101 for marrieds-to-be. Part 1: How do I find my wedding photographer?

101 for marrieds-to-be. Part 1: How do I find my wedding photographer?

Let me just start by saying if you're reading this article, I can only assume that you're a recently engaged bride-to-be or husband-to-be-who's-been-made-by-their-fiance-to-help-with-the-planning, so congratulations to you both! You're on a mission to find your wedding photographer and you don't know where to start. Here are the four things I'm about to cover:

  1. Have you booked your venue and secured a date?
  2. Choosing your wedding photography style
  3. How much should I expect to pay for a wedding photographer?
  4. Now you know your style and budget, how do you start your search!?

(Can you tell I started to get delirious towards the end of writing this?)

The reason why I'm writing this 101 guide is because on wedding forums, I notice people keep asking the same questions again and again. This tells me that there's just not a source of information out there which really breaks it down for engaged couples. Also, it's just so heartbreaking when someone tells a story about how they were disappointed with their photographer, how their photographer bailed, how they were tricked into paying for shoddy work etc. I'm hoping that by writing this mini-series of articles, it will help engaged couples really stay informed when looking for a photographer. Hopefully this way, the chances of finding the right photographer for you will be increased, and the chances of hiring a horrid cowboy looking to make a quick buck will be decreased (how to spot a cowboy will be in part 2).

Now let's just get stuck straight in with the first task. This first task applies to wedding planning in general, and most wedding suppliers will probably ask you this:

1. Have you booked your venue and secured a date? 

Without a fixed date, most suppliers will tell you that you ought to get that sorted first, simply because without a date, we can't tell you whether we're available or not! So task numero uno= get your date sorted.

OK, some of you might already have task 1 sorted. If so, the next thing you want to consider is what style of photography you want. Note I've said nothing about the price yet (oh wait I just did!). There are several reasons why I really really advise focusing on the photography style before the price:

Why you should choose photography style over price

In wedding forum polls, the most frequently regretted service that married couples wish they'd spent more on was their photos. Therefore, you might not want to set yourself a hard hard budget line, and instead be prepared to be a little flexible with your budget by compromising on whether you want a photobook or how many hours you want in the day. If you find your perfect wedding photographer, but they're a shade over budget, it might be worth the short term stretch for a long term benefit.

Image

Your wedding photos are something you'll have for the rest of your life, and often people forget that once the dress has been ebayed and the cake scoffed, the photos are what you can show your kids and their kids after...

My point is, the one thing you DON'T want is to feel disappointed with your photos and searching by budget rather than searching by style means you're more likely to end up facing this issue. I will address wedding photography budget as task 3.

2. Choosing your wedding photography style

In general there are three main styles kicking around:

Traditional- This is usually characterised by posed group formals, and the ring shots with one hand over the other, a photo of you signing the registry, a full length of you in your wedding dress etc. etc. You will probably be asked to pose for the cutting of the cake photos, in general expect to be directed. If you want to look nice for the camera and have no surprises, this is the kind of photographer for you. Here is an example of a posed shot that is similar to what you might get in traditional photography (as posed as I get anyway!):

untitled-5314

Documentary- This can go under various a.k.a.s, namely reportage/photojournalistic/candid wedding photography. This style is characterised by minimal interference of the wedding photographer, they will tend to capture events candidly from the sidelines. If you want your wedding photos to tell a raw and real account of the day this is the style for you. Here is an example of a more photojournalistic style photo:

untitled-4741

Fine art/fashion- This kind of wedding photography takes (as its name suggests) its influence from high end fashion magazines, the shots tend to be posed and the level of editing and airbrushing is much higher and dramatic. If you want to look glamorous and Vogue on your wedding day, this is the type of photographer for you.

After this, you might find people describe themselves as a fusion or mix of one of the three styles above. This simply means they offer a little bit of two styles. I call myself a documentary wedding photographer because I have a strong preference for candid work. However, in reality I am a documentary/traditional mix because I do still provide group formals when requested.

There are also different ways wedding photographers can edit or 'finish' the photos. At the time of writing this, the current trend is for a vintage, soft finish. Past editing trends include white haze edge and selective colour pop. Some will opt for something quite natural, whereas others will go for a high sat (bright) colour look. There's no better or worse creative finish really, this comes down more to your personal taste. Here's a quick not-necessarily-great-but-gives-you-an-idea example of some different creative finishes:

composite Top left: Natural (straight out of the camera) Top right: Exaggerated vintage effect (vintage usually= grey/light haze) Middle left: High Saturation Middle right: White vignette Bottom left: Black vignette Bottom right: My style!

This creative 'finish' or 'editing style' is a different animal from photoshopping. If you want something in particular photoshopped, it is definitely worth bringing this up with your wedding photographer at the time of consultation, as sometimes there is an extra charge for this. The only wedding photography style where you could safely assume the photoshopping will be included in the price is the fine art/fashion style.

Of course it's just reality that everyone will have a limiting budget, which leads me to my next task, once I know what type of photography style I want, how much should I expect to pay for a wedding photographer?

