March 3, 2020
If you are planning a wedding and still hemming and hawing over wedding photography, you’ve hit the mother-load my friend! Today, is part one of our two part series on photography education for couples. Today, I’m going to tell you exactly how to choose a wedding photographer. Later, I will have some really great information on the difference between film and digital photography. First, it helps to know the lingo and it REALLY helps to narrow down your style. This will help you to decide what you love. Do not be fooled into thinking that there is not a perfect-for-you photographer in every style for every budget. There is. But here’s the thing… When it comes to wedding photography (and videography), you only get one chance to get it right.
You will need to look at your overall wedding budget and decide how much of it will be ear-marked for photography. I have had experience where couples struggle setting a photography budget. It’s hard to know what wedding photography costs if you’ve never been married before. Actually, that’s true of all wedding budgeting. But given my experience with wedding photography in New Jersey, you should budget anywhere from $3000 to 10,000. A lot of the cost depends on what your photography package will include and what it will not include. And to make it more complicated, most photographers have their own way of creating packages that are tailored to their business, so that makes it really difficult to compare the package of one photographer to another. Not every photographer is going to include a second shooter, albums, or engagements photos. So, figure out what you want and need first.
You might also want to break down you wedding photography budget further into the following three categories:
There’s a little bit of wedding photography vocabulary that you will need to brush up on before digging too deeply into your research for wedding photography services.
Second Shooter | A trained photographer who will assist in making sure that photos are taken from all angles. Don’t confuse a second shooter with photographer’s assistant. One photographer will be taking wide-angle shoots or getting that dream shot of a dress train from behind, while the other photographer is up close capturing the look on your face and that of your fiancee as you approach!
Photo Assistant | Someone to act as a second pair of hands to the main photographer. They will sometimes help to carry equipment (flashes, lenses, camera bags, etc. can get really heavy). They also help “wrangle” guests for family photos. This is clutch when trying to find Uncle Steve for family photos, when he’s not at the pre-arranged spot, but instead at the bar.
Day-Of Slide Show or Same-Day Edit | Some photographers will offer a very quick same-day edit of your photographs that are then displayed on a screen during the reception. This is often a very fast edit, and may not be the best choice for couples who would like to personally curate the images that go “out there” of themselves.
Digital Photography | Digital is, by far, the more common format for wedding photography. It allows your photographer to make adjustments for light (using a preview screen) while they work, and allows for a large number of photos to be taken efficiently and cost-effectively, without having to worry if you ring bearer had his eyes closed or was making a not funny face.
Film Photography | Film photography is rather rare, but it’s not uncommon to see photographers offering a combination of both film and digital photos to couples. Film is much more expensive to shoot in, and will take more time to edit and produce. So, if you ask me, a combination is nice, but if you are not a photography connoisseur, you would be very hard-pressed to tell the difference. But, check out part 2 of Photo Ed, because I’ve got another blog post that explains digital vs film, for those of you who are interested.
First Look Photos | First looks are great for couples that are getting married and having their reception at the same venue. There are an enormous number of pros and cons. And every couple should decide after reading them, if a first look is for them. The biggest pro, your photographer will have more time for portraits and the couple will get to snap a few extra family photos and go almost immediately to their cocktail hour. If you are getting married at a location and plan on a few hours break in between the ceremony and reception, then a first look isn’t necessary, but still might be nice. Another reason many couples opt for a first look is for natural light. At certain times of the year, when the sun sets early, you may not have as much time to take outdoor photos after the ceremony ends.
Suggested Shot List | This is not something you have to worry about while looking for a wedding photographer, but I’m including it in the lingo list, because it is going to come up again. Most photographers will LOVE you for giving them a small shot list. Keep it to 5-10 shots. Try not to limit them creatively and please do not ask them to do a set-up that you found on somewhere else. They will not want to copy another photographer’s work. I suggest to my couples that they break their list up into two lists. The first list should simply be special items and details that they would like photos of. Things like, a photo of your bouquet that shows the handkerchief that was your grandmother’s tied to the handle. Or, the special place setting at the sweetheart table that was your grandmother’s china. The other list is the family photos they would like taken. All the combinations of people in their family photos. Include BOTH names and relations ships in this list. For example:
Engagement Shoots | Many couples will choose to have engagement photos taken. These are great for save the dates, your holiday card the year before the wedding, and I love to encourage couples to use them for their wedding website. It’s also nice to include some engagement photos in your wedding day decor. They will look really pretty sprinkled around your space, and it’s a great reason to get prints and frame them to have around your home leading up to the big day. Some photographers include an engagement shoot in their wedding package, and some do not. Others will include it as an add-on, meaning it is an additional cost to the couple. If you’re not sure you want engagement photos, be sure to read this blog by Susan Hennessey from Susan Hennessy Photography on why she believes they are important.
