There are lots of guides suggesting what you should ask the wedding photographers you are considering hiring. Most of them are written by bridal blogs or magazines and most will make a photographer’s heart drop just a little. The reality is, they are questions that are answered with just the smallest amount of research, if you simply look at their portfolio, or read the information on their website.
If you throw the same 10 questions at 10 different photographers you’re likely to get the same 10 responses in very many instances and you’ll be no further forward in terms of making your selection.
The VERY first thing you should do when choosing a photographer is look at their portfolio. Does it speak to you? Do they show moments from a complete stranger’s wedding that are so emotional they make you react, a smile, a laugh, a tear? Could you imagine proudly hanging a photograph by this person on your wall for the next twenty years? If the answer is yes, short list them. If it’s no, discard them. It doesn’t matter how affordable they are, you will be forever underwhelmed at best.
So, without further ado let’s debunk the 10 question myth.
1. What is your style?
There’s a very high chance that you’ll hear, I’m a documentary photographer, a storyteller, a reportage photographer, or I love to photograph natural moments. All of these things could be what you’re hoping to hear, but if you don’t look at their portfolio and full weddings, you have no guarantee at all that that’s what you’re going to get.
I regularly see “I’m a documentary wedding photographer “ and when I look at the website more or less every single image on the home page is posed or orchestrated in some way. There’s nothing wrong with this, if it’s backed up elsewhere with a fantastic portfolio of documentary images, but if you can’t find them, it’s because that’s actually not their style, it’s simply that they know couples like this style and they want to be able to engage you. If you ask this question make sure the answer matches the portfolio, rather than matches what you want to hear.
2. What equipment do you use?
Let me ask you a question. If I put a camera in your hand, with the name blacked out, would you know what make it is? More importantly, if I gave you an unedited file from each camera, would you be able to tell which was which?
If I say my camera has 25mega pixels, would the guy with 54 be a better option for you? The answer to most of these questions is no. Kit is irrelevant. It’s whose hands it’s in that makes the difference.
The ONLY kit question that is important is do you carry backup cameras / lenses on the day and there should be no hesitation in assuring you that yes, it’s always to hand. Weddings are fast moving events. Things get knocked, dropped, or they simply malfunction. Your photographer should be able to seamlessly carry on working regardless of any of these things happening.
3. Have you shot at my venue before?
For a seasoned professional this is probably one of the most unnecessary questions particularly if you want to hear the answer yes and will rule them out if not.
A good wedding photographer will be good at any venue. A good wedding photographer is looking for the light before anything else. I’m not suggesting for one second that they would go blindly to your venue and research great areas to photograph at the point that you’re actually being photographed, but more often than not a quick look round the venue on the morning of the wedding is all a really good photographer needs.
Being a regular photographer at a venue has some advantages, particularly if your timings are really going astray and your photographer knows the quickest way to run you through the venue’s vantage points. But it’s only advantageous if you actually love the resulting photographs. Some of my favourite weddings have been at venues that I have never shot at before. It’s a sure-fire way to get the creative juices flowing. Conversely some of the most challenging have been at venues that I know inside out and I’m desperate to give each couple something unique to them. Seeing a venue with fresh eyes every time you walk in is as much of a challenge as shooting in a new venue.
4. Do you shoot colour, black and white, or both?
If you have looked at their portfolio you already know the answer to this question. If you haven’t looked at their portfolio, why are you contacting them?
5. Do you bring an assistant or second shooter?
Don’t think of either of these two things as being a bonus to you, unless you are paying for a professional photographer as a second shooter. An assistant does not add to your day, it’s a choice the photographer makes in terms of the way they work. It does not determine quality at all.
Similarly a second photographer shouldn’t be free. If you’re not paying for them, they’re unlikely to add much to your coverage. Good photographers don’t work for free and there is no point in having a second if the quality of the second doesn’t compliment the first.
6. Can we have all the RAW files?
Why would you want these? And I really do mean that. Do you even know what you’re actually asking for or have you been advised to ask it? Asking for the RAWS is the equivalent of walking into a restaurant and asking to be served the unprepared ingredients, rather than the final dish.
