How To Select Your Wedding Photographer

This is the complete article which was edited down to be
printed in the 2006 Hawaii Bridal Expo Magazine.

If you’re like most brides & grooms, you’ve probably already read a handful of articles about selecting a wedding photographer. Most of them are outdated or self-serving and some just totally wrong. And by now, all those articles probably sound so similar that you don’t even bother reading them anymore!

Well, hopefully you’re reading this because, the wedding photography market has changed drastically in the last few years. There’s much more you need to know and consider when choosing your wedding photographer. Why? The immergence of the Internet, low cost digital cameras, and the fact that, many popular styles of wedding photography don’t necessarily require a tremendous amount of skill to shoot, have all helped to create an army of new photographers.

In the past, the wedding industry was comprised of a relatively small group of full-time wedding professionals. In the last couple of years, weddings have become a “growth industry” i.e. like real estate agents or mortgage brokers, it seems everyone's in the wedding business! It’s precisely because of the ever growing number of new photographers and the variety of skill levels and prices, that it’s become much more difficult and of greater importance, to know what to look for when selecting a photographer for your wedding.

Here are a few tips:

1). Don’t select a photographer based upon emotional reasons i.e. don’t get caught up in the “bonding” thing. Real professionals like doctors, lawyers, and even car mechanics, being in the “people business”, must be friendly and personable but, they rely primarily upon the value of the product they sell and the skill and expertise they provide. They don't go out with you, go shopping with you, or try to be your new best friend and in fact, it's something that just isn't appropriate in a professional relationship with a "new" client. Salespeople on the other hand, sell by emotion and by being "your friend" and it's no secret in the sales industry that the better you are at this, the more successful you will be, irrespective of the product you're selling. Unfortunately, in wedding photography, being really nice is not a substitute for skill and experience. You are hiring a professional to perform a creative and technical service, and while you expect them to be personable and friendly, they don’t need to be your new best buddy! Don’t let yourself get “sold”.

2). Try to be objective about what you are purchasing. Is the photographer going to shoot the entire event personally or use associates? Are the photos technically consistent from wedding to wedding for exposure, color, lighting? Does the photographer shoot RAW files and adjust each image individually for the highest image quality or do they capture images in JPEG? Do they have professional quality cameras? Do they use a professional photo lab or do they use cheap Costco, Sam’s Club, or other consumer photo labs (like you do) to make prints? Most importantly, are the images you see consistent and repeatable or just a variety of good shots from different weddings? Ask yourself, what kind of images can you expect to get from your wedding day?

3). Consider if a photographers skill and shooting technique will be able to "do the job" for the kind of wedding event you’re having or in changing lighting conditions. For example, an outdoor wedding with less then perfect weather and lighting conditions or a church wedding and hotel banquet reception, will require a different approach and skill set to produce high quality imagery versus an outdoor garden ceremony and casual daylight reception in perfect lighting conditions (like the shots you always see in the magazines). Being successful on any given day depends upon the ability of a photographer to adapt to the circumstances of the day. While any photographer can be successful using a "point & shoot" photo-journalism technique in recording events during perfect daylight conditions (like you see in most magazine ads), being able to create high quality imagery in technically challenging circumstances when that perfect light isn't available (mostly always) is something you may desperately need from your photographer on your wedding day. You'll want to have a photographer who can fill that need.

4). The popularity of candid photo-journalism has generated many compelling images in magazine ads portraying beautiful, laughing couples, and handsome families and bridal parties, all having a great time (at outdoor garden weddings). The reality for many couples and their families is that, while a wedding day is fun, joyful, and exciting, it can also be busy, sometimes serious, and even stressful. And truthfully, people are just not that animated all the time and if you think about it, how you look and the outcome of your photos really becomes your responsibility. Consequently, using a photographer who relies solely upon snapping candids "from the fringes" (we used to call that party photography) may create one or two great shots for a magazine ad but, overall it may lead to disappointment. We know it's a bad word nowadays (see below) but you might want to consider having a little insurance by including a more traditional portrait-candid session, just in case! FYI: A skillfull wedding photographer knows how to run a session that is fast, enjoyable, and natural looking! You'll get those joyful natural expressions you'd expect from your wedding day photos and they'll look totally candid because they are, with just a little help from a skillful photographer.

5). The first thing many couples say to their photographer is, "We don't take good pictures" and "We don't want to be posed". OK, so you're a super-model type with a handsome family and bridal party and you guys know how to be on-camera so maybe you'll only need a little direction (yes, even top models need direction from a photographer). The truth is, everyone needs a little help to look good in photos and that's precisely what a good people photographer does... helps people look good! The reason why people feel they don't look good in photos is precisely because they've never been given any direction on how to look good in photos. Only in wedding photography are people led to believe by photographers that, they'll get great photos of themselves and family by just standing there, while the photographer snaps photos "unseen". Think about it, you wouldn't pay someone the big bucks or any bucks at all unless, they can make you look good in your photos, would you? Then why would you expect to get wedding photos where you look your best (or as good as you can look :) without having any suggestions on how to stand, where to look, what expression to make, etc. or in other words being posed. It is precisely the ability to make people, from regular people to super-models, that a photographer earns his keep and it's no different in wedding photography! FYI: A skillful people photographer knows how to do effortless and simple posing which looks so natural, you would never think it was posed and creates images where their subjects look good.

6). As you may have already noticed, prices vary widely from the cheap to the ridiculous! Yes, while it’s still true that a cheap price often leads to disappointment (you get what you pay for), nowadays, paying a high price doesn’t necessarily guaranty that you’ll get much better. In the past, you could assume that high prices reflected higher quality products and a higher skill level. Not so today! "Salesmanship", "personality marketing", and yes, even the photographers gender have become just as much, and some say even the primary determinant of today's prices. With these as benchmarks, is it any wonder why there's such a disparity between prices and why some prices are so ridiculously high? Prices should reflect the level of experience, skill and the products your actually getting rather then intangibles and subjective attributes.

6). The Internet is a magnificent tool to find a wedding photographer and it's a great way for wedding photographers to advertise what they do. It's also a place where you can say just about anything and get away with it (this boldness has also found it's way to magazine advertising)! Understandably, with so many wedding photographers out there, everyone is trying to give themselves an "edge" and unfortunately, biographies and claims to fame are becoming quite liberal, and enticing slogans and ad copy have more gobbledygook than ever before. Consequently, while researching on the Internet, you really have to walk the line of being a little skeptical and also trusting at the same time. As they say, "if sounds too good to be true, it usually is".

Finally, in the beginning of this article, we said that the wedding photography market has changed tremendously. What hasn’t changed are the requirements for being a professional wedding photographer. It still requires technical skill, knowledge, experience, creative artistry, an ability to work efficiently, and a great personality that works well with people. And no marketing slogan, advertising gobbledygook, biography, or even a website of wonderful "one-shot" photos can replace that. Simply stated, buying a set of paints may enable you to call yourself a “painter”, but it doesn’t make you an “artist”. Similarly, having a camera, website, and full-page magazine ad, may enable you to call yourself a photographer but, it doesn’t make you a professional wedding photographer!

In conclusion, we’re hoping that by using these thoughtful considerations, you will find a wedding photographer who suits you, at a price you can afford, and one who will help to create the best memories of your wedding day, images to be enjoyed and shared with your family and friends for years to come.

Charles F. Fasi, All Rights Reserved, Copyright 2006.