When you’re researching how to choose a photographer in 2023, it can be a bit daunting at first. What do you base your choice on? How do you choose? What advice on photographers is best?
It’s not an easy task, so I decided to write this wedding photographer advice to make the process of choosing a photographer more comfortable for you.
I’ve been a professional wedding photographer since 2006. I’ve been a wedding videographer/filmmaker for even longer. As a videographer, I reckon I’ve worked alongside some of the best and, occasionally, the not-so-good (that’s putting it politely!) wedding photographers in Scotland.
Please use this guide to enhance your knowledge of what to ask, what to look for and what to avoid when doing your research.
When you’ve read this advice and tips, make sure you’re fully prepared for that initial meeting with your wedding photographer by reading my follow-up guide 60 Questions To Ask A Wedding Photographer – Essential Wedding Photography Questions And Answers.
How To Choose A Photographer
Some of the most vital considerations, the questions you should ask and factor into your decision-making process:
- Technical Proficiency
- Ability To Work To A Deadline And Manage Time
- Are They A People Person?
Let’s take a closer look at these important areas in detail, beginning with technical proficiency, the basic but significant skill to check when asking, ‘how do I choose a photographer’.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve got the best camera, lens and other photographic technology if you don’t know how to use it. Today’s photographic equipment comes with many features and options, often more than most wedding photographers would ever require.
It feels good to have the latest equipment, but often an incompetent or inexperienced shooter of weddings doesn’t quite get to grips with how a feature works or when or why they should use it.
Equipment alone doesn’t make you a better.
I once worked alongside a photographer who had just bought a new tripod that enabled them to shoot photos from a low down on the floor. Unfortunately, they didn’t practise setting up the tripod before the wedding day and decided to use the tripod for the first time while shooting photos of newlyweds at their wedding. He had no idea how to set up the tripod for this unusual angle.
They spent ten minutes trying to figure out what was happening. Unwilling to accept advice or help from anyone (including me), they persevered in vain. I felt sorry for the bride and groom having to waste the most important day of their lives waiting for this guy to figure out how to operate a new tripod (though the couple seemed happy enough enjoying a glass of champagne while they waited!). I learned from this – the simplest option is often best. The latest equipment enhances what I do and how I do it – but I learn how to use it and become proficient at using it in demanding situations before being on a paid job. Low-angle shots? I’ll lie down and have a shot done in seconds.
Another example is a shooter who allows their camera to make decisions on their behalf. Usually, new and inexperienced shooters fear taking their cameras out of automatic mode. Creating wedding photos of a newly-wed couple standing against a bright window, and the camera is set to ‘auto’ (or P-Mode), I can see the photo on the back of their camera immediately after it’s been taken. All I see is a silhouette of the couple against a bright window. Not what they really wanted to create, but a common mistake. Certainly not the kind of image a professional should be shooting unless doing so intentionally.
Have you ever tried using your mobile phone to capture a photo at night? The image is often a bit blurry due to the technical limitation of using a camera in low-lighting conditions. That’s OK and expected when taking a photo on your phone, but not desirable when you’ve paid for a professional. A typical example is a photographer shooting pictures of the first few dances in the evening. It’s dark, and the camera is again set to one of the automatic modes. The camera adjusts for low lighting, automatically reducing the shutter speed and causing the image to come out blurry. Not cool.
On the small screen on the back of the camera, the photo looks OK, but when they get home and check the photo on their computer screen, they’re in for a shock when they see the blurry image. Unfortunately, no amount of editing will save a blurred image. The damage has been done.
Every photographer uses a computer to do post-production editing of their photos. It’s an essential part of every shooter’s job, but it’s easy to overdo the editing or, worse, to do it incorrectly. Too often, I see images with a particular filter applied in the hope of turning a bad photo into a good one. To my eye, it looks like a bad photo made into a brutal photo.
