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Questions to Ask Your Wedding Photographer That Will Really Help You Choose Who to Hire
Guide to Choosing a Wedding Photographer with the Top 5 questions to Ask the Wedding Photographers You’re Comparing
In this article, I’ll outline the top 5 questions to ask wedding photographers. If you are reading this article, chances are that you’re a bride (or groom!) looking for a wedding photographer. Problem is, you keep finding yourself pinning pretty pictures of flowers and quirky wedding decor that perfectly describe your relationship motif for “inspo” while drinking wine and watching crappy reality tv when you’re supposed to be taking the time to compare wedding photographers and making actual decisions and about what you are going to do for your wedding.
Can’t decide on a wedding photographer? You are not alone!
The search for a photographer itself is daunting enough and may the power of google and facebook crowdsourcing be with you. There does come a point when you’ve managed to successfully narrow down your list of wedding photographers to a handful of favorites and you’re still not sure how best to compare them. You get stuck in a decision making paralysis wondering what are the things to know about wedding photography? No one tells you when you get engaged how to pick a wedding photographer and with all of the choices out there it’s not as easy as you’d think! I’m hoping to help make choosing a wedding photographer one of the fun parts of the wedding planning process for you by sharing the best questions to ask wedding photographers.
The Best Questions to Ask a Wedding Photographer Won’t be on a Checklist
There are a ton of articles on the internet with ideas about what kinds of questions you should be asking your photographer. (Oh I’m sorry, I believe we are now calling them “listicles”, and they require you to click on a new page for every. single. point. made). Many of them have some good starting questions to ask wedding photographers like “Are you the photographer who will actually be photographing us on our wedding day?” and “You’re not just going to hand us a selfie stick and leave, right?” But, most of these articles don’t really explain what you should be looking for once your shortlist of photographers have made it through your wedding question gauntlet with flying colors. (If you need that checklist of things to ask, HERE COMES THE GUIDE has a pretty comprehensive list of the more basic questions to ask.)
I don’t want to toot my own horn too much, but us wedding photographers are a pretty savvy bunch these days. Most of us know that we need insurance, back up equipment, and know not to show up at your wedding in head to toe lime green. So you are not going to find a typical wedding question checklist on this page. But what you will find is a solid 5 questions that will actually help you determine if you have found the right photographer for you. These 5 questions you ask will show you how to narrow down a wedding photographer for you. I will show you examples of what to look for when choosing a wedding photographer and help get you out of the decision-making paralysis.
Without further ado, here are the top five questions that will truly help you narrow down your search for a wedding photographer.
Be Thorough When Looking at Your Wedding Photographer’s Portfolio
1.) Ask if you can see some FULL weddings. (I mean every single image from start to finish)
This is one of the best questions to ask wedding photographers. Anyone halfway decent with a camera can come up with enough pretty shots to fill a website. A stopped clock is right twice a day and all that right? A website portfolio has been carefully curated and is designed to reel you in with the best of the best photos. It’s not a good place to show off an entire wedding for a number of reasons but the biggest is that other couples don’t want to pore over photograph after photograph of other another couple’s family formals. Hell, I don’t even really want to look over my best friend’s family formals. (Don’t tell her that!) Still, skimming through a few full weddings from a photographer will give you a better idea of what the true coverage of your wedding will be like. Your wedding will not be 100% Pinterest-worthy highlight shots. Go beyond the website portfolio and ask for a more complete picture of the overall quality of their work. Which leads me to the next question you should ask your photographer…
Pay Attention to Reception Lighting and Other Tricky Lighting Situations
2.) How do they handle reception lighting?
Ask if you can see photos from your wedding venue or from a similar venue if they’ve never photographed there before. Good photographs are the result of good light. You’ll want to find out what your photographer’s photos look like once that pretty sunset light has vanished. Sadly, there’s only one “golden hour” on a wedding day (assuming you aren’t completely masochistic and won’t be using the one at daybreak) and you need a photographer who can produce good photos for you no matter the lighting circumstances. Not every wedding venue has huge windows with gorgeous natural light pouring in. (And even those places have their own drawbacks to deal with like minimizing large reflections) What about the dark, candle-lit, or cave-like wedding venues or reception halls with strange lighting? While you may love what your photographer can create under beautiful, perfect lighting conditions it’s pretty much guaranteed that your wedding day will have moments when the natural light is not ideal. Make sure that they know how to rock their own lighting when that mid-day harsh Colorado sun is relentlessly beating down on everyone, and when it finally drops behind the mountain and it’s pitch black outside.
