Are you searching for a wedding photographer? Not sure where to start or what to look for? Today, we explore the process of finding, interviewing, and hiring a photographer for a wedding. This is a huge wedding-related decision, and we’ve interviewed some of the Baltimore / Washington, DC area’s top wedding photographers to help guide you. We’ve also included a handy list of questions to ask a wedding photographer as well. Comments are welcome, and best of luck in your search!
What are the differences between the major styles of wedding photography?
Geoff Chesman, Geoff Chesman Visuals: “There are three main types of wedding photography: Traditional, Journalistic, and Illustrative.
Traditional photographers do a lot of posing and spend a lot of time with formal portraiture. They will typically capture the key moments of the event in a straightforward manner.
Journalistic photographers may have a newspaper or magazine background and will cover an event in a more editorial fashion. Often as a fly on the wall, they capture moments as they happen without being obtrusive.
Illustrative photographers tend to offer the best of both worlds. They will still offer some of the family portraiture, but their couples are more directed instead of posed so the images feel more natural. With an artistic eye, they capture the event not merely as it happens, but as the client will want to remember it, with the thoughtfulness of anticipating the moment and creating the best possible composition, mindful of backgrounds, etc.”
Andrea Jacobson, The Observatory: “Wedding photography styles vary in the amount of direction photographers provide a couple, the percentage of images that are posed or staged, the extent to which photographers influence events throughout the day, and whether and how authentic moments are captured. A traditional wedding photographer is going to spend more time posing pictures –portraits in particular, and may recreate or stage some major events of the day. Photojournalistic and documentary wedding photographers like to think of themselves as visual historians creating photojournalistic essays that tell a story about the feelings, emotions, moments, and the details of a couple’s wedding day. More fashion-leaning wedding photographers will employ more extensive posing and production (lighting, props, etc.) that results in images with a fashion shoot look. Fine art photographers have an eye for making ordinary objects look unique and extraordinary through their creative vision.
It’s unusual for a photographer to be purely one “style.” Most wedding photographers draw from all of the major styles at some point during the day. For example, a documentary photographer may become more traditional during portraits by directing couples where to stand and how to look, but then while capturing the details of the day (rings, bouquets, the cake, escort cards, etc.) employ methods of fine art photography.
Before hiring a wedding photographer, couples should know a photographer’s style(s) as well as how they want to interact with their photographer on their wedding day. Do they want to be directed or discreetly followed throughout the day? Do they want images that could grab the attention of readers of a national newspaper, grace the pages of a fashion magazine, or be featured in an art exhibit? ”
What exactly does “wedding photojournalism” mean?
How important is it to meet the photographer before you hire them?
Kimberly Brooke Green, Kimberly Brooke Photography: “In this world of instant online purchases, it is tempting to book a photographer online or over the phone. While I have certainly had a few brides do this, I HIGHLY recommend meeting with your photographer face to face. Face to face communication will give you the best and most accurate picture of who your photographer is. We all know how much can be lost in email conversations: tone, expression, etc. The same can be said of a phone conversation – is the person on the other end really listening and fully attentive, or are the pounding away at an email or checking Twitter while talking with you? Your photographer will be the one vendor who spends the most amount of time with you… in fact, ALL DAY with you! Often times, the only time alone that my brides and grooms get is when I send them off alone so I can shoot from a distance. It is the only time they are not surrounded by tons of people on this most equally intimate and public day. This is why a face to face meeting is crucial.
Meeting with your photographer does a couple of key things. It will give you a sense of their personality and their style, and you’ll be able to tell whether you feel comfortable around them or not. It will also allow your photographer to get to know you and your personality, and will give them great insight into how they would shoot you on your wedding day!”
How important is it to find a photographer that’s a good match in terms of personality, or is liking their photos enough?
Jennifer Cody, egomedia photography: “That’s an interesting question. Like all of the questions here, I’m sure the answers will vary wildly based on who you ask, their style of wedding photography, and their general approach to working with clients.
The first key element obviously is to identify wedding photographers whose work really inspires you. Whether it’s through WPJA.com, referrals from other wedding professionals, or a recommendation from friends and family, your first priority should be to narrow the field to 2-3 photographers based on how their images appeal to you. We always recommend asking to see 1-2 recent entire wedding galleries so that you can see whether that photographer is providing you with a consistent collection of images that look equally beautiful from start to finish. Regardless of how much you like the photographer and their studio, it’s irrelevant if you don’t like the work they produce. You won’t like them later if you are unhappy with the outcome of your photographs.
