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What You Need to Know When Hiring a Wedding Photographer

wedding photographer taking picture of bride

By Laura Newcomer When planning your wedding, one of the most important decisions is who to hire as your wedding photographer. Your wedding photos are a permanent record of your big day and, and they are also a not-so-small investment as far as wedding costs go. Therefore, it’s crucial that you choose a photographer who has the vision and expertise to capture your wedding exactly as you’d like. Deciding on a photographer can be easier said than done. For example, you could be sorting through 850 to over 1,000 wedding photographers in the Chicago, Illinois, area alone. This means finding the right person may seem like an overwhelming task. Luckily, a few sound strategies can help you find exactly what you are looking for. Here’s a guide for vetting potential wedding photographers, plus an overview of what you can expect to pay, as well as what may be included in your photography package.

How to Vet Photographers

In-demand wedding photographers often book their schedules up to a year in advance, so it’s important to start looking for a photographer as soon as possible. Most sources recommend nailing down your photographer approximately 11 months before the wedding date. No matter when you start looking, here’s how you could go about it. Get clear about what you’re looking for. Before you start vetting wedding photographers, it’s important to spend some time thinking about what it is you’re hoping to achieve. For example: Style Do you have a particular style in mind? Wedding shoots tend to focus on one or multiple of the following styles: • Traditional. This style tends to work from a pre-planned shot list and focus on posed photos. It can be useful if your wedding is structured in a traditional way, if you’re working with large groups, or both. • Photojournalistic. This style focuses on capturing the events of the day candidly as they arise, rather than emphasizing pre-planned shots. • Fine Art, Vintage, or Fashion. Photos shot in these styles tend to be similar to traditional shots except that they’re more stylized; for example, they might use sepia tones, unusual backgrounds, dramatic lighting or poses, and so on.  

Scope of Work Do you want a photographer who will also photograph your engagement shoot, bridal portraits, and wedding day? Or are you just looking for coverage on the big day? Budget What is your budget? As noted below, it’s generally true that the best photographers are priced more competitively. Skillset Do you need a photographer who’s skilled at shooting in particular settings? For example, beach, winter, or nighttime weddings may require special skillsets.

Mine Your Network

The best wedding photographers should have reputations that match their skill sets. Tap into your network of friends, family, and acquaintances to ask for recommendations. It can also be helpful to look at Facebook groups, review sites, and so on to see which photographers might stand out from the pack. You can also browse Instagram hashtags, such as #weddingphotography or #weddinginspiration. This should give you a solid list to work from. Then, cross-reference this list with the needs you identified during the first step.

Conduct Interviews

After you’ve narrowed down your list of potential photographers, it’s time to conduct some interviews. If possible, aim to meet with photographers in person so you can get a feel for how the two of you vibe together. Video interviews can do in a pinch, of course. During your interview, make sure to ask about the following: • The photographer’s experience level. This includes how many weddings they’ve shot, whether they’ve ever worked at your venue, how long they’ve been a professional photographer, whether they focus on weddings, and so on. • Their process. Will the photographer visit the locations before the shoot? How many hours of coverage are included, and what happens if you want them to stay longer? What happens if there’s an emergency and the photographer can’t make it to your wedding? • Their team: Do they photograph on their own or do they have an assistant to help ensure coverage throughout the day for all the big moments? • Their philosophy. What is their approach to shooting weddings? You can ask this during the interview, but you can also check out the “About” page on their website to get a feel for their approach. • The equipment they use. For example, do they shoot exclusively film or digital? Or a combination of the two? • Their packages and costs. Ask about the different tiers of packages and what they include. Get specific. During this process, be honest about what you want, your budget, and what products and services are absolute must-haves. For example, do you only need printed photos or do you prefer to receive every photo taken on a digital file? • The post-production process. What kind of styling can or will they apply during the editing process? When and how will you receive your images after the big day? Will family and friends be able to order prints? If you ordered film shots, will the photographer give you the negatives? Who will own the rights to the images? • Their contracts. Will they show you their standard contract so you know what’s included? Of course, you should also ask for multiple samples of their work. You’ll want to see at least a couple full wedding shoots so you can get a good sense of their style, as well as see their strengths and weaknesses. You’ll also get a feeling for what a full package might look like. Look carefully at the photos to determine whether you like the photographer’s style and whether they’ve captured the kinds of moments you want recorded at your own wedding. Throughout all these conversations, pay attention to how you feel around the photographer. If you feel comfortable and at ease, that’s a sign that you’ve found a good fit. If you feel anxious, stressed, or unsure about their ability to deliver, you may want to look elsewhere.

