How to Find Your Dream Photographer

How to Find your Dream Photographer (2).png

For most of you reading this, this is your first time planning an event and your wedding is truly an important life event that you want to plan out flawlessly. If you can’t afford a wedding planner who knows all the ins and outs of putting together your perfect day, you are left trying to muddle through making decisions like:

·            How can I afford my dream wedding?

·            What vendors do I need and where do I find them?

·            Which venues will provide the best service for my needs?

And yes…how do I find my dream photographer? In a very unjust way, you are expected to do all of this on your very first try!!

While my expertise does not cover the full spectrum of wedding planning, I sure know a thing or two about wedding photography :-) So I'm writing today to help with your wedding photographer search.

Finding a photographer is a lot like finding a great pair of jeans. Can you remember how long it took you to find the perfect pair? If your experience was anything like mine, it took trying on countless pairs in a countless number of stores, asking friends what brands they liked, and trying to wrap my brain around how different fits will flatter different body types. And let’s not forget about the struggle of finding a brand that had great quality but didn’t break the bank.

Now let’s bring this analogy back to your wedding day. If it takes you countless tries to find the perfect pair of jeans (or maybe you are still looking!), how confident are you that you will find the perfect photographer after a couple weeks of scanning through search results? My guess is not very confident.

And my guess is that the only thing you are confident about is the list of unanswered questions that are bouncing around in that head of yours. You’re probably wondering:

·            How important is wedding photography?

·            What do I need to know about wedding photography?

·            What do I look for in a photographer?

These are all great questions and these are all questions that, if you aren’t asking yourself already, you should be. Understanding the wedding photography industry and understanding what you are looking for in your photographer is vital and can extremely shape who you end up booking to capture your big day.

By the time you finish reading this article, I will have equipped you with all the inside information on what you really need to be looking for to find that dream photographer.

 

PART I: YOUR TOP 3 WEDDING EXPENSES & WHY WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY SHOULD BE ONE OF THEM

When I first started planning my wedding, I was given some great advice. I was told to write down my 3 wedding must-haves and to prioritize my budget around them. My must-haves would be the things that I would invest in, the things that I would cut costs in other areas for. They were the 3 things that held the greatest importance to me. I wrote down people, venue, & photography. When I envisioned my wedding, I envisioned saying my vows in a beautiful church surrounded by all the people I loved. I also wanted beautiful pictures of a day I knew I would never want to forget.

When I got married I wasn’t a photographer. I didn’t know the things I know now. But what I did know was this:  after the wedding, all I would have left to remember that day would be a few keepsakes, my memories, and my wedding photographs.  I knew the keepsakes would get thrown in storage and my memories would fade and the only thing that would keep those memories vivid would be my photographs. Photographs would be the one thing that would encapsulate our entire day and make it feel like it was just yesterday.

 

So as a bride, don’t let price alone be the deciding factor when it comes to choosing your wedding photographer and ask yourself these 3 questions:

1.   What will my wedding photographs mean to me?

One thing that I find brides overlooking while planning their big day, is just that! It’s something a bride should define before they start looking at photographers and pricing. Your wedding photographs are going to be more than photographs; they are going to be memories. Your wedding is a once in a lifetime occasion and it holds so much meaning; yet it is only one day!  After the wedding, the cake will have been eaten, your bouquet will have wilted, the venue will have been stripped of your decor, and your guests will have gone home. The only things that will tangibly live on from that day will be your gifts, your dress, and your photographs. And out of those three things, what is the one thing you will treasure most and what is the one thing that you will show off to everyone on a regular basis or pull out when you want to relive your day? Your photographs!

Not only will your photographs be memories but they'll become treasured heirlooms. Think back to when you were a little girl and would go over to your grandmother’s house and she would pull out her wedding album. As she was thumbing through the pages, she would share stories from that day, how she met your grandfather and how the family has grown since. Not only did you get to share in her memories but you saw her in a different light and it brought you closer. Or maybe even now, as you plan your wedding day, you will collect wedding pictures from your mother and grandparents to display your heritage and how love has built your family to what it is today. Now don’t you want just that, photographs that will eventually become heirlooms?

