Five Questions To Ask A Wedding Photographer - 12.16.15

The Five Questions to Ask a Wedding Photographer

Full disclosure: I’ve never been married, so I’ve never experienced the process from the view of a couple trying to plan out one.  I imagine, in those shoes, the whole process would make me anxious and irritated enough that I’d attempt to convince my fiancée that she’d have a much better time eloping to Vegas.  That in mind, I figure the best way to approach a couple planning a wedding is coming from a place of sympathy and encouragement.  The day I know will end up great, but the planning going into it has got to be rough.

I fell into shooting weddings on accident.  I started photography shooting portraits, landscapes, sports… pretty much anything that I found to be ‘pretty.’  I didn’t plan to be a wedding photographer.  It wasn’t what I had my sights on when I started shooting.  My first two weddings were favors to family friends, small affairs that were more an excuse to have me there as a ‘working guest’ than anything.  I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the whole event.  Helping manage the background anxiety and logistics so that my friends could focus on enjoying their day was a surprisingly natural task that I was adept at, along with capturing pictures.  I had been looking for a way to become a ‘legitimate professional photographer’ (whatever that is, another post on creativity for another day), and weddings seemed to me to be the simplest way to make my creativity work hand in hand with my people management and de-escalation skills.  That I might actually be able to bring in an income from it was a bonus.  Photography has never been about the money for me.  It’s always been about the people.  But being able to finally have a way to financially support myself with a camera?  Dream come true. 

I’m not a marketer or a salesman.  It’s not what I’m about.  When I meet with potential clients, I’m not thinking about closing a sale.  I’m looking forward to hearing their story, answering any questions they have, and hopefully making them feel a little bit easier during what I imagine is a stress-inducing period of time.  I tell potential clients to always check out several photographers, and ask to see a full album they’ve given prior clients.  Often, I hear, “What should we be asking?”

After asking yourself if you like the photographer as a person and do you love the feeling you get from their pictures, these are the top five things I think anyone should ask their wedding photographer.

Do you have insurance and a contract? – This is the first thing I’d ask anyone before working with them in any capacity.  It protects them and you.  I’ve written separate posts on why photography insurance is good for a photographer and a client.  A contract does the same.  Find out who their insurance provider is and what it covers.  Ask for a sample contract.  Any photographer who takes their job seriously will be more than happy to share this with you, it should be a point of professional pride in having their ‘ish’ together.

Do you have references? – I usually give names and email addresses for references from prior clients, or Facebook info depending on the client.  I have a standard list.  I don’t give phone numbers because that’s an inconvenience to my past clients.  But hopefully, whoever you’re speaking to, they have someone that can tell you about how they did.

Why do you shoot weddings? – There isn’t a right answer here, but there should be an answer that you as a person shopping for a photographer that you’re looking for.  Me?  I’m honest.  I’ve written about ‘why’ prior.  Short version (TL;DR): Wasn’t my first plan, but I love the challenge, the people, and the privilege of being there. 

How long until we see our pictures? – This varies depending on a photographer’s workflow.  But whoever the photographer is, they better have an answer that falls in line with whatever the references they give say.  I like to do several things for clients.  Typically, as soon as I get the images uploaded to my computer and backed up, I then upload a preview album with the images I’ve taken.  They are small (I wouldn’t print them), but it gives you something you can see right away.  Typically the final album with everything finished, comes back within a month for me (depending on the printing choices a couple has made that can be pushed back a few weeks).

