15 questions to ask your wedding photographer
Choosing a wedding photographer can be frustrating. Sometimes you will find the perfect photographer for you, only to find they are booked on the day in question.
Or they don't fully publish their pricing and packages, making it hard to compare value.
If your wedding is planned for a weekday, there is a much greater chance your preferred photographer will be available.
But when you finally get the confirmation your photographer is actually available on your planned wedding day, and they offer a meeting beforehand, what questions should you ask them? This might be at their studio, over the phone, on a Facebook video chat or at a cafe somewhere.
I am talking about a meeting where you have still not paid a deposit or decided 100% to book that photographer. This is an introductory meeting, a first date of sorts, a chance to meet the photographer face-to-face and see whether they are right for you.
I recommend to all couples that they meet at least two shortlisted photographers before actually making a booking. Even if you 100% intended on booking them, tell your photographer that the meeting is just see whether they are the right photographer for them.
You should not feel pressured into making a decision to book that photographer on the first meeting. You will most likely be with your partner, and while you might be 100% happy with the photographer, your partner may have other thoughts or concerns.
It is always a good idea to treat that first meeting as an opportunity to get know the photographer, their photography style, their strengths and weaknesses and then make the actual booking when you are ready.
Almost all photographers operate on a first come, first served basis in terms of bookings. So it is wise to book your photographer (and pay a deposit) as soon as you make the decision.
I like to discuss the wedding with clients in general terms at the first meeting (the type of wedding, number of guests, size of the bridal party etc, how and where couples portraits will be taken) but I don’t go into laborious detail about the timings on the day. I feel this is best discussed once you have made a confirmed photography booking, and 1-2 weeks before the wedding. Only then will you have a very clear picture of how the day will unfold, and firmer plans can be made for the photography coverage around the confirmed timeline.
This means you might ultimately meet with your professional photographer on two or more occasions before the actual wedding day. You will find communication on the wedding day is much easier, there will be less anxiety, and you may even start to think of your wedding photographer as a familiar and trusted face rather than a stranger!
So here are some of the questions I would ask a wedding photographer before booking, in no particular order:
What backup equipment and plans are in place?
This question could be very important because every wedding photographer worth their salt should have a backup camera body and lens available and near where they are shooting. It should be pre-inspected, have memory cards formatted and ready to go, with a recently charged battery and clean lens already fitted.
This is important during the ceremony. The ceremony is not going to stop for the photographer to run to their car and prepare a new camera, lens, battery and set of memory cards.
It has not happened to me during a wedding ceremony yet, but a few weeks ago I was shooting a corporate event at hotel in the CBD. It was a luncheon awards ceremony, and there were about 60 people in attendance. I was the only photographer and responsible for shooting awards recipients on the stage.
Everything was going great until all of a sudden, just when I had to shoot an award winner on stage, the camera died. I knew that this was probably the battery, even though it was only 1.5 hours into the event. The battery had malfunctioned, and there was no way to anticipate this.
As the event organiser scrambled to take a photo on their mobile phone, I was able to walk over to my tote bag three metres away and immediately replace the battery. Within 45 seconds I was back shooting again.
I use only Canon brand batteries and charge all batteries the day before but even with these precautions, it is still possible to have a camera die unexpectedly. What matters is that your wedding photographer has a backup camera ready to go, and of course a spare battery on them at all times. Then a recovery can be made in 45 seconds rather than 45 minutes.
How will we do family group photos?
Family photos are important, but they are also prone to getting out of control and eating into valuable couples portrait time, or even worse, the drinks package time at the reception!
Your photographer should hopefully be keen on planning each group photo individually. This ensures there is a group shot list, and that one person from the wedding party (such as the best man or maid of honour) is tasked with locating and ushering these guests.
This is important, because otherwise the photographer is running around like a mad man (or woman) trying to find people, trying to keep the people that are waiting entertained, setting up their camera and lighting, levelling their tripod and taking nanas handbag away from her all at the same time!
Can I see your personal wedding portfolio?
You will want to see the actual portfolio of the individual photographer you are hiring, not a collective portfolio of the best shots from all the photographers working under another company name.
It may also pay to do a Google Image search online for some of their images to make sure they are not stock photos, or taken from other photography websites.
This can be done by right clicking on their portfolio images and choosing “Search Google for Image” in Google Chrome.
How long have you been shooting weddings and how many have you shot?
You will want to be sure your wedding photographer has experience that is relevant to your wedding. Only you can decide whether this experience is satisfactory, as it may include photography taken in other photography genres such as portraits, family or event photography. But it is also important that your photographer has actually personally been the lead photographer on weddings in the recent past, and isn’t using your wedding to get their first experience.