One of the first things you should know about yourself is what style of wedding photography are you looking for. When you are researching wedding photographers, do not research by price, research by style. Trust me, there is a photographer out there in every style that will hit your price-point. In the end, if you don’t like your wedding photography it doesn’t matter how much you paid for it. And trust me, you will want photos you love. This is also something I strongly suggest you hire a professional for. Do not “hire” a guest and think long and hard before taking photography as a gift. You will always get what you pay for in life. This is no exception. And believe it or not, I’ve been to weddings where the wedding photographer was a family friend, and was hitting the bar BEFORE the ceremony! Hire a professional and have a contract in place!
Here are some examples of different photography styles. Some wedding photographers will call them different things, and some will use more than one term to describe their style, but knowing what each style means will give you a better chance of getting it right when you are trying to visualize a photographer’s vibe.
Natural Light Photography vs. Flash Photography | Photographers will sometimes describe themselves as natural light photographers meaning they prefer to take their photos without then use of flash and lights. There will be times when a flash is essential (indoors, during reception introductions, often during sunset photos and dancing). I wanted to give you an example of two different shots using a flash. Without a flash, the bride and groom would have been too dark to make out their features, and the couple would have been much darker.
Light and Airy Edit & Indie/Moody/Dark Edit | I’ve lumped these two together because they are completely opposite. And it’s best to simply show you the difference. It all has to do with the use of light and editing. A light and airy photography style will be just that. While I tend to quickly identify the Indy/moody/dark edit by looking at the white tones in a photo. If the white areas look grey, it’s a sure giveaway that the photography style is Indy/moody/dark.
A few years ago I did a styled shoot with Delaney Dobson Photography for Bay Magazine. She edited the photos as both light and airy and a second set with what she calls an Indie edit. This gave the editors a choice for the magazine.
Classic/Traditional | These photos will stand the test of time. They will include pictures of the classic wedding shots such as, invitation suites, bride and groom portraits, and timeless arrangements and compositions. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, look at your parent’s wedding album. Don’t get distracted by dad’s wide tie and your mom’s white eyeshadow (I kid you not, I am describing my parents), look instead at the arrangement of people and the content being captured.
Lifestyle/Photojournalistic/Editorial | These types of photos are not for everyone. If you want someone to tell you where to place your hands, and what direction to walk in to capture the best light, then you’ll want someone who can blend and capture photojournalism into the rest of your photos. But some adventurous couples may be just fine with forgoing some of the more traditional wedding photos in exchange for candid and natural posing. This might be something to try with an engagement shoot to make certain you are ok with the results. It’s ok to admit, that while you love this style, you might not be a good fit for it if you are uncomfortable with the process.
As a planner, here’s a few things I want to make certain I tell every single on of my couples if they are researching and booking photography.
Now that you know so much more about wedding photography, it’s time to begin reaching out to photographers with a style that you like. Keep in mind, that it’s not a bad idea to reach out to a photographer who is out of your price range. Just tell them how much you love their work, and ask if they can make any recommendations to other photographers with a similar style. Trust me, finding out someone loves your work is always flattering. And they will very likely respond in kind with a referral to a trusted peer. That’s a win!
Once you are ready to begin inquiring, do so through the photographers contact page on their website or by sending an email. Ask if they are available for your wedding date, and ask for their packages. It’s also not a bad idea to ask at this point for a sample gallery.
Once you have your list narrowed down, setup a time to call and speak with your photographer. I can’t stress this enough: They may be the person you will spend the most time with on your wedding day! You will want to like them, and find them easy to be around. If you sense any “red flags” move on. This is an important decision and a larger wedding investment, so you want to make sure you get it right!
Thank you to the photographers who allow us to use their images on our site:
Ashley Mac Photographs, Heather Palecek Photography, Idalia Photography, Jessica Erb Photography, Susan Elizabeth Photography, Delaney Dobson Photography, Ann Coen Photography, Lovesick Inc., K Hulett Photography & Melanie Cassie Photography
(973) 477-1392 | email@example.com