Over the holidays, we saw so many newly engaged couples post their news on social media! Congrats to you if you’re one of them! All this proposal buzz got us thinking over here…
With the couples we meet, whether they book with us or not, we often talk about finding the “best fit” for your wedding photography. There are a lot of things to consider, but when it all comes down to it, you’ll probably end up spending more time with your photographer on your wedding day than you will your new spouse, so you’d better be happy with your choice! Here are our ten ideas to get you going on your journey to find your photographer:
Also, we are assuming here that you’ll choose your date and book your venue first. Most photographers won’t (or can’t!) make official plans with you until you have those two things set in stone.
- JOT DOWN A LIST OF MUST-HAVES.
I’m starting you off with advice my mom would give: “CJ, make a list!” Right off the bat, the first sources you should consult are your own head and heart (before Pinterest and bridal magazines start telling you what to think! That comes later!). What do you like/dislike about wedding photography? Have there been photographers at weddings you’ve attended that you’ve really loved or were too distracting? Do you want more or less direction and posing? What style of photography speaks to you most? You might even want to list maybe five pictures that you feel you “absolutely” have to have. These photos may or may not come to be, but writing down what’s closest to your heart first, let’s you sort of narrow down your priorities. You’ll update this list as you go, so keep it handy…and use pencil (or pretty pens, and just rewrite your drafts if you’re like me…).
Notice that budgeting wasn’t our first step… we’ll come back to that.
2. CHECK WITH YOUR VENUE FOR REFERRALS.
More than likely, the venue you choose for your big day hosts a lot of weddings each year, and the people that work at these venues see a lot of photographers coming in and out. They know the grounds, the popular spots, the way the sun sets in different places, and they’ll have great advice as an insider. They also know their favorites, and most of these venues will have a list of preferred vendors they will recommend to you, and some venues might even mandate you choose certain ones, and for good reason. They want photographers who can know and respect their property, get the best photos, and make their clients happy. Among a few others, we are preferred photographers at Hawkesdene House in Andrews, NC and the Dairy Barn in Fort Mill, SC. Both of these places we photograph pretty often and these weddings are always fun for us because we are familiar with the places and the staff. You might also do an image search for your venue and see what wedding pictures are in the results that you like and note the photographer.
If you’re planning a wedding at home or another location that’s otherwise unique to you, check with the vendors you’ve booked about others you’re shopping for!
Now, start another running list of the suggestions you’re getting… (come here, pretty pens!)
3. ASK YOUR FRIENDS.
This is probably our favorite piece of advice because so much of our business comes from word-of-mouth referrals, the past clients who say to their friends or family, “check these guys out!” There is no experience like first-hand, and your married friends that have gone before you can be a wealth of knowledge when it comes to choosing the right people to make your day special. Our clients receive password-protected online image galleries, so if your friends have something like this, ask if you can see their wedding pictures! Seeing a photographer’s website is one thing, but seeing one session or one wedding from start to finish is quite another. They’ll also know the photographers personality and shooting style, and can give you feedback on what it was like to actually work with them, for better or worse.
Then add all this feedback to that list of suggestions!
4. TAKE THE SUGGESTIONS YOU RECEIVED AND START SHOPPING.
Here comes the fun part (and another opportunity for color coding! Yippee!): Start googling!
We recommend you look at style first. Mark off any photographers you know you wouldn’t pick, and then rate the ones you like (or love!). Then, if you can find a bio of the photographer on the website, see if you can learn how long they’ve been in business or anything else they might disclose about themselves upfront.
5. CHECK THE PACKAGES AND COVERAGE OPTIONS.
I promise we’ll get to the budget soon…hang with me!
What kind of photography coverage are you shopping for? An engagement session? Bridal portraits? Prints? Albums? How much coverage are you wanting on the wedding day? This is a perfect time to update that list of must-haves, and you definitely should rate and prioritize your list before delving into your budget.
6. DECIDE HOW MUCH YOU WANT TO SPEND.
This is the biggie for most of us.
Most people have some sticker shock when it comes to wedding photography. It’s one of those big purchases for most weddings, and it’s an industry that’s changing all the time, so it’s hard to know what to expect when you don’t wedding plan all the time (and who does?!).
