What to look for in a photographer?

What to look for in a photographer?

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I was recently asked by a publication featuring an article on me “what should someone look for in a wedding photographer?”  This, in my opinion, will vary from person to person depending on what your criteria is for booking a wedding photographer, but essentially there are some key things to consider to ensure that the photographer you book lives up to your expectations, and you are not disappointed with the results.

Cost

Certainly at this current time in this economic climate one of the key criteria for most people is cost.  Whereas a year ago people would contact me and ask about my style of photography, how long I would be with them on their wedding day, album styles etc., the first question that is asked almost every time now is “how much is it?”  It is understandable under the current circumstances, but I have found that more people are cutting their photography budget when planning a wedding considering it to be less important that other aspects of their wedding.  Couples possibly believe that a lot of guests will be taking photographs anyway so to cut the budget of the professional photographer is where they will save money.  This is a big mistake, which you may think is what I would say being a professional photographer myself, but if you really think about it the photographs, apart from the rings, are the only reminders you will have of your wedding day.  Ensuring you get the right photographer to capture the day as you want it, to not only meet but exceed your expectations should be high on your priority list.  I have heard so many times stories about people who have compromised on the photographer and when they have seen the results have been very disappointed; disappointed to tears in some instances.  Cutting the budget to go for a cheaper photographer is likely to mean that you are compromising on the photographs you want, and ultimately there is a strong possibility that you will be disappointed with the results.  Just because a photographer may have a website and and advert in a publication does not necessarily mean they are a professional, or even any good.  Cheap photography is typically just that, cheap!

Style

The photographer should have a body of work showing their style of photography.  Their style should be a style you like.  If all you are wanting are some formal group shots after the wedding ceremony and will be happy with just that, then there is no point booking a photographer who is a photojournalist photographer who stays with you all day.  If you want to simply enjoy your day and spend your time with your guests, then do not choose a photographer who will spend hours posing you for photographs in positions that are completely unnatural.  Every photographer has their own unique distinctive style.  A lot can be very similar and a lot of photographers follow the crowd to create exactly the same as the next photographer.  To ensure that you get something different to your friends, you ought to look for a photographer who has their own distinctive style, who tries to be different from the norm, and who works in a way which is conducive to how you would want them to work on your wedding day.  Style matters, so don’t choose a photographer simply because they are available and you can afford them.  If you do not consider their style of photography you may well be disappointed with the results.

Technical Ability

A good professional photographer should be able to handle any situation whether it be an ultra-bright sunny day, a dull rainy day, snowing, a very dull dark venue, candle lit situations, or whatever situation presents itself on your wedding day.  Very often no matter how much preparation is done by the photographer there is a situation that occurs that the photographer has to deal with and a good professional should be able to photograph in most situations without having to excuse the fact that they were not able to capture something because it was “too dark”.  Often the first dance will simply be lit by only the disco lights, though if there is a videographer present they may use a video light.  A photographer needs to still be able to produce the results no matter what.  A body of work to show you of different parts of a wedding day in differing situations should be expected when you visit a photographer as it is no good for someone just to be able to take great photographs only if the lighting is as they like it.

Testimonials

A well experienced photographer will and should have lots of testimonials to show you, in the form of cards and letters.  Simply having testimonials on their website is not necessarily something you should trust wholly, though can assist you in making a decision to arrange to go and see a professional photographer.  If there is no hard written evidence of thank you cards and letters then there is a possibility that the testimonials on the Internet may be bogus and simply being used as a marketing tool.  Testimonials are a significant guarantee that the photographer has consistently produced good results, and should be considered more credible than any qualifications.  A recommendation to a photographer is also a very good indicator especially if that recommendation comes from a previous client.  Not all recommendations are from clients simply from other businesses or from friends and relatives of the photographer, but for a past client to recommend a photographer is as good a way of finding a reliable photographer as any.  You still have to consider their style and cost to ensure they fit your requirements, but at least you have some reassurance that the photographer has done work of a standard that someone will go out of their way to recommend them.

Two not always better than one

I have touched on this in a previous posting that two photographers are not necessarily better than one.  I will not dwell on this point too much other than to say that I have never needed another photographer to capture a wedding day.  I actually feel there is more possibility of mistakes with two photographers, and that not all companies offering two photographers are both professionals, with one of the two often being a trainee or spouse / partner of the one professional photographer; not always the case I grant you.  I believe one photographer who is talented and has experience in photographing weddings has the ability and knowledge to ensure they capture the day consistently every time.  Ask yourself, does David Bailey or Annie Leibovitz have a second shooter with them?  Two photographers may sound like you are getting better value for money, but are the results likely to be twice as good as one photographer?  If that were the case then have several cheap photographers photograph your wedding.

Body of work

When you visit a professional photographer they should have a wide variety of work to show you, often with albums that are similar to the type of wedding you are planning.  They may not necessarily have an album of a wedding at the venue you are having your wedding, but I would suggest they have an album from a similar type of venue.  If you are having a church wedding with marquee reception then expect a photographer to be able to show you some work from that type of wedding.  Alternatively if you are having a civil ceremony and reception in a hotel, then an album with a wedding in that style should be available to show you.  The photographer should be able to show you a wide variety of samples from various aspects of a wedding day in various different situations with different lighting to reassure you they can cope with any eventuality.  The work should be something you like and can see yourself in the photograph, and there should be an element of creativity and unique style in the photographs.

