101 for marrieds-to-be. Part 2: I’ve found a potential photographer, what questions should I be asking?

Hello! And welcome to part 2 of my 101 guide for finding your wedding photographer. At this stage you should have found a few potential wedding photographers and be in the process of meeting them for a consultation. If not, back pedal to part 1, which can be found here.

This section will cover the common and perhaps some not so common questions that you could ask yourself and/or your photographer. Hopefully by being aware of these various questions, you can decrease your chances of being caught out by a cowboy wedding photographer, and increase your chances of finding a photographer you're really happy with. 

It is a really very long article, so what I would advise is scrolling down to look at the headings/questions which are in teal/bold and reading what's relevant to you. If I work out how to put in some quick jump menu... I will add it in, until then sadly, you're on your own!

Anyway that's enough intro, let's just plunge straight in there with the questions...

What should I expect from their portfolio?

This is the easiest but the most important way to minimise your risk of getting a cowboy, and also one of the reasons I advise to meet your photographer before booking. Remember, what photographers put on their website will be a selection from their favourites, so you won't really see a "full real wedding", it would make the site look messy. Sometimes, if you email the photographer, they will be happy to send you a gallery of a full real wedding, if they refuse to do this, just be a bit cautious. Whether it's online or in person, every wedding photographer who is charging you £300+ should be able to produce at least one full wedding as an example. You want to be able to see this so that you can check that their photos are decent in all lighting conditions and situations. For example, if their website only contains posed couple shots and ring shots in the daytime, it would make me question "what are they like for the darker evening shots?" and "can they take a clear shot when people are moving?". If they're advertised as a traditional or fine art photographer, you may well see more posed shots because that's the style, so I'm not saying it's a bad thing, but just make sure you see a full example of what a couple really received to get a true idea of what YOU will receive.

Another reason for asking for a full "real" wedding is because some photos will be staged photoshoots with models, and this is not a true reflection of how they will perform on the day. A real wedding is dynamic and fast paced, and very different to a set up photoshoot. So yes, ask for an example of a full real wedding, and preferable for several examples to see how they shoot in different weather conditions. The exception to this rule is if they're new/a student photographer, who should ideally be charging sub £300ish unless they happen to be exceptionally skilled or have a lot of experience in other forms of photography. Even if they're a great portrait photographer, again a real wedding is a different ball game, so they need to be able to shoot moving people just as well. There's nothing wrong with risking it on a student photographer as they can sometimes be more talented than some who claim to be experienced professionals, but to pick a gem you might need to have a decent eye for photography.

How many weddings have they shot?

Again, this is something where there's no right or wrong answer, but it's something to be aware of. Generally, obviously more weddings= better, but you can get someone who has shot one wedding and is very talented, and another who has shot 10 but whose work is a bit shoddy. What I would say is compare the different number of weddings and the quality of photos and see how they match up. If someone who has shot a handful of weddings already looks better than someone who has shot 20, then why would you want togo with the latter? Also, this should give you an idea about pricing, and where cowboys are lurking. If someone has shot 3 weddings but wants to charge you £1.5k+, unless their work looks absolutely amazing and they have the portfolio to prove it, I would be cautious about their intentions to make a quick buck. This brings me to the next point...

How do I know they're a good photographer?

Everyone's style is different, so the style or editing finish is more of a subjective opinion, namely your opinion of what feels "good". However, there are a few universal things that photographers of all styles should be able to do which are:

  • Things shouldn't be blurry. The exception to this is motion blur, which can be intentional for creative effect. A real no no is blurry inanimate objects. If they can't take a photo of something still to be still, I would be deeply concerned (example to follow soon)
  • Things shouldn't be out of focus. There is a difference between intentional/stylish selective focus like bokeh/creative composition, and something where the background is in focus and the subject that your attention is supposed to be drawn to is out of focus. (example to follow soon)

Notice I haven't mentioned about over and under exposure, this is because sometimes creatively to create a certain mood, photos can be intentionally bright or dark, and nowadays in moden photography, people are pushing the boundaries where photos aren't just about "correct exposure". You can tell what's intentional off exposure and just poor quality because the lighting works for the photo or style of wedding. If it looks like a sunny outdoors shot that seems really dull/underexposed in colour, then that might be more of a sign of poor quality editing.

