Finding Your Wedding Photographer: How to Avoid Three Common Mistakes
by: Nelson Rodriguez
As a recruiting manager for a photography agency that specializes in weddings, I spend most of my day searching for great photographers. I feel a special bond with the thousands of brides-to-be who start their own search every year. I don’t mean to brag, but its tough work. For this reason, I want to share my own experience and ideas on how to avoid the three most common mistakes people make when looking for a wedding photographer. Don’t be ashamed if you’ve already made one… or all of the mistakes I’m going to discuss. That’s the reason they’re COMMON mistakes. Lots of people make them. Whether you’re just getting started, or starting to give up, we hope these tips will help ease the pain.
Tip #1: Know what you’re looking for before you start the process.
Now, you might be asking; “how do I know what I’m looking for, if I don’t do a little window shopping?” I agree completely. I encourage window-shopping, but in this case, that window should be your computer screen, a friend’s wedding album, magazines… anything that you can use to get an initial sense of the visual style that appeals to you. Look at the tone of the images you like. How emotional are they? How intimate? How visually creative? Use this to define what you’re looking for in a photographer.
Look through photos in the comfort of your home, and focus in on the style that really moves you. You may find a few different styles of photography that appeal to you. Try to limit your search to no more than 2 or 3 styles, to avoid image overload. You’ll never find one photographer who is an expert at EVERY style, so prioritize your favorites. Pick one style you care most about, say photojournalistic, or editorial or traditional and look for photographers who can specialize in that style, while maybe having some experience shooting your second and third choices. Armed with this information about YOUR preferences upfront, you will avoid this common mistake and save yourself a lot of headaches.
The process that you shouldn’t jump into right away is making phonecalls, sending emails and setting up in-person meetings with photographers. The time for that will come very quickly, but, believe it or not, starting that too early can do more harm than good. Think about it this way: meeting with a photographer will take you between 2 and 3 hours, including emails, phone calls, traveling to and from the studio, and the meeting itself. If you do this five times, without having a clear idea of what you want, not only will you be susceptible to being sold into a package that may not be right for you, you will find yourself exhausted and probably more confused at the end of 15 wasted hours.
Tip #2: Don’t take friends’ referrals blindly.
Again, this may sound crazy. Referrals from friends are great at telling you about a photographer’s professionalism, their communication style, and how they follow up on issues that come up before, during or after the shoot. That kind of information can take a lot of the pressure off of the interview process. What a referral cannot do is guarantee that the photographer’s visual style or approach is exactly what you are looking for. That is the kind of information you will get from READING the photographer’s portfolio and looking out for the kinds of images you want to see in your own wedding album.
A quick side note here: photographers are no more and no less honest than you or I. They aren’t out to lie to you, but they may be eager to get you as a client. As such, the questions you ask them about their style and approach should be much less important to you than what you actually SEE in their portfolios. And there is no right answer here. Only you know what images will appeal to you. You SHOULD know what you’re looking for… if you followed my advice from tip 1.
Friends are a great way to get help in your search for a photographer, but be sure to use your own eyes to make the final decision. Cousin Mabel may be sweet and smart and charming, and have some great advice for you, but if you don’t share her exact taste in clothing, furniture, or food, you may not share the same taste in photography.
Tip #3: Don’t meet with too many photographers.
You probably didn’t expect a science lesson but unfortunately you’re gonna get one. Studies have found that the typical human brain cannot hold more than 7 pieces of information at one time. So if you’re, say, walking to work AND chewing gum at the same time, you can’t possibly be comparing 10 photographers on top of that. In fact, try it, and you’ll be lucky not to end up walking into traffic.
Speaking seriously, the one word I hear from brides most often is “overwhelmed”. You all know there is a lot of planning to be done, and far too little time, no matter how much you’ve set aside. Some people try to rise to the challenge by OVERbooking themselves. They have to quit their jobs and hire personal assistants just to schedule all the vendor interviews.
What I do for a living is interview dozens of photographers throughout the year. I haven’t gone crazy yet, but remember, it IS my fulltime job. Your fulltime job is something else, and you really do have a limited amount of time and brain power to devote to this.
Limit your meetings to a very short list of photographers whose work has wowed you online, or in a brochure. Also, keep the meetings brief. They’re not job interviews or lie detector tests. Most of what you need to know about a photographer will be found in their photos. How they deal with people can be seen in the level of comfort you see on people’s faces in the portfolio. How hands-on they are will be seen in the amount of posing you see in their work. How intimate they get with the subjects can be seen in the closeness and emotion of the photos. Their technical ability and visual creativity will make itself known right through the quality and artistic style of the images you see. Use the interview just to get a sense of personality, and rapport. Can you connect with this person? How do they deal with questions and follow-up? Make sure you express your thoughts to the photographer, and take note of how he or she responds to your ideas and suggestions.
Finding a great photographer doesn’t have to be the most serious task of your life. There are agencies like my own that help brides manage the work it takes to find the right person, but with a little patience and an adventurous spirit, you can do some of the work on your own. Know yourself, don’t overdo it, and have fun.
About The Author
Nelson Rodriguez has spent the last 10 years as a recruiting manager. He wishes he was perfect, but accepts the truth. Contact him if you have any questions or comments. For more help on finding a great photographer, visit http://www.websterhill.com
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This article was posted on March 28, 2005