The One Thing You Should Always Ask Before Hiring Your Wedding Photographer

The One Thing You Should Always Ask Before Hiring Your Wedding Photographer

It's that time of year! Lots of wedding proposals took place over Christmas and New Year's so couples are now on the hunt for a great venue and team of vendors for their special day. There are many websites and Pinterest boards that like to give advice to brides on what to look for when hiring their wedding photographer. But your decision can be really be based on one question that I wish more clients would ask but often do not. 

Here's the question you want to ask.

Can you send me a link to a full gallery from a wedding?

That's all there is to it. One simple question that will tell you more about your wedding photographer than any other. At the end of the day you will want to know if they can perform from start to finish. Often wedding photographers are chosen based solely from their portfolio featured on their website or the photos shared on their blog. But let's look at the numbers. 

Typical blog post = 30 photos
Typical amount of photos delivered for a wedding = 750 photos
Percentage of photos featured on the blog that were delivered to the clients from the wedding day = 4%

Typical wedding photographer website gallery = 50 photos
Typical amount of photos taken during the year by active working photographer = 50,000
Percentage of photos on their website versus photos taken during year = 0.1%

Yes you are seeing that correct. Just 1/10th of 1%. The photos on their website are really just a very tiny fraction of what the photographer is shooting throughout the year and a blog post is only featuring approximately 4% of the entire wedding.

Wouldn't it be important to see the other 96%?

Looking through an entire wedding gallery will also help you understand if the photographer can handle shooting photos both indoors and outdoors. Some photographers are very good at shooting with natural light, others that might have been studio trained are great with indoor controlled lighting. However a fantastic wedding photographer is someone that can handle any lighting scenario that is tossed at them. If you paid extra money for beautiful uplighting during your reception you want a photographer that can capture the fun of the party while also showing off the room ambient. 

By looking through an entire wedding gallery you can also compare the photographers work to other photographers you are considering for the job. Not all weddings are necessarily created equal, some more elaborate than others and the photos might show that so be sure to not be swayed by the wedding decorations. In other words focus on the photos not the decor. 

These days many professional wedding photographers use the cloud to deliver photos through innovative online galleries such as Pixieset (which is what I use), ShootProof, Zenfolio, SmugMug, and Instaproofs. By asking to see a full wedding gallery you can also get an idea of how those services look. While there are other ways of delivering files online such as Dropbox, the services mentioned above are especially designed for photographers to share photos with their clients and make the experience much more enjoyable. 

In conclusion, while there are other important questions to ask a photographer before investing in them the most important one in my opinion is to see a full gallery from a wedding. Looking through their portfolio or blog is nice and might give you some ideas if their style is the kind you like. But choosing a photographer from photos based on less than 1/10th of 1% of the photos they shot during the year would be like judging a book by it's cover.


Trevor Dayley's picture

Trevor Dayley ( was named as one of the Top 100 Wedding Photographers in the US in 2014 by Brandsmash. His award-winning wedding photos have been published in numerous places including Grace Ormonde. He and his wife have been married for 15 years and together they have six kids.

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I like the question.

There is one question as important if not more important, can you send me references? From personal experience I have view a portfolio as just getting your foot in the door. Portfolios are not the deciding factor for hiring with me. And for the Bonus question Can you shoot manually?

i like the addition of asking for references but the "can you shoot manually" is an irrelevant question. Tons of photographers shoot aperture priority because of how fast paced a wedding day can be and the changing light conditions. in addition, shooting manually just means you have a basic understanding of how exposure works, it does not mean you know how to use it.

I use auto settings, so really I not saying aperture priority or any camera mode is wrong, but I will not hire someone who can not shoot manually. Why you ask? Because there are times auto settings do not work.

I am going to say something old school people will not like. If a photographer does not understand the relationship between f/stops, shutter speeds and ISO then they have no business calling themselves a professional photographers. Which goes under shooting manually.

