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Choosing a photographer

HOW TO CHOOSE A WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHER

When planning a wedding, one of the most important considerations the bridal couple will have to make is the choice of a photographer.

You may be tempted to let Uncle Harry take your wedding photos on your big day with his compact camera. Friends and family may even suggest handing out single-use cameras to all the guests, but whilst both these options are inexpensive and might (perhaps) even produce some half decent pictures, hiring a professional photographer for your wedding will ensure that you have many beautiful photographs to show for it.

I have met couples who approach the selection of their wedding photographer almost as an after-thought. They tend to get so caught up with all the fun and visual wedding details the guests will see such as e.g. the cake, the wedding decor, the gown, etc. – but they often do not consider that selection of the wedding photographer is just as important. After all, who will record all those fun moments and visual details?!

To shop for a wedding photographer is not the same as selecting a gown or a bridal bouquet. When selecting your gown or bouquet you can see something tangible before you make your decision, but with the selection of your photographer, you are, in some instances, at the mercy of a super-salesperson or your own intuition.

With many couples PRICE is usually the main determining factor, even though there is NEVER going to be a second chance. Unfortunately there has never been anything written that gives the couple a true guideline as to how to select the one person who could supply them with a heart full of memories to last a lifetime.

SO, how do you find the right wedding photographer with the personality and the photographic style that is right for you? What are the latest styles, and why should you choose digital, color, or black-and-white images? What kind of album presentation will you want? How much should you expect to pay? These are only some of the important factors that you will have to consider in choosing a wedding photographer.

Start Looking:
The ideal time to begin your shopping for a wedding photographer is as soon as you become engaged. This will allow you ample time to visit several different photographers in their studios and examine wedding pictures they have taken in the past.

As a starting point you will need to spend time on research and on meeting several photographers to review their portfolios. If that sounds like too much work, consider the following comment:

"It's the photographer's eyes, talent, heart, and ability that will produce the images that will help you and your family to remember this most important day of your life. The choice of photographer is more important than any other single factor in the preparation of your wedding day. Do it with caution and with confidence. The joy (or pain) of your wedding photographs will live on much longer than the amount of money invested." (Author – Unknown)

Wedding Experience:
The experience of the photographer in taking wedding photos is incredibly important, not just for the quality of photograph, but also to ensure that your photographer knows how to professionally conduct him or herself on the job and to deal with the intensity of a wedding. An experienced wedding photographer will know how to dress appropriately for the venue, the occasion and the wedding couple’s religious denomination. The photographer’s experience will also allow him to pre-empt the next step in the proceedings and will therefore allow him to position himself without becoming a distraction to your guests while taking photos. The photographer should also know how to work in harmony with a videographer.

He must be able to keep up with the pace of your wedding day, and be able to deal with the fact that he or she will have an atmosphere of excitement and emotion swirling around him or her as they work. Most importantly, the photographer will know precisely how to capture the emotion, not only of the bridal couple, but also of the family and guests, on film so it can be preserved for a lifetime.

That being said, it is not to say that it is never okay to hire a part time photographer, or for that matter a less experienced wedding photographer. You only have look as far as local photographic magazines to realize that there are numerous competent, talented and even gifted part-time photographers that can produce technically correct and breathtaking photos. After all, there would not be experienced wedding photographers if no one had been willing to give them a chance back when they were still rookies, would there? You also just have to read the history and background of some full-time and professional photographers who evolved over time from part-time and inexperienced photographers to some of the greatest names in photography today to realize that they too started at the “bottom”.

If you are on a very tight budget, for example, hiring a less experienced or part time photographer should cost you considerably less than a very experienced one, so this may indeed be your best option (better than no photos at all, right?). But the bottom line is that it is very important to know what their experience level is so that you know what you are getting into and can make a well informed decision based on what is important to you.

If it is important to you that the photos turn out absolutely perfect, go for someone very experienced. If saving money is of primary importance, perhaps experience will matter less to you.

Where can you find photographers?
Although the Yellow Pages list many photographers, it may not specify which have experience or expertise with weddings. A further draw back of the Yellow Pages is that you can not view the listed photographer’s work straight away to add or delete that photographer from your shortlist.

