Alley in Pisa, Italy

by Lars Kotthoff

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I recently got married, and new what I wanted in a photography. Cost was a big concern, so I spent some time on Craigslist reviewing the websites of the various "pros" that posted there. Most were below the quality that I expected - often times it was someone with an entry level dslr, a couple mid range lenses, and stock website, and only two or three wedding examples to show off. I finally found a photographer that I liked. They charged $1500 for engagement photos and 8 hours of prep and during wedding shots, plus post processing, and N free prints. They also gave my all digital negatives, which was awesome.

I went with them, and was extremely disappointed in nearly every shot we received. They lacked an overall knowledge of exposure, and even a good sense of composition. We had several shots where the hill edge of our rolling vineyards cut straight through my bride's head. This is a big no-no, and one he should have caught through the viewfinder.

I am now convinced the pictures on his website were stock photos that he purchased, rather than shots he actually took himself.

So in when it comes down to it, and you need to shell out quite a bit of money for a photographer, what are some tips to choose the right one?

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I think this question is off topic because this site is for questions about how to do photgraphy / use & choose photgraphy equipment and not about photography services. –  danio Jul 16 '10 at 15:13
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At the same time, I believe this could be helpful for those wanting to become professional photographers as to what to do/not do. –  Mark Jul 16 '10 at 18:46
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I think this area of discussion is important. Especially if we flip it around and ask "what should I as a photographer be [not] doing to make my clients happy", or "what should my clients be looking for in me"? –  AJ Finch Sep 7 '10 at 14:34
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I have to agree with Mark and AJ, this is a valuable and viable topic for this site. Were about "photography", which encompasses more than just technical questions about shutter and aperture and white balance...more importantly, photography is about real-world practice, experiences, artistic form, photography business (i.e. weddings), etc. –  jrista Oct 6 '10 at 16:49

4 Answers 4

up vote 18 down vote accepted

That may well be their photos on the website. Even people who are not that good will produce one really good photo per wedding. If people have been doing weddings for a long time they can usually produce a great portfolio whilst each wedding is not so good. This is the biggest problem with looking for photographers on the web but there are a few tips:

  • Ask to see some complete weddings, don't go by a portfolio of mixed up shots alone.

  • If you can, ask to see prints, it can be hard to tell if shots are in focus and not motion blurred from small images resized for the web.

  • If you're hiring them for the reception check the quality of their work in artificial light. I see a lot of photographers' websites featuring mostly outdoor shots as these are usually much easier to pull off.

  • Likewise if you're getting married in a dark church, ask to see shots they've done in churches where flash is prohibited.

  • Ask what equipment they have. Whilst gear does not maketh the photographer, if they only have a consumer body and single zoom lens this is probably a warning sign. Also if they don't have spares of everything, run away!

  • Ask them what their plan is in the event of rain. The correct answer is "stand in the rain and get the photos!". Likewise battered gear is actually a good sign (pro gear is designed to take it) - you want someone who is committed to getting the shot, no matter what.

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While I agree with most of your points, I do not feel asking what equipment they use is necessary or even relevant(backups is another topic). If you already asked to see the portfolio, a complete wedding, and prints - why does the equipment matter? As long as you like the images they have, it doesn't matter if they use an iPhone or Hasselblad to shoot your wedding, it is the output that matters. –  dpollitt Jan 17 '12 at 22:35
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@dpollitt I've never had a camera fail at a wedding, so my entire portfolio could have been produced without a backup body. Output isn't evidence of reliability, there's more to pro gear than just image quality. I'm just saying if it was my wedding I'd at least be interested in what they're shooting with... –  Matt Grum Jan 17 '12 at 23:59
    
I DO agree that asking about a backup is a good idea(sorry I tried to point out that I am considering this separately). I don't agree that asking about the specific equipment is necessary for the majority of people. If you are interested for the sake of the hobby, that is one thing and I do the same. But I would not advise a "non-serious" photographer to start asking about what DSLR body they have or what lenses and then base a hire decision on that. –  dpollitt Jan 18 '12 at 0:54
    
I didn't mean to just argue your opinion :) I am helping my brother select a wedding photographer, and he asked if he should "ask what equipment they use". He is not into photography, and I just don't see the point in him asking(or most b&g's). I just suggested to him that if he likes the images they are outputting, then the way that they achieved those images is less important, as long as they can do that again for him based on experience, reputation, etc. –  dpollitt Jan 18 '12 at 0:56

I've not needed to do this yet (despite pressure from a would-be-mother-in-law) but I would suggest asking the photographer if you can see the full set of photos (s)he took on their most recent shoot.

You have to bear in mind that a photographer's portfolio only shows you their best shots which could just be luck and offers no indication of how consistent they are.

To steal a quote from golfer Gary Player:

"The harder you practice, the luckier you get."

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I think this is a really good point, and would probably have changed my decision for me. –  reuscam Oct 7 '10 at 15:10
    
great quote, i totally agree. –  JoséNunoFerreira Jul 26 '11 at 13:47
  • ask for references
  • choose someone who you get along with personally. Even if you just met the photographer, you'll be able to tell if you guys "click" or not.
  • choose a photographer whose style you like, then let the photographer use that style. Don't hire someone with a photojournalistic style if you want to give them a list of 50 posed shots you want.
  • ask if they're insured
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We started with a recommendation, met the photographer, saw her portfolio, and spent some time talking with her about what we wanted and how she liked to work; the portfolio let us see that she had the technical skill to do her job, but the conversation was the most important part. Weddings have plenty of stress and potential for drama about them. You do not need more sources of that, and we went with our choice simply because she fitted in so well.

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