A Guide to Choosing the Right Wedding Photographer.
I am a Master Photographer of Weddings with 20 years and almost 1300 Wedding’s worth of experience. I am full-time, fully insured, highly recommended and a true Wedding Professional. I can manage your big day from start to finish, including tying dress laces and teaching it, cravats, button hole flowers, and even speech coaching. I started in May 1997 and have recently passed the 20-year mark. And I don’t have the same types of compromises or constraints in my services and packages, as is seen so often with other photographers. I have run Keylight Photography since 2001 and went full-time in 2009, owing to being too busy to work on top of Weddings. These days, I shoot around 100-120 Weddings per year.
Are you looking for a true full-time, highly experienced Master Photographer, without the uber-expensive price tags? Are you looking for a photographer who does not offer ‘compromises’ within the packages and services they offer? And are you tired of sifting through dozens and dozens of different super-cheap wedding photographers that simply cannot backup their claims of ‘high quality’ and ‘years of experience’? Then look no further.
When choosing your Wedding Photographer, there are several key things that are worth taking into account.
The Wedding Photography industry is under increasing scrutiny, due to the mass amount of new upstarts, who have simply purchased Digital SLR cameras as they see an opportunity to “make good weekend money, whilst still working Monday to Friday, or seeking full-time employment, they use Wedding Photography as a paid-hobby. Many then hire models to dress up as Brides & Grooms, then spent hours of a day titivating over a handful of specific ‘Bride & Groom Signature Shots’ (the ones that you like to enlarge and mount on the wall, of the happy couple). These images may or may not be highly Photoshopped, before anyone gets to see them. These small selections of images are put into demo portfolios and passed off as though they were at real-life, live Weddings.
Then, when couples book these inexperienced Wedding Photographers, off the back of wonderful portfolio demo work, it becomes apparent that the man or woman with the camera does not have the skills and experience to manage high-speed, high-intensity photography throughout the whole day, jumping from location to location, managing dozens-to-hundreds of people within strict time constraints, whilst all the time fighting against harsh indoor and outdoor lighting and weather. The end result? Many couples tell me that they were disappointed with their photo sets. Poorly lit, composed, focused images, where the camera was held at the wrong heights and angles, with the wrong types of flash lighting control, and so on. And by that time, it is too late.
Wedding Photography is a category of its own. Sure, there are fantastic and amazing Studio Portraiture photographers, those who specialise in landscapes and commercial, but these are nothing like how a real Wedding flows. Studios are enclosed, with controlled lighting, heating, weather and backgrounds. There are no time constraints, other than the booked allotted time slot of the studio. If things are not done properly at the time of pressing the button, they can have another go. It is often seen that a fantastic studio photographer cannot always manage a Wedding. The same can be said for Landscape and Commercial photographers, who can take their time, set the cameras up and achieve the results they intended. As funny as it sounds, Wildlife Photographers are probably the closest category, to Weddings, albeit they’d probably need more wide-angle lenses for interior and group shots, but the point is, with wildlife shooting, anything can happen.
Next, when selecting a true Wedding Photographer, there are things to ask them before you book…
Are they full-time?
This matters because it is often found that part-time Wedding Photographers do it for “extra cash on the weekend” or “it’s a hobby-turned-money-maker”. Similarly, a part-time Wedding Photographer is not fully committed to one career, putting all their eggs in that one basket, to secure the success of their own business. Would you really be happy if our Wedding Photographer was not 100% committed?
How many years’ experience?
This is very important. In Britain, we have four seasons. Each season offers totally different lighting and weather constraints. For a low-quantity-per-year photographer, that doesn’t give many chances at shooting Weddings in each season and gaining the experience needed. Also, since the banking crash of 2009, there were a lot of redundancies and many people with little to no experience simply bought DSLR cameras and considered themselves as Professional Wedding Photographers. How do you tell the difference?
Can the Photographer show hundreds of full Weddings?
This is paramount. Any true Wedding Photographer worth their weight should have hundreds of Weddings under their belt and should easily be able to show at least 50-100 images from each Wedding, as the day flowed, at each location of the day, and including the Evening Reception. Things to look out for are ‘Spray-n-Pray’ photographers who vastly over-shoot the same scenes, in a bid to “pray that some are ok”. They are likely to throw away a lot of photos. And you never know what was taken, so you never know what’s missing. Another thing to look out for are the ‘heavy Photoshoppers’. If a professional Wedding Photographer can show you full-sets of photos from hundreds of Weddings, in their unedited RAW format, and are proud to, then you are on the right track. If a photographer can only show handfuls of key photos from a dozen or so weddings, are they showing the full picture of their worth?
What Cameras do you use?
The industry is laden with different types, brands and styles of camera. Typically, Canon and Nikon are the most popular. But where it really matters is whether or not the actual cameras being used, are amateur, semi-pro or professional full-frame types. Cheap D-SLR cameras cannot handle getting rained on, so they may fail. They don’t hold up as well to being dropped. But more than that, they struggle to get sharp, grain-free images in dark churches, and during the Ceremony, when flash guns are banned. I use Canon EOS 5D mkIII cameras for the main shooting. They are full-frame, shoot massive RAW image files, and save to two memory cars within the camera, at the same time. So if one card fails, the other one carries on. The 5DmkII and III cameras dominate the industry, as they have full-size 35mm sensors. Big sensors means better in low light for less grain in the photo and better build quality and overall performance. I also use the latest DJI camera equipment, the Zenmuse X5S and OSMO systems, for 4K video shooting.