More often than not the bridal couple still has to work full-time whilst trying to fit appointments with wedding services vendors into their already full schedules. The search for and the selection of a photographer should therefore be as easy and as painless as possible. You can therefore, in this day and age of technology, consider the following strategies for quickly finding and qualifying several wedding photographers.

1) Ads and Web sites:
Specialist wedding photographers place their ads on bridal or wedding specific websites such as this website (The Wedding Venue Guide) as well as in countless printed publications. You can also do a Web search to find the Web sites of local photographers. These websites will often provide information about the studio’s or photographer’s qualifications and allow you to view some of their past work.

2) Bridal shows:
Bridal shows and exhibitions are usually widely published in bridal magazines, news papers and street pole adds. You'll find shows in most cities with various exhibitors, including wedding photographers. These shows are great because they offer the couple an opportunity to quickly review several portfolios. You will not necessarily make any decisions during a bridal show, but it will, at least, get you thinking about the different photographic styles that you might prefer. Should a certain photographer’s work immediately “speak” to you, you can get a business card or pamphlet from the photographer for future reference.

3) Referrals:
However, do not limit your search to bridal shows or exhibitions only. Many established photographer’s do not attend bridal shows; but instead rely on referrals from satisfied clients. Ask friends, family or colleagues for feedback on their wedding photographer. If you get favorable comments, ask to see their wedding albums. You can also get recommendations from wedding coordinators about reliable photographers or from the wedding venue you chose, but keep in mind that they may not know which photographer offers the style of photographs that you will prefer.

How should you get to know the photographer?
Your research may produce many leads. Narrow the field by reviewing brochures and Web sites, and by making some telephone calls or sending some e-mails to ask a few questions. Once you decided on a photographer and short-listed him or her you should book a consultation meeting to review that photographer’s portfolios. During this meeting you should also judge their personalities, appearance and confidence, (and in some cases their arrogance) to determine what they can offer, and to determine or firm up your budget.

This legwork is a key element. You cannot even imagine how many changes there have been in the past few years, in photography and presentation design. You also need to meet the photographers to find out if you are compatible and what they can do to enhance your day.

If your personalities do not mesh, it will certainly show in the photographs. Consider a trial run with an engagement photo session or a formal bridal session to get to know each other even better. The photographer will learn your facial features, your most photogenic angles, and how to get a really sincere smile. It will also allow both you and the photographer to suggest certain poses and to attempt test shots of those poses. (A pose or angle that might look nice in a magazine will not necessarily work for you.)

If you are dealing with a studio which employs a number of different wedding photographers, you'll want to be sure you are viewing the samples of the actual photographer who will be assigned to your wedding - so be sure to ask whether that is the case! It might seem obvious, but you'd be surprised by how often studios will show prospective customers the work of photographers who will have nothing to do with their wedding. That won't tell you much, now will it?

This can not be stressed enough so I will say it again - when visiting photographers you must ensure that you are specifically shown samples of their wedding photography. Looking at pictures of babies, pets, or sunsets won't give you any indication of the photographer's ability to take good wedding pictures!

You'll also want to request a meeting with the actual photographer who will photograph your wedding. Remember, this is a highly personal occasion and you will be working very closely with the person taking your photograph. He will be following you around for the entire day, so it's terribly important that you have a chance to meet in advance to ensure that you are compatible and that there is no likelihood of a personality clash. This needs to be someone you find likeable. You don't want to be followed around on your wedding day by someone you find irritating, annoying, or offensive.

There can be many stressful situations on a wedding day. You will want a photographer who can help calm your nerves and not add to the stress. Weddings should be fun and memorable, and the right photographer can help make that happen.

Which style of photography should you select?
As you review the portfolios of photographers and studio’s, you will find three basic styles. Each style has its own merit, but you will have to choose which is right for you. In my opinion you should select the style of photography based on how emotionally moved you are by it.

a. Traditional:
With this style the formal photographs - including the bride, the groom, the wedding party, and the families - offer a familiar style with beautiful lighting and locations. But today, many couples do not want "staged" portrait photos and are rarely willing to spend time on formal posing. They want more emphasis on the story-telling aspects - the relationships, emotions, feelings, and other details - and they want to spend more time with their guests. Yet, many couples agree that some formal photographs are necessary, especially for parents and other family.

