Choosing a photographer comes after finding one. Is the person you’re looking at have the dedication and experience to handle your wedding day?
Loving the photos you see as examples is only one element and unfortunately too often says very little about the photographer’s ability. This is just a starting list of potential red flags that we come across regularly. Too often we see photographers who cancel at the last minute, haven’t delivered photos in months or worse yet wasn’t simply prepared with back up (equipment or cards) and have carelessly lost images. Beyond those simplest of basic expectations, talking about getting quality images can be another lengthy subject!
I’ve said for years – choosing your photographer is probably the most difficult and one of the most important parts of the wedding planning process. After all, you are typically spending more time with them on wedding day than any other vendor. Their depth of experience translates to their ability (or inability) to not only effectively cover your day properly and professionally, but it also impacts how your day runs.
The bottom line is you want to know once your date is booked, that they are committed to showing up prepared, capable and ready, as well as following through on what you have contracted for.
Below are just a few things that can help you weed out some potential problems vs photographers who are fully committed to your day and capable with the right kind of experience.
Disclaimer: Unfortunately there is no fool proof method to weed out potential problems. There are great and horrible examples at all levels of price and experience. Hopefully this can get a few of you started in the right direction – in what can be a confusing and stressful search at times.
Red Flags…before contacting a photographer.
1. No web site…or no working web site.
Just having a Facebook page or Instagram account only doesn’t cut it. Any photographer that is even reasonably serious about their work will have an actual (working) web site. It doesn’t have to be fancy, loaded with details or anything…There’s nothing wrong with a clean presentation of some work, a few details and a way to request more information. Web sites are cheap and easy to put up. If someone can’t at least do that, then it really doesn’t show a minimal level of seriousness and professionalism.
2. Quality issue #1 – pay attention to details in the wedding dress and flowers.
If I had to choose one way to judge someone’s photography ability by knowing nothing about them – it would be to look at the details in both the wedding dress and flowers. Since (most) wedding dresses tend to be white, and a lot of flowers are light colored or even white – too often photographers who are not the most experienced in exposure and editing will “blow out” the white dresses and lighter/white flowers – let alone other parts of the image – to the point where there is no detail in them. Let’s face it, the dress is important to you – you want to be able to see the details, correct? This problem results mostly from two different issues. Typically from someone who doesn’t know how to expose properly, or their editing skills are just not developed. I see a lot of newer photographers call this “light and airy”. A few do this style extremely well (notably José Villa and Elizabeth Messina)….most however do not.
3. Quality issue #2 – all the images seem to “look the same”.
Remember all the way back a decade or so ago when Instagram started, and everyone thought it was so cool to apply all of these “filters” to images and make them instantly amazing and stand out? Well, some people apply things like that to large swaths of wedding photos too. Trends come and go – and occasionally come back again – but sometimes this type of heavily applied filters and presets will create a look for a wedding where so many images have a similar look and feel. I’ve nicknamed this “shiny object editing”. It looks just cool enough to capture your attention – but doesn’t really hold up to closer examining. We’ll explore this in some future blog posts and give some examples using our own images with filters applied vs our normal classic edit style.
4. Quality issue #3 – look at their skin color and texture.
Keep an eye out for “orange skin”, overly “Photoshoped” skin to the point of looking fake or too much “sharpening” where skin looks rough and mottled. Getting skin color looking pleasing based on the given lighting situation is something that can be challenging and takes time to learn.
5. They say they NEVER use flash.
Trust me, we LOVE natural light and it’s our preferred approach whenever possible. However, we come prepared to use flash if it’s deemed necessary or desirable. A true “100% natural light” professional photographer who wants to stick to that will not take a wedding where flash may be needed (based on the venue or time of day). Professional minded photographers know how to both work with light and create it when needed.
Red Flags…after contacting the photographer.
1. No agreement/contract.
Whether it is online or on paper – if someone does not operate off of an agreement/contract, then run. It is both for yours and their protection. Details, payment terms and image rights definition are just a few basics needing to be included.
2. No retainer to book your date.
Almost every photographer will require you to place a retainer payment for your specific date and agreement terms. We have seen photographers “play things by ear” with a couple, only to have one of them assume something was in place when in reality it wasn’t. An agreement/contract and a retainer both are essential.
3. Uses the word deposit.
Many newer photographers don’t realize the money they are taking up front to hold a date and package details needs to be called a retainer and not a deposit. Without getting too technical, essentially you’re asking the photographer to set aside specific time for you. Whether they turn down other business for that date or not – in most cases these are non-refundable.
4. Takes days to respond.
Good communication is essential. I highly question anyone who can’t regularly respond within 24 hours to some kind of inquiry or communication.
5. Length of time to receive photos.
You should get an estimate of this up front and certainly in your agreement/contract. On average 2-8 weeks are pretty commonly quoted. This can vary in a big way based on their business volume, amount of editing done and whether they are full-time focused or are juggling their time with a full-time job. While we always quote “one month or less” after the wedding for delivery, it’s my experience that anything beyond 8 weeks is totally unacceptable. Too often we hear horror stories of couples still chasing after their photos six months or more. In most cases that’s a newer photographer that either got in over their head or had a problem (losing files, not backed up, etc…).
One last thing…
Look at their work on a bigger screen! Don’t just judge work based on what you see on your phone. Narrow it down based on some of our Red Flag tips…then go and look at the sites on your tablet, desktop, laptop…a lot is revealed when you see it a little larger!
This is just a partial list. While there can be exceptions, we think this is a good starting point to avoid potential problems. Look for more choosing a photographer notes in the future.
Best of luck on your search!