Forget The Knot! Real Questions To Ask Your Wedding Photographer, By A Wedding Photographer
You're engaged! Congratulations! It's an insanely amazing time for you and your partner, and in many instances, the first time you two might be in front of a professional photographer. That's something many people aren't accustomed to, and you want to find the right wedding photographer for your day. There are plenty of wedding planning resources out there that provide a checklist of what questions to ask your photographer, but many of them can actually hinder your experience as you search for your wedding photographer versus elevating it. As a wedding photographer with over 100 weddings as a primary/lead photographer, I thought what better way to debunk a few useless questions, as well as give a few of the RIGHT questions to ask your potential wedding photographer. You know, the ones we wish you'd ask, and the ones that really tell you what you need to know about us. So, without further ado, let's jump into it!
1.) How are we going to get along? Do I even like you? How do I find that out?
This is a fantastic question, and there are a lot of different things that go into answering it. Many times, your first time reaching out to photographers will be via email, and hopefully soon after, you can set up a call if your wedding photographer is available for your wedding day. If you're considering a local wedding photographer, setting up a time to chat over coffee/tea is a great way to break the ice in person, and your wedding photographer can show you albums and print products they provide as well. If you're considering a wedding photographer outside of your local area, set up a time to FaceTime or Skype, and get a better feel for them through that. Through these interactions, you'll begin to get a solid sense of your wedding photographer's vibe, and if they're right for you. Sometimes I have couples who book based off the first email exchange, and other times it's after the email, call, and in-person meeting or Skype. Regardless of when you reach your comfort level to trust that you're building a relationship with the right wedding photographer, they should be willing to take the time to ensure the trust is built.
2.) Do you have insurance?
This is a no-brainer for a wedding photographer who is taking their business seriously, and wants to provide protection for their client and themselves, but it's wildly disconcerting how many photographers are out there without coverage. Many venues require photographers and other vendors to provide proof of insurance prior to being permitted to photograph on the premises, and many times the venue will ask for that proof only weeks before the wedding. It would be one nasty surprise for you, as a couple, to find out mere weeks before your wedding that your photographer wasn't insured, and thus unable to photograph your wedding in your venue! ALWAYS check with your prospective wedding photographer to confirm they are properly insured. It keeps your guests safe if Aunt Betty accidentally trips over a camera bag, and it keeps the photographer safe as well.
3.) How do you safe-guard my images?
There are FAR too many horror stories on the Internet forums about wedding photographers losing photos after a wedding is through. While it's something that every wedding photographer wants to avoid, some photographers are more proactive than others on safe-guarding your images through the editing and delivery process. Personally, I won't sleep until my clients' wedding images are backed up in 3 hard drive spaces, as well as in the cloud. Once those are all saved, THEN I'll go to sleep after the wedding. Until you receive your images, all the files remain saved in four locations, with at least one of them being off-site, just in case of an act of God. If your prospective wedding photographer isn't taking safe-guarding your photographs seriously, then you should consider going elsewhere. You never know what can happen, and while no one wants to ever lose images, it's always safer to be paranoid when it comes to backing up.
4.) How do you prepare for if your camera gear malfunctions during my wedding day?
This is another astonishing one, which will quickly show you how dedicated to being prepared your wedding photographer is, and how seriously they take their craft. In the vein of above, one can never be too paranoid when it comes to being prepared for a wedding day, and while no photographer wants to have their camera go down unforeseeably in the middle of a wedding, a good indicator of their professionalism will be if they have backups at the ready. Does the photographer you're inquiring with bring extra gear in case something happens to their primary gear? How many cameras do they shoot with throughout the day? Do they have backup lenses/memory cards/batteries so that they don't miss a moment when -- and trust me, it's most definitely a "when" -- something goes awry, memory cards fill up, or a battery dies? No wedding photographer worth their salt will show up on your wedding day without backups at the ready. Make sure you feel confident that if something happens, your photographer has a plan in place to never miss a beat.
5.) Can we see a full gallery of a wedding day from you (or two? or three?)?
Moment of honesty here: I post my best work on my website, because I want you to like me. Every wedding photographer does this. However, what does it look like when we pull back the veil, and see a FULL wedding gallery? That's where you'll see what the real story looks like for your prospective wedding photographer. What happens when it starts raining? Or when the lights malfunction, and your first dance is in pitch black darkness with some iPhone lights pointed at you (yes, this has happened to me at a wedding)? These are real-life situations, and they happen more often than you’d expect. Experienced wedding photographers will roll with it and produce in all kinds of not-awesome situations. The only way you'll see the full gamut from your wedding photographers will be to ask for a full gallery from a single wedding day. This is a question you should absolutely ask any photographer you inquire with, and if they balk at that idea, or don't have a full gallery of a single wedding day start to finish to show you, run far, and run fast. This is a true indicator of what you can expect for YOUR wedding photos, and you want to go into a relationship with your wedding photographer knowing exactly what to expect from them, from start to finish -- not just their highlight reel, no matter how awesome it might be.
