How to Find a Good Photographer
How Do You Find a Good Wedding Photographer?
Principle: You Get What You Pay For In A Photographer
Hello, my name is Maria and I am interested in some information on a portrait package. My wedding was on August 25th, so obviously that has already passed. We didn’t have a professional photographer and have no photos worthy of hanging in our living room wall. I would like a some pictures of my husband and I in our wedding clothes and some with our three girls as well. If this is something that can be done, please contact me. I have been looking for sometime now, and seems that all wedding photography is of the wedding day. Were not interested in a wedding photographer, seeing as how the wedding has already passed.
Some people seem to instinctively get this principle, others learn it the hard way, and some are told of the horror but ignore it. The principle holds true that people are professional full time photographers for a reason. We have to put full time with professional because everyone seems to be a self proclaimed professional. Professional has been changed to mean you got paid not that this is your sole profession. Ironically if you are that professional who does 4-5 shoots a year they think they should be paid the same as those who do hundreds.
We are not encouraging you to go spend money on someone who just costs a lot but at the same time we are not encouraging you to find someone low end. To find the photographer with a lot of experience you should find someone in the middle around a $3000 starting price. 25% of the most expensive photographers in Colorado make on average 42K per year. When you take out the 4 actually making a living doing it in that group you have the average income of 31K per year. At their pricing they do about 4 weddings per year. If you went to work 4 days per year I doubt anyone would call that your profession so be cautious on just going for someone charging a lot.
It comes down to what you value. Most people value memories but they don’t realize till afterward that there is a difference between capturing memories and artwork. The potential horror story starts with the pricing reality of needing to save money. That then leads to trying to fit everything into a budget. A quick way to save logically seems to be hiring a friend who has a camera, family member who is a photography enthusiast, or to go online and search for photographers advertising a low price.
Here are 5 type of photographers we do NOT recommend you use:
1. Hiring a Friend Who Has a Camera:
On the surface this looks like a great option because they have a camera, they are most likely passionate, and they are offering you a friends discounted rate. This seems like a great option because you trust them and they seem to have the what they need. The drawback is that you trust them and if this is not their true profession you likely are getting someone who is less experienced, using lower end equipment, and hasn’t mastered the wedding day flow. Sometimes we hear of this situation and it is someone who got a DSLR for Christmas and they have a couple lenses. This person normally just shoots for friends, may or may not have a website, and does more family photography that weddings. We have friends that are not professional but do amazing work so please don’t take it that we are saying this is always a bad option but we are just describing the typical situation.
2. Family Member Photography Enthusiast:
We will find 5 of them at every wedding. Often they are having fun and sometimes they are using better equipment because they are older and can afford it. Most often they are pointing and shooting. You will see them stepping out in the aisle as the bride comes down, holding the camera up high, and taking pictures of a beautiful gorgeous sunset shot we setup without any ability to overpower the sun. They might have some good lenses and a decent camera but often lack in the ability to capture the low light or bright light situations. The best indicator of difference is a Facebook page. Everyone posts pictures of the wedding and there is a blurry grain, washed out flash look, or odd cropping of so many photos. You will probably get the best deal with a family member but unless they are a professional photographer you will be at a greater risk to end up like the story above.
3. $799.95 Online Photographer:
You will find this when you search ‘Budget’, ‘Economical’, ‘Inexpensive’, ‘Cheap’, or when you find someone tied to a larger photography firm. I am not saying you will get someone bad with any of these but rather to be cautious. At the time of writing this over 40% of Colorado weddings have spent under $1200 on a wedding photographer. This market however is dying out and becoming more competitive. In the past year 42% of the under $1200 wedding photography businesses closed. This means that the pricing will be driven down by specials and offering more for less. One large reason is that this market segment is competing with our iPhones and many people trying to start off in the wedding business cause they see it as easy money.
4. Gimmick Deal Photographer:
There is always someone out there that will be able to beat you on a price with a deal. The deal may come in the form of a free engagement session, percentage off when booked by X date, or by noting a straight out price break. Think of it like this – the fact that they need to have a deal to win you over to them means their value at that price isn’t evident. We believe in competition but it shouldn’t be at the cost of complication. Often the deals are thrown in out of a desperation to get work. Learn from the many who have either passed over them or not gone for the deal at the expense of the needed quality. We have added in services or given breaks but only when the couple has been a good fit and it was typically a last minute wedding for a date or time we have open. Often the people who are the best fit for us are not looking for a deal but more a good fit for them. Another way you might find this kind of photographer is in saying they are now booking for X year or they are only booking X number of weddings a year. They want you to feel special like they are accepting you. Of course someone running a business full time will accept your business. Unless their weddings are all week long events know that this person at best is part time. Often you will find this person “Now booking weddings for [Last Year]!”
5. Multi City Photographer:
Our last word of caution will be on the large firm photographer that spans many cities. You will likely see some great work on their site but fail to realize the photographer that took those photos will likely not be your photographer. It might work out but we highly recommend looking at what that photographer has personally done. Related to this if you go with a local photography company that has associate photographers know that they might be awesome and well trained but you still might not be able to differentiate between what is their work and the work of the principle photographer. Often the associate photographers can be good but there is a reason they have a lower price than others.
