6 Steps to Hiring a Wedding Photographer
In the old days of film, there were typically only a hand-full of Wedding Photographers in any city, and you could find them in the Yellow Pages.
Now, nearly everyone owns a Digital SLR camera, and there are people in alarming numbers going out and buying a DSLR and pronouncing themselves to now be a "Wedding Photographer"; with no knowledge or experience of Weddings or Photography either one.
Fact is, even though today's modern DSLRs make it easier than ever to get a half-way decent shot; you need to have a lot of knowledge of exposure and lighting and be able to shoot in full manual mode to get those 100% perfect shots, with any consistency....and let's face it if you are paying someone hundreds or even thousands of dollars to photograph your wedding "half-way decent" isn't what you want to be paying for.
Too many brides unfortunately have been lead to mistakenly believe that it's so easy anyone can do it.
They ask Uncle Bob to Photograph their Wedding to save money, only to find out after they get the photos back that Uncle Bob's photos don't look nearly as good as the ones from their Cousin's Wedding Album that hired a professional, and he missed some of the most critical pictures altogether....and by that time it's too late...they saved money but got exactly what they paid for.
It's amazing how much money people will spend on a caterer or DJ that will be forgotten the next day, but they don't want to spend anything on the one thing that will still be around 30 years from now to remember their Wedding by.
Also, contrary to popular belief, Google doesn't have any idea who the good photographers are, and who the very average or worse photographers are.
Their search results are based solely on how popular a web-site is.
A person who grows up in the same town all his life, goes to High School and College there and has a huge network of loyal friends, can go out and create a Wedding Photography website, and have all his/her friends visit that page, write him/her some positive reviews and share it on social media and make it popular overnight.
Even if that person has never shot a single Wedding, Google will recognize how popular the site is and list it on the first page of search results when searching for "Wedding Photography".
On the other hand, a very experienced and high quality Wedding Photographer may have only recently decided to get a web-site and he/she may not show up in the Google Search rankings at all for a very long time.
Being the first listing on Google has it's advantages for the business owner, but for the consumer there is no guarantee of quality implied by this search ranking.
Listing sites such as "theKnot" and "Wedding Wire" are not based on quality either, they are based solely on a pay per play basis.
The photographer listed highest in their directory, is there simply because he/she is paying quite a bit more than the others for that listing.
So, finding a person who calls themselves a "Wedding Photographer" is no longer a problem. If you do a Google search, in any decent sized city you'll probably find hundreds if not thousands of listings.
The hard part is figuring out WHICH photographer is best for you.
1.) View Full Image Galleries, not Just the Images on the Main Page.
Any photographer will list his/her very best pictures on the main page of his/her web-site.
Notice the images on the web page of most Wedding Photographers are all outdoor images with bright sunlight behind the happy couple with a dreamy background. (Usually taken at an engagement shoot or something similar, as opposed to shots from the actual wedding)
You want to see at least one gallery of a FULL Wedding shoot.
You want to make sure the Photographer is capable of capturing the entire wedding.
Also, if like most weddings yours is indoors, you want to make sure that the photographer can actually take good images indoors.
Like I said before, nearly anyone with a relatively recent DSLR can take decent shots outdoors in good light.
However, in low light indoor settings, only an Experienced Professional Photographer, with Professional Equipment, will be able to get high quality images consistently.
Also, when looking at the images, look at the actual quality of the photo, not just the look on the people's faces.
Capturing a high quality image is something that only an experienced photographer can do consistently; Capturing just the right moments from the right angles is something that only an experienced Wedding Photographer can do consistently.
1.) Is it properly exposed? You don't want the image to be too dark overall, or too bright overall, does it "feel" like the light is what it might have looked like with the naked eye.
2.) Are the highlight's in the white dress blown out, or the shadows in the dark suits too dark to see any details?
3.) Does the light come in at such an angle that the spots under the bride's eyes look dark giving her a raccoon like appearance?
4.) Is the white balance correct? Does the White Dress actually look white? Does your Aunt Sophie's skin look yellow or green?
5.) Is the white balance matched between the subject and the background? Many photographers use a flash without bothering to gell it, and the flash gives off a color temperature that is very similar to sunlight, but the flourescent lights indoors have a totally different color temperature. It's not uncommon for inexperienced photographers to have the subjects properly balanced but the background looks yellow and dingy....or they have the background properly balanced but the Bride and Groom have a bluish tint to them.
6.) How is the framing of the shots? Are the heads cut off on large numbers of images? In group shots are people on the edges half in the picture and half out?
2.) Find Out How Long They've Been in Business
In Arizona, depending on what city you live in, it's not required to have a business license for Photography.
However, anyone that is serious about doing business will at least file a Trade Name (DBA or Doing Business As) with the Secretary of State, and you can find out when that business entity actually came into being by searching for that business in the Secretary of State Trade Name Search tool.
