My Top 6 Tips for Choosing your Wedding Photographer

Yay, you’re engaged! Congratulations!

I still remember the excitement of my own proposal. How Dean kept me in suspense for our whole holiday and then popped the question on the second last day! But hey, that’s a story for another day...Let’s get back to YOU!

When you start planning your wedding, there are a million questions to be answered. Questions about things you didn’t even know existed until you got engaged.

You start looking at decor and venues and menus and bridesmaids gifts and a gift registry and don’t even get me started on the table seating plans! It can be totally overwhelming to figure out where to begin. But, there’s one thing that ties all of the above together, and that is your photography.

You put SO much effort into planning the perfect day, and believe me, it flies by so fast. Your photographs are what you will look back on and they should capture everything special about your wedding. But, let’s be honest, choosing a photographer is probably one of the most difficult choices you will make.

As a recent bride myself, I speak from experience. Even though I had photographed/assisted on a ton of weddings before my own, having the shoe on the other foot was quite a weird and somewhat challenging experience.

So without further ‘I do’, here are my top 6 tips for choosing the photographer who is going to bring your wedding to life.

1. Start a Pinterest board and find your style.

Ok, ok, isn’t it a cliche that you start a Pinterest board as soon as you get engaged? (Hands up, I was one of those!) But there is method to the madness. It can be overwhelming to start with a Google search for “wedding photographer in Johannesburg” and filter through thousands of results. Or, you put out a request on social media and suddenly your post has 200+ comments in an hour by photographers insisting they are right for you. It’s even MORE overwhelming now, right?

To help you filter through the responses, Pinterest (or Instagram for that matter) can be your best friend. Start by pinning wedding images that catch your eye. Don’t put too much thought into it and don’t worry if the images you are pinning are from someone local or not - we’ll get back to that. Once you have got a good selection of images (I’d say at least 50 pins), go through them and see if you can pick up a trend.

Were you drawn to images that were warmer and darker in tone (“dark and moody”), or were you drawn to cooler and lighter (“light and airy”) images? Were there lots of black and white images? Were you drawn to images where the couple was very posed, or were you drawn to images that were “in the moment”? This helps you figure out what style will best fit your overall vision for your day.

Here's my wedding inspiration Pinterest board. Most of these images were saved when I was planning my own wedding, so there's lots of burgundy and boho inspiration if that's also your thing!

2. Decide on your wedding budget

Some couples prefer to start with this before they begin the research process for their suppliers and that’s completely fine. In fact, if you post on a social media group asking for recommendations for photographers, I would advise specifying the range you are in. I was watching a webinar just yesterday where the presenter said the average spend on your photographer should be 10-12% of the total budget of your wedding.

Now I gotta put my hand up here and say: this is not a set-in-stone percentage for your budget allocation. For example, Dean and I knew we wanted to spend more on our photographer, my dress, his suit and our honeymoon, and less on our venue and decor. So we worked the numbers to make it work for us and still have the suppliers on board that we wanted.

That being said, the value you associate with your photography is completely personal. Your “reasonable” might be R20 000 for the photographer, and someone else’s “reasonable” might be R10 000. And someone else’s might be R5 000. Or R50 000. You get my drift. So mention your range and you should get more relevant recommendations for photographers whose packages fit that range.

Now that you have an idea of the images you are drawn to, and an idea of your budget, visit the profiles that have come up in your searches or via recommendations. Start filtering down the list and discard those that don’t fit with your style vision. Were there local photographers you flagged on your Pinterest boards? Look at their website and Instagram accounts.

Once you have your shortlist, start the enquiry process.

3. Meet with your shortlist.

This is my biggest tip. Your photographer generally spends more time with you on your wedding day than anyone else. They have to be someone you can get along with. No matter if they are an award winning photographer or a household name, if your personalities don’t gel it doesn’t matter how good their portfolio is. Ask them questions. And trust your gut. And, take your time making your decision.

When you meet, ask them to bring along samples of their products. And, if they don’t have one on their website or blog, ask them to bring along an example of at least one full wedding that they have photographed. Us photographers always put the best of the best work up on our websites, but you should feel reassured that your photographer can deliver consistent results throughout all the stages of your wedding day.

If they are a photographer new to weddings, they may not have a full portfolio yet. And if that’s the case, they should be honest about it. We all started somewhere, and I was second photographer for more than 20 weddings before I started shooting them under my own brand.

In fact, it was ultimately in shooting as a second photographer that I fine-tuned my own style of photographing weddings. In my opinion, a new photographer with a good eye who is enthusiastic about delivering you the best service possible is better than a photographer who has been in the industry for years and years and views shooting weddings as "just another job".

Don’t be scared to ask your photographer questions. We’re used to answering them. And at the end of the day, it goes back to trusting your gut.

4. Make sure you know what they offer

Read the fine print - I can’t stress this enough!

I know a wedding photographer who only supplies albums and prints, no digital images. Check that you understand all elements of your photographer’s quote and contract, and if in doubt, ask for more clarification. They should 100% be sending you a contract to be signed - this protects both parties.

Do they charge extra if you run over time?

Do they charge for travel?

In what format or resolution are your final images supplied?

What happens if they fall ill before your wedding?

What happens to your deposit if you need to cancel or reschedule your wedding?

These are just a few of the questions you could ask.

That leads to my two final tips:

5. Set your expectations

You know that Pinterest board you created? Don’t get hung up on it.

For example, if you’re having a morning wedding ceremony you’re not going to get the sunset images you’ve pinned.

Go through your potential photographer’s portfolio and start picking out your favourites from their images. Let them know what you are drawn to and what you might not be so keen on. The absolute worst thing you can do is ask a photographer to mimic or copy someone else’s style. That’s setting you both up for results you won’t be happy with.

Also, ask your photographer what their process is - this saves you from potential disappointment after. Consider the formal photographs for example i.e. those of your family and the other group images. Some documentary-style wedding photographers I know don’t take these formal photographs at all. Your photographer should be scheduling time to meet with you to chat through all the elements of your wedding and clarify what their service offering is.

Another good idea is to schedule an engagement shoot - this is a great opportunity to experience first hand how your photographer works with you as a couple. I’ll be sharing a whole post on the engagement shoot soon, so keep a look out right here on the blog.

And lastly:

6. Take your time

Seriously, don’t rush your decision. Talk it over with your partner and family if need be - especially if they are contributing in some way to covering the expenses.

At the end of the day your photographs (and video if you are having one) are going to tell the story of your day and that story should capture all the moments that you want remembered.

It’s definitely not a “one size fits all” process when it comes to planning a wedding - and why should it be?

Make the decisions that feel right for you.

What has been your biggest question when it comes to booking your photographer, or just planning your wedding in general?

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