So, you're getting married, and you want to find the Best Wedding Photographer ever, right?
Don't believe everything you see on the Internet. Shocking, I know.
I don't just mean what photographers say about themselves either. There are hundreds of websites out there selling awards, titles, and... credibility. Yes, I said it. Our industry is rife with hucksters, tricksters, slimeballs, and a few good people trying to make a living. Sadly, a lot of the things you will find out there are propaganda generated by a few big companies interested more in your money or that of a photographer than in actually promoting good, quality, respectable work and connecting that with clients looking for the same.
Wait, what? There is no truth in advertising?
Well... no, there is not. Sorry to burst that bubble right away, but I felt you needed to know
First, today, everyone and their brother claims to be the best, or premier
(which makes me gag by the way), and they're using awards to back that up. Now.... there are dozens if not hundreds of ways to get a legitimate award. Let me list a few:
In our area:
Tampa Area Professional Photographers Association tappa.org/
Bay Professional Photographers Association www.bppafl.com/
Florida Professional Photographers fpponline.org/
National and International:
Professional Photographers of America www.ppa.com/
Wedding and Portrait Photographers International www.wppionline.com/index.shtml
Fearless Photographers www.fearlessphotographers.com/
Wedaward, International Wedding Photography Awards wedaward.com/
The Wedding Photographer Society weddingphotographersociety.com/
Now... this is not an exhaustive list. But... beware the traps! There are companies out there that will give you an award just for buying a hunk of glass
. They cleverly send emails (SPAM anyone?) to business people claiming they are chosen for some prestigious title. I kid you not. Then, for just three payments of $19.95
.... or something like that, you too can have your own shiny award saying how great you are.
How to know? Well... for one, if someone has a real award, they probably say where it came from. Google is your friend. If you can't find their name on a list somewhere, they probably didn't really EARN an award, they may have bought it.
Also... credibility of awards. To me, as a creative professional, if my peers, or a panel of judges didn't vote for this award, I didn't earn it
. Sounds simple, right? All the sites listed above offer some form of competition and from there, photographers can enter and earn recognition for their work. That, to me, is how you separate yourself from the pack. I've earned hundreds of awards this way, and guess what? I never paid a dime for any of them, and yes, you can look them up, and find them online.
Okay... enough about awards, essentially, use your judgement, and use your search engine. Saying "I'm an award winning photographer" just isn't enough. Show me those awards, then I'll believe you
Next up.... "Top Photographer Lists"
This one irritates me. I actually saw a major News Network article that was titled, "(Network Name)'s List of the Top Ten Best Wedding Photographers in Tampa". First... why would they do that article? Second... did they really check out the thousands of photographers? I highly doubt it. There's another website that shows up really high in Google searches (I won't name names but... think "pushpin"), that likes to say, "Here is the definitive list of the BEST WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHERS IN (Name your area)"
. Now... I really hope people realize this is just simply not true. I've looked at those lists, and, to be honest, I have never heard of half the people listed. I mean, I've been a Professional Wedding Photographer in this area for about 15 years now... if you were that good, I'd have heard of you.
So... how do you get on these lists? Money, the root of all evil
. Yes, money will create Top Ten lists faster than David Letterman's writing staff
. Money will make you the best Wedding Photographer ever.... wait... hold the phone. Really? Sadly, this is what marketing today has come to.
The internet does not hold you to the truth anymore. So many people want to get ahead and are willing to do nearly anything, and there are companies out there more than happy to take their money.
This is really, really bad for our industry and for our clients. After all, we require trust and respect to do the best job as a Wedding Photographer, and... buying our way onto a "Top Ten" list isn't a great first step
So... what's the takeaway from this one? Ehh, if it's not a Photographic Organization giving the list out, proceed with caution, and do your homework. Google, trust me, it works. I'm seeing a common theme.
Next: "Bridal Sites"
You know them, you love them, you hate them, whatever... everyone looks at them. I can't name names but... let's just say they're all "tied" to the same theme
. They all charge photographers (and sometimes brides!) to advertise on their site. They offer sometimes helpful, but usually impractical advice and overcomplicate weddings in general. They make brides feel like they need "more" at their wedding. They push people to overspend and expand their budgets. Why? All in the name of... you guessed it: MONEY. They are not in the business of helping brides, they are in the business of selling advertising
. Plain and simple. Use your judgement, just because someone is listed doesn't mean they're good, it means they paid.
Oh! Their "awards", this gets me. They claim only the top 2% or something can claim an award... well, here's a secret: If someone listed gets just a few reviews (good or bad!) or pays more money, they get one of those little squares for their website. Yeah, 2%? Well, considering only about 5% of working professional photographers pay to be listed on the site.... 40% of them get a few reviews... yep, their numbers work out.
Okay... pause for some positivity here. I'm sure someone out there is hating me right now for writing all of this. I'm betting they either paid for an award, paid to be on a "Top" list, or... own or work for a company doing these things. I'm writing this not to make myself look good (since I'm pretty sure this will get me blackballed from a few places), but to help MY Industry. To help Brides and Grooms. You see, I've been doing this for a long time, and I intend to continue being a Wedding Photographer until I no longer can (we don't really get a "retirement plan"), and things like what I describe water down the legitimacy of the good ones out there. And... to be sure, there are some VERY good, honest, respectable Wedding Photographers out there. I like to think I'm counted among them. So, before you get angry with what I write here, think about what I said. I'm not such a bad guy, I'm trying to help people here.
And... last but not least: "Preferred Vendor Lists"
Now... let me start by saying that this is probably the most controversial issue
. You see, there are two ways to get on these lists. One is good, one is... ehh, questionable.