Since this advice is a little bit technical, I’ve included some photos below to help illustrate my point.
Some reception rooms have little to no natural light. And some, like this modern, dark, brick filled warehouse style reception space (Mile High Station in Denver, CO) suck up what little light is available. If your wedding photographers bill themselves as “natural light photographers” and you plan to use a space like this, make sure you aren’t setting them up for failure and do your due diligence. Find out if they are able to use their own lighting when the natural light is non-existent. (Pro tip, pretty much ALL wedding photographers love using natural light. It’s not always what we have available to us though) So asking about their lighting skills is one of my top questions to ask wedding photographers.
In this photo, the background is darker than the couple which helps to put the focus on them. But notice how you can still see the ambient light from the chandeliers and wall which keeps the room from turning into an ugly black hole. Your photographer should be able to get a nice balance of light on their subject while keeping the feel of the room intact.
A space like this could easily be photographed with the background turning into a black hole where details aren’t seen. Here I balanced the off-camera flash to light the dancing subjects with the ambient light of the unique chandelier hanging from the ceiling. Notice that you can still faintly see the faces of the guests in the background.
What makes your reception space unique? You’ll want to see it in the photos. Here the off-camera flash is yet again balanced with the warm ambient light from the rest of the room.
Some wedding reception venues (like Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield Farms) have an incredibly limited amount of light due to mostly taking place outdoors where there are no ceilings or walls to bounce the light. If much of your wedding reception will take place outside at night, it’s even more important to find a photographer who can work in that kind of environment. Here the light was placed far to the left which gave the photo a more dramatic feel.
And here the light was placed completely behind the bride and groom which is how we got that lovely rim light highlighting them as they danced their first dance as a married couple.
Is your wedding photographer a bit of a wallflower? Nothing wrong with that, but not being afraid to join the crowd on the dance floor is the only way to get photos like this.
Getting the light off to one side is commonly known as “Off Camera Flash” and it creates a more dynamic look with a little more contrast and a nice crisp feel to the images. It’s not entirely necessary to use it in every situation and some photographers don’t like the look of it for their work. But if you mention “OCF” to them and they give you a blank stare, it could be a red flag. Might be worth including as part of your questions to ask wedding photographers during interviews.
Sometimes even when there is still natural light outside, it’s not in the place that you need it. Tents and windows can be notoriously tricky in this type of situation. You have the option of either exposing for the people inside the tent but then the outside scenery goes too light and you can’t tell what the view looks like. Or you can expose for that scenery but then the people in the photo are too dark. Make sure your photographer knows how to balance the whole scene by adding in their own light. Sometimes they may opt to not balance as a stylistic choice but it’s nice to have someone who knows how to do it if needed.
Not all reception lighting is for portraits or photos of people. Here we have a similar situation as the tent photo above. I used off camera flash to get the sign lit while keeping the sky and moon exposed properly. Without using my own light, it would have been impossible to show what the sign said while also keeping the sky and moon exposed correctly.
One more technique I like to use at a reception on occasion is the long exposure. Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield Farms lends itself incredibly well for this kind of photo. Here I only used the light that was coming off of the barn, tree, and patio lights. A normal short exposure would usually not allow enough light without adding my own flash. So to get away with not using flash I exposed the photo for many seconds. The long exposure is why guests start to look like ghosts since they are moving around while the photo is being created. This is more of a “for funsies” type of photo and there’s not always going to be the chance to get something like this on a wedding day, but keep your eyes peeled for interesting choices like these in your wedding photographer’s portfolio.
Ask Your Wedding Photographer for Advice About Your Timeline!
3.) Ask them what their approach is for helping you plan the timeline on your wedding day.
If you are wondering what to tell your wedding photographer, you should mention any timeline issues you might have. Unless you are taking a chance on a newbie, your photographer has probably been to quite a few weddings and has a really good idea of what the flow of your wedding day will be like and the various pitfalls you may face. Even if you have a wedding planner helping you create a timeline you should always check with your photographer to make sure that the allotted time for your photos will work. Some planners tend to be a little optimistic about what can be accomplished with your formal photos in a very short amount of time. Professional wedding photographers will find a way to work within your unique constraints, but it’s best to share your vision for the wedding day upfront. You may find yourself impressed with your photographer when they raise some imaginative solutions to potential pitfalls you hadn’t even thought of. A good photographer will help make sure your day goes smoothly as planned. If you don’t keep your wedding photographer in on the timeline loop it may not be possible to meet your expectations on your wedding day which will just lead to feelings of sadness for your both.
