Welcome to “Week #2” of my four-week program on how to find the right wedding photographer for you. Last week we covered wedding photography foundations and discussed the state of the industry, common terminology, what makes up a photographer’s style and how their personality is just as important as their work. At the end of the article, I discussed creating a “priority list” for your wedding so that you have a clear understanding of what is most important to you, and ultimately where you will want to spend the larger pieces of your budget.
This week, I am going to talk about how and where to search for photographers, what to look for once you’ve found a few that you like, and how to budget appropriately for photography.
Week #2 – Searching for Photographers
It is ultimately best to meet face-to-face with a potential wedding photographer before making any decision or booking. You’ll remember from last week that personality is one of the biggest factors in hiring a wedding photographer, and there is no better way to get to know someone than to meet with them in-person and have a conversation. Also, when you meet with a photographer in their studio or office, you can get a much better idea for their style, their approach to wedding photography, the quality of their work and their attention to detail.
I personally recommend meeting with two or three photographers. Unless you get a raving referral from a close friend that you really trust, I think it’s important to at least meet with two photographers so that you have something to compare each other to, even if it is just to validate your instincts. I think that meeting with any more than three or four is unnecessary; you can do the bulk of the narrowing down ahead of time.
Lesson #1 – Make a “short list” of three photographers to meet with.
Where to Search?
How do you start searching for photographers? Here is my comprehensive and prioritized list of recommendations:
- Ask for referrals from friends or family members who recently got married within the last 5 years. Ask them who they used and whether they were happy with the experience, the customer service, and ultimately, their photographs. Do they have an album made that you can see? That will be the best judge of the photographer’s skill – to see their finished work in one of their clients finished pieces.
- Ask for a referral from your other wedding professionals. The individuals and businesses that you hire for your wedding day (florist, decorator, reception venue, etc) collaborate and work at weddings every weekend, and they see wedding photographers all of the time. They usually have an indication for who’s good, who’s not and who delivers the best quality to their clients. Especially ask your wedding venue – they often see the same photographers weekend after weekend and so they will be happy to refer you to their favourites. If your wedding photographer has been to your wedding venue many times then they will be comfortable and familiar there, which is an added benefit to you.
- This next recommendation may be the biggest secret in the industry, and probably one of the most effective ways to search for any type of business online. Turn to Facebook. I don’t mean just look up business names on Facebook or ask friends, you can use Facebook’s built-in “Search” just like a Search Engine. It returns results that are geographically relevant, based on your profile and friends list and they are uniquely generated for you. It’s very cool! Like I said, it’s one of the biggest secrets in searching for businesses, and it’s highly relevant when searching for wedding photographers. Go to Facebook and type in “Photographers that my friends like”. This will show you the top Facebook pages that your friends on Facebook like.
- If you still haven’t found the right photographer or want a few more options to consider, you can resort to Google. If you search for “ Wedding Photographer”, where the “ ” is your city or region name, then it is fairly safe to say that the photographers on the first two pages will be your best options. Google rewards websites that have lots of activity, frequent updates and those that have been around the longest. These are all good indicators for you. The photographers who come up on the first page or two will have “proven” themselves to Google in that they have lots of visitors (so they must be pretty popular to attract visitors to their site), they obviously update their site often (meaning that they photograph often and are always sharing new work), and they have been around a while (there’s something to be said about longevity and reputation).
Lesson #2 – Use a combination of recommendations and search results to research photographers. If you happen to see the same few photographers coming up time and time again, then that is likely more than just a coincidence.
Researching Potential Photographers
Once you find the photographer online, that isn’t enough. You have to connect with them, their style and be sure that you can trust them in documenting the most important day of your life. Start with their website to “pre-judge” them, and let that lead you to narrow down your choices for who you’d like to meet in-person. The website is step one, and what follow’s is a list of what you should look for in a photographer on their website.
