The Engaged Life #2: How to pick a wedding photographer

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My cohosts have been doing a fantastic job of continuing to do their blogs on a weekly basis. Being the editor of the actual podcast episodes, I haven’t exactly had the time to flesh out a post since my first one. That said, I’ll try to be a bit more regular on my posts. Hopefully, I didn’t just jinx myself.

Rolling off this week’s episode about customer service, it dawned on me that I can share a good bit of advice about being engaged. This blog is supposed to be The Engaged Life, right? Aside from being engaged, I have been a photographer for about 3 years or so. I started doing event coverage for the events I would attend on behalf of my company, which included a lot of car shows throughout the year and included SEMA. From there, I ended up doing impromptu photoshoots of cars as well as product photos. My work was used as marketing material for the company. This experience fostered a love for photography and a recognition of the power that a strong composition could provide to the viewer. I began experimenting with different types of photography and loved all of them because of what each one teaches you. Street photography was great for getting raw, candid moments. Portraits help you learn how to pose and how to work with people. Macro teaches you about aperture and depth of field. Light painting teaches you how to manipulate light and your camera to create cool effects. I also shot film cameras for a year which taught me to slow down and wait for the right moments instead of spraying and praying. This list goes on ad nauseum.

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Some of my early work. Shot with a Canon Rebel T2i that I was borrowing from my manager at the time. Taken in Zurich, Switzerland.

I say all this because I feel like this laid a foundation for me that allows me to give advice on how to pick a wedding photographer. Everything I’m about to say is how a photographer would commission another photographer. So here goes nothing:

Step 1. Ask what the deliverables are

When you meet with your photographer, you should find out what you’ll be getting for what you’re paying. Here’s a list of things to watch out for:

  • Hours. Of course, you should know how many hours your photographer is willing to work and what overtime fees may be.
  • # of shooters and assistants. This would be especially useful since each photographer can focus on a different style throughout the night. Assistants, namely lighting, show that the photographers care about lighting and getting the right set up for the shots they need. You also need to know how many vendors you need to feed. FEED YOUR VENDORS. Don’t be a dick.
  • Is an engagement shoot included or separate? Not a whole lot to say about this one. You just need to find out if they charge extra for the engagement photos that you’ll most likely use for Save the Dates and/or wedding invitations. Sessions are typically 0.5-2 hours depending on how many locations you want to do and how far apart they are.
  • Don’t ask for how many pictures they’ll take. You can ask for an average amount that they normally deliver over the course of an event so you know kinda what to expect, but moments ultimately dictate how many pictures they take. If you have a boring event, they’re gonna take less pictures. They can only gather people up to pose so many times. They’re photographers, not promoters.
  • Don’t bother asking them about their camera, unless you’re a gear whore like me and just like talking about it. They don’t need to have a Nikon D4 or a Canon 5D or Sony A7R3. It doesn’t even matter if they run full frame, APS-C, or Micro 4/3. There are still some photographers that run 35mm film. The photographer just has to know how to work around the limitations of their equipment. Don’t let gear snobs tell you otherwise. However,  you can ask how large of a print they would be comfortable in printing based on the gear they’re using. As long as they can print 8×10 you should be in the clear for the most part unless you know you want to make a really large print. 99% of the time this isn’t an issue so don’t worry about it.
  • Ask what format they’ll be delivering the pictures to you. This can range from online gallery, to CD, to thumb drive. Also ask if they will provide all the raw images of the pictures they didn’t want to edit. You never know, maybe they captured a funny moment that only you and your partner cherish. Photographers vary on this and both sides are valid. If they do share, it’s because they want you to have access to everything that they captured on your day. If they don’t, it’s because they don’t want stuff that isn’t representative of their work to be displayed.
  • Don’t forget that they own the pictures. Under US copyright law, the person who presses the shutter owns the photos. Make sure you find out how they feel about reproductions or reprints of their work, especially if they give you access to raw, unedited photos.
  • Skip the photo album. I’m saying this because it’s a waste of money and time, unless you have samples of their books and they were thoroughly impressive. There are a lot of printing companies and they are not created equal. Not to mention, we live in a social media world. Almost all pictures are consumed digitally now. Unless the sample is amazing, skip the album completely and just print the pictures you really like from a reputable place so that you can frame them. You can always get the album further down the road if you change your mind.

Step 2. Know your style

There are a lot of different styles when it comes to wedding photography and you need to figure out what style you want so that you can find the right photographer. For example, right now the trend is what I like to call “super high key.” Long story short, high key is photography jargon for pictures with a lot of highlights or whites. A ubiquitous reference I can make is most of Apple’s marketing: white backgrounds with well lit subjects. To contrast, a lot of luxury brands of watches often use low key: dark backgrounds with the subject separated with moody lighting.

