I'm a published wedding and portrait photographer located in a small town outside of Charlottesville. In addition to capturing beautiful images, I love spending time with my family, am freakishly good at word games (Hey Wheelmobile!), love an ice cold can of Coke or Dr. Pepper, know every line to Hocus Pocus and can never pass up a Chick-fil-A waffle fry or a trip to HomeGoods.
There are lots of articles out there about choosing your wedding photographer and let me say, as a wedding photographer, some of them make sense and some of them don’t. Here’s my advice for selecting a wedding photographer and definitely what I would do if I were a bride searching for someone to capture my wedding (which I was, several years ago). Note that you’ll want to start this process early. Brides should aim to book their photographer a year in advance on average, especially if your wedding is during a popular month like September or October.
1. First things first, budget! By now, you should have a budget and some idea of what you expect to spend on a photographer. Rates vary based on experience and location, but photography is really something you don’t want to scrimp on. I say that not as a wedding photographer, but as someone who has seen many disaster stories from brides who have chosen very inexpensive photographers and have been incredibly disappointed by the images they received. However, there are exceptions to that. My photographer was just starting out and on the lower end of the budget scale, but I really did my homework and fully vetted her work before hiring her, so I knew what I would be getting.
2. Figure out your desired style. There are lots of answers to this, but most do with the editing of an image. Some people prefer dark and moody, lots prefer light and airy. For me, I prefer timeless, true to color, but there’s really no wrong answer. Also included in this is candid or posed. Many photographers, including myself, use a mixture of these to fully capture a wedding day, but if you’re more into one or the other be sure to choose a photographer that lines up with your preferences.
3. Do your research! Start researching photographers that meet your preferred look. If you have friends who were recently married or if you recently were a guest of a wedding, ask them about their photographer. They may be able to give you a really good honest review. Other great places to look include Instagram (search for location hashtags ex. #charlottesvilleweddings or visit the profiles of wedding venues and click on the “tagged” tab to see photos taken there); Zola, The Knot or Wedding Wire (search by location) and of course, Google.
4. Connect! As you’re researching, keep a running list of the ones you love and contact them. Start by asking the most important questions:
Once you have those answers, eliminate those that are unavailable and cross out those that are out of your budget. Contact the remaining options again and be sure to ask for full wedding galleries! This is so important and I can’t stress it enough. The images you see on a website or social media are likely the best of the best. They may also be from styled shoots, which are collaborations between vendors to obtain images of their work and are very different from real weddings. Ask to see full wedding galleries. You’ll be able to get a good feel for how the photographer handles a variety of lighting situations since styled shoots are fairly controlled while real weddings contain a range of lighting, weather and location scenarios.
5. Meet up! It’s so important that you click with your photographer. She, or he, is going to be with you on one of the most important days of your life. You want someone that is talented and capable of capturing your day, but who is also friendly, kind and comfortable to be around. To make sure you’re a good fit, chat with your top choices. This can be done via video chat, phone call or even in-person. This is a great time to get to know each other and for you to ask any questions you may have.
6. Book ’em! Once you’ve picked your top option, it’s time to lock them down. Contact your chosen photographer and let them know you’d like them to capture your wedding. At this point, your photographer should supply you with a contact and an invoice for the retainer. NEVER, and I can’t stress this enough, EVER book a photographer without a contract! A contract spells out expectations and protects both you and the photographer. Make sure it includes when photos will be delivered, what services you will receive and the photographer’s policies. Also, be sure you actually read it. It’s important that you know when you’ll receive your photos, what the payment terms are, etc. Once the contract is signed, submit the retainer.
At this point, you should be all booked! Congratulations; that’s one more thing marked off your wedding planning to-do list.