If a business is brand new, or not even listed, that may be a warning sign.
It doesn't necessarily mean you have to reject them, for instance they may have been conducting business for many years somewhere else and just moved to Arizona recently so the Arizona filing is fairly new.
However, if that is the case, they should be able to tell you where they operated before and you can check that state for records to verify.
3.) Find out if they have any complaints
Check the Local Better Business Bureau. Keep in mind, it doesn't matter if they are "Accredited" or not. The BBB charges a monthly fee for businesses to be "Accredited" it doesn't mean they are any better or any worse than any "non-Accredited" business.
However, if they've been in business for any length of time the BBB will usually have a file on them, and will give them a letter grade.
This grade is based on how long they've been in business (and the BBB does verify this info against the Secretary of State database) and how many (if any) complaints they've had.
Unlike Yelp and other services where it's easy to give someone a negative review or complaint, the BBB investigates each complaint and only lets them stay on the web-site if they are valid complaints.
Search for their business by Name, and uncheck the box that says "BBB Accredited only" because that is the default search.
Once you find the business listing click on the link that says:
"Read BBB's Report on this Business"
and you'll see their Letter Grade, the Reasons for that Letter Grade, and any complaints they may have (resolved or unresolved).
4.) Watch for "Warning Signs" in the wording of their web-site.
When a Photographer says "Cheapest in Town!" that sometimes means the quality of their work is not good enough to compete with the Professional Photographers.
(In a sluggish economy, and in a very competitive field like Photography, sometimes even high quality photographers end up discounting their prices to get business, so I wouldn't dismiss completely out of hand anyone that's lower priced than most of the competition, but it is a possible warning sign and means you need to make sure the quality is there.)
Also, when a Photographer says they are a "Natural Light Photographer", what that usually means in reality is that they don't have the proper equipment, training or experience to shoot indoors or with flash.
Even images taken outdoors in bright sunlight, usually require some fill flash for the very best results.
If they aren't comfortable with a flash, they probably just don't have much photography experience, and you are probably better off moving on.
5.) Find out what kind of equipment they have
I'm not trying to be an elitist here, and suggest that you have to have a $5,000+ camera to take good photographs.
Any of the newer $400 DSLR's will do fine for snapshots or vacation photos, or even portraits with studio lighting.
However, Wedding Photography is a different animal altogether.
If you are in a dimly lit church, you have two choices for getting decent shots.
You can either:
1.) Blast everyone with flash to get a decent exposure, in which case the background will be very dark and only the subjects near the camera will be properly exposed.
2.) Raise the ISO level high enough to get a decent exposure without flash, and then use only a minor amount of flash for fill and specular highlights. This gives you an even exposure from front to back, doesn't blind everyone, and gives the highest quality images overall.
If you choose number 1, you'll not only be blinding the couple and other guests, but if there are other people between you and the couple (as their nearly always are) they will be extremely over-exposed, and the people in the far background will be so dark you can't see them at all. In the old days of film photography that was the only choice we had and old style Wedding Photos often looked that way.
However, if you want #2 as most modern brides do, the only way to get high quality images at those ISO levels is with a Professional Full Frame Camera.
You also want to make sure they have a backup camera.
Things happen, and sometimes shutters get stuck, batteries unexpectedly die early, etc.. If their camera suddenly quits working, they better have a backup camera to finish the ceremony with.
6.) Decide on the Style of Wedding Photographer you Want
There are different styles and preferences amongst Wedding Photographers.
One isn't any more valid than the other, but you need to decide which style you prefer and hire a photographer that matches.
One common style that differs from the "traditional" Wedding Photographer, is the "photo-journalistic" style photographer.
It's more of a candid and documentary approach. They want to photograph things as they are naturally occurring, rather than posing you for the various shots.
There's also a mixed approach that tries to capture as much of the ceremony as possible in a photo-journalistic style, but will still do the posed photos before or after the ceremony.
(This is my particular preference)
Also many Wedding Photographers use a zoom lens or a combination of zoom lenses and stay in pretty much one spot during the ceremony preferring to zoom in and out for each shot.
If making sure the Photographer stays out of the way and doesn't distract anyone is your highest priority, make sure your photographer has a good zoom lens or set of zoom lenses.
Other photographers, put ultimate image quality above convenience.
They often shoot with two cameras at the same time each camera having a prime lens attached.
This is more work for the Photographer, but produces the highest possible quality images.
(Prime lenses are usually quite a bit sharper than even the sharpest of zoom lenses)
This type of photographer will move around a lot more, and some guests may find him/her distracting, but the final images will be higher quality.
(This is my particular preference)
It's your wedding, and your wedding pictures, make sure you know what you want and find a photographer capable of delivering it.
As always comments are welcome, and feel free to visit my Main site as well as my Wedding Site: