The Process of Finding, Booking, and Working With Your Wedding Photographer

Planning a wedding and choosing a wedding photographer can be really, really hard! Most people have never planned an event in their lives, and now suddenly, you’re thrown into it (but for a good reason!). Below I have outlined the process for choosing a wedding photographer, booking the photographer, all the way through until you receive all of your wedding photos and/or album. I know, I know….you’ve already gotten your information from a wedding blog or wedding magazine. Why should you read advice from me? Well, I am not a professional writer, or a professional wedding blogger….but I am a professional wedding photographer. I know my business, and have photographed weddings for five years now.  When seeking advice, I always think it’s best to seek advice of those who work in the field, not just those who write about it.  Your best resource in your wedding planning are your actual vendors. They do this every weekend. Wedding vendors eat, sleep, and breathe weddings in the season, so if you have a question, just ask them! That being said, all opinions below are my own, and you may find other professional wedding photographers who have a different take on things, and that’s fine! For all those reading on, I put a lot of effort into this post, and I hope it helps!

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STEP 1: CHOOSING A WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHER

When choosing a wedding photographer, make sure you look at their entire website. Look at all of the galleries (not just the first few photos), read the About Me page, the investment page (if they have one), take a look at the blog for recent work, and any other information they have for you. Then, ask yourself these questions:

-Did you connect with the photographer and could you picture them photographing your wedding? ( Why this is important: your photographer will be with you all day, more than any other vendor, so this is important!)

-Are they a professional wedding photographer? (Why this is important: wedding days are not the time to portfolio build- you want/need/deserve a professional who is experienced in wedding photography. There are no do-overs on wedding days for missed moments. Professionals have things like extra batteries because wedding days are long, backup equipment in case their primary camera stops working or primary lens breaks, and liability insurance in case they fall on the cake or break something at the venue. )

-What did you like/not like about their work? Things you should consider are the emotion, moments, editing, posing, and lighting. (Why this is important:  there are several different styles in photography.  Some of the popular styles right now are vintage (yellow color or matte color to make the image look old, “film” like, no skin smoothing, posing can be natural or posed), bold color and clean processing (saturated color, looks “digital”, skin is smoothed, often more posed portraits than candid portraits, perfectly exposed), photojournalist (a mix of color and b+w photos, natural posing, candid moments, timeless editing and posing), and what I like to call the “magazine” style (images look like those on Style Me Pretty- right out of a magazine, shallow depth of field so background is blurry, color is in the middle of vintage and bold- not saturated but not desaturated, very artsy, often bright). It is also common for photographers to have a mix of styles. Make sure you choose a style that you are drawn to and like!).

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-When you picture looking at your own wedding photos in 5 years, 10 years, 20 years, can you see yourself still connecting with their style of photos? (Why this is important: is the style dated, or will it be dated, and will that bother you).

-Is their pricing within your budget?  (Why this is important:  Professionals cost money and are a worthy investment, but are you going to spend $3,000 or $10,000? If price is an issue, does your photographer offer payment plans or can you buy your album after the wedding instead of in a package to break up the payments more?  Photography is one of the few things you’ll have left after the wedding day is over, so are there other areas you can cut from to allocate more towards photography? While many wedding magazines might suggest asking for a discount, your potential photographers might frown upon it.  Photography studios are small businesses, and often their prices are as low as they can go while covering overhead and living expenses. They aren’t large corporations, chain hotels, or owned by the State/town like the venues, so offering discounts can hurt their businesses directly).

STEP 2: SET UP A CONSULTATION

If you like what you see, schedule a consultation. This is really important, and most consultations just last an hour. Your photographer will be working with you more than any of your other vendors (they are with you the WHOLE day on your wedding day, the engagement shoot, the album design process, etc.), so it’s important that you like them! The best way to do this is to meet in person. The other benefit to meeting in person is so you can view sample albums and see more of their work. Albums really vary in quality and content, and it’s also a great opportunity to see a full wedding and what your own wedding album might look like! Finally, it’s the perfect time to ask any looming questions that you have. If you aren’t local, set up the consultation via phone or Skype.

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STEP 3: BOOKING

If the consultation goes great, get in your retainer and contract as fast as possible!

It’s standard policy in the wedding industry to only hold dates with signed contracts and retainers. Wedding seasons are short, and there are only so many weekends available. Wedding vendors want to make sure you are serious in reserving the date before they turn away other interested couples. However, make sure you read the contract carefully, and know what you are signing. Retainers are non-refundable.

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STEP 4: SET UP YOUR ENGAGEMENT SESSION

Congratulations, you’ve booked your photographer! Now it’s time to book the engagement session. Choose the season you’d like, and reserve a date. Photographers can get really busy in summer and fall, so it’s important to reserve your date early. Engagement shoots are great to get to know your photographer better, to get photos for Save the Dates and other wedding display items, and to practice being intimate in front of the camera- kind of like a warm-up for your wedding day! For my studio, the turnaround time can be up to one month in the busy season, so keep that in mind as well when scheduling engagement sessions.

