You're engaged and ready to start wedding planning. What now?
Most importantly, you need to choose a date.
For some couples, the date will be symbolic or sentimental, and be more important than anything else they choose or plan. For other couples, a different priority will help them narrow down on a date, like whether a certain venue, caterer, band, or photographer is available. Depending on what you and your partner feel is the most important part of your day will be the variable that allow you to choose a date and start booking vendors who rely on a date to offer a contract and services, like a photographer.
Great! I've chosen a date. How far in advance should I start looking?
Most photographers start booking 12-18 months in advance. If you've booked 2 or more years out, you may have trouble finding photographers who can commit to their pricing and availability. Many photographers have to increase their pricing year over year to mitigate the cost of doing business and the increasing cost of living.
On the other hand, if you've chosen a date that's coming up in the next 6-9 months, you should start researching photographers pretty soon. One thing that may change your timeline for hiring a photographer is if you are aiming to have an engagement, family, or maternity session before the wedding. Some couples use their photos from a pre-wedding session for save-the-dates, invitations, or announcements, and they need time post-photo session to design and mail/email out those communications with enough of a gap before their wedding day for their friends/families/guests to take action (RSVP, purchase gifts, etc.).
Alright, I'm ready to start researching photographers.
Choosing the right photographer is a little different for everyone. Here are a few points that can help you start narrowing down the choices:
What photography style are you looking for? This is tricky. Style can cover a huge swath of artistic methods (composition, lighting, color). This article by Adorama is one list of artist types (https://www.adorama.com/alc/what-are-the-different-wedding-photography-styles), but there are styles within each of the buckets it lists! I advise my couples to look through galleries to see what type of coloring and lighting style they gravitate to: light & airy, vibrant & colorful, dark & moody, like film, flash-based, etc. Sacred Harbor Photography is a colorful & vibrant natural light photography team, and we use light to create contrast and "pop" in the photos. Some couples think our photography style is too bright, and prefer darker or more shadowed photography styles, and that's okay! Much of the final product relies heavily on post-event editing, and photographers typically have a preferred editing style that they knock out of the park. Hiring a light & airy photographer and asking them to produce dark & moody photos will probably leave you underwhelmed and regretting asking an artist to step outside their realm of expertise, instead of hiring a photographer that excels in the style you and your partner love. Similarly, working style can describe a photographer's training, strategy, and method for capturing your big day. Some photographers are more photo-journalistic, allowing the day to happen around them, and photographing the events in an unobtrusive fashion. Other photographers, like fine art, fashion, and traditional photographers, are more assertive on posing and creating shots that the couple or the photographer(s) have an eye for. There are pros and cons to each method of working, and many photographers span multiple shooting styles. For example, Sacred Harbor Photography aims to be both traditional and documentary-style photographers, which allows couples to have posed formal photos, as well as emotion-filled candids that tell a story from the day.
How large is your wedding going to be? This is impactful to your photography research because it will guide how many photographers you may need. Typically, 1 photographer can provide coverage for 50-75 people, 2 photographers for 75-200 people, 3 photographers for over 200 people. Multiple photographers ensure all aspects of your wedding day are captured, especially across concurrent functions (like wedding party getting ready, formals + cocktail hour, and reception).
Do you have a timeline that can help define how much coverage time you'll need? Some couples want to have their entire day captured, from the start of getting ready to the end of the reception. Other couples are only interested in the ceremony and formal photos. How many locations your wedding will entail, the travel time between locations, and how much of the day you'd like covered, will define how much time to start looking for. If you don't have a wedding timeline created, don't worry! For full event coverage, you can usually add 2 hours to the ceremony start to reception end time. For example: if your ceremony is at 2 pm, and your reception ends at 10 pm, a minimum of 10 hours of coverage would be necessary to fully capture your day, as getting ready and first looks can take 1-2 additional hours before the ceremony.
What's your budget? Wedding photography can range from $500-$15,000 for coverage. The range in pricing stems from training, experience, service options, and the customer experience. Another blog post (https://www.sacredharborphotography.com/post/why-your-wedding-photographer-is-worth-more-than-the-price-you-ve-paid) covers a customer pays for when investing in a professional photographer; on a higher level, you're paying for a photographer's creative abilities, time, and training on how to handle stressful situations. You should speak with your partner and, if applicable, family to come to an agreement of what your purchasing limit should be to ensure there is a budget available for other aspects of the wedding that are also important to you. For example, in planning my own wedding, I determined that the venue, photographer, and food were the highest priority for me. I de-prioritized the DJ, florist, and attire. I determined the amount my partner and I could spend for the wedding as a whole, and then started doling out shares of that total to the highest priority services. With those price ranges in mind, I started reaching out to vendors that fell within my style and budget constraints.
Research done! Picked my top 5 photographers - what do I ask?
Once you're ready to reach out to a few photographers, here are some questions you should ask them, either by email or phone call:
Are you available on the date we've chosen?
Will you be the photographer for our wedding, or will it be someone else from your team?
How long have you been photographing weddings?
How do you work at weddings? (Candids, comfortable prompting/posing, journalistic)
How would you describe your artistic style?
Do you offer aerial photography?
Can you share full wedding galleries with us?
If we hire you for only a part of the day, will you book other events that day?
What's included in your pricing?
Are there travel fees?
How many photos can I expect to receive for X # of hours or per hour?
Do you retouch the photos? To what extent? If I have a favorite photo, will you perfect it before I print it?
Do you have a second photographer you work with?
Do you have a contract I can read over?
What other services do you offer? Engagement sessions, boudoir sessions, etc.?
Are rehearsal dinners included in the price?
Have you photographed at our venue before?
What is your payment structure?
How much is the deposit, and what does it cover?
How quickly do you return photos after the wedding, and in what format (USB, online gallery, prints)?
What quality or types of images will I receive? Will they be high resolution or web resolution?
Am I required to purchase prints through you?
What type of equipment do you use? Do you have backups?
Do you offer albums?
Can we give you a list of shots we want to make sure are captured?
Will we have rights to the images?
In the event you will not be able to photograph my wedding (last minute), do you have a backup plan?
Will you be posting our images to social media, blogs, or magazines/publications?
Interviewed the narrowed down list, now what?
Now that you've contacted and (hopefully) spoken with each of your favorite photographers, it's time to make a decision on who to close the purchase with. Note: if you haven't gotten a chance to speak to a photographer by phone or in person (or Facetime/Skype), make sure you do so!
Which photographer did you like speaking with or meeting the most?
Your photographer is going to be one of the people you have to spend a majority of your big day with. If you're not clicking with them, it won't be an enjoyable time, and you won't have as much fun as you would interacting with a photographer you like to spend time with. If you're unsure, call them back! Ask to meet again, or see if they'd be willing to do a portrait session with you as a "test" session. Sacred Harbor Photography offers couples sessions a chance to "get to know your photographer," and the cost of the portrait session can be used toward a wedding package.
Remember, the photographer might be the perfect style and budget, but if you don't like them as a person, it will take a toll on your wedding day, and be apparent in the photos.