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For Clients20 important questions to ask your wedding photographerSan Diego, CA

I was inspired to write this blog post based on a recent meeting I had with a couple. We talked for awhile about their plans for the big day, then I asked them what questions they had for me. Well, besides the standard question about my prices and packages, they also asked questions like “what equipment do you use?”

Honestly, if I were to answer, “I shoot with a Canon 5D Mark III, a Mark II back up body, various prime and zoom lenses, two strobes, etc.,” would you have the slightest idea of what I’m talking about or would your eyes glaze over as I tried to explain? Is it really that important to know what equipment your wedding photographer has anyway if you love their work?

I realize there are a lot of resources out there for couples that are designed to help by listing what questions to ask their photographers, but not why they should be asking them.

I’ve compiled this list of frequently asked questions to help the future bride and grooms out there understand what questions they should be asking, but most importantly, why it matters.

Folktale Winery wedding in Carmel by Paige Nelson Photography

1. How many weddings have you photographed?

Listen folks, there is no be-all-end-all answer to this question. There is no “magic” number of weddings that will make your photographer somehow worthy or unworthy of your business.

Every photographer works differently. There are some out there, like myself, who only shoot a small number of weddings per year because they do all of their own editing. Others shoot as many as 50 weddings per year and either pay someone to edit their photos or don’t do it at all.

It’s a good question to ask in the sense you’ll get an idea of how much experience your photographer has and what kind of customer service you can expect. Even the most well-planned wedding days have unexpected twists and turns. Experienced wedding photographers will know how to adapt, stay calm, and work through it.

2. How far in advance do I need to book with you?

In order to increase the odds of getting your first pick photographer, you should book as soon as possible.

Don’t fear all of the good photographers will be snatched up because you waited too long. And don’t just book with the first photographer you meet. Take some time to go through the portfolios of several photographers whose work you admire and narrow it down from there. Set up meeting times with your top candidates who have availability for your date then ask about booking.

Keep in mind— all of these photographers are running a business and odds are there are other brides out there who are getting married on the same day as you. Just because your photographer says they will hold the date for you, does not guarantee anything. Most require a deposit before they can officially book the day for you, so make sure to ask what their policy is.

3. Can I see a complete wedding day overview?

This is one of the best questions you can ask. Most photographers will only post and display the very BEST photos in their portfolios. That means you’re probably only seeing 1-3 great images per wedding, if that. If your photographer is promising you 200, 300, even 800+ final images, you should make sure they shoot consistently.

It’s always a good idea to check out your photographer’s blog first. A lot of photographers will post a mini overview of their most recent wedding work, which will give you a better idea of what you can expect your final images to look like. If your photographer doesn’t have a blog, ask if they would be willing to share an example of an online gallery.

Big Sur wedding in Limekiln by Paige Nelson Photography

4. Are the photos on your website similar to what we can expect for our own wedding?

Every photographer has his or her own unique style. You may see more documentary type work or the more traditional, posed images. There are also a lot of photographers out there who blend both styles very well. Some work with a lot of natural light, others work with mostly strobes. Ask your photographer to summarize their own style of shooting and figure out what your preference is too.

Also as I mentioned before, the photos you see on display on a photographer’s website are usually some of his or her best work. These photos have been carefully edited and enhanced in some way or another. The photographer may have done the editing him or herself, or outsourced the work to a professional editing lab.

Since editing can be so time consuming, there are some photographers who don’t include it in their wedding packages or offer it for an additional fee. Either way, make sure you ask.

5. Are the wedding photos on your website from real weddings?

The answer to this question may surprise you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stumbled across a photographer who displays wedding images from another photographer’s workshop or a stylized shoot (with models) on their website and claims it to be real.

In real life, most of us are not models and it is unfair to set such a high standard of expectations for your wedding day. Stylized shoots and workshops often have a full team of designers, hair dressers, make up artists, etc. to set the scene. There may or may not be a strict shooting schedule to adhere to. Either way, you simply can’t compare the two. Make sure your photographer is up front from the beginning about whether or not the photos are from real weddings.

6. How many pictures do you take?

This is another common question I get asked, but honestly, it’s a tough one to answer. You never truly know how many images you’re going to take until you actually show up and do the work. The amount of images can vary based on how much action there is to photograph, how many people there are to photograph, and how much coverage you’ve paid for.

Take the answer to this question with a grain of salt. A photographer may take upwards of 2,000+ images per wedding, but that does not mean you will receive them all or even that they will all be usable or good. Instead, ask how many final images you should expect to receive. As far as I’m concerned, photos of me blinking, making a funny face, etc. never need to see the light of day. A good wedding photographer will spare you the inconvenience.