If this is their first wedding, they should be up front about this and you should be comfortable with that situation (based on their overall experience, portfolio and pricing).
When did you shoot your last wedding?
Some photographers shoot a wide variety of different types of photography. This is all relevant (as wedding photography requires a wide range of skills) but as a rule of thumb, I believe you should be looking for a wedding photographer that has at least shot multiple weddings in the past 6 months (and you can see any one of those full portfolios on request).
How many lenses and lights do they have available?
You could in theory shoot a wedding with one lens such as the 24-105MM or 24-70MM zoom lens (and many amateur photographers do just that). But a professional wedding photographer will have many more lenses available on the day, such as a longer 70-200MM lens, macro lenses for food and rings shots and prime lenses that are great for low light shooting and portraits.
As a general rule, I would expect every wedding photographer to have at least three lenses available on the day, as they also need backups if their camera is dropped or damaged or a lens malfunctions.
The types of lenses they have will vary depending on their style and preferences. Some photographers prefer prime lenses, and others zoom lenses. The important thing is that they aren’t just turning up with one lens, and there are options should things go wrong.
In terms of lights, this is also an area where you want redundancy. A good photographer can work with one small speedlite for the entire wedding. But what happens if that speedlite is dropped, damaged or malfunctions? At the bare minimum a wedding photographer should have at least two speedlites, and other options such as umbrellas, soft boxes or other larger modifiers for portraits or group shots.
When will the photos be delivered?
You will want to make sure the photos are delivered within a time frame you are personally comfortable with. It is not uncommon for wedding photos to take 6-12 weeks to be processed. Personally, I deliver them within 7-14 days because I feel there is added value and reassurance in that guarantee.
If your wedding photographer is sending photos overseas and outsourcing the editing, is a destination (travelling) wedding photographer, or has an assistant processing the photos, then they may take longer to process.
I would personally be comfortable with any photographer that guarantees delivery of photos within 30 days. I do not think it should take longer than 30 days, and the longer it takes, the higher the risk of something bad happening like fire, theft, data loss or other unforeseen circumstances like the photography going out of business or disappearing!
What is your main camera body?
Some would say it doesn’t matter what camera the photographer is using, and that you should judge them on their portfolio alone. That is true to a certain extent, but it is also true that a better quality, newer and more expensive camera will simply take sharper, crisper and better photos than an older/cheaper model.
Feel free to ask your photographer what their main primary camera make and model is, and the Google it later to see whether it is a recent model and considered a professional grade camera. Most professional grade camera bodies will cost at least $2000 to purchase new, as a rule of thumb.
Who will edit the photos and do you shoot in raw format?
You may already know that many popular, high-end wedding photographers outsource the editing of photos. That means someone other than your photographer is individually editing them, normally outsourced overseas, or a local contractor. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, and a photographer should not be discounted for this reason alone, but I believe it is your right to know who will be editing them.
Wedding photos should be shot in raw format, to ensure the most leeway to change photos afterwards including the exposure, white balance and colour correction. Some wedding photographers prefer to shoot directly to JPEG, but they should also be shooting in raw as an exposure and white balance safety backup, and most professional wedding photographers will shoot this way (but ask anyway).
Will I have any input to the final look of the photos?
You shouldn’t expect to have 100% input into the final colour grading and editing of every single photo, because you are hiring that photographer for their creative instincts and artistic interpretation. Having said that, you should pay close attention to their portfolio and the general look of the photos.
Do they all have similar colour toning, mood, contrast and general look? If they do, then you should know what to expect from your photographer. If some of the galleries are different, then you may want to point out to your photographer which particular style and look of photos appeals to you (before they are edited).
For example, colour grading of photos can produce a look that could be described as neutral or natural, pastel or soft, desaturated, high contrast, warm tones, cold tones etc. I would recommend discussing this with your photographer before they deliver photos, if there is a particular look you prefer, they may (or may not) willing to accommodate this for you.
Some documentary photographers produce most photos in black and white (personally I only convert a few photos to black and white for specific reasons). If your photographer is a documentary or reportage photographer, check to see roughly what % of photos will be in black and white and make sure you are happy with this.
How will the photos be delivered, at what resolution at the longest edge and JPEG quality?
The actual resolution in terms of dots per inch (DPI) does not affect the resolution and therefore actual quality of a JPEG. The most important aspect of the quality of an exported JPEG are the number of pixels at the longest edge. This simply means the horizontal edge on a landscape photo, or the vertical edge on a portrait photo.
There is no need to quote the horizontal and vertical resolution, because all photos will come out of a full frame camera at a ratio of 3:2. So a landscape (horizontal) photo with a resolution of 1000 pixels at the longest edge will be 666 pixels at the shortest edge.
