How to Choose Your Perfect Wedding Photographer

Choosing your perfect wedding photographer is a pretty huge decision. I totally get it. Capturing moments. Telling a story. Documenting the day. These are some of the ways wedding photographers try to describe what we do, but being a wedding photographer is really so much more.

We don’t just take photos, we pin buttonholes in suits, put veils in hair, drop flowers to the groomsmen; whatever may be required. In our quest to deliver amazing photographs we might find ourselves running stairs, lying on roads, walking knee-deep into the ocean or clinging precariously to a railing, just to get the right shot. Most importantly, we record one of the most memorable days of your life.  

I was reminded of this recently when looking at my own wedding photos, now 15 years on. Through these images, I can share the day with my children, and I know it shows them the love I have for their mother, and reminds me how much I love her too.

This is the start of your life together as a married couple; a momentous day in the timeline of your life.  The images from this day will be one of the few things that increase in value, long after your wedding. These photos are irreplaceable. That is our huge responsibility and great privilege, and why I love being a wedding photographer.

There are a lot of inaccuracies about wedding photography, and these can be a distraction to couples.  Here are my tips for putting the common myths aside and finding the perfect photographer.

Myth 1: It is important to own the copyright to the photos.
Copyright is usually owned by the photographer. It is your wedding and you are the subject of the photograph, however, the image itself is the creative work of the photographer.  It reflects their ability and their reputation. Copyright simply protects the photographer from having their work used by others without appropriate permission. Watermarking the photographer’s logo across images serves the same purpose – to protect your wedding images from unauthorised reproduction or commercial use. If you are provided with a disk of images from your photographer, then the photographer has passed on permission for you to display and reproduce those images for your own personal use. Owning copyright does not change that.

Myth 2: Wedding photography is overpriced.
It costs several thousand dollars for just a few hours of work. This would be true if the only time your photographer spent working on your wedding was on the actual wedding day. Your photographer will probably spend upwards of 80 hours on your wedding, in addition to the coverage on the day. This includes all the preparation and days of post-production to refine your images and create the products that make up a wedding photography package. Remove the cost to produce your albums and prints, general costs of running a business, and then reduce what is left to an hourly rate, and you will find that wedding photography is not necessarily as expensive as it may seem at first.

Myth 3: I don’t need an album. I can save money by getting the digital files only.
There are many people who, years after their wedding, wish they had purchased an album because their negatives/digital files are still sitting in a box, and they have never quite “got around” to making any prints for themselves. If you only intend to look at and share your photos electronically, then don’t get an album. However, the cost of the digital files alone is not likely to be significantly cheaper than a wedding album.  This is because a quality wedding photographer will spend countless post-production hours on the images they give to you, ensuring that if you do choose to print from your files, that the images will still display their work at the standard they would produce themselves.

There is only a small additional amount of work required to produce an album. Furthermore, in offering you an album, your photographer is providing you with their design experience, and will most likely use archival quality paper and only the best materials. Many cheaper retail album services use lesser quality materials, which may result in prints and albums deteriorating. If your photographer is not spending this time in post-production and simply gives you a disk of images at the end of the day – ask yourself, what exactly have you paid for?

Myth 4: Experience isn’t important if you have a good camera and a shoot list.
The right golf clubs don’t make me a professional golfer.  When everything is running an hour late and rain is pouring on the location shoot, a good camera won’t help.  Experienced photographers bring more than equipment to a wedding. They bring organisation, a back-up plan, the ability to coordinate a large group of people, and a sense of calm. Most importantly, they bring creativity and the ability (honed through years of practice) to “see the moment”.  This is why they don’t need a shoot list.  A true professional will be everywhere when all the important things are happening, yet you will never notice them and they will never impose themselves on any interactions. Only when you see the images will you realise just what it was worth to capture those moments.

So, my first tip: Hire a professional and trust their judgement. Here are a few more tips for finding your perfect photographer:

1.  Create a shortlist of photographers to choose from.

To create your shortlist; get referrals – from your friends, family and colleagues, venue, wedding planner, stylist, dress designer, florist, hairdresser…when a photographer keeps getting mentioned, it probably means they are good, so check them out.
Look in wedding magazines and wedding blogs for “real weddings”. Wedding blogs and magazines are often very selective about the real weddings they choose to publish, requiring the photographs to be high quality and capable of telling the wedding days. It takes a professional photographer to produce images to these standards. If you find you are consistently noticing the work of one or two photographers, put them on your shortlist.
Look for a photographic style that suits your personality and the style of your wedding. If you are comfortable in front of the camera and like to have a bit of fun with posing and props, then seek out a photographer whose work is highly stylised and planned. If you don’t like to know you are being photographed and would prefer a documentary approach to your wedding (where the photographer is in the background capturing moments as they happen), then choose a photographer whose style is photo-journalistic.

2.  View their wedding photography work

Ask to see a full wedding or album.  The photographers’ blog is often a good place to start. While their website might show select images from a few weddings, their blog will often profile a whole wedding and can be a good indicator of the quality of their recent work.  Try to find the finished products that will make up your package – whether that is prints, an album, or a disc of images. You can also ask to see a full wedding gallery. Most wedding photographers put the entire wedding up on a private gallery for the couple to view and download. Ask to see one of these full galleries to see what the entire finished wedding looks like.

3.  Meet Or talk with them personally

Even if this is simply a telephone call, or Zoom or Skype. Not only do you need to like your photographer’s work, but make sure you also like their personality. They will be spending hours with you on one of the most important days of your life. Meeting with them gives you the added benefit of seeing how they present themselves and their workspace. This often indicates the pride they take in their work, and more importantly how much respect they have for you.  

4.  Notice how much they ask about you.

Many couples only discuss prices and package inclusions when they interview a photographer.  I believe this should be secondary to the selection process. If you don’t like the photos or the experience, it really doesn’t matter if you have paid $5000 or $500 – you’ve paid too much. A really good photographer will use the interview to ensure they can deliver what you want. They will genuinely want to know about you, your family and friends, and your wedding day plans.  They will care about your wedding and should regard it with a sense of excitement because they are imagining how they can capture photos you will absolutely love. They will be flexible with offering you a package that caters to your wedding.  If they don’t ask you questions, they probably haven’t thought about your needs or the finer details.

5.  Check their experience

Ten thousand hours. That is a figure that some people say you need to master any craft. It may or may not be correct but in most cases lots of experience equal excellent quality and skill. In my opinion, wedding experience is extremely important. You could be a great landscape photographer, but that doesn’t make you a good wedding photographer. Being an Accredited Member of the Australian Institute of Professional Photography (AIPP) is a good start. It shows their commitment to their craft. But I personally left the AIPP years ago due to mismanagement, expensive years fees and no benefit. Look for a photographer with great wedding experience. Someone who is a master at their craft.

6.  Finally, seek out value for money.

This means looking at the quality of each product in your package, and the level of experience and service you will receive from your photographer. Make sure there is a contract of service in place and a guarantee on the products in your package.
The investment you make will be worth it for many years to come.