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Picking a Wedding photographer – Brides BEWARE

In today’s digital photography explosion thousands upon thousands of people call themselves professional photographers and many have very little experience. Although I love the fact that so many people are going out to buy themselves a camera they can afford and open up an account to display and sell their photography, you should be extremely careful when hiring these people to do your wedding photography.  If you chose to pick one of these amateur photographers to save money, you should know you what to look for and the risks involved with using their services.  I mean no disrespect to these people at all. Everyone has to start somewhere.  After all, we all need to get experience. It just shouldn’t be on the job training at your wedding unless you are fully aware that getting experience is the purpose along with creating your images.

I am the owner of Extra Eyes Photography and have nine professional photographers on staff. I go through approximately one hundred or so digital portfolios of potential photographers before I find one who meets my standards.   I know this is harsh of me to say but there are a lot of beginner photographers out there looking for your wedding business, and they just cannot produce the quality of work you may be looking for.  I am shocked when I place an ad for a professional photographer with a minimum of 5 years’ experience, and I get so many resumes from amateurs calling themselves a pro.  If you don’t care about the quality of the work or just cannot afford a professional and just want your day documented by all means hire someone for $500 for your big day. Just be careful who you hire with or without experience.  With a little knowledge, you may be pleasantly surprised when using an amateur and save a ton of money. Or, you may not and be extremely disappointed. Let’s go over some things to keep the later from happening but keep in mind you usually get what you pay for.

You may notice many really good prices out there today due to these amateurs flooding the market with low ball prices.  This has forced the “true professional” to lower their prices to compete.  I respect the photographer who keeps their prices on the high end because they offer what the amateur cannot. These photographers have thousands of dollar’s worth of equipment and also spend a ton on advertising, insurance, marketing, printing, travel, and more.  One reason why you are paying more for a pro is their overhead.  An amateur has a very low overhead and usually very little equipment and schooling.

Personally, all of our company photographers started their training years ago working in film photography.  The true photographer has done this for a living and does not do friends and family events and brand themselves professionally.  Here’s how to know the difference.

What to look for in a photographer? 

First of all, you are most likely going to look at the price and decide what it is you can afford.  As you have found out the price can range from $500 to $5000.  You may say to yourself that’s one area I can save some money on for my very expensive day.  Why would you spend ten times as much for photography to get a better quality product?  That’s completely up to you.  If you want images of your day that will take your breath away, you may have to spend at least a few thousand dollars. If you want to hire someone who knows little about flash, low light, perspective and editing and may miss the big moments of the day because they just don’t have the proper training you can save yourself a bunch and hope you get some lucky shots.  There are professionals and amateurs out there who vary greatly in skill and equipment.

When screening potential photographers, the first thing you should do is look at a portfolio of work of wedding photography of at least 100 images of their work. Don’t look at landscapes and frog pictures. Look directly at the weddings they have done.  If you view some pictures from each wedding, you will know how much experience they have, and they didn’t just do their sister’s and cousin’s wedding and calls themselves a pro.  The more experience they have, the more of a portfolio they will have.  Also, be sure you are looking at their work and not something copied from the internet. Although it’s hard to tell sometimes, they should be able to supply you with a website, proof books, or something to show that the work is their own when dealing with a company that has several photographers be sure to view the portfolio of the photographer who is doing your wedding. You don’t want to look at company samples of images from photographers who may not even work for the company anymore.  Also, look at the work of the backup photographer. Say your photographer has an emergency and cannot attend, and they send someone else as your contract should also state. You want to know who the backup photographer is and also view their images when dealing with a bigger company.

Don’t just ask for references, call them!  Ask questions of the former clients.  How was their interaction with everyone on that day? Were they pleasant, and did everyone seem to like the photographer? Each photographer has a different style, and you should be comfortable with the photographer and their way of posing and interacting with your family and guests.  They should also be willing to either shoot in “stealth mode,” as I call it, or you can allow them to be more aggressive and be in the middle of everything.  Did the former client feel the photographer was too intrusive or not aggressive enough? People like to give opinions, and you can find out a lot from the former client.

When viewing the portfolio, look for crooked horizons. This is one of my pet peeves. A professional photographer will not have the horizon tilted on any photos unless there are a few done for artistic purposes. Some people do not see the crooked horizon unless it is pointed out. Look closely for this.  Myself, it screams at me.  I do not hire anyone who sends a portfolio with crooked pictures.  Yes, that screams amateur.  I do not like the artistically tilted horizon. It rarely works for me.  There are other ways to get a dramatic photograph.  You will be able to tell the ones done on purpose vs. the ones that have been done due to lack of experience.

Look at the exposure of the images.  Most weddings have a white wedding dress, and this bright dress can be easily overexposed if the photographer is not experienced.  Keep in mind the $500 photographer may send you back beautiful pictures with your white dress yelling at you.  Look specifically at the wedding dress and see if you can see every detail or if details are lost because the whites are too bright in the photograph.

