Finding a wedding photographer

Everyone these days seems to be on a budget and very conscious about where and how they spend their money when planning a wedding, not a bad idea. And while cakes, flowers, venues, a DJ, etc. are all nice; photography is the one thing that will last more than just one day, and what will capture the other elements forever as well. It’s how you’ll remember the fast paced day after the fact, what you will show to your kids and grandkids, what you’ll hang in your house for years and the one thing everyone will see who didn’t make it. Needless to say, other than the marriage, it’s the most important venue.
First off, don’t ever book a photographer online, just by their portfolio or especially by their price. It’s vital that you meet with him/her in person. Why? No matter how good their photos look, or how low their prices are, you must mesh. I’ll always remember a wedding I attended as a guest where the photographers were very rude and demanding. So much so that for everyone in the wedding party, that was the one thing they remembered from the day. Find someone with a smile, a sense of humor and who is relaxed. After all, you’ll be stressed and you’ll spend more time with your wedding photographer on the day of your wedding than with your spouce, you want that time to be enjoyable. 
A few tips and questions to ask when you meet with wedding photographers:
Editing:
Is editing included? Seems standard, but not always, some people have an editing fee. Then what kind of editing is included? It should be basic darkroom / lightroom adjustments and maybe some skin touch-ups on the close up shots. Anything more than that is a red flag, as it probably means that their photos are not good enough alone and that they need some tacky edit to make them look artzy. Black and white in most cases is for those who couldn’t make color work, a few scarce black and whites is ok. I wouldn’t want any more than 1 for every 10. 
Coverage Time:
How many hours of coverage are you getting, will they be there plenty in advance and after you leave? Will they bail according to their watch right before the bouquet toss?
Turn around time:
How long does it take to get your photos back? Any more than a guaranteed two months should not be accepted. And if it’s any less than a couple weeks, beware, that’s not near enough time to dedicate the care needed to edit an entire wedding.
How long are the pictures available once presented to you?
Some people will put them online for a couple weeks and if you don’t order prints in that time, tough luck. A good amount of time is a year. If you haven’t ordered anything by your one year anniversary, you probably never will and shame on you. Some things like a wedding book or the digital files would be great 1 year gifts to each other if you can’t afford it at that time.
What are the print prices? 
Get them to lay this out in front of you. You might get the photography cheap, but will break the bank to
actually get a physical photograph. This is way too common of a practice and becomes like a hostage or ransom situation. Don’t fall victim to it. Also realize that the prices are going to be more expensive than a corner pharmacy. They should be professional quality prints.
Do they offer the digital files?
Don’t assume you’re getting them, and certainly don’t assume they’re free. This is the same as giving you the film negatives. To the opposite, if the photographer just hands these out like business cards or toothpicks, then they don’t care about their work. If the digital files are offered, at what resolution? You don’t want 600px images good for nothing but facebook. Also what rights do you get? Are you allowed to print and make books, and give to family, etc etc?
How many photos do you get?
More is not necessarily better, the photographer should narrow and sort down the photos, eliminating the bad ones. This is their job, not yours. Any good shooter will be taking over 2000 photos. On delivery, 350-800 is a good range depending on the wedding, if any different, be weary.
Team:
Are they doing the job alone? Hopefully not. Some photographers have broken up their pricing and packages to be more affordable, but let me tell you, you want a second photographer or at least an assistant. The guys and girls are separate halves of the wedding anyway. Don’t you want to see what took place in your fiancé’s room and don’t you want him/her to see what took place in your room? One person can’t be in two places at once. What if there’s data corruption or if the photographer gets sick. 
References:
A neat way to get references is by viewing their other weddings. Do they have a purchasing gallery? What about uploaded and tagged clients on facebook? Do they have a blog with the couples names? All of these are great resources to utilize your stalker skills and contact a previous couple. You’ll get much more authentic replies than from one of their pre-determined references. Of course the testimonies or peoples names they give you will have good reports. Can you see one of their galleries for a sample of a whole wedding? A photographer should be happy to give you access and to give you the contact info from a previous wedding on request. 
Booking:
Expect to pay to book the photographer up front to reserve the date. This day should be just as important to them as it is to you. If you’re not putting money down, and there is no contract, they’ll happily take another ‘better’ job if it comes around. If you’re afraid to give them money up front, you shouldn’t be hiring them in the first place to document the most important day of your life.  
Professionalism:
Do they do this full time or is it a side job? Not that someone working two jobs is inadequate to be a photographer, but their preparation, delivery and care for the photos, as well as quality will be hindered. Also, what if their main job moves them in another city, state or country. If something came up at work, you really think they would sacrifice their career for you? More importantly, are they legitimate? Do they take credit card, do they charge sales tax and have the permits. Hire a shady photographer and you’re just asking for a no-show. And even if they do show, what’s their plan in the case of equipment failure? How are you protected if they get sick or a hard drive crashes, is that in the contract? How is their quality? Can they handle no flash ceremonies if your minister requires that? Etc, etc. 
Price:
A typical photographer in Dallas will run $3000-$5000 when it’s all said and done. I beg and plead with you to never accept wedding photography as a gift from a friend. A discount.. maybe. First off, if they’re such a good friend you should want them to enjoy the wedding or be in it. Let them celebrate. Secondly, if there is no money exchanged and no contract what happens in a discrepancy? What obligation do they have to you? Had they not been a photographer, would they really be giving you a $3000-$5000 wedding gift? Photographers price weddings according to what it’s worth for them to photograph it. The rare exception to this would be maybe paying a friend with an all expenses paid trip for two to your destination wedding. 
Be weary of those who range from $500 – $9000. You really think they’re not going to bail on your cheap rate when a $9000 client comes along? Even I would be tempted to fake getting sick or etc. I mean, that’s $8000… who wouldn’t be tempted? This dilemma is sealed in my contract. I joke with my clients that if a $1M job comes along on the same day, that I’d pay them off to break the contract. haha. Point is, find someone who has packages that aren’t drastically different.

These are just some questions to ask and things to look out for. Hopefully meeting in person should calm your nerves, or better a reference or referral. I’ve seen a lot of people get burned and would hate to see that happen to you. Happy shopping and if you’re looking for a good wedding photographer in Texas, I know one, so just ask. 

-Jonny Carroll Photographer
DTX photography
DTX Weddings

  • Incredible breakdown Jonny! I only wish I had known these things 4 years ago when Jason and I got married! I'll be passing this link on to friends that are getting married.

  • Thanks beth.

  • Thanks for the info. I bet lots of people never would have thought about all those details.

  • I agree with Mon. I never thought of all these things and I guess that it's really important. Thanks so much for the very useful info.