Welcome to the 2nd installment of “Cutting through the BS” with even more questions to ask your wedding photographer. In case you missed the first part, you can find it right here. Ready? Here we go:
Do you work with an assistant?
Assistants have become a bit a thing of the past. They were super common in the days of film photography where we needed somebody to schlepp around all the heavy lighting equipment and store the dozens of rolls of film (and hand us a new role of film after 24 or 36 frames). In the digital age, equipment is so much lighter, compact and easier to carry, and we don’t need that helpful assistant all that much. Although I sure could use somebody to remind me to drink more water during the wedding day. In short – an assistant is strictly there to assist the photographer and not to take photos so don’t confuse an assistant with a second shooter – but more about that in the next question.
Then what’s the difference between an assistant and a second shooter?
An assistant is there to do the “heavy lifting” for the photographer like carrying bags, holding reflectors, handing them water etc. They’re not there for the couple but to make our lives a little easier. An assistant will NOT take pictures and in most cases does NOT have any photography knowledge. This is usually a friend of the photographer or a student who wants to earn a couple of bucks – or the reluctant spouse who didn’t have a good enough excuse that day. 🙂
A second shooter, on the other hand, is a fully trained photographer and can be awesome to have if the couple is getting ready in two verrry different locations that require driving to and from vs. getting ready on the same property just a couple of steps apart or if you have more than 175 guests. This is a professional who has the same high-end equipment as the primary shooter and their job is to capture additional moments from different angles. Typically, you can expect to pay around 200/hour for a second shooter. If you are told you will get a second shooter for free, be super cautious because you are probably getting a student or somebody who is just starting out.
Do you have a photography degree/certificate?
The wedding photography industry is largely unregulated. There are certified wedding photographers who have an “eh” portfolios and then there are those who aren’t certified but have an amazing portfolio. I’m a firm believer in education (unsurprising as I used to study to become a teacher in a previous life) and love learning new tricks and techniques. I hemmed and hawed about getting my WPPI Certification, mostly because I was afraid of failure. Pretty silly in retrospect but when I passed my exam (written and portfolio review) and got my certification in the mail, I was super stoked.
Are you a member of any association?
While being a member of PPA (Professional Photographers of America) or WPPI (Wedding and Portrait Photographers International) isn’t an elite club (anybody with a credit card can join), not being a member of any reputable organization is always a red flag to me as these organizations offer excellent resources for photographers, ongoing education and a community of fellow photographers.
Do you attend workshops/conventions?
The answer to this question should be “yes”. Nobody knows everything and all wedding photographers, regardless of how long they’ve been photographing weddings, should continue to work on their skills and evolve. Last year alone, I took an amazing posing workshop, learned more about off camera lighting and picked up an amazing recipe on how to best bounce on-camera flash during a tented wedding reception.
Do you have insurance?
If the answer to this is “no”, you can stop the conversation right there. Insurance is a must.
Do you have a contract?
This is obvious! If your wedding photographer doesn’t have a contract – please RUN! Ever watch Judge Marilyn (here’s a secret: I do when I’m editing)? If so, you’ll know what she says “even if you grab a piece of toilet paper and write on it with lipstick” – if it’s not in writing, it doesn’t exist. Get a contract. If not, run the other way.
What if our wedding runs late – are you going to stick around? And how much will that cost me?
Definitely get a definite answer for this. The wedding photography contract should clearly outline what happens if the wedding runs late, if the wedding photographer will stay additional hours and how much this will cost. Some wedding photographers advertise full day packages but that pesky fine print describes full day as meaning 10am – 8pm. Not really a “full day”. Bottom line: Always read your contract. If your photographer does charge for extra hours, make sure you know exactly when to pay them for the additional time and have cash/plastic available on the wedding day. My philosophy has always been this: about half an hour before I’m scheduled to leave, I talk with my couple to see where we’re at, check if they have any “last minute” photo requests (group photo of all the college friends, mom’s friends etc.) and if they’d like to extend coverage. That way, there are no surprises, there’s no “where did the wedding photographer go” and no “but I wanted that one last photo.” There’s no other place I have to be on your wedding day (or the day after) and I know our dogs will pre-warm the bed for me regardless of when I come home.
Will you be the one photographing the wedding?
Awesome question! Many bigger studios have multiple photographers working for them so this is definitely an important question to ask. Make sure you talk to the actual photographer who will be photographing your wedding and make sure that you see that photographer’s portfolio. Trust me, you so don’t want to fall in love with the work of photographer “X” only to have photographer “Y” show up on your wedding day. This should be outlined in your contract as well.
When are the payments due?
The due dates for your retainer and final payment should always be outlined in your contract. It’s pretty much industry standard to ask for a retainer between 25-50% at the time of booking with the remaining payment due before the wedding day, so you shouldn’t be surprised. The reason behind collecting the entire balance ahead of time is simple: that way, we can focus on being wedding photographers on your wedding day, not business people. Personally, I want to capture all the happiness and the excitement vs. watching you write a check/swipe your card. Also make sure to check how to pay your wedding photographer: cash, check, or credit card.
How soon after the wedding do we get to see our photos?
At best, your wedding photographer will give you a rough estimate and this is absolutely normal. This time frame will be vastly different from photographer to photographer based on their editing (in-house or outsourced) and workload. Some wedding photographers will offer a “sneak peek” shortly after your wedding. Others may not. In our contract, it is outlined that our couples will see the first wedding photo the day after their wedding (usually via Instagram or Facebook) with their blog post with more wedding photos to follow the week after the wedding. Our contract further outlines that you will receive your wedding photos within 4 weeks of the wedding but again, this may vary from photographer to photographer. Just make sure you get everything in writing.
Can we use our pictures to make our own album or prints if we want?
This is a great question. Your contract should outline what you can and cannot do with your photos. Some photographers will allow you to print your own images and to create your own album and others will not grant that release. Whatever the case may be, this should be … say it with me now … “covered by your wedding photography contract.” 🙂
Will you give me the raw files?
This question still makes me cringe and most of my fellow photographers agree with me there. Usually, when we hear this question, we’ll end the conversation shortly thereafter because it’s an absolute deal breaker. Why? Because our job isn’t done when we leave your wedding. When we leave, the actual work begins: editing.
Editing is what can make or break a picture. We all have our own style and the worst thing you can do to any photographer is to slap some heinous action or filter onto the photo and then share it with the world. Because now we have to worry that there is a) a photo out there that does not represent our work AT ALL and that b) somebody will associate this horrible editing job with our work. Eeek.
Alright – I don’t want to end this blog post on a complete Debbie Downer note so here’s one last question (for now) to ask your wedding photographer:
Do you help pose us during the photo session?
Here’s how you can find out about your photographer’s level of comfort and experience in posing you during the more formal wedding photos. There are wedding photographers who are strictly photojournalistic and completely hands-off during the “formals” and rely on the couple to choose their best poses. Other photographers will be much more focused on posing a couple and taking care of all the details like where to put your hands, how to look your absolute best etc.
That’s it for now – and believe it or not, there is still one more installment coming – even more questions to ask your wedding photographer
In the meantime, happy wedding planning and definitely shoot me a note or leave a comment if you have any questions! 🙂
Kat – Kat Mooney Photography
Vermont’s offbeat wedding photographer