Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Sorting through the plethora of photographers

In the current age of digital photography, brides have it extra hard when scouting out wedding photographers.  With the incredible advances in digital cameras, there are many amateurs who buy expensive gear, buy a pre-packaged website, shoot on automatic and call themselves photographers. It’s hard as a bride-to-be to differentiate between the real pros and the amateurs trying to make a few extra bucks on the weekend. Here are some things to inquire about when sifting through the long list of local photographers:

1) Do they have professional training in photography?
There are many photographers out there who are “self taught.” This is sometimes completely legitimate and sometimes a clue that you want to ask more questions.  If someone is self-taught, make sure to ask them many follow-up questions on years of experience, depth of knowledge, gear, and other things addressed below to make sure they’re not a hobbyist trying to make their break… but not really ready yet.  If someone has a degree in photography (studied it in college or for their Masters) you can know for sure you’re in good hands. In order to get a degree in photography, you need to know how to shoot in manual, in all lighting situations, and in all conditions. A trained photographer will know how to shoot in high light, low light, how to bounce flash, diffuse light, shoot in back lit conditions, expose manually etc.  After years of working at a photography degree, you can rest assured that this professional will really be someone trustworthy for your big day.  But having said that, there are also many photographers who are self taught and are extremely knowledgeable and talented. 

2) How many years experience do they have?
As previously noted, many hobbyists are popping up paying $100 or less for a pre-designed site and calling themselves photographers. I met a photographer recently who said, “I’ve been doing photography for 10 years.”  Knowing that he was in his mid 20’s, I asked him, “Did you start when you were 14?” . I found out that he was counting his years in high school playing around with his camera as “years of experience.”  Ask them how many years of experience in paid-professional photography they have had. If they say anything under five, and especially under three, you may want to take note that they may still be in a more beginner stage of their career and may not yet be proficient in the profession. 

3) Do they shoot in manual, program, or automatic?
This may sound technical, but if they shoot in automatic or program that is a definite red flag that they may not know how to use their camera that well… especially in tricky lighting situations.  If photographers say they shoot in manual,  that means that they know how to control all settings on their camera and are proficient enough to adapt to various lighting situations quickly and smoothly. 

4) What equipment do they have and do they have backup gear?
Another sign of a legitimate photographer is their gear. Now I’m not one that thinks you need to have the top model every year that Canon rolls out-- but photographers should be equipped. Photographers should have two or more professional cameras. (If they have one, and no backup, this is not a good sign.) Most photographers will have at least two lenses (an all-purpose lens, and some will have either a zoom lens or prime lens for portraits, or both). Photographers will also have an external flash (one that you buy separately and place on top of the camera) and sometimes a flash diffuser.  If your photographer has only one professional camera (no backup gear), or no external flash, this is a red flag.  Also, if they stammer when you ask them about their equipment, you may want to make note of that!

5) Do they shoot alone or do they have a 2nd photographer?
Many talented photographers do it either way; some shoot alone, some have a second shooter. If your package includes a 2nd photographer at no extra charge (or if this option is available at a reasonable charge), this is an excellent option. It allows the photographer to be in more than one place at one time.  One can shoot the girls getting ready, while the other can shoot the guys getting ready. One can capture guests being silly at the photo booth while the other can take the family pictures. One can shoot the grooms first look as the bride turns the corner, as the other can shoot the bride’s glowing smile walking down the aisle.  It allows more of your day to be captured and also doubles the amount of pictures that go into your DVD of images.  In addition, the albums will be more successful if the photographer has double the amount of images to choose from. If it’s an option, that’s great for you.

6) Have they ever been published and do they have reviews?
Look them up on sites like Wedding Wire (a Martha Stewart site) to see what kind of reviews they have received from past brides. Are their previous customers happy with them? Have they ever been published on other local or national blogs such as United with Love (DC), District Bride (DC), Capital Romance (DC) or national blogs like 100 Layer Cake or Style Me Pretty (both of these are extremely hard to get published on, so if they haven’t that’s okay, but if they’ve ever been published  on a local blog, that’s a testament to their work). 

7)  Do you like their style and their portfolio  and do you connect with their personalities?
I would say that once you know that the photographer is legitimately trained and knowledgeable, the most important thing for you to consider is what kind of work you connect with. Do you like the photographer who is classic, crisp and posed? Do you like the photographer who is photojournalistic and invisible? Do you like the photographer who is creative, fresh, and inventive? Do you like the editing very realistic, bright, or vintage? When you look at the work on wedding blogs, try to be aware of what style you’re gravitating towards.

You are hiring someone who will capture probably one of the post important days of your life.  Do you feel comfortable when you talk with them?  Do you feel like you’ll be able to be transparent and vulnerable with your spouse-to-be in front of the camera with them standing a few feet in front of you? You need to hire someone you feel comfortable in front of, and one that you don’t feel intimidated by.

8) Do they fit into your budget?
There is a wide range of budgets for DC photographers. Of course there are always the hobbyist photographers who are not necessarily professionals, or those that you may not feel comfortable with by putting your wedding into their hands--and they have great deals as they are trying to “build their portfolio.” I would definitely be wary of these “photographers” unless they have professional training. (For example, if it’s someone recently graduated from college with a photography degree, you might be fine; but if it’s a software engineer looking to revive the right side of his brain and explore new horizons…. eek!)  I’ve heard SOOOOO many horror stories of brides and their wedding photographers.  Photographers who forgot and overslept, photographers who lost their memory cards, photographers who took cheesy pictures, photographers who were intrusive and disruptive… the list goes on.  I can’t tell you how many brides have told me, “I wish I had paid the extra $1,000 and got the other photographer.” In my view, you waste $2,500 if you hate your pictures-- when you could pay $3,500 and absolutely adore every picture you received. As you invest in photography, think about showing your wedding album to your grandkids and being proud. It’s a well spent investment. That being said, there are actually photographers that charge $5,000 to $9,000…. I don't understand that. 

9) Are there hidden costs?
Are there ANY hidden costs? Some prices look good on a website, but as you keep asking questions, the bill gets pricier and pricier.  Some photographers charge extra for “high resolution” pictures.  Ask questions such as: “How many hours are included in the package? “Do you have travel costs?” “How much is it per hour for extra hours?” “How much is it for a second shooter, a DVD of high resolution pictures, an album?” Make sure you’re getting the bottom line when you get the prices. 

10) What’s their turn-around time?
The typical turn-around time for many photographers is around eight weeks, sometimes twelve. There are some photographers, though, that have turn-around times of up to one year!  Just make sure you find out what the turn-around time is and that you feel comfortable with it.

I know as a bride this can be overwhelming, but having been in the business for a few years now, I’m just amazed and appalled at stories I hear from brides. Whether you choose me or another photographer, I want to make sure you are well equipped so that you can make a wise choice in your photographer. If you have any questions about anything above, please feel free to contact me. 


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