Bridal/Engagement season is off and running and we’ve been getting more emails and phone calls than normal with questions about wedding photography. Some of the questions I’ve been hearing are questions that I hear over and over from brides each year. I never get tired of answering brides questions, and in a way I feel like it’s my duty to share my experience and expertise whenever asked. In fact, when I started shooting weddings a number of years ago I prepared myself for the most difficult questions that a bride and groom might ask by looking online at different websites that had advice for brides-to-be, such as wedding planners, bridal boutiques, venues and wedding consultants. I figured that if I could honestly answer every question that these advice websites had for brides, then I’d be ready to be a wedding photographer.
My task: find every relevant question that a bride should ask a wedding photographer and ask myself how I would answer it. So, after many hours of research on the subject, I narrowed my frequently asked questions list down to around 20 questions (see below).
Until recently, I only shared this information with brides that met with me face-to-face. But at some point I started realizing that brides can easily get confused between qualified professional photographers and inexperienced photo novices who make big promises and often, sadly, disappoint brides with poor quality work (or no work at all).
But let’s lighten the subject for a minute and talk about wine. Why? Why not?! :) One of my favorite things to ask a wine drinker after they tell me about the expensive bottle of Merlot they just opened is if they know the difference between a $10 bottle of wine and a $110 bottle of wine. They usually shrug their shoulders and plead ignorance. The answer: $100
Unfortunately, photography isn’t that simple. Although many photographers look the same, we all charge significantly different rates and there’s a big difference between one photographer and the next, although it may be difficult to discern. Let me explain.
Each photographer brings a different set of skills, equipment and responsibility to an event. The key is to determine what you want and then be armed with the right questions to ask your photographer. As I tell many brides, anyone can put together a “best of” slideshow on a free photo website like Shutterfly; but can the photographer who will be responsible for capturing all the wonderful moments at the most important event of your life show you photos from a several past wedding (photos of entire wedding, start to finish)? Believe me when I say that it’s a big responsibility to be the photographer for a wedding – bigger than just owning a camera and saying you can do it.
The reason I’m blogging about this topic this week is because I met with several brides-to-be this past week. In fact, I met with one bride in particular who was really enjoyable to meet with (our meeting was more like having a meal with an old friend). We enjoyed speaking with one another and she complemented my work several times, which I was grateful for. She also commented positively on Austin Americana’s pricing and professionalism. I left our meeting feeling confident that I would be photographing her wedding soon.
Unfortunately she contacted me a few days after we met to tell me that she had decided to allow a “photographer friend” to shoot their wedding instead of hiring me. I always respect bride’s decisions, even if they don’t choose me. In business, you get used to rejection – it’s just business! After all, you can’t take it personal and I certainly don’t.
But what frightens me about this situation is all the terrible wedding horror stories I’ve heard from brides over the years about bad experiences with novice photographers who make promises and then realize on wedding day that they can’t deliver. Is there a chance that her photographer will do a good job? Sure. But why take that chance when you can hire a professional? We all have car insurance, home insurance, life insurance, etc; When you write a check to a professional wedding photographer, you are buying insurance – a written guarantee that you will get great wedding photos of the most important day of your life.
So how do you tell the difference between a legitimate professional photographer who will take great photos at your wedding and deliver them to you -and- a novice who won’t? A good start is to ask the right questions. I’ve put together 20 questions that you should ask your wedding photographer. If they can’t honestly answer these questions with satisfactory answers to meet your wedding needs, then you should probably look elsewhere.
20 Questions to Ask Your Wedding Photographer
1. What’s your primary style? Posed and formal, relaxed, photojournalistic, creative, artistic, candid, traditional?
Answer: I consider myself a photojournalistic wedding photographer, although I normally include the standard posed shots associated with most weddings today.
Photojournalistic wedding photography to me means shooting as many candid, unrehearsed moments as I can which capture the emotion of the day and which tell a story.
2. Do you shoot in color or black and white? Or both? Do you shoot in a digital format that can create both color and b/w versions of the same picture?
Answer: I shoot all digital, color photos, which means I can take a lot more photos quickly. In post production/editing I can choose to convert images to black & white, sepia and also utilize specialized filters for an artistic effect.
3. What type of camera do you use?
Answer: I shoot with 2 cameras (with one additional backup): Canon 5D Mark ii, EOS 40D & 30D, professional cameras that are well regarded in the
industry. In fact, as of the writing of this material (year 2010), the official photographer for our U.S. President is using the same camera that I do!
4. What kind of input can we have on the direction of the shots? Can we give you a shot list to work from?
Answer: I would like to get as much input as possible from you. I draft a Wedding Photo Schedule that is customized specifically for your wedding. The schedule allows you to see how many hours are needed for shooting your wedding and exactly who will be photographed when & where. You will have the opportunity to edit the schedule as much as you like.