How many cameras do you bring to a wedding (not what kind)? – Unless you’re a photographer yourself, what kind of camera they’re shooting doesn’t really matter, and the name won’t help you.  But any photographer worth their salt can recite their list of gear on command.  Write it down, google it later.  As long as it is a professional series camera and not a little point and shoot, they all work the same.  Canon, Nikon, Leica, Sony… they all can deliver amazing images if the photographer knows what they’re doing.  And as long as a photographer doesn’t bring just one camera to your wedding, you’re good.  If a photographer only has one camera, they have nothing they can do if that camera stops functioning during a wedding.  It doesn’t often happen, but much like business insurance, you don’t realize it’s important until you don’t have it.  Me?  I bring at minimum two Canon DSLRs and four lenses with me, and likely a car full of other gear because of that simple paranoid principle: better to have and not need…

What do you think?  I’d love to hear back with your own experience, questions, comments.  I hope it helps, and if you ever need any advice on wedding photography, even if I’m not your photographer for whatever reason, drop me a line!

Not The Money But The Road To Drive

Small confession: I would shoot for free if I could.

Chuck Berry – Route 66

I would shoot for free if I could find a way to make it work financially.  I’ve never been good at sales, never really wanted to run a business, think about marketing and advertising, networking and promoting.  I don’t like the anxiety that goes along with it, and I imagine the majority of photographers feel the same way.  The ones who don’t, well they excel in financial matters and become the envy of the rest of us, simply because they could make it work.  The majority of us… we just want to capture something beautiful. 

For me, this job has an end-game.  Much like everything else, I use photography with a goal in mind.  I get to express myself sure, and be creative in the only way that I can (I never could sing, play an instrument, act, or draw).  I get to attempt to capture the beauty of the world and precious moments in it, and that’s something I cherish.

But the business side of it, I can’t stand.  I do it because it’s given me a goal to chase after:

In two years, the summer before I turn 35 if I can make it happen, I want to travel the United States.  Not a small plane flight, but an honest-to-God road trip.  Just me, an old ’98 Wrangler with no doors or top, the trunk full of camera gear, camping gear, and food.  Up the Atlantic Coast highway to Maine, over Canada to Chicago, route 66 to LA.  The Pacific Coast Highway all the way to Washington State and cutting back across to Atlanta.  All back highways, no major interstates.  Never going above 60 miles an hour.  Visiting every random detour and awesome view I can find along the way.  Seeing things like the Neon Graveyard outside of Vegas, the Dinosaur Park in California, the Airplane Boneyard in Arizona, the MLK monument in Mississippi where he took his last breath.  I want to listen to the Eagles play “Take It Easy” as I drive through Winslow, Arizona.  I want to reach the edges of the country, dip my feet and the tires into both oceans.  I want to shoot everything along the way.  The landscapes, the monuments, the food, the people, the oddities and the mundane.  Maybe even make it into a book.  Road trip stories have always been my favorite.  I want one of my own.

The Coasters – Young Blood

I have the route mapped out.  It would take me two months, an entire summer.  It’d be over 12,000 miles in a Wrangler that’s almost already at 200,000, only 1,000 of those miles having not been mine.  Gas alone would cost at least $3,000 dollars.  Before I even think of going, the Jeep would need an overhaul, likely new tires and an exhaust manifold at minimum.  But it’s been a dream since I was 15 and I first got the car.  And if I can accomplish it within 20 years, then that’s something huge I can cross off my list. 

So I’m writing this almost two years before I’ll even know if I can do it.  But it’s my goal.  It’s my commitment, my dream.  I figure by leaving this here, and coming back to it periodically, then I can keep focused, and keep the dream alive.  I have a benchmark I have to hit in order to make it possible.  In one year, $2000 in savings from this business.  In the second year, $6000 saved back for the trip.  That’s the stretch, and it’ll mean aggressively expanding my photography business-mindset like I’ve never done before.  I’ll need help, but I believe I have the support network to make it happen. 

Howlin’ Wolf – Sitting On Top Of The World

Don’t get me wrong, I love shooting weddings, events, portraits.  I love creating the art and I’m happy I get to do it.  But like every photographer or artist out there, I’ve got a lot of dreams.  This one, I want to see through.  This is the big one.    

What’s your dream?  Tell me about it in the comments.  What’s your plan to make it happen?