6. Extra Cash Photographer:
There has been a huge influx of these kind of photographers to the market. Go look at the blog and see how often they blog actual photoshoots. If you see a lot of lists, talk about photography, but not actual shoots that fit the season you are currently in be concerned. If you see no blog than note that they are probably so new they have nothing there. We all start somewhere but if you do it on the side you as the couple assume the risk of a newbie mistake, lower quality equipment, lower quality imagery. They also have less to lose if they mess up as they are only doing this on the side. We believe these are also the photographers that end up canceling on you for some reason.
What should you look for to find a good photographer?
If you are reading this before your wedding than we hope this can help! If this is part of your story and the outcome was similar to one of the descriptions above we are sorry for your potential loss. When we were married we had to learn some things the hard way and certainly understand how you feel. In order to avoid these stories here are some things to look for in finding a good professional photographer:
Look for a photographer who is specializes in wedding photography.
This specialization communicates a passion for wedding photography, an implied mastery of the wedding day flow, and a likely success in the one category. The starving artist will photograph anything. With success comes selectivity. We are not saying if you shoot family shoots you are a lesser photographer but more if you have every category imaginable down to dog photography perhaps you are not a specialist with a mastery and focus on what you do best. You should also note that if you see blogs related to something other than what they say they do coupled with high prices than they are no longer active as a photographer.
Look for someone who shows a lot of their work.
We have over 1200 pages and over 25,000 images on our website added since our move to Colorado in 2013. If they only show 20-50 images and only have a few blogs the past year that communicates a couple things. One is they are either new and do not have much work. Another is that they do not show a lot because they do not do a lot of good work. If you do not see many blogs you can also assume they are not shooting much therefore there are other people not buying what they are selling. If you do not see all parts of the wedding day they might not shoot it or it may not look that good. Years ago we saw the ‘natural light photographers’ who love to do light green and airy fail in the wedding reception time because they do not know how to shoot in the dark. Lately it is the dark and moody underexposed with rich browns and blacks because the trend is to go to the opposite extreme. If you see very little why would you expect something different than what you saw? We are not saying to interrogate the photographer to see examples of every potential shot you want but rather that if you do not see consistent work through the wedding day do not assume you will magically get it on your wedding day.
Look for a wedding photographer that uses professional gear.
For lenses this would be lenses with a f/2.8 or lower aperture on a zoom, f/1.4 or lower aperture on a prime lens, and a ‘full frame’ classification for the camera body. Gear makes a huge difference in the lighting and clarity of your photos. At any given point we are holding between $6000-8000 in our hand. We are also using $1000-4000 in lighting equipment. We all start somewhere but there is a huge difference in a ‘crop sensor’ camera and a ‘full frame’. For low light situations you need the best lenses to in order to get sharp photos of you celebrating at your wedding. It should be assumed that your wedding photographer is using pro level gear but as we have seen many photographers using junk equipment we recommend you ask if you are not sure. Most wedding photographers we have seen over the years use 2 cameras and 3 lenses to shoot a wedding with a total value of all their equipment between $3000-6000 which in our opinion is crazy limiting. Lately we see most photographers using one camera and one basic lens. Perhaps things can turn out due to extreme post editing in an engagement shoot but you will see a gap in varied lighting on a wedding day.
Look for someone who has a lot of emotion in their photography.
Grandma will always want the standard stuff but you will want the real you. We recommend you look for a candid and photojournalistic style mixed with a natural posing. There are people who are the life of the party and will always be full of emotion. A consistent ability to capture the emotion demonstrates past clients and wedding guests are comfortable around the wedding photographer and they have fun. Being able to capture emotion also shows that they have experience to know when something is coming such as the tear someone is wiping away hoping no one sees it.
Look for someone with a pre-defined Second Photographer
Lately not everyone is using or needing two photographers. If you are one who would benefit from it we believe you should have two ‘primary’ photographers who regularly shoot together. You should be able to know exactly who you will get when you book the photographer. If you are not sure who will be the second photographer and are only talking to one photographer there is risk you might get someone who is not as good. The assumed value in a second photographer is that they can get more angles, with a different perspective, and therefore better photograph your day. Often the stereotypical second photographer gets the side stuff and is filler using less than adequate equipment. You do not want someone who is just starting out or has not worked with your wedding photographer consistently. Perhaps we are biased but husband – wife wedding photographer teams seem to be a great pair for wedding photography. They know each other, they have been where you are, and they can adapt to a lot of situations.
Look for someone with experience making couples happy
We recommend you look at the reviews and not just for the quality of them but the total number, how spread out they were, and how much specific details they contain. The easiest consideration is the sheer number of positive reviews as most couples do not get to writing them even when they are so excited they ask you where they can review you. We note how spread out they are because experience takes time and so if you seen them within a short period of time either they are very new, new at making people happy, or potentially fabricating them. There is one photographer in the Colorado market that has hundreds of 5 star reviews yet only makes about 36k a year so as a wedding photographer that is not possible. We also say look at the specific details because generic reviews with little text mean they were happy but not really really happy. Perhaps it is a personality thing on the reviewers part but if they are all short and generic take caution.
The last consideration on reviews is that you cannot make everyone happy particularly if you are opposed to canceling on couples. In the photography industry we have noticed that most photographers are not around long enough to weather drama. They are faced with some crazy quit the hobby. Our take is if you find someone with an off review know they are likely experienced running a real business.