What equipment will they be bringing? With perhaps the exception of new student photographers in the budget market, you could expect/hope your photographer has at least a semi professional body, a flash gun of some sort (if they're shooting into the evening), spare batteries and spare memory cards. I've seen some great work on one lens, but this is kind of rare. Generally most will have one wide angle and one for more zoomed in shots. The ideal camera for them to have will be what's called a "full frame" camera, this is just a professional standard camera which performs better in low light than some of the consumer or pro-sumer ones you find for around £500. It might be worth asking them what type of camera they have and whether it's a full frame. Crop cameras are still fine, but they would definitely need a flash gun for the evening shots in combination with the crop camera, otherwise the photos might have a "grainy" look to them (sometimes grainyness is creatively added, especially for black and white or vintage effect, see if the grain looks like it adds to the photo effect).

What are their contingency plans?

Make sure you ask them what contingency plans they have in place with regards to these things:

  • what happens if a memory card fails/breaks/gets lost
  • what happens if they drop a camera on the day
  • what if they're ill

You kind of want to know not only what their answer is, but that they've thought of one. You should expect that the photographer has at least considered what they'd do in these scenarios rather than "errm, we'll just see what happens", which doesn't sound like they really care as much as they should. Memory cards for professional cameras rarely fail, but you might want to see what measures they have in place to reduce the risk of it being lost, i.e. don't hire the guy who put the memory cards in his wallet, went on a night out, got pissed and lost his wallet and ALL their wedding photos (true story- what an idiot). You hope that they will say they back up the photos as soon as they get home. Also, you want to hope that they come with back up equipment, so if they drop a camera or a lens, they'll just pick up their next camera and carry on. Notably, ask what the back up equipment is, because if they drop their full frame professional camera and only have a £500 beginner camera as back up, your photos will be taken on a beginner camera and the quality in the photos just wpn't be the same. If they have a back up camera you want it ideally to be the same level as the first camera.

If a photographer becomes suddenly ill just before your wedding, you want to know that they have colleagues or friends or a similar standard who can step in, so also ask what kind of societies or networks they are attached to.

For newer photographers/students, it's understandable that they might not have the money to invest in their business yet and might only have one camera on the day. This is fine, but just be aware of the small risk there.

Can we keep the RAW files?

Sometimes couples ask or are surprised when they can't keep the "digital negatives" or RAW files. Most wedding photographers will shoot in this format called RAW, then edit them into .jpg and you will usually receive .jpgs. This is pretty standard, and most wedding photographers won't give you RAW files for reasons that might be:

  • It would be like showing you all the rough sketches before the final drawing
  • We would not want to encourage clients to start doing their own editing on our photos, it will often breach copyright
  • A client can't print or do anything with a RAW anyway, it will only open in select creative programs like Photoshop.

To be honest, there's no real reason you should need the RAWs, they will often view their photos as their work and it's associated with their name. Some worry that a client will do a poor quality edit, and that the photo will then be linked back to their name. You should just trust that your photographer will get all the best shots needed and that they will edit it in a way that you're happy with so no further work will be needed, if you don't feel this way about your photographer, it's probably a sign that they aren't right for you.

Will they need to view the venue?

Sometimes a photographer might offer to do a venue visit, and it will help them be prepared on the day. Having said that I've seen photographers who never do site visits, but they're skilled enough to rock up and cope with any scenario. So it's not a necessity and might be more important when you want a lot of posed work in a certain location, I would not be put off or more attracted to a photographer either way based on this.

Do they have any references/testimonials?

It might be worth asking your potential photographer whether they have any references or testimonials that they can show you from past clients (again this wouldn't apply to new/student photographers). It's not so much about what the testimonials say, as they will always be nice, but whether the photographer has any to produce. If they say they've shot 50 weddings, but don't have a single testimonial, I might feel a bit cautious as to why this is. Although not every couple volunteers to write a testimonial, which might be simply because it doesn't occur to them, you can expect there to at least be a handful. Conversely, if the photographer seems to be able to produce a testimonial for every single wedding, I would question whether they have been asking their couple for testimonials, which isn't ideal as it might not be a true review. So, ideally you want there to be a few they can show you, but perhaps be suspicious if it looks like they've pushed their past clients for a testimonial.

How many should we meet with before deciding?

Sometimes people worry that they haven't seen enough photographers before making their decision, but in reality you could see five photographers with none of them being right for you. So, it's not so much about a number, but more a question of how many do you see before finding one you really really love. If you value your wedding photos, don't settle for a photographer you're a bit wobbly about, hold out for one that you really feel you like the photos of.

How much deposit could I pay and how does payment usually work?

