Most people are not used to hiring a photographer for a big event. You may be in the lucky situation that you know exactly which wedding photographer you want to use, but if not you need to know the right questions to ask, so that you will narrow down and select not only the best wedding photographer for you, but also the right package and the right level of image rights. Read on to find out the 38 vital questions that you will need to ask your wedding photographer to ensure your peace of mind.
You would not be the first person to vet a handful of photographers and then discover that they are not available for your wedding day – which is incredibly frustrating.
So, this should be the first question you ask. If they are not available simply move on to the next on your list, or indeed ask them who they would recommend.
Remember good wedding photographer’s can get booked or reserved up to 12-18 months in advance, and they are rarer than almost anything else you will book for your wedding.
Also, confirm how many months in advance you will require to give them a deposit in order to secure your booking.
The skills needed to be a successful wedding photographer are not easily gained. There are few photographic environments that are quite as busy, or indeed hectic, and stamina sapping. So, your wedding photographer needs not only to have the photographic skills to take both the standard and informal shots but be able to confidently and authoritatively handle people.
This really can only be mastered by experience, so unless you are on a very tight budget make sure that your wedding photographer has enough experience working in the wedding industry.
Between 8 and 20 is not an unreasonable answer. Very few photographers just exist doing weddings alone, as they are very hard work if they are to do them right, and the last thing you want is a photographer that does 50 plus and just goes through the wedding in auto-pilot.
Another point to consider is that editing your photos is a very time consuming process, so your wedding photographer must have the time available to send you your images back promptly and retouched where necessary to your satisfaction.
A wedding photographer’s style can easily be assessed from their website, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter feeds, however, these will only include their greatest hits.
Therefore, you will want to look through a recent whole album/gallery, and maybe more that one. This will show how the wedding photographer has coped with the whole day end-to-end, with varying lighting conditions, indoors and out and with the different personalities amongst the guests. It will also show you how well they have maintained their style and not just for themselves but that of the second photographer if it is included in the package.
Some additional things that you can look for are; is the composition good and consistent, are the important incidental shots captured (like the groom’s first glimpse of the bride), are the faces clear with the eyes sharp and the image background not distracting from the subjects, do the photographs flatter the subjects with them look relaxed, and is there a good mixture of formal shots of portraits and group with casual informal shots?
Knowing a venue is an important bit of photographic preparation, it allows the photographer to know where to set up the shots, know how to judge the lighting, be aware of any restrictions and indeed know how to move around the place. If a photographer has worked at your venue before they will have experience of the lighting and the venue layout.
If your wedding photographer is not familiar with the venue you should get a commitment from them that they will do a reconnaissance visit of the venue beforehand.
Size can be everything to a wedding photographer, and on the large size it will be essential to have a second photographer to cover a large guest list across various rooms. Your photographer will need the personality to manage large volumes of people, i.e. being authoritative and pleasant at the same time. Your wedding photographer will also need great time management skills, and be able to navigate large venues quickly – or shots will be missed.
With small groups of 20 or less, you will need a wedding photographer who knows how to be unobtrusive and not affect the intimacy of the wedding.
Essentially the wedding photographer cannot function if they do not know the timetable/schedule/running order of the day – this is not just the exact time and place of the ceremony. For example if they are doing the bride and groom getting prepared, then they will need to know where these will take place, they may need to know the departure and arrival timing of the wedding transport, when speeches are scheduled, when the cake will be cut, and not only when the first dance will take place but what the lighting will be like.
But any experienced wedding photographer will ensure that you give them information well in advance of the day.
8. Do you have some former clients we can speak with or can we read some testimonials?
There is no better form of marketing than word-of-mouth, so you should expect your wedding photographer to offer some testimonials, and be happy to put you in touch with former clients.
If they try to put you off, or the testimonials don’t match with other reviews, walk away.
You can break down the photographic disciplines used during the wedding day into three:
While you will rightly expect that your wedding photographer should be able to master these elements, it is equally important that they do so with a consistent style or “look”.
So if you have selected a wedding photographer who matches your visual expectations, be it in highly-posed or natural and relaxed, make sure they can continue this across all the elements that will be used to capture the story of your wedding.
Most people express different aspects of their personalities at home and at work. Your wedding photographer will be no different, so the aspect of their personality they express when talking over the wedding may differ to that they express during the wedding day. Therefore, it is important to find out if they prefer to work in the background interrupting only when they have to, or do they work up-front and centre to manage the images that they are creating?
This is a fundamental point that will affect more than just the images themselves. Well shot film and darkroom produced prints does have a very high quality feel to it when shot by a highly skilled film photographer, but it is far less forgiving a medium than digital imagery, and is far more expensive in terms of production costs.
The timescales on production of the proof prints will take longer if the shots are taken using film, so you will have to factor this into your expectations.
Retouching, and image manipulation are much more time consuming with film than digital – unless the film is scanned to create digital images that can be worked on, at which point it becomes a question of why the wedding was shot on expensive film.
