Well, not so much turkey as weddings... but were going to get into the meat of choosing the right wedding photographer for you! The Meeting!
So far in our journey we have discussed:
- Where to search for photographers
- Descriptions of different styles
- Photography Sessions and coverage that you may want in addition to your wedding
- Why hiring a professional is important
- Some core questions to ask before meeting with a photographer
So at this stage in your wedding photographer (or any photographer really) search you should have been able to narrow down your search (hopefully) to the top 2 or 3 candidates. I suggest meeting each of them face to face as the next step.
Meet in Person
It surprises me how many photographers are offing online conferencing for an initial meeting. The only time I see this as any kind of an option is if you are bringing in a photographer like Theresa J who travels nationally to do weddings, or if you are doing a destination wedding. Otherwise, meeting at their place of business (ie studio or office) is my top pick. This lets you see their taste, by looking at how is it decorated, do they display their own work, is it clean, organized? You can tell a lot about a person by paying attention to those details. Be sure to ask about choices on the wall, you could find out it is a shared space. Many photographers rent studio space or do studio co-ops to keep overhead down.
If they don't have a studio or office, which many successful wedding photographers don't, meet in a public place like for coffee where people can mill about with out being rushed off by the staff. This will give you time to review and discuss information.
Look at PRINTED wedding samples.
Digital samples are great, however if your photographer offers printed packages you should be able to feel and touch actual samples of that work. Check the quality, check the backside printing for a printing house name. Check the back of the print for a paper type... is it Kodak, HP Inkjet paper, or something along the lines of Fujicolor Crystal Archive Professional Paper (Traditional E-Surface Paper / or Matte paper)? This is the most common among photographic printers.
Next check the Quality: Do you like the paper? Are the colors correct? Are the whites white? (if it's dark where you are meeting ask if you can be seated next to a window or if you can take the samples over to one to view them. Daylight is the best light to view prints under.) Are the images sharp, clear, how is the composition, graininess... did they bring a full album like the "end product" for you to view or bits and pieces from several different ones of their "best work"
How do they function in your environment? In a big church or out on a beach... look for a photographer who has samples in a similar environment to your wedding day plans! You can even ask if they have been to your venue, if so, what can they tell you about it, do they have samples from that wedding with them?!
Personality traits: Even though you will have seen samples online it is important to review them with the photographer. I find that you can tell a lot about someones personality and professionalism by what they will share about past clients! Do they speak about them with love and respect? Do they tell you everything they did wrong? Is it overall positive or negative comments.... remember if he/she is going to be talking about YOU someday... this is very important!
Even if you are going with a less experienced photographer, you still want someone with a professional demeanor. You don't really want to find her dancing on the bar, or him smoking cigars on the clock right?
How many weddings have they shot?
It is not uncommon for someone to be a professional photographer with 15 years of expiration, but only been doing weddings for a year (or less). What kind of photography do they specialize in? Remember a great commercial or landscape photographer (even the best portrait photographer) does not always translate to a great wedding photographer!
Have they been the lead photographer in all the weddings?
Did they ever do any assistant work (remember you learn valuable lessons watching other photographers)
What do they WEAR to your wedding? It sounds silly but are they showing up in sunday best, or jeans and a T-shirt?
What will they be doing at off times? Say, during your sit down dinner? Do they eat? Do you need to plan for them?
Do they shoot with an assistant? Is it a second person with a camera, what are their qualifications, or is it just a photo assistant?
What other things do they offer, or suggest? Wedding photographers see it all, so they have great this works, this doesn't work ideas and tips in most cases. Also, what additional things do they have to offer... I always had my "emergency bag" with everything from extra make up to basic medical supplies and medicines... I even had a sewing kit and spare pins for the boutonnieres. My assistant was a second shooter, but they were there to handle the relatives and run interference just as much as shooting. This allowed me to focus on the bride and her needs, while giving the family a "go to" person as well. Finding out what YOUR photographer offers and how they handle interruptions, and the flow of the day will give you lots of insights to weather or not they are a good fit for you!
Disucss Wedding Photography Equipment:
Many photographers can provide you with an equipment list. If you want to get into the technical, you can ask them for details. Mainly I suggest you look for someone shooting Professional grade equipment. Not all DSLR's are created equal right (you remember from our previous discussions about resolution and pixels right?)
The easiest way to gauge this is price, simply look up the model on the manufacturers website - typically you find entry level camera bodies for $800-1000 and under, Pro-sumer Camera bodies (which are great for back up camera's, or found in mid-priced wedding photographer's bags) run anywhere from $1000-$2000 (yes, just for the body no lens) and anything really above the $2000 mark is almost always a "pro" grade camera. Which if you are paying a primium for wedding photography I would expect to be in your photographers bag.
Typically I would stay clear of anyone with the entry level camera. It is first a sign of professionalism and commitment, you want someone invested in providing outstanding memories. Second, it screams "hobby" or "needing money" to me... "I had this camera in my closet and thought... there is a lot of easy money in shooting a wedding." seriously... if you hear this... run.
Second, look for back up equipment, ask how many extra sets of batteries, lights, bodies flashes... etc. People never think to ask.. what happens if something fails... what plans do they have in place if they drop the camera the week before and it breaks...
What kind of MEMORY cards do they use... are they PROFESSIONAL grade or Costco special? Look for Lexar Pro, San Disk Extreem Pro to be the common answer. There are a few other brands but these are kinda the Nikon / Cannon of cards... they are the ones everyone talks about.
Discuss in depth: What if?
Just like we talk about what if your camera fails... what if your photographer gets sick? Cold / flu? Breaks a leg? What is the back up plan? What are they liable for? It is VERY IMPORTANT to find out what is in THE CONTRACT regarding all of this!!
What if the second shooter doesn't show, or gets sick?
What if the memory card fails?
How does the photographer handle the memory cards / and shooting flow? I never shot a whole wedding on one card... even with an assistant shooting with me (we always changed cards multiple times) so that if one card failed, you had other images of your day to fall back on.
Have they ever lost a card?
Have they ever had a card fail or become corrupt? What did they do? What would they do? (the good answer here is, there are places you can send the card to do an "image recovery" most times they can recover the images (or most of them).
By the way, if they have never had a corrupted file, card or damaged card, or sudden camera issues they are either lying, or have not been in the business very long... this sort of thing DOES happen. It's most common in very dry areas (due to static shock) very High altitudes (such as mountain tops) or very humid / sandy areas... cameras hate salt, water, and sand!
If your photographer doesn't show up, what happens?
What if you have to postpone or cancel the wedding? While I hope this is never the case.. what if? If the worst happens, does the photographer refund deposits? Do they require an additional fee for canceling...
What money is refundable and under what circumstances?
What is the photographers "limit of liability" This is in every good contract because it really protects the photographer. If your contract doesn't have this your photographer might not be as professional as they seem! I will go over this in more detail when we cover the contract (next post!) but basically it says what the photographer is required to do, or compensate you with should something bad happen from fault of his, the camera, the lab... whatever.
After you have had these conversations with your top picks, hopefully you will have a good feel for who your photographer should be. You really want to make sure not only that price and style fit you, but personality as well! They are SUCH a part of your day and will be with you every moment of it... seriously! Your photographer either becomes your shadow, or is out front and in your face almost the whole time! You better LOVE them, and their personality!
Before you decide...
1. Ask yourself if you are 100% comfortable with your choice.
2. Do you need / want to see them in action - either reviewing them at a different wedding or doing a pre-wedding shoot with them yourself.
3. Are they calm under pressure?
4. Check and review the contract details.