Written By: Michael Tigchelaar. Lead Photographic Ninja and founder of Zekar Photography Inc.
Choosing a Wedding Photographer is one of the biggest decisions you’re going to make in your wedding planning. You’ve worked hard to have everything to come together perfectly, so hiring the right photographer to capture it all is probably on one of your top three most important elements of your day.
In this blog we will cover some important factors you should look for when hiring your wedding photographer. You’ve probably never hired a professional photographer before and the task can seem really overwhelming. We’re here to help break it down for you. Fair warning: There is a ton of information here. We love our craft and could probably talk about it for days. So if you’re interested in just one specific topic, click on any of the question links below to find out more information. But if you’re up for an in-depth crash course on the exact questions you need to ask your potential wedding photographer, grab a cup of coffee or a glass of wine (no judgements on what time of the day it is!) and let’s get started.
11 Questions To Ask Your Potential Wedding Photographer
Wedding Day Essentials
1. Style: What style of photography suits me best?
In our opinion, there are really there just two fundamental styles in wedding photography.
The first is traditional. It leans more to the posed and staged shots, controlled images, advanced lighting setups, shots you might see in a magazine. They can take on a modern feel, or old school but at the end of the day they have one thing in common- they are situations controlled by the photographer.
Second is candid or story-telling. Often called ‘photojournalism’ or ‘documentary photography’. This is where the photographer steps back and allows the moment to happen and uses their experience to tell that story without interference. A good photographer should provide a mix of both, but most tend to excel more in one area than another.
When you start your search, keep the question of style in mind for how you will feel in the long run and less on how you feel when you see a single picture you like on a given site. Lean into the style you feel suits your personality best and something that you feel has longevity. Years down the road you’ll want to look at a photo that really captures the relationship between you and your new spouse and all the memories you had that day. You won’t necessarily appreciate something that is trendy in 2018 and very dated in 2043 when your kids throw you a 25 year anniversary party and there is a room full of snickering young people.
In the end however, don't settle - it doesn’t have to be an either-or decision. Here at Zekar Photography, we pride ourselves on our ability to not only get traditional stunning wedding-scapes, as we like to call them, but we also focus on our passion of capturing all of the beautiful little moments that happen throughout the day. Here is a blog covering more aspects of our photojournalistic wedding style.
2. Budget: How do I get the most out of my investment?
"Don’t let your hope for an awesome deal blind your natural instinct to find out if its too good to be true."
Your budget is generally one of the biggest deciding factors in how you choose as your photographer and it’s important to know what goes on behind-the-scenes in your photographers studio.
Like most things in life, the money you pay often reflects the quality of the product. At Zekar Photography, every hour we spend taking pictures on a wedding day will have 5 extra hours of work put into it, from pre-wedding planning to post-production. A regular 10 hour wedding day represents a total of 60 hours of labour from a team of professionals, and that's how we deliver the overall product you see on our site.
Look around in your area and see what the average price is for wedding photography. That price in your area will be a good indicator of what you should expect to pay. From city to city it can change, and even demand alone can change a price point on a product so we’ll leave it up to you to do basic price comparisons and figure out the average.
If someone comes in under that average, there are questions you need to ask and that’s something we’re going to cover in the following paragraphs.
Generally speaking though, don't expect to get the same quality from something significantly less than the norm. That’s not to say you won't find it, but be prepared to find out why by asking pointed questions. Don’t let your hope for an awesome deal blind your natural instinct to find out if its too good to be true. Often a lower price can represent a lack of something in an area you are not able to see, something that might affect the final product.
For example. A wedding website has only a small collection of images. The average photographer, over time, can get a few good pictures. They can spend an hour editing a single shot to make it look like an award winner for their site. The question is, can they provide high quality over the whole wedding day in every lighting situation? If it is dark and cloudy on your wedding day, if your wedding venue does not have a lot of natural light, or if the sun is beating down hard, will they be able to take professional photos in any weather and atmosphere? Even if you are on a tighter budget than what the average photographer asks in your area, and you must find a inexpensive option, you're still spending hard earned money. Education before you spend is always a bonus, no matter the budget range.
3. Pre-Wedding Planning: How do I know my photographer will be prepared?
Your photographer should offer a thorough initial consultation and, if needed, continuous correspondence via phone or email when it comes to the planning of your day.
Knowing you have an hour vs thirty minutes to accomplish a given task can alter exactly what you do. One brides getting ready pictures can be 30 minutes because she has a simple dress and only her mom there as she prepares. While another will need an hour because she has a group of friends, a more complicated dress to get into and has some cultural aspects to her pre-wedding preparations. Or she might want to do a father reveal and hand out gifts to bridesmaids. If your photographer does not have a system to figure this out, you could over pay and have them out for too long, or worse be under prepared and not have enough time and miss memories you would want to have later.
