When you reach the point of having one of the most momentous occasions of your life captured, there's little room for error. Here are some tips on how to avoid hiring the wrong photographer.
I'll start by saying this article probably isn't for you professional photographers out there. It's for anyone who is a little unsure how you go about selecting a wedding photographer.
I've worked in the industry for some time now, and I know my way around. I've photographed everything from welders and watches to weddings and wildlife. As a result, people who know me, be they my closest friends or distant acquaintances, ask me for advice when it comes to photographers. Generally, that's not a common question, but when people are about to get married, they seek this advice. I always offer similar tips on how they can avoid disappointment, or worse, disaster. It's not an infallible system, but I'm quite confident it would avoid the wealth of horror shows you see on social media daily, like this one we posted earlier this week.
It's worth noting that I'm not a wedding photographer per se. I do shoot weddings a few times per year — including a high-pressure wedding with A-listers — by an almost "application only" selection process, but I consider myself to be neither the best, nor the most experienced. However, what I do rank higher on is industry understanding. By being editor here at Fstoppers, a commercial photographer, and a writer, photography is my life. I also review a great many portfolios and consume an ungodly amount of content. This knowledge helps me to identify warning signs that could easily be missed by people with a less intimate relationship with photography. Here are some of my fundamental suggestions for making the right call when hiring a wedding photographer.
1. Misleading Portfolios
Portfolios are a complicated area. Everyone has an opinion on how they should look and function and what ought to be displayed. However, the information contained in a portfolio is often far more than just the words and pictures. When you look at a photographer's website with a view to booking them for your wedding, you're primarily trying to gauge if you like their work and if their style suits your aspirations for your big day's images. But that alone is not enough in avoiding a bad photographer. The scale of deception ranges from honestly misleading through to outright fraud. Be aware, both can result in far from ideal photographs. The former might be a few cherry-picked "good" images that are extremely rare for the photographer. The latter might be stolen images from another photographer.
So what should you do? Firstly, you want to see full wedding albums they have already completed. A portfolio is a selection of their best shots, but you need to see the complete range. You need to see their average standard of image and whether you'd be happy with it and judge them based on that. This also should bypass any chance of stolen work. I would request to see more than one, and make sure they're reasonably recent.
I hesitate to say "you get what you pay for" as it's not a universal truth, but it's not far off. Time and time again, you see social media outrage from brides who "paid $600" for a photographer who turned out to be unreliable or of little talent. Well, yes, that's predictable. You might get lucky with a photographer just starting out who doesn't know what to charge but is otherwise very good at what they do, but that's highly unlikely. The average price is around $2,000, so if you're quoted far south (or far north) of that, consider it a red flag.
3. Social Media
I'm not a lover of social media these days and I can fully understand people who avoid it, but it can be a useful litmus test of photographers. Check to see if they have a Facebook page, Instagram, Flickr, and so on and if they tend to it regularly. The follower count isn't really relevant, it's more a verification of who they are, what they do, and that what they say they have done in the past is correct. Most full-time wedding photographers post sneak previews to the elation of wedding guests, so you get both evidence for their standard of work and some proof that they are serving real clients.
Testimonials are so easily faked that they border on pointless. I would almost always disregard them unless they tick a number of boxes. You want to make sure it's attached to a real wedding (and ideally see the images from that wedding). You want to check if they're a family member or friend of the photographer. You want to check the volume of testimonials; if there are lots of reviews on their Facebook page or Google, that's often a reasonably good sign. Generally, however, don't be drawn in by a few flattering sentences here and there.
5. Contracts and Contingency
If the photographer doesn't have a contract, walk away immediately. No wedding photographer worth their salt would not have a contract for you to sign when you want to book them. It's also worth asking about contingency plans if the worst were to happen. Most of this should be in the contract, but if, for example, they have a photographer who acts as backup if they're indisposed on the day, it's good to know. Reliability is everything with wedding photographers, and anyone who seems flighty or disorganized ought to be avoided.
If someone you know had beautiful wedding images taken, ask them for the photographer's details, and whether they would recommend them. Being able to talk to a past client of a photographer you're looking to hire is powerful and can give you insight into how they are on the day. If that past client is someone you know and trust, all the better. If this is possible, it still shouldn't be in lieu of the other checks, but rather a stronger starting point.
I'll summarize first with what I believe to be the most important checks:
- Ask to see multiple full wedding albums the photographer has completed.
- Ask to see the photographer's contract. If they don't have one, walk away.
- Do your best to verify the photographer by thoroughly researching them and their presence online.
As I mentioned early on in this article, this method isn't infallible. However, if you go about doing these checks, you significantly reduce the chance of having one of those horror stories where the photographer doesn't show up, doesn't deliver images, delivers horrendously inadequate images, gets drunk, or so on.
Fstoppers has a strong community of professional photographers, many of whom are in the wedding game. So, now is your time: what advice would you give a future bride and groom to help them pick the right photographer? Share in the comments below.