The two most important factors in finding the right photographer for you is photographic style and personality. But what do you look for first? I would say that this is a “chicken or the egg” question, so, I suggest looking to see if their style is in your “range” of preference first, and then move on to discovering them as a person. Is their photography in the right ballpark for you? If not, then there’s no need to explore whether you may “like” them or not because they simply do not produce the kind of work that you like. Similarly, however, you may fall in love with them as a person, but if you then discover that you don’t like their photography, then this is pointless as well.
Step #1 – Style: Start by looking at their work and first decide whether their style is close to what you’re looking for. Next, move on to reading more about them.
Step #2 – Personality: Is there a picture of them on their website? There should be, they are a photographer after-all, right? Does he/she look like someone that you’d be able to connect with? Read about them on their “about” or “bio” page, do you connect with their approach, their story and their philosophy? Do they have a video on their website, or a link to their YouTube page? Do they have any videos of them in action, talking or showing the “behind the scenes” at all? If you can see yourself connecting with them as a person, then you’re in the right direction.
Step #3 – Further examine their style: You’ve briefly satisfied both sides (photography and personality), and now you can further examine their style. Keep in mind that it may be difficult to really get an idea for quality when looking at a small computer screen, but you’ll be able to get a good idea. Ultimately, the best judgement of a photographers’ work will be seeing it in-person in a physical print or an album.
If you’ve gotten this far and you really do connect with their style and their personality, then you can move on with further research about this photographer. Here are some things that you will want to look for that can give you a further indication for quality, reputation, customer service, their level of experience and how trustworthy they are:
Have they been in the media at all? Are they recognized in their community? For a business owner to get press and recognition, they have to be doing something remarkable and news-worthy. This counts towards their credibility and reputation.
- What kind of accomplishments, awards or designations do they have? Most professional photographers are always striving to improve their craft, and so they’re constantly submitting their work for competitions, working towards certain designations or looking to have their work featured. Look for accreditations that the photographer has achieved by credible associations, designations they have received (i.e. Craftsman or Masters of Photographic Arts) or websites and magazines where their work has been published.
- Are they a member of a professional association? Most photographers who care about their craft and improving themselves as a visual storyteller will be a part of a professional association. They will be constantly attending workshops, seminars and learning from the best in the industry. You benefit by having a photographer who is always educating themselves and improving their skill. When a photographer is a member of a professional association, they also will likely have a built-in back-up plan in case something were to happen and they couldn’t be there for your wedding day. This is very important! The main association that I recommend looking for is in Canada is the Professional Photographers of Canada and in the U.S., it is the Professional Photographers of America.
- When you hire a photographer, you are putting your trust in them before you even have a chance to see them “perform” the work for you, and so reading, hearing and watching testimonials from past clients is valuable and informative. Most photographers will have testimonials on their website and so that is a great place to start. Look beyond the “our photos were great” statements, though, and see if there is more said about their experience with the photographer, the customer service that they received and the way the photographer made them feel on their wedding day. Don’t just stop there, though. Photographers will (obviously) put their best testimonials on their website. You can do some exploring and investigating yourself to get other objective testimonials. Google the photographer and see what else is out there on blogs, forums and other websites. Search for their Facebook Page and see what others are saying. Are they on LinkedIn or Twitter? You can find out a lot about a person or a business by how they interact online, and the things that others have to say about them. Below is a video (to give you an idea for what to look for) that a few of my clients collaborated on, discussing their experience with me as their photographer.
- Not that numbers mean everything, but what are their followers like on Social Media? Usually the more reputable and trustworthy photographers will have a greater following on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, and so on. They have a loyal following for a reason – because they are excellent, consistent and likeable.
- Do they have an active blog? Are they regularly shooting and producing consistent work? Look back several months to get a good idea for the kind of work that they’re creating on a regular basis. There is a saying in the photography industry that is important to note here, and that is that “you’re only as good as your last wedding”.
- Look for galleries that consist of images from the same wedding as opposed to galleries with images from multiple weddings and seasons. This will give you a better idea for the type of images that the photographer will create from each and every wedding, as opposed to the “best of” from several weddings.