The deposit could be anything from 5% to 50% or more, this really varies with each photographer. Photographers also vary in whether they like to take a deposit, and then the balance is due before the wedding, or the balance is due after the wedding. There's no real right or wrong but you might want to ask about how each photographer does it and judge whether you're comfortable with it. For example, personally I would very uncomfortable paying a newish photographer the full balance before a wedding, whereas I wouldn't mind paying the full balance for a well respected and established photographer. For my own business I don't ask couples for the balance until after they've seen proofs of their edited final images, this is just something I choose to do to establish a connection of trust and because I work to expect the couple to be happy with their photos. I kind of naively thought that this would make sense to most businesses, but a few couples have told me they found this was quite rare and an unexpected surprise. I have seen situations where people have paid in full, had their photographer wobbles but felt locked in because they can't get their money back. If I had a client who had changed their mind about wanting me, I'd prefer to let them walk away rather than hold them ransom because I wouldn't want to run that risk of them being unhappy with the photos which they will have for life.

Do they have insurance?

Some new photographers might not have this, but any full time or part time professional should have three types of insurance.

  • Kit insurance- you want to know that if they break their camera  few days before your wedding, they're able to get a replacement regardless of how their personal bank balance looks
  • Public liability insurance- this covers everyone if Auntie Joan accidentally trips over their camera bag
  • Professional Indemnity insurance- this covers them in case they get sued for not fulfilling their contract
Now, why do these matter to you, the client? They matter because if a month before your wedding, an uninsured photographer gets sued and goes bankrupt, you would suddenly find yourself with an out-of-business photographer.

Do they need to have qualifications?

Qualifications used to be a very big deal, but as sad as it sounds, not necessary nowadays. There's plenty of self taught photographers kicking around who have great skills, and likewise there are some self taught photographers who could do with attending a photography course. What I would say is don't be blinded by having "I have X Y and Z qualification" thrown at you, just judge them by their photos. I've seen some people who a photography qualification who call themselves professional on their site, but who still produce technically questionable work, and don't conduct themselves professionally.

Similarly, there are some societies and professional bodies where all they need to get an impressive membership banner for their site is to pay a yearly fee, it doesn't really reflect anything that's useful for you as a client. Conversely, there's some licentiate professional bodies where a great professional standard is upheld and to obtain the licentiateship, the photographer has to meet a certain quality and make certain commitments, which is great! It means you can expect they will give you a great service, an if not, you have some higher power you can take your case to as they have a reputation to uphold. It's worth asking your photographer what they belong to and making a note to search for it on the Internet later. Look for the "how to join" sections on the website to get an idea of what a membership to that society or organisation really means.

Do I need to get along with them?

It's not a necessity, but it does help. In general I would say yes, try and find a photographer you feel comfortable with, especially for the bride as during bridal prep you'll be with them in a room and you might be getting dressed/having a tantrum etc. The photographer will be there being involved in something that's an intimate and important day for you, so you really want to feel happy to have them there and feel confident that they'll fit in nicely. It'll make for a nicer experience overall.

How long will it take until I get my album/photos?

This will vary depending on what you're getting out of your package, in general if you're getting images only on discs/USBs, you can expect it to take a shorter amount of time. If you're getting a custom made album, factor in the time it takes for you to select your photos, for the photographer to send them off and for the album service to return the album. Broadly speaking, photographers seem to say they take between 3-6 weeks to return edited photos if it's a disc only service. It is dependent on how many weddings they take on, if someone tells you it'd take them 4 months to get images only on disc back to you, it might indicate that they've taken on too much work.

Will I need to feed them?

This varies between photographers, some might include a meal request in their contracts, others might request it more informally, and some might love their packed lunch. I've included this question simply because one time I saw a bride mention that she was considering not hiring a photographer because they had a meal request in their contract, so just to be clear, it's not unusual for it to be written into the contract. Either way, please be nice to your photographer and allow them that break during your meal if they're shooting a full day. We know that other suppliers don't get fed, but we will potentially have started working from 9am and be with you right until 10pm, and we're only human!

How long will they stay until/what kind of coverage do they provide? This varies between photographers but it is another great way to get flexible with your budget and get that photographer you really really love. If you find THE perfect one, but they're a bit out of your price range, you can try and squeeze the hours down for how long you want to hire them for, and they may well compromise and meet your budget. However, you might also find that you don't want to lose the full coverage of the day and prefer to look elsewhere, that's fine as well, it's just worth knowing you have the options. Photographers will usually offer their packages in ways like these:
  • Full day/half day packages- make sure you define what full and half days are.
  • 8 hours/4 hours- this can sometimes mean you can choose what you want covered, maybe just the ceremony and the evening reception, or the bridal prep and ceremony only.
  • Bridal prep to the first dance/cake cutting etc.- sometimes photographers will name their packages based on what events of your wedding they cover, so they'll stay until events X Y and Z have been photographed.
Think about what you want out of the day, and use it to your advantage if you need to haggle.

