This post is something I have been working on for quite some time, and there is no time like the present as we roll into the busiest time of year when brides are booking their wedding photographers. Not only does this post apply to choosing a wedding photographer, but a guide in choosing a photographer for ANY occasion.
With so many different styles of photography out there, it can be really overwhelming to pick just ONE. Even more so if you aren’t sure what you should be looking for. By default, pricing tends to lead the search but this isn’t necessarily the most reliable way to choose your photographer especially for an occasion that can’t be done over. Your wedding photographs will be one of the only things that you have to show your future children or grandchildren of your wedding day. While professional photography may not be the highest priority for everyone (and that’s okay! Everyone has their thing!), it *is* a super high priority in my mind and something that I treasure and value so this post will be geared towards my like-minded readers. If it’s important to you too, but you’re not really sure what to watch for, then this post is for you.
I will briefly be touching on the most very basic things to look for when selecting your wedding photographer, using examples of my own image which I have horrifically edited to show all of the bad things that can happen to pictures. My edits are so bad that they almost make me laugh, except this is the kind of thing some excited bride and groom is going to receive and be devastated that their wedding pictures are unusable because they just didn’t know what to look for, and there is not a darn thing that can be done to fix it…and there is nothing funny about that. While it’s important to keep in mind every photographer has their own style, and every client has their own style preference, hopefully this will help give you a solid starting point to weed out companies from your search.
An image being out of focus is like the number 1 thing that really drives me CRAAAAAAZY that brides receive from someone they thought/think is a professional photographer. Out of focus means the subject of the image (the bride and groom, for example) is blurry. On the rarest of rare occasions, a photographer might have an out of focus image that is deliberately that way for an artsy effect. But that is rare. Not every image shot on your wedding day or at your session will be in focus; things happen. People move, hands shake, lenses go wild. It happens (in fact, the image used in this example truly is out of focus — this was not some editing trick). The thing is, this out of focus image did not make it into my client’s gallery. They never saw this image (until maybe now). Nobody besides me would have ever seen this image had it not been used for this example. If you see out of focus images in a photographer’s portfolio or full wedding gallery, this should be an enormous, reddest of red flag.
Here is an example of an out of focus image on the left, and an in focus image on the right:
Image exposure, in the most simple explanation I can possibly come up with, is how light or dark the picture is. If the picture is too light or dark, you will lose the detail in the image. Most photographers will perfect their exposure when editing your images, but a professional photographer will be getting the exposure as close to accurate as they possibly can when they actually take the picture. Why? Because if the image is too dark (underexposed) or too light (overexposed) when it’s taken, there is very little that can be done to bring back lost details (like the beading of your wedding gown or the smile on your face).
Here is an example of an underexposed image on the left, and a properly exposed image on the right:And here is an example of an overexposed image on the left, and a properly exposed image on the right:
While these images were edited specifically to show improper exposure for this post (they were not actually shot this under/overexposed), if they HAD been shot this way (if I forgot to change my settings when moving from inside to outside, for example), these images on the left would NEVER have seen the light of day. So if a photographer is including images this drastically improperly exposed in their portfolio or full wedding gallery, it may be best to keep looking.
Light gives off a certain color, depending on the light you’re working with. Sunlight, indoor fluorescent lights, candle light, etc all give off drastically different colors. White balance is what makes your images look natural (simple definition: it is how your white wedding dress will look WHITE in your pictures, not orange or blue). This is something to look for when considering a photographer’s portfolio. I am the first to admit, when I first started learning photography years ago, I produced some FUNKY white balance. Sometimes I still don’t get it perfect. But if the white balance shown in a photographer’s portfolio is as drastically off as my examples, that is something to be concerned with.
Here is an example of funky white balance compared to correct white balance (the left image is too “cool,” which makes her dress blue):
And here is another funky image, but this time the image was edited to have the opposite problem — the white balance on the left image is too “warm,” which makes her dress orange:
This is a tricky point that I hesitated including. Like I’ve mentioned several times already, every photographer has their own style of shooting and editing, and every client has their own preference of what they like. My intention is not to offend anyone who has any specific editing style — style is style and everyone should do their own thing. The reason I’ve decided to include this point is this and simply this: you might like the trendy filters and editing tricks like selective coloring (where the image is black and white except for the flower in your hair, for example) or the super photoshopped skin editing now, but will you like it in 5 years once that trend is long gone? How about in 50 years? I just ask that you to think about that for awhile. Really sleep on it. If your answer is “YES, I will still love that trend!” or “MAYBE NOT, but it will remind me of the time period we got married in!” then by all means, pick the photographer who offers that style! There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But if you think you (your 20-years-from-now self) would prefer something that is classic and timeless, then maybe the Instagram filter look *isn’t* for you. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. Only you and your partner can make that call. Just give it the thought it deserves before you lock yourself into a wedding photography contract.
Not sure what I mean by filter or editing styles? Here are some examples on the left, compared to my original image on the right:
This is not a fun picture example point, but rather a few things to ask of anyone you’re considering having photograph your wedding day. First, does this person carry Business Liability Insurance? This is such a super easy and fast way to narrow down your search. If the answer is no, just walk away. Anyone who photographs weddings responsibly is going to have their business insured. Many venues even require this of a photographer coming into their venue. Another thing to look for is, are they charging you sales tax? If not, they may not be running their business legally and do you really want to entrust your wedding photos with someone who isn’t running their daily business operations legally? *Note: there *might* be a legitimate reason they aren’t charging you sales tax, and if they are a legitimate business operating by the law, they will be able to explain this to you with ease. If they are charging you sales tax, they will also have a vendor’s license from the state. When there are so many lawsuits and horror stories in regards to wedding photographers going missing after the wedding (and holding the images hostage!), it’s really important to do your homework ahead of time and make sure that you are dealing with a legal/ethical/responsible business. Is this foolproof and will it guarantee nothing bad will happen to you? Absolutely not — but I fully believe in minimizing your risks. And ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS have a contract. It doesn’t matter if it is your family member, have a contract! NO EXCEPTIONS!
Now, like I mentioned, professional photography isn’t a high priority to every single person and that is A-OK. So what can you do if you’re on a tight budget or would just plain rather put the money elsewhere? My biggest piece of advice is to find someone who has had a portrait business for several years and has a strong portfolio of work that you like. I highly, HIGHLY recommend choosing someone who also has experience second-shooting weddings with an experienced wedding photographer. Many portrait photographers looking to take the leap into wedding photography will offer a portfolio-building special. This can be a great option for someone on a tight budget and is okay with sacrificing experience, possible missed moments (those first kisses are QUICK!), bumpy timelines, etc. DO make sure that this person has back up equipment, can handle tricky lighting situations (dark churches and receptions), and liability insurance. It all comes down to what your priorities are, and every couple is different!
One last pointer is to make sure you CONNECT on a personal level with whoever you choose. I tell my couples all the time, you will be spending just as much if not more time with me (the photographer) than you will with your new spouse on your wedding day. When I photograph a wedding, I want my clients to feel like another FRIEND is in the room with them, not the hired help. You’ll feel more comfortable and have better photographs if you’re relaxed, laughing, and surrounded by people you like.
I hope that these comparisons have been helpful in your wedding photography search! If you have any questions about what to look for in a wedding photographer, please feel free to drop me a comment or email!
Bee Mine Photography is a Canton, Ohio wedding and portrait photographer. Serving Canton, Akron, and Cleveland, and available for travel throughout Ohio and worldwide.