Finding the perfect wedding photographer

John Shum

Choosing a is more than finding just another wedding vendor. It's investing in an artist to capture wedding memories that will be cherished beyond a lifetime. There's a photographer out there to suit every couple. While it seems like the whole process is about finding a photographer for you, you should also consider thinking of it as finding a photographer that can find you. The most important thing in choosing a photographer is being confident that he or she will capture the 'real' you on your wedding day. After all, it's your day, and these are the photos you'll cherish for the rest of your life.

There are a wide range of wedding photography options to consider when finding the right artist for you. There are a range of photographic styles and approaches such as film and digital wedding photography used today. A basic understanding of these styles will save you plenty of time when it comes to choosing a wedding photographer.

Wedding Portrait Photography Packages

Most of the time for your shopping 'convenience', many photographers offer a package deal, usually consisting of the photo shoot, 10-20 rolls of film, digital capture, and a few albums. Then after attending a couple of wedding expos, you will notice that all the photographers' work starts to look the same. Album after album you flip through, you wonder when your significant other will just pick one and just get it over with. When you're through with these albums, do you get a funny feeling when you imagine yourself in those photos? Would you feel embarrassed to have any of those photos on your living room wall at home? Do you feel like criticizing something in each photo and think about how all those poses are cheezy? Well, if you've said, "Yes" to any of these basic questions, it's time to learn to search for a photographer with a more informed perspective.

Communication

Find a photographer with whom you can communicate openly and who can understand your style and personality. Communication is critical to great wedding photos. Be sure you are socially comfortable with someone who can not only listen, learn, and react to your words, gestures and body language, but someone who you can listen to. When the photo shoot comes, you'll be looking into a big lens and will only hear the voice of your photographer, so you need to be comfortable with that voice.

The Key Elements of Wedding Photography

Wedding photography is a very enjoyable art, both for the photographer and the audience. To learn to find the right photographer for your wedding, you will need to decide on a few fundamental elements that will ultimately make your decision. Here are the major technical features, which separate most photographers. These are also the fundamental decisions you must make clear before shopping.

* Time frame/Availability- On what dates do you need pictures taken? Don't forget, you might consider taking additional photos a few days before the wedding if you have a favorite photo spot, or maybe you would like to photograph the rehearsal dinner, showers, wedding invitations, mug shots for the local papers, etc.

* Style- You don't have to definitely know right away, however, it will be more beneficial to the photographer if you can decide on a photographic style that appeals to you. You can determine this by finding photos you really like and figuring out what style was used (ie: candid, traditional, etc). Don't worry, if you say you like an modern-artistic style, not ALL the photos will come out looking like abstract art. Wedding photographers will shoot just about everything and everyone, but they will be on the lookout for "the one perfect shot" applying the style you like for the final photo you will love.

* Division of labor/importance- No one wants to fill their walls with photos all from the ceremony, nor all from formals taken outside the church. You may want a few in the preparation room before the wedding as you first put on your dress, then a few from the ceremony, then a few as you recess down the aisle, then a few outside as you get drowned in bubbles, then a few nice formals outside the church, then a few upon your arrival at the reception, then light coverage throughout the reception. I've listed moderate expectations during a wedding day, but you could brainstorm quite a bit more if you wanted to. You will want to decide on all the instances where you'd like shots taken, and the "must-have shots" of the day. Don't just assume you'll get all the photos you want just by hiring a photographer for the day. There are important people in your life that need to be explained, as well as particular relationships and personalities that need to be captured.

* Digital vs Film- The popular discussion whether film or digital often comes to mind, and the true answer is to pick your photographer based on the talent displayed by their printed portfolio. If you fall in love with the final product offered at a portfolio viewing, you should be confident in their photographic ability, and not the technology behind the photo. There are plenty of examples of digital photos that are easily comparable, and sometimes better than film. The drawback of film is merely cost and workflow.

* Film Formats- The format is the size of the film used. The most popular and affordable format is 35mm. Medium format is also widely used which is film more than 3 times the size of 35mm film. This format is also referred to as 120/220 film, and depending upon the camera, produces frames in 6x7, 6x6, or 6x4.5 cm. This offers a much sharper and detailed image, which is suitable for enlargements greater than 11x14. 35mm film can be printed quite nicely up to 16x20, however at those resolutions you will notice a dramatic difference between the two formats. So why doesn't everyone just use medium format? It's simple: 35mm equipment is faster, lighter, and more affordable.

