Choosing a photographer comes after finding one. Loving the photos you see as examples is only one element and unfortunately too often says very little about the photographer’s ability. There is a long list of potential red flags we see regularly and 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 basics, talking about getting quality images is 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 and ready as well as following through on what you have contracted for.
Over the coming weeks and months, we plan on piecing together a variety of posts that lay out some tips that can help you sort through the wide variety of photographers, styles and features available in your photography. We’re even going to delve into some of the actual photography principles, notes about editing and how we run a wedding day that is distinctly different than others with less experience. Below are just a few things that can help you weed out the “just starting” and scammers vs photographers who are committed to your day and in it for the long haul for their business. Thin the field out before it’s too late!
Red Flags…before contacting them.
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. It’s ok to be just starting out and have a simple web site. It’s also ok to be established and have a simple web site.
2. Checking their Facebook Page creation date
One of the things most Photographers do as soon as they decide to “go into business” is set up a Facebook Business Page for their Photography. Recently, Facebook added to the Pages, a “Page Transparency” block to the Page’s information. This will list the date that the Page was created – and can be an excellent indicator if this is a new photographer. We oversee more than a dozen Facebook wedding groups – and the sheer number of “photographers” that ask to join – and have only created their Pages in the last few months to a year is a little crazy. Everyone has to start somewhere and at sometime – but with your newer/lesser experienced photographers, a little more scrutiny can be a wise thing.
3. 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 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? I see a lot of newer photographers call this “light and airy”. A few do this style very well….most do not.
4. 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 occaisionally 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. 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.
5. Quality issue #3 – look at their skin color and texture
Keep an eye out for “orange skin”, overly “Photoshopped” skin to the point of looking fake or too much “sharpening” where skin looks rough and mottled. Getting skin color looking good is something that can be challenging and takes time to learn.
6. They say they NEVER use flash.
Trust me, we LOVE natural light and it’s our preferred approach whenever possible. We think it looks better for most of the times throughout the day. However, we come prepared to use flash if it’s deemed necessary. We know how to use them and also have back up.
Red Flags…after contacting them.
1. How many weddings have they photographed as lead photographer?
If you’re unsure of someone’s experience or if you can already tell that they are newer or just starting out, this is a very fair question – and probably the single best question you can ask. Sometimes a photographer might say they have been photographing for “3 years” or “10 years” etc…But how many weddings every year? There is a big difference between someone who has photographed 5 weddings per year vs 20 per year. Until someone has hit the 50+ weddings total, my opinion would be that they are very much still in the learning phase of their business.
2. No agreement/contract.
Whether it is online or in 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
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. Asks for full payment up front.
We’ve been seeing this more often lately and it is a concerning trend. Not that a business can’t run some incredible sales or offers (we have done that occasionally ourselves with our Giving Back program), but I would be cautious when they are asking for their entire package price up front. Most photographers will take roughly 25-50% of the package price as a retainer to hold the date. “Full-payment” is not a normal practice.
6. 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.
7. 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 still. 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…).
This is just a partial list! While there can be exceptions to a lot of rules, we think this list is a good starting point to avoid potential problems.
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!
Best of luck on your search!