May 1, 2018

Guest blog – How to avoid hiring a lousy wedding photographer

FILED IN: wedding tips

This article has been sitting in my draft folder for 5 (FIVE!) full years. Five years since I stumbled across an article on how to find a great wedding photographer or “how to avoid having shitty wedding photos” by the brilliant Wedding Photographer Craig John, who kindly allowed me to re-post it here on my blog, again, five whole years ago. He’s an incredibly cool guy and has an amazing eye – and offers tons of insights into how to find a good wedding photographer and what to avoid when looking for a wedding photographer.

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“I know you’ve all heard the rumors from your friends, family, wedding planners, other vendors, or you’ve read articles written in bridal publications all discussing the topic how you should select a photographer. You’ve probably read a thesis or two on a photographer’s website or a blog — everyone seems to have an opinion.

Well….I have another one. HA!

The question you’re probably asking yourself; “Why should I listen to a biased photographer discussing how to not find a photographer”? One reason would be….I find myself to be an expert in my field. 🙂 But one other very important reason would be: At one time I was a groom, so these opinions will be dribbling with my own personal experiences.

In the first mildly lengthy article, not only will I touch upon how to not find a good wedding photographer, but I will also touch upon why you shouldn’t not find a good wedding photographer. ….Savvy? In article number duex, I’ll discuss how to find an amazing wedding photographer, and eventually finish with the how to book an amazing wedding photographer. …It’s easier than many people want you to believe.

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I’m weird in that I’m a guy, yet I love reading the bridal publictions; Instyle Weddings, Modern Bride, Grace Ormonde, Bride and Bloom, Wisconsin Bride….etc, etc, etc. When I was in Arizona, I scoured the airport for Arizona Bride. When I visited Charleston, SC, I scoured the shelves for local bridal publications. Why? I love reading the wedding day stories. But as I’m browsing through all these publications, I tend to stumble upon articles of curious, if not entirely deceiving and disingenuous advice. One such article attempted to reveal; How brides can save money on their wedding photography. There weren’t a lot suggestions, as I can’t imagine any others making any better sense than these:

1) Have your wedding on a Friday or Sunday; photographers usually offer discounts for non-Saturday weddings.

2) Hire a photography student as they will likely be less expensive than a professional wedding photographer.

3) Hire a friend or family member with a great camera.

4) Hire the professional photographer to cover the ceremony and family portraits, then pass out disposable cameras for the guests to cover the rest of the day. Photographers typically charge less money for partial day wedding coverage.

I have to admit, number four may be my favorite because my wife and I tried that very scenario for our wedding. More on that story in a bit.

Lets revisit the 4 common misconceptions one a time.

1) Having your wedding on a Friday or Sunday and expecting a photography discount is not true. It may hold true for booking a popular wedding venue, though I wouldn’t be shocked if there wasn’t an “off-day” discount. Many wedding photographers won’t offer discounts on Friday and Sunday weddings because those weddings still present the same amount of work as a Saturday wedding. By covering a wedding on Friday, Saturday, and perhaps even Sunday, that photographer just tripled their weekly workload. With that, as a customer, you should expect a delivery delay.

If you are contemplating a Sunday wedding, please take note that shooting an all day wedding is an exhausting affair. The question must be asked: Do you want a tired photographer covering your wedding on a Sunday because you saved a few hundred dollars?

2) Hiring a student for your wedding day photography may seem like a good way to save money, as they may be competent young photographers. But that doesn’t mean they’re ready for taking on the task of covering an entire day of fast-paced wedding activity. And by fast-paced, I mean a 10-15 hour day will disappear in the blink of an eye. You, as a bride, will soon learn how much of a blur your wedding day will become. The day is going to swirl around you like you’ve never imagined. In one instance you’re at the salon getting your hair finished, in the next minute you’re walking down the aisle, and before you know it, you’re whisked away at the end of the night. Now if you think back to your collegiate career, how many fast-paced, non-track and field students to do you recall? About as many as I do. None.