5a. Are you the wedding photographer who will actually take our pictures? If not, can we meet the person who will be?
Answer: I will be your photographer the day of your wedding (unless otherwise specified). If a 2nd shooter and/or an assistant is needed, I’ll let you know.
5b. We would like 2 photographers for our wedding. Is this something you can provide?
Answer: Yes, we can provide 2 qualified professional photographers for your wedding. An additional fee for this service will be added to your wedding package price.
6. Is there a limit to how many photos you can take?
Answer: No, there is no limit (within reason) to how many photos I can take. My cameras are digitally formatted and use digital media cards to store each photo as it is snapped. I could potentially take 2,000 – 3,000 photos in a single outing. This is very unusual, however. I normally capture 500 – 1,500 images each outing.
7. How many times have you worked specifically as a wedding photographer? How many were similar to the size and formality of our wedding?
Answer: I’ve been photographing people and places since 2002. I photographed my first wedding professionally in February 2007. In 2009 my staff and I photographed approximately 75 events, including over 30 weddings in Austin, Texas. If you would like to see some of my work, please feel free to visit my website at M.Whitton Photography or our new Austin Americana Photo Blog, or ask for a slideshow presentation of some of my past wedding shoots.
8. How many other events will you also photograph that weekend?
Answer: We only photograph one event per day, which eliminates rushing your event or the possibility for errors in scheduling.
9. What kind of equipment will you bring with you? How intrusive will lighting, tripods, other equipment or assistants be?
Answer: Most of our equipment is very mobile and small. I don’t use lighting equipment (except on-camera flash, of course) unless necessary for exceptionally large group photos indoor. I don’t necessarily require the help of an assistant, but one frequently will assist.
10. Do you develop your own film? Do you offer albums?
Answer: I shoot all digital; there will be no film used. The edited image files are developed by quality, professional labs and shipped to your doorstep. Our albums are designed and printed by AsukaBook USA – a renowned, award-winning album company that strives for quality workmanship and style.
11. What type and how much assistance will you provide in planning my album?
Answer: I have partnered with AsukaBook USA to provide relatively seamless album services. We design your album using select images and email you an Adobe PDF file for review. Once you approve it the file is submitted for print and shipped to your doorstep! Yes, it’s that easy!
12. Will you give me the negatives or what is the charge?
Answer: My shooting fee includes providing you a DVD copy containing all of professionally edited images from your event, which allows you to conveniently print images at a discounted rate (No more waiting for the photographer to release rights or paying inflated print prices).
13. How long after the event will the proofs be ready?
Answer: Average turnaround time from wedding day to delivery is usually less than 2 – 4 weeks – sometimes less, sometimes more. Your DVD will be mailed to your doorstep once editing is complete. The proofs will be viewable on my website.
14. Will there be backup equipment available? And what happens if the photographer is ill?
Answer: I have invested in backup equipment for each camera and apparatus that I use. During your event, I will be shooting with at least 2 cameras. If for some reason I am no longer able to honor our agreement to be your photographer (hospitalization, for example), I would contact a reputable (qualified) photographer to act in my stead.
15. What attire will you and your assistants wear?
Answer: Professionalism is very important to me and I dress accordingly – normally in slacks and button-down long-sleeve shirts with a necktie. If the event calls for stepping up the attire, i.e., a tuxedo or suit, please let me know and I’ll be glad to oblige.
16. Can other people take photos while you are taking photos?
Answer: Yes, but I usually ask attendees to shoot before or after I shoot, to prevent confusion, blinking, flashing, etc.
17. Have you worked at my event location before? How did it work out?
Answer: I’ve worked at dozens of locations in and around Austin, both indoor and outdoor. I normally visit the ceremony/reception location 1-2 weeks beforehand to aid in planning the shoot.
18. Should the event last longer than scheduled, will you stay? Extra charge?
Answer: Normally planning prevents the need for additional time, but if needed, I will stay longer. I charge $200/hour for additional shooting time. Once your wedding schedule has been drafted we will be able to determine how much time will be required for your big day.
19. Can I get a discount? I don’t want everything you have to offer in a package price…
Answer: Sure, I offer discounts. If you would like to customize a package to fit your needs I will work with you. I also offer discounts at different times of the year to encourage new clientele and to offer more competitive pricing, including working with discount coupon online stores like Groupon, Localiter and DealOn.
20. After you’ve asked these questions of your potential wedding photographer, there are several questions you’ll want to ask yourself:
A. Do I like this person? B. Do I get along with them or get a good feeling from them?
C. Do I like their work as a wedding photographer?
D. Is it well lit, focused, well framed?
E. Looking at their albums/prints, do I feel like I have a good feeling for the wedding?
Sources: About.com, 2007 and http://www.weddingphotousa.com