This is why wedding photography is so important! It’s the one thing that will preserve your memories for you and your family to treasure for a lifetime! And if that’s the case, shouldn’t you be putting photography at the top of your list?

 

2.    Who are you willing to trust with your memories?

Now that you have established the level of importance of your photographs, who are you willing to trust with taking them? Is it your best friend who just bought a professional camera or your Uncle Bill who retired and took up photography as a hobby…probably not. You should be putting a higher value on who you choose to photograph your wedding day and you’re going to want to hire a professional. A professional photographer will have:

·            Experience and will know the ins and outs of wedding photography and shooting a wedding. They'll know what to expect and they'll be able to deal with the unforeseeable.

·            The equipment necessary to capture your day beautifully, no matter the circumstances.

·            An artistic eye to capture your moments beautifully. They’ll pay attention to the details and they'll create pieces of art. 

·            The commitment to put your needs first

·            The ability to provide you with quality imagery

3.    Is photography one of my 3 Must Haves?

Depending how you answered the first two questions, photography may or may not be a must have for you. But chances are, you discovered that your wedding pictures hold a great deal of importance to you and that you want to hire a professional. And if that’s the case, you are going to have to invest in wedding photography, so make photography one of your top 3!

  

PART II: THE WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY INDUSTRY & HOW UNDERSTANDING THE INDUSTRY WILL HELP YOU WITH YOUR SEARCH

The wedding photography industry is filled with a sea of photographers that all want to photograph your wedding. This is a good and bad thing. On the bad side, there are so many photographers to sift through and this makes is seem like the most daunting task. On the bright side, there are SO many photographers to choose from and “the odds are ever in your favor.” You will definitely be able to find that dream photographer you were hoping for that will fit all your needs and all your wants! But before you start your google searches, let me help you out by narrowing down your search and defining these three key components of the wedding photography industry: the types of wedding photography, wedding photography styles & post-processing styles.

1.     Types of Wedding Photographers

Soloists – This is what I have termed photographers who work for themselves and in most cases handle 100% of their workload. This will either be one photographer or a team of two photographers. Either way the person or people that own this business, will be the people that photograph your wedding. My guess is that this group of photographers make up most of the wedding photography industry and is probably what you’re trying to sift through now. Within this group, there will be various levels of experience and talent and ever since digital photography has become mainstream, a flood of photographers have created their own businesses. This means you really need to be aware of what you are getting yourself into when you hire an entrepreneurial photographer (keep reading because we will dig deeper into this in Part III). While there can be risks if you don’t do your research, there are lots of upsides like cheaper prices, higher quality of work, better customer service, a customized experience, and someone who is willing to go above and beyond to turn you into a life-time customer.

As you can guess, this is the category that Chris and I fall into and what that means is that when you book with Stephanie Marie Photography, you’re getting the SMP Wedding Experience with us from start to finish!

Tiered Partnerships – This is what I have termed when an entrepreneur’s photography business has become so popular that they need to hire other photographers to work for them to handle all the demand. The entrepreneur photographer becomes the lead or the featured photographer and is usually vastly more expensive and books up very quickly. When the featured photographer is booked, you are left to hire one of the associate photographers who typically aren’t as experienced. The upside to this is the associate photographers have been trained by the featured photographer so they should give you the same style of photography, the same experience and their craft will be professional grade.

Big Boxed –This is the term I created to described the corporate wedding photography companies. The Big Boxed companies will hire a team of photographers with experience levels ranging across the whole spectrum. You’ll work with a corporate representative that will help you choose a package. Based upon the amount of money you spend; they will dispatch a photographer to your wedding. Some of these companies will have features or surveys that will help them select your photographer but you will most likely not meet your photographer until the day of the wedding. With this type of model, there might be a level of uncertainty as you never really get to build a relationship with the photographer or get to know their work and personal style. The Big Boxed companies usually strives for consistency and meeting their company’s standard expectations. Your experience will most likely feel impersonal and very cookie cutter.