The other thing I know about most college students….they’re broke. I wouldn’t expect a photography student to carry back up equipment in the event of gear failure, nor will they have proper insurance to cover broken or stolen gear (which isn’t uncommon), or in the event they accidently damage someone else’s property. There is certainly more to touch upon this particular subject, but let’s continue to number three.

3) Much of this pertains to the student, but it’s much more applicable for your friend or family member who has a great camera.
First of all, wedding photography is all about working with and capturing people in a wide array of environments and conditions. That involves anticipation and timing to capture a “perfect moment”; Seeing and working with light to create depth and mood; Creating compelling compositions that are aesthetically pleasing; Inspiration and creativity for creating something entirely unique; Flexibility to work on the fly as the day gets away; And being prepared for the worst. While photography is innate to some people, it does take experience to put it all together for an entire 10-15 hour day.

how to find a killer wedding photographer

Secondly, professional photographers have access to professional services. Those services would include professional quality handcrafted custom wedding albums, which do cost a lot of money. But in the end, it is so worth it to have an heirloom that is as much for your children, grand children and great grand children as it is for you. It allows your memories to endure through so many generations. Students, family and friends don’t have access to these professional services.

The following line is inspired by UK photographer, David Pearce; “Are you willing to settle for snapshots and a scrap book as memorabilia for your wedding?” When you put it like that, the majority of people who are honest with themselves would answer no.

Thirdly, is your friend or family member bringing back-up equipment to your event? I bring two professional grade camera bodies and an emergency back-up camera to every wedding. I also carry a vast array of lenses and lighting gear. If one lens breaks, and it’s happened, I have others I can pull out of the bag so the wedding coverage doesn’t miss a beat. So yes, there are times when the world unravels and camera bodies and/or lenses fail to work. If you think about it, and you’re honest with yourself; are you willing to risk losing your wedding day memories to save some money?

4) Only hire a photographer for partial day coverage: the ceremony and family portraits. The concept is to have your family and friends catch all the images as you’re getting ready, and anything and everything that happens during the reception. This tends to lead to the belief that the ceremony and family portraits are the only important parts of your wedding day, so brushing everything else off to family and friend coverage is AY-OK!!!!

It’s not.

Many of the most cherished moments happen prior to and long after the ceremony. That’s when family members and long lost friends are reconnecting, sharing stories, and seeing each other’s families for the first time. Based on the numerous weddings I’ve been involved with, there are family and friends converging upon one location from all parts of the globe. Those are all moments that are as much a part of the day as the ceremony itself. Do you want to leave those little individual moments to being captured with a ¢.99 disposable camera?

Here’s the story I was telling you about earlier. My wife and I did the “disposable camera” trick. Instead of flying a photographer to Mexico to cover our Caribbean wedding, we opted for the resort photographer. His day started one hour prior to the wedding, continued though the brief ceremony, and ended after a short family and couple portrait session. The rest of the day was given to family and friends with little disposable cameras. In a moment of profound lucidity, I felt it would be really special to see the wedding day through the eyes of our guests. We passed those cameras out the day before the wedding; 45 cameras in total. In the end, 9 were returned. The rest? They were never seen from again. Our family and friends either kept the cameras and photos to themselves, or they simply never took photos so the cameras were discarded. It’s almost like we passed out stupid little party favors or personal family vacation chroniclers.

If you’re OK with assuming such risks on your wedding day, then by all means go for it. But if you’re now thinking; “Egad! He’s right. Why would I leave such a significant task to someone who doesn’t really have any idea what it’s like to be behind a camera during a wedding day? …And If I shouldn’t hire my Uncle Bob, Aunt Betty or my best friend’s neighbor who is an art student, how do I go about selecting a photographer”.

I’m glad you asked. Please continue reading. 🙂

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How to Find and Book a Good Photographer

Your question above leads me to Part Two of this rather extensive and indispensable column of wedding wisdom.

