Finding the Right Wedding Photographer Guide

A Guide for Finding Your Wedding Photographer
Brought to you and Created by Spencer Clark - Atlanta Wedding Photographer

This is taken from a series of guides written by Spencer Clark for Wedding Planning & Events:

... One thing I strongly urge is to have a top-notch photographer. While there are definitely ways to save in other areas, this is one area where I advise getting the best you and your fiancée can afford.

Unfortunately, I speak from personal experience. My wife (Anna) and I were on a tight budget and decided to spend less in order to get a photographer for $500. For the $500 the photographer would shoot for three hours and give us the unedited data dvd (we do a good bit of photoshop editing, so we were fine with this). However, it turned out that we got what we paid for. The pictures were less than desirable to say the least. So far, we have printed one of the pictures that were taken. Both my wife and I truly wish that we had gotten a better photographer to take the pictures.

So, with no hesitation, I give you the list of items that you should look for in a wedding photographer:

1) Style

What style does the photographer shoot in? Now, this is definitely an odd question to most. But, there is a definite reason to find out. There are typically two styles of pictures in wedding photography – portraits also known as posed and photojournalism.

Portraits, also known as posed shots, are the standard wedding pictures that have been around for decades. They are the group shots and posed shots of you and your fiancée. These are definitely pictures that you will want after the wedding. Also, speaking from a photographer’s point of view, posed shots or group shots are often times the ones chosen to be printed at the end of the day for your wedding album (we’ll get to the album part later) or to be framed.

Photojournalism, in the pure form, is the exact opposite of posed pictures. The idea of photojournalism is to create a story out of pictures telling the events of the day. What you normally get from photojournalistic pictures are the candid shots and close-up shots of items of sentimental value. For example, you might get the beautiful shots of the bride and bride’s maids preparing in the morning or shots of the rings laid out carefully. You may also get photographs of real moments – real smiles, real laughs, real tears … true emotion. The photojournalistic approach is almost to be a “fly on the wall” – in other words, for the photographer to almost seem invisible capturing the moments that one would never want to forget.

Now, it can be debated which of these styles is the “best” or which style is harder to capture. Getting 30 people to all look forward with their eyes open smiling at the same time (posed shots) is sometime said to be as easy as herding cats. On the same token, capturing a moment that tells the story in itself (photojournalism) takes a different talent all on its own – not only must the photographer see the moment coming, but he/she must also have the camera ready to take a picture, have the settings correct, and take the picture at the exact right time. In Today’s wedding market, there seems to be a shift going towards more photojournalistic style. Most photographers incorporate some of both styles. However, ask your photographer which he/she prefers to shoot in before you sign that contract (we’ll get to the contract later as well). My suggestion is to find the style you like (you can see more styles including pictures of each type at under the educate section) and then find a photographer that matches that style. This will make things easier for both you and your photographer – knowing exactly what you want makes the photographer’s job of getting the pictures you want MUCH easier.

2) Actual Cost

The next item to be considered, in my opinion, would be the actual cost of the photography. With the two styles, portrait and photojournalistic, the cost can vary to what seems a huge degree. For example, a portrait photographer may only charge $1000-$2500 for an entire day at your wedding (these prices are very low to perhaps average, depending on your area, so you know) while a photojournalistic photographer may charge $3500-$10,000 (these prices are very low to high, depending on your area). (Quick Knowledge: Some of the best photographers charge $15,000 - $100,000 for their photography in one day) From looking at those numbers, the portrait photographer would obviously be cheaper … however, this is not always the case. (Of course, I must mention that every photographer from time to time will have promotionals for whichever reason, so, if it is a promotional price, that is another thing)

Portrait photographers make the majority of their money after the wedding. The low fee to start is to get them to be able to take the pictures of your wedding (and have them copyrighted, more on this later). I am warning you now – low, upfront prices does not mean you won’t end up spending a lot in the end. The portrait photographer makes most of his/her money off of the prints that are selected to be printed after the wedding. They will normally have a contract (reviewed later) that makes it so that you cannot legally print any of the pictures they took at your wedding on your own – you have to go through the photographer to have them printed. It is not uncommon to see a portrait photographer charge $20-50 for a 8x10 print and up to $150-300+ for a 20x30 print. Another thing to note – how will this affect the pictures taken? Well, if given a choice between a nice candid moment that might be printed once and a family shot of 10 people that could be printed 2-4 times, the portrait photographer using this method will choose the family shot every time. The bottom line is that taking pictures that will sell make them more than taking unique pictures that capture the day.

On the other hand, photojournalistic photographers generally don’t rely on the prints to bring in the majority of their income. A good bit of the photojournalistic photographers allow third party companies to completely deal with the prints (such as Usually you simply order the prints you would like online and your family can do the same as well. With the online printing option, your family doesn’t have to bother you to have the pictures printed. Additionally, the prices are normally lower per print due to the printing of the pictures not being handled by the photographer. Of course, the photographer still edits and corrects the pictures – he/she just doesn’t eat up his/her time by printing them. This allows the photographer to do two things – 1) book more weddings 2) focus on unique, unforgettable shots. Not having to spend all the time printing the pictures really can allow the photographer to free up a lot of their time. This allows them to be able to book more weddings in a weekend. Shooting in a style where they do not rely on their income from the prints also allows the photographer to capture those unique moments that can be truly stunning. Due to the fact that they do not make as much off of having the pictures printed, they normally charge more upfront.

In the end, both of the styles, regardless of what the upfront cost is, end up costing about the same amount at the end of the day. My suggestion is again to go with the photographer you like. By the end of reading this, you will have some idea of what you are looking for. Now, of course, not all portrait photographers follow the method above nor do all photojournalistic photographers follow the method above. However, it is something to be aware of when looking for a photographer. How much should a wedding photographer cost for a full day (9-10 hours of coverage) cost? Well, that depends heavily on your area. However, a normal price would be between $3,000-$6,000. I would expect to spend around $5000-$7000 for a good photographer. It is worth every penny.