This one of the first things you learn in any basic photo 1a course.

Photos and client referrals are pretty accurate. Asking someone if they use a certain mode on his camera can easily be faked.

Trust me I can ask a few simple questions on exposure. If they can't answer them on the spot, and they are simple questions, then they can't shoot manually.

I would guess your answer to the "do you shoot manually?" would sound something as basic as this... "I do, when appropriate." As Jason Vinson implies with Aperture Priority so good and efficient with the fast pace of weddings, why would you want to have one arm tied behind your back by shooting manually all the time? We shoot manually for most receptions, with off camera lighting, where the lighting is pretty consistent. I should also mention that most of our weddings are outside (in Colorado). If we shot more church weddings, then we would probably shoot manually more often (along with off camera strobes for ceremonies), than our exterior weddings.

You hit my point perfectly.

I don't think a client would know the difference between manual or any other mode on your camera. If a client asked me that I would assume he or she was a photographer. However I do believe having current references is important.

I am old school. If a photographer does not understand the relationship between f/stops, shutter speeds and ISO then they have no business calling themselves a professional photographers.

I don't care how they get the image but I had this happen at a shoot. I was cover a California economic conference that was happening at two hotels next door to each other. I was shooting a group a series of group meetings at one hotel while the second shooter was shooting a stage event at the other hotel.

The Stage event was using stage lighting, spotlights and projectors (Similar to Concert Lighting) . These conditions tend through program modes way off. I get a panic call from the second shooter saying they can't get a good shot. I stop I was shooting and run over to the stage event.

The second shooter was in Aperture Priority which is why it was not working. I took a meter reading set the exposure on the camera manually. No problem. Manual shooting is a basic skill. I use auto settings but there are times they don't work.

Also I have a feeling you would not like the requirements of the past company's I worked for Scripts League, Pulitzer INC and Lee Enterprises. They required 4 year degrees. ;)

I'm not saying don't shoot manual... I'm saying why would the client know to ask if you shoot manual. Most of the client I encounter are clueless when it comes to photography.

Actually I took the approach the piece was written for a photo forum not a bride's blog. The last time I hired a second shooter for a wedding. I asked that question. If I am hiring for a major event or commercial shoot I will also ask where they went to school to learn photography. ;)

PS. I said, "And for the Bonus question Can you shoot manually"? Notice I said "Bonus Question". I surprised anyone is shocked by the question. This a fairly common question that any art director or photo editor would ask.

Please explain to me why it matters if someone went to school for photography lol? Your logic is failing me here. I know an abundance of pro shooters who are top of their tier and never went to school for photography, in contrast, I know a lot of Art school grads who are complete garbage when it comes to photography , so I don't really get your point.

Even if someone knew the phrase "shoot in manual", unless they're more than a hobby photographer, I highly doubt they'll fully understand what they're asking. Also, if the photos in the photographer's fully gallery are good, does it really matter? That would be like asking a mechanic if they can use a ratchet to install a wheel other than an air-powered impact wrench. To most people, as long as the wheel goes on correctly, it doesn't matter. In my opinion, if the photographer uses their equipment appropriately and has proved this to the client via photo galleries, references, etc., it doesn't matter if they've mastered one of the modes on the camera.

See I tend to view it as a skill set not a mode. :) It is a pretty basic skill set. I mean, Almost all the pros i know had it was covered in the first couple of weeks photo 1A, be it high school or college when becoming professional. It really just a basic understanding of exposure. I mean as a professional who can't use a light meter and set a camera.

Name me a pro how does not understand the concept of the f/16 rule.

Knowing the concept of the f/16 rule is not the point. You're stating that a person who quite possibly knows ZERO about photography is supposed to ask a professional a question for which they couldn't possibly know the right (or wrong) answer. They just don't have the knowledge, education or experience to debate the issue. There are far better questions and ways to sample the professional's ability and to determine the couple's comfort level in capturing their big day.

