10 things to ask your wedding photographer / by Justin Duff

#1 - What kind of equipment do you use?

Why it’s important:  It tells you how much your photographer has invested in their work.

This answer could be complicated or simple, either way it will tell you a lot about your photographer. If a photographer tells you they have a Cannon 5D Mark III or Nikon D800 they have just told you they spent a lot of money on a camera body. Even if it is a less expensive camera look at their eyes when you ask and look for the passion in their face. Most photographers are proud of their equipment no matter the cost.

Some of you are thinking, “So what, he’s got a fancy camera, that doesn’t make him a good photographer.” First you are correct, a great photographer could probably shoot your wedding with any camera, and a spectacular photographer could do it with an iPhone. What it tells you though is that your photographer takes his art seriously. They have invested a lot of time and effort into their craft.  They probably have the expensive version of Photoshop. They have taken classes, listened to other photographer’s techniques, and they know their camera very well before they ever shoot a person with it.

Some of you are still thinking “I have a friend with money, they have an expensive camera but they can’t take good photos.” That could be true, the difference is that “your friend” has money and they are not trying to get hired for a wedding. Many wedding photographers do this for a living or as a side income to support their photography hobby.  They love what they do and take a lot of pride.

#2 - What is your Style?

Why it’s important: Your Photographers style will have a heavy impact on what your photos look like in the end.

You may have answered this question for yourself by looking at the work of the photographer you’re going to meet.  Where this question comes in most useful is when you go to a company that may have several photographers, whose styles will vary. Knowing what you want your photos to look like in the end will help. If you don’t know search the web and have some examples to show.  There are 6 major categories.

Traditional, Classic:  The photographer usually works from a “shot list,” ensuring that they cover all the elements you have requested. To make sure every detail of the shots is perfect, your photographer not only adjust their equipment, but also the background, body alignment, and even the attire.

         PRO: You get a lot of formal photos for your wedding album.

        CON: Each shot takes time to set up and can be a long process.

Photojournalism: This is currently a very popular style. The photographer will follow you and your wedding party through your whole day. Telling the story of your day through photographs. This photographer is a sort of fly on the wall, doesn’t bother your guests or have anyone posing.

         PRO: There is no posing therefore no waiting.

        CON: There are no formal photos with your bridal party or family.

Illustrative: This is referred to as a blend between Traditional and Photojournalism. Whether a photographer leans toward one style or the other depends on the photographer and their client.

         PRO: You can get the best of both worlds.

         CON: Your photographer may not be a master at both styles.

Portraiture: This style will be posed. What separates it from traditional it’s the creative edge the photographer may use.  This photographer is usually a master of light use and posing that more represents a work of art than a photograph.

         PRO: You will have spectacular photos to show

        CON: There will be fewer photos and it may take an extensive amount time to set up, or have to be done at a certain time of day to get the proper effect. This may impact your day in ways you weren’t expecting. It’s a good idea to talk about timing with your photographer if you’re leaning to this style.

High Fashion: This style is not normally used for weddings. But if you are into fashion, looking artsy and glamorous like you’re ready for the cover of a magazine this may be the style for you.

         PRO: You will have unique photos to show everyone.

         CON: This style focuses more on the clothing than you.

Natural Light: This style of photography does not use a flash for lighting. If you are having an outdoor wedding and/or reception this may be a good option for you.

        PRO: There are no flashes going off to distract anyone.

       CON: Some photographers say they are a “natural light photographer” for the wrong reasons. Be very careful if you go shopping for a natural light photographer. (This will be discussed in detail in another section)

#3 - What are your prices?

Why it’s important:  It shows you the value of what you’re getting.

Some of you are thinking “Of course I’m going to ask about pricing!” Let’s take a moment though and evaluate the price. You have a few different choices on the level of photographer you can hire. There’s the friend or family member that has a nice camera they shoot pretty good photos.  This is by far the most cost saving way to go, but keep in mind that you may be asking someone to miss out on the fun of your wedding to take photos. Some may want to have a couple drinks at the reception which can impact your photo quality and quantity. They may not know their equipment very well just setting it to auto and hoping for the best.  Once you get your photos back you may be very disappointed. This is after all a onetime event there is no do over button. 

So you’ve decided to pay someone to shoot you wedding but all you going to spend is $500 no more. Let’s put that in to perspective. After scouting your wedding venue, your reception venue, shooting on your wedding day, and then post production to get your photos back to you. A photographer could spend 80 hours on your wedding at $500 that’s $6.63 per hour. You wouldn’t trust the kid at the fast food restaurant to cater you wedding. Why would you trust your wedding day memories to someone willing to work for less than minimum wage?

Ok, now you’re willing to spend more but what are you really getting?  There are a lot of costs that go into a photographer’s bag. A Camera is the most basic thing, but most professionals will carry more than one.  If you looked up the cameras mentioned in question #1 you would know those cost around $3,000 each, then there are lenses and flashes etc…  Your photographer could potentially show up to you wedding with a very high dollar amount in equipment. Much of this equipment is very high quality to provide you with the absolute best photos of your wedding day. This is what you want, a set of beautiful photos of you, your bridal party, and your guests. You may want to make a really large print to hang on your wall.  It takes good equipment, time, and skill to do this for you. A great photographer has taken a lot of time to learn what they do and they want to be properly compensated for it.