In reality you are paying for the wedding photographer to be where you want them to be. This will be costed into the package you are paying for – so it is essential that your photographer is contracted to be where you want them and when.
Ensure that they know the schedule/running order/timetable for the day and where they are expected to be. If cost is a factor, or you are not really worried about capturing preparation and journeys to the venue, then you can lower cost by cutting down on the photographer’s hours.
This is a personal judgement call; but you need to consider that your photographer(s) will be working for possibly a 10 hour plus working stretch, when they are expected to be on their toes most of the time, so offering them a seat at a table may work to your benefit and be a polite thing to do as well.
Most of the time you will be talking directly to the photographer themselves, but always make sure this is the case.
In some instances, you may be working with an agency, planner or other supplier. If this is the case it is good practice to insist that you meet your wedding photographer in advance – you need to have a relationship and a level of trust in the person that you working with for a reasonable proportion of your day, let alone someone whose work is going to be responsible for the visual reminder of the day in years to come.
You should expect your wedding photographer to dress to blend in with the rest of the party and look professional at the same time. They should never rely on their outfit to identify their role by standing out from the crowd, this should be done by their personality and the gear that they are using.
So if the wedding is formal, the photographer should be expected to match that, like they should do if it is smart causal – if it is a themed wedding then you need to express your expectations to your photographer.
But remember your wedding photographer also has to dress for work, so don’t expect them to work in a tuxedo or ballgown.
Weddings can last as long as a proverbial piece of string. European Christian based weddings can last for up to 20 hours from preparation time to the last dance and couple leaving, other cultural weddings can last for several days.
So, your photographer may be expected to be on their game for most of the time they are there. This is where a second photographer is a huge advantage, so the day and elements can be split between them.
In most cases the wedding photographer will expect to provide coverage up to the point that the cake has been cut and/or when the first dance is over. But there may be flexibility in this so discuss in advance, and make sure that the arrangement is clear in the contract.
It is unusual for wedding photographers to object to other members of the party taking the shot they are taking on the day, as in reality they will not be taken to the same standard – unless that is they begin to interfere with the shot itself.
It is normally expected that the photographer will take the intimate party away to take the main shots so this actually is a lower risk than it appears.
There may be some restrictions by other parties, such as the celebrant and the venue, and the photographer will respect this themselves, but it is not their place to enforce this rule.
There is also now a trend for unplugged weddings where mobile devices are banned – this might be something you want to consider on a number of levels, even if it is just to remove the chance that the bride’s walk down the aisle is being captured on 40 mobile phones held aloft.
Most wedding photographers will accept a shot list of absolute must-have photos that you require. However, remember the time element, as each shot will have to be set-up and managed, so this will eat into time that the photographer could be capturing the candid moments of the day.
There are many ways a wedding photographer can package together their services for the wedding itself, as there are a vast number of variables that can be included in the package, or offered as extras. So as a brief (non-inclusive summary) here are some:
This is why the cost of wedding packages vary so much, even amongst photographers of equivalent standard. Therefore, it is very important you know exactly what you are paying for and what is in your contract.
If your budget is tight, then you should try to negotiate with your chosen wedding photographer, for example you could only require the photographer for half of the day – but remember this will restrict the potential number of shots you will have to choose from.
20. What sort of albums do you offer?
In your parent’s day, wedding packages were all based, and costed, around the number of shots in the final album, with the quality of the album usually increasing with the number of shots. These days this is less of a standard practice. The range of albums the photographer could purchase from suppliers was far more limited too, so in effect each wedding photographer would have very similar (if not identical) offerings.
Today this is not the case with a vast range available for photographers to choose to offer, so if the wedding photographer offers a selection of albums in the package this may be unique to them.
Alternatively, given the range and variable cost of the albums this may be an option outside of the package.
Whichever it is, always ask to see samples, and samples with photos in them - as it is the look of the album with the photographs in it that you really want to be basing your judgement on.
This will be important not only for your budget, but for your cashflow. So, ensure that you have any due dates in writing from the photographer, including any dates for payment of instalments if this is agreed.
Some wedding photographers do, and some do not. If they do then make sure that the dates are defined in your contract for your protection.
It is normal for full payment to be made before the wedding day, and a few wedding photographers will take final payment on the wedding day.
Most wedding photographers see a wedding as a high financial risk on their part, so trying to negotiate their normal payment dates may come over as you have restricted funds – this might risk their participation. But discussing a monthly payment plan would normally be acceptable.
This will vary from photographer to photographer, but it is standard practice for this to be made before the wedding. Practically all wedding photographers are small businesses so they need a dependable cashflow. If you offer to pay all at time of booking you may be in a negotiating position to get a discount, or another service thrown in.
Rarely, but sadly, weddings are postponed or cancelled. Therefore, it is best to plan for the worst, so confirm with the wedding photographer what happens if you need to cancel, though this should be in your contract. It should also have clauses for: the photographer cancelling, the couple cancelling, and relate to points in the timeline before the wedding.
