I get this question all the time during interviews with potential clients: “Is there anything else I SHOULD be asking you?”
Hiring a professional photographer can make you feel like you don’t even KNOW what you don’t know. The photos on the website are pretty and it seems like you’d get along with this person okay…but how do you know that they’re actually a professional? After all, this is kind of an unregulated industry and anybody can throw some pretty photos up on a website and start charging money.
In my humble opinion, there are some crucial questions couples should be asking photographers before they hire them in order to determine that they’re working with a legitimate business, that there is a contingency plan in place, and that there’s no unpleasant surprises later down the road. If you happen to be considering ME as your photographer (which, I’m honored, by the way)…I went ahead and saved you some time and filled in my own answers to all these questions.
How many weddings have you photographed ***instead of*** how long have you been shooting weddings?
How many weddings a photographer has photographed is a MUCH better indicator than how many years of experience someone has. Here’s why. Photographer A has been in business for 7 years. They shot 5 weddings their 1st year, 10 weddings their 2nd, 15 weddings for years 3, 4, 5, and 6, and 16 weddings their 7th year. That’s a total of 91 weddings.
Photographer B has 4 years of experience. They shot 10 weddings their first year, 32 weddings their second year, 33 weddings their third year, and 35 weddings their fourth year. That’s a total of 110 weddings.
If you just asked how long a photographer has been shooting, it would seem that Photographer A has significantly more experience, when Photographer B has actually shot more weddings. The truth is that some photographers are full time, some are part time, some are hobbyists. Different photographers have different capacities. I know photographers who cap themselves at 15 weddings per year, much like Photographer A. I know other photographers that are really hustling and taking on upwards of 30 weddings, much like Photographer B. Number of weddings shot is a much better indicator of experience than the amount of time that someone has been shooting.
I have shot 111 weddings as of September 2019.
Can we see some recent weddings?
Always always always review a minimum of 2, preferably 3-4 full galleries that the photographer has photographed. It is easy to show off pretty sunset hour photos on Instagram, but what do their photos look like when the sun goes down? Or in a getting ready room with bad lighting? Is their style and lighting consistent throughout the day? A full gallery allows you to determine this. I try to send full galleries that are at venues similar to the one the potential client is getting married at in my first response to their inquiry.
How would you describe your photography style?
This is important insight into the brain of your photographer and it helps you make sure that you’re on the same page about how they photograph. Common styles are documentary, fine art, traditional, dramatic, etc. but not every photographer will fit into those boxes by any means. My style of photography is effortless, romantic, and vibrant film photography.
What’s your approach like on the wedding day?
Is your photographer going to be more of a fly on the wall, trying to be seen and not heard? Or is your photographer going to be involved in what’s going on, confidently giving direction, and handling any situations that come their way with ease? Are they going to give you prompts and direction during portrait time, or is it going to be up to you to interact naturally on your own for the photos? Are your friends and family going to be a priority to them or do they tend to focus on the bride and groom heavily? Each photographer has a different way of approaching and photographing a wedding day. In my opinion, the style of approach matters just as much in a decision as the style of editing or lighting. My approach on a wedding day is more like the second description – involved in what’s going on, confidently giving direction, handling situations with ease. I shamelessly style various shots where I know it will elevate that photo, while also knowing when to step back and allow a candid moment to unfold naturally. Your friends and family’s ability to relax and have fun is of utmost importance to me – which is why we’re always checking in on them, making jokes during portrait time to lighten the mood, and partnering with them to make sure you have the time of your life.
What types of editing/retouching are included in your packages?
Be on the same page about this! Does your photographer include skin smoothing/flyaway removal? Will they remove ugly exit signs from important photos? Will they be doing any slimming or body modifications? For me personally, part of the beauty of film is the rendering of the skin tones is so naturally beautiful, I usually don’t need to do any skin smoothing. I DO remove ugly exit signs from the important photos. I do not do any slimming or body modifications because I believe every single person is perfect just as they are. However, if you would feel most happy with your photos with a few adjustments made, I have some fabulous retouching companies that do a great job, and I always provide a quote before proceeding with those edits.
Do you offer custom packages?
Are you locked in to the packages that the photographer has available, or are they willing to create something custom for your unique needs? I’m always happy to create a custom package for a couple – I want your package to include all of the things you need, without any of the things you don’t.
Can we add on to our package later? Can we add extra time if things run late or our plans change?
What’s the game plan if your coverage is ending and the cake hasn’t been cut yet? Most photographers will charge more per hour to stay later at the last moment versus if you splurge for that extra hour at booking – just a heads up! Make sure you know what those extra costs are, even if you think you won’t need them. I always allow couples to add on to their package later down the road!
Do you work with a second photographer and what does that look like?
Ask your photographer if it’ll be just them photographing your day, or if they bring a team. I recommend a second photographer to the majority of my couples. The second shooter typically covers one of the people getting married and their wedding day party during the getting ready portion of the day. They also get extra angles during the ceremony, photograph cocktail hour while we are doing family portraits, and grab some extra angles during the important dances at the reception. You can see more about my thoughts on second shooters here.
What’s the backup plan?