3) The Contract

The next item to consider is the contract. Every photographer will have a contract that you are required to sign. The majority of wedding photography contracts are very easy to understand. The following sections that should be covered are:

The deposit amount - . The normal deposit amount can vary between 10%-50% in order to reserve the photographer for that day. Of course, if you back out of the deal, then the photographer keeps the deposit amount. Do note - if you back out, it is only right for the photographer to keep the deposit. They are losing however much is left unpaid for that day as booking that date in short notice cannot normally be accomplished. Many Photographers have a clause which states 100% of the payment is due two (2) weeks prior to the wedding. This is so that if the wedding is cancelled, then the photographer is not out on their income for that weekend. This has become an acceptable practice.

The amount of days to deliver the pictures/negatives – This should be in every contract. There should be a set time the photographer has to edit the pictures and have them printed/place them online after the wedding. The normally amount of time after the wedding is 30-45 days. This may seem a bit extreme, but the time spent editing can be quite a bit – they are making your pictures perfect for you. You want the contract to state when you will receive your pictures. This is extremely important.

Who has the rights – That is, who has the rights to the photographs after the wedding. This is the item that was referred to in the section above. Either the photographer retains all copyrights (you have to have your pictures printed through them), you receive partial copyrights, or you receive all copyrights. Rarely will you see the last option – this would allow you to print their pictures commercially for a profit. Usually, either the photographer keeps all copyrights or keeps partial copyrights. The partial copyright that you receive will normally be the right to produce your own prints for non-commercial use. That is, to print off or have printed by someone else (example: wolf camera) as a gift or at cost. The photographer will normally retain the commercial copyrights to place your pictures in their presentation materials, enter the pictures into contests, and of course to sell them commercially (that is, to sell them at a profit to you or your family members).

There may be a few other items in the contract, but these are the main items in the contract. I strongly suggest that you thoroughly read through any contract before you ever sign it. Make sure that it states what the photographer has stated and that you agree to those terms. If there is any item that you are not in agreement with, any contract can always be amended. A simply strike-through and writing above the item is noted as a change in the contract. So long that that change is made before the signatures are placed, then it is legally binding.

5) Experience & Skill

The next item to consider with a photographer is their experience and skill. Notice that I include both experience and skill. Just like in any other profession, there are some that can do something for twenty years (remaining “ok” or “good enough”) and never be as good as someone with talent or passion that has been doing that same thing for only a year or two. You also should look for a photographer that has an eye for what you like – you can get an idea of this by looking at his/her portfolio. Normally, their portfolio can be viewed online or in person. Also, I would ask the photographer how many weddings they normally shoot in one year. The average wedding photographer will be somewhere between 20-35 weddings. The excellent or well-known wedding photographers can be anywhere from 50-120 (3-4 weddings every week). One thing I STRONGLY suggest – find a wedding photographer. I do not suggest going with someone that does wedding photography on the side. Yes, almost any photographer should be able to shoot a wedding. However, a photographer specializing in wedding photography will be far better than others. This is due the fact that they are completely used to the conditions seen at weddings. Weddings normally have the harshest conditions a photographer can face – extreme bright light (outdoor wedding in high noon), extreme low light (candle lit wedding, dark reception hall), “herding cats” (group shots), etc. A photographer that is used to capturing great moments in these conditions on at least a weekly basis will be much better than those that have not shot a wedding before or shoot them on rare occasion.

6) Personality

The last, and sometimes most important, aspect to the wedding photographer that you choose is their personality. You will want to make sure that you choose a photographer that you get along with and feel you can trust. I really cannot overemphasize this. Basically, get a wedding photographer that you like. You want to be able to feel at ease when the photographer is taking pictures of you and your fiancée (now wife/husband if you’re taking pictures together after the wedding). It is a pretty common practice for the photographer to shoot an engagement session with you on a weekday before the wedding. This allows the photographer to get to know you, and for you to get to know the photographer. I do advise setting up an engagement session with the photographer. It can really make things easier and more predictable on the wedding day.

Tips you can do for the photographer:

1) Make time for the pictures to be taken. Plan for couple photographs to take at least 30 minutes. Normally, the best time to shoot in the day for these photographs is early morning or right around sunset (20 minutes before and after sunset are ideal). If at all possible, avoid couple photographs in mid-day as these can result in pictures that are not quite as dramatic. A great time to plan for these is during the reception after the dinner has been served. If you and your bride are the first in line and the photographer also gets his meal at the beginning (he/she doesn’t need to go through the line, a plate waiting for him/her in the back to grab will work just fine) allows you to sneak away while everyone else is still enjoying the meal. This normally results in people not even noticing you were gone for half an hour. This can be timed so that you finish your dinner about 20 minutes before sunset – which I strongly suggest.

2) Let the photographer know what you want and be respectful to him/her. These two things will get you every picture you want from your wedding and more. Don’t be afraid to try different poses as well.

3) If you want outdoor group shots, look for places in the shade. The shade will produce much better pictures than direct sunlight will allow. Group shots can take 15-25 minutes if done right. However, in order for this to happen, everyone must be at the right place at the right time. Inform everyone of where to be and when to be there. If you want indoor group shots, let the photographer know this well before the wedding day. This allows the wedding photographer to bring appropriate lighting for the area.

4) Just an overall tip here – two cameras are better than one. If the photographer has an assistant or another photographer to shoot as well, I suggest that you take advantage of this. Two, or even three, cameras usually result in better results and pictures that often would have been missed.