Choosing a wedding photographer is something you’re likely to be doing for the very first time. Obviously you won’t be taking the decision lightly: who spends upwards of £1k without considering all the options? Even as a wedding blogger I find the different styles and price brackets for wedding photography confusing… and I’ve seen thousands of sets of wedding pics in my time at English Wedding.
So if you’re wondering where to even begin your search for a wedding photographer, or if you’re about to pay a deposit and book someone, I’m confident this article will be a huge help. I first read these tips over on Dorset wedding photographer Robin Goodlad’s blog – and they were just too important not to share with you here today.
I’ve read so many articles about choosing wedding photographers – this one is so thoroughly brilliant even I was like “oohhhhh NOW I get it” – and I’m sure I’ll be sharing it with couples for years to come!
1. Experience is key
Hiring a brand new wedding photographer is a huge risk. Booking someone with experience means you won’t have to worry about how they’ll cope on the day. An experienced wedding photographer will know a LOT about weddings – most importantly, they’ll know what happens when; and this means they’ll put themselves in the right place at the right time to capture the most important moments of your day.
Choosing an experienced photographer for your wedding often means they’ll know your venue – which can be a bonus because they’ll be familiar with the layout, where the light will be at different times of the day, and so on. But Robin points out that an experienced photographer should be able to adapt to a new venue – and it’s that ability to adjust and get stunning images in unfamiliar surroundings that is so important.
A wedding photographer with experience will confidently answer your questions about challenging light conditions, about any changes to the running order of your day, even about capturing both your preparations and your husband’s (or wife’s). Knowing how to capture a winter wedding with hardly any light, or how to get great shots inside the church AND in the moments when you step out into the bright sunshine – without skipping a beat – is the realm of experienced wedding photographers.
2. Every photographer has a ‘style’ – but what does that mean?
We hear so much about reportage, documentary and photojournalist wedding photographers – then there’s the fine art photography crowd, creative wedding photographers and traditional wedding photography brigade. What do they all mean, and which will work for YOU?
If you’re regularly reading wedding blogs, then you’ll be familiar with fine art wedding photography – the images wedding bloggers often choose to feature are bright and light, romantic and feminine, and beautifully styled. If the aesthetic of your wedding is ultra important, then fine art wedding photography might be the best choice for you.
On English Wedding we feature a lot of reportage and documentary wedding photography – this is where the photographer will look to capture the story of your day, with unposed shots of you and your guests simply having the time of your lives, and being your wonderful, natural, gorgeous and fun selves. Robin Goodlad’s style is primarily documentary (meaning he will record your wedding day with quiet observation to capture the perfect natural moments) – but he also creates fine art images and creative shots where appropriate, which means a well balanced wedding album. He says don’t be afraid to ask for different shots, whether your wedding photographer’s primary style is reportage or fine art – a good photographer will build a little flexibility into what they do. If they refuse, then perhaps you should look elsewhere: at the end of the day, it’s your wedding and the photos are for you to keep forever: a photographer who won’t compromise on style for a couple of pics of your grandparents or a beautiful capture of the veil your mum spent months crafting by hand doesn’t have the right approach at all!
3. Equipment – quality and backups are so important
No amount of skill or talent can make up for having the wrong camera equipment. Your uncle’s digital SLR might be good for the odd bit of wildlife photography, but a wedding photographer needs way more than that. And this is a really important consideration when choosing the best photographer for your wedding.
Cameras fail. That’s a fact. Lenses freeze; memory cards become corrupted; accidents happen. So spare camera bodies and lenses are the minimum a professional wedding photographer will need to capture your day. Ask your photographer about their equipment – most professional cameras have two memory card slots so your images will be saved in duplicate. If a camera fails, what’s their second camera: is it as good? (If something goes wrong in the morning, that spare camera could potentially be capturing your entire day.) What about lenses? How many spares does your photographer carry?
You might be starting to appreciate why good wedding photography is expensive. Spare and backup equipment is only part of it: camera technology improves all the time (remember your phone camera from 5 years ago? Yeah, that!) A good wedding photographer will upgrade their cameras to the latest model to make sure they’re working with the best quality equipment on the market. They’re investing in your wedding albums and ultimately your memories – and you deserve the very best that you and your photographer can afford to create.
I was at a wedding recently where a particularly tipsy guest was dancing, pint flailing in the air, and wobbling dangerously close to the photographer’s kit (and the mixing desk!). I’ve known a car to reverse onto a wedding photographer’s spare camera. Accidents do happen – so please, ask your photographer all the questions about their kit, spares and backing up your photos.