Great photographers will work with you prior to the engagement session to pick a location and help you decide what to wear. Certain colors and fabrics photograph better than others, so your photographer will want to provide you with a guide for what to wear and ways to prepare.  For my wedding clients, I often suggest having their hair and makeup done prior to the shoot to make you look and feel your best.  For locations, I often suggest to my clients to choose a different location from where their wedding photos will be done for some variety. So if they are getting married in the city, I might suggest a beach town, and if they are getting married on the water, I might suggest the city.  You can work together to pick out a great spot. Often photographers have certain spots they like photographing at to avoid crowds or know of any fees that certain parks or landmarks may charge, so it is important to discuss the possibilities ahead of time.

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STEP 5: MAKE YOUR WEDDING TIMELINE

For my studio, I like the couples to reserve two full hours for wedding photos throughout the day. I recommend doing both hours prior to the ceremony, or one hour prior to the ceremony and one hour at cocktail hour. The two hours includes couples portraits, bridal party photos, and family portraits. It is important to keep in mind the time of the sunset when scheduling portraits. If you are having a winter wedding, I strongly recommend doing all couples portraits in the daylight, prior to the ceremony. For fall and spring weddings, the “golden hour” of light often happens during cocktail hour, so I recommend doing couples portraits at this time, and family portraits prior to the ceremony. For summer weddings, the sun sets late at night, so scheduling 15 minutes prior to sunset is a great way to get perfect lighting for a few portraits, even if the majority of photos take place earlier.

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When making your timeline, it is best to schedule more time than not enough time, just in case there are bumps in the road (i.e. the makeup artist runs behind) or things don’t go as planned (the limo shows up late). Then, you won’t be stressed. It is also a HUGE reason to hire professional vendors who do a lot of weddings for all services- hair/makeup, florals, DJ/Band, caterer, transportation (limo/trolley) etc.. These vendors know what it’s like working a wedding, and can make sure correct schedulingis in place, and that things run on time.If you want to be positive things run smoothly and don’t want to worry about it, hire a day of coordinator or planner. If you need any referrals for other wedding vendors, just ask! We all work together often and are happy to recommend someone.

For my studio, I always ask to review the timeline one month to two weeks prior to the wedding to make sure enough time has been scheduled for photos.

 

STEP 6: THE PORTRAIT LIST

For my studio, I require a list of formal family portraits from the couple 2-4 weeks prior to the wedding (along with the timeline). I recommend including immediate family and grandparents in the list. Extended family pictures can be take at the reception or cocktail hour. Organizing really large groups can take a lot of time, so if this is a must for you, make sure to schedule at least 10 extra minutes per extended group shot in your timeline. In the list, include names of people, and try and keep the combinations to a minimum. If you write the list in an organized format (i.e. start with two people then add in more, or start with a large group and deduct), it goes a lot faster!

 

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Make sure the family know where and what time to meet for family portraits. Have a meeting point and exact time. Also, dedicate a family member to locate those members that are missing, and to help out the photographer (remember they won’t know all of the members of your family!). Finally, make sure your parents have seen the list and approved it prior to the wedding. This is for two reasons: you don’t want to forget anyone, and you don’t want a bunch of family photos added on the day of the wedding as a surprise. Everything has been scheduled to the minute on your wedding day, and if family photos take an extra 20 minutes, that 20 minutes might have to be taken away from your couples portraits or wedding party photos. It’s hard to say no to family in the moment on the day of your wedding without it being uncomfortable or being taken as rude, so it’s best to prepare ahead of time. If all sets of parents approve the list, then you know there will likely be few surprises the day of. Lists for the bridal party photos and couples portraits do not need to be included. However, if there is a must have shot, please let your photographer know!

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What about Pinterest inspiration? While Pinterest can be a great inspiration for planning wedding details, for photos it can kind of be a nightmare. Often the best photographers’ photos in the world are pinned, and expectations can be exceedingly high. We don’t want to disappoint you, so let us be creative and make our own shots so that they can’t be compared to anything else. You are unique, and your photos should be too. Another reason it’s hard to recreate Pinterest photos is in the nature of photography. Photos are really defined by light. A photo can be created in the same place at 7am, noon, and 7pm, and they will all look shockingly different due to the position of the sun in the sky. For example, here are two photos I took on vacation in Scotland in 2005. The photos are of the exact same scene, but the first one was taken at sunrise, and the second taken at sunset. See the difference in the light and color of the photos, even though it’s the same scene, just different times of day? (taken with film, scanned from print…excuse the quality)
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Same goes for cloudy and sunny days- photos in the same location won’t look the same if the clouds are filtering the sun versus when the sun is strong and bright with no clouds. Another issue is copying. Imagine handing a writer a book and asking him/her to write it for you. Copying is generally frowned upon in the photography community. So, it’s best to stay away from Pinterest for wedding photos.

