Since photographs may be the most lasting keepsake that you have of your wedding, slip-ups in this area take on added gravity when, as actually happened to one poor bride we know, your photographer loses all the rolls of film of you two as you are going down the aisle. Complaints also abound about late deliveries, non-deliveries, poor quality of photographs that are received, and—probably most frustrating of all—photography companies that go out of business before getting your photos to you! How to avoid this kind of, well, shudder-bug?
Find Your Candidates
First, by picking someone with impeccable credentials, says Marquita Thomas, editor of Wedding & Portrait Photographers International (WPPI) in Santa Monica, CA, then asking a lot of questions, and making sure if you don't like the answers, you move on to the next candidate.
"It's research," says Thomas, who maintains you should treat your hunt for a photographer like an investigation project. The best method: talking to friends and relatives to find out whom they've used and liked, since there's no better resource than a satisfied customer.
If you can't get a first-person recommendation, consult Brides.com's Local Resources section, bridal magazines, and photographers' publications to find work you admire. Many wedding photographers put their portfolios on their own Web sites, so cruise the Net as well. Then start getting in touch with your favorite candidates. Finally, contact professional organizations such as WPPI or Professional Photographers of America in Jackson, MS, which can tell you something about an individual's work or reputation.
Check the Books
Once you have culled a couple of potential candidates, the next step is to make appointments with them to look over their work and see if you, literally, click. This is someone you're going to be spending a lot of time with, says Thomas: You want "to see if the rhythm is good…is this someone you would want to go out to lunch with?"
When it comes to the photographer's work, don't just look at individual pictures that he or she may have taken, Thomas adds, but albums of actual weddings from cover to cover. Then, get into the specifics of what went into capturing a particular shot:
Did the photographer have an assistant?
Will this assistant be at the wedding as well?
Did the photo call for special lighting?
How long did the bride have to sit?
Once you find out what your predecessor had to go through, you might have a good idea of what you'll be in for as well.
The Cash Chat
Prices, needless to say, will vary from one photographer to the next, and, obviously, the bigger the name, says Thomas, the larger the bill. Schedule of payments will also differ, and you want it made specifically clear—in writing, of course—what your own individual contract covers:
Do you need to make a deposit?
What, if anything, do you get back if you cancel?
Does the photographer only shoot locally or is he willing to travel?
Is his travel time considered an extra or included as part of the bill?
Are you entitled to all the proofs he makes or only the final prints?
Who owns the copyright to your pictures, anyway?
Can the photographer enter them in contests or sell them to publications?
Compare several contracts, says Thomas, "and if there are differences, ask, 'How come?'"
When Disaster Strikes
Now comes the biggest question of all: What happens if something goes wrong, and what will the photographer do to make amends? For instance:
Some pages in the album may get ruined. Who pays for them if that happens?
What if the film gets overexposed or some pictures don't come out? How will the photographer compensate for the damage?
When exactly will the pictures be delivered—in one week? 30 days? And again, how will the photographer make it up to you if the delivery date is missed?
These are all important issues, and if big money is involved, says Thomas, you might even get an attorney to look at the final letter of agreement and make sure everything is in order.