Yup, choosing a wedding photographer should be natural and simple. That's it, article done, we can all go on with our lives now. If only things were that easy, right?
Lately, we've been getting a lot of questions from potential brides that quite frankly are troubling, to say the least. I think a lot of people are forgetting that photography is art, and I don't mean the clients, I mean the photographers. Sure, there is a lot to the business of Wedding Photography, but in the end, we are artists, delivering art, not just numbers on paper and a price tag. Being a Professional Wedding Photographer means you already now how to take a decent photo, you have a great grasp of working with people and getting them to look their best, and you have good timing, and time management skills. Anyone who doesn't, honestly, shouldn't be charging to shoot weddings or touting themselves as a "professional". Those are just the basic requirements to do the job, not to do the job well.
Normally when someone isn't really qualified to do something and has no idea they're not qualified, they invent new qualifications and call them "features" to show potential clients they "know what they're doing, and we do it different". How so? Well, for one, they might list out all their camera equipment on their website. I've never understood this, having professional gear is a given, and honestly clients don't care what you shoot with as long as you can deliver. In all my years, I've been asked less than a dozen times what specific camera or lens I shoot with. So when I see a photographer list out all their equipment down to the last detail, my first instinct is "amateur". What happens though is that they put these ideas into client's heads that the gear matters, and it does, to some extent, but, it's really hard to not have a good camera these days. There are dozens of great products out there that can all produce professional results in the hands of a real, experienced, professional photographer. That said, those same cameras in the hands of an inexperienced amateur can produce distastrous results. So having the gear is only a small fraction of the battle. I'd rather see them list their education, experience and professional merits than list their gear.
Another one is number of photos. I can't tell you how many times I get this question. "How many photos will I get for x number of hours?". My gut wants to say, "All of them.". Meaning all the images worth taking and of a quality and standard worth having. We don't deliver blinks, duplicates or mistakes. There's also no right answer to this question. There is no actual answer either. Again, this is art, we can't possibly predict how many photos we will take or deliver. I can give a rough estimate based on years of experience and weddings similar sounding to yours but, in the end, I can't really give a precise number. I see so many photographers BRAGGING about giving 1,000... 2,000, or even MORE images from a wedding. Let me break that down for you. A typical wedding might be... 9 hours for "full coverage". Let's assume it's a large event, lots of guests, big church wedding, etc. Let's also assume that throughout the day, about an hour is used up in travel, eating, waiting, etc, so that's 8 solid hours of shooting. To deliver, let's say... 2,400 photographs from that wedding means one photo for every 12 seconds for 8 hours straight. That is time lapse, almost video, not really photography. Some may say "but I don't want to miss a single moment!", both photographers and brides, but... conversely, if you spent just 12 seconds looking at every photo, it would take 8 HOURS TO LOOK THROUGH ALL YOUR WEDDING PHOTOS! Nevermind trying to narrow that down to a hundred or less for an album. A hundred an hour is pretty much our high limit, not that I actually limit photos, just that seems the highest number we deliver. We've had brides say that's too many, and we've had brides say it's not enough! I can only imagine they think it's not enough because someone out there sold them on the idea of thousands of images and they think that means more value. I'll tell you right now there is no way that photographer is editing and processing thousands of images on an individual basis. They're either sending the work out (which is a whole other article), skimping on quality, or charging you as much as your car for their services. If it's the latter, well, they earned every penny they are charging. I'd rather stay reasonably priced, not give my brides a migraine looking through images, and offer the highest quality product possible.
Editing, or "Photoshopping". Let me get this out there right off the bat, there is no such thing as, "Just fix it in Photoshop". I don't know where the concept comes from, or who is that fast at Photoshop, but to use that program well takes time. Any "fast fix" in Photoshop is probably not good. Also, instead of fixing it later, if we can just retake a shot that isn't a candid once in a lifetime moment, we just retake the shot. Now it's perfect. Too many people think Photoshop is essential to good photography. They forget that photography, and more importantly, the really famous photographs, existed and were created before digital, and before Photoshop even was written. Photoshop is a tool, just like a camera and a lens, but just as we wouldn't want to shoot every image with a fisheye lens (they make super wide images with lots of distortions, cool but can get overdone quickly), we don't want to "Photoshop" the crap out of every image either. Just because you "can" doesn't always mean you "should". Again, we get brides all the time asking how many images we edit, or how much Photoshop we do for every wedding. Here's the thing: Does it matter? If you like our work, and we showed you ACTUAL client work by the way, what difference does it make how much post-processing and editing we do? Here's our thing: I'm the one who edits your photos, Derica does the albums. If I think an image needs work, it gets worked on, if not, they don't. That might sound rude, but think about what I said. If I think you would look better in that image if I did a little smoothing in Photoshop, I'm going to do it. What if I promised only a certain number of "photoshopped" images? That means you might not look your best in the rest of them. I'll take my system over a promised number of images any day. This is a whole other issue but there's also the QUALITY of the editing. There are people in this world who are gifted photographers, and there are others who are gifted image manipulators. Not everyone is both, and I'd wager very few are. Not to brag, but, I've taught hundreds of photographers how to shoot, and I've taught hundreds of photographers how to use Photoshop. I was a tester for Adobe for years and helped initiate some of the features we still use today. I'm pretty good at image manipulation. Derica however, is a master at it. Why do you think we have her doing the albums, hmm? She actually has a degree in photography and another in graphic design, and she took Photoshop and Digital Imaging in college, where she attained a Master's Degree in Photography. Trust me, most photographers have zero training in Photoshop, let alone photography. They might be making your images look worse not better.