Twin Oaks House and Garden wedding by Paige Nelson

7. Do you edit the pictures yourself?

I’ve touched on this subject briefly, but it’s important to bring up again. Editing is time consuming and not every photographer does it. So ask.

In the photography world, there are some we like to call “shoot and burn” photographers. It sounds painful because it usually is. Shoot and burn photographers do just that— they show up to your wedding, take those 2,000+ images and burn them straight to a disc. No editing, no enhancing, no artistic touch.

Aside from a specific shooting style, editing is what gives photos personality and makes them unique. When a photographer hand edits your photos and pours love into them, it truly shows.

8. What type of equipment and lighting do you use?

I can see the reasoning behind asking this question, but most clients don’t have enough background knowledge of photography for the answer to even make sense. The equipment a photographer has matters to an extent, but the skill and creativity of the technician is even more important. It’s like asking an artist what kind of brushes he or she uses. Does it really matter? Does it mean anything to you?

On the other hand, it’s always a good idea to ask if the photographer has some type of lighting equipment to use on hand, especially if your venue is dimly lit or the reception will be dark. Even professional grade camera bodies have their limitations in low lighting. To ensure your reception photos aren’t completely underexposed or grainy, the photographer should, at the very least, have an external flash mounted to the top of his or her camera. You don’t need to know the make or cost, just that it’s going to be there.

9. Do you use back-up equipment?

THIS IS IMPORTANT. Your photographer should always have back up equipment! This includes extra camera batteries, multiple memory cards, at least one other camera body, and most importantly, back up hard drives to store your precious memories.

Any number of things could go wrong on the day of the wedding.  What if your photographer accidentally drops (and breaks) his or her only camera in the middle of your ceremony? Or what if their studio burns down before you receive the images? Well my friend, you’re probably s*** out of luck.

Serra Plaza wedding in San Juan Capistrano by Paige Nelson

10. Have you ever shot at my venue before?

Don’t be too concerned if the answer to this question is no. Although familiarity with the area and/or venue is helpful, it’s not the end of the world if your photographer hasn’t been there.

Personally, I do my best work when I arrive to a location with fresh eyes. The lighting or weather is never a guarantee and may change drastically on the day of the wedding. If you have your own ideas you’d like to share, don’t be afraid to send your photographer pictures or video you’ve taken yourself or show them the venue’s website.

11. Is it ok if guests take photos while you’re shooting?

Answers will vary. Some photographers have this clearly outlined in their contracts, so make sure to read carefully. Allowing guests to take photos is a great way to get multiple perspectives on your wedding day. There will always be moments the photographer is unable to capture simply because they can not be everywhere at once.

However, guests can become distracting and cumbersome to the photographer if they stand up with their iPads, camera phones, etc. and block important shots. If a photographer has it stated in their contract that guest photography is not allowed during “formal photography” and/or the ceremony, it’s ok to ask for clarification.

Formal photography usually constitutes the photographer setting up posed shots of the bride and groom, family photos, or the bridal party. It’s hard to adhere to a photography schedule on the wedding day when you’re competing with the guests for your subject’s attention. Respectfully, it’s also a bit rude to have the guests piggyback on all the photographer’s hard work. At the end of the day, you hired the photographer for his or her professionalism, skills and product, not the guest.

12. If my wedding lasts longer than expected, will you stay? Is there an additional charge?

You should have a clear understanding of what constitutes overtime work BEFORE the day of the wedding. Your photographer should be up front with you or outline his or her policy regarding overtime in the contract. Read the fine print. Sometimes “full wedding day” coverage is only until 9 p.m. or maybe only “up to eight hours.”

More often than not, the photographer will check in with you before leaving whether or not you would like them to stay. If your photographer ends up working overtime, make sure you know how they need to get paid. Keep a check book or cash handy the day of the wedding if need be.

Succulent bouquet at Balboa Park by Paige Nelson Photography

13. How will you dress for my wedding?

Photographers dance the line between professional and functional. We are working LONG hours the day of your wedding and we need our outfits to work for us. It is unrealistic to expect your photographer to wear a full-fledged suit or a slinky dress and high heels. Most photographers wear dark colors (or even the colors of the wedding party) to blend in. A nice blouse or shirt and slacks is more realistic.

14. How much time should we set aside on our wedding day for photos?

It varies a bit depending on:

  • your photographer
  • the time of day your wedding takes place
  • how many family members you would like photographs with
  • your vision for your photographs

I always give my clients a standard guideline of how much time they should set aside on the day of the wedding, but as I’ve said a million times, even the most well-planned out weddings don’t always run on time. If the bridal party is running late getting ready, you may get more preparation shots. If you keep the family photos simple, there will be more time for bride and groom portraits.

