How to choose a wedding photographer

You’ve just said “YES”! and we couldn’t be more thrilled for you!  Planning a wedding is exciting and a lot of fun and then, wowzers, it becomes stressful.  The last thing you’re thinking of is hiring a wedding photographer. I remember thinking about wedding colors until I cried.  Who knew there were so many shades of ‘Plum’? (I dare you to look it up, it’s mind-numbing)

At the very start of wedding planning, couples are buried with images, and so naturally, they start thinking about a wedding photographer.  Choosing a wedding photographer is one of the most important and critical vendor choices.  They are tasked with documenting your wedding as it unfolds and become the creater of your memories for years to come.  And if that isn’t daunting enough, you’ve maybe realized that the choice isn’t between a few good options — there are about a million photographers out there!

And truth be told, some people have had not-so-great experiences that have left a bad taste in their mouth about their wedding photos, so the choice is a big and important one for sure.

This is exactly why we created this tips for choosing a wedding photographer guide! We want to help. How did we come to realize this choice is so important?  Because we’ve photographed a handful of post wedding portrait sessions.  There’s nothing more sad than to hear about a wedding couple’s disappointment in their wedding images. Over the years, we’ve heard some great things that have helped our clients choose the best photographer for their big day, so we have put together some of the most mentioned to help you along your journey.

Sedona Sunset portrait of a wedding couple in the Red Rocks by Sedona Wedding Photographer Melissa Dunstan

So, without further ado, let’s jump right in the guide on how to choose a wedding photographer!

Some Things to Consider When Choosing a Wedding Photographer

We feel that there are categories of things to look for when it comes to finding the best wedding photographers to care for your wedding.

Here’s the short list, and we’ll dive more into each subject later in the article.

  • Personality:  This is a surprising one for us to hear about, yet once we’ve digested it, it’s so important.  You are going to spend most of your wedding day with your photographer.  Do you feel comfortable with him or her?  Do you think they will blend well with your family and friends?  Do you like them as a person? If you love someone style but they are hard to talk with, chances are they will make you and your guests feel awkward and stiff.  Make sure you feel like  your photographer is someone you like and trust!
  • Pricing:  Does your photographer fit into your budget?  Do you know your photography budget?  Come up with a realistic budget for your photography before you start shopping around.
  • How Many Photos Do They Edit?:  This one surprised us as we started hearing it from our clients who had hired a different wedding photographer.  Some photographers only edit a predetermined amount of images for you, leaving the rest of them untouched.  If editing and continuity of style and ‘look’ is important, make sure you choose a photographer who edits all their photos.
  • Editing Style and Vision:   Your wedding photos should make you feel the way you want them to make you feel while retaining a timeless and professional look that won’t quickly go out of style.   Don’t be afraid to ask to see a few complete weddings to view so you can get a feel for the overall consistency of editing and perspective.
  • Sweet-as-Sugar but Bossy-when-Needed:   Y’all, it’s a fine line to walk.  Photographers need to know when to lay on the sugar sweetness with some family members and yet be firm enough when the photography timeline is being jeopardized.  Timelines are critical to the overall happiness and success of a wedding day and having a photographer able to keep you on schedule will make all your vendors and family happy.
  • Equipment and Knowledge on how to use it: Your wedding photographer should have modern camera equipment and most importantly know how to use it with the ever changing lighting scenarios of weddings. Weather and reception halls can change lighting dramatically and your photographer should know how to quickly change their equipment and/or settings to capture it all.
  • Are they ‘really’ in business?:  Some photographers operate without a business license much less appropriate liability insurance.  Make sure your wedding photographer is someone who has a license, insurance and operates a legitimate business.  Don’t be afraid to ask for a copy of any of these certificates.  You do not want to be left high and dry when it comes to an issue.
  • Turnaround for completion of work:  Be sure and ask about the wedding photographers standard turn around time for their final images.  This is going to vary quite a bit, from one week to six months (or more).  If you need your images by a certain time, make sure you ask up front.
A bride and her bridesmaids in black and white smiling before the ceremony by Melissa Dunstan Sedona Wedding Photographer

Tips for Choosing a Photographer — Ask These 11 Questions

We’re finally ready for the list of questions!  We promise, if you ask these questions, and you’ll be well on your way to finding the best photographer for your wedding.

1. “Do their photos make me feel the way I want my photos to make me feel on our 25th anniversary?”

You are hiring someone for their heart vision just as much as for their talent as a photographer.  This question is really important to digest.  Are their photos trendy and use lots of filters and Photoshop effects?   Or, are they consistent and timeless.  It’s important to love your images just as much on your 25th Anniversary as the week after your wedding.

2. “Are the photos on the website from actual weddings (getting ready/ceremonies/receptions), or are they just from the couples portrait session or Day-After session?

Y’all, it’s so easy to create a website these days and even more so to lather that website with gorgeous portrait photos of the couple during their couple session or even their Trash the Dress or Day After session.

If your entire wedding story is important for you to capture, make sure there are images from the Getting Ready time, the Ceremony and the Reception that you can see.

3.Do they have lots of good photos in both bright and low-light or do only the first few on their website look good?”

Look beyond the first few photos as those are generally the ‘hero’ images.  Color photographs are less likely to hide imperfections as black and white images can. Look for too-white wedding dresses or too-dark tuxes; you’ll want to see details in both shadows and highlights.

For some more in-depth tips on looking for a wedding photographer that can shoot in low-light, be sure to check out our post on Why Low Light Skills is Important for Wedding Photography

4. “How many backup cameras and lenses do you have?”