These pre-set filters are the perfect way to date a photo. You’ll have seen a spot-coloured (or selective colour) photo. This kind of wedding photo edit can look good when done in moderation, but until recently, they were done to the point of overdoing it. Often spot colour is used to enhance what is otherwise quite a dull photo. Most pros rarely do spot colour editing nowadays, preferring to make an image interesting when they compose the photo instead of relying on editing after the photo has been taken.
But even if they avoid spot colour editing, they can make up for it in other ‘creative’ ways. You’ll know it when you see it – the overly saturated, artificial colour landscape photo. The sickeningly fake sepia colour effect. Personally, these filters are OK if you use them to ‘enhance’ a low-quality photo taken on your phone and posted on Instagram. Still, there’s no excuse when you’re a full-time professional. My advice is to please avoid this ‘creative editing’ if you want to enjoy your photos in years to come without laughing (or crying) at how dated they look.
I’ve no doubt that in the next decade, we’ll look back at many portfolios and say, ‘that seems so 2012/2015/2019’. Why? Because the editing software gets updated and new editing techniques or filters arrive. When a new editing filter arrives, the sheep follow the herd, editing and churning out fashionable but quickly dated work.
Another example is the photo of the interior of a room with an orange glow from the incandescent lighting. I try to prevent the subject’s face from looking too orange under this kind of light. A wee bit of the warm glow can look OK, but too much, and it seems strange.
Often I see photos with no corrections, and the subject looks like an orange! Other times the corrective adjustment has been overdone, and the face takes on a deathly cyan tint. A little editing can help an image, but it’s too easy to overdo the editing.
It can be hard to get colours looking just right, but with the correct tools, it’s quite straightforward in all but the most demanding lighting conditions. The toughest lighting tends to be ‘mixed lighting’ – a combination of daylight, tungsten light bulbs and fluorescent strip lighting would be tricky to get right for the inexperienced shooter. When viewing a portfolio of wedding photos, try and figure out the kind of lighting used in the picture and ask if the colour of objects in the image looks natural or has changed due to the light. Does it look good, or does the bride have an orange face?
I was filming a wedding a few years ago, and the photographer was a ‘friend of a friend’ of the Groom. This shooter was an award-winning landscape photographer. I love shooting landscape photos as a hobby, but it’s different to creating pictures of people for money. It’s in another time zone compared to being a full-time professional wedding photographer. Landscape photography is done at your own pace and is the most relaxing form of photography. Very technical and very time-consuming (many of these landscape pictures took over 20 minutes to photograph = lots of waiting and enjoying the scene).
Unfortunately, this shooter, who was a lovely person to chat with, struggled to be in the right place at the right time. They didn’t know how to operate their hired studio lights for the group photos (it was raining outside. Fortunately, we were in a great venue with lots of space for setting up studio flash), but they couldn’t get the lights to work properly with their wireless triggers. They had taken on more than they could handle and should have known how to operate all of their equipment blindfolded (and ensured they knew the day’s schedule). A couple of months later, I received a call from the bride asking for a selection of photos taken from the video because she was heartbroken with her pictures. Ouch. The moral of the story – ‘being a photographer‘ is different from ‘being an experienced wedding photographer who knows their equipment‘.
The bottom line is when you look at a portfolio of photos, it’s essential to check a range of photos shot in different locations and lighting conditions. Ask yourself if the photos look like the work of an expert, and compare the photos to many other photographers’ work.
A few questions to ask when looking at photos:
- Are the images sharp or blurry? Too sharp or blurry in the wrong places (think eyes and face)? Is the sharpness or blur deliberate or the result of poor technique?
- Is each photo well-lit, or do they look muddy and dull? Good use of natural lighting? If flash is used, does it look obvious, or is it subtle, controlled and enhances the image?
- Do the colours look right – does white look white, and does the face look overly orange or a natural pink?
- Does the photo look overly processed or natural? Is that sky too blue, or that grass way too green? Has the photographer been lazy and used a pre-set filter to ‘enhance’ the image (not always a good thing if it’s obvious a filter has been applied)?