Your photographer will make sure you easily move from all of the chaos and excitement during the getting ready part of the day….
To the most important part of the day!
And they’ll help you make sure you leave enough time for the portraits.
So that you can move on to spending time with your guests and all of the meaningful moments that will happen throughout your reception.
Special moments like this.
I like to think that a good, experienced wedding photographer is essentially a time ninja who works clock miracles to make sure you somehow squeeze in romantic photos like this one:
Plus they can advise you on the possibilities of capturing photos like the following at the end of your reception:
Decide What Wedding Photography Style Are You Looking For
4.) What can I expect for the post-processing?
Post-processing is a huge part of the puzzle when it comes to wedding photography. It’s not the only thing that creates a wedding photographer’s “style” but it is an important component. If you’ve ever wondered why wedding photographers cost so much damn money the answer can generally be summed up in one word: editing. The work from your wedding day doesn’t end for your photographer at the end of your reception. After the party’s over it’s time for them to work their magic. And you need to be sure that you are fond of their particular magic. If you love clean and classic photos without a lot of faux-film Instagram-style processing it doesn’t make any sense to hire a photographer whose portfolio includes a lot of trees and grass that look brown does it?
It’s not just about making sure you dig their style though. Some photographers only deliver a proof version of your photos. Some fully retouch the images that they put in your preview blog post and some fully retouch a previously determined set number of your pictures.
If you are buying the digital files be sure to ask what size they will be. Most wedding photographers sell digital files that can be printed at any size but there are others choose to sell digital files for photos to be printed 8×10″ and smaller. It’s a good idea to ask specifics about how much they’ll be retouching your images. Ask if you can see some before-and-after pictures. If they are delivering proofs ask what that means to them.
As much as we love to create beautiful artistic edits for our clients, the truth is that there are thousands of raw shots to sort through after a full wedding day and it’s just not possible to do majestically artistic editing for every single picture taken and delivered. Every photographer picks and chooses the right photos to spend the most time on to make those special ones really shine. The key is to do your homework and find out what your photographer plans to do for your images after the wedding is over.
Below is an example of what my clients can expect to see for their proof photos and what their photos would look like with the full retouching done.
Getting Along with Your Wedding Photographer is Important!
5.) Do you click?
This last one isn’t a question to ask your wedding photographer, but a question to ask yourself after you’ve met or chatted on the phone. It may seem obvious, but it’s important that your photographer is someone that you would enjoy spending a good amount of time with. After all, they will be with you for the majority of your wedding day. You may even spend a few hours with them before the wedding at your engagement or bridal photo session too. Sometimes you’ll even meet again when you order an album to look at the swatches that are available to you. And if all goes well, you might even call the same photographer up to come take family pictures for you after you have your first set of quints and start a reality TV show on TLC. All I’m saying is, you may love the work your photographer does but if their personality rubs you the wrong way, it’s going to be hard to look past it and enjoy your beautiful photos after the wedding. Be sure to consider this as you think about questions to ask wedding photographers.
Bonus Question for 2020 & Beyond
I have revisited this article to add one more bonus question to ask your photographer now that we live in a world where Covid-19 has completely upended the wedding planning process.
“What is your policy for cancelling or postponing my wedding?”
Make sure you clarify with your photographer what their policy is for canceling or postponing your wedding. Many photographers have come up with their own policy addressing this in more depth now that we’ve faced an entire year of cancellations and postponements and what they will be willing to do varies pretty widely from what I’ve seen. Make sure you understand and agree to the policy prior to booking to avoid any headaches down the line!
When To Book A Wedding Photographer
There you have it. Those are my best questions to ask wedding photographers. I’ve been photographing weddings since 2006 and as a former bride myself these are my top 5 tips for hiring a wedding photographer. If you’ve been having trouble deciding on a wedding photographer, I hope they help you narrow down your search to find the perfect photographer for your wedding day! If you find yourself wondering when to book your wedding photographer, I’d say to do it as soon as you feel confident that you’ve found the right wedding photographer for you. Lots of the most popular photographers can book up to a year out although it’s common to book in shorter time frames these days than it was in the past.
That’s me below! I’d love the opportunity to see if we click and I’m happy to answer any questions you have for wedding photographers. Check out the WEDDINGS page of my site where you can find my contact information. Get in touch and tell me about your wedding plans. I’d love to see how I can help!