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15 questions to ask your wedding photographer? When to book your date? And why should you use a professional?

So many times when I meet with bride and grooms they bring along a list of questions that they found on some wedding site that was written by some “wedding professional” blogger or a wedding planner. Not that it is a bad thing, but honestly I think most of these people are looking at this subject from the outside. So I am going to look at this from the inside and basically put the information that I think is the most important in deciding whether to use a professional or someone who happens to have a nice camera.

Wedding photography has been a subject that has created some really interesting converstations for me over the last few years.  I get to hear a lot of really awful stories from members of the bridal party about the wedding photographer at the last wedding they attended.  I get to hear an earful from the pastor about what “the last photographer” did during the ceremony.  I think that more and more people enter the wedding photography industry with the idea that it is fun and only requires a nice camera.  So as a result there are all kinds of things happening in this industry that result in a lot of people thinking negatively about wedding photographers.  It is work if you do it right.

So my point in writing this today is to give bride and grooms a few questions to be sure to ask your wedding photographer as you are meeting in this wedding booking season of 2011.  I will answer these as well, so for bride and grooms that are interested in booking with me for 2011 or 2012 I guess I will leave our meeting up to just talking about the details of your wedding day. 🙂

What you should ask your wedding photographer…

1.  How would you describe your style? This is really the first thing that should grab you when you go to a photographer’s website or view their pictures.  Do you see yourself in them?  Do you get the feeling of the emotion and connection with the people in the picture.  I always love looking at other photographer’s work when I don’t even know the couple and yet I just feel as though I was able to connect with them from just looking at the photo.  As far as style goes there are a lot of different angles on this.  Posed traditional photography definitely has it’s place, as well as photojournalistic (capturing moments without intrusion) type styles.  I find that my style is really a combination of both.  I do shoot formals, but one of my favorite types of shots is being able to shoot with my 70-200 from across the room and getting a reaction from someone at just the right moment.

2.  Do you have insurance? This is a must.  This is usually something that a lot of beginning photographers don’t think about.  They will either rely on their homeowner’s insurance to cover their equipment or even skip it altogether.  The problem is liability.  If someone knocks over your lightstand at the reception or you swing your camera around and knock someone in the head with your lens that spells trouble.  Your homeowner’s insurance is not going to cover this.  Many venues even require that you have your business liability insurance on file with them before you can shoot there.  So definitely check with your reception venue on this to see if your photographer needs this on file with them before the wedding day.  So to answer this question yes I do have insurance on my equipment as well as liability insurance.

3.  Do you have backup equipment?  What kind of equipment do you use? This is not going to be a Canon vs. Nikon battle.  I am not talking about the kind of equipment as in brand.  I am talking about quality and lens speed.  The first thing is that you do need quality lenses to shoot a wedding.  This is not the kit lens that came with your camera.  Most churches will tell you that you are not allowed to use flash during the ceremony even though guests can sometimes break out their cameras and cause a disco show in the middle of your ceremony.  So at that point you will need a lens that can shoot in the f1.2-f2.8 range.  This is not always the case, but most churches are not filled with glorious light other than God himself. 🙂  So as a result you will be left with blurry, orangey, and dark pictures.  Most of these lenses are in the $1000-2000 range.  I usually shoot with the Canon 70-200 f2.8L IS, the 24-70 f2.8, the 50 f1.2L, and the 24 f1.4L or 135 f2.  I am not saying that you have to have these, but from my perspective I don’t want to miss a shot because I don’t have the equipment to do the job.

As far as backup equipment goes I would suggest a minimum of two cameras.  If you are only bringing one camera body to a wedding you are just setting yourself up for failure.  For that matter if you are only bringing one of anything to a wedding that is the case.  There is not enough time to go to the store to get another one.  This is not a high school senior shoot that you can reschedule.  This is going to happen on that day whether you are prepared or not.  So the day of the wedding I usually bring four bodies.  My assistant will shoot with one, so that leaves me with two and another one for anything else such as remote camera setups or something like that.  This is the same with flashes and lenses.  No I don’t bring a backup 70-200, but I have plenty of other lenses with me that I could complete the day without any problems whatsoever.  The last thing you want on your wedding day is for your photographer to have to ask to borrow a guest’s camera to finish the day.