“I make a third back up to a laptop. On the way home, I make sure I carry the memory cards in different places in case my car gets stolen at a petrol station. Call me paranoid, but I never ever want to be in the position of having to tell a couple I have lost their photos, even through no fault of my own, it makes me sick just thinking about it.” ~ Robin Goodlad
4. Your uncle / friend / colleague can’t do this for free
Who wouldn’t want to save a couple of grand on their wedding, right? Trust me though – there are better ways! If you read all of part 3) about backups and spares, you’ll understand where I’m coming from. It’s such a huge risk to ask a friend to photograph your wedding: you could even risk your friendship if anything goes wrong – and is it worth it?
A friend who does a lot of wildlife photography isn’t going to be familiar with the ins and outs of wedding photography. They might get lucky and capture all the key moments beautifully and from the right angles (“you may now kiss the bride” is only one of so many crucial memories – what about that first hug from your mum following the ceremony, outside the church?) – but it’s more than likely key moments will be missed.
Having a family member or friend can also be distracting. Imagine with me again: you’re stepping out of the church to where your guests are all mingling, you catch your mum’s eye and she rushes over… A pro wedding photographer will melt quietly into the background, zoom in and capture the happy tear in her eye with perfect focus. Or, uncle Bob will dart forward, you and mum will see him coming, and you both lose the spontaneity of that oh-so-precious moment. Again – is it worth it?
There’s also the thing about friends and family wanting to be a part of your day. How many hours can you reasonably expect them to keep taking photos for? Maybe 6 or 7 at best? They’ll eventually want a drink and to join everyone for the meal… and it’s unlikely they’ll stay focused after that.
5. Award winning wedding photography… isn’t everything.
It’s not even everything it pertains to be, not always. If you can’t decide between two wedding photographers, the ‘award winning’ one might just swing it… but what’s the award? As Robin points out brilliantly, they could have won the local village show for a nice photo of a sunset. Or had a single image chosen as ‘wedding photo of the year’ in a prestigious photography award… but is their single winning image relevant to your wedding album?
I have my own feelings about wedding awards, which I’m almost reluctant to include in this article – but some major wedding awards are voted for not by real brides and grooms, but by wedding industry friends and acquaintances. I know some amazing suppliers who are still out there asking their friends on social media to vote for them in some of the big name wedding competitions. Winning an award can be brilliant; but it can also be a popularity contest, as simple as multiple votes from their mum. Be aware!
A better indication of quality and dedication is formal training or qualifications – does your photographer go on training courses? Are they self-taught or have they worked alongside the top professionals in their game? It’s not essential, but being able to show this kind of diligence to the craft means they’re taking their work – and your wedding – seriously.
6. Full day coverage – or not so much?
I’ll always remember my friends’ wedding – the groom was so nervous about the first dance he barely even moved, let alone an awkward shuffle. But for the last dance of the night this generally shy and introverted guy became John Travolta – and it was amazing. It makes me wonder why so many wedding photographers offer ‘full day coverage’ and then leave shortly after the first dance.
For Robin, the full day means “every element that happens, from start to finish”. He won’t miss the moment when your song from college comes on and all your old mates leg it onto the dance floor for the performance and reunion of your lives… or your sparklers, or the fireworks and so on. Robin’s wife bought hundreds of candles for their wedding, so he knows the importance of capturing the atmosphere of your evening as much as the wedding day itself – just think: if you’re having candles, festoon lighting or fairy lights the ambience will change throughout the evening… won’t it look beautiful in your album?
Wedding photographers are like surgeons: they can put in a 14 hour day (10am until midnight isn’t so unusual if you think about it) – and it takes stamina and character to keep smiling and producing stunning images for that whole time! Perhaps there’s a temptation for some wedding photographers to grab a few dance floor shots then leave… but check your contract carefully for finishing times! And a last thought – if your day overruns and your first dance is later than planned (it’s not a rare occurrence) – will your photographer stay? Will they charge extra to be there another hour? Know this even before you book.
7. Your photographer should have insurance and a written contract
This one’s a basic NEED to have. If your photographer doesn’t have insurance and a solid written contract, walk away RIGHT NOW. Accidents can happen – a photographer friend of mine was badly injured in a car crash on his way to a wedding last year. (He’d already arranged for another photographer to shoot the wedding by the time the emergency services could get him out of his car.) Needless to say – a photographer should have their own insurance, and I’d urge every bride and groom to have wedding insurance to cover all eventualities as well.
But it’s a dull topic, so we’ll keep this section short. You’re welcome.
8. Professional appearance and approach matters
You just can’t turn up to a wedding in t-shirt and jeans – it doesn’t matter if you’re a guest or not: it’s a formal occasion so dressing appropriately is respectful and professional. And yet, some photographers rock up a bit casual. It’s not a huge leap to assume a respectful photographer who dresses smartly will treat the whole of their business this way: your images will be treated with care and consideration; interactions with your guests will be friendly and professional.