- Can you tell from their website/bio that they are a full-time photographer? You may need to have this conversation for your in-person meeting if you can’t tell from their website. This is an important distinction. Not only does a full-time photographer have their entire work-week to dedicate to their clients, but they are often more invested in their success (and ultimately the happiness of their clients) because they depend on it. They will also be more available for meetings, phone calls, quicker with correspondence and offer you more timely turn-around time the wedding with your images.
Above all-else, one of the biggest tell-tale signs for the experience and customer service that a photographer is going to offer you will be in how he or she handles their correspondence. After you’ve connected with a photographer on their website using the criteria above, get in touch with them. Here you will be able to see their level of professionalism, their passion and their dedication to you as a client. A reliable, trustworthy and experienced photographer will:
- Respond to you quickly
- Be professional with correspondence
- Be thorough and detailed
- Care about your wedding
- Show a passion for photography
- Be positive
- Be accommodating but not desperate
Lesson #3 – When looking for photographers, it’s important to first connect with them as a person and then make sure you love their style. Next, thoroughly investigate them and be sure that they are reputable, consistent, reliable and professional.
Pricing and Budgeting
I’ll end this week’s article with a quick conversation on pricing. Here are some guidelines on pricing and budgeting for your wedding photography:
- Pay as much as you can for photography. Assign a realistic and appropriate budget for photography. Understand that there will be a range of prices, but that is because photography is completely un-regulated and overwhelmed with many amateurs.
- Expect to pay a good amount for quality work.
- A photographer who “discounts” their prices does so because they know that they don’t offer a product that is equal to their prices. Be aware of this.
- Photographers know what they’re worth, and they will charge accordingly.
- You get what you pay for. Is photography for your wedding where you want to risk it by going “budget” or “cheap”?
The last lesson about pricing and budgeting for photography is to invest in great photography first and products second. Let’s say there’s two photographers, Photographer A and Photographer B:
- You love Photographer A’s work, and their $5,000 package includes their time, talent and digital proofs only.
- Photographer B’s package at $5000 includes their time, talent, digital proofs, three albums, an engagement book and a whole bunch of prints, but you just “kind of” like their work.
Logic says that Photographer B offers a better value, right? But … what good are all those products (albums, books and prints) if they are of images that you don’t love? Invest in great photography first, and then if your budget allows for it, invest in the products. If you go that way, even if you can’t afford the products right away, at least you will have great images that you love from and you can always go back later to get the products. If you go the other way around, you are left with lots of products with images that you don’t love.
With regards to actual numbers, it is hard to say what the “average” package will be from photographer to photographer, because it really does vary. I can really only refer to prices in my local area because it’s what I’m familiar with. That being said, here’s a general breakdown of price ranges:
- $2,000 and under – New photographer or student, You likely won’t get great quality work or professionalism. I don’t recommend hiring a photographer in this category. You’re better off finding a student or a friend who is training or looking for experience, who will photograph your wedding complementary in exchange for the experience.
- $2,000 to $3,000 – This photographer may be decent, but they are likely still very new and won’t have much experience. This is the price range I recommend for “budget” brides who are looking for a cheap option.
- $3,500 – $5,000 – This photographer will likely produce great work and is likely running a full-time business with plenty of experience. They will be dedicated to delivering the best to you as their client and will know how to deal with all of the photographic challenges that a wedding day can present.
- $5,500 and up – This price range will encompass photographers who are the best of the best in their area, and you’ll likely be looking at all-inclusive packages in this price range that include finished products such as prints, books and albums. If photography is a priority for you, then I recommend making the room in your budget in this price range so that you can get a truly professional photographer and a finished product that you will be happy with.
Once you’ve established a budget, found photographers, researched them, and created your “short list”, the next step is to set up the meetings. Meet at photographer’s place of business (their studio or office), as it’ll be the best way that you can get a full appreciation for their work, their style, their personality and their attention to detail. Next week we’ll talk about this meeting, what you should ask and what to look for.