Once you have identified photography that you love, then you can evaluate other factors, such as responsiveness, personality, and of course the way in which the photographer works. If the photographer and the studio in question are not responsive now, imagine how difficult it will be to get their attention later! It is very helpful to talk with or meet in person with your photographer to see if you feel this is a person with whom you can develop a rapport. It is not necessary for the photographer to be your best friend, but it is helpful if you feel their personality and demeanor is a good match and will make you more comfortable on your wedding day. It’s great when you find that you can relate well to the person in question – background, outlook, or a shared vision of the photography you imagine for your wedding day. Working with the studio should be effortless and wholly professional.
Realistically speaking as wedding photojournalists, although we are with our clients for most of the wedding day our goal is to be observers, not participants and we spend very little time actively interacting with our clients and their family and friends throughout the day. So although personality is relevant, I think it is less important than finding images you love and working with someone who is a consummate professional.”
Are there any advantages of digital photography over film? Are there any disadvantages?
How important is it for a photographer to be familiar with the ceremony or reception site?
What are the advantages of having a “second shooter” to assist the photographer?
Anne and Bill Holland, Holland Photo Arts: “A wedding day is filled with so many incredible moments, it’s difficult for a single photographer to capture it all. Of course an experienced single photographer can do a great job recording the day’s events, but the distinct advantage to having two full-time shooters is that they are not only similarly experienced, they can be in two places at the same time–one covering the bride while she’s getting ready and one covering the groom, for instance. This can be better than even a single photographer plus assistant, which would usually be better than a single photographer by themselves. Our clients often choose us not only because of our style but because we’re a husband-and-wife team, and two full-time shooters.
The entire day is thus recorded and preserved from two different perspectives with different angles, unique yet complimentary styles, and different moments. For example, one shooter can focus on the best man offering his toast, while the other shooter is working to capture yours and your family’s reactions. In short, you’ll receive a greater variety of compelling and interesting images from the day, giving you greater freedom to pick and choose your favorites and the ones you wish to display in your home and at work. Anyone can deliver several hundred images from a wedding, but delivering the same amount of truly compelling images requires something more.”
Every couple has a “shot list” for family photos, but what are some unique things they can do besides that?
Katie Stoops, Open Air Photography: “Family photos are often done during the beginning of cocktail hour when families and guests want to relax and mingle. So, it’s important that they are kept to a minimum, but you also want everyone to have fun while doing them. If you want to bring props but think no one will like them or they will be cheesy, bring them. It’s amazing how quickly everyone loosens up when they know other people look silly too.
For the photos of just the couple, make them count. Make sure you take the time with the photographer to have photos of just you both without anyone around. It will go much faster that way. Scout out the area around your reception location for some interesting spots or places that mean something to you both. Not everyone is meant to have photos in a garden. Go to an art museum, your favorite restaurant or hang out spot. Expand those wedding day horizons! The more you think about where you want those unique photos taken, the better they’re going to be because your personality will show through.”
Each photographer handles the rights to their photos differently. Can you explain the differences?
Jennifer McMenamin, Jennifer McMenamin Photography: “Most photographers I know always retain the copyright to their images but handle the rights use to their work in one of three ways. First, some grant no usage rights at all. These photographers might include prints or a print credit – but no digital files – in their wedding packages, requiring clients to purchase from the photographer any additional enlargements, albums, cards and such with images from their wedding.
Second, some photographers (like myself) who include a disc of high-resolution digital files – the digital equivalent of a film negative – in their wedding packages usually grant their clients “personal usage rights” to their photos. This means the clients can take the disc of images to a photo lab to make prints for their friends and family, they can order cards or an album from companies like Snapfish or Ofoto and they can post their favorite images on Facebook. Personal usage rights, however, do not permit clients to sell the images for profit. For example, a bride could not sell a photo from her wedding day to her dress designer or hair stylist to use in an advertisement without the photographer’s permission and usually without compensating the photographer for that commercial use.