"Can you shoot manually?" Yes, when I shoot, I always use my hands.

Well, thats better than your feet.

The moment the client asks me "Can you shoot manually" is the moment I walk away from that Client. This, sir, is the definition of a client from hell - the one who believes they know everything and will turn out to be a nightmare after the shoot!

Lets see I have been asked many things in job interviews:
Did I know the difference between RC and Fiber papers?
If I had an issue with heights?
Could I photograph a dead body even if it was a child?
Did I know how to shoot sports in low light?
What lenses would use for shooting football?
What is the Scheimpflug principle?

I am not kidding on any of these.
I had one place where they handed me a camera and told me I had 1hr to find images in the neighborhood.

I have the feeling you would have walked away from a lot of my jobs.
That would have included shooting the NFL, for Pirelli, Photographing USAF Jets refuling over the Grand Canyon and working for Pulitzer INC. ;)

lel, please link us to all the jobs you did for the above clients, i'm super interested. I work for the largest newspaper in Canada and when I was an intern all they did was ask me two things 1) Do you have a portfolio for us to review and 2) Do you own a car. Never asked where I went to school, what camera equipment I have or use, etc. You're full of shit my friend.

If anyone is asking you that in interviews for editorial work (only type of work I can imagine anyone asking you any sort of these questions), they probably have doubts about what you can accomplish. "Do you know how to shoot sports in low-light" lol what a stupid question. The answer to any of the things above would be "Here's a sample of X in my portfolio". The end.

When I worked for Lee Enterprises which was is about the third largest in the USA in terms of number papers as photographer My degree was apart of my resume, which I handed them, But I was recruited by them, so the interview was short.

What was funny because I knew Adobe Products, Quark and Macs I was put in charge installing 4 papers pagination and later was put in charge of 8 other websites. First chance I got went back to shooting hated dealing with suites.

Now the the first daily paper a Scripts League Paper I was working for when I applied for the job, I had to take a written test mainly on film processing, of course I was 22 and still in College, then had a portfolio review and interview.

At Lee they made take a drug test, that was a hard one to study for. I find it humorous that some many people are having a melt down on this question.

What is with your nastiness? Whether you believe someone or not or just plain disagree with them, you don't need to inflate your own ego by trying to tell someone they're full of shit based only off of your personal experiences.

It's this sort of crap that makes photographers some of the worst people to try and conversate with, and THIS rude behavior is a perfect example of what is truly wrong with the photographic community.

I find it ironic that you say "It's this sort of crap that makes photographers some of the worst people to try and conversate with" yet you seem to completely accept what Ralph is saying without question. I'm going to call someone out on something I know first hand, and in my opinion I;'m doing other people a favour by spreading the knowledge of this misinformation.

It's your sarcasm and insulting way of responding that I am talking about. This whole "I'm right and no one else could possibly be right if they don't agree with me", calling people idiotic, telling them they're full of shit, all based off of your personal experience. It's this pompous attitude that I cannot stand. I guess I'd be doing everyone a favor as well by calling you out on that.

Asking if a photographer shoots manually is probably one of the most idiotic things I've ever heard. If you like the work the produce enough to even consider them to shoot your wedding, why the hell would you care what mode they use their camera in (assuming they even have an automatic setting on their camera). This is the typical ignorance that is a problem in the photographic community - Do you shoot manual? Do you use zoom lenses / fast aperture lenses? Do you use an assistant? Do you have a degree in photography? (this one makes me lol) etc etc. All stupid and irrelevant questions that have nothing to do with the final product you inquired about in the first place. If you like someone's work none of these questions should even come to mind.

As a photographer, I find it no surprise that another photographer who could potentially be my client (and who has been shooting for 20 years) might ask me if I know how to shoot in manual mode. Whether I think it matters or not makes no difference. From your perspective, I can easily understand how this could be a way to test whether or not the photographer you may be hiring is competent to your standards. I would want to know if a fellow photographer that I hire is also competent to my standards as well. I'm giving them my money afterall, and I would want to make sure it's not a waste.