What if your photographer gets deathly ill on the day of your wedding? What if they’re in a car accident a week before and have their leg in a cast? It sucks to have to dream up worst case scenarios like this, but a professional photographer should always have a contingency plan in place in the event that they’re unable to photograph your wedding. I’m lucky to be well networked in several different markets of Texas, and if there was an emergency, there are several people I could call to jump in at the last minute. Most of the time though, my second photographer would step up to the lead position and then an additional second photographer would be found from that network. It’s important to me that my clients have total assurance about their wedding photos, even in worst case scenario.
Do you have insurance?
Every professional photographer should have not only their camera gear insured, but they should have liability insurance as well. Without insurance, a photographer’s business is extremely vulnerable. I talk more about the importance of insurance in this helpful article. All of my camera gear is insured, all my computer equipment is insured, and I have $2 million in liability insurance.
Do you have backup equipment?
What if your photographer accidentally drops their camera and it breaks? What if the shutter decides to fail at your wedding? There’s a million things that could go wrong with equipment during a wedding day, which is why it’s so important to have a set of backup gear. I would never ever hire a professional photographer that wasn’t going to show up to a wedding day with a minimum of two cameras – preferably three. I always have a set of backup equipment with me at a wedding, and all my gear is cleaned and serviced annually to make sure everything is in tip top shape.
What’s your system for protecting and backing up images?
Hard drives carry a false sense of security. My personal rule is that if the wedding doesn’t exist in three places, it doesn’t exist at all. As soon as I get home from a wedding, I upload the photos from the memory cards to my main hard drive. Once that upload is complete, I copy the photos to a backup hard drive. My main hard drive automatically backs up online and the memory cards stay in an envelope on my desk until your wedding gallery has been delivered. That means while I’m editing your photos, I have four different copies of them available to me at any time. Hard drive crashes? I have a backup. House burns down? They’re online. All else fails? I still have the original cards. I see wedding photographers in online groups ALL THE TIME freaking out because they lost somebody’s wedding images because a hard drive crashed or a card corrupted. I decided when I started my business that I was NEVER going to be the photographer to lose somebody’s photos. Storage space for photos is cheap these days, and it’s easy to just go the extra mile and create one more backup. Make sure your photographer has a backup system in place to protect your images against loss.
How long will it take to receive the images?
And whatever they tell you – make sure it’s in the contract! My turnaround time for sessions is 3 weeks and for weddings, 5 weeks. I’ve seen turnaround times anywhere from 2 weeks to 10 weeks.
Do we need to provide you with a shot list?
I get this question during interviews a lot and my answer is yes AND no. Here’s why. It’s a no for the vast majority of the day. You don’t have to list out every single photo you’re dying to have in your gallery. If you provide me with the details, I’ll shoot them. If a moment is happening, I’ll get it. I will be getting everything that day, so don’t worry about telling me to grab a photo of the bride with each bridesmaid, or a photo of the groom’s face when he sees the bride for the first time. Remember – I’ve shot over 100 weddings, I got this!
Where I say YES is during your family formals, and for any non-standard shots you really want. We’ll create a list for your family formals a few weeks out from the wedding so that we can stay organized and make the most of our time. Other than that, I love it when couples give me a heads up about if there’s a certain spot at the venue they’d really love for photos, if there’s a unique detail I want to make sure I don’t miss, or if anything is happening out of the ordinary (ex. the groom’s ring has a unique inscription on the inside of the band, we really want a photo that shows us in front of the chapel, my mom wants a photo of my grandmother helping me put on my necklace, we have a classic car that we’re taking from the ceremony to the reception, etc.) Anything beyond that, and it makes it harder to capture candid moments because I’m focused on checking off boxes on a list.
Are there any other fees we should prepare for?
Travel fees, sales tax – make sure you know what the total price is going to be so that there’s no surprises later down the road. I have to charge Texas sales tax on all my packages. For most weddings within the greater Austin (and San Antonio) areas, there’s no travel fee! I charge travel fees to Dallas, Houston, and anywhere beyond.
How involved are you in planning the engagement session?
Your photographer should be assisting you in the planning process! Ask them what the best locations are, ask them for help picking out outfits, and ask when the best time of day is to shoot. It’s part of their job to help make this a stress-free process that results in photos that you love. When my couples book me, they receive a 20 page location guide of everywhere I love to shoot in the greater Austin area, as well as a 9 page style guide with tips on how to complement your partner and choose clothing that makes you feel amazing and confident.
What does the planning process look like once we book you?
Get a feel for what your experience with the photographer is going to look like after you book them. It’s going to depend on how far out your wedding is at the time of booking, but you want to get an idea of how often you’ll be hearing from them and what all they’ll want to be involved in as you continue to plan. I start planning engagement sessions almost immediately after booking. Throughout the process, I’m also involved in timeline creation. The majority of my time spent on a couple begins about six weeks before the wedding, which is when we start to plan family formals and gather remaining details. Of course though, my couples are welcome to reach out anytime if they have a question, and they’re guaranteed a response within 24 hours.
If you ask these questions, you’ll be able to get a great feel for how capable your photographer is! Your photographer should be more than happy to answer all of these questions for you, and more. If you think that we might be a good fit after reading this, I would love to hear more about you two and your wedding! Contact me and let’s talk details.