For general social media posting a resolution of about 2000 pixels at the longest edge is more than enough for social media. For printing photo books or small prints up to about 12 inches, then a resolution of about 3600 pixels is perfect.
I provide photos at both social media (2000 pixels) and high resolution (3600 pixels) at the longest edge (depending on whether it is portrait or landscape).
You may also want your photos at maximum resolution (pixels), especially if you intend printing artworks such as large prints, wall canvases etc. Maximum resolution for most professional cameras is in excess of 6000 pixels at the longest edge, but it depends on the exact camera and the number of megapixels and whether it has been creatively cropped.
Some photographers charge extra for high resolution or full resolution digital images, so make sure you know the exact resolution at the longest edge of what you are getting in the package you book. I provide all images at maximum resolution on a USB drive for my wedding clients.
Can you provide a second shooter as a backup?
A second shooter is a secondary, generally less experienced photographer who can be hired in addition to your main photographer to work alongside them. Their job is to capture secondary angles, compositions and moments that the main photographer may not be able to take, or in the worst case scenario, has missed for whatever reason.
The second photographer should also be at a level where they could completely take over from the main photographer should they be sick or unable to proceed on the day for whatever reason (as a backup).
If your wedding has more than 150 guests, or is a more grand affair with elaborate or expensive detail and decorations, it may well be really beneficial to ensure there is a second photographer either for certain periods, or the whole day.
A second shooter can only normally be supplied by the main photographer, and not hired independently or in competition with the main photographer for obvious reasons.
Not only is a second shooter good insurance in terms of the main photographer getting sick or injured on the day, but it also means more backups of photos. It will mean that more photos can be taken and selected from, and should result in a more complete gallery.
How are we going to shoot the couples portraits/bridal photos?
This is a great question to ask your photographer. The correct answer (in my opinion) should be that it depends entirely on the clients wishes. Only by the photographer asking questions and getting to know the couple can they understand what they really want.
Some photographers insist or at least strongly recommend a two hour couples portrait session. This may not be what you actually want, and you might prefer to spend less time on couples portraits, or to split couples photos into shorter more manageable sessions lasting 10-15 minutes at various times throughout the day.
This is a great way to ensure you are not exhausted by having to pose for hours on end in the hot Brisbane climate. It might mean having a short first look session before the wedding, some local portraits near the ceremony, and 15 minutes of sunset photos right before the reception.
You should also discuss how much you really want to be posed for these photos. This could be 100% posed (directed at every shot) or partially posed (just some tips and suggestions during the shoot), or not at all. This is entirely possible just by doing things you enjoy like walking with your partner, having a drink at a bar etc, and a photographer who can shoot this way.
The most important thing is that your photographer is flexible and willing to bend more to what you want.
If you don't know where you want couples portraits taken, the photographer should be willing to scope out portrait locations beforehand, either before official coverage starts on the day, or on another day during a site visit.
Another popular option these days is to forego all posed couples portraits on the wedding day, and instead do an engagement or pre-wedding couples portrait session on a completely different day.
What if I don’t like some photos, can these be deleted and not used publicly?
This is a grey area, because technically the photographers holds the copyright to every photo taken. However, I believe that you should have some say in which photos are used by the photographer in their final portfolio. I also believe that full wedding galleries should not be made public, and only a selection of highlights from each wedding used in a public portfolio.
In terms of the photography contract, I give my clients the right to remove up to 40% of the photos taken on the day if they don't want them seen in public, for whatever reason. No clients have ever removed 40% of the photos, but it is nice to know you have the option for whatever reason!
What is the deposit policy and how is structured?
Almost every photographer has a different deposit policy and payment terms which is a good thing, because there is plenty of choice. Some require full payment up front, others a 25-50% deposit. Some offer payment instalments even after the wedding, and more are starting to offer services like Afterpay as well.
Make sure you are fully aware of the deposit terms and payment terms of your photographer, and that you are comfortable with them before making the first payment. In some cases, deposits may not be refundable at all with some photography contracts.
The more probing questions you ask your photographer, the more insight you will get into their practices and methods.
There is no licensing body or standards authority when it comes to photography. Anyone with a camera can call themselves a professional photographer and offer services for any price.
You should use a wide variety of methods to evaluate a prospective photographer, from reading reviews online and making sure they are genuine, to looking closely and carefully at their personal portfolios, and asking to see a recent complete wedding gallery with some context on the day e.g. how many hours coverage were provided, how much time was spent for couples portraits etc.
Only once you have met your photographer and asked them questions that you are both happy with, can you be ready to make a commitment and confirm a booking with a deposit.