* Color or Black and White- Color photos are the most popular choice in remembering your wedding day, however, black and white photos have gained more exposure lately by offering a more creative alternative. Black and white photos do a better job of highlighting the subject which can often add more drama to the photo. You should decide, within a ballpark range, what you'd like in color and what you'd like in B&W. Select either a percentage of shots with each type of film, or have specific occasions in mind, such as, "I'd like half the group formals in B&W, all the reception shots in color, and the ceremony/church shots in B&W." When shooting digital, any photo can be converted to B&W, so there is less to worry about, however, you will need an eye to determine which photos may look better in B&W.

* Delivered goods- What do you want out of the whole deal? Here's where you'll need to determine your interest level and creative involvement. You may want all the proofs and final prints done for you, arranged and bound into 3 albums for you, or the opposite extreme of just getting the bag of undeveloped film at the end of the wedding day. This part of the deciding is very personal. If you are crafty, you may want to just select individual prints for enlargement and compile your own album in the style and album you prefer. Others may want to reprint hundreds of photos and will consider taking the negatives down to the local grocery store for a huge batch reprint to send to relatives. And since all this fancy Internet technology has come about, you can now get a digital album or Web page built from pictures you choose for all your friends and family to see, and offer the opportunity for anyone to order prints. Prints can range from a few dollars to hundreds of dollars for a single 8x10" print. Have the photographer show you the difference in a machine printed and hand printed photo on various types of paper, using various mounting and framing techniques. It may not be obvious when looking through the wedding expo photo samples, but there truly is a distinguishable difference between a professional lab and the local Ritz Camera. If the difference is indiscernible in your respect, then you might not want to spend the money for hand printed photos. It's all up to you. You can really be flexible on this part, so use your imagination, and communicate with the photographer on whether or not he or she is just as flexible.

* Policies on copyrights and reprints- Photography is still an art, and living the artist life is usually less than glamorous. It's competitive, and it's how photographers make their living! Certain photographers have their own set of rules about usage of their photos. First of all, you'll have to determine: Are the photos taken during your wedding yours or the photographers? In many instances, photographers will tell you they are not photographers, but artists. So all the photos they take can be considered their art. They will insist on owning the negatives for the next 10 years and make you order prints exclusively through them. This seems a bit snobbish. However, this rule is intended to prevent someone from taking a well-known photographer's negatives and going to a drugstore photo counter for an instant print, which will most likely turn out looking less than stellar. Most importantly, the print will not be of the same caliber as the way the photographer had intended his work to be presented. It is like taking the Mona Lisa and copying it yourself and having your friends say its horrible, and then saying, "Yeah, Da Vinci wasn't a great painter." Half of the art of a photograph is in the printing, so depending on the photographer, you'll need to understand various philosophies and figure out which one you will be able to accept.

Additional features that should be considered, but are often misinterpreted are:

* Talent- While talent may be realized as personal preference, you may want to identify exactly what talent you seek. You may have a good idea for what shots you want, therefore, will require someone talented in following explicit directions. In other cases, you might want a wedding gallery of more artistic photographs and may want to extend a margin of creative allowance to a photographer. Certain photographers have this ability to get an idea of what you want, while others may have difficulty in finding something, in your eyes, as creative.

* Portfolio- To gauge the quality of a portfolio or sample album, you might want to ask if the client made any special requests on either the photo shoot, or the album compilation. Photographers that handle many clients have found it cost effective to offer a set range of options. They may pride themselves in offering a certain style album based on what most clients have liked in the past, but if it doesn't flatter you, there are many wonderful options to choose from.

* Personality and Communication Style- The photographer will be working with you all day, possibly, for a few days, so team integration and compatibility will be key. The more a photographer gets to know you, the better the photos will be. What makes a great photo is being able to retain a moment of intimacy or feeling within the image. The more a photographer knows his subject, the deeper he will look into finding that awesome moment. Sometimes, however, someone who was great during your interview/appointment turns out to be rather harsh or rude at the wedding and vice versa. You really want someone receptive to your needs, and a proven track record of client satisfaction.

What's Next?
Now that you know the fundamentals of the business, you may develop your own weighting systems to determine the order of importance for selecting a wedding photographer.
Good luck!


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