2.     Styles of Wedding Photography

Traditional Photography:  Traditional wedding photographers will strive to give you imagery that will stand the test of time and will take the time to give you direction and guidance to give you those classically posed portraits. With the exception of the ceremony and the reception, the photographer may step in at times to create that perfect shot by adjusting you or moving something in the background, etc. This style and the imagery produced is going to have a simple eloquent classic feel.

Photojournalism/ Documentary Photography: Rather than posing for pictures, the photographer is going to strive to capture your wedding day as it unfolds. Your imagery is going to have a candid and untouched feel to them. While you won’t get much guidance or posing tips from your photographer, you will see more interactions and raw moments in your imagery. Photographers with this style will have a very keen eye for capturing the moments that are going to tell your wedding story.

Contemporary/Modern Photography: This style is structured similarly to traditional photography but will have a bolder and dramatic feel. The photographer will shoot at artistic angles, and will use creative lighting and unique composition. The imagery will be artistic and glamorous.

Within each category, you’ll find different interpretations and creative representations. Every photographer is going come up with their own craft and that’s beauty of this industry! You can find the exact photographer that you are looking for! There is no one style that is better than the other but there is a style that will resonate more with you and the important take away is finding a style that fits you!

For example, Chris and I have a mixed style and have combined traditional photography and photojournalism in hopes to capture those classic portraits and those authentic moments that happen throughout your wedding day. We want our imagery to be timeless and we want our imagery to tell a story. To give our clients that timeless imagery, we incorporate the traditional style into our posing and composition. Chris and I will guide our couples or adjust other areas, when necessary, to capture that perfect shot. But on the flip-side, we are also watching for candid genuine moments to capture. We strive to bring out the emotions and the love that our couples share and that natural affection that you have for each other. More than anything we want our images to become keepsakes, so we make sure that our imagery tells the story of our couples’ wedding and we believe by giving you classic portraits and photographing the moments and the emotions as they unfold gives you just that!

3.     Post Processing Style

Post Processing deals with how a photographer edits your images and every photographer is going to have their own post-processing style or what I call their “artistic stamp” on their images. It’s like choosing between a watercolor painting and street art. There’s no right or wrong way but everyone has their own preference or is drawn to one or the other.  While I don’t have a list of post processing styles, I do have some questions that you can ask yourself to help define what editing style you are drawn towards

·      Do you like images that are bright and airy or do you prefer images that are darker/moodier?

·      Do you like images that are tact sharp or do you prefer images with a little bit of grit and grain?

·      Do you like images that are a muted or do you prefer your images to be vibrant?

·      Do you like images that are natural or do you prefer images that have a bolder dramatic feel?

To give you an example, Chris and I have created a post-processing style that is in line with our photography style. We want our imagery to stand the test of time so we keep our post processing very clean and natural. We love natural light and our imagery reflects that by having a bright and airy look to it. We keep our imagery tact sharp and we keep colors soft and skin tones natural.

 

A photographer’s website and social media handles are a virtual display of their best and favorite pieces of work. Photographers tend to post images that they feel are in line with their personal style, including photography style & post processing style. So my tip for you is to pay close attention to a photographer’s portfolio. As long as their imagery is consistent across each spectrum, it’s a good indication of how your wedding images will look! If you love their portfolio, chances are you’ll love your wedding images!

  

Before you start looking for a wedding photographer, take the steps to determine what type of professional you want to hire, define your photography style, and discover what post-processing style you favor. When you come across a photographer that you like, ask yourself this question: If these pictures were MY wedding pictures, would I love them and would they bring me joy?

 

PART III:  WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A PHOTOGRAPHER & FINDING A QUALITY WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHER

After you put a value on wedding photography and defined your personal preference of wedding photography, now you can start searching. Believe it or not, you have already narrowed your choices down quite a bit, but you’re still wondering how to find that ONE dream photographer.

 

Here’s the key: you want to find a quality photographer that you can have a professional/working relationship with.