A photographer will shoot more than they deliver. They will cull. They will remove blinks, duplicates, exposure test shots, missed expressions. You don’t need these. They will not cull good images that will add to your story. If you’re going to hire them, trust them to get this right.
All photographers have an editing style and no photographer wants their work to be attributed to them restyled. In fact no photographer wants you to restyle it full stop and this will often be one of the terms in their contract. When you choose your photographer, you choose not just their shooting style but their editing style too, so make sure you like both.
For 99.9% of photographers the answer to this question will be no and it gets you no further forward in your search.
7. Do we get copyright?
No. (See the last sentence above) Unless you pay a lot more money. Being advised to ask this question really comes down to a lack of understanding of the copyright law. A photographer owns the copyright of the photographs they take and realistically, this is a major benefit for you. If you buy your files or they are included in your package, you will typically receive a Licence to Use, for personal use, in perpetuity (forever). This gives you the right to print your images as often as you want, as big as you want, on whatever you want, to give to whomever you want. It’s also normally allows for social media use, without credit to the photographer (though it is always hugely appreciated when we’re mentioned!) What more do you need?
By keeping the copyright the photographer can host your online gallery, sell reprints to your guests so you don’t have to organise them all, and if you lose your files, which we know happens all too often, they’ll have a backup for you.
Significantly for the photographer if they assign copyright your images can’t be used for their marketing. No blog post, no Instagram images, no Facebook updates, no competition entries, no cross marketing with other suppliers. This is potentially a huge opportunity cost to them and it’s the reason why, if you insist on copyright assignation you should expect to pay handsomely for it, or for your chosen photographer to potentially turn your wedding down.
Now, a few slightly light hearted ones, but questions we’ve all been asked nevertheless.
8. Can you make me thinner/ younger/ taller in Photoshop?
This is your wedding, not a Vogue photo shoot. Your photographer can only photograph what you give them to work with. A professional hairdresser and makeup artist will make a big difference to how you look and feel and as obvious as it seems a dress that really suits your figure and is altered to fit perfectly is an essential. You will look amazing, AMAZING on your wedding day, don’t preempt not liking what you see. However, a good photographer will photograph you sympathetically. Good light, good posing, you don’t need much more.
If, once you have seen the photographs you genuinely feel that Photoshop is necessary then you have to expect to pay extra for it. Good use of Photoshop is a skill in itself and it takes time. If your photographer doesn’t use Photoshop for cosmetic work they will likely outsource it and will charge you accordingly for having to do so.
9. Can you use my Pinterest board as inspiration?
The reason our hearts will typically sink at this point is because we’ve seen so many people pin beautiful images from destination weddings, where the light is dreamy and the scenery is spectacular. We have to believe that you have chosen your venue because you love it and you’re having a wedding in the UK understanding the limitations of our weather, in any season. Choose the right photographer and they’ll give you the very best they can given the conditions they face on the day. Be realistic that you’re holding your wedding in Newcastle, not the Nappa Valley, Chelmsford, not the Côte d’Azur and you’ll be over the moon with the results.
Conversely, if your photography board on Pinterest is filled with posing ideas, or shots that you might consider being fun – let’s say a dinosaur chasing the bridal party, use your ideas to narrow down your initial selection, by seeing if it’s something already incorporated in a photographer’s portfolio. If it’s not and if there’s nothing similar, you’re simply not a good match, so discount them. It will save you both time and effort.
10. The band has asked for a hot meal, would you be ok with the sandwich option?
If you want to make your photographer cry this is the way to do it. Or have them pass out in the middle of your first dance, always a crowd pleaser. In all seriousness, your photographer is likely to be putting in a minimum of a ten hour, very physical day, and quite likely with a reasonable commute at the start and finish. Combine that with the fact that they’re unlikely to drink barely a glass of water while working in the height of the summer you can see why the offer of a plate of refrigerated sandwiches to eat, while watching the band who’ve just arrived tuck into three courses, might leave them a little underwhelmed. And faint.
That’s 10 questions to ask your wedding photographer that we’ve pretty much ruled out. So what should you be asking? I’ll cover that next time!