6.) Can You really shoot a wedding alone? Don't you need a second photographer?
Truly, truly, I promise you...I can. And I usually do. Can two photographers be awesome? Absolutely. Do I love working with a second photographer? Sure do, when it's the right fit and adds value to your day. HOWEVER. One of the biggest industry lies that couples are fed, in my opinion, is that you absolutely need a second photographer, and if you don't have one, you're missing out. I know some absolutely incredible teams in the industry who kill it as a duo, and you totally want them both. But, by and large, I see far too many photographers tout a second photographer as a thing to book couples, and really, what they're winding up with is double the amount of mediocre photos. That may sound harsh, but far too often, it's true. Ask to see a full gallery of a solo wedding, as well as one with a second shooter. Unless your wedding is extremely large, you and your partner are getting ready far apart from one another, or it's a multi-day affair, there aren't a lot of instances that a Western-style wedding is going to absolutely require two photographers. Are they nice? Sure, if they're both adding to the overall storyline of the day. Far too often, it's just another "tick" to make the wedding collection look larger than what it is.
BONUS TO THIS: If you *are* getting a second shooter, ask your primary photographer exactly what the skill level of your second photographer is. Are they another primary photographer who specializes in wedding photography themselves and owns their own studio, who can pull their own weight if your primary photographer is tragically struck by a meteor and dies (let's hope they don't, but just in case they do, you're covered)? Are they an associate shooter of the primary? Or are they simply a competent photographer or trainee along for the experience? Far too many times this isn't clearly stated, and you aren't receiving the same level of ability in both shooters, resulting in not much added benefit for you. This is absolutely something you should ask your primary photographer when discussing a second photographer.
7.) Can I see a sample timeline?
Hey, timelines aren't just for wedding planners, yo! Any great photographer will have a timeline in place to ensure they keep things moving in a timely manner, and can provide you with a realistic sense of what's possible for your day when it comes to wedding photography. For instance, while your wedding planner may give you 30 minutes for family formals, what they might not know is you have 20 different groupings you want done, and that realistically, allowing 2-3 minutes per smaller grouping, and 5 minutes per large grouping (think 12+), is a realistic way to plot out the time needed for those family formals. So say you have 15 smaller groups and 5 larger ones, that's going to realistically set you up for approximately 35-45 minutes of family formals. The wedding planner might not know that, and having a wedding photographer who is experienced and can accurately estimate the time needed will allow you to not stress on your wedding day when it comes to moving those family formal portraits around to accommodate all the groups you want to have in images!
BONUS TO THIS: I always tell my couples I will lie to them in love on how long other aspects of the day will take, so that when Great Aunt Gertie heads to the bathroom during family formals and it's her turn, we have time to allow her peace in the bathroom, and nothing runs late. Weddings are organized chaos. Planning for something to take longer than you expect will save you LOADS of stress on your wedding day. Your wedding photographer can help you there.
8.) What's your approach to photographing my wedding day?
Let's not confuse this with the many times seen "what's your style" question many may ask. This is more all encompassing than a filter, or a post-production choice. This is about your vision and your important pieces of your wedding day aligning with that of your photographer's. Every wedding photographer could come at the same wedding and walk away with an extremely different feel, so it's important to understand your photographer's philosophy and vision when they create for their couples. For me, moments are timeless and what will stand the test of time. Do I absolutely love a beautiful detail shot, or that epic nighttime portrait that will make all your friends jealous? Absolutely. Will I snag those for you? I'm certainly going to do my best. But at the end of the day, for me, I want to focus on YOU...focus on those fleeting in-between moments where your new spouse smiles the biggest smile ever at you when they think you're not looking, catch those hugs with grandparents, or the ring bearer being ridiculously cute as he tries to shove his head between the railings of the stairs, freaking your aunt out as it's about time to walk down the aisle. Those are the moments you might not even realize are happening until it's over. I might capture things you NEVER realize happen during your day, because it's a blur. And at the the end of the day, those fleeting moments between you and your spouse, your family, and friends, those are what will tell the story of your day in the wedding album. We'll create amazing images of all kinds along the way, but my approach is always to focus on the people and moments as they unfold. And, if those epic nighttime portraits you saw on your wedding photographer's portfolio are what you're gunning for, let them know that ahead of time! Knowing what you want, and what you love most about your wedding photographer's work, will allow all of you to work together as a team, ensuring you'll have time to create what you're dreaming of for your wedding day.