Ask yourself this: if you were buying a pair of shoes, how would you go about it?
It’s a decision that should be a practical one, I know, but in many cases becomes emotional. (I feel the same way about clothes and ice cream).
Assuming we are not talking about an impulse purchase (so that should be at least 50% of your shoe-buying instances), I’m guessing you would consider:
- What style of shoe do I need/want?
- Where am I going to wear this?
- How durable does it need to be?
- Do I want to make a statement with this shoe?
- Where am I going to buy it?
- What is my budget?
In what order would you consider these questions? The answer to that question is going to vary depending on the circumstance, but I would I imagine neither of the last two questions would be your first consideration.
Keep thinking about shoes as we consider your wedding photography.
Wedding Photography Buying Guide
As with buying shoes, I am going to ask you to read the rest of this document with your head and your heart. So, find yourself some quiet space, prepare yourself a drink and read on.
Right now, in your head, what image to you have of the photography from your wedding – something that will become, probably, your first family heirloom?
Is it an album, a DVD, a box of prints or something else?
If it is an album, what does it feel like to pick it up and touch it? What is the experience of turning the pages? Imagine yourself turning the pages now; are they regular paper, special paper, heavy card or rigid? How do the images look on the page – are they individual, combined into a montage across the spread or some of both.
What about the images themselves? Are they beautifully posed formal shots of your friends and family? Do they look and feel like a photojournalist might cover a real life event? Do they look like fashion shots? Is the impression one of tradition or very contemporary?
The image you now have in your head will allow you to make your first decision:
The first style is known as Traditional, simply because it is the way all wedding photography was done for over 100 years until quite recently. Beautifully posed groups are the order of the day here, with the photographer attending for fewer hours and being experienced in orchestrating proceedings. There are some very good exponents of this style, as you might imagine.
Secondly, we have the photojournalistic style (also called reportage or documentary). This is the opposite from traditional in that the photographer will be a recorder of the day, staying away from the limelight and observing and shooting, capturing moments and emotions and creating a complete story of the whole event (usually starting with getting ready shots).
In the past few years, fashion photography has started to influence wedding photography and a new category generally know as Comtemporary has developed. This combines the photojournalistic style (used for much of the event) with a small number of groupshots and fashion-influenced shots of the bride and groom.
If you are not sure what you want, check out a range of web sites and you will soon start to see a style that appeals to you.
OK, take a sip of your drink and let’s think about shoes again. Shoes for a special event (like a wedding, for example). Would you buy your shoes over the internet? Probably not; you want to see what you are buying, touch them and try them on.
The same applies to selecting your wedding photographer.
Do the images you have seen speak to you – can you imagine yourself in those images, in that same style? Do the final products (the albums) feel fabulous, are they great to touch, how do they smell? (I am being serious; we experience emotions with all our senses.)
What if you could “try on” your photographer? Well, you can.
But first, you need to go through a selection process. Once you have decided on a style, draw up a short list of photographers who shoot in that style and whose work you like on the internet. When doing this, look carefully at the images and do not let the “packaging” of the web site get in the way. Then look at the web site itself. What image does it convey? Is it fresh, modern and does it convey passion? Apart from being a good photographer, does this sound like a nice person and someone you can work with? If you don’t get the right impression from the web site, move on to another site.
Next, contact everyone on your shortlist. Ideally, do this with a phone call. But if you feel more comfortable sending an email, how quickly do they respond? Does their email convey the same personality as their web site copy? Does it feel like a personal reply or just a standard response? Better still, do they respond by telephone and, if so, how do they sound? Friendly? Approachable? Warm? Do they speak with passion about their work? As you can see, there are many clues you can use to whittle your shortlist down to a few that you will meet up with. Use them all and trust your instinct
Back to your shoes. It is probably about now that you will need to consider budget, after all this is going to determine which shops you visit or at least rule some out. I am afraid it is time for your head to come into play in this decision. Have a drink; and let’s tackle this one.
Start with 10% of your overall wedding budget (your realistic budget, that is; you have probably already discovered that weddings cost more than you thought in the first place!). Now, ask yourself how important photography is to you. Be honest with yourself. I have friends who wanted a very specific photographer and he was going to cost around 35% of their modest budget. But they wanted him and they cut back on everything else; it mattered that much. I know another couple who wanted the food to be fabulous, spent a lot of money on the catering and asked a friend to take some photographs. You will have your own priorities; now is the time to decide what they are. If photography is less important, walk your budget down from 10%, if it is more important stick with the 10% or even increase it.
OK, so now we know which shoe shops, eh, photographers we can visit or meet up with.
First impressions are important. It is said that in the first few minutes, or even sooner, you decide if you like someone. I don’t see any reason that should not apply to your photographer. (Oh, by the way, do make sure that the person you meet will be your photographer and is not just the company owner or a sales person.) If it is not working for you at this stage and she or he does not seem right, then keep the meeting short, be polite (we have feelings, you know) and move on.
I cannot stress enough that you need to have an excellent rapport with your photographer; he or she will be with you all day and the last thing you want is to be stressed about the photographer. It’s like trying on a pair of stunning shoes, discovering they pinch a bit but then (allowing your heart to) buy them anyway. We’ve all done it.
Or is that just me?
Remember earlier I asked you about your ideal album – how it felt, what it smelled like? Well, this is your chance to compare what you had in your mind with the reality your potential photographer is showing you (I suggest you try to sniff as discreetly as possible).
Make sure, buy the way, that you see a complete album from one wedding and make sure the images are consistently good. But also let the photographer show you her portfolio album – this will be his best shots and he should be proud of them.
OK, so now you have seen a number of photographers, all of whom shoot the style you like, offer the final products you want, are in your budget range and with whom you feel you have a rapport. Find time to sit down together, both write your first, second and third choice down on a piece of paper (I know you will have discussed it together, but this might be worth doing anyway) and then compare the lists. You should now be getting very close to a decision.
But wait. You haven’t tried on any shoes yet. Unless you are a fashion model or a celebrity, my guess is that you are not used to being photographed professionally. You might even be feeling anxious about the whole thing, so you need to do something about it.
Your photographer should recognise this situation and offer you a pre-wedding shoot. This has a number of benefits for both you and your photographer; you both get to know each other better, you can create images together in a relaxed environment, your photographer can see how you react in front of the camera (and so should not push you out of your comfort zone on the wedding day), you get to experience your photographer at work and, of course, you have some lovely shots of you both at the end of it – hopefully the best ones you have ever had taken together.
(Most photographers will only actually do a pre-wedding shoot after you have booked them, but you could always ask to do the shoot before you make a final decision – a bit cheeky but you never know. Then again, would you ask for a discount on your Jimmy Choo’s? This one is up to you.)
I really hope that by now you have the photographer who is right for you. This will not necessarily be the one your friend had at their wedding, not necessarily the one currently in fashion. Your wedding requires your photographer. Pick well.
Drink up; this is all head stuff but none-the-less important:
Make sure you agree in writing what is included in the wedding package, what the total cost is and how much extras are going to be;
Ensure you are issued with a formal contract and read the terms and conditions.
Establish what will happen if the photographer is ill or otherwise unexpectedly unavailable on the day;
Make sure you understand when payments are due and pay promptly.
I would be pleased to answer any questions you may have about selecting your wedding photographer. I am married myself and I remember how much it meant to us that we had the right photographer. Call me (Martin Gammon) on 01932 253308 or email me at email@example.com.
I wish you both a very, very happy wedding day. It will pass in a flash, so stop, breath in and take in the moment as often as you can throughout the whole day.
Finally, I hope your wedding photography is all that you wish it to be and more.