Albums

The albums that a photographer uses should not replace the quality of the photography, but should represent a quality that will last.  The album style should represent the style of a photographers work, and should be a style of album that you like.  The style and quality of the photography should without doubt be first and foremost over and above the albums in terms of what to look for, but if the albums are of an inferior quality then they are unlikely to last the test of time.  Top quality albums are not cheap by any means and the style and choice that you have as a consumer should be something you like and be happy with.  The album adds to the whole package that you finally receive, and a poor quality album will almost certainly taint the overall photographic package you receive.  A professional photographer will want to show of their work in the best way possible, and should be using albums that are of top quality which complement their style of photography.  Although there are a lot of album manufacturers there are only a handful that have a quality that are suitable in my opinion to class themselves as top quality, with one being head and shoulders above the rest; Queensberry of New Zealand.  Needless to say all my albums are Queensberry albums.

Personality of the photographer

A photographer is in a very privileged position to be able to photograph your wedding day.  It is the most important day of most peoples lives and to spend that time with you and for you to be in the presence of a complete stranger you have to be completely comfortable with them.  If you do not quite gel then there is a possibility that you will not relax completely during the day or during the formal photographs, and unfortunately this will show through in the end results.  A photographer should have a personality you are happy with.  Someone who has the ability to control a situation but not upset anyone.  Not be overbearing if it is a quiet intimate wedding, and not be shy if dominance is required.  Usually a photographer should have a personality that you like who you can see yourself enjoying having time with on your wedding day.  You can usually tell when you visit a photographer what they will be like on your wedding day.  If they talk constantly whilst you are looking at albums then they may well be domineering on your wedding day.  You should ask them how they would expect to photograph your wedding from start to finish, and they should be able to tell you without a problem.  You do not really want someone who uses flash during the ceremony putting you off saying your vows, or to stop you as you are walking down the aisle on your way to get married just so they can setup up their camera to ensure they get a good shot.  A good photographer should be ready anyway and know when not to interrupt a wedding day.

It is something to bear in mind and something you should consider strongly when making a decision.  If when you get your album you can think of nothing other than how much the photographer ruled the day and how long you were away from your guests, then you have not done well in choosing a photographer for your particular wedding.

Qualifications

I personally do not hold much credence with qualifications, especially from photographic bodies, despite the fact that I have a selection of good qualifications.  Professional academic qualifications should give you the reassurance that a photographer has been taught the technicalities of photographic equipment, and they have been in varying photographic situations as part of their course, but should not really be considered how good a photographer is as their style could very much well be a style that you do not like.  Photographic body qualifications can be a little deceptive as although 20 photographs may have gone through a judging process, the qualification gained is very much dependent on the opinions of people who either like your style of photography or not.  It is to a large part dependent on personal opinion as to the qualification you gain.  Also a photographer can choose 20 of their best photographs to put forward but 20 photographs are not that many and most average amateurs can take 20 good photographs that can gain them a photographic qualification if they take enough of them.

Insurance

A professional photographer will have insurance to not only protect themselves but also you and your guests.  Photographers should have both Professional Indemnity Insurance and Public Liability Insurance with a good reputable insurance company.  There are several who deal with photographers specifically, and not all cover for every eventuality and some are better than others.  I personally have chosen the most comprehensive cover I can and believe me it is not cheap.  A very small number of venues even insist on having a copy of a professional photographers insurance prior to photographing a wedding.  A photographer should be able to show you their insurance certificates and they should cover for both professional indemnity and public liability, and not simply camera equipment cover.

Work Ethic

The photographers work ethic should also give you some assurance that the results will be there.  A photographer should always do their best to minimise risk of making a mistake or losing anything.  Backup and storage procedures once a photographer has photographed your wedding are equally as important as the work they do on the day.  Having worked in IT in my past life I know how unpredictable computers and technology can be.  There can be no explanation at times for why a fault occurs, and with the number of viruses and security loopholes in Windows operating systems there is such a large potential for IT problems to occur.  A good photographer will have good procedures to minimise the risk of losing your work, so consider the worst possible scenario that can happen and ask your photographer what procedures they have in place to guard against it.

Equipment

A professional photographer will use professional equipment.  Largly to ensure against the possibility of failure and the minimising of risk of failure, but also to ensure that the best quality image can be captured on your day.  Professional equipment is not cheap and the most popular photographic equipment in use by wedding photographers nowadays is most definitely by either Canon and Nikon.  Either of these two makes produce excellent results, with the top of the range models in terms of camera bodies and lenses being in the thousand’s of pounds rather than the hundred’s.  Although everybody talks about the more megapixels meaning better quality, it still holds true that actually the lenses still hold the key to better quality results.  Obviously megapixels is very much to be considered in terms of how big you can blow up an image, but the lenses will be what provides the clarity and the sharpness in a photograph.  A professional photographer will not only have one lens but will have several to deal with varying situations.  F2.8 zoom lenses are regarded as the best quality lenses, and again I would recommend the manufacturer lenses such as Canon & Nikon.  Also a professional should have a second camera body to ensure that if a fault occurs duing a wedding day there is the assurance that the rest of your day can be captured without any worry for yourselves.

Finally

Although you may consider a photographer who is familiar with a venue to be more appropriate than one who is not, chances are they will take the same photographs they have photographed before at that venue.  A photographer likes to work at different venues as it tests their creative skills and gives them more opportunity to try something different.  There is nothing wrong with a photographer having experience photographing at one particular venue but I don’t personally think it should be a deciding factor as to whether you choose a photographer or not.

Overall

There is no one thing that you should look for in a professional photographer, but a collection of criteria that providing they all suit you should help you choose a photographer you are happy with.  The photographer should exceed your expectations and you should not only be happy to recommend that photographer, you should do so without even thinking about it, simply because they went far and away beyond what you were expecting.

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