How to compare wedding photographers

Comparing wedding photographers is both an art and science. Granted, you have to like or even love their photos, but there are other factors to consider when comparing wedding photographers.

So here are my tips as wedding photographer for comparing, and ultimately choosing a wedding photographer for your wedding day. None of these are hard and fast rules, they are simply things to consider during the decision making process.

Do you love their photos?

This is personal and subjective. Ultimately a photographer can produce photos which are technically perfect, and yet you may still not like them for some reason. It might be the colour grading, or the photo is cliche, and you are looking for something more original etc.

Photographers may capture creative images that don’t appeal to you. Personally I don’t like the use of coloured flash gels for creative effects or over processing. I also don’t like transplanting skies on a wedding photo or adding a fake sun flare or sunset. Many award winning photographers do, and many couples want these fantastical looking photos, but for me they come at the price of authenticity and story telling.

Replacing skies is when a photographer takes the original sky or sunset and replaces it with a more dramatic or colourful sky in Photoshop.

Personally, I would like my clients to look back at their wedding photos in 20 years time and see the real sky and conditions on the day, not some Sky that was downloaded from a free sky stock library.

While loving their photos is extremely important, it is by no means the only thing to consider. Please allow me to explain why…

The problem with judging a wedding photographer on their visible public portfolio alone is that just about every photographer will only put their best photos in a portfolio. These photos may have been taken 10 years ago.

There are many factors that go into making a great wedding photo, but the truth is that many of these are not actually in the control of the photographer. That includes the prevailing weather and lighting at the time, the willingness and participation of the couple, the experience of the couple in terms of posing and of course the actual location of the wedding.

While a good professional photographer should be able to pose couples in any situation, that doesn’t always mean the photographer has the full participation or interest of the couple. They may not have been that interested in taking couples portraits, or the wedding may have been running behind schedule.

That is why virtually all photographers will choose the best photos from the best weddings to put forward as their portfolio. That doesn’t mean every photo will be as spectacular (far from it).

Higher budget weddings with more guests simply offer more appealing and beautiful photo opportunities. That is particularly true of detail shots such as reception rooms and decorations, but also the available scenes for couples portraits.

So don’t judge a portfolio on the scenery, location, couple or detail, but try to look beyond that. Remember, your wedding is your wedding and it will be completely different (even at the same venue).

Is one photographer actually more prepared than the other?

Not in terms of photography skill, but have they made contingencies for when things might go wrong, or not to plan. While one photographer might be cheaper, it may be because they could not afford the range, depth and quality of gear required for that 1 in 100 situation.

On a perfect day you may never know the difference. But what happens when it rains for example? Do they have a collection of nice white umbrellas for the wedding party and plastic covers for their camera and lighting? If they drop a camera do they have a backup on hand ready to go?

At the very minimum a professional wedding photographer should have two camera bodies on site and backup lenses, and shoot to two memory cards at the same time.

I recommend asking (1) What backup processes do you have in place to ensure photos are not lost (2) What happens if it rains? (3) What happens if you can’t make it due to illness?

In terms of backup processes, how are backups made of your files when the photographer gets back to their studio?

Are the photos technically sound?

This may not be something that is apparent without a technical understanding of photography, but most of this is common sense.

Are all photos sharp and in focus, are they composed well, straight and vertical and for couples portraits in particular, free of distracting or unappealing backgrounds such as other people, cars or objects?

Do the photos look the were taken in a hurry or with care and composition?

Are the photos too dark for your taste or too bright? Do the colours look good, or do they look slightly unnatural or unappealing?

Is there enough colour and contrast in photos or do they look flat or lifeless? Is the colour balance correct, are skin tones about right or are they too warm (orange) or too cold (blue)?

This can sometimes be a creative choice by the photographer, so be sure to ask the photographer for explanation on why a particular photo is that colour, if unsure.

in fact, if there are photos you really don’t like in a photographers portfolio, ask them why they included them and what the background was. There may well be a valid explanation, as normally a photographer is very careful and selective about the photos they choose for the final gallery.

Are there enough photos to tell the story

There should be enough photos delivered that tells the story of the day from start to finish, with all the detail and moments in between. This will depend on the scope of the photography coverage though, so try to find out how long the photographer was hired for on the day.

As a general rule, anywhere from 40 to 70 photos per hour is about the norm with 50 photos per hour the average (from my observations).