My bad, I didn't realize this article was about hiring second shooters, was under the impression it was about clients looking / hiring main photographers.

I believe that it is about a client hiring a main photographer. I am simply saying that I can understand Ralph's point of view whether I agree with it or not; if he were getting married, and has expectations of the person he hires, it comes as no surprise to me that he may expect that they know how to operate a camera in manual mode, especially since he is a photographer himself. We all have different expectations and understandings of photography; rather than call someone an idiot for thinking differently than you, you could actually be polite and discuss it with them without being nasty and insulting. Just a thought.

I get that this is more than likely a repost from the photogs blog aimed toward newly engaged brides to be.

I disagree with this strategy. I'm from the "show ONLY your best work" school. Look through my cull of 800 photos from a strangers wedding? When's that question being asked? During the initial phone consult? I don't think I need or want that type of client.

It's always about quality...NEVER quantity. Showing quantity immediately devalues the whole experience. Ever go to a photographers blog where they post 400 images from their last engagement shoot or 1 wedding? Yawn.

How about this scenario...The couple likes what they see on line, you have a connection with them on the phone, and when they come into your studio, you have a looping slideshow with 80 to 125 story telling images from just 1 wedding, the beginning of the day to the end of the day on a big TV.

Using proofing software as the front door with $50 8 by tens? I'll pass.

I don't think they're talking about showing every shot from the wedding, but more like showing the consistency of the shots they sent to the couple.

Even the worst photographer gets a great shot every once in a while, which is evidenced by those who hire a photographer they saw at a tradeshow because their portfolio looked good, only to be left with mostly mediocre/bad photos when the photographer is put to the task on the actual wedding day.

"Can you send me a link to a full gallery from a wedding?
Typical amount of photos delivered for a wedding = 750 photos
Wouldn't it be important to see the other 96%?"

I think that is exactly what he's talking about.

What I am trying to say is that as photographers we shouldn't feel threatened if a client asks to see a full wedding gallery. A full wedding gallery meaning all the photos that were culled, edited and delivered. If they are paying for us to be there for 8-10 hours and deliver them a full wedding of images then I think it's only fair that we be ready to share one of those with them. If we are only willing to share the highlights then I think the client is taking a risk by hiring us before seeing our full body of work.

Trevor, I'm with you on this one. I got married this year, and when we (I) chose the photographer, I wanted to see a day's worth of photos. I didn't need to see 500 of them, but a good representation that there wasn't a lucky shot here or there every couple of months.

If there was only one good photo from the creative session, then he wasn't going to get my money. As a matter of fact, I wouldn't even call the photographer if they didn't have a blog to coincide with their portfolio. If the photos on the blog looked too different from the folio - as if the folio were lucky shots - then they also went in the scrap pile.

Show them whatever they want to see, as much as they want, I don't have a problem with that. I've directed girls to our proofing site, if they ask. however, It's never something I would lead with. I've been a pro for almost 20 years and 500 technically proficient photos does not equal 500 good or interesting photos. Shooting the way I shoot, if there's 150 that I like from a day, that's a LOT. I also worry about attention span and never like to see my work being consumed in that "I'm not even effing paying attention" flip-thru ipad manner.

Dude, you're getting caught up in the thought of showing 500 images. Showing a comprehensive wedding is good enough for most. We might have looked through maybe 80 photos from another wedding when we met with company for our wedding. It was enough for me to feel like the photographer knew what he was doing for what I was going to be paying out.

Being able to show a comprehensive wedding, not a complete (all photos delivered), definitely helps from those only willing to show the best-of-the-best.

Granted, it can also hurt you, b/c I've seen portfolios that I liked, but their blog, or comprehensive gallery said otherwise. Then again, you could say that I wasn't his kind of client.

I sort of addressed this in a threaded reply to Dave Camara right below this...