b. Contemporary:
The newer, more illustrative approach is quite different. Here the photographer may make general suggestions about posing and the location, but does not control the situation. As a voyeur, the photographer can watch and wait, to capture the wonderful expressions, the tears and the laughter. This technique allows the photographer to add more of a creative touch as well. When the photographer do not have to worry about seeing the bride and groom's smiling faces, he or she can concentrate on creating a dynamic image that evokes an emotional response from the viewer, perhaps a tender embrace, or a sweet kiss on the cheek.

c. Photojournalistic:
Although it can be less artistic, the photojournalistic technique is based on recording the day's activities and special moments as a news photographer might. In addition to single images, it may include a full series, depicting a situation as it develops. This is the hottest current trend, and some photographers now specialize in this purely documentary style.

However, keep in mind that there is a difference between candid snapshots and spontaneous, story-telling images that capture the activities and emotions of the day. Do you want an album with many documentary images? If so, review the work of several photographers to find one who has mastered this style. Remember that they often have little control over backgrounds, so don't expect perfection.

d. Black and white
Monochrome wedding albums are definitely popular and most photographers will supply both colour as well as monochrome photos. But the question remains, should you select black and white or stick with color? If the couple is thinking of black and white, we suggest a mix of black and white pictures as well as colour photographs because most parents and grandparents prefer color prints, while most couples love black and white. A combination of both should please everyone. With digital imaging, color photos can easily be converted to black and white, giving everyone the best of both worlds.
Eventually, you'll need to decide which style is right for you.

This is a very important decision because Photojournalism can capture the candid moments, while traditional and artistic styles can be more flattering. By correctly using light and posing, a talented photographer can make you look your best.

(At A Photographer or 2 we prefer to use a combination of all three styles to make an album that not only tells the story of your wedding day but is also exciting to look at. Unless you have a very specific preference, consider photographers with proven experience in all three styles.)

See a WHOLE Wedding
Photographers should ideally have two portfolios. One portfolio should contain a compilation of the photographer’s best work and the other should depict a complete wedding, from start to finish. If you are interested in a photographer's services at this point, it is important that you ask to see a complete coverage of a single wedding. That is a lot more important than seeing a selection of beautiful highlights from many different weddings.

When looking through the album, evaluate the work by placing yourself in the position that that could have been YOUR wedding coverage. Ask yourself if the photographer has actually considered the individual characteristics and personality of each of the important persons in the photographs. Has the photographer caught the individual's actual feelings of the moment, or are these just pictures of people standing and looking self-consciously into the lens. Do they look natural?

How important is photographic and digital equipment?
In this day and age where quality and status are determined or measured on brand names, the family, bride or groom who is photo enthusiasts tend to get caught up in equipment issues. What type of camera, lens, or flash does the photographer use, and which film? Frankly, I would be more interested in knowing if the photographer has enough backup equipment in case of a breakdown. With qualified professionals, you should be able to trust their expertise in what type of equipment is best suited to each type of image or situation.

Some photographers or studios still use conventional photography and printing techniques, but most have moved into digital imaging. This allows them to enhance the images in a computer, removing distracting elements, such as signs in the background. The new technology is particularly useful for candid shots where the photographer has little control over the lighting and backgrounds. If a studio emphasizes the value of digital imaging you should check sample prints closely for possible discoloration, sharpness, pixelation (pictures with jagged edges), or if the backgrounds are too dark.

Some photographers are becoming digital artists and not just wedding photographers. They use the technology for artistic effects such as adding special borders, making images look like Polaroid transfers, sepia toning black-and-white images for an antique effect, and softening the background to focus your attention on rings or other icons.

Naturally, many beautiful effects can also be achieved with conventional (non-digital) methods. However, it is my opinion that you not worry about the specific technology that a studio uses. If you are moved by the photographs, and they are technically excellent, does it matter how they were made?

What should a photography package cost?
It's difficult to pay too much for something you really like. Yet, price is usually the one obstacle that prevents many wedding clients from selecting the photographer who undoubtedly could give them the best value for the money.

Quite often the difference between the price of the photographer you really like and one who you feel is "within the budget" is miscalculated.