To the contrary, I would also be suspicious of photographers offering extra “value” by providing anything more than 60 photos per hour. I would question how many of these extra photos are really needed, and whether less photos might be more appropriate. If the photographer works with a second shooter or as a couple, then that might explain why more photos were delivered.

Is the photographer taking flattering photos for the actual subjects?

Shooting with the camera pointed down (not vertical) or shooting group photos too wide and too close results in distortion of subjects (especially at the edges). Shooting too close to a subject also distorts their face, and is common in selfies taken on a mobile phone camera.

When looking at family group photos, they should all be (in my opinion) straight and consistent with flattering lighting (whether natural or with flash). For casual group photos, they should ideally not be taken too wide and it should not be immediately apparent that flash was used (e.g. too much flash).

There should not be any photos of guests eating food or holding tissues at cocktail hour unless the client requested these.

Are all photos delivered in focus

Check for critical focus on couples portraits and family group photos. For candid photos the photographer may deliver photos that are slightly out of focus on the subjects eyes because the photo is still telling the story. But these photos should be few and far between. Don’t be afraid to zoom in on photos on a large screen.

How to compare couples portraits

It helps to know how long the photographer was allocated for the couples portrait session. This way you can judge whether the quality and quantity of photos sounds right.

Bear in mind that couples portraits normally only yield about 10-20 photos per hour (on average), due to the extra posing and careful selection of most photographers. If you feel there are not enough couples portraits in a particular set, it may because of time constraints on the day, so check with your prospective photographer.

Another major factor is the time of day couples portraits were taken. Some morning weddings may dictate that couples portraits are taken at midday. This the worst possible time because of the harsh, high contrast light and shadows which means couples need to stay in the shade or have their back to the sun. Neither of these options is as good as shooting nearer sunset or even sunrise when the light is more balanced.

You really need to know the backstory

To compare sets of photos between photographers, it is critical to understand the backstory. In other words, what did the bride and groom request for their photography and what actually happened on the day to affect it?

Sometimes couples will ask for specific types of photos, which may even be outside the photographers normal style. It helps to know the complete backstory of the day (without revealing anything personal of course) so you can appreciate why things happened the way they did.

For example, at one recent wedding in Brisbane it started to rain during our couples portraits session (it was an outdoor garden wedding). While we intended to shoot more couples portraits later, the couple felt they had enough in the 12 minutes we had shot for. They were more than happy to join their guests in celebration than stay in the rain.

Looking at this set for example, you might think the couples portraits were limited. They are limited, but that was the best decision on the day for the couple and the situation.

Are you looking at the best quality images like for like?

It is very difficult to compare photos unless they are high quality, which means at least 2500 pixels and a high JPEG quality. I don’t recommend looking at photos from Facebook or Instagram because they are heavily compressed and especially in the case of Facebook, even colours and exposure changed once uploaded.

If the photographer’s portfolio is not already in high resolution then it makes it very hard to compare. You may need to ask for a high resolution gallery to be made available.

Some photographers have printed portfolios in an album or photobook for you to view in-person. These will often look better than photos viewed on a computer screen or mobile phone, so be aware of this bias.

Do you like their style?

A photographer’s style is hard to define in words. It is everything about them, and how this impacts on the finished photos, from the way they interact with guests to what they are naturally drawn to.

Style also includes how they both shoot and edit their photos, and will range from dark and moody to light and airy and lots in between!

A common trend these days (and I say trend because it is a relatively new thing) is to desaturate colours in photos (and especially greens). Take a close look at their portfolio and make sure you like this look. Ask yourself also, will you like this look in 20 years time or will this trend end at some point.

Photographers all vary in the amount of black and white photos delivered. Often they will deliver black and whites in addition to the colour versions, but bear in mind some photos only work in black and white. Even if you don’t like black and white photos, just take these for what they are.

If on the other hand a large proportion of photos are in black and white, then you should consider whether this is appealing to you.

Only you can decided the look and feel that appeals to you, but remember that photography is supposed to be about the subjects, so look closely at skin tones and make sure they are flattering and to your taste.

How do they compare with inclusions?

When comparing photographers price is always a factor. However, different photographers do things differently. Some include site visits, and others like to do these on the wedding day itself by arriving early.

As a basic rule, the more preparation and planning the photographer does before the wedding day, the smoother everything will go and the quality of photos will increase.

Photographers that visit locations before the wedding day such as the ceremony and reception venues are going to be much better prepared. This all takes time, and is important to consider when comparing photographers.