4.  What do you wear to the wedding? This one is different for everybody.  I have heard some stories about wedding photographers showing up in jeans, short skirts, or even loud print hawaiian shirts.  This is totally unacceptable on any level.  Some photographers go with more of a fashion look, but in my mind I am not there to impress anyone with my style of clothing.  I usually dress in all black.  I do this for a couple of reasons.  I do this because if there is a wedding videographer there filming your day that you will see less of me and more of you and your guests.  Black is less distracting and doesn’t draw attention to me.  The other reason that is that black doesn’t show dirt.  There are times that I shoot from the ground, so laying down on the cement, grass, or whatever is not going to show up. 🙂  If I am in all black there is less of a chance of you seeing me and changing your expression because you know I am about to take a picture of yo  Watch and see how this happens.  As soon as people see a camera they change…

5.  Should the wedding day last longer than the contracted hours will you stay later? Yes.  This is also something that you don’t want to have happen to you on your wedding day.  I always check with the bride and groom before leaving to make sure that we have everything covered that we wanted on that day.  There is an additional fee to extend the coverage if you have a limited number of hours, but this is always available.

6.  Will my images be color corrected or are they straight out of the camera when you deliver them to me? There are some photographers who have a simple shoot and burn philosophy, so what you get is basically the files straight out of the camera to a disc.  They might give you 1500 images or whateve huge number, but honestly after going through that many shots how many of them are going to be worth keeping or printing for that matter?  The other problem is editing.  Most people do not realize the time that it takes to color correct and process images.  So having all of these files might seem inviting with a small price tag, but there is a reason that it is that price.  Shooting and burning means much less time and less quality as well.  I usually shoot about 1500 images on the day.  I deliver about 400-600 final images in your online gallery.  This makes it easier on you to select your favorites.  They are also color corrected/perfected as well.  This also includes black and white, sepia, etc. processes as well.  My feelings are that I want your pictures to stand the test of time.  So the fact that some photographers pictures are heavy on the Photoshop color and processing might sting a little bit in the future when you look back at your photos.  I guess I come from the simple and elegant (less is best) school of thought.  To each their own, but honestly if all of your pictures look closer to a cartoon color then this might be a good indication that you are going to think this even more in 10 years.

7.  How many times have you worked as a wedding photographer? This is something that you need to ask in a specific way.  If you ask how many years they have been in business this opens the door to mislead.  If I have been a wedding photographer for three or four years shooting three or four weddings a year this leads me to shoot about 15 weddings total.  This isn’t a bad number, but honestly this is really not a lot of experience and can lead to problems.  Over the last five years I have shot over a hundred weddings.  Shooting a lot of weddings doesn’t make one a great photographer either, but it definitely helps in knowing the flow of the day and what to watch out for during the day.  The experience of shooting weddings cannot be duplicated any other way.  Workshops and conferences are great, but it is a different scenario when you start using real people with real situations that can sometimes get a little crazy. 🙂  I know that everybody has to get their start somewhere, but honestly do you want your wedding to be their practice court?  This is what being an assistant is great for in the beginning.

9.  Does your personality match up well with the bride and groom? This is something that is important on both sides.  I have to say that I have worked with some of the nicest people on their wedding day.  I have also found that the bride and groom need to realize that when they are booking their wedding photographer that this person will be with them most of the day.  Are they going to be there when they need them or are they going to have to hunt them down for questions.  Do they play well with others?  This is something that I have found that this is not my day.  This is the bride and grooms day.  So no matter how important I think that their photography is I don’t want to jeopardize someone else’s service at my expense.  The way your photography works with your bridal party is also very important.  Can they perform under pressure or are they going to start barking orders to your friends when they aren’t paying attention?  So much of this goes back to word of mouth advertising.  This is not usually something you can find out unless you know a past bride from you photographer, so if possible talk to someone who has used them before and see if they were helpful and great to be around all day, or if they were ready to run the other way whenever they saw them coming.