First of all, you should quit trying to save money on your wedding photography. You’re hurting yourself, not helping yourself. Trying to save a few hundred dollars, or even a thousand dollars is the single most poor piece of advice given to a wedding couple as they begin the process of planning for a wedding. Especially if you have high expectations. Why? Photography is the only thing you’ll have left when everything else from your wedding day is gone…..except your wedding dress….and that’ll be boxed up, sitting under an old bowling ball, in a spare bedroom closet you never open.

So how do you find and book a photographer to shoot your wedding? There are all sorts of methods, none of which are entirely wrong. It all depends on your personal tastes and what you hold dear and true to your heart. For this particular article, I’m going to discuss how to find photographers for people who highly value the way in which they wish to remember their wedding day. Please note: This isn’t an article on how to book the cheapest photographer in your area. And with that, I will dispel the common methods that have been bantered about in numerous publications and other online articles. Towards the end I’ll detail an unconvential method for booking your photographer – and it’s a method no one suggests, anywhere. It’s so odd, and yet so easy.

So here’s a brief run-down:

1) Almost every piece of poignant literature I’ve read on the subject dictates you should choose a photographer with an amazing personality. In fact, their personality should be so amazing, you’ll probably want to adopt them immediately. After all, you’re going to be spending an entire DAY with this person. Please note how I emphasized the word ‘day’, as it will relate to a reference of time that will be touched upon in a short bit.

By and large I agree the photographer should be charming and forthright. That’s a no-brainer. Remember the stodgy photographers I discussed in the previous article? Did I mention stodgy photographers? If I didn’t, I’m mentioning them now. They’re still out there. And it does baffle me how people, like my brother-in-law, end up hiring a stodge — even after they met the photographer face-to-face. But the point I want to guard you against is this: Don’t fall into the trap where you absolutely love the personality of photographer A, though you love the portfolio of photographer Z. So you hire photographer A, then ask that photographer to deliver work like photographer Z. It will never happen. As much as people would like to believe photography is a science; it’s also an art. It’s an art in the way photographers compose, shoot and process their work. And the really good ones….they do it like no one else. They shoot for themselves. Photographer A is only good at shooting and delivering like photographer A. I certainly wouldn’t hire Australia’s Jerry Ghionis and ask him to shoot and deliver photography like the UK’s Jeff Ascough. If I LOVE Jeff Ascough’s work, then using any and all forms of reasoning would tell me to hire……Jeff Ascough! Even though Jerry Ghionis may have the most charming and amazing personality of anyone I’ve ever met.

My 1st piece of advice regarding hiring a photographer is this: A) Make sure your photographer has a reasonable amount of charm and acts in personable, professional and forthright manner. B) Make sure you LOVE your photographer’s work, because C) This is why I emphasized the word Day earlier — you’re not going to live with the photographer when your wedding is over, but you will have to live with their photography for the rest of your lives.

2) Another round about rule that’s been written is the budget process: Determine your budget for your wedding, what you want to spend on your photography, then seek out photographers that fall within your allotted budget, meet them face to face, and make sure you want to adopt them.

There is a fundamental flaw in the budget process. You’re trying to place a hard monetary value on your memories. If a person’s home ignites into flame, what’s the first thing they’d run in to save after all family members and pets are safe? The photographs and photo albums. Most of us would agree our memories are priceless. But we never think about our memories being priceless until it’s a fight or flight situation. But during a fire, that’s when we realize our photographs are the only tangible links to our past.

When I suggest our memories are priceless, it doesn’t mean we need to spend $50,000 to hire Denis Reggie as our wedding photographer – though there is nothing wrong with that. But please be aware there is a vast expanse of economic space between $500 and $50,000. And there is a vast expanse of photographic experience and styles within that economic space.

