When you start your wedding or elopement planning process, choosing your wedding photographer should be one of the first things you start researching. This is for several reasons: a.) wedding photographers can be booked out anywhere from 6 months to 2 years ahead; b.) booking your photographer early gives you time to get to know them before they show up on your wedding day; c.) if your dream wedding photographer is a larger investment, you may have the option of an installment plan over time to help make the investment more palatable.
Choosing a wedding photographer is no easy thing. There are myriads of photographers out there, each with their own style and personality. There are a few things you should narrow down before you start sending out inquiries to photographers to reduce that overwhelmed feeling that can accompany wedding day vendor sleuthing. You’ll have to conduct careful research and selectiveness surrounding professional skill, artistic style, personal demeanor and your own values. All of these things should align between you (as a couple) and your wedding photographer.
Learn which photography style you’re most drawn to.
From fine art to dark and moody, wedding photographers offer a wide array of artistic styles. Many of the styles can fall into one of six larger categories: fine art, classic, photojournalistic, lifestyle, dark and moody, and editorial. Many photographers will describe their work using one or two of these categories. For example, I would describe my own work as photojournalistic and dark and moody.
One way to learn which wedding photography style you and your partner are most drawn to is to browse social media, or Pinterest. Do you like darker, moodier styles, or the bright and airy? Do you prefer the candid, in-the-moment-realism, or the posed and formal look? While it may take you both some time to really learn which style(s) you love, learning which style you want your future wedding portraits will help you in your journey of narrowing down potential photographers.
Determine what services you want included in your photography package.
From prints, to wedding planning assistance, to print release, wedding photography packages vary from photographer to photographer. Some photographers only offer digitals with prints as an add-on afterward, and others vice-versa. Do you want to have an engagement session included in your package, or a custom USB drive with your digital files? Do you need multi-day coverage (e.g., adventure session the day before/after, or rehearsal dinner coverage). Think about these things as you do your research.
Photographers who specialize in smaller weddings or elopements, like myself, are typically more involved throughout the wedding planning journey than photographers who specialize in larger, more traditional weddings. If you don’t want or need a photographer to help you along the way, take this into consideration.
Find a photographer who matches your energy.
Plainly put, if you’re a shy and more-withdrawn type and you hire a bubbly and energetic photographer there’s going to be a mismatch of energies during your wedding day. Like any other relationship in your life, you want to surround yourself with people who will make you feel comfortable, safe, and free to express yourself honestly on your wedding day. This includes your vendors.
You can get a good gauge on a photographer’s personality through their social media presence and website (more so the latter in most cases). Prior to booking a photographer, make sure to at least have a phone call with them to get a better feel for who they are as a person and how they engage with you. Depending on the services that you photographer offers, you may be working with them closely throughout the wedding planning process. So having the same energy is absolutely vital to a seamless and enjoyable journey to your wedding day.
Determine which values are non-negotiable.
Let’s be real. The world is full of differing, and sometimes conflicting views, morals, beliefs, and values. You know what views and values you hold near and dear and that should be reflected in the vendors you choose to have with you on your wedding day. This will help you in establishing positive connections with those around you throughout your day, as you share fundamental facets.
Find a photographer that matches as closely as possible to your own stance. Whether that be surrounding LGBTQIA+, environmental policies, political policies, or any other topics that are of importance to you.
PRO TIP: If a photographer is not clear about their values or policies on their website, do not be afraid to ask during your initial inquiry.
Set a budget and respect it.
Wedding (or elopement) planning can become expensive rather quickly. Determine with your partner a budget or limit on what you’re willing to spend on the various aspects of wedding planning. One way to help reduce the pool of photographer candidates is to figure out a max budget for photography. I do not recommend looking for the “cheapest” wedding photographer you can find, as your wedding photography will be come the moments that you hold onto throughout your lifetime.
At the same time, don’t simply splurge on a photographer who’s work doesn’t quite hit the mark for you or who’s personality doesn’t align with yours either. Treat wedding photography as an investment (as it truly is), and be diligent with your investment but don’t be blinded by one facet of what the photographer has to offer (e.g., investment cost, personality, photography style).
Where to start looking for your photographer.
Earlier I mentioned browsing searching social media, or Pinterest to find photography styles that you’re drawn to. But how do you go about finding a photographer that’s more local to you, or local to the area that you’ll be getting married in? Here you have a few options. You can always google search “wedding photographer [your city, your state]” and see what comes up. Also ask friends and family who they recommend based on their experience with them.
Make sure to ask your venue if they have a recommended vendors list. Take venue recommended vendor lists with a grain of salt. Sometimes large scale, or popular venues monetize their listings of wedding vendors-meaning they have to pay to be presented on the list-therefore it’s not a true endorsement of the photographer’s work, work ethic, or inclusivity.
Wedding vendor hubs such as The Knot, Wedding Wire, or Wandering Weddings can also be a good place to start looking. Vendor hubs like these may sometimes have features that help you find photographers within a certain location, budget, or inclusivity and diversity policies. PRO TIP: When you find a photographer on a hub, check out their main website. It will have the most up to date information regarding who they are, where they’re located, investment information, and contact information. Also, places like The Knot and Wedding Wire tend to have predatory practices for wedding professionals to be listed on their directories.
Inquire and interview.
When you have found a handful of your favorite candidates, inquire with them and set up a time for an interview. By the time you send an inquiry, you should have completed most of your research into their style and who they are beforehand. This will allow you to focus on making sure the connection between you and the wedding photographer is easy, natural, and feels good.
However, there are some standard questions that may not be answered on the photographer’s website and that you should ask. You can ask them either in your initial inquiry, or during the interview.
Don’t be afraid to ask your photographer personal questions, too. The more you all get to know one another, the better your wedding photographer can tell your love story. Some questions may include:
State your concerns upfront.
Don’t be afraid to talk with the potential photographer with candor. Be upfront about any concerns you may have surrounding wedding photography, or having a photographer with you for the entire day. Cause real talk, we’re not used to having someone with a camera follow us around for 6-12 hours for a day.
Maybe you’re shy, or you’re worried about how well the wedding party will cooperate for formal portraits. Maybe you have a list of dream shots that you’d like the photographer to create with you. Ideally, you want to be open and honest about your wedding photography expectations. Then the photographer can determine whether or not they’re the right fit for you as a couple. This helps build rapport, and a strong connection with your photographer. As you’ll be trusting them to document the story of your wedding day. If you don’t feel comfortable sharing your concerns with the photographer, then you’re not working with the right photographer.
Don’t feel rushed to choose.
More than anything, don’t feel rushed to choose a photographer. Yeah, wedding photographers can sometimes tend to book out early–years ahead of time in some cases. But that doesn’t mean go out and book the first photographer that’s available for your chosen date. You’re entrusting someone to create a legacy, photos that will last for generations.
Planning a wedding or elopement? Check out these other posts to help you in your wedding planning journey!
First Look: How To Pro Tips
What it’s like working with a photographer