Let me explain. I see this as, there are two types of Lists. One, is the true Preferred Vendor List, the other, is a List of Advertisers. I think you see where I'm going with this one. Yes, you either earn your spot by working hard, doing good work, and being credible, or... you pay
. Which would you rather have? A list of curated, good, respected professionals, or... a list of people who paid the most so you'd have their name on a list in your hands. I know my answer
How to know? Ask. Sure, people can lie, but... I still believe in the honesty of people
and I would think if you asked how they got their list, those places that use a pay system will offer some kind of spin about why it's okay to charge for that, while the ones who have non-paying lists will tell you all about the virtues of doing good work. Quite a difference.
So... The Best Wedding Photographer ever. Well, I think it's gone the way of the unicorn. It's a myth. There is no one single best Wedding Photographer. There's only the best for you.
How do you know? I've written some simple steps
to help you find the Best Wedding Photographer for you:
1) Use Google to search for photographers
. Don't use terms like "best wedding photographer". Why? Well... who do you think writes the website you find? They do! So... those out there making claims of being the best, are luring you, knowing you will use those terms. But, guess what? They'll hopefully find this article too, and maybe I can show them the light!
2) Actually look through websites
. Common sense, but... you'd be surprised how many brides just ask for prices (even though ours are presented right there, on our site). Price is important, but not the end all. More on that later. Thoroughly look at their websites, check out their blog. Count how many weddings they do in a 3, or 6 month period. Do they only do weddings? Is the work consistent? Do you even like their images? Here's the thing: They are showing you their best work... if you don't like what you see, you won't like what they do.
3) Narrow the field
. I have spoken to soooo many brides who have looked at hundreds of websites and they don't even know which way is up anymore. Narrow the field to ten or fewer. How do you do this? Well, price is a factor. Contrary to what people in my industry think... if your budget is $1,500, you are not at all likely to hire a $5,000 photographer. Most good websites will give you at least an idea of price. If they don't, they probably have some way to contact them for pricing. Buyer beware... if a photographer doesn't get back to you in... a week? Forget them. Move on. If it takes them that long to get in touch with a "prospective" client, how long once they have your money? Hmm? So... you can use personal taste of the work, price, and communication as limiting factors. Resist the temptation to hold out for that out-of-your-budget non-communicating photographer with a fancy website. You have to actually work with this person... not just feed their ego. I try to respond to any communications within 24 hours. Less on weekdays during normal business hours. See my point? My clients are important to me.
4) Once you have your Narrowed List, use Google
, that's what it's there for. Sure, check out reviews, but, listen to them with a grain of salt, as... those are on those dreaded "Bridal Websites". Those reviews are a good barometer of the overall credibility of your photographer, but, not the only thing you should be looking for. Search for their name, not just the company, if you can get it. It's pretty amazing what you can find out. You can see just how truthful they were about those awards, find out their cat's names, and maybe even what they bought from Amazon.com
. Really though, you're looking for what I call "presence". Someone new to the industry will have very, very few things come up. However, a seasoned pro will have "breadcrumbs" all over the place, photo credits, articles, award mentions, places they photographed at, seminars they taught, etcetera. This is gold. The best part? Most of it is out of their control, so you know it's true.
5) Now.. that Narrowed List might be down to the best 2, 3, or 5 photographers
. Good job. Give yourself a pat on the back... the hard part is over. It's very likely all of them would do a great job for you and you can't really go wrong. Now, here's what you do: Meet them. In person if possible, if not, schedule a phone consultation. Notice, I didn't say call them. I find that calling someone when they are not expecting you will result in a truncated conversation since... if they are that good, they're probably working. Schedule a time for a call, and determine up front who is calling who. If, at that time, they either don't answer, or don't call, red flag. Sure, things happen, but... if something came up and I was unable to make a scheduled appointment, I'd tell the client. To me, this speaks volumes to professionalism on the part of the photographer. Oh, if you do schedule a time, and you are supposed to call... make sure you do. Remember, we choose our clients as much as they choose us! An appointment makes it official, and important, to all involved.
6) Think and feel. Never make a decision while in front of that Photographer
. Remember, we are salespeople. I admit it, we're trying to get you to give us money. It's a big decision and a large investment. Also, you will spend more time with that photographer on your wedding day than with your bride or groom or family... so choose wisely. Some things to watch out for that I just think are... dirty pool:
"I'll give a discount if you sign a contract right now."... Why? What are they hiding they don't want you to find?
"Dates sell out fast, if you don't sign now, I can't guarantee it will be available tomorrow." There is SOME truth to this, but... really, they have no idea. If they had someone else for that date, they wouldn't be meeting with you for it.
Basically, don't be pressured. This is a big deal. If that photographer doesn't respect you enough to give you time to think it over, they haven't earned your respect to pay them to photograph the most important day of your life, have they?
How did they make you feel? Did you feel comfortable? Did they make you feel like they would look out for you? Did they make you feel... suspicious? In short... did you get the warm fuzzies or not?
Now... I know I didn't give away any secrets to finding the Best Wedding Photographer Ever. What I did though, is arm you, the prospective client with ways to wade through all the chaff out there. And... there is a lot. I'll leave you with one last piece of advice:
Ask Questions. Ask a lot of questions. We do this all the time, you don't. I want this to be a 50/50 relationship, since I can't do it without you. So, we're on the same team, and you should know that. Asking questions shows me you're interested, and gives insight as to what you really want. It also tells you, the customer, if your photographer is willing to share information. I like to have educated clients who understand they "why" and "how" rather than people I simply "sold" a Wedding Package to.
Thank you for reading, and pass this along if you know anyone looking for a Wedding Photographer.
Brian C Idocks
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