I asked an innocent little question on facebook the other day. Something I was pondering as I looked through wedding submissions for the blog. I’m not a photographer. I’m wouldn’t call myself an expert. I see a lot of weddings; I think I can tell a great wedding photograph… but how can I really be sure I’m choosing the very best wedding photography for my English Wedding blog?
So then I thought about helping brides and grooms out there who might be wondering the same thing. And my photographer friends came to my rescue and explained how to choose the very best wedding photographer. They shared advice which applies to me, brides, grooms – anyone out there looking for great wedding photos. It’s easy to choose the perfect wedding photographer for you – and this is how (with advice from the experts!):
Do wedding photography qualifications matter?
My friend and expert wedding photographer Chris Hanley had lots of advice to share on the subject of wedding photography qualifications. My thanks to Chris for explaining how the various types of wedding photography qualifications work – and for sharing his opinions and helping me understand what really matters!
There are 2 types of qualification a wedding photographer might have. I’ll explain each one in turn:
1. Industry qualifications from associations such as the SWPP (Society of Wedding and Portrait Photographers), BIPP (British Institute of Professional Photographers) and the MPA (Master Photographers Association). There are various associations like this in the UK wedding industry and worldwide. Some are worth more than others. Some charge a fee to be a member and anyone can join (and get a shiny logo to put on their website). What do they really mean? In some cases it’s nothing more than a panel of self-important, impressively rich people sitting in judgement over wedding photographers’ work.
Charlene told me on facebook, “We just wanted to love the images. The photographer we went with had albums that took our breath away, he also shot on actual black&white film which we love. Although it turned out money doesn’t buy you good customer service, at the time we did love him. Our photographer was part of the BIPP. It took a year to get our album and we had been so focused on getting that I couldn’t even take in what we had got when he turned up at our door. The album itself is a disappointment. For his experience and skill we had very high expectations and they have not been met. After the day can be as important as on the day. Not knowing what was happening ate us up inside and we felt completely hopeless. Honesty is very important.“
Don’t choose a wedding photographer solely on the basis of an impressive looking membership like this. At the very least, investigate what membership means: how exclusive is the association and do they hand out awards and badges like candy?
2. Educational qualifications from universities and colleges teach technique. Qualifications and letters after his or her name mean your photographer understands about light and composition, and has been taught about creativity and the core principles of photography.
Kristin from Struve Photography says, “I spent 3 years at college studying photography before I started. Having been through college, I did come out feeling a lot more confident about my ability, I have good editing and workflow ability; I’ve been pushed and challenged by my peers and tutors, and having learned lots of different photographic styles and had the benefit of meeting some amazing photographers and photo industry experts. A lot of the skills from the different things we studied are things I take with me to weddings. However, I do think it depends a lot on the student, the course (and the time frame) and the course provider. Some self-taught photographers are incredible; some educated photographers are… well, bland at best. Also, it doesn’t necessarily improve your interpersonal skills, which are absolutely vital for any wedding photographer. There’s no “right” way, I think, in a person’s path to becoming a good photographer.“
Qualifications are certainly not a bad thing, but there’s a whole lot more to wedding photography. And there are so many ways to learn about photography techniques, from books to online resources and a wealth of magazines in your local newsagent. A lifetime’s experience of taking photographs is just as valid as a 3-year degree course, if you ask me. (Internationally renowned photographer David Bailey left school aged 15 and worked his way up from Fleet Street to photographing the biggest stars in the world.)
Jessica’s facebook comment was an eye-opener: “I spoke to a highly qualified person, but I’ve never been so spoken down to in my life. He made me feel childish, stupid and quite frankly pathetic. I’d rather have someone with no qualifications but talented and friendly then someone with qualifications and end up with stiff pictures because the photographer was awful to work with. Just because me and my fiancee are young does not mean we deserve to be ill treated by people who ‘know more about weddings’ as the photographer stated to us.“
So a photography qualification on its own does not make a great wedding photographer. Wedding photography requires some very specific skills: being able to work amongst large groups of people. Having fractions of seconds to capture a crucial and emotional moment. Lacking control of circumstances – unfamiliar venues, bad lighting, numerous distractions and more.
This is where experience comes into play, alongside creativity and style. Jonny Draper is a Manchester wedding photographer whose work I’ve featured on English Wedding before.
He told me, “You can have all the qualifications in the world but if you’ve never shot or worked a wedding before then you need to be upfront and honest with your clients. Experience is massively important…how much experience/qualification do you get for your money? I think it’s fair to say that if someone is charging you £250 for the day then you may not expect a huge amount of either (that’s not to say you won’t get lovely photographs of course!) but if someone is charging £2k-plus then you’d be entitled to expect a little bit more for you money in all aspects.”
A ‘professional’ wedding photographer?