Also consider whether digital files are included, and at what pixel resolution (pixels at the longest edge) not the DPI setting, as this is not relevant for digital files. Higher is better, and what you really want is maximum quality and pixel resolution digital files.

If your photographer includes albums or photo books it can be very hard to compare without seeing these side by side (which is impossible). Therefore, this is something that is extremely difficult to compare objectively.

Have you met them in-person?

Meeting someone in person is a great way to get to know your photographer before the day. It just means one less thing to worry about. But it actually goes both ways, because it allows your photographer to see what your personality and style is like. They may also learn things about you that helps them plan the wedding photography more appropriately.

If you are comparing photographers and can’t decide between two options, definitely meet them first.

Once you have booked your photographer, unless your wedding coverage is very short or doesn’t include in-person pre-wedding consultations, you should absolutely meet them before the wedding day.

The other advantage to meeting them before booking is that you might be able to conduct the pre-wedding consultation over the phone later down the track. This is quite beneficial, because it means not having to attend another meeting in the days or weeks leading up to your wedding day.

Have you seen an entire gallery of photos from several recent weddings?

This is hands down the best way to compare photographers. I recommend looking at two complete galleries of photos from any photographer you have shortlisted (once availability and pricing is confirmed). They do not need to be identical weddings to yours in terms of guest numbers or styles, but sure that helps.

Take into account influential factors like the number of hours coverage, whether the photographer was shooting alone or with a second shooter (or perhaps had an assistant), and the weather on the day.

I would also recommend choosing the galleries yourself, rather than galleries offered by the photographer if at all possible.

Bear in mind the photographer has no control over the weather. If the sun was overcast on the day, then outdoor photos may appear flat in terms of lighting. This is not the fault of the photographer per se, it is just something out of their direct control.

Consider both the quality and quantity of photos. It may be useful to get some background from the photographer about what the client requested on the day too. Just because there are no getting ready photos does not mean the photographer was too busy or neglected to take these.

It is almost always because this was something the couple simply didn’t want captured. The same can be said for off-person detail shots like rings and shoes.

I recommend looking at every single photo on a large good quality screen, and this will take 30-60 minutes to do properly, as there should be hundreds of photos to view.

If you have a friend who is an amateur or professional photographer, you may like to ask them for their opinion. They will probably see things you may not have noticed.

Try not to allow pricing to be the ultimate deciding factor (even though it often is!)

Most couples have a budget for their wedding and this includes professional photography. I would recommend choosing the photographer that is right for you. This might mean going with a photographer that is cheaper or more expensive than your budget.

Photography pricing varies wildly between photographers and sometimes it just comes down to availability or supply and demand. Photographers who have more availability are probably going to be priced less expensively. Veteran photographers who have been shooting weddings for many years will tend to be on the more expensive side, as they have more forward bookings.

Be very wary of very cheap photographers, and be sure to do some Google reverse image searches on their images to make sure they have not been taken from other portfolios! (right click in Google Chrome and choose “Search Google for Image”,

Read every online review carefully and with a grain of salt

Reading reviews when comparing photographers is probably one of the easiest aspects of comparing photographers, and is probably the first thing that comes to mind.

Reviews are impossible to ignore these days, so be sure to check out reviews across all platforms such as Google Reviews, Facebook reviews and anywhere else.

Looking at their overall rating as judged by actual couples who have hired them and been through the process is a very valuable comparison tool.

In situations where the photographer has a poor review, be sure to read the photographers reply and don’t be afraid to ask them about the situation. If they have not replied to a bad review with their side of the story, this could be a warning sign. Another warning sign might be multiple bad reviews, particularly in a short time period.

Try to match up the person who reviewed the photographer with their portfolio, to make sure the review is real and genuine.

Conclusion

I wish all the best with choosing a wedding photographer, it is not a straight forward or simple task. Try to ensure you take your time, but also consider that the longer you delay making a decision the greater the likelihood of that photographer being unavailable.

Try to start the process as soon as you have booked either your reception or ceremony location, and have locked in the date.

In conclusion (in my opinion!)

(1) Make sure you look at complete sets of images from several weddings on a large screen (not your phone) (2) Find out the background to each of those weddings from the photographer to help you understand how and why things happened (3) Look beyond the opulence of the venues or locations (4) Ensure you are comparing like for like in terms of inclusions (4) Meet your photographer before booking (unless it’s a budget wedding and this is not offered) (5) Choose your ideal photographer and book them asap!

Chris Jack