At Zekar Photography, we like to say we ‘prepare to be laid back’. A good photographer does not just show up and do an awesome job, just because they are a good photographer. It’s really important for a professional to take the time to get to know you and your partner and what you have envisioned for your day. Whether you are having a simple backyard party at your Aunt’s farm or you are going all out and having an elegant soiree at Casa Loma, it’s important for your photographer to get to know your personal style and expectations.
One of the ways we do this at Zekar Photography is through our Wedding Day Details sheet that Kate, our Studio Manager, sends out to each and every couple. It’ll have all of the times and addresses on it, as well as the names and contact information for the important people on the day-of. We also want our clients to share all their details with us as they plan so we can get to know every detail of the day.
4. Contract: How do I protect my investment?
Another very important pre-wedding aspect is a proper contract. If your photographer does not have one, RUN! Any professional photographer will have a contract and you should never take anyone at their word alone. Not because people will lie, but because what one person's expectations are might not be what another person's standard is, so a misunderstanding can lead to problems. Contracts resolve this on the big issues. It should outline exactly what the photographer will deliver, what your responsibilities are versus the photographers responsibilities and what the total cost will be. A contract shows they take what they do seriously, and a good contract will be clear on the important details. It will be built to protect you as much as your photographer. Read it over and always ask if you’re not sure of something.
5. Engagement Session: Do I really need one?
Although it is not a ‘must’ like the other areas of pre-wedding planning, it can help in many ways. First, it gives you a glimpse into what it will be like to work with the photographer you have chosen. It allows both you and your photographer to get to know eachother better so that on the wedding day it’s more of a professional friendship than a stranger hanging around you on your big day.
Almost everybody is nervous around the camera, especially the big cameras that a photographer carries, so it really helps to take the edge off by having a low-key engagement session to get used to having your photo taken. Plus, you will have quality images to use for announcements, maybe to use for decorations to display at your wedding tables or a guest book.
6. Camera Gear: How is a professional photographer equipped to handle my wedding?
Your photographer needs to be prepared! They need to carry at least two professional cameras, multiple lenses and lighting equipment. If anything breaks they need to have backups. Don’t be afraid to ask what kind of gear your photographer carries. Even if you aren’t familiar with all the makes and models of cameras (not everyone is a camera geek like we are!) you can always do a Google search when you get home.
Long before Mike (the Lead Photographer here at Zekar Photography) was in the photography industry, Mike’s brother had a friend do his wedding photography. Mike was his best man, so there was no way he could do both. The photographer dropped one of his lenses and it broke. He had to send one of our family members to go get him a new one and was left with a somewhat less versatile lens to finish the rest of the coverage.
Now it was not so bad that it was his only lens, but it was enough to put a dent in the plans. Later that same person lost the hard drive he had stored the pictures on. To this day it burns Mike’s brother to think of that experience and how he did not go the professional route.
Part of the operating cost that a wedding photographer has is to have twice as much gear as they need, that way the never really have to worry about stopping. And enough file storage redundancies that all of your files are not stored in one place.
7. Lighting: Why is advanced lighting important to my wedding?
This is a bigger issue than most understand, even trained professional photographers can underestimate the importance on controlling light. Cameras are just machines and they need help to see in both bright and dark situations. If your photographer says they are a “natural light photographer” you need to ask what they will do in a dark venue, or if it’s really sunny and there are shadows in your eyes. How will they remove those shadows so everyone doesn’t look like a squinting racoon?
A purely “natural light photographer” simply wont get high end pictures in a dark reception hall, or fill in shadows in your eyes on a sunny day. In fact, if someone says “I’m a natural light photographer” in the industry, professionals taken it to mean “I dont know how to use a flash”. Now thats not always the case, even we prefer natural light when we can use it, but to limit options to just that one on a wedding day would be, well, crazy!
A Moment For A Flash Photography Explanation:
A good photographer will be able to use both natural light as well as flashes when needed. There are two types of flash photography that can be used at your wedding. Bounce flash and off-camera flash.
Bounce means the flash is on the camera and the photographer will point it at a ceiling or wall and bounce the light to brighten things up. Off-camera is the most advanced. A really experienced photographer will be able to use multiple lights at once, combining natural light and multiple flashes.
Imagine a wedding outside, candle-lit, at night. There is only one photographer that can work a venue like that proficiently. One who uses off camera flash and uses it well! There is nothing to bounce flash off but the moon, so off camera is the only option worth using.
8. Experience: Why does it actually matter?
Before we get into this part, we want to say, there are plenty of great inexperienced photographers. Part of the way we run our studio is to always have a couple of inexperienced photographers working underneath our experienced ones to be trained up. Everyone has to start somewhere, we started out very inexpensive to compensate for our lack of experience.
So this is not say you should never consider someone who hasn’t done very many weddings, just know that inexperience should be compensated by lower price. If you are willing to pay less to exchange for higher risk, take the leap. However as a rule, they won't be able to perform as fast or as creatively as one who has experience. This is true in all things in life and certainly the more complex a situation, the more it holds true. Wedding photography is very complex, just because you have a good camera doesn’t mean you can shoot a wedding.