- Does this photo look like an experienced professional created it? Or do you feel the picture looks slightly odd? Can you tell me why you feel this way?
And remember to compare the portfolio to lots of other portfolios!
The photographic equipment used is essentially a tool to get the job done. In the hands of an experienced professional photographer, who knows how to use their equipment in demanding situations, all of the above is second nature. They should be capable of instinctively creating your photos with little or no delay.
In the hands of an amateur or a part-time photographer who cannot or will not devote time to learning their craft properly, the above scenarios can cause real problems regularly. Especially when time is of the essence, they only have a few minutes or seconds to capture each photo.
Analyse what you’re looking at by asking the questions above, and you’ll soon start to differentiate the good, the OK and the bad, helping you to make an informed decision. Your task of asking how to choose a photographer should become easier following my advice and tips.
The cause of many a heated debate and infinitely open to interpretation, the creativity used to produce an image can be the difference between an average photo and an amazing photo.
Creativity comes with knowledge, experience and desire. Rarely does an exceptional photograph come from someone lacking in one of these three areas. I’ve seen shooters who have plenty of knowledge and experience. Still, their desire is non-existent, with little or no interest in pushing the boundaries of their creativity. They only do the bare minimum to create what would be an average photo.
And desire alone is nothing without the knowledge and experience to put that thought into creating the photo. Many photographers have the desire and knowledge and are working on their experience. They produce pretty good images but usually only consistently good in more controlled environments, where they have more time to re-shoot the photo until they get it right. Not ideal if you’re paying them by the hour or they’re working to a tight deadline at a wedding!
Beware the experienced pro who’s been around for years but still creates photos that make you think back to your parent’s wedding. It’s a shame seeing someone who does not incline to learn new photography skills or techniques to keep up to speed with the latest shooting style or get creative. If you’re on a limited budget, then sure, this will suffice, it’ll be better than no photographer at all, but you do get what you pay for.
A great shooter yearns to develop and improve their craft. Continual learning and seeking new ways to be creative is a way of life for the best photographers, even for those at the top of their game in the wedding photography industry. Sitting back and thinking you cannot improve is rarely in the mind of the best.
Creativity is always in the eye of the beholder. Whether a photo is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is your call.
My photography tutor at college hated pictures being referred to in this way, and he had a valid point. ‘Good’ or ‘bad’ usually means an uninformed decision about the photo’s creation.
What do I mean when I say uninformed? :
“Do you like this photo?”
“Aye, it’s good.”
“Why do you like it?”
Aaaarrrggh. My tutor had a valid point.
An informed decision would be something like this:
“It’s good because I can see how the photographer got the bride to tilt her head, adding light to her eyes. Her body has been arched slightly to create a sinuous and elegant pose. This has been combined with the shallow depth-of-field to make the background blur beautifully out of focus, actually making the bride stand out from the image, I’d say it’s a carefully composed, striking photo of a beautiful bride.”
That’s how I roll. That’s what you pay me to take care of!
Try not to ask yourself, ‘is this a good or a bad photo?’ When I’m composing a photo, I’m always asking why will this look good, what would make it look better? You’ll soon get into the habit of doing so and find the question, “how to choose a photographer?” becomes easier each time you look at a photo.
A few more questions when asking how to choose a photographer:
- Does the person show artistic flair over and above pure technical ability?
- Is the person in the photo standing there without any input from the shooter, or can I see that they’ve been positioned in a way that is pleasing to the eye?
- Is there something I love about this photo that makes me smile? Does this photo make my heart skip a beat? Why?
- Does the photo’s composition and framing tell me that this image was taken with care, attention and thoughtful input?
- Or was the image shot from the hip, with the horizon all wonky (including the horizon tilting to one side – usually a bit odd), with little or no consideration regarding composition?