What kind of packages are there?

Ok, there's two varying aspects of a wedding photographer's package that will be important for you: the images, and the outputs.

The images: How many do you get, are you allowed to share them with friends and family, can you print them yourself? These things will vary between photographers, you can get those who offer a package of unlimited images on discs, or those who offer a maximum of 200 images etc. etc. There's no right or wrong, but it's worth asking what exactly do you get for your money. Note that you want to make sure the images are hi res a.k.a high resolution, as this is what you need to print from. Low resolution images are only appropriate for web use and FB. How do you know you have hi res images? Check the file size, it should be around 10MB+, it varies when it's black and white and colour, but mine are all around 13MB. If you're getting files around 1MB, that's low resolution and won't translate that well to print.

The outputs: Discs/USBs/photobooks a.k.a story books/prints in presentation boxes/mounted prints. Again, no right or wrong here, just worth considering what you want. Disc/USB only will be cheaper than books and prints, so if you're looking to cut costs, it might be better to aim for something like the former and sort out your own books and prints. However, the professional quality photobooks and prints can often only be bought through professional photographers (as the companies sometimes don't sell to the general public), so if you're wanting professional quality prints, make sure it's included in your package.

Just a quick note here regarding photobooks as people tend to not know how much a photobook can cost. The consumer photobooks provided by companies like Photobox can range from £5 to £100. However, the professional photobooks you will be offered by your wedding photographer have a better quality of paper and printing. The cheapest professional photobooks can start from around £200 and Queensbury, one of the more high end companies start their albums from £600. So, when a photographer quotes you for a photobook, they will usually be charging you for the face cost of the album, but also their time for putting it together, which is understandable as it does take them time to create the album.

What happens to my photos after the wedding? Why am I being charged £1000 for a day's work?

Another thing that's worth understanding, is that very rarely do the photos you end up with look the same as what's come straight out of the camera. Almost every photographer will do various levels of editing, and their work doesn't stop on the wedding day, they will often be editing for hours and days whilst you're on your honeymoon. I was surprised to learn not everyone knows this, so I feel it's worth saying! With regards to the whole "wedding photography is overpriced" thing, I echo my sentiment from Part 1. For a full time photographer to not be homeless, they need to be charging around £1k+ per wedding. They have things to cover like overheads, and wedding photographers are restricted to largely working as many weekends as there exists in a year, perhaps with a few weekday weddings thrown in. They put time and money in before you've even met them, into their advertising, consultations etc., and then time after into their editing and the outputs.

What are the different copyright situations?

Disclaimer: I'm no lawyer, but from my general understanding... By UK law, the copyright  automatically remains with the photographer. Sometimes you can fully "buy" the copyright off the photographer but this is rare and very pricey, and I think would only be necessary if you really wanted to lock down the privacy of your photos. If the photographer is allowing you to print and share, it means they have the copyright but are giving you a royalty free licence, i.e. you can use it for personal things like printing and sharing but you can't a) make commercial gain (money) off it, or b) pretend it's your own work. If you're being sold a photobook/prints only and your friends and family and encouraged to buy prints directly from the photographer, it means you don't have the copyrights and you should not start scanning your prints and passing it around as you might be in breach of your contract. Every photographer works differently about this, so just make sure you ask each photographer specifically how they work their copyright and check it in the contract.

WOAH, congratulations for reading all of that! I hope it helped and that you now feel more knowledge-equipped to find your wedding photographer!

Disclaimer: Please remember that all of the above aren't hard and fast rules, it's more of a starting guideline and based on my own experiences and opinions. Everyone will experience things differently. Also, if anyone thinks of any important questions I've missed off, please feel free to contact me through my website.

For those of you who couldn't bring yourself to read all of that and have scrolled to the bottom (naughty), here's a summary of the essentials:

  • Ask to see a full real wedding
  • Ask how many weddings they've shot and make sure it matches with their price
  • Ask about contingency plans and insurance (back up equipment/what if a volcano erupts)
  • Ask exactly what you get for your money- how many images/how will the images be sent to you
  • Ask what your rights are for using the images
  • Ask how long it will take to get your photos back
  • Ask how they want to be paid and in what time frame

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