Third, some photographers grant partial or delayed usage rights of their photos. For example, a photographer might provide digital files of any images that a client chooses for a print order or an album. Others might retain all rights to their work for a year from the wedding date and then grant personal usage rights at that point. These photographers also sometimes require their clients to sign a waiver releasing the photographer from any obligation to store and maintain the digital images for the clients. It can be confusing sometimes, so make sure you know what you’re getting from your photographer. Otherwise, you might end up with an unexpected – and hefty – bill when you’re ready to use your wedding images.”
Laura Olson, In His Grace Photography: “There are really 3 types of photo rights when it comes to photography – full rights, shared rights, and limited personal use rights.
Full copyright entails either photographer or client has full right to the photographs and that no one else has permission to print without concent of the full copyrighted party. It is illegal for anyone who does not have the copyright images to print or duplicate photos in any format. Some photographers opt to hold the full copyright to all their images to encourage reprint sales and to protect their art.
Shared copyright of photo images allows both parties, the photographer and the client, to have full rights to the photos and permission is needed from at least one party to print. This becomes tricky because many photographers submit to magazines and many magazines will not print if photos if they have been submitted to other magazines.
Then there’s imited personal use rights, this is what I use personally. This form of rights allows clients to print photos for personal use. The photographer still holds the copyright, and the client is not allowed to share digital copies or submit to magazines without written permission.
In any case, your wedding photographer should outline what their policy is on copyrights in your contract.”
What’s the most efficient way to get formal photos completed before the reception?
Amy Raab, Amy Raab Photography: “We have a standard list of immediate family members and wedding party members that we email to the bride and groom a few weeks before their wedding. We ask them to fill in the names of the people while keeping the list in the same order, which is the order that is most efficient and familiar to us. We also take this as an opportunity to familiarize ourselves with the family members and wedding party members.
Of course we always prefer to arrange for the bride and groom to see each other before the ceremony, so that we can get all the group shots out of the way. There are lots of advantages to this approach. The bride still gets to make her dramatic entrance; whether it is walking down a grand staircase, across a field or a beach, her husband-to- be is just blown away by how beautiful she looks! They can talk, hug and kiss when they couldn’t at the altar. It is also always nice for them to decompress together after much anticipation and anxiety, and take hold of the day in a private, romantic way before it begins to unravel. In addition, after the ceremony, the B&G, family and entire wedding party can head right to the cocktail reception and get the party started without missing a beat!
In the event that they choose not to see each other, we always do the family and wedding party immediately following the ceremony. We never let the family or wedding party enter the reception until we are done with the group photos. There is nothing worse (for us or for them!) than having to pull them out of the crowd during the cocktail hour!”
Laura Muhlendorf, Laura Kay Photography: “In my experience the most efficient way to do the formal shots before the reception is to be organized. When my brides give me the formal picture list ahead of time and we discuss the time needed the shots run smoothly. That is a minimum to make it happen. The absolute best way is when all of the following are squared away. That way there are no questions and all you have to do is stand there and smile.
1. Have a detailed list prepared and notify ahead of time all individuals on the list of when and where to be (this way no one runs off to the cocktail hour and we waste time finding them). 2. Have one person who can coordinate the pictures. That wa,y the next group in line knows they are next and they can put down their drinks, purses etc and be ready to go (it is best to have this be a family friend. My assistant handles this if there is not a designated person but I would rather have her help me set up the shot and get the kids to be happy). 3. Doing larger groups first lets people be “invited” to join the cocktail hour. That is a nice way to say please leave when your done so we can continue quickly! 4. If the pictures are taking place where the cocktail hour and reception are, you may want to have a few drinks brought out so the family can enjoy this time while waiting for their turn.
This leaves you and your guests happy. The most efficient and well prepared picture time is the best picture time.”
What if the bride and groom really don’t want to see each other before the ceremony?
Jen Lowe, JLowe Photos: “If you want to stick with tradition and not see each other before the ceremony, don’t worry, you can still have plenty of time for photos! It is most important to have a realistic idea of how long photos will take and plan accordingly, so be sure you have a good relationship with your wedding photographer and discuss your ‘photo list’ in advance of setting up your wedding day timeline. Your photographer and/or wedding planner can help you create the best timeline so that you can have plenty of time for photos without feeling rushed or missing things that are important to you. Remember – photography is one of the most important things – it’s what is left at the end of the day, so make sure to take the time you need for the photos!