- Is the photo trying to tell me something, not just a snapshot that an amateur took?
- Does the portfolio of images show a consistent style and level of creativity?
- Look at a wide range of photos, compare, and consider what went into creating each photo.
You’ll know a great photo when you see it, and remember to follow your heart when you see a collection of images that you like.
Ability To Work To A Deadline
This is an often overlooked or unconsidered detail when searching for a wedding photographer, and it can be hard to tell how your shooter will operate on the day. The key here is finding out how knowledgeable your photographer is and finding out if they ask the right questions to enable them to help ensure you get the photos you want.
On too many occasions, I’ve seen a perfectly reasonable and competent shooter dithering and not getting on with the task of shooting photos.
A common example is lack of preparation before the wedding day. The photographer arrives at the venue ready to shoot photos. They’ve got a list of 30 group photos to shoot between the ceremony’s end and the wedding breakfast (the meal). But the bride, in keeping with tradition, is late, the ceremony takes longer than expected, and there’s a traffic jam on the way to the reception venue.
Everyone arrives at the wedding venue and gets stuck into the champagne and canapés. At the same time, they proceed to try and squeeze 30 group photos into a now-impossible amount of time. Also, they have to try and shoot a few newly-wed photos and ensure they deliver the newly-weds on time for their grand entrance to the top table. Except they’re struggling to shoot those 30 group photos. Grandma is away at the toilet, Uncle is at the bar, and the bridesmaid has disappeared somewhere. Confusion and further delay ensue, and the resulting group photos look hurried, with little time to ensure people are well-positioned, with smiles on their faces and their eyes open!
The shooter then disappears with the newly-weds for longer than the wedding reception staff wanted or expected; they’ve got a meal to be served (ideally while it’s still hot!), and the whole event, from my filmmaking point of view, has become a bit disjointed and not fun for the newly-weds or the waiting guests.
Now, you’d be right in pointing out that it’s not the photographer’s fault the bride was late, the service over-ran, or there was a traffic jam. But all exceptional shooters must be outstanding at time management – it’s a crucial part of the role, and a good wedding pro will point out these timing pitfalls before the wedding day and ensure they have a Plan B and often a Plan C, just in case!
So I learned how to manage my time on your wedding day. Partly through the painful experience of watching occasional mishaps and mostly through not wanting to disappoint you or spoil your day. Being a great wedding photographer means deciding in advance if you have enough time to do your job properly. If I feel I don’t have enough time, I always discuss this with you.
In the case of the thirty group photo scenario above, what would I have done? Honestly. I wouldn’t have agreed to have shot 30 group pictures in the first place. It’s not my style to do the whole conveyor-belt style of a photo shoot. I would advise you to cut the number of group photos, give yourself enough time to shoot some creative contemporary newly-wed shots, and still have sufficient time for you to mingle with your family and guests.
No hassle, no stress, no worries!
I rarely shoot more than 10 group photos, perhaps with variations of each group, unless I know for sure that we’ve got enough time to do so. And I’m always asking myself, ‘what if this happens’?
What if it rains and I need to set up my portable studio gear to allow me to take beautifully lit photos indoors (your shooter does have an indoor studio option, just in case?). Studio lighting requires time to set up properly.
If it’s the difference between having ten exceptional photos created with care and consideration or thirty photos that have been ploughed through without any thought while watching the clock, guess which option I, or any other decent pro, would choose?
It’s the role of your shooter to use their experience to inform you if what you want is feasible and to be honest with you about timings.
Questions to ask:
- What time will you arrive to ensure you have you will get those bridal preparation shots covered in plenty of time?
- What will you do if I arrive late, the ceremony runs late, or we get stuck in traffic on the way to the reception?
- What happens if it rains – do you have a Plan B, and will we have time to fulfil Plan B?
Your wedding day or event is a one-off occasion prone to timing mishaps and delays. It’s the nature of live events. Your photographer’s ability to manage their time, particularly delays, can be the difference between getting all the shots you want and some of the shots you want.