3. How much should I expect to pay for a wedding photographer?

The next step in looking for a wedding photographer is deciding what your budget will be. Often people ask: "How much should a wedding photographer cost?". This is the same question as "How long is a piece of string", so bear in mind this is not an exact science, but roughly the string looks like this:

£0-£500- This is usually considered the budget market and usually photographers can be gained in this price range for a very limited number of prints/images or a small photobook. Photographers in this price bracket will usually be either

a) inexperienced/new and looking to build their portfolio (nothing wrong with this but something to be aware of when making your decision) or

b) supplementing their wedding photography work with other work.

This reason why I say the latter is because for a full time wedding photographer to cover their overheads and earn more than a McDonald's fry cook, they need to be charging roughly £1000+ (depending on where they live). People never seem to really understand this and get very shocked at photographer prices, but realistically, people are supporting their families and often weddings are stacked into the weekends, so technically if a photographer shoots one wedding a weekend (which doesn't necessarily happen)... you do the maths.

£500-£1000- This might be indicative of a photographer with a decent level of experience, but who might still be paying their bills from work elsewhere. For this price range, you can expect a decent sized photobook, and sometimes get a decent number (300 photos should provide adequate coverage) of photos on a disc or USB. This is the kind of price bracket where if you find the right style, you can really strike a bargain gem.

£1000-£2000- Most people don't realise this but most full time wedding photographers are in this region. You should expect a good service and good quality photos, perhaps a decent paid second shooter towards the higher end. Again, a decent photobook might be included in this price bracket, or the rights to print and share your images on disc. As previously stated, a full time wedding photographer needs to be charging this amount to live.  A full time wedding photographer can provide more peace of mind. They will usually/should be fully insured, belong to professional bodies which mean they need to conduct their business to a certain standard, have professional back up equipment etc.

£2000+- A very experienced and what you would expect to pay for an award winning/stand out wedding photographer. However, to put it in context...

Some of the world's top 10 wedding photographers charge around £5-£6k, so once you're above the £2000/£2500 region, I'm assuming that you already know your stuff and have a big name in mind!

Please remember these price bracket guidelines are very rough and going on the assumption that people are pricing themselves honestly. Please also bear in mind that there are cowboys out there who will charge £1.5k for a quick buck, with little experience under their belt. Don't worry, there's questions you can ask which should send these cowboys running, this will be covered in part 2. My last caveat is that people WILL differ, so don't take it as a hard and fast guideline, I've simply written those descriptions because sometimes people assume the average photographer is £200 when in reality the industry standard for full time wedding photographers is around £1500.

So, your budget will be defined by your living means, but also possibly by how much value you place on your photography, and also what "outputs" (i.e photobooks, images only, prints etc.) you want out of it. However, the outputs are something you can be flexible with. The key two things you'll need for your search are the style and your budget range, which brings us to the next stage...

4. Now you know your style and budget, how do you start your search!?

Hurrah! You've made it this far! Here are several places where you could find your wedding photographer:

  • Wedding fairs
  • Internet
  • Wedding magazines
  • Local adverts

Wedding fairs and the Internet are the biggies. Your local wedding fair will have a range of suppliers and usually you can go along to these and see what's on offer in your local area. However, I definitely favour the Internet as the number one resource. This is the easiest way to find a lot of photographers without limiting yourself to your local suppliers, thus making it more likely that you find someone that really suits you, rather than compromising for the nearest but not dearest.

When using the Internet, here is the kind search term formula you could use:

Style + (Budget) + (Area) + wedding photographer

E.g. Budget documentary wedding photographer London

  • Style- e.g. documentary/reportage/traditional/fine art/vintage/modern/contemporary etc.
  • Budget- e.g. under 500/under 1000/budget/affordable/student (NB only bother using the budget search terms if you are actually on a budget that's under £1000. If you can afford between 1-2k, don't use any words to indicate your budget as you'd be losing a lot of good potential photographers)
  • Area- e.g. Your city/town/South/North/Midlands etc. (NB Start by searching your town, but if there's not much coming up, cast the net wider to your region or county. Although you don't want to restrict yourself to just your town, you do want a photographer who is within travelling distance, otherwise you might end up footing a massive travel bill). 
Another thing that's useful are wedding suppler directories. They can really help you save time by providing lists and lists of photographers, and sometimes they let you search by budget, style and area. Here are a list of some of the ones I use (all UK based):

Similarly, there are now A LOT of wedding blogs kicking around, and often they will have a supplier's section. They tend to be trend based as this is how they keep their readership, and therefore you're more likely to find modern styles only here, so it's not really for the traditionalist. Here are some of the bigger ones:

Once you've found a few that meet your criteria of style and budget, look to arrange a consultation with them. Meeting your wedding photographer before booking is pretty essential to minimise the risk of finding out on your big day that they're a dragon/horrible meanie/seriously unprofessional. Once you have a consultation booked in, there's several questions you will want to be asking them, all of which will be covered in Part 2 of my 101 of wedding photographers for marrieds-to-be. Part 2 will cover things like:

  • Questions to ask at a consultation
  • What might be in the contracts
  • Different types of packages
  • What should you expect from your photographer

(Part 2 Coming Soon!)

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