Another option – a ‘post-wedding’ portrait session! These sessions can take place as soon as the day after the wedding and can be done in the same location as your wedding or something totally different, for a different look. This is a great solution for a fall bride who has an evening wedding, but still wants to do outdoor photos. The ‘post wedding’ portrait session is also much more relaxed – there is no rushing to get to the reception, etc. so it really can be a lot of fun!”
Julia MacInnis, Julia MacInnis Photography: “East Coast couples tend to be more traditional when it comes to seeing each other, or in this case, not seeing each other, prior to walking down the aisle. Consequently, a photographer must be quick and ready for formals, wedding party and the bride and groom shots after the ceremony! For those couples opting to stay the traditional route, one way to move along post-ceremony is to have the bride dressed and ready for some shots a good 30-40 minutes before the ceremony embarks so that a couple individual portraits can be done — utilizing filtered window light if they are inside getting ready at a hotel or other venue is quite effective. Same goes for the groom. Personally, I also like to shoot mother/daughter shots or dad/daughter beforehand and, if possible, the bridesmaids with the bride. Having a second shooter allows coverage for the guys the same way. It doesn’t take long to get the necessary shots — just a few minutes so if the bride can be dressed and ready to go at least 30-40 minutes pre-ceremony, it can make a huge dent in the post-ceremony formals to keep things on schedule and allow ample time for the most essential shots of the day — The bride and groom alone!
I also like to tell the bride to envision the post-ceremony formals like an upside down pyramid in terms of working with the largest group shot first (grandparents, relatives, small children) to the immediate family (siblings) to just the parents following by several with the entire wedding party with the bride and groom last. This allows the chaos to dissipate faster and allows their parents to get to the reception quickly so they can host. So, there is a method to the madness.”
If a couple is on a specific budget, what are some ways they can get the most for their money?
Kathy Blanchard, Kathy Blanchard Photography: “Most photographers offer packages with albums and without. You can opt to pay for really good coverage now, then get your album later. Ultimately, it is better to have the great coverage in the beginning and then you can purchase your album later when you have the cash. That way you have amazing pictures and great coverage, which is something you can never go back on. You can always go back and get your album.
You can go with one shooter instead of two if your photographer offers this. That way, only person is paid. This is also a good option if your wedding is all in one location. If your wedding is in two or more locations, then hiring two photographers is a must.
A great way to save is to go with an associate photographer as well. Some photographers have associate photographers, in my case it is my sister, Missy. Photographers only hire people as associates if they feel their work is amazing — so it is a safe choice to opt for an associate if you like the main shooter’s work.
Sometimes you can go with less time on your wedding day. Some weddings need 8 hours of coverage, others can do it in 6. You can always add on time closer to the day of your wedding if you need to. Even decide the day of the wedding. It’s nice to start off with more time in the beginning, like getting ready, but you sometimes don’t need 3 hours of dancing shots. You can also change your schedule a bit at your reception. I had one wedding that had their first dance, toasts, then cake cutting all within the first hour, then all that was left was dancing, so they saved time because they didn’t need me the last 2 hours of their reception. It’s all what is important to you.”
What kind of advice do you give to couples to prepare for an engagement session?
Why is wedding photography so expensive?
Jamie Suthard, Borrowed Blue Photography: “It’s easy to wonder why wedding photography is so expensive when it seems like the photographer shows up on the wedding day, snaps some photos for a few hours, and then weeks later delivers a product. Most of the work that wedding photographers do is behind-the-scenes.
Let’s say we are booked for the wedding. We usually spend a couple hours talking to our couples, getting to know them and their wedding day schedule. Perhaps we do an engagement session that requires 2 hours of shooting and 3-4 hours of editing time in front of the computer. On the wedding day itself, we spend about 8 hours at a normal wedding shooting. We usually leave early to ensure we arrive on time at the venue ready to start shooting the day, so that adds another hour to our day.
We are then ready to start the editing process. The entire event usually takes anywhere from 6-7 hours of editing time in front of the computer. Followed by more backing up of edited images, which takes about an hour. We are then tasked with blogging those images, creating proofing materials, working with clients to create a beautiful album layouts, submitting albums to manufacturers, ordering and shipping enlargements, and finally meeting with the clients to deliver all promised items.
