How to Avoid Disaster When Hiring a Wedding Photographer

How to Avoid Disaster When Hiring a Wedding Photographer

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.

2. Price

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.

4. Testimonials

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.

6. Recommendations

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.

Conclusion

I'll summarize first with what I believe to be the most important checks:

  1. Ask to see multiple full wedding albums the photographer has completed.
  2. Ask to see the photographer's contract. If they don't have one, walk away.
  3. 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.

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18 Comments

michael andrew's picture

To be clear, when you say

"The average price is around $2,000, so if you're quoted far south (or far north) of that, consider it a red flag.".....

You have essentially price stamped onto the internet and anchored the number of what people should expect to pay universally everywhere for a wedding photographer and I simply dont understand why you would do that? Are wedding photographers in Calgary supposed to charge the same as those in Los Angeles or those in Tulsa Oklahoma? Does this mean 2 photographers and 2 assistants? 12 hours of coverage? Album and print credits and products included? Travel and engagement sessions bundled in there too?

You essentially just said, it costs $750 to fix your car at a mechanic, if you pay too much more or less than that it is a red flag.

Carl Murray's picture

You make a good point, but you could argue "A basic service and oil change for your average car should be around $200ish."

If you're paying $20 for a basic service with oil and filter changes, somethings wrong, and you're probably getting bad oil and poor work done. But if you pay $1000 for a basic service and oil change, something also is wrong, and it's probably you've been overcharged for blinker fluid and elbow grease.

This $200 service at a mechanic doesn't cover changing a gearbox, or working on your Ferrari. It's your basic service.

The same with wedding photography. $2000 is probably a pretty solid starting point, or thereabouts, for your average day of basic service, shooting, digital images, and a few solid edits, and colour correction. It probably won't, and shouldn't, include 2 photographers and video, and 10 canvases, and 200 prints, and 3 massive albums. Because that's a Ferraris worth of wedding garbage, and not a basic service.

Bill Wells's picture

I think that the majority of wedding photographers would strongly disagree with the way you presented this issue.

That could be a good thing in that it started a discussion. However, the bottom line is "wrong is wrong". I would recommend you correct the article and stop trying to defend erroneous position.

Carl Murray's picture

Bruh. I didn’t write the article. Why would you think I should/could correct it?

Bill Wells's picture

Sorry, It must have tagged you in my reply. I'm sure it's something I did. I'm just a husband.

While I would agree with many of the points you make, I would say that the $2000 average should be accompanied by a note saying that it depends on the market. Here in the NY/NJ area, the average for a quality wedding photographer is about double that amount. While decent photographers can be found for $2000, most of the ones in that price range are fairly inexperienced.

CJ T's picture

Er, 2000 is well below the national average for a wedding photographer. That might be the base session charge but it won't include digital files or prints which will often double that number.

The average cost as of 2014 was $2814 for a wedding photographer and I highly doubt it's went DOWN in the past 5 years lol.

https://snapknot.com/assets/new-site/photography-prices-list-8f337053ae2...

At 2000 it's either a newbie starting out (and is going to photograph your once in a lifetime wedding with cheap equipment and low skill) or you live in a place with an extremely low cost of living.

Jacques Cornell's picture

While I don't disagree, I think $2000 is a reasonable FLOOR that separates the full-timers from the Craigslist weekend warriors.

CJ T's picture

Yeah that may be a better way to phrase it. "If they're not charging at least 2 grand, major red flag it's someone who has no idea what they're doing."

Stuart Carver's picture

Dont get married... will save you loads more pain in the end.

EEEExactly! That's what I always think when I read about how IDIOTICALLY much people WASTE on their moronic weddings.

Stuart Carver's picture

I wouldnt go that far but yeah they are expensive as hell.. we can put it towards a nice house or car that is much more useful.

Jacques Cornell's picture

Good, solid article. The suggestion to see a whole album, or all the deliverables, from two or three weddings is a good one. I'd also observe that one doesn't necessarily need to be a full-time wedding pro to be a good candidate. My main gig is corporate events, and I occasionally shoot weddings when the right clients find me. I've first- or second-shot scores of weddings over my 20-year career, and my event work has built my toolbox for handling weddings well. But, I don't have the time to market in both the corporate event and wedding markets, so I focus on events. The key is that the photographer have relevant skills (action, candids, portable lighting, portraiture, etc.) AND several dozen weddings under their belt so they are intimately familiar with the logistics of wedding work.
One other question for buyers to ask: "What equipment do you bring?" I don't care if the photog has high-end gear, but if they don't have a least two bodies and several zoom and prime lenses, and multiple flashes, they're not ready for Murphy's Law and should be avoided.
Another question: "Do you have business liability insurance?" Many event venues require this in case of injury or damage. It's important both for practical reasons and also an indicator of professionalism.
And, yes, someone who doesn't have a clear and detailed contract is obviously inexperienced.
Finally, as an event shooter, I hear from a lot of folks about wedding disasters. It's depressing. But, you know, when you hire a bottom-feeder off Craigslist, you really can't expect much.

All right, I have to say something because not only that the article is written by a non-wedding photographer it's pretty obvious that you have no idea about the typical prices charged for covering a wedding by a professional. Whoever is charging $2000 for a wedding, living in a big city has no way to make a living and grow as a professional. You make a big assumption when you say that if it's way over $2000 it's a red flag... You just create a disservice to both your fellow photographers and engaged people that might read this article. I would expect this from someone that knows a little bit about the industry but not from someone that "ranks higher in industry understanding" Honestly, I don't think you know what you are talking about when it comes to pricing, maybe you should attend some wedding photography workshops or some FB groups at least you can learn a little bit about the price trends in the wedding photography industry but only if you want to learn so you can write articles that help...

Stuart Carver's picture

Isnt it funny how there is a whole article here about wedding photography and the only thing people are complaining about is the money side of the article... says a whole lot to me.

CJ T's picture

Because it's the part that's wrong.

If I wrote an article about how to change a car tire and told my readers "you only need 1 lug nut when putting your tire back on, the rest are just backups", I'm going to get a heck of a lot of mechanics chiming in telling me I'm giving factually inaccurate information and may lead to someone's death.

Obviously that's a more extreme example but it makes the point. Most of this IS good advice and it's stuff I tell my own friends and family now that I've stepped away from shooting weddings. But there's not a wedding photographer in my state that's worth their salt that you're going to get for that price. Not unless it's a courthouse wedding on a thursday or some other extreme circumstance to make it that cheap.

Stuart Carver's picture

Yes and my point is... all people care about is the money.

I dont know where you live but paying £1500 for a wedding photographer in the UK is a normal price, you aren't getting a poor one for that.

Stuart Carver's picture

Just to add, your image above only relates to 'Major US Cities' which is a massively misleading piece of information. Thats like me getting a UK average of the price based on what people in Central London and Edinburgh charge.