10.  Can you help me find other vendors in the wedding industry to plan my day? This is one thing that I love being able to do and that is to send my brides to great vendors from the DJ, the florist, the wedding planner, the cakes, and even down to the decorating.  The wedding day for me is so much smoother when I know that all of the other vendors that are being used are going to do a great job for my bride and groom.  I am always happy to share these with you even if you are not booking me for your wedding photography.

11.  Is your wedding photographer a friend or relative with a nice camera? I know that sometimes looking at how you spend your money for your wedding day might mean using a friend or uncle (just make sure his name is Bob) to shoot your wedding.  I get about an email a month from a bride that wants me to “fix” her pictures because the person she used did not do their job.  This can be related to not having the knowledge, the equipment, or even taking the time to shoot the pictures that most bride and grooms hope for on their wedding day.  Another problem that I hear a lot with this is that during the reception their friend was more interested in drinking, dancing, hanging out, and basically not working to get the pictures that you hoped that they would get for you on your day.  It is work, so that also means that if your uncle is not used to shooting for 7-9 hours in one day that he is likely to get tired and want to relax for a while.  Sorry to say that I probably sit down for a total of, well, sometimes I don’t sit down at all.  I sometimes find that if I do sit and relax it is for a quick bite to eat, replenish the fluids, and then I am back ready to shoot if something happens.  The time during dinner for me is usually spent shooting your rings, your flowers, or any other details that I can get  during that time. Best Clear Lake City florist will offer elegant flower arrangements.

12.  Can your photographer run an 8 minute mile or less? I thought about leaving this one out, but then I remembered that over the last year there have been a couple of times that I have either had to run back to get a bouquet, run back to get a certain shot from 50 yards away, climb about 20 flights of stairs because the elevators were too slow (right Sarah? :)) or whatever. 🙂 Am I joking?  Well, not really.  But I have learned that after becoming a runner that I find that getting physically tired on your wedding day is the last thing that crosses my mind.  You can throw this question out if you want unless you are talking to me about your wedding… 🙂

13.  When should you book your wedding date? I have had a few brides who have booked their wedding dates almost two years in advance.  There are always very popular dates that are booked out sooner than others.  May, June, July, and now October seem to be the most popular and book  up the quickest.  So my thoughts are that if you have booked your church and your reception site that you should book your photographer as soon as you can.  This will keep you ahead of the game with other brides.  In the next 3-4 weeks there will be a whole new group of brides that have just gotten engaged over the holidays, so they are now looking to book their photographers as well.  The sooner the better.

14.  Can other people take photos while you are shooting? This is a great question.  My answer is that I have no problem with people taking pictures on your wedding day, but not while we are shooting the formal shots or if they are planning on getting out of their seat during the ceremony.  People need to realize that first of all the ceremony is for the couple.  It is being documented, so if you feel the need to get in aisle to take a picture please understand that it is very possible that I might be shooting a wide angle shot with you standing up in the middle of the couple’s pictures.  This is especially important during “the kiss.”  While we are shooting the formals there is the chance that when the bridal party sees 5 people taking a picture that they might not be looking at the one that means the most.  That would be the one for the bride and groom that they paid for.  So my suggestion is to recommend that your guests take as many candid shots during the day, but just to stay clear of the photographer as they are working.  People need to realize that when I am shooting that the last thing that I want to have to worry about is walking back and running into a guest trying to shoot over my shoulder.  My advice to guests with cameras was covered more extensively here.

15.  If you could shoot a wedding anywhere in the world where would it be? This is more of just a question that I thought would be interesting to answer myself.  I think I would have to say that I would love to shoot a wedding on Maui on the beach with the sun setting in distance. The main reason that I would love to shoot one here is that this is where my wife and I had our honeymoon. So I would love the chance to return there and experience everything that Maui has to offer all over again. You can also choose the Yarra Valley wedding venues for a breathtaking wedding shoot experience amidst the panoramic view of the Yara Valley and beyond.

I hope that these questions have given you some ideas as to what to ask your photographer when meeting with them.  If you would like to meet and discuss any of these items or other questions about your wedding day I would be glad to talk more with you.  My wife makes fun of me and always asks how I can talk as long as I do about weddings, so needless to say I would love to share my ideas and thoughts with you for your wedding day.

Twitter anyone?.  You can also add me as a friend on Facebook or join the Wise Photography Facebook Page.

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