 

I first want to say Quality does not necessarily mean Costly. There are amazing photographers out there that are probably undervaluing their talents. On the flip-side, there are also average photographers who are able to charge double what their talent and services merit. This is where it can get extremely tricky for you because the photography industry is very saturated with all sorts of levels of talent and pricing – and you need to be able to sort through the ocean full of these creatives (ie the internet) and find your perfect match.

 

Here’s what defines a quality photographer:

1.    Experience. Does the photographer have the experience that you are looking for? There is no quantitative way to define this. There is no set amount of years in the industry and no set amount of weddings that they should have shot. What you should be looking for is a photographer who has a clear knowledge of what it takes to shoot a wedding. They should know the ins and outs of wedding photography and the ins and outs of shooting a wedding. They should know what to expect and be able to deal with the unforeseeable.

2.    Equipment. The photographer should have the equipment necessary to capture your day beautifully, no matter the circumstances. Aside from the obvious… a camera, they should have back up gear, lighting equipment & lenses (along with a ton of other things but those are the most important).

3.    An Artistic eye to capture your moments beautifully. The photographer will pay attention to the details and they'll create pieces of art. They’ll also have the knowledge to compose images and they’ll understand the technique that goes into creating quality photo.

4.    The commitment & dedication to put your needs first. This is your wedding day, a day you will only have once in a lifetime. You want to find a photographer that believes in that statement and values you. You want a photographer that will care about you and all the effort you are putting into your wedding. You want a photographer that offers you premium services and isn’t already thinking about their next booking. You will not realize this until after your wedding day, but being a great wedding photographer is not just about the pictures they take. There is also a ton of organization, leadership, and interpersonal skills that one must have in order to pull off a seamless wedding day and you want a photographer that will give you just that!

For example, Chris and I always put a lot of time and effort into each wedding we shoot. We do a ton of  behind the scene preparation to make sure we have established trust with our couples. Prior to the wedding, we gather information from our couples about the entire wedding day. We provide schedules of when and where we will be shooting and with whom. We coordinate with vendors, videographers, and DJs prior to your big day so everyone is on the same page and so much more. We do everything we can to make our couple wedding photography experience a success. Our number one goal, is to make sure our couples our present on their wedding day and are enjoying every moment. We want them to trust us, so all the photography stress can fall on our shoulders.

5.    Consistent Quality Imagery. A photographer’s website, portfolio & social media should have a clear shooting style and a clear editing style. If they describe their style as bright and airy, all their images should be a reflection of that style. Their images should look professional as well. Are they in focus? Do the pictures have a proper exposure? Do their images have good color?

6.    Personable. The photographer should be friendly and pleasant to work with. They should make you feel comfortable and valued, whether you are in front of the camera or not. A wedding photographer is one of the vendors that is going to be by your side the entire day, so yes, this does matter; you gotta like them!

 

The best way to gage all this, is to do your homework. Any photographer you are seriously considering make sure to do the following:

·            Read through their website: A photographer’s website is a great place to get an overview of what they offer. Not only do they share their work but a lot of photographers will share their hearts behind their business and will provide you with an overview on their wedding experience

·            Read their reviews: This will give you unbiased information about the photographer and what it’s like to work with them

·            Review their portfolio & check out their social media: I know I’m going to sound like a broken record right now, but I can’t express how important it is to review a photographer’s work. You want to see consistent quality imagery that YOU LOVE!

·            Meet with them in person (or if distance is an issue, arrange a phone call or FaceTime): This will be a good time to see if you mesh well, you’ll also get a glimpse of their personality and is a great time to go over all the nitty gritty details and get all your questions answered.

 

When all is said and done, and you think you found THE one, ask yourself these questions:

·            Do you like their work? Does their work reflect my photography style? Can I envision my wedding photographs looking like their work?

·            Are they professional? Will they be there to answer my questions and help me along the way?

·            Do they know how to shoot a wedding? Are they knowledgeable? Can they handle the unforeseeable?

·            Do they meet your expectations and can they deliver what I want/need?

·            Do I like them? Do I want to work with them?

 

If you answered yes to all of the above…. Guess what… You’ve found your dream photographer!!!