Are They A ‘People Person’?
It would be reasonable to assume that a professional photographer is naturally good at dealing with and interacting with people.
Most of the time, professional shooters are lovely people. You meet a prospective photographer who has an excellent photo portfolio and comes across as someone knowledgeable. Then, they are stressed and not in the best mood on your wedding day.
The event timing stresses your supplier, who struggles to control the running order. The adult guests are more interested in the champagne. The kids are running around ignoring requests to stand still for a photograph, and the bride wants to say hello to everyone instead of getting her photos taken. All perfectly reasonable behaviour at a wedding, but for some shooters, it can be tough coaxing guests to cooperate without being rude.
Weddings and events can be stressful for photographers. It’s a long day, on your feet for long parts of the day, carrying lots of equipment and constantly having to be alert and aware of what’s happening. As the person shooting photos, you have a lot of expectations on you to deliver, and when you feel things aren’t quite going to plan, it’s essential that the pro shooter knows how to take control in the nicest possible way.
It’s a wedding, not a photoshoot! A great photographer thrives on this kind of pressure. Is your photographer a people person? This can be tricky to figure out, as it’s almost impossible to gauge from the initial meeting.
The real test is on the day when it’s too late to book someone else. This is where recommendations and reviews can come in useful. And don’t be afraid to ask what they would do or how they would operate with that boisterous young child or grumpy old uncle. If you never ask, you might never find out until it’s too late!
Probably the best way to judge this is to view a full portfolio of several weddings and see if you can tell if this photographer has a great rapport with the subjects in his photos. Also, be sure to read wedding blogs and see if you can sense how they interact with their clients.
Another important consideration is to ask ‘what will they wear on the day’?
It still amazes me to see people arrive to photograph a wedding dressed like they’re about to go out clubbing or pubbing with their mates. I’ve seen it all. Dressed in jeans and trainers (seriously!) to wearing garish sports jackets and t-shirts. And worn by professionals who you would not consider being at the cheaper end of the photography market. I prefer to dress smartly. Often, if it’s a good old Scottish wedding with the guys wearing kilts, I’ll wear my traditional tartan trews or a kilt. Why? Because I like to make an effort and to try and fit in with the guests. This helps guests to accept me, this tall stranger in their midst, pointing a camera at them!
By ‘fitting in’, I usually get the photos I want – people soon forget about me and get comfortable with me being there. It makes my job easier and more enjoyable while I create your beautiful photos.
So, ask your photographer what they will wear on your wedding day. If they take the best photos you’ve ever seen and insist they will wear jeans, that’s cool if you’re happy with it and you know this in advance. But I’ve seen fellow shooters arriving dressed as noted above, and the bride and groom didn’t know this until it was too late.
Choosing a wedding photographer can be a tricky business. I think one final important thing to consider is your budget.
It’s not a guarantee of comprehensive quality service. Still, certainly, you improve your chances of getting the supplier that ticks all the right boxes if you can budget more for your photographer. The cheaper you go, the more likely you end up with a part-timer who might let you down. The less you spend, the more likely they will use lower-specification equipment to try and create your beautiful, once-in-a-lifetime photos. The best in the business tend to be full-time professionals with lots of experience. They cost more because they invest in training, and equipment, promoting themselves, and only sourcing the best quality printing and albums.
Decide how much you can budget, then shop around and see what you can source for your budget. Choose a range of photographers who tick the right boxes, then ask for their prices. You might be surprised at how much or how little some of us charge!
Ultimately it’s for you to judge whether they offer everything you want at a price you can afford.
Using your good sense, personal taste and a few tips and advice from my guide on choosing a photographer, I hope you get the professional you want and deserve for your wedding day.
Please do contact me via my quick online form if you would like to find out about how we can work together to create your beautiful wedding photos.
If you’d prefer to have a friendly chat, please ring me on 07817 517604.