Did you say “yes” at Christmas to someone special? Will you be planning a wedding in the near future? If so you are probably either still starring in apt wonder at your beautiful ring, or you are already making lists!
Every internet wedding site out there will give you a timeline of when to do what and what to consider…but I’ve often wondered how they can compile some of their suggestions if they don’t ask the particular vendors input? For example – how many wedding sites routinely go out and poll the vendors about the most often asked questions? All I ever see are the polls and results on what the couples want…not what the vendors are saying or thinking….or think is important for you to know! I don’t know the cake baking business, or the DJ or catering business, but I do know a few things I’d like to share about wedding photographers.
So here are a few of the questions I don’t get asked enough that I think you SHOULD be asking your potential photographer –
When should I start looking for a wedding photographer?
You want to start looking at least 9 months out from your wedding date. One year is better to have more options, but between 9 months and one year out most wedding photographers are booking.
Why do I need a “real” wedding photographer?
Some couples are trying to save money and use a relative or friend who either has a business, or wants to start a business. Which is nice, in theory…but honestly – if they haven’t done it before, or don’t do it professionally, how do you expect them to be able to be prepared for everything that will and MIGHT happen on your day? Experience is a good thing – and most real wedding photographers don’t put a shingle out until they have the experience to say they have done it before – successfully. In addition, a full time wedding photographer – with experience – has the necessary equipment (and knows which pieces of equipment are necessary) to cover your entire day. And that includes enough memory cards and batteries for the entire day – which is a huge expense and one only most professionals will make because they know the return on the investment is more than just one wedding “booking”. Add in the real contracts, the insurance, and the expertise to put you in the right place to photograph you and your significant other without harsh light and with true color – and well, you add up to a better experience than the other option. Tell your friend or your cousin, or your Uncle Bob that you appreciate the thought, but want them to enjoy being a guest at the wedding and to be sure to meet YOUR photographer and ask them any questions they might have about photography. (It will also make the holidays nicer in future years if you don’t engage the family members or good friends and don’t end up disappointed by them with less than stellar images of your most important day- no need to start off your marriage with bad feelings about someone’s family member or good friend)
But I need to save money – how can I do that if the photographer wants to charge so much?
Let’s think about this – first how much is too much? Have you worked through how much time you really need and want from your photographer? Are you willing to compromise on some of the details you think you want? Maybe having a friend take the getting ready photos and the “real” photographer do the ceremony and reception?
The right balance of how much a photographer charges isn’t – and shouldn’t be- the “ONLY” most important the issue (because lets face it, the cost IS important). You might think one is too expensive, or one is too cheap. You should find ones that are professionals (and not just have a website because anyone can have a website today), but who have the professional experience. And someone who you connect with – because it can’t be said enough – this person is following you around VERY CLOSELY on your day – and it can be intrusive and invasive and if you don’t like the person, or feel they are annoying – don’t subject yourself to that! The prices a photographer charges are based on so much more than just giving you digital files after the event – they are typically based on how they will cover your day. Their equipment (all of it), their staff they will need, their prep time and their after time the day – are all configured in their pricing. They shouldn’t get defensive if you ask why they charge what they do – they should be prepared to answer the question. A good internet search will yield you many readings on why they charge what they do – but take the time to ask the one you are considering hiring – what they put into their pricing to compute their packages or prices. It’s ok to ask!
Now, what you really want to know – most professionals will charge between $300-$600 an hour to cover your wedding and give you the digital files. Some charge more per hour if there is a second photographer. Some only price by packages and their packages include print credits and books. The actual amount they charge per hour is SO MUCH MORE than the # of digital files you will get in the end…so be careful not to buy “into” a promised number of images, but someone who can create the images you really want. Most want a minimum for the day because a wedding takes a full day off their calendar that they could be doing something else which would yield them “X” in potential income. So expect that a real photographer will most likely not take on a weekend wedding for less than $1500-$2500…and if they do YOU SHOULD QUESTION WHY WOULD THEY?
What is the value add to a professional?
BIGGEST VALUE – Letting the professional worry about the contingency plans – and plan for the unexpected that might arise at a moments notice. A bride doesn’t want to worry herself on her day about how many memory cards the professional owns – is it enough? How old are they? Could they fail? What if they drop a lens during the running around? What kind of images will I get if their main lens fails? Or their camera battery dies in the middle of the ceremony? What ifs are something every professional has to deal with – but your cake baker can bake a new layer without you knowing something went wrong with the first one – your photographer is right there in front of all of your guests – and if the camera breaks, or the lights don’t fire – they have MISSED THE SHOT. They can’t get you walking down the aisle with your dad again, or the first kiss later – or when you dance with your dad and he kisses the top of your head like you are his little girl once more…they have to be ready to go ALL DAY. That is the “Value Add” – the prep to be that, and the doing of that.
How do I find out if they are a real “professional”?
- Ask them. Really – ask them what their contingency plans are for a dead camera battery. If you are planning an 11 hour day for your photographer, they will most likely go through a number of camera batteries in each camera. Ask how many they own and what the life of one battery is – if they know the answer, good. And if they have enough batteries, even better!
- Ask how many cameras they have – and what lenses they will use. Ask them what their favorite lens is for shooting weddings -then ask if they own a backup of it, or another lens that covers that same range.
- Ask how many memory cards they have – and what their plan is if one fails. Do they have a backup of the images? Or do you get a refund of their “time” if the card fails and there isn’t another copy of the images anywhere else? Which do you want?
- Ask them how they safeguard the cards before downloading and once downloaded, are the images once again backed up and secure? Or will you get a call that the computer hard drive crashed…and well, your images are gone. How will that feel?
- Ask them what happens if Uncle George falls over their camera bag – how much liability insurance do they carry?
- Ask them if they like shooting weddings – and if they answer sincerely, you should keep them on the short list.
How much should I put down to secure my photographer?
Most photographers will ask for a 50% retainer with the balance due within 14-30 days of your wedding date. Sometimes payment plans can be arranged, but most often you will finalize payment before your actual day.
Does anyone still offer prints from a wedding?
If you are working with a real portrait professional they have associations with professional print houses for their “other” business – and yes, they will typically offer you a significant discount on print orders with your wedding booking. They will also offer you custom albums, books, storyboards, etc. The majority of people are pricing their wedding services with digital files included – so ask in what format they will be, how many do you typically get, and what release is provided with them.
- You want a print release – very few professionals will give away actual copyright – but a print release allows you to print as many of the images as you want as often as you want.
- You want at least 240 dpi – most often 300 dpi is provided and that is the resolution needed for larger prints
- You should expect 75-100 images an hour on average – depending on what is covered and how many photographers are on your photographers team. Remember, if you only have one photographer they can only be in one place at a time – so you only have one angle covered of ceremony, reception, etc. If you only have one shooter, you’ll have most often 50-75 per hour, and most often a lot of the same shot with little variation in some parts of your day.
- You should expect color corrected, and properly exposed images. Yes, some images might appear darker or brighter on your monitor – your photographer should be calibrated to their typical lab and they know how their images print there – but they will not guarantee that your images will print AMAZING just anywhere- or even view properly if you’ve set your monitor bright, or it’s too yellow, etc.
So be sure to make your lists of photographers you want to talk to – and try NOT to discount them by pricing too much, or because someone else said they were great. This is YOUR choice – and you should give yourself options. If you find 4-5 wedding photographers to consider, set up times to meet them and see how you like them in person. It’s worth the investment of time on both your parts – because the real photographer wants to meet you too!
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