How to Choose the Right Wedding Photographer for You on the Internet
A generic search for “wedding photographers near me” on Google can be overwhelming for a newly engaged couple. Most people are not experts on wedding photography, as they’ve never had a wedding before! Additionally, wedding photography is a very diverse field with photographers offering a range of styles, packages, and coverage. The endless recommendations and websites to search through can seem like an impossible task, but as a wedding professional who’s documented more than 300 weddings over 10 years, I’d like to offer you some advice for narrowing down the type and style of photographer you want, even if you don’t know what you want yet!
Most wedding photographers are trained professionals, that is they went to college and took photography classes. But not all photography classes are the same and a photographers background can greatly affect the type of photography they produce. More than likely a photographer either studied fine arts photography or photojournalism. The two are related only in the fact that they both use a camera.
Fine arts photographers are portrait masters, who meticulously prepare shots in advance and then click the shutter release. They like micromanaging people and things in order to produce extremely well composed shots guaranteed to be stunning, but also produce less. They are often slow but very detailed oriented. Fine arts photographers are excellent at traditional wedding photography, although “traditional” doesn’t mean they can’t be creative with their photoshoot ideas.
Photojournalists are trained as documentarians. They relish capturing the candid moments. They are more storytellers than micromanagers, making them more hands-off during your event-- you might not even know they were there. As candid photographers, they will be more involved in capturing the preparation, ceremony, cocktail hour, and reception of a wedding--focusing on people and real moments more than the portraits.
This is not to say that a skilled photographer will not be proficient or even excellent at all aspects, but merely that the background of a photographer can give you some indication where the photographer’s interests, and thus skills, truly rest. And there are many talented wedding photographers out there who are self-taught. Below I’ll tell you how to spot both types from their website, but keep in mind it's not wrong for a potential client to straight-up ask a photographer what their background is.
For instance, my undergrad was in Visual Anthropology and Gender Studies, which I rounded out with a masters in Photojournalism, so I come from the “storytelling, documentarian” camp. However! Because of my specialties in school, I’m also passionate about crafting images that say something about people and their relationships, about gender and sexuality and the way those inform our sense of self and the way we relate to the world, and I like being engaged with the people I photograph rather than standing in a corner clicking from far away. I also spent a lot of time with my grandparents when I was young, and always try and create beautiful images of as many guests as I can, when some other photographers only focus on the couple or the “pretty people.” I was also heavily involved in the theater when I was younger, so I have a good sense of drama, lighting, and clothing, making portrait time a fun and creative project during a wedding rather than a distraction from what’s going on.
Perusing the Website
You probably already have some idea of whether you’d prefer someone to “capture” the whole day or produce a number of well composed shots to hang on the wall. But how do you find out what you’re getting? You look at the photographer’s gallery. Websites are essential for wedding photographers today and thus every competent photographer has one. If they don’t, that’s a good enough reason to rule them out. When looking at a website it is easy to get that overwhelmed feeling again, but it helps when you know what you’re looking for.
First, many photographers specialize in only one type of photography (e.g. weddings). Specialization should not be mistaken for talent. Some of the best photographers shoot a broad range of subjects and it may be helpful to look at their other work to see what else they do and if they do it well, which is important if you want to have them photograph other important life-events for you, like engagement, bump, birth, babies, family, and creative portraits. A broader range can indicate a photographer capable of generating great images in a variety of settings, which will make it more likely that whatever you hire them to do, they’ll do it well. For instance, a wedding photographer might also have a love of documenting live music, and if you have hired a special band for your big day, they may be more apt and excited to create stellar images of your night’s activities!
The most important gallery however will be the wedding gallery. You’ll want to look at the types of venues they have shot to see if they have shot something comparable to where you are thinking of having your wedding. If a photographer has only shot weddings in a Catholic church and you want to get married in front of a waterfall, it could be a problem. You’ll also want to see how many weddings they’ve got up there, most photographers only have a few, but if there is only one or two it might mean you’re dealing with a novice. Not that that is bad, everyone needs to start somewhere.
You’ll also want to see what kind of images they curate for their galleries. This is where you can tell a fine arts photographer from a photojournalist. Most galleries only consist of 30-50 images, even though most weddings produce between 400-1800 images, depending on length and the photographers style. So, these are the 30-50 cherry-picked pictures the photographer believes to be their best. If you see a lot of portraits and details (peopleless still lifes, e.g. flowers, arrangements, rings, food, etc.) you’re probably dealing with a fine arts photographer. If you see a lot of people getting dressed, walking down the aisle, drinking and dancing, you’re probably dealing with a documentarian photographer.
The final thing to look for in the wedding gallery is style, and does it fit your tastes. Do you like black and white photography? Do you prefer color but like warmer tones? Cooler tones? Do you like bright lights and black darks or more of a middle range? Or maybe you don’t care at all and just want to see your family’s faces smiling sharp and clear with no one blinking… Anyway you like it, just make sure the photographer is displaying images that fit with something you’ll like.
Other than that, you’ll want to check the website for packages and rates (if they list them, most don’t), useful information (like how many images you can expect, wait times, other offers like engagement shoots, and other details), and testimonials (try to gage who this person is and if you’ll get along with them for your wedding day).
The Next Step
If you’ve looked over a website and feel interested in a photographer, it’s time to contact them. The best photographers book up fast and if you really like someone, you’ll want to get a contract to lock in your date. When contacting a photographer it is best to share your wedding date, ask for rate information and try to schedule a meeting. If a photographer is out of your price range, you can always try to negotiate. Most photographers are firm on their rates, but some are willing to work with you in numerous ways to make it affordable. And don’t forget bartering as a possibility. I, myself, once took a canoe in exchange for wedding photography.
Meeting the photographers you’re considering will be the most important part of this process. Other than your fiancé, you’ll probably be with the photographer more on your big day than anyone else, and if you don’t get along with them/feel good around them, you won’t have the amazing day you’re imagining. Try to meet them in person at least once before hiring them and if that’s not possible, ask for a skype meeting or a phone call. A good wedding photographer can help guide you through the process and figure out what would work best for your individual situation, and really be a help rather than a stress during the continued process of planning out the timing of your event. They can give you good estimates of how long things will take, or assuage your fears or answer questions about what they’ve seen work/cause problems at other weddings they’ve shot. Additionally, a photojournalist-trained wedding photographer is not like other professionals; they are there to document your unique personalities and events, and in order to do that well, they need to get to know you as well! Engagement shoots are one of my favorite ways to get to know each other to create better art on the big day, but I’ll save that for another blog!
Best of luck on your wedding adventure!