These days, it's not enough to just flip through a photographer's portfolio and give the thumbs up. Before hiring a wedding photographer, it's important to ask the right questions and understand the finer details of entering into a contract with your photographer, which is both a personal and professional relationship. Can you legally post your photographs on social media? Does your photographer have a backup plan in case of an emergency? Before saying "I do" to a photographer, consider these essential questions during the interview process.
1. What's your shooting style?
Finding the right photographer is like speed dating, and it can be risky to rely on pretty pictures alone. Instead, set aside time to have a deeper discussion with the photographer to determine whether you're compatible, and flush out a shared vision for your big day.
"It's so important that you click with your photographer," says Kate Lyon, a wedding photographer herself. "Ask what their style is, how they handle tough situations, and how they get to know you so they can tell your story in a way that really expresses you as a couple. Yes, you want pretty photographs — but it's even better to have gorgeous photographs that capture your relationship."
"The right photographer will be able to understand you as a person, so that s/he can tell your love story," says Tiffani Matsuura, a wedding photographer with Sun and Sparrow. "Your photographer will be the one person whom you see most on your wedding day, guiding you through your day. It's essential to find a photographer who will want to beautifully photograph all the things you think are special."
While the wedding photographs should reflect who you are as a couple, Matsuura cautions against being too reliant on the industry's buzz words and dig deeper to determine if a photographer can meet your stylistic needs.
"When looking at each potential photographer's portfolio, you may have key words in mind like 'traditional,' 'candid' or 'photojournalistic,'" says Matsuura. "Because weddings are constantly evolving, these key words can be deceiving. Your wedding photographer should be able to handle all these styles within the wedding day. There will be moments for photojournalism, moments for candid photography, and moments for traditional poses. Instead, ask if your photographer's style is more 'natural' or 'dramatic' or 'styled.'"
2. What technology will you use to shoot my wedding?
Once you've made an artistic match, it's time to get technical. Go beyond the aesthetic appeal of a photographer's portfolio, and ask questions about their equipment before signing a contract, just to get an idea of what to expect on the big day.
A few additional questions to ask:
What kind of equipment do you use?
Ideally, your photographer would use a readily available professional camera, Matsuura advises.
Do you shoot digitally or with film?
"Shooting digitally or in film is a personal preference," says Matsuura. "There are differences to the styles, but not the photographing techniques. You or your photographer may have a preference on either one, but both are amazing ways to capture weddings."
Do you shoot in JPG or RAW?
"Preferably, your photographer will shoot in RAW," says Matsuura. "The reason for this: when a photographer shoots in RAW, those files are more easily able to be edited. RAW offers more options to save images if there are any lighting incidents. Most seasoned wedding photographers will shoot in RAW format."
How do you handle shooting with low lighting?
"Low light is tricky," says Matsuura. "Your photographer should know their 'Low Light' process very well and should be able to describe how they accomplish their signature night look."
3. What's your backup plan?
Expect the unexpected! Your photographer should have a backup plan for a range of wedding-day scenarios, just in case technology fails.
"I've heard horror stories of cameras failing or batteries running out at critical moments," says Matsuura. "A good photographer will be prepared for any sticky situation."
"I once had my camera break seconds before the ceremony kiss!" says Lyon. "Luckily, I had my backup camera close by. It may seem to be an obvious question, but make sure to ask your photographer if they have backup equipment with them on the wedding day."
When reviewing the contract, check to see that there's an "understudy" in place, just in case of sickness or another situation arises, and your photographer has to cancel at the last minute.
"It should specify say that it's another professional that's fully competent so the couple doesn't have to worry," says Lyon. "I have my assistant photographer as the back-up, and then another photographer to take the spot of second photographer."
4. What are the copyright parameters?
Copyright can get complicated, and it's important to have "the talk" with your photographer before hiring him or her. It may come as a surprise, but under the Federal Copyright Law Act of 1976, the person taking the photo actually owns the image.
"Brides shouldn't be thrown off by the photographer retaining the copyright," says Lyon. "That's standard for the industry and allows the photographer to keep the rights to show the photos in albums and submit them to magazines and blogs."
Of course, the last thing you want is a lawsuit after posting a wedding pic to your Instagram account. The devil is in the details, so make sure that there's an agreement in place that works for both of you.
"Many photographers offer provisional releases, so that you can print images, make books, or even post on social media," says Matsuura. "All of this should be done with the permission of the photographer. Remember that most photographers want you to have amazing prints, canvases, heirlooms and be able to share their images with your friends and family. They are most likely willing to work with you to ensure that you have options to share where it's most important to you."
"If you aren't comfortable with images being used for marketing or on social media, make sure you get that added into your contract," says Lyon. "Always be sure you get full print rights and personal use rights — with those, you can use them in any personal way you want. I always tell my clients that you can do almost anything with the print rights besides sell your photos — something you wouldn't do anyway!"
Here are some additional questions about copyright to ask your photographer:
Do you offer printing?
Can I create my own wedding album?
Can I post on social media? If yes, do I need to tag my photographer when posting on social media?
How might my photographs be used by you in the future?
5. Will you be editing our photos?
Before signing on the dotted line, ask about the editing process. It may be part of the package, but you also should fully understand the extent of the service provided.
"Photographers typically have a 'quality control' process, where they will go through your wedding images and edit your images," says Matsuura. "Some photographers will edit before presentation and some photographers will edit after presentation. It's good to know what the photographers will provide to you in their presentations, so that you can know what to expect after your wedding day."
"Make sure the contract lays out exactly what you're getting with your photographer," says Lyon. "Be sure everyone is on the same page concerning turn-around time for image editing. It should be clear in your contract when you can expect final images and/or albums."
6. Will there be an archive of my images?
As far as questions go, this one is absolutely essential. The last thing you want is to have photos vanish forever. How will your images be stored by the photographer, and for how long?
"Your wedding is one of the most precious things that you have. But what will happen to your images years from now?" says Matsuura. "Will you have access to digitally download your images? Will you have access to a thumb drive? Make sure that you have options when archiving your wedding day. It will help you know that your memories are safe for the years ahead."
Any contract should cover this vital detail. And don't forget to make your own multiple backups on a USB drive!