Next, look for consistency of color, brightness, and contrast.  Are the photos all “even,” or are they all over the place? Post-processing is a huge part of wedding photography, and without the proper experience, the photos will not look consistent.  Some amateurs do not have the appropriate editing programs either. Picture your album (no pun intended). Do you want one page lighter and more saturated and not balanced with the picture next to it?  Photographers can spend up to 40 or more hours professionally editing your photos.   This is something to keep in mind when you look at the price.  Will your photographer spend 12 hours with you on your day then spent 40 plus hours editing for $500.00? Most likely not. If they do not do this full-time where will they find those 40 hours?

You will also be looking at the overall images.  Did the photographer get the father kissing the cheek of the bride when he gave her away with a tear in her eye?  Did they get her in the car outside the church with true emotion on her face?  Make sure each album has the highlight moments.  Look at the overall appeal and the composition of the image. Are all the photos pleasing to the eye? Did they get everything in the portfolio that you would want? Spend some time looking at details.

The important point here is to thoroughly go through portfolios of several wedding albums.  Don’t just ask to see a few shots.  Anyone can do a wedding and get 5 or 6 great shots. Look at the whole album. If they have a website with all the photos posted, even better.

Ask about equipment. Be very aware that good equipment does not make a good photographer! And Yes, Years of experience does not make a good photographer either!  I hired a photographer with 30 years’ experience when I was new in the business, and he ruined the shoot horribly I am sorry to have to admit.  Having the proper equipment and years of experience is only a basic foundation to start with. Do not assume it means the photos will be good. They can do 30 years of bad photography I found out the hard way.  Always ask if they have a backup camera?  Every photographer should have one. Ask if it is a full-frame camera or not.  It is acceptable to use someone with a medium frame camera but never use someone with an entry-level amateur camera.  Since we don’t expect you to know what each camera is and we can’t list them here, ask for the type of cameras and Google them.  If you look up the price of the camera at B and H photo, you will see the camera cost, and you will know this is an amateur camera. If it is $2000 and up, you’re in good shape, although some amateurs have a lot of money to spend on equipment but don’t know how to use it, as I mentioned.  If the camera is $699, you know it’s an amateur camera. You can also read the descriptions of the camera on the internet.

You want to ask about lenses.  A professional will have a bag of lenses.  Most of which will be 2.8 lenses, which are the best for weddings. Again, ask for a list of equipment and Google.  If they have several 2.8 lenses, you are in good shape and no need for Google.  Anyone who has spent over $1000 a piece for these types of lenses most likely will have a full-frame camera to go with them.  If someone has one lens and it’s not a 2.8, you may be taking a risk.  You should not pay any more than $500, if that, for someone who does not have the proper equipment.  If they do not have a zoom lens, I would not use them at all.  I have had people come to me with a camera and the lens it came with (kit lens) and call themselves a pro.  This is not acceptable by any means.

Ask if the price includes a second shooter. I personally always have one for several reasons. I am always outside the church with the bride. My second shooter is inside the church or vice versa, to get her entering the doorway and coming down the aisle.  How hard is it to be outside, getting the special moments before entering the church and run to the front of the inside of the church to change settings on the camera and get that most special moment? Very!

A second shooter can catch some things that may be missed. We can’t be in two places at once.  What if there is an equipment malfunction at a unique moment?  Yes, it happened to me once.  My flash suddenly stopped working, which is rare, but it does happen. I was able to run to my equipment bag and change to another flash while my second shooter covered the particular moment.  It’s also a good idea to see the work of the second shooter beforehand.  It may cost you a little more money, but a true professional rarely shoot without a second shooter.

Always get a contract and ask for proof of general liability insurance. Some wedding halls will require it!

A pro will have insurance and print you out an insurance declaration page to send to the wedding hall. An amateur will not. This will cover you for legal matters should they arise, and it will also make it very clear as to exactly what you expect and what is included.  You should also supply your photographer with a schedule and a “Must have” list.  There are several lists on the internet where you can print them out and check off. You must have shots for the photographer before you give them a deposit.  Since each bride may have a different idea of who, what, where and when to shoot your list will make sure the photographer knows exactly what you are looking for.  Don’t hesitate to ask for changes in the contract of important issues that you would like to add or change. Be sure to initial next to the changes and retain an original copy. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

You will find a multitude of photographers out there with different experience levels and different types of equipment.  Now that you have the basic knowledge of what to look for you can decide which photographer to choose and how much they are worth paying.  Just because someone charges $500 doesn’t mean the photos will be horrible and if they charge $5,000 doesn’t mean they will be perfect either.  So start looking at portfolios and start asking questions!

RED FLAGS

Shooting without a full-frame camera or they don’t know what that means.

A Minimal amount of lenses.

Lenses that do not zoom or 2.8 lenses.

Titled horizons in portfolio pictures.

Improperly exposed images in the portfolio.

Portfolios without all the big moment shots.

Lack of portfolio samples or proof that they are their own images.

Not enough references.

Not having a second shooter.

No formal training.

No website.

No advertising.

No printed materials.

No general liability insurance.

No contracts.

Pam Goodyer

Extra Eyes Photography

Extra Eyes Photo Tours

www.extraeyesphototours.com