Now, I could go into detail about how you get what you pay for, or what an investment you’re making in selecting a photographer–what else will you have to show for it, these are your memories, etc. etc.–That’s another post for another day. We believe in the cost of quality photography, but here we want to stay on topic, and the topic is helping you find what works in all aspects. Ok, back to it…
A lot of photographers now choose not to post their pricing publicly for several reasons, so if you’ve managed to avoid seeing prices until now, pat yourself on the back, because we think that only helps you in your planning. If you’re finding that the photographers you are researching are too far off your budget one way or another, price shopping at this point is much easier, because now you know exactly what you’re looking for. Budgeting certainly is not the least important item to consider, but we think it should be last in the sequence of your planning so that you, first and foremost, know what you’re wanting. You may find a bargain somewhere, but any amount of money is too much to spend on something you’ll regret.
There are all different budgets for all different weddings, and regardless, you have to plan and budget in order to get the most out of your money and get what you want.
I’m no financial advisor, so I can’t tell you how to spend your money.
I’m also not the bride here, so I can’t tell you how to prioritize your spending. As the photographer, I’ll obviously tell you that your pictures should be toward the top of your list, but other costs that you may want to move up or down the list, that’s all you.
I will tell you, as a photographer, if you’ve found the style and the photographer you absolutely love, tell them so! The more you communicate with your vendors, the better we can help. Even without cutting deals, sometimes all it takes is rearranging within your photography package to help fit what you want within your budget. This is where we can help. Share your list of must-haves with the photographers you’re researching, and see what they say. For us personally, more often than not, we are creating custom packages for our clients so they get what they want and still save money on the things that matter less. It never hurts to ask. And at the least, giving the photographers a chance to see if they’re a fit always means a lot to us. You matter more than you know!
On a personal note, photographers often talk together about inquiries that reach out and show initial interest and then completely disappear. I can’t speak for everybody, but if you ding-dong-dash as my nephew says (haha), I promise we think about you and wish we could help, even if you book with someone else. We see our jobs as photographers serving not only our clients, but also the greater community of photographers and brides. We want to help, even if we are not the best fit for you.
7. NARROW DOWN THE MUST-HAVES.
Now with budget in mind, prioritize what you just can’t live without–style, amount of wedding day coverage, portrait sessions and extras, etc. You might have found a photographer that you connected with on a personal level. If working with that person becomes important to you, write that down.
8. NARROW DOWN THE POTENTIAL PHOTOGRAPHERS.
If you haven’t already, it’s time to email/call some photographers to get some information! Let them send you some possible quotes, compare it with your budget and must-haves, and use those initial conversations to start getting a feel for your comfort with them on a personal level. Photographers understand the importance of first impressions, so it’s ok to judge this book by its cover, at least a little!
9. MEET UP!
Take the next step by narrowing down the potentials to two or three (or one, if you’re really feeling it!) that you want to meet. If our clients are not local and meeting isn’t an option, we have used Skype or FaceTime. Meeting, even if only for a few minutes just to get a feel for your chemistry, really helps you, and us too! This is your chance to ask those burning questions: how long have you been in business? What motivates you most when it comes to wedding photography? What’s the fine print in the contract? Favorite color of crayon? You know, the important stuff.
This is another conversation for another day, but do plan ahead before meeting your photographer. You’ll get so much more out of your meeting if you think about it ahead of time. (And bring your handy lists with you that CJ Torrence coached you through!) We have seen several resources online for questions to ask in an interview with a photographer, and those can be helpful. But as always, use them as a helper, not a hard and fast rule.
10. IN THE END, GO WITH YOUR GUT.
Maybe we romanticize this whole arrangement, but it really is kind of like falling in love (for us anyway!). As I mentioned earlier, you probably will spend most of your time on one of the biggest days of your life with your photographer, especially during the moments you’re likely to be most nervous. At this point, the photographers you’re interviewing have all passed the style, budget, and first impressions tests; it’s time to pick who you like. Who will you enjoy having by your side on your wedding day?
From our experience, chances are good that the photographer you feel the strongest connection with also feels that same connection with you. If you like each other and are comfortable together, as the photographer, we are that much more likely to be at ease too, which just opens those doors to our creativity even more. As if you needed one more reason to trust yourself…
Feel free to comment below and let us know what you think of our suggestions and other ideas you’ve found helpful along the way! There are so many strong photographers out there, that the options can easily seem endless. We hope this helps you form a game plan to find the right photographer for you!
Congratulations, love, and happy planning!
Forsyth Country Club – Winston-Salem, NC
Biltmore Estate – Asheville, NC
Biltmore Forest Country Club – Biltmore Forest, NC
Hawkesdene House – Andrews, NC
Anne Springs Close Greenway Dairy Barn – Fort Mill, SC
Shay Brown Events – Asheville, NC
All photos by Torrence Photography