#4 - Can we create a shot list?

Why it’s important: So your photographer knows what photos are important to you.

Creating a shot list can’t be hard right? We’ve got the kiss, the rings, the bridal party those are easy. What your photographer doesn’t know is that your cousin who you spent every summer with as kids, is coming. You haven’t seen her in three years. Your photographer doesn’t know your cousin from your friend next to her.  If you don’t have a shot list your photographer will never know and you may be really disappointed that you didn’t get that photo. Most photographers are happy to work with you on a shot list. There are some rare occasions, for instance if you chose photo-journalistic style that a shot list is not possible. 

#5 - When do I get my photos?

Why it’s important: What good is the most beautiful photo ever, if you never see it?

Everyone knows someone who hired a photographer. The photographer shot their wedding, and six months later they still haven’t seen their photos. With today’s social media you want to be able to show your photos quickly.  Ask your photographer if they have a time-frame in their contract. If they don’t ask if they would add it in for you. If they refuse that may be a sign of long delays in your future.

#6 - Do I have printing rights?

Why it’s important: This may force you to go back to your photographer for prints.

First what are printing rights? They are the right for you to be able to print you photos through any means you want to use. Sounds pretty straight forward, so why would a photographer keep these from you?  There are a couple of different reasons the first is their work. A photographer works very hard to get lighting just right taking a few shots just to make sure they got a good one. They don’t want you using a low end printer such as your local pharmacy to create a possible poor version of the photo they took. Your photographer may use a printing service that costs more, but the machines used are much more precise. The second reason is of course money. If your photographer only shows you your photos in an online gallery allowing you to choose which photos to print, you are forced to go through your photographer every time you want one. They are happy to do this of course, for a price. Some photographers include printing rights in their contract. If they do, great, print away. If you want a really large photo or something special like a gallery wrap, asking your photographer may be the best way to get a high quality print. Other photographers are willing to sell you printing rights for a price.  They may actually lower their service price to compensate so don’t toss them aside just because it’s A la carte, look at the big picture.

#7 - Do you Charge for travel?

Why it’s important: It could seriously impact you photographers cost.

Not all photographers charge for destination weddings sometimes even international. Its sounds crazy but if their prices are averaged out so they make a little more here a little less there, they may not have to charge you. Where this comes in most relevant is when a photographer doesn’t tell you about cost for travel and then you get a huge travel bill. Most photographer’s contracts will have some clause about additional cost for things specific to your wedding.  This usually pertains to some unexpected cost, like a toll road, if they have to pay to get in a location (a zoo for engagement photos), or if they have to pay for parking. Others may use this clause to charge you for travel they didn’t tell you about up front.  If it is in the contract you signed you will end up having to pay before receiving your photos.

#8 - Are you open to my ideas?

Why it’s important: If you have a specific photo you want, pick a photographer who is open to shooting it.

Why wouldn’t a photographer be open to the bride’s ideas? A photographer may have a specific style of shooting. A sort of sub category from the ones mentioned above. With things like Pinterest and Facebook there are tons of photos out there that brides want.  Some of them have spectacular ideas that they want to have in their wedding album. While bringing a couple ideas to the table for your photographer isn’t so bad, bringing 50 or 100 can be very overwhelming. Some of the photos you find aren’t even live weddings they are models in wedding dresses and tuxedos.  Many photos may not be the style your photographer shoots and setting up each shot to match the one you found can take a daunting amount of time. To some photographers this has become such an issue that they have shut out the idea of outside input to their creativity. If your photographer is open to seeing your ideas try to limit it, and keep in mind the photo will never turn out exactly like the one on Pinterest. So let your photographer put their own twist on it and maybe your photo will be in someone else's shot list.

#9 - What do you use for lighting?

Why it’s important:  This can heavily impact your photo quality.

This can be a giant can of worms but could mean the difference between beautiful photographs and looking at a bunch of weird color specs in all your photos. Those specs are called “noise” in the photography world. It comes from camera settings that allow the camera to capture a lot of light without the use of a flash. If you have ever taken a photo that was really dark and tried to brighten it on your computer you may know already. This is where the warning comes in about natural light photographers in question #2. Every professional photographer should know how to use flash photography. Its can sometimes be annoying, but it is necessary if you want nice photos in a dark area such as a poorly lit church or your reception. Some photographers have become such masters of light most of the time they choose not to shoot with a flash but can still end up with spectacular photos. These people are very rare in wedding photography. Most of the time when someone calls themselves a “natural light photographer” it really means “I don’t know how to use my flashes properly.”  In the end what you’re going to end up with is only a handful of decent photos and a bunch of excuses as to why your photos didn’t turn out.

#10 - What makes you different?

Why it’s important: it distinguishes your photographer from the rest.

When it comes to being different it may not be in the photographs themselves. It could be that this person is funny and engaging not like the boring photographer you met last week. Not that either is bad, maybe you don’t want the funny one, because you want someone who isn’t going to bother your guests, and just shoot. It could be their track record they could tell you “I’ve never been late or missing.” It could be that they are going to post your photos on Facebook.  Whatever that is make sure you know it could mean a world of difference, not necessarily in your photos, but in your experience with your photographer.