If they don’t have extra cameras and lenses, watch out. It’s not “If” a camera shutter will fail, but “When“.  It happens to us all and I can’t imagine the feeling of not having a back up camera and lens.  Back up equipment should be expected.

Dramatic sunset photo of a bride and groom by Scottsdale Wedding Photographer Melissa Dunstan

5. “Will you have a second photographer and does that second photographer have experience?”

Most photographers offer both single and double photographer coverage and some will offer a limited coverage with a second shooter.  In our opinion, having two shooters to capture both you and your fiancée’s reaction during your first look or when you walk down the aisle at a minimum is best.  Also, if you’re having a larger wedding, that second shooter will be able to capture more moments from everyone.

But please, please, please, ask about the experience of the second photographer.  If the photographer seems to get uncomfortable, I wouldn’t put much stock in having that second shooter. A second shooter could be anyone, even someone with hardly any skills that was booked perhaps even the week before your wedding. However, a caring and wise photographer will hire someone with credentials.

6. “How will you keep our photos safe during and after our wedding day?”

Back to the standard in #4, it’s not “IF” a memory card fails, it’s “WHEN“.  Equipment is going to fail.  We personally use use cameras that back up data to two cards at once.   After your wedding, we download your images to a computer.  Then, we immediately back them up to another hard drive and that back up is uploaded to a cloud drive on the web for safekeeping.  We love cloud based storage.

If the photographer you’re considering doesn’t have a plan to backup at least three times, be wary.  Accidents and tragedies happen and if their computer is destroyed before they deliver your photos, will the original files be safe?

7. “What size files will you be delivering? Will I receive printing rights?”

In the case of digital files, if you want to have the freedom to make large prints for years, make sure you’ll be getting the high-resolution files. These files are typically 5mb-12mb, sometimes a little smaller or larger.  If you’re photographer is film only, you will usually not receive digital files.

If you’re mostly concerned with posting on social media, ask for all the photos to be sized for social sizes.  These files are smaller and compressed without compromising focus and detail.  Just know these smaller files are not appropriate for printing!  Again, this is usually not an option for film photographers.

If you’re photographer doesn’t include printing rights please know you’ll have to purchase prints directly from them.   If that’s the case, then ask for a list of the cost of prints, and make sure you’ll be able to budget for the prints.  Most film photographers require their clients order prints from them.

Often photographers refuse to grant print rights.  This is most often the case for film photographers.  This is not an action of greed, but rather them caring about their final image product.   Professional labs offer beautiful processes and papers that will make you look your best.  Less expensive print labs like Shutterfly often print with incorrect color profiles and are not archival.

We shoot exclusively digital, but we honor the value and beauty of the print.  That’s why all our wedding packages include prints from our professional lab.

8. “Do you have business insurance?”

Ask to see their Certificate of Insurance.  If they don’t have it, sometimes venues won’t even allow them to photograph on the premises. But perhaps even more importantly, having insurance is also a good sign that the photographer has invested not only in quality gear but also in their business as a long-term craft and means of earning a living. These types of photographers are more likely to provide an awesome experience and a quality product.

Flagstaff Wedding Ceremony under a tent with bride saying her vows and laughing by Melissa Dunstan Flagstaff Wedding Photographer

9. “What will happen if you can’t make it to the wedding?”

Y’all.  This is everyone’s nightmare, client AND photographer.  But, it’s a reality.  It’s happened to me once at a Sedona Wedding when I had a car accident and the police officer absolutely DID NOT CARE that I had a wedding to photograph.  Luckily, I had a plan and my seasoned back up photographer was able to get to the wedding and cover for me until I could arrive.  Please please make sure your photographer has a legitimate backup plan.

10. “May I see your contract?”

A professional photographer will come with a professional contract.  It should be easy to read and understand and it shouldn’t look like they just downloaded it from legalzoom.com   If you don’t understand some of the language, just ask them.  Some of the clauses are written by attorneys and have language that’s necessary, but not necessarily easy to understand.

After you’ve evaluated the candidate photographer ask:

11. “Who do I resonate with the most?”

-whose photos and style did I like the best?

-who seemed the most professional?

-who did I like on a personality level the most?

Number 11 is the MOST important aspects of choosing your wedding photographer. Make sure you love the images they produce, make sure they are professional, and make sure you like their personality.  If they don’t make you feel comfortable and relaxed with a healthy combination of those traits, that unease will likely follow you throughout the day and shape your wedding day. Again, you will spend most of your day with your partner and YOUR PHOTOGRPHER.  They will be with you the WHOLE DAY.

Timeless looking photography is a product of having a natural energy and rapport between yourself and the photographer. This might not be an immediate connection, especially if any of you are a little shy, but if a photographer doesn’t really resonate with you, don’t go with them just to save money.

You don’t have to meet them in person, although you can if they are willing. A phone call or Zoom or Skype session should be enough to find out if you click. Remember, the photographer will help make or break your wedding experience and how you look in your photos (and how you feel about them later)!

Grand Canyon Wedding photo of a bride crossing the natural bridge at Shoshone Point after her ceremony by Melissa Dunstan Grand Canyon Wedding Photographer

We hope this has helped you choose your Wedding Photographer!

Let’s be real, we know no photographer will tick all the boxes to a ‘t’, but we hope these tidbits we’ve gathered over the years has helped you narrow down your choices.

Hopefully this post has helped you answer the question, “How to choose a wedding photographer?”. If you found this resource helpful, please share to help others!

If you’re a bride, planner, photographer or someone else with an opinion, tell us what you think in the comments! What other important questions did we miss?

If you have any other questions for us or would like to reach out and share your experience, please feel free to contact us or fill out the form below!

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