At least once or twice a week, one of the brides coming to my studio for a consultation, walks in, sits on the couch, and as soon as her purse hits the coffee table, out comes the list. It’s a list of questions for your wedding photographer that she has found in a bridal magazine or website. Unfortunately, most of them contain obvious questions like do you have a backup camera, how many weddings have you photographed (I stopped counting after 100), how many years have you been doing this (going on nine as a full-time wedding photographer), etc. One time, after years of answering pretty much the same questions, I couldn’t hold back anymore, so I asked the bride who was in my studio choosing a wedding photographer :
The bride pondered for a minute, looked up towards the ceiling and then she said “hmmm, not really?”
“They all seem obvious,” she said, “they seem like the minimum requirements for any photographer. They tell you which photographers not to hire, but they don’t really tell you what to look for in the photographer you end up hiring.”
A-ha! The bulb went off in my head. That’s exactly what those lists were, minimum requirements. Now, call me crazy, but I’m guessing most brides would want somebody better than the minimum requirements photographer shooting their wedding. So, I decided to put together a list of specific points about choosing a wedding photographer, that would hopefully take a bride past the obvious do you have a backup camera, or how many weddings have you photographed questions.
1) You want answers? I want the truth. You can’t handle the truth!
Obviously, the No. 1 thing you are looking for in a wedding photographer is picture quality. Very often, you look at the pictures of even some very expensive photographers, and you can’t quite put your finger on what’s missing. What’s missing is color in the background! Odd as it may seem, if you want to assess a wedding photographer’s skills, don’t look at the bride and groom in the foreground, but look at the background. More specifically the sky! Or the trees. The sky, trees, foliage, buildings behind the couple, very often need a different exposure from the bride and groom in the foreground. It takes skill and equipment to get both exposures right in the same shot. So pay attention to the fact that while the light on the couple may seem okay, the sky will often be washed out and even trees, foliage, etc, will have drab, muted colors. Some photographers try to pass this off as a stylistic choice, but it isn’t. It’s an unfortunate side effect of poor lighting skills. A skilled photographer should be able to get both flattering light on the couple in the foreground and color in the background (sorry, but Photoshop-enhanced skies that look like a liquid detergent don’t qualify).
A couple of exceptions to using the background as a litmus test are a) when the couple is silhouetted or b) the couple is so far away that it essentially becomes part of the background. Silhouettes are very easy to do, because they don’t require a photographer to throw any light on the couple. By the same token, when the couple is so far away that you can’t even tell who they are, you’re not shooting wedding photography anymore, but landscape photography with a couple of random people thrown in. Oh, sorry, that’s artistic.
2) You are paying for two photographers. But is that what you’re getting?
One time, during a consultation, a bride was relaying to me her frustration with her sister’s wedding, who had paid a lot of money for her wedding photography and had gotten very mediocre work. And she concluded by saying and on top of it she had two photographers there So, knowing the unfortunate reality of our business, I asked:
What do you mean, there were two people with cameras there. You know, dressed in black and all, she replied puzzled.
They were both from the same studio? I said.
How do you know that the second photographer was not an assistant, husband or wife of the main photographer, or an apprentice holding a camera? I said. Did your sister ever see each photographer’s pictures separately to see who shot what?
I can tell she was stumped. Then after a while she repeated
This brings me to my next point. Which isn’t whether or not you should hire two photographers to cover your wedding (I’ll cover that at a later time). My point is that two people dressed in black with cameras in their hands do not necessarily a two-photographer package make. There are photographers who will sell a two-photographer package for a very low price, because it sounds good. Two photographers must be better than one, I’m getting a lot for my money, that’s value, you’re thinking. But in many cases that œsecond photographer is not a full-time professional wedding photographer, but a wife/husband/girlfriend/boyfriend of the first photographer, or an assistant/apprentice/GWC (guy with camera). Now what’s wrong with having a second person there, you may ask. Absolutely nothing, as long as the second person is not sold to you as a full-time photographer, and you’re under the false impression of security, that say, if something were to happen to the first photographer he tripped and fell during the wedding or got food poisoning the second photographer could step in and cover the wedding with equal skill.
So how can you tell you’re getting two actual full-time photographers, vs â€œone photographer and a poser? It’s really very simple. When you’re offered a two photographer package, ask to see the second photographers website. Being in the second decade of the 21st century, the single most important sales tool of a professional full-time wedding photographer is his/her own website featuring his/her own work. It’s the photographer’s storefront. Period. It is simply inconceivable that a professional full-time wedding photographer today could make a living without his own website. So, bottom line, if the second photographer does not have his/her own separate website featuring his/her own work, and the first photographer says oh, all our pictures are mixed in together on my site you can bet your bottom dollar the second photographer is a husband/wife/assistant/GWC, etc.
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In the next installment coming soon:
3) When wedding photographers turn a picture into black & white to disguise a poor shot.
4) Traditional wedding photography vs wedding photojournalism