The very definition of a ‘professional’ wedding photographer can be misleading, and is very much linked with this discussion. The word ‘professional’ used to be directly linked to a level of qualification. A qualified doctor or solicitor is certainly a professional. It’s a grand-sounding word, but its use has changed over recent decades. Professional is now widely used to imply high standards; to distinguish full-time workers from those who work part-time, for example.
I’m not saying this use of the word ‘professional’ is wrong, though. In my opinion (my background is partly in linguistics) it’s simply an example of the way our language changes over time. As an interesting aside, I understand things aren’t so simple everywhere: in Austria, for example, it’s illegal to call yourself a professional wedding photographer and go out shooting weddings without a professional qualification.
If qualifications don’t count, what does?
Experience is the most important thing you should look for in a wedding photographer. Photographing real weddings has more value than any qualification ever could. It’s about learning where to be to get the best shots throughout the day. It’s about knowing which lenses to use; which settings work in which circumstances. How to shoot in dark churches; how to get great images of the first dance with disco lights. How to watch for that moment when the groom’s bottom lip begins to go… how to be unobtrusive, how to know when to back off for a second if the bride is nervous before the ceremony.
Only time and experience will prepare a photographer to shoot weddings with sensitivity and skill.
Wedding photographer Jo Blackwell also shared her thoughts on facebook: “when I started second shooting, then going it alone, I brought my life experience to the table and my people skills – in my opinion this is where some of the more technically fixated pros fall down. A wedding is about emotion and story-telling, not whether the highlights are blown on the groom’s button hole!… I’ve looked into qualifications as I want to be the very best I can be, but there are a lot of impressive-sounding organisations out there that don’t seem to be very well regulated. I think that when choosing a wedding photographer, looking at their work and talking to them, seeing if you actually like them is a better indicator of whether they will deliver what you want than letters after their name.“
Creativity is important in a wedding photographer. We all want our weddings to be memorable and unique, to be special and reflect our personalities. So experience isn’t the only thing to look out for: Bob from Bob’s Wedding Snaps might have shot 100 weddings at your venue already… but is he taking the same photos each time, just with different faces in?
Nicky Chadwick is a Yorkshire wedding photographer, and she told me on facebook, “I have had three brides in the last 12 months who have come to me after their wedding day to see if ‘there is anything I can do’ with their pictures!!
“I think ultimately the couple have to feel comfortable with the photographer from the start and they have to like their work. If a photographer won’t answer your questions or can’t show you a good body of work then look at others who can. Get a contract from them and make sure it covers you as well as them should the worst happen. I do have qualifications from years ago, but like a few others have mentioned these only really help you technically, not with the customer service. I can honestly say I’ve never been asked what my qualifications are, maybe that’s because many people wouldn’t know what would be good qualifications anyway?“
Every wedding photographer has their own style. Don’t settle for the first photographer you see: find someone whose portfolio you love! The wedding photographer’s personality will often shine through in their images.
I loved Martin Roe’s facebook comment: “So many highly qualified photographers seem to be so hung up on perfect exposures, composition and pixel counts, that their flair and creativity fly out of the window along with their sense of fun. To me, if you have a keen eye a sense of humour and people skills you’re more than half way there. The rapport that I have with my clients is to me the singularly most important factor in obtaining photographs that will mean something to them and create an album that captures the personalities and atmosphere of their day.”
There are wedding photographers whose images have timeless beauty and elegance. Some will focus on formal or traditional images while many wedding photographers work in a photo-journalistic or documentary style. Some wedding photographers will spend half an hour or so with the bride and groom getting styled or natural portraits of the couple; others will leave you to simply enjoy the wedding celebrations. Each of these styles will appeal to different couples – it’s up to you to choose which is right for you.
Nobody knows better than the bride and groom
So wedding photographers don’t need qualifications. It’s wise to look for someone with experience, and it’s great if you can find someone whose work you fall in love with. At the end of the day what all of this means is that
you are the experts!
And why are you the experts? Because it’s your wedding day. Because the day is about you. The wedding photographs will be of you, your friends and family. Every wedding really is unique, as is every wedding album.
When you’re choosing a wedding photographer, have the confidence to go with your heart, but use your head too!
Budget for the best wedding photographer you can afford. Photographs will be the lasting memory of your wedding day: so think what you want to remember – those priceless little glances across a crowded room? The kiss at the altar? The way she looked at you as she walked down the aisle? Or how handsome he looked? What about all the handmade decorations you’d poured your heart and soul into making? The detail of your dress? The figure you’d worked so hard for all year before your day?! Find a wedding photographer whose portfolio shows they have a natural eye for whatever is most important to you.
More help finding a wedding photographer
If you’re looking for a wedding photographer, I’ve shared a quick list of my 10 top tips over on the English Wedding Showcase. And if you’d like to share advice of your own, do pop over there and contribute your tuppence-worth via the comments!
I’d love to hear from you if you have thoughts about wedding photography qualifications too. Have your qualifications helped you more than your life experience, or vice versa? What do you think makes a great wedding photographer? Pop a comment for me in the box below!