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Standard high key shot. The sun is directly behind them so they would’ve been completely dark without flash. I didn’t want to lose detail so I used off-camera flash to get it right in camera instead of fixing it in post. If the client gave me full creative control, the sky would have been perfectly exposed instead of being slightly blown out.
  • Super high key takes this a step further. It’s something that a lot of people call the romantic look or dreamy look. To achieve this look, the photographer basically shoots directly at a light source, usually the sun, and exposes for the subject(s), not the light source. If no other light is introduced, what happens is that the photo is overexposed and the direct light bouncing around the inside of the lens creates this “hazy” effect. The haze can sometimes look cool but also equates to loss of unrecoverable detail. As a photographer, this style personally drives me nuts. I personally don’t like it. It’s taking everything you learn and throwing it out the window. Granted, there are times where this works out really well, but this trend started because a lot of the photographers that came before didn’t know how to balance ambient with subject lighting. Be wary of photographers who ONLY shoot this style. If they do, it might mean they don’t understand lighting.

The other styles include what I call editorial, candid, and detail.

  • Editorial is when the photographer is mainly concerned with posing and composing shots for each group of people. The pros are that you get well composed pictures in a controlled environment. The cons is that you often miss “moment” and the humanity that’s supposed to be so vibrant at an event like a wedding is often missing from this style.
  • Candid is just that, candid. It’s somewhat like National Geographic where the photographer mainly tries to capture the moments and uses perspective to create mood in the pictures. The pros is that you get some interesting shots that often can’t be replicated. The cons is that this style isn’t always safe and you may not get the shots that you want.
  • The people who I consider as detail photographer is all about high fidelity and lighting. This is the epitome of wedding photographer. You must be a master of your craft to pull this off consistently. If you can do this style, you can do it all. They can pose you to create moments and use lighting to accentuate the mood of the photo. This is my personal preference obviously, and I think the photographer you choose should aspire to be this as well.
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Not much Photoshop involved. Elmer @ TNK Photo actually knows how to use gels, diffusion and lighting to achieve the look in camera. This doesn’t look that much different than what he showed me while we were there.

As further reference, you can check out Lin and Jersa’s page where they categorize their different styles. This is an example of a detail photographer and that is why they’re able to do every other style. If you can afford them, you should just book them. It’s a no brainer.

Step 3. Find out their lighting solution

Damn near everyone knows how to shoot in natural light. Most people with a phone can shoot outdoors during the day and get a decent shot. But what happens when it starts getting darker or you have to go indoors? This is what sets amateurs apart from professionals and something that I personally need to work on in my own photography.

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This picture was taken at ISO 3200, the maximum sensitivity that I would be comfortable shooting to avoid noise. This picture would not be possible without flash.
  • A pro-level camera can only get you so far. When you increase sensitivity on your camera, you inevitably reach a point when fuzzy noise starts entering the picture and you start losing detail.
  • What happens if you end up dressing up your venue with maroon and red colored uplighting? Are you going to like all of your pictures being maroon and red? This is where knowledge of lighting comes in.
  • Are they using on-camera flash, off-camera flash, diffusers, snoots, bounce flash, etc.? Situations dictate what to use, but they should know how to use what they have to its full potential.
  • Ask for samples of indoor or night events they’ve done.

Step 4. Stick with your budget and work backwards

Let’s face it, not everyone can spend $8-10k on a wedding photographer. While I’m a firm believer that your photographer will be an integral part of your special day, you shouldn’t have to take out a loan just to book one. However, here are a few things to consider:

  • Start looking a bit above your budget. This will open you up to the possibilities that more knowledgeable and experienced photographers can offer. Who knows, if you find someone and can haggle them down because they like you, you might be getting a steal.
  • Work backwards. If you’ve done the first part correctly, you’ll at least have a goal in mind. Start researching the type of work you get for closer to your budget. This way,  you start to see the difference between fair pricing and arbitrary pricing. There are plenty of photographers that just price themselves around the ballpark of what other people are charging, even though their work doesn’t warrant it at all. As you move down in budget, you should be able to differentiate between this.
  • Pay more for service. If you’re stuck between 2 photographers of about equal quality of work, err on the side of customer service, even if they cost a little more. A cohesive photographic team can become a crucial part of your support group during the stress of the actual day. Never underestimate the value of your vendors.

Step 5. Winning

Hopefully this guide has helped you figure out how to book your photographer. If you need help starting out, here are a few recommendations/references from me:

TNK Photos – the company that I picked. High def style with creative lighting and amazing customer service.

Brandon J. Ferlin Photography – Editorial/candid style photographer with over 8 years of experience. Also happens to be a personal friend of mine.

Jason Lanier – Incredible commercial and wedding photography. He does wedding workshops which he documents on YouTube. I highly suggest watching some of his workshops because they’re incredibly informative and entertaining.

Quick disclaimer, none of this is sponsored content. I am not receiving any compensation for any of these recommendations. This are my honest recommendations and want everyone to be successful at finding a photographer that suits their needs.

I hope this helps! If you have any questions, just hit me up at therelationshipodcast@gmail.com.

-Drey

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