Lastly, it’s good to have a backup location for your portraits in the case of rain.  If you know it’s going to rain, have lots of umbrellas available too. A few rainy day portraits are always beautiful, and many times end being my favorites! Rainy day back up locations can be hotel or venue lobbies, historical buildings like mansions and public libraries that will rent by the hour (they often have gorgeous interiors), or think outside the box- like a botanical center.

 

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STEP 7: THE WEDDING DAY!

Everything is in place, and now you can relax and enjoy the day after all of your hard work and planning! Let your wedding party and caterer hand you drinks to relax, and make sure you eat so that you don’t pass out (you’d be surprised how many couples forget to eat!).Try and stick to the wedding timeline and to not change anything in the heat of the moment- remember, you’ve planned this for a long time with a lot of thought, and don’t want to regret anything later!

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STEP 8: GETTING YOUR WEDDING PHOTOS

The average wedding photographer takes two weeks to three months to send you your wedding photos. Turnaround times differ from photographer to photographer, depending on whether the photographer edits the photos themselves, outsources the editing to a lab, has employees that edit for them in house, whether they are  full-time or part-time, etc. So why do you have to wait so long? Well, we take THOUSANDS of photos on your wedding day, and we have to cull them and edit every single photo…..which takes a really, really, really long time! We don’t want to rush this process. We know it’s hard to wait, but it’s worth it, we promise!

Once you get them, the first thing you should do is BACK UP YOUR WEDDING PHOTOS. So many things can happen: your hard drive could crash, your home could flood, a fire, etc. It’s best to have at least three copies in three different places (i.e. your computer hard drive, a USB, and a bank safety deposit box).

Next, PRINT YOUR PHOTOS. Do not let your photos sit on your hard drive or on Facebook! Print them, frame them, hang them on the wall! Print a copy of every photo if you can. I do NOT recommend printing at your local drugstore or shopping center. You paid a lot for your photos, and they harbor some of your best and most important moments and deserve to be printed with a quality printer and on quality paper. Local stores do not use calibrated printers, so your skin tones can look yellow or green. Use a professional print lab. Order through your photographer, or from a professional lab online. I recommend Mpix, Minted, and Pinhole Press.

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STEP 9: ORDER AN ALBUM

Whether you got an album in your package or not, ORDER one! I have a lot of clients who order one for their one year anniversary. Can you imagine a better first anniversary than to flip through your new wedding album?? Wedding albums should always be ordered through your photographer, as they have access to the best quality, hand made albums. I love flush mount leather albums with fine art paper, but there are a lot of options out there. Statistics show that newlyweds who don’t order their album within one year of getting married never will. Don’t put it off! Do it right when you get your wedding photos back, or wait until your one year anniversary, but don’t wait longer! And remember, technology will change. Film became CDs which became USBs….but tangible prints and albums never change. They are archival, and can be passed down to your children. They last a lifetime, and more.

The best way to order an album is schedule an album ordering appointment. You’ll want to look at and feel the album cover swatches in person. If you aren’t local, at my studio I will redirect you to the album company’s website (I like IrisBook and Red Tree Albums) or send you an email with the color samples in pictures. You can often choose the papers too, and even see a sample of a finished album so you have an idea of what yours will look like. Albums often take a long time to design, proof, and print, so the entire process at my studio can take anywhere from six weeks to six months. This depends on who chooses the photos (you or me), how many revisions you make (0 or 1), the specific album you choose, and the season you order the album. Albums ordered in the summer/fall will take the longest (since wedding and album studios are very busy during this time), and albums ordered in the winter/spring will be the quickest (since we often call this album season!).

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Kristen + Adam’s North End Boston Engagement Photography Session

Michelle + Clay {Hope Club Wedding Photos Providence}

Back in January, I was lucky enough to photograph Michelle Kwan and Clay Pell’s wedding in Providence at the Hope Club.  They, their families, and their friends couldn’t have been any kinder and were such a pleasure to work with.  Michelle and Clay have been kind enough to let me post a few of their wedding photos on my website.  If you missed it in People magazine, here’s your chance to get a glimpse into the Olympic figure skater’s wedding.  Out of respect for the couple, please do not use these images without permission, nor crop or edit out the logo. Thank you.

Michelle’s Dress: Vera Wang

Michelle’s Bouquet: Stoneblossom

Hair by Serai Beauty

Makeup by Timothy MacKay

 

Sam + Emma {Oceancliff Newport RI Wedding Photography}