Again this will vary between wedding photographers, but check all charges should be clearly laid out in your contract. Many photographers will have a “home” radius which they will travel for free, outside of this they may charge. Over a certain distance and/or time that the photographer will be in attendance, you may be required to pay for your photographer’s overnight stay as well.
If an overnight stay is required, are you organising this or is that to be arranged by the photographer – if so what are the maximum costs for this?
Some photographers may be open to doing extra hours on the day, some will have other commitments, therefore it is always essential that you find this out beforehand. And, as time is a factor in the package you have booked, finding out how much each hour is going to cost you in advance and how it is to be paid are essential - just in-case the timings on the day run over.
This extra time may be payable to the photographer on the day so have cash or card available.
Many high-end wedding packages often will include a second photographer as standard. This is to supplement the photos of the main photographer, and to take pictures where two things are happening simultaneously, like the bride and groom getting ready separately, the drink reception while the formal shots are being taken, or to take different angles on the main shots.
Most wedding photographers consider a second photographer is essential for a large wedding.
If this is not included in the package offered, then ask about the cost as this will vary. Also, it is essential to see some of the second photographers work, and see that it matches the style and look of the main photographer.
This option can add something special to the day.
It may be possible for your wedding photographer to put together a selection of unedited photos and present it as a slideshow for the wedding breakfast or reception. So, ask well in advance if this will be possible, as it may take some liaison between the photographer and the venue, and there could also be an additional cost.
Generally wedding photographers shoot digitally, but the rights to the images will vary between photographers and indeed the packages offered.
Some photographers retain the rights so that they can earn money from the reprints, some freely distribute the edited and corrected digital images with no restriction, some do something in-between – so it is crucial that you understand what you are getting in your package copyright wise, and that that is in the contract.
Quantity wise you may receive anywhere between 500 and 2000 images, but the value is not in the quantity of the pictures taken but the quality.
You should expect that the package will include colour correction, cropping and basic editing and retouching of your photos (to adjust shadows, bad spots or odd stray of hair, etc) – but check.
Large-scale editing, like taking one face from one picture to another, or merging two groups into one is usually only available at an extra cost. Like always it is best to check in advance if this service is offered, and at what cost.
In the realm of digital photography things do move quicker than they did in the era of film. On the other hand, quality takes time with 500 and 2000 images to be individually assessed and adjusted that may not be that quick - and that will all depend on your photographer’s workload. Some are days, some are weeks, and some are a month or so. This is a thing for you to confirm before you book.
Some wedding photographers may distribute a best of the shots edited selection as soon as they can. It is now common for this to be made available as a password protected gallery that you and your guests can view. This may be solely to order prints online, or maybe to download. The download service may be chargeable, so check what you are getting in your contract as this will vary between wedding photographers and even the packages offered.
If you are getting a formal printed album this usually takes more time, not only for you to decide what to have in it but for any special printed details that are to be included.
This will vary between photographer and the package offered. It may be online only, it may be accompanied by a disk or a USB. Also, be sure to ask what file format you will receive the final files on – normally you would expect .jpg but this has many variables so expect this to be defined in the contract.
This all boils down to what is in the contract you have established with the wedding photographer.
To the wedding photographer the value of the images is in their copyright, and at the end of the day it is the level of that that you are purchasing. You can be licencing the use of this copyright, in that you pay for each image print or download, or that you can be buying the copyright outright in that you own the images entirely. It also can be anything in-between where the photographer reserves some rights, for professional standards or marketing.
Therefore, you need to get the photographer to specifically state what rights they are selling, and that the contract is very clear in this.
If the wedding photographer does not have a contract, walk away, this is completely unprofessional and leaves you with little recourse should things go wrong.
Any practicing wedding photographer should legally have public liability insurance. But this is not enough for your needs: you will require them to have professional indemnity insurance with coverage for £2 to £5 million, with coverage for not only when you book but for the wedding date. Insist on seeing both their insurance certificates.
It is always wise to have your own wedding insurance in addition to this, with an insurer with a reputation of being fair.
This doesn’t just mean having enough stand-by batteries (a wedding shoot will go through several). But this covers the “kit” such as; cameras, lenses, memory cards, flash drives, and any flash and lighting (if used).
Any professional photographer will often have three levels of back-up kit with them on the day – so check what they use as primary, secondary and emergency kit.
Photographers are mortal, they get ill and family emergencies occur. So it is a good check for you to see that your photographer has an active network of equally skilled professionals they can fall back on if an emergency happens.
Even if you are confident that this is covered, it is another good argument to have your own wedding insurance with a reputable insurer.
Most wedding packages are offered with the photographer retaining marketing rights by default, but you may not want to share your wedding photos globally.
So if this is the case make it clear to the photographer that you do not wish this to happen, and check that this is followed through in the contract.