Your wedding is over in a day, and ultimately all you're left with are your memories and your wedding photographs. A pretty sobering thought! That's why it's so important that they both be excellent. We've heard the horror stories: One bride told us all the family portraits looked as though they'd been taken from 50 feet away; another said her photographer ruined the cocktail hour by constantly rearranging guests for each picture. These traps are completely avoidable. Here, three top wedding photographers give their best tips.
Choosing Your Photographer
Visit any wedding-photography studio and you're apt to be shown album upon album of radiant brides and handsome grooms. But don't assume the photographer you hire is the same one whose pictures you're examining. Many studios have a stable of contributors, so be sure to see the work of the person who will actually shoot your wedding not the generic "studio" portfolio.
It's also important to look at an album featuring a wedding from beginning to end. "You don't want to see a book with the top five photos from a variety of weddings," says Mallory Samson, a wedding photographer in New York City and San Francisco and the author of Outdoor Weddings: Unforgettable Celebrations in Storybook Settings (Chronicle). "Looking at the entire event will give you a sense of the photographer's style and whether it is consistent throughout." She recommends examining the corresponding proofs for that wedding. "Every shot won't make it into your album, but they all should be good," she says.
Knowing Your Style
There are a wide variety of wedding-photography styles. One photographer may focus on formal portraits that are quite traditional. Another might take a photojournalistic approach, one that captures emotions and unexpected moments. Many will give you a mix. Just be sure you know what matters most to you. For example, if family portraits are important, "the posed shots should look great to your eye," says Samson. If you feel more strongly about candids, be sure you love what you see in the photographer's work. These days, many brides ask for lots of candids. However, according to Dallas-based wedding photographer Stephen Karlisch, half the photos in a wedding album tend to be portraits, so "don't skimp on those." He also points out that sometimes candids appear soft or slightly blurry. "That's because the photographer is reacting so quickly to a moment or expression that he may not take time to focus properly," he says. Samson adds that you should look for examples that reflect the type of wedding you're having. If your ceremony will be held outdoors, ask to see pictures of an outdoor wedding. Samson advises that as you look through the portfolio, evaluate the photographer's strengths and weaknesses. You want to be sure he is intuitive, so observe facial expressions. Do people look happy and relaxed or nervous and ill at ease? Many of us get anxious when our pictures are taken; the photographer should be skilled at making everyone feel comfortable.
Finally, think it over carefully, and decide whether you actually like the samples. "Discuss your impressions with your fiancé," says Samson. "Are the photographs in the album warm and fuzzy? Cool and sophisticated?" What do you want? And of course ask each other if you can see yourselves in these photos. If so, you've met your match.
Partnering With Your Photographer
Once you've decided who will shoot your wedding, keep these things in mind:
The more you express your wishes, the better your chances of having them granted. If you want a lot of candid shots or closeups, make that clear. If you are eager to have many pictures of guests, say so. Ditto if you prefer the focus to be on the family or bridal party. "Great pictures don't just happen," says Samson. "They're a team effort."
Give the photographer a list of everyone who absolutely must appear in the photos. Also prepare an advance list of any special events scheduled to occur at the wedding.
Assign someone who knows you and your family well to shadow the photographer and point out everyone on the list.
Instruct the photographer to be as unobtrusive as possible. We've all been to weddings where the photographer steals the show, even blocking the guests' view of the bride and groom.
Discuss lighting. This is especially important if you are having an outdoor wedding. But Karlisch advises brides to be realistic. "Brides see magazine pictures of beautiful settings with natural lighting, shot with a long lens," he says. "They love that look, but then they get married at night in a hotel ballroom, which is the equivalent of a black hole. You have to understand the limitations. If you're unsure, ask what you can expect and how to make adjustments."
Decide whether you'd like to have your photos enlarged. Karlisch says it's important to tell the photographer in advance if that is what you are planning: "That way he'll be sure to use the right equipment for lighting and exposure."
Be on time for your wedding. "If you're an hour and a half late, that's an hour and a half less time for photos," says Samson.
Photographer Versus Videographer
Some brides have complained that their videographer and photographer seemed to be in competition for the best shots. To avoid this scenario, "find out if the photographer knows a videographer he likes working with, or one he prefers to avoid," says Meg Smith, a wedding photographer based in the Napa Valley. "What the videographer does affects my work in terms of lighting and position," Smith says. Typically the photographer has the right-of-way, but it's up to you to clarify it before the wedding.
You're going to spend more time with your photographer than with any of your other vendors because he'll be there all day. So be sure the two of you click right from the beginning.