“I always wear suit trousers and waistcoat, polished shoes, and a tie. Yes, it makes my life that little bit more uncomfortable on summer days… but that’s just the way it is.”
Your wedding photographer will be spending the whole of your wedding day in the company of you and your guests. Choose someone who won’t stand out like a sore thumb in jeans or leggings and a baggy t-shirt; chances are their interactions with your guests will be equally unprofessional, and their handling of your image editing and how they store your wedding photos in years to come could be neglected too!
9. A stunning website and portfolio isn’t everything
First impressions really do count, and it’s likely you’ll see your photographer’s website before you meet them face to face. But save your decision until you’ve had a really good chat, and seen a few complete weddings.
Wedding photographers’ websites can’t show you everything – it’d be too much (500 – 1000 images from 100 weddings adds up to 100,000 images. Who’s going to look at so many photos? So they share their best bits: a handful of images per wedding in a blog post, highlights from the last couple of years in their portfolio, and that’s it.
This is fine for an overall impression, but remember you’ll be paying quite a lot of money, and you’ll want to have quite a lot of images at the end of it – and you don’t want quite a lot of them to be good. You want all of them to be good.
So ask your photographer to show you a couple of complete weddings. Ask to see weddings from the same season you’ll be married in (how do they cope with winter light or April showers?) and from similar venues (weird tipi light? dark church?)
And get an overall feel from their website too: does it answer most of your questions? Does it feel professional, or a little too casual for you? Maybe even a little formal? We’re all different…
A gorgeous website doesn’t tell you everything; having a professional site is only an indication that your wedding photographer will do a great job. (They could just have an amazing web designer friend!) – There’s no better way to choose your wedding photographer than with a face to face meeting so you’ll know you’re going to get along and trust in their art and in their professionalism on your wedding day.
10. How many images will you get, and how?
I’ve seen a few wedding galleries in my time and I think 700 images is about the average you can expect to have from your photographer. But every wedding is different and I love that Robin doesn’t put a number on this: “Each day is different, and the amount I deliver is based upon what happens during the day, and the opportunities for capture.”
Some photographers will limit how many images they send to as few as 200 or so, and some of the top photographers actually do this so beware! Newbie photographers often send full galleries, and you could end up with well over 1000 photos – but not all great, and definitely not fully edited!
There’s a balance to this – and it comes down to editing. A good wedding photographer will check every image and discard the misfires (guests with their eyes closed, making awkward faces while talking, and so on).
The images you receive from your wedding photographer should be full resolution if you want to print any of them, say on canvas for a special anniversary. Watch the wording here – Robin points out in his article that “high resolution” is open to interpretation (images might only be large enough for you to print a medium size photo) but “full resolution” means they’re the maximum size.
11. There’s a difference between a £300 photographer and a £3000 one.
Before we really get into pricing, can I recommend you get the best photographer you can reasonably afford? These are the memories of your wedding day – and as your actual memories of the day invariably fade, your photos will keep your wedding – and everyone who was there with you – fresh in your memories. Wedding photography is, for me, a worthwhile investment.
Too many people think a career in wedding photography is an easy win – they can pick up a camera and start earning £££s within weeks. But if that’s why they’re doing it, they’re here for all the wrong reasons (and they won’t last; and where does that leave you?).
Your wedding photographer will be working for more than just your wedding day: the amount you pay will cover any meetings, email or skype conversations, and research of the venue before your wedding day. They’ll work for hours on your wedding day – way longer than the standard 9-5 office hours – and spend at least two more days editing your images, processing, uploading and backing up, making your albums and so on.
Having a quality website to showcase client galleries isn’t cheap; maintaining and updating equipment including cameras and lenses, computers and software all adds up – but all of these things add up to a certain level of quality. The price a wedding photographer asks for their services reflects the importance they place on your photos, don’t you think?
And that’s your wedding photography experience, from beginning to end: professionalism, friendliness, a polished presentation of the photographer’s brand and genuine care and attention to detail. It’s worth paying for – and 10 – 15% of your overall wedding budget is a very reasonable amount to budget for those lifetime memories of your day.
If you’ve fallen in love with any of the images you’ve seen throughout this blog post, you’ll be wanting to check out Robin’s own website.
Robin is a documentary wedding photographer based in Dorset, but he does love to travel (and is a big fan of the Lake District, I happen to know!) – so go visit his site for more info at www.robingoodlad.com and please show him some love on social media at Facebook.com/RobinGoodladPhotography and on Instagram at @robingoodladphotography