The 80 to 125 image hard edited story telling slideshow from just 1 wedding during the in studio consult is an essential part of our sales presentation.

An unessential part of the sales presentation is providing a password to an an entire event that doesn't necessarily show the best photos of that day.

A bride who asks "the one question she should ask" can also be a red flag for a client who is not going to be the optimal experience for YOU, before, during, or after the wedding. You have to make up your mind how you want to proceed when those caution signs come up.

How does quoting the article garner a thumbs down?

I couldn't agree more with David. On your website, yes. Show only the best of your best. But if you want to show a potential client that you are GOOD for an entire an entire wedding.
I recently shot a wedding and there was a guest shooting a 1dx with a 70-200. After talking with him at the wedding, I learned that he was a landscape photographer. I saw some of the shots he got, after the wedding, on social media, and they were damn good. BUT I will guarantee that if he and I were to shoot the entire wedding, shoulder to shoulder, my images would be consistently better (NOT being cocky, but I've been shooting weddings for years). Now lets say he goes to a bunch of weddings as a guest, and gets a few bang up shots from each, and the assembles them on his "weddings" gallery on his website. He looks like a super hero wedding photographer.
Showing potential clients entire weddings, is more about showing them consistency throughout the entire wedding, not that you want to show them that great (boring to them) shot of Uncle Jim and Aunt Jane. When I send a quote out to a potential client, I always include at least 2 complete weddings that might look like theirs (maybe same venue), AND I always state that this is to show them that we can stay consistently good for entire weddings, and NOT just get a handful of bang up shots (like a LOT of other hacks out their shooting weddings).

Well said

This isn't personal, just Devil's advocate here....There's something pretty substantial to be said for the client that doesn't need to be shown I'm "good" or "consistent" for an entire wedding. Brides who SEE it immediately (or at least after a phone consult...), and absolutely have to have my team shoot their wedding from just a sampling are the clients I want. They're always going to a better experience from beginning to end. If I'm GOOD or not, it's a completely subjective call for them, either they like the style, subject matter, and/or content of what I'm presenting, or they don't. Giving them a heaping huge serving of it, immediately, reads more like, "look how I awesome I am." Not for me. Some girls you have to pull out all the stops for sure, and show them more more more, but not as the first point of contact. again Devil's advocate, not personal.

There's a big difference between a crafted slideshow with 80 to 125 hard edited story telling images from just 1 wedding (that I talked about earlier) and a 500 to 900 image "these ones don't suck" cull.

If they hire a hack, who presents them with 3000 shots, but only 9 "good" ones, why is that my problem?

Might this not be a more appropriate article for a Brides blog or magazine? Mostly photographers read f/stoppers would imagine.

I was thinking the same thing, but then I thought about it from the prospective of:

1) Knowing that a bride & groom may ask this from you, so be prepared.
2) Use it against other photographers who can't present consistent work.

If it's not something that you'd want to do, then you better be prepared with a reason as to why you don't do that.

Thanks for the article.
750 photo's delivered from one wedding. That's completely ridiculous! I deliver 200 and find the couple doesn't what to do with that...

Ya 750 photos would be a lot for me too even with full coverage. I'm more in the 350-500 range.

Glad to know I'm not the only one in the 350-500 range.

Great read and the exact answer that should be asked. 750 delivered photos? That seems awfully high. Lol.

Since F Stoppers is now gearing articles towards brides, I suppose I should log into Bride Magazine to read some photography related articles.

Great read Trevor, I am curious though, recently I had a bride reach out and request a sample, I was out away from the computer so I sent her a link to a blog one of my weddings was published in, is that okay or a no no?

Marvin I think sharing a blog post is great. But as I mention in the article I think if I were a bride/groom hiring a photographer I would ask to view a full wedding gallery just so I could see a full wedding versus seeing just some of the highlights that the photographer has picked out.

BRB - going to go read an article that's relevant to the photographer, not the client.

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