selecting your wedding photographer
It's that time of year again....Inquiries are pouring in and I'm turning more clients down than accepting, either because their date is booked or our styles are not a good match. Whenever this happens, I feel a mothering instinct to at least help the couple make the right choice, or educate them about what to look for. It's such a strong urge that I wanted to share some insight with everyone, or at least whoever actually reads this blog (hi, Mom!).
I just want you to have incredible photographs!
In all honesty, I don't get too hung up on the average wedding falling to another photographer's lot. Some of you have even been eagerly referred to my homies because I just thought you matched better. There is enough business to go around and I've got a lot going on outside the photography industry to keep me busy-- I can share! But I do get really, really, really upset when clients go on to book someone who lets them down, and I have found that these words of wisdom were what they needed most to hear up front:
- A photographer's talent in a studio or with a planned portrait session does not directly relate to their talent for photographing a wedding. Most people with a camera can handle shooting in daylight, especially when they are in control of what their subject is doing, or what their subject looks like (re: models). In order to hit a home run on wedding day, however, the photographer needs to be able to shoot in a relatively uncontrolled environment, with a variety of constantly changing factors, lighting conditions, weather conditions, real people with real bodies, and personalities (both to capture in photos and to navigate gracefully [or assertively] all day). Ask your photographer to see more than their posed wedding day portraits. Ask to see a hearty sampling of their reception photos, ceremony shots from indoor weddings, and candids. Ask to see a wedding where it unexpectedly poured all day so you can get a feel for the 'worst case scenario' version of their work. Take much more notice of these images than the images from portrait hour. These may be the bulk of your images from the day-- would you be happy with that work and style?
- Choose a photographer who sees you, gets you, and seems to really like you. At least for me, it shows up in my work when I don't feel a connection with my client. Thankfully I can now gracefully decline those working relationships, but many photographers cannot afford to, or can but don't want to turn down work regardless. There are photographers whose style sort of hinges on a cool disconnectedness, like for an editorial vibe-- this advice probably does not apply to them. But if you want to look like your best YOU in your photos, try to choose someone who sees the best in you. If they can't see it, they can't show it, either. Unfortunately if you don't like you, even at your YOU-iest best, your photographer probably cannot win that battle for you with a lens. But also love yourself, because you are the best You there's ever been.
- The photos are only a part of the equation. It's no secret that wedding photography does not come cheap. So what kind of business are you investing in? The internet is full of horror stories but worst of all are the stories we vendors hear on the ground, or see happening around us. Someone bails on their contract because they want to go on a road trip instead; someone shows up 45 minutes late because they wanted a sandwich; a memory card gets lost or erased and your images are gone. Mistakes and traffic jams can happen to anyone -- believe me, it's this anxiety that keeps me up at night -- but they're less likely to happen when someone has business experience and makes client service a top priority. Is the photographer responsive? Are they insured? Do they book as many weddings as possible in a year? Is that going to make you feel less important, or are they brilliant at making every client still feel special? What do they do in addition to the biz, or before they started a business? Do they know how to adult? Always good to have a personal referral. They are golden.
- 'You get what you pay for' is a cliche for a reason. There will always be somebody cheaper. It's as simple as that. If you're getting married in Iceland, there will also be plenty of people who will do it for free, apparently. Be cautious, okay? The inverse point though: I've come to believe that if you can't afford a photographer, it's better to take a risk with a cheap newbie than take a discount from a seasoned photographer. After a good bit of personal experience in this department, the latter arrangement often leaves both parties feeling bummed. After all, the discount you received only made the arrangement possible, but probably not comfortable. Your expectations are going to be understandably high because you are stretched to the max, and probably really nervous about it. And yet for your photographer, the deal has compromised what they receive from virtually every other client. The expectation on their end, then, can be high, too. For gratitude maybe, as icky as that feels to say. They did a huge favor, after all. See how it just looks like a breeding ground for mis-matched feels? Try a short day, and definitely try a lot of thank yous (both ways) if you really want to go for it. But I'm telling you: Newbies might be the answer here.
- Branding is a stylistic hint, but it's not a promise. So you love the social media persona of your photographer. You love the things they pin, the way they dress and their logo is fresh to death. How will all of this be reflected in your photographs though? Going back to point 1, I'm not talking about the photographs that they get to stage and control. I'm talking about the actual moments you'll want to cherish from your day. On the flip, someone could be frumpy and boring and have the corniest Comic Sans watermark of all time, but be a g-e-n-i-u-s with a camera. Branding is important, but it can't make up for shitty work. It can't make up for missing a shot of the very last time your grandmother will hold your newly married-face in her hands and whisper 'I love you'. Logos don't matter then at all.
- If you don't see a couple like you represented in the portfolio of someone whose work SLAYS YOU, be vulnerable enough to ask why. I have to be honest, this one is all about me. Guys, it bugs me that my weddings thus far are all between straight white people. And don't get me wrong, some of my best friends are straight white people. But I want you to know (you Cherokee-black-asian mixed trans gays) I love you so much and you are WELCOME HERE. Call me!! Why don't you ever call me?? (But also the photographer might be like that Kim Davis bitch, and so, you should know that before you try to give them your money!)
- Everybody has an off day. And sometimes it will fall on Your Best Day Ever. And that will suck. So hard. Here is where #3 really counts. Inevitably, every professional will let someone down. It is out of human control and very much left up to moon cycles, mercury retrograde, Acts of God, papal visits: you name it. If your wedding photographer lets you down, it is really going to matter how much you like them; how hard they tried to not let you down; how they handle the problem. Do they get defensive and blame shift? Do they ever even respond to your complaint? Unfortunately this is impossible to predict, but the best you can do is help the next guy out by sharing your experience. It is okay to speak up. A real gem will try their best to make it right. In my past past past life as a corporate trainer, we taught our staff that a customer who has a terrible experience but is acknowledged and receives some sort of apologetic compensation is MORE LIKELY to return than a customer who has a good experience their first round. I never found out if that is supported by actual evidence, but let's keep doing things that way to be safe, ok?
I've learned all of these things on my feet, by being an awkward newbie who struggled with flash work and dance floor editing style, who felt the vomit in my throat when I dropped a memory card in a FIELD after a wedding and couldn't find it til the next morning (in tact, praise the LAWD). I've got 5-stars on WeddingWire but I know I've had some off days. So I'm sharing all of this with you from inside of it, not from above it. Just tryna be real with you, and I hope you put me through the same rigors as I suggest above!
What do you want to know about booking your photographer? I will literally answer any questions as long as they aren't mean-spirited or rude. If they feel relevant to the Internet community/my mom, I'll even tack them on to this list. Send them to email@example.com subject line Sarah Knows So Much, Wow.