Understandably, of course! When wedding plans come down to Rands and cents, it's hard to keep spending "a little more here...and a little less there”. Somewhere along the line, you will feel like you have to give a little! There's only so-much money available! Yet, within the framework of the entire wedding day, it makes good sense to evaluate the money spent on photographs in relation to what's being spent on flowers, food and music. Although everyone knows that the pictures are the only thing you have after the moment has passed, some people still feel that they have to put the money "where it shows".

Later, in the privacy of their own hearts, many of these people are often disappointed with photographic memories that give them nothing but heartaches...and there's no remedy!

Let's face it!

You're going to remember the wedding day through the eyes, heart and talent of your photographer. Therefore, if you are unhappy, regardless of the "good deal" you got, you could lose everything!

What's the "going rate" among wedding photographers nowadays? The price difference is as great as the time, talent and technique of the photographers being considered. Certainly, among competent photographers in a highly competitive area, or photographers in their formative years, a good wedding photography package can be found from as little as R2000.00. However, spending THAT, or less than that, would probably be a high-risk gamble.

Other photographers may begin somewhere around the R4000.00 mark and go upwards from there. A true specialist, one who has a reputation for consistently delivering the best, might begin at two or three times that amount and go upwards from there.

When considering the cost of a photographer, you may find that photographers and studios sometimes approach this matter in one or two different manners.

Whereas some photographers have basic "packages" of an agreed number of photographs for a specified Rand amount, other studios might have a predetermined charge for their services and allow you to buy whatever amount of pictures you want.

Still some photographers allow you to have ALL the pictures that are taken. There is a set fee that includes EVERYTHING! There are, of course, benefits to all of these approaches. In the first instance you have a good idea right from the start how much money you're probably going to spend...and you're locked into that minimum. That's a double guarantee, both for you and the photographer. Studios that offer you what's known as their a-la-carte system are taking a chance (along with you) as to how much money you'll be spending.

The studio that offers you ALL the pictures may scare you at first with the high price, but you may want to know that up front and KNOW that you will not be spending more.

Realize that at the same time you're preparing your budget, you will probably want to spend extra money for albums and portraits for both families. In any case, you're probably going to spend more than you originally planned, but you'll be doing it because you like the pictures so much, you WANT to buy the extras. The bottom line, as you know, is not necessarily how much you end up spending on photographs. Instead, its how much pleasure you get from them over the years. Wouldn't you agree, that at a time as important as your wedding day, it's better to invest a little more money for photography than you had planned...instead of a little less that you should have?

However, as said before, if your budget is very tight, check the newspaper ads for part-time photographers. Their prices are moderate, but the quality may be as well. There is usually a huge difference in what is on the cutting edge and what part-timers are producing. Their heart and their education may not be in this job. You may not get the expertise, the current style or technique, or even the best equipment. Before making up your mind on a low-budget package, check out what professional studios can offer in terms of superior image and presentation quality.

After all, you're not just buying a product. What you're purchasing is the photographer's vision and experience and ability to interact well with family and guests, not just the album and the photographs. As with any service, expect to pay more if the photographer is the owner of the studio, and has a national reputation or an award-winning style.

During the consultation, discuss specifics about the number of prints, and the size, that are included. Look at the sample albums filled with prints, and ask what it would cost to have one just like that. Some studios do not sell a prepackaged set of products, but offer a menu of items for greater versatility. This includes prints of various sizes, a full range of album styles, framed prints, and so on.

The quality of the albums will certainly affect the price. The more luxurious albums are not inexpensive, but they are an important part of the professional presentation. When you visit a studio, see how they assembled the images for a previous wedding. They should make you feel as if you were there. An album is not made for today, it's made for tomorrow. It should be a complete story that moves you and brings back memories of important moments, even years later.

Can you keep the negatives?
Part-time photographers may give you a few hundred proofs and let you keep the negatives. Then you're on your own. That can lead to “scrapbooking” snapshots instead of putting together a photographic presentation. Studios typically retain the negatives or the digital image files to make the best possible enlargements.

Whether a professional photographer makes the prints or supervises a pro lab, the prints will reflect his creative vision. The photographer should have control over everything, the cropping, brightening or darkening certain areas, removing imperfections, and so on. A photographer should consider artistic prints and a professional album with a creative presentation as part of the design concept.

