time passes. Just make sure you're going to be happy with you decision in 20 years from now!
Some final questions to ask yourself before you start your search.
Look at the different styles of wedding photos out there, find a photographer who specialises in that particular style. Look at their work, are they showing themselves off or are they showing photos that you can put yourself in? Are you seeing weddings that you'd quite like to go to... or are you thinking, "man alive, not in a million years!". Do you get a sense of the photographer's personality from their website/social media outlets, of is it all "business". Does their feedback/reviews mention things that are important to you (like the photographer put their couples at ease). If you keep these simple, yet effective thought in you head as you conduct your search... you should be stood in good stead to come up trumps. You'll thank yourself in 20 years time!
Looking for awesome photos?
Hey, if you happen to be looking for a wedding photography in London, Surrey & the South East of England (and beyond)... please do get in touch and tell me all about your wedding ideas and plans!