There are two ways to find out how much experience a photographer has. Ask how many weddings they have done. And secondly, ask to see a few full weddings. Their blog should show their breadth of experience. Are all the pictures posed outside on a sunny day? Not a single one of a first dance in a dark venue? No really good church shots? A well documented and professionally shot wedding does not add up to a good picture in a park where there is perfect light available. It is a total accumulation of many great images in many different conditions. A professional photographer will have the vision to take any situation and make art out of each image. Some of our favourite shots have been on fire escapes right downtown or in the corner of a stairwell that nobody ever notices. We love the challenge! Judge their work by the worst possible spots not just the nice ones. Look at all possible wedding picture scenarios before making any decision, keeping in mind the atmosphere of your own venue.
9. Assistants and Second shooters: Are they necessary?
Every photographer has different opinions on having a second shooter come out with them on the wedding day. Second shooters come in handy if you and your partner are getting ready at different locations and you can’t stagger the timing. They will also get different angles than your main photographer will. Be sure that the second shooter who comes with your photographer has comparable level of expertise and is proficient with a camera. You don’t want your final wedding photos to have 90% professional photos but the ones of the groom getting ready look like they were taken on a cell phone.
As for a photographers assistant, this is not a “must-have” but they do help. If you have a low key wedding in one location it might be overkill to have a gaggle of paparazzi running around. However, during a regular sized wedding, they blend in more and become more unobtrusive. In fact, they can calm things down by being able to bear part of the workload. Our assistants are responsible for 10-20% of the final images. But more importantly, they can be where your lead photographer can't be during your event. Multiple angles at a ceremony or in a different room. They will ease the responsibility of the lead photographer if things get rushed, help carry gear, get water, and help to make sure your photographer does not have to stop taking pictures for any minor things like switching out batteries etc.
10. Editing: What happens after the wedding to make my images awesome?
As we mentioned earlier, for every hour we shoot there are 5 hours behind the scenes in planning and post production. Most of those hours are in post production. If we do a 10 hour wedding, we will invest 25-30 hours in editing for that wedding. Some people have asked us, “Oh you are a wedding photographer? What do you do during the week?” Well, we edit. A lot!
Your photographer is not finished when they hit the shutter release button. They are done when they edit the image. This has not changed even from film days. In fact, the amount of time a photographer spends on their images has increased since the film days, if they do the editing work themselves.
An important question to ask is if the photographer runs “actions”, automated computer generated edits, or if they edit each image by hand. A good honest answer should be a little bit of both.
Every image can receive an automated “starter edit”. Maybe a bit of contrast and color adjustment. Then after that each image has the editor look at it and determine a specific retouch that it will need. Maybe lighten a portion and darken another portion (known as dodge burn). Or maybe make the ambient light more colorful so it looks like it did on the day. We like to refer to this as “painting”. These are small details that set an automated edit apart from one manually done. This is such a massive part of creating a good image it can't be understated. So make sure to ask your potential photographer what they will do to your wedding in post-production.
Remember, simply saying they will spend time is not a replacement for experience. A photographer who has never been through editing hundreds of weddings with different lighting conditions at different venues can’t simply come up with the experience that this very important aspect needs.
11. Printing: Can’t I just go to Costco?
Your photographer might offer albums and prints within their package. It might look like a really great deal - coverage, album, prints, all in one spot. But make sure you ask for examples of what their prints look like and if you can see some albums. There are lots of album companies out there that make low quality, quick production albums. If the spine of the album is glued, chances are, it’s going to fall apart sooner than later. A good quality album has a very thick, bound spine and high quality paper that’s going to last through generations. So if your package comes with prints and albums, make sure you’re getting quality through and through. You don’t want to end up with supposed heirlooms that fall apart or fade.
One way to think of it is this: Would you buy a Lamborghini only drive it on a pothole filled dirt road? Well, that’s the same as hiring a professional photographer and printing their work at Walmart or Costco. Commercial labs will never be as good as a high-end, boutique lab. You will lose sharpness color and impact. We have clients who have chosen to print at Walmart and they always come back. Your photographer should have the ability to provide high end printing options that will last for years and display your wedding images in a manner worthy of the effort put into them and worthy of their emotional value. When we deliver our high-end prints to our clients, we often hear that it looks even better than it did on the computer. Your .jpg’s won’t matter to your children, but a tangible piece of yours (and theirs) history will.
We hope that after reading this blog you feel a lot more empowered and educated to make a good decision. When you meet with your photographer, every question you ask should be met with enthusiasm and excitement. The passion that your photographer has for their business will only translate into gorgeous photographs.
If you would like to talk more about anything you've read so far or you have other questions you are curious about, contact us today!
Are you interested in having the team at Zekar Photography capture your special day? Contact us for our most recent Pricing Guide and let's get the conversation started!