Choose Your Photographer and Sign a Contract

Once you’ve identified your dream photographer, it’s time to cement the agreement in writing. During this stage, make sure to clearly communicate your expectations and hash out any final details. For example: • Confirm that the photographer you’ve met with is the same person who will conduct all of your shoots. • Get clear information about whether a second photographer or assistant will be present at the wedding. • Clarify the exact dates and times when you expect the photographer to be present and for how long. Share the general schedule of events for these days so they can plan accordingly. • If you want to be absolutely sure to get certain shots, make sure the photographer knows that during this stage. • Determine whether there are any limitations or minimum orders built into the package you’ve chosen. • Communicate any unique family or friendship dynamics that might be relevant during the big day, such as divorced parents, friends who are considered part of the family, and so on. • If you’re planning to have any of your photos published online or in print, make sure to communicate that so you can discuss image rights and styling options. Some photographers, for instance, require their photos to be used as delivered — no additional Instagram filters or edits can be added. Bottom line? The best wedding photographer is the wedding photographer you like the most. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether they’ve shot 2,000 weddings versus 100, as personality and individual style may trump experience. If you find a photographer you like whose prices are outside your budget, look at other wedding costs that can be reduced or look at ways to add to your budget. One way to augment your budget is getting a personal loan, which can be used for wedding costs. Personal loans, such as Discover personal loans, can range from $2,500 to $35,000 and offer fixed rates and a clear, unchanging repayment amount and schedule.

What to Expect in Terms of Cost

The cost for wedding photographers varies widely, so the best advice here is to expect pretty much anything. While some sources suggest the average wedding photographer in the U.S. costs approximately $2,800, wedding photographers can charge as little as $1,200 for minimal coverage and over $10,000 for luxury packages. These costs hinge on a list of factors, which we’ll explore in greater detail. No matter your wedding budget, a good rule of thumb is to allocate approximately 15 percent of that budget to photography. So if you’re planning a luxe wedding that’s in the range of $60,000 or more, your appropriate budget for wedding photos would be around $10,000. However, this budgetary percentage is dependent on each couple’s wedding and photographer expectations.

Why Wedding Photographers Cost So Much

Several factors help explain why wedding photography constitutes such a big chunk of a wedding’s budget. For starters, wedding photography packages typically include more than just a few photos snapped during the wedding ceremony. Professional wedding photography often includes: • Engagement portraits • Bridal portraits • Wedding day services • High-quality editing of all photos • Photo books and prints That’s a lot of value, and a lot of the photographer’s time, crammed into one package. In some cases, wedding photography packages might also include a second photographer (who is often referred to as a “second shooter”), an assistant, additional prints, online galleries, designed albums, and so on — all of which come at a cost. Additionally, it’s important to remember that photographers are working for you even when they aren’t shooting for you — and those shoots can take hours in their own right. Professional photographers do a lot of preparation before their shoots, as well as editing and order fulfillment after the shoots. In total, photographers may spend anywhere from 39 to 55 hours working on a single wedding assignment.. Another factor driving wedding photography costs is simply the photographer’s cost of doing business. Professional photography equipment is expensive, and developing prints, whether film or digital, is a financial investment. Many photographers also pay to rent or own their studio space, hire assistants, purchase insurance, and market their brand and services. Then there’s the additional costs of traveling to and from weddings and other appointments. All told, photographers have a lot of bills to pay, so they price their services responsibly and accordingly. There are also more subjective factors, such as a photographer’s experience level, reputation, style, and the rapport you feel with them. This person will effectively be attending your wedding, so it’s important that you and your guests feel comfortable with them in your midst. Your wedding day will already come with enough stressors, so it’s worth paying more for a photographer whose presence feels welcomed and like a natural addition to your wedding day.

The Final Word on Wedding Photographers

The images from your wedding will be a tangible, lasting reminder of your big day, so it’s important to invest in a photographer you like and trust to create high-quality photographs. When you’re 85 years old and gazing back on those photos, don’t you think you’ll be glad you put in the time and investment?

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