15. What products and packages do you offer?

If you know you want to purchase albums, prints or any other kind of products, make sure you ask this question in the preliminary stages of interviewing someone to hire for your wedding. (The “shoot and burn” photographer probably won’t be able to offer you much, other than a blank CD in a jewel case).

Long story short, you don’t want to be left high and dry after the event. Even if you’re only considering it now, at least you’ll have options down the road if you go with the photographer who hosts a gallery for clients and offers a full print and product catalog.

Also ask what your photographer’s print lab of choice is— if they’re using the Costco or Target photo center, you might as well do it yourself.

Wedding portraits in Costa Mesa by Paige Nelson

16. Can we customize any of your wedding packages?

Most photographers offer wedding packages tailored to meet their target client’s specific needs in order to make the buying decision easier. Some of these photographers’ packages are set in stone, while others are more flexible in what items or services you can add or remove.

It’s important to keep in mind that “customize” does not mean the same thing as “bargain.” While it’s perfectly ok to negotiate additional services or products,  I advise you not to try and bargain with your photographer for the sake of being cheap. Photography is a luxury service after all.

17. If we receive the photos on a DVD, can we print our own images?

Clarify with your photographer whether or not the images you’ll be receiving are web resolution or high resolution. Only files that are high resolution (preferably 300 dpi or higher) will produce the printed results you want. Web resolution photos may become grainy or pixelated if you try to enlarge them.

If you purchase the high resolution files on a DVD/USB, or even download the files digitally to save to your computer, make sure you have a print release form allowing you to print. Some printing centers refuse to print professionally produced photos without a signed copy from the photographer.

18. When can we expect to receive our images?

This will vary from photographer to photographer based on how many other client orders they need to fulfill, how intensive their editing process is and if they edit the pictures themselves or outsource the work. Generally speaking, most photographers include their turn around time in their contract.

Santa Cruz elopement on bluffs by Paige Nelson Photography

19. Do you use an assistant or a second shooter?

There is a big difference most of the time. Some photographers, especially larger studios, may use both.

The primary photographer may or may not choose to hire an assistant to help organize family photos or carry equipment. An extensive background in photography is not required to be an assistant— the only real requirements are the ability to take direction well and a positive attitude. Many assistants are learning how to build their own photography business and are looking for ways to expand their portfolios. Some [not all] photographers may lend their assistant a camera, regardless of their expertise, to capture wedding day moments.

On the other hand, a second shooter or (associate photographer) is generally hired by the photographer to help document moments on your wedding day that the primary photographer may inevitably miss. The second shooter may or may not have their own photography business and is looking for gigs to fill in their schedule. A second shooter usually shoots in a more documentary style, capturing candid moments or guests at the reception as the primary photographer shoots with the bride and groom.

Having a second photographer on your big day guarantees a second, fresh perspective. The second shooter may also perform some assistant tasks through out the day such as moving lighting equipment or holding reflectors.

20. What happens if you’re sick or there’s an emergency?

We’re only human and life happens. This issue should be addressed in all wedding vendor contracts, not just photographers. Your deposit for the wedding may or may not be refundable. Ethically speaking, a photographer should always provide you with a full refund if they can not find a suitable replacement to fill in.

Don’t stress about this too much though. I guarantee your photographer will do everything in their power to be at your wedding. And the odds of him or her getting into a car accident while driving to the venue are pretty darn slim.

Green Gables Estate wedding in San Marcos by Paige Nelson

So we’ve addressed all these important questions you should be asking your wedding photographer, but what about you?  Ask yourself:

Are our personalities and communication styles a good match?

From my experience, wedding days are almost always unpredictable. No doubt you want to work with a professional who keeps calm under pressure and is still able to make you laugh, even when things go wrong. Setting up a pre-wedding consultation or booking an engagement session with your potential wedding photographer is a great way to see if you will work well together.

Forming a connection with your photographer will help you feel more comfortable in front of the camera and help them produce great images. You want to have fun and be happy on your wedding day!

Do I feel a connection with this photographer as well as his/her photos?

Bottom line: If you don’t feel a connection with your photographer’s work, then what are you really investing in? You’ll know what really speaks to you when you see it because you’ll feel it too.

There are some people in this business for all the wrong reasons…and it shows. Some just see photography as a quick money-making gimmick— don’t fall for their tricks. A true artist pours passion into their work that will spill out of the photograph. Your wedding day photos are heirlooms you’ll share with your children and grandchildren. Make it count!