Before I begin on today's post of finding the perfect wedding photographer for you, I'd like to introduce myself. I'm a full-time wedding & portrait photographer in Charlotte AND also a full-time housewife and mom to four kids ages four and under. I love every aspect of my life, and would not change a thing about it...even on the 3-5 hours of sleep I get each night ; )
Anyway, over the years of researching and learning from my own experiences, I have run into this same issue over and over again. Too many brides skimp on their wedding photography and forget that it is just as important as their dress & venue if not more. I can hear some of you gasping in disbelief right now. Well, you can exhale now because I am going to explain it very simply to you as to why it is so important to find the right photographer for YOUR wedding. Here is my explanation in the form of a list.
*WARNING: my writing skills are less than blog-worthy, which is why I write like I talk, and so you are going to have to deal with my "all-over-the-place" thoughts and dash of sarcasm here and there. And since I AM a photographer, I have also included a couple of images here and there for eye candy : )
1. BUILD YOUR PHOTOGRAPHER LIST: Not every mate is right for you or you for them. The same goes when choosing your wedding photographer. It has to be a perfect "match". The best way to begin your search of the perfect wedding photographer, is by asking friends and families for their recommendations. You'll find out first hand whether or not they've had good or bad experiences with them. Another way of finding quality wedding photographers is by searching the web. There are many wedding websites that list wedding photographers by state and could save you so much more time than just googling it. There are two types of wedding websites that do this. The first kind accept ANY photographer to be listed with them as long as they pay a certain listing fee or membership fee. And the more they pay, the higher up they listed on their site, giving you the bride, the illusion that the #1 photographer listed in your state is a quality photographer. The truth is (although some are good), they paid to be on top. Just run far away from these sites. I will make it simple for you and give you my top 3 favorite sites where you can search for quality local and destination wedding photographers by state.
a. Wedding Photojournalists Association (a.k.a WPJA) AMAZING photographers that are highly skilled and carry excellent reputations of providing quality images. Of the thousands of applications they receive monthly from photographers who want to "get in", the WPJA has an average of a 3% acceptance rate. To put it into perspective for you, I have personally applied about 6 or 7 times and got rejected every time. And no, it did not feel good. But it did make me work harder at my portfolio and after applying the 8th time, I FINALLY "got in". And I am so proud to be among such talent. Photographers get their placing in each state depending on how many contests they've won. So if they are at the top, then they probably deserve to be there.
b. Wedding Photography Directory (WPD) They are also a earn-your-placing-contest-based website and although it's not as hard as the WPJA to get into, photographers still go through a semi-rigorous application process and not every photographer gets accepted just because they can pay the membership fee. So you will find some very good-quality photographers on there too.
c. Wedding Wire is also a good one for finding quality wedding photographers (and other wedding vendors too). Anyone can list their company here BUT the cool part is that you can see the quality of their work and customer service by their ratings. And the only way they can get these ratings is if the bride or groom takes their free time to go on there and provide their testimonial and ratings. The photographer has no control over what they write or how they rate them and cannot change them either. So this is a great way to get another bride's opinion of the photographer based on firsthand experience.
2. FEEL SOMETHING: After building your list, start by visiting each website and viewing their portfolio(s) & reading their bios. Also make sure you pay attention to the actual images and not the website design. Nowadays ANYONE can get an inexpensive and flashy website. Also, it's a PLUS if they've got a frequently updated blog, where they post most recent works. And a lot of the time, they'll blog about their personal lives, which in my opinion, is a great way to get a sense of who they are over the net.
3. CALL THE PHOTOGRAPHER: You've seen what they can do and what they're about. Now call your top 5-10 photographers. and ask them the following questions: Are you available on my wedding date? How would you describe your photographic style? About how much do you charge and what will I get for it? What is your deposit and fee schedule? How long have you been photographing weddings? Do you photograph weddings for a living or for fun? What do you do for fun? Do you bring your camera with you almost everywhere you go? Can you give actual references of previous brides? And when you call those brides just ask them "what do you remember most about your wedding photographer?" and you will pretty much get your answer from that one question.
4. MEET THE PHOTOGRAPHER: After talking to the photographers on the phone, ditch the ones that either avoided questions, or gave you awkward vibes. Narrow down to your top three favorites and meet them in person over coffee or at their studio. You've already seen their web portfolio which showcases their best images from many different weddings and usually isn't the most accurate representation of what you will receive from your own wedding. Ask to view an album or slideshow movie from just one wedding. You'll want to be sure that they've got good quality images throughout the entire wedding day events. This will give you the best idea of what to expect from your own wedding images. After talking about pricing and viewing portfolios from each photographer, the most important part of judging each one is how well you "click" with them. You've got to "like" them. This is the most important day of your life and unlike any other wedding vendor, your photographer will be following you around all day and you have to feel comfortable with them and develop a trust with them as well. Also, is the photographer you are meeting with asking YOU questions? They should be asking you about how your wedding day will unfold, where are the venue locations, how many in the bridal party, what YOU are looking to get out of all this, etc? When they talk about their product does it seem like they are just selling it to you, or do you notice giddiness or excitement in their voice? You've got to be able to sense their passion and zest for what they do.
5. IN CONCLUSION... The photographers you meet with should be within your budget, however price should NEVER be the determining factor when choosing your photographer. If they are slightly out of your budget, rather than bargaining them down, ask yourself if they are worth the extra dollars. After all, the photographer has only ONE CHANCE to get your pictures right and you will be stuck looking at these pictures for the rest of your life. Look at it this way. Choosing your wedding photographer isn't like choosing your dress, flowers, or caterer. You can't see the images you are paying for until after you've paid for them. You don't get second chances at your pictures, so price should be the very least determining factor.
Good photographers are friendly and will make others feel comfortable. If you are uncomfortable with them, it WILL no doubt show in your photos. You've got to be "in love" with your photographer, their work, and everything about them. If you are not, then don't settle for any less. I BEG you, do not settle for less than the best for you. Go with your gut feeling on this one.
Next Tuesday, I will be featuring a recent wedding I've shot, so come back and check it out! I will try my best to respond to any comments left below.