Some photographers will, after taking the album order, give the couple a CD-ROM disc containing the digital images of all of the proofs. These are great for sharing with friends in an online album or by e-mail. If the couple buys the premier or deluxe album, they also get a copyright release so they can make extra prints. However, an important point to remember here is that the digital images are not necessarily color corrected, cropped, or enhanced, so clients will usually order prints from the studio's fully corrected file.
What other questions should you ask?
There are some other important questions that couples may forget to ask when interviewing several photographers:

Do you plan to cover the dinner and the reception?
Staying through the entire function is important in the storytelling concept of your album. It takes some talent, technical expertise, and professional lighting to make high-quality photographs of the dinner and the party. You'll probably want such images in your professionally produced album, instead of using friends' snapshots.

Will the photographer be working alone?
An assistant is essential, helping the photographer with poses, organizing groups, and managing cameras and flash systems. Some are photographers in training, and they may help to provide extra coverage - a real plus, especially during the ceremony. An assistant allows the photographer to truly perform as an artist blending traditional portraiture and capturing of candid moments, without spending time moving equipment.

May our friends take pictures too?
Guests often want to take pictures, especially during great poses arranged by the wedding photographer. This can waste time and create situations where everyone in the wedding party is looking in different directions. You'll be happier with your album if guests do not shoot over the professional photographer's shoulder, so try to discourage that practice. Some photographers may allow it as long as the guest's flash does not interfere with the pro's flash system. However, a photographer’s contract will rarely allow any other professional photography.

How many proofs will we get to see?
Most clients like to see 250 to 500 proofs; a higher number can become overwhelming. Most photographers and studios will edit the proofs and show only the best ones. If most of the photographs are traditional, the photographer had a lot of control over subjects and backgrounds. Then even 250 are more than you need. But if the photographer is heavily into photojournalism - capturing moments, without a lot of control - you may need to review at least 500 proofs to find a hundred really good ones.

Making the final decision:
By now you've probably spent a good deal of time with several photographers and eventually, you'll decide on the photographer who will record the story of your wedding day. His or her time is money, the same as yours. Realize that in the long run someone has to pay for the hours each photographer spends as a consultant. Keep his or her (and your) expenses to a minimum by going to the meeting with the photographer prepared to leave a deposit to confirm the date. Before you do, however, you may want to assure yourself of a few more last-minute details.

Find out the photographer's policy if the date of your wedding is changed and he or she is not available on the alternate date. Find out, too, what the policy is for an unforeseen cancellation of the date. At this stage of the game, if you've really taken the time to get into some of the above questions, you HAVE to know whether or not this photographer is for you.

If the photographer IS for you, if the photographer IS available, and if you're convinced that it's worth the price...then make the commitment and rest assured that this is undoubtedly one of the best and most intelligent decisions you've made in planning your wedding!

Then you'll be asked to sign a contract that should benefit both the photographer and the client. This, plus your deposit or retainer, will lock in the date for the photographer and also the price, including the cost of any extras you might order later. Everything should be spelled out in the contract so there are no surprises.

The contract should include a date for delivery of the proofs, and then for the final album with the enlargements. This can range from weeks to months. Agree on a specific time frame that you can live with. But fulfill your obligation promptly too. Do not delay making a decision about which of the images you want in the final albums.

After completing this important part of your wedding plan, you can move on to make the other arrangements. By now, you'll have done a lot of work, but that will certainly pay off. You finished all the research, so you know that you like the photographer's work and you feel comfortable with this person. That will be the most important thing during your day. You'll probably spend more time with the photographer than with anyone else. The limos, the florist or the caterers all come and go. But the photographer will be there from the beginning to the end. It is important that you follow your heart and have peace of mind with your decision.

A Final Thought?
If you should spend say, R10 000.00 for your wedding pictures, that is an investment of only about fifty four cents a day, if you make it to your 50th Anniversary!

You're going to be concerned with the price only one time...when you buy. You're going to be concerned with quality, however, during the lifetime of the product! ...... Or, the marriage.

Congratulations on your upcoming marriage,
Chris Powrie, Photographer
A Photographer or 2
Feel free to e-mail us for any advice at: photographeror2@webmail.co.za

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Wedding Guide or its advertisers.

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