Price. We know, everyone has a budget. I'm not expecting someone with a $500 budget to stretch to $5,000 for photography, that's not how I work. We have a very, very wide range that we can accommodate when it comes to budgets, and I understand not every photographer works that way. It's their perogative. What I am talking about is this: We get calls that so-and-so photographer is $50 or $100 less than us. When I go and look them up, they're normally a completely different style or experience category to us. Most times, and I may be partial here, our work is far better. If $100 means the difference from great photography to meh photography, spend the $100. In almost every situation, that's less than 10% of the total spend for photography, so if that's all it comes down to, spend it. Don't get so caught up on the numbers, we know good photography is expensive, but look at it this way: Bad photography is even more expensive. The cost of losing those memories due to incompetence, maybe having to have all your photographs re-edited by an actual good retoucher, or even staging reshoots with a professional photographer. It all adds up to a LOT more than a couple hundred bucks. That said, if you can't tell the difference between the work and you like both photographers... it's your money!
"Have you shot at this location before?". This is a common question and so many people actually use this as a criteria for hiring a photographer. Let me dispel this one right now. I can walk into ANY location and in half an hour plan out the shoots for the day, whether I've been there before or not. Yup, that's all it takes. I check the sun's direction, estimate it's position at various times that are pertinent to the day, then we walk the property to gauge scene locations. I don't care if I've been there a hundred times or this is my first time, I can shoot competently at any location. To say you won't hire anyone who hasn't shot at a certain venue is pretty silly really. If no one ever hired a photographer that never worked at a certain location, no photographers would ever get hired. Think about it. On the flip side, there is such a thing as burn out, and laziness. Sometimes when a photographer shoots at a place too much, they skip things that might seem important to you, but to them it's yesterday's news, as they've seen it a million times. A fresh look at a place can inspire creativity. There is no right answer here, but dismissing a photographer for NOT having shot at your venue doesn't serve your best interests, that's the gist.
Style. This one I truly don't understand. When someone asks me what "style" I shoot... my response is "My style.". Think about it this way, I can call it anything I want to but does that really tell you anything about our work? I can say I'm a Fine Art Editorial Neo-Filmist in the Digital Medium with influences of Traditionalism and a Modern Implementation, but does that tell you if you like my work? We all want to put labels on things so we can categorize them, and it's human nature to do that but, this one really doesn't help you as a potential bride. There's two "styles" floating around lately that aren't really styles at all, more often they're what are known as Presets for a popular program called Lightroom. Using these Presets you too can make your work look just like everyone else's. "Light and Airy" and "Dark and moody" are no more shooting styles than running reds lights is a driving style. The Light and Airy look is characterized by white skies and wedding dresses so overexposed there is little if any detail left. The Dark and Moody thing is pretty much the opposite, anything darker than medium tone is black, with no detail, and skin is usually orangey or brown. If you placed 50 images of each look from different photographers next to each other, it would be hard to tell them apart. Style is something learned over time, not a button being pushed. Style evolves naturally, and doesn't come from a few weddings either. In the book, "The Outliers", they say to be an expert at something means to have spent 10,000 hours actively pursuing that activity. Let's say a typical wedding is 10 hours, that means you need 1,000 weddings to be an expert. Coincidentally, not many photographers have shot that many! I've done over 3,000. Does that make me a triple expert? I'm kidding. To establish a style, I'd think you need years, many years to fully understand and develop a way of doing things that is your own. When I see a photographer brag about doing 100 weddings, my first thought is, "that's a good start", not "wow, they have some serious experience". So instead of getting bogged down in the mire of style labels, take a good long look at the work and decide if you like it.
Speaking of looking at the work! Statistics say that the average bride spends less than 5 minutes looking over a photographer's website she is considering for her wedding. 5 MINUTES! When you go to buy a car, do you drive around the block or spend some time, you know, city streets, highway, etc? Heck, when you buy shoes you walk up and down the aisles in them a few times, right? This photographer is photographing one of the most important days of your life and everyone has their own personal likes and dislikes... doesn't that deserve more than 5 minutes? Now, if after 5 minutes there's nothing left to look at on their website? Maybe wonder why they don't show more of their work... are they new? Do they feel the rest of their work isn't good enough to show? Things that make you go, "Hmm.".
In closing, hiring your Wedding Photographer shouldn't be that hard. It should feel comfortable and natural. It's a personal choice, and won't always make sense on paper, and that's okay. As long as you like them, and they deliver the work you want in the manner you want, you have chosen wisely. Don't get too caught up in the minutae and things that don't really matter. Do you like the work? Can you see yourself spending 8-10 hours with this person and enjoying it? Do you feel confident they can deliver what you expect them to? It's a relationship, just like any other. As a Professional Wedding Photographer, we need you to trust us, and if you can't do that... keep looking, no matter what the numbers say.