Do you shoot RAW?
This is so important. Any professional photographer worth their weight will NEVER shoot in JPEG mode on the camera. Many do this because they either (a) don’t want the extra responsibility of having to correct RAW image files, or (b) don’t want to have to handle 30-50 gigabytes of stored data, per Wedding. The photographer who shoots JPEG images is at a huge disadvantage. Shadows and highlights of an image cannot be recovered. So if a Bride is in a white dress in bright sunlight, and the photo is too bright when taken, there’s no “hidden image meat” in the JPEG to recover. The RAW image file does contain it, so RAW-to-JPEG tweaking can perfect the photo, before the image is rendered to a JPEG file, for easy use by the customer.
Do you have backup?
The Wedding Photographer, who does not have a second camera, is an instant no-no. What happens if that one camera fails, gets dropped, rained on, or stolen? What about if the photographer does not have more than one physical kit of camera gear (including multiple cameras, lenses and flashes, in separate kit bags)? What if someone steals their bag on Saturday and your Wedding is on Sunday? At Keylight, I have three master sets of gear, all stored separately. All in all, I have 15 or so cameras, all with different uses. If something goes wrong, I have backup. If someone were to steal my bag, I have another.
Are you insured?
This seems obvious to ask, but there is more to it than a simple “Yes I am insured”. There are two main types of Professional Photographer Insurance. The first one is the more common – ‘Public Liability Insurance’. This covers if the photographer breaks someone’s property by accident or if someone trips over their camera bag and gets injured, etc. But that’s pretty much it. What you should look for is a “Certificate of Professional Indemnity Wedding Photographer Insurance”. I have this, the top package, supplied by Photo Shield via the Master Photographer Association. The difference is, it covers the usual public liability things, but it also covers me, the cameras, the memory chips, and if I were to be critically ill, injured or kidnapped, for example, or if someone snatches the camera or memory, or if the camera or chip fail and there are issues with the photos, the insurance covers re-staging the Wedding forsake of the photos, up to £100,000 per indemnity (or per Wedding). Fortunately, in 1235 Weddings since May 1997, I have never missed a beat. Sure I’ve dropped and smashed a camera or two onto concrete floors, but the chips are fine and I have six cameras with me, so there are no problems.
What are your people-skills like?
Personality of the Wedding Photographer is everything. On the big day, they are the one person who is there from start to finish. Makeup and hair people, they come and go, so do the cars, caterers, DJs and so on. The Wedding Photographer needs to have a high level of personal skills, rapport and charisma. We’ve all been to Weddings as guests over the years, many as a kid, and I am sure we all remember photographers who take too long with the group photos, shout and moan at people and kids when they don’t do what is asked of them, get impatient and otherwise don’t come over as friendly and relaxing. I always find that the best way to get the nicest photos is to put people at ease and make them laugh.
Can I see photos on the day?
A lot of photographers don’t want to show anything to the customer until they have edited everything through Photoshop. But what I like to do, is make a ‘rush-job’ gallery of RAW images, raced through during the Wedding Breakfast, and presented on my trusty old iPad 1 (the basic screen quality model) during the Evening Reception. All the galleries of individual Weddings that are uploaded to my Keylight Facebook page are the dumps from the iPad after the Wedding. Couples can then relax, having seen their photos in their basic unedited (except for some in black and white) form, and can share these with the guests. Any true Wedding Photographer should not worry about showing unedited work, in bulk, on the day.
How cheap are you?
Beware of super-cheap or low cost Wedding Photographers. There are many who are offering £200-400 packages. But this is not enough to make for a sustainable business. Something to remember is, you are booking them far in advance of your big day. Are they going to still be in business? How can they afford to offer services so low price? Are they full or part time? Is this just a hobby? Remember, you are paying for someone who will turn up to your Wedding in 12-24 months’ time and capture the biggest day of your life. Scrimping on costs is not going to secure you the quality that you expect, regardless of portfolios shown.
How expensive are you?
Likewise, there are a lot of ultra-expensive Wedding Photographers. Many start at £1000 and go up to £2000-4000. That, to me, is extortion. Many customers are new to planning a Wedding. It’s their first time. It is easy to be indoctrinated into believing that you should have a set budget for A B C components for your day; if your Wedding is £20,000, then £2000 of that should be for photographs. I’ve always seen this as poppycock. A lot of money is made in huge profit margins for Albums and Storybooks. One key Storybook that I sell is priced at £490 with me when customers want to add them as individual purchases, on top of their chosen package (an A3 metallic 20-page Storybook). At the NEC and Ricoh National Wedding Shows, there are always 5 or so photography companies who charge £750 to a whopping £2500, for the exact same book. Shopping around gets you a great middle-ground between too cheap (unsustainable business model) and too expensive (rip off).
Obviously, I could write a lot more on this post / blog, but here are the basics for things to look out for. Happy shopping and good luck in your planning.
Thank you for taking the time to read this.
Jonathon Dow – LMPA DipPP
Master Photographer