People who settle on a budget usually settle on their photographer—regardless if the photographer has an amazing personality. If you settle on a photographer because of budget, ultimately you end up with uninspired work that won’t speak to you on a visceral level. While some resources may suggest there is nothing wrong with settling on a photographer, I believe there is something entirely wrong with settling on how you want to remember your wedding day. Weddings are a once in a lifetime experience for most people, especially amongst those couples who closely follow their faith in unison. Do you want to have an emotional attachment to your wedding day memories; where you hang up your photos for years to come, and you continually pull out your wedding album? Or do you want photography burned into a CD sitting in your desk drawer, or have a bunch of photos sitting in a box in the closet gathering dust….next to your wedding dress. 😉

Remember my story? The one about hiring a resort photographer and using disposable cameras to capture our amazing Caribbean wedding day? My wife and I saved $2,500 by settling on the $500 resort photographer, and we felt incredibly thrifty at the time. In the end, it was the worst $500 we spent on our wedding. To this day, nearly ten years later, I can’t tell you how much we wish we would have spent $3,000 to fly a good photographer to Mexico to cover our wedding. That $3,000 would have increased our puny wedding budget by thirty percent; but as of today, our photography sits in a box in our bedroom closet.

3) Some people believe you have to hire a photographer from your area or even within your own city. And part of this reasoning pertains to item number one: You have to meet your photographer face to face and absolutely love their personality.

These days this whole belief is entirely untrue. And it’s fully illustrated by the fact; now more than ever, photographers are flying all over the country, even around the world, to shoot weddings for people they’ve never met. The international and destination wedding photographer lives and breaths by internet and phone communication.

And this is where my article takes a turn toward “Booking a wedding photographer”.

A) Research: It’s easier now than ever before to find an amazing wedding photographer; one whose work gets you all revved up. The internet is the new storefront where you have literally thousands and thousands of wedding photographer’s portfolios at your finger tips. While knowing that little nugget alone can be rather overwhelming and make the search seem daunting, it’s not. It actually makes your search easier. You honestly won’t know which type of photography appeals to you if you don’t spend some good time doing research. Best of all, you no longer have to run from photography studio to photography studio, take endless notes, grab brochures and samples, then run home and begin a comparison on your dining room table. You can compare portfolios side by side on your computer display, then bookmark the portfolios that totally tug at your heart and play with your emotions.

B) Once you’ve whittled down your list to few select photographers, if there is one portfolio or body of work that stands out above all rest, one that just sings to you….inquire if they have your date open and ask to see their pricing list so you know what they offer. Once you receive this information you should have good a sense of their professionalism and style. You’ll also know what to expect in the way of pricing from someone of this caliber should they not have your date available.

If they do have your date open, book with that photographer—even if the price is upwards of $2500-$3000 more than you initially expected pay. Dare I say even if the photographer is $4,000-$5,000 more than you expected to pay. You’ll know where your threshold is as far as pricing, so listen to your gut. But, knowing what I know now, I say; “Book with that photographer, now”. If their photography is tugging at you in a way no one else’s work is, “Book It!”. You’ll be all the more excited to work with your photographer; your images will have that sing, that thing you felt when you first saw their portfolio, and you’ll have a much more visceral attachment to your photography.

Ok, let’s back up a minute. I know, it’s weird. You’re saying; “What?!? Really? I haven’t met the photographer”. Nope, you haven’t. But rest assured, people are doing this very thing. I booked a Pine Lake wedding with a couple who will be traveling in from the East Coast. We briefly met on the phone, she loved my work. BOOM! She booked me! I’ve booked several Whistling Straits weddings with couples I’ve never met, as they’re also from out of state. They simply trusted the Whistling Straits staff recommendation. And each of those weddings have been fabulously captured. I booked with a bride from Green Bay, WI I never met face-to-face. We spoke briefly over the phone! BOOM! She booked me! …and we ROCKED their January 31st wedding. Better yet, she loves her photography so much so, she’s referred me to other brides numerous times, as have a couple of her bridesmaids. Check out the blog post for Brynn and Justin’s Green Bay wedding. That’s the new paradigm for booking good wedding photographers; Get ’em while they’re available. And yes, that means booking with people you’ve never met face-to-face.