All of these little steps take time. A normal wedding from start to finish probably takes us anywhere from 35-40 hours to complete. We are constantly working to provide our clients with the best possible experience from their wedding photography in terms of customer service as well as the artwork itself.”
Armin DeFiesta, ARMIN | photographer: “The value of wedding photographs preserves important memories that can span generations. Cliche, but so very true. Those that understand the high value of wedding photography also understand the pressure and responsibility placed on the wedding photographer to document and create these important memories for their client. There’s no “take-two” on the set here folks. Weddings happen in real-time. Selecting the right photographer should be on the top of a bride’s list. Many wedding planners recommend to NOT skimp on your wedding photographer and prepare to invest in the one you really want.
There is more to it than just showing up and taking pictures at a wedding. Wedding photography today has evolved to a higher standard, almost an art form requiring the right equipment and skill set. Not only is it a physically and mentally demanding job on the day-of, but there are behind-the-scenes work going on before and after the wedding day the client does not see. It’s not unlike hiring an attorney to represent you in court. You’re not just paying him/her to show up on your court date right? You’re paying them for their level of expertise, education, the resources they have access to, and the time and labor put into building your case and executing the mission before and after the court date. It’s a professional service business, very similar to a smooth running photography business.”
What are your thoughts on the current trends in wedding photography, and where do you see things going?
Susan Hornyak, Susan Hornyak Photography: “The trend that I really love is the emphasis on creative, dynamic story-telling images. I feel that clients want natural well composed portraits, but once those are taken care of, they allow the photographer much more lattitude in documenting the whole day. I prefer using natural light as much as possible and I find that clients love these images. I think that people love seeing real emotions and the candid moments that capture them. I find clients are interested in seeing real creativity on the part of their photographers and this, I believe, lets us do what we do best.
A trend I am not crazy about is everyone just wanting a disc of their images with no work product attached. I can almost guarantee that very few people will do anything with these images and I love to see enlargements for framing and well designed albums. While anyone can print images now or take a disc to a one hour photo shop, they will not get the quality that pro labs can provide, and they will never get albums of the quality that professional photographers using professional album companies can provide. I fear that now many images float around in cyber space and never really get “born”. As a professional, I want to see my images come to fruition. I understand that the general economic situation often forces people to search for the most economic package, often one that does not include an album, but I think clients miss out on a lot when they don’t let their photographer take their images to the next level.”
Amie Otto, Amie Otto Photography: “Brides today want modern images with a classic, documentary appeal. The current trend of over-processed images is giving way to a cleaner, simpler approach, but the images still have an edge. Albums are also reflecting this–the designs are looking cleaner, with a more timeless overall look to them. Matted albums are also making a comeback.
I think we are also going to see more of a fusion with still images and video. Lots of photographers are already producing videos incorporating the two mediums — it’s just a matter of time before couples want the same types of videos for their weddings.”
Questions to Ask a Wedding Photographer
We asked our fine photographer friends to give us some suggestions for questions to ask when interviewing a wedding photographer — here’s what they came up with. Very interesting!
- May I see one or two entire weddings that you’ve photographed?
- How many images do you shoot at a typical wedding?
- How many images do you typically deliver to your clients?
- When can I expect to see my photographs?
- Do I get the high resolution files? Is there an additional cost, and may I make prints from those files?
- What is your backup plan should you become ill?
- Do you have back up equipment?
- Do I need to provide you with a meal?
- Are you insured for liability and equipment?
- Do you bring an assistant?
- Have you photographed at my venue before?
- Can you photograph our ceremony without flash?
- What is included and what is extra? Is there anything you recommend we add? Why?
- May I see a price list for any of the products that I might want to purchase after the wedding?
- Are other people allowed to take pictures while the photographer is?
- What preparation do you to to get the most out of your time with your clients?
- What is your favorite part of a wedding day to photograph?
- What has influenced your photography style the most, and why?
- Do you do pro-bono and charity work? What causes are important to you?
- Can you tell me about a time you experienced a difficult situation at a wedding and how you handled it?
- May I have the names of two vendors you could speak with as references, as well as a former client or two?
- What does the day look and feel like with you as my photographer?
- Why are you a wedding photographer?
- Why should I hire YOU?
That’s it! Many, many, many thanks to all of the wonderful photographers who contributed to this post, you’ve all been spectacular. Please visit their websites and blogs, I’m sure you’ll be impressed with the quality of their work!