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Welcome to week #3!

Welcome to “Week #3” of my four-week program on how to find the right wedding photographer for you. We have been discussing at length the importance of the person who will be your photographer and how it’s about more than just their photography. In Week #1 we talked about the foundations for wedding photography, common terms and how to assign a priority to wedding photography. In Week #2 we talked about how to search for wedding photographers and what to look for throughout correspondence.

Up until now, you have been gathering information about potential wedding photographers through researching their brand, referrals, testimonials, videos and by reading through their website. You probably have a good idea for their style and their approach to wedding photography, and so now is where you’ll want to take that understanding to the next level and set up a meeting with them.

Meeting with a prospective photographer can tell you a lot about them.

Meeting with a prospective photographer can tell you a lot about them and how they’ll take care of you throughout the wedding planning process. This meeting has three main purposes:

  1. You’ll be able to sit down, talk with them and get to know them better. After the meeting, you’ll know whether they’re someone you can picture being with you for your entire wedding day.
  2. You’ll be able to get into detailed discussion with them about their style, philosophy, and approach. While you can gather the gist of this information online, nothing can replace an in-person conversation about these items (more on what to ask in a bit).
  3. Lastly, there is no better way to judge a photographer’s work and the quality of their imagery than to see it in person, in print. Like I mentioned in Week #2, it’s relatively easy to make an image look decent on a website on a small computer screen. It’s a completely different thing to have an image look great when it’s printed 60” wide or in an album.

It is important to consider where the photographer proposes to meet with you. You may think that it’d be most convenient if they came to you, but I’d suggest otherwise, as having them come to you might limit your ability to get a real sense of their style, personality and experience.

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I would recommend in almost all cases to meet with prospective photographers at their place of business (office or studio) as this will give you an immersive experience and give you the best insight into their personality and style. If you are meeting in their space, here are a few things that you may want to look for:

  • Do they proudly display large wall portraits, canvas prints and/or framed work? What is the image quality like when printed large? Do all of the wall portraits together give you a good feeling for their finished work and their overall style?
  • Do they have a variety of albums on display and available to look through? What is the quality of their albums like? What do the pages feel like? Do they have an album from your wedding venue or church to give you an idea of their work as it pertains to your specific wedding details?
  • In general, are they a good host? Do they offer you a beverages? Does their environment make you feel comfortable and at ease? Remember, this meeting is when the photographer should want to impress you with their attention to detail and customer experience. If they aren’t accommodating and welcoming now then that’s not a good sign for what’s to come.
  • Are they dressed and groomed professionally?
  • Is their space well maintained? Again, attention to detail cannot be overlooked. The level of care and attention that they give to their professional meeting space will be representative of the level of care and attention that they’ll give you as a client.
  • In conversation, do you get a sense that they care about you and your wedding, or does it sound like they’re just talking about themselves the entire time? Of course you are here to find out more about them and what they do, but an excellent photographer will want to know about you, your wedding and your relationship so that they can fully understand who you are and how they can best document this time in your lives together.

A lot of these are things to look for on the surface. You will want to get into some deeper conversations about style, approach and expectations. Here is a list of questions that you can ask from your prospective wedding photographer as well as some specifics to look for in the discussion.

Do you have a backup system in place for your digital files?
Hard drives are a volatile technology and are almost guaranteed to fail or become corrupt. A professional photographer will have a redundant backup plan in place that is performed regularly. Ideally, the photographer should have a copy of all of their work off-site as well in case of fire or theft in their studio. Ask about this. Without a proper backup system, a photographer could lose all of your images in the case of an emergency. This is easily preventable if the photographer has a backup strategy in place.

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What is the turnaround time for the images?
I’m sure that you’ve heard enough “horror stories” from friends or family who had to wait months and months for images from their wedding. The best way to avoid this is to find out these details up front and be very clear with your expectations. A full-time professional photographer really shouldn’t take more then 2-3 weeks for initial turnaround time of your proofs. Not to intentionally set the bar too high, but my brides and grooms will normally come home from their wedding with their proofs waiting for them. My studio policy is to have one wedding finished before the next one the week later.

What is your philosophy on retouching and editing?
We discussed this in Week #1 when we talked about common terminology. Most photographers will “proof” all the images for you (basic colour correction) and “retouch” images that go into an album or wall prints. Be clear about what is expected, and be sure to understand what you’ll be getting.

Are you a full-time photographer?
We talked about this in Week #1 and in Week #2, and I cannot emphasize how important it is to have a photographer who is a full-time professional. Someone who photographs on the side or does it part-time is not a great choice because a) they do not necessarily rely on their photography and so they may not be fully committed to delivering the best quality and b) do not have their full time and attention dedicated to photography and therefore may not be able to give you reliable and appropriate turnaround times.

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These great candid moments were not captured by luck. It was the combination of my technical excellence, mastery of light and experience of capturing the right moment at the right time. Without my influence from other of photography (children and photojournalism), these may not have been as you see them here.

What is your main focus in photography?
Some photographers focus solely on wedding photography, while others are all over the place. This is a highly-debated discussion, but it is my opinion that a photographer can truly only hone his or her skills as a wedding photographer by being an excellent well-rounded photographer first. On a wedding day, we as photographers are faced with:

  • Constantly changing light
  • Fast-paced timelines
  • High-pressure situations
  • Demands from many different people
  • Rooms, spaces and locations that are always different

On top of that, on a wedding day, a photographer will wear many different “hats” as a professional:

  • A Photojournalist for candid moments
  • A product photographer  for detail photos
  • A portrait photographer for posed family formals
  • An architectural photographer for overall photos of your church, home, venue, etc
  • A studio photographer when setting up lights and creating flattering portraits

If a photographer focuses solely on wedding photography, then that says that they are not willing to expand themselves as a photographer and technician to get the most out of every part of a wedding day. That being said, I think it is important that a photographer who diversifies their portfolio through accepting and mastering other areas of photography to have a consistent style and approach. There should still be some kind of underlying theme or feeling to their images.

What is your style on the day of the wedding?
As I just mentioned, a photographer has to go in-and-out of different “modes” throughout a wedding day. A photographer will still likely lean to one style or another, and so it’s good to have the conversation with your photographer about whether or not they like to take control or simply sit back and photograph events as they happen.

Are you the only photographer?
I talked about this in Week #2, but it bears repeating. Some photographers have a “team” of associates who shoot for them. Be clear up front and know who will be photographing your wedding. This is the person that you want to meet with and build a relationship with.

Do you come with an assistant?
I believe strongly that a great wedding photographer needs a great assistant for parts of the day. This will allow the photographer to focus on the photography and let equipment, bags, lists, and so on be taken care of by their assistant.

Do you have a payment plan? How forms of payment do you accept?
You should not have to pay for your entire wedding photography up front at the time of booking. Most professional photographers will offer a flexible payment plan to pay off your collection over a period of time. Some photographers will require the final payment before the wedding, whereas others will ask for it after the wedding. It’s best for you to decide what you prefer, and ask for a payment plan that suits your level of comfort. Most professional photographers will accept credit cards, and so be sure that you know their preferred methods of payment up front, especially if you are looking to get points on your VISA or Mastercard!

Comfort Level

Most important of all, you have to decide whether or not you connected with the photographer. Did you feel a good “vibe” with them? Did you feel well taken-care of? Did you get a solid understanding of their style and their approach to wedding photography? Do you trust them? Do you feel comfortable around them?

Next week, the final section of this e-mail program, I’ll go into more details about how you can compare photographers after you have met with your “short list” and ultimately choose the photographer who is right for you.