Does it sound risky? To some it does. So maybe you need to call the photographer to make yourself feel a little more comfortable. That worked perfectly with Brynn and Justin. Maybe you need to set-up a face-to-face to feel entirely comfortable. Excellent, do what’s needed to set your mind at ease. I’ve traveled to Madison and Chicago to meet with couples prior to a booking. Everyone is different. But once you get to certain price point, there is a level of professionalism that exists that you won’t find with the budget photographers. You can see it, and more importantly you can feel it in their photography without ever having to meet them. You can feel it in the details found in their website, in their blog, in their pricing sheets, in the products they offer, and the manner in which they conduct themselves. Most of all, you can see it and feel it in the way they conduct their business. They’re consummate professionals on every level. That high professional reassurance and service, in my very humble opinion, is so worth the extra money.

Here’s the catch: If you love a certain photographer’s work, someone else does too. So yes, book them while you can. I’ve known many couples who sat on their decision, spent a lot of time pondering, and when they finally came back to say the wanted to book with their initial photographer, the date was already taken. And no, good photographers can’t, and they won’t, hold a date for someone to make a decision. If another couple wants that date, they’re getting it because they acted on it.

The second question you’re asking is; “What?!? Really? $2,500-$3,000 seems like a lot of money to spend over our photography budget”. I return the question and ask, “Is it really”? I ask this because of item number two above. You tried to put a monetary value on what you hold dear to your heart, something you’ve made a connection with; how you want to remember your wedding day. If you expected to pay $2,000 for your wedding photography, but you found a photographer with work you absolutely love, and the photography fee is $5,000 for an engagement session, all-day wedding coverage, and a killer 40-page wedding album…that’s worth it. You’ll have your amazing images on your walls and in an album for as long as you live, and then those amazing memories of cherished artwork will live with your children and your grand children. That wedding album? It’s an heirloom. When those things are put into perspective, suddenly that additional $3,000 doesn’t seem all that significant.

Spending $4,000 – $5,000, perhaps more, for killer wedding photography that makes you day dream, “I can’t believe that’s me”! — to have that kind of emotional attachment to your memories — is worth every penny. To spend $2,000 and to have photography you don’t connect with sitting somewhere in house undisturbed and unappreciated; that, in my eyes, is a waste of $2,000 — regardless how much money you saved, and regardless how personable the photographer was.

OK! So what if the worst has happened? What happens if your preferred photographer is booked? Now where do you look? Do you go to the next photographer on your list? Not yet. Ask your preferred photographer for a referral list. Your preferred photographer should be kind enough to send you a list of photographers that live up to their high standards. Talented photographers like to be associated with other talented photographers, as it helps maintain a good standing with brides and other industry professionals. They’re not going to tarnish their name by sending you a referral list with suspect candidates; they want you to have the best photography possible. As for me, I go to great lengths to help brides find a great photographer if they inquire about an unavailable date. I want what’s best for the bride, as I fully understand how important their wedding day is. Secondly, you may find some amazing referrals for photographers you never knew existed. Not all talented photographers advertise, and many of them won’t be found on the Knot.

So now you’ve found another amazing photographer, and this time they have your date open…..now you know what to do. 🙂

Lastly I couldn’t leave you without a “the proof is in the pudding” story.
My friend Rob Sanders, a UK wedding photographer, personally understands everything these past two articles entail. And it’s not because he’s a wedding photographer selling himself to Brides and Grooms. He fully understands these articles because he’s was Groom who was in search of a wedding photographer a few years agol. When he finally weighed his wedding photography options, he realized he couldn’t place a hard monetary value on what he and his future wife held dear to their hearts; the memories captured during the most treasured day of their young lives. In the end they booked with a UK wedding photographer sporting one of the most amazing bodies of wedding photography in the world. Rob, a young and budding wedding photographer himself, and his bride-to-be, felt so much emotional attachment to the work Jeff would bring to preserving their memories, they blew their wedding photography budget out of the stratosphere. Why? It’s a once in a lifetime event.

As my wife and I think back on our wedding day, overlooking an amazing blue Caribbean Sea, we both share the same thought. We wish we would have done what Rob and his Wife did; spend the money to fly a wedding photographer, with work we truly admired, to cover our wedding in Mexico. That was the worst mistake we ever made as a couple, and we still regret it to this day, ten years later.

Lotsa love and happy hunting,

c ”

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