A recent cancellation to meet with a bride and groom to photograph their wedding because a friend offered to take their photos has prompted me to post some interview tips. Most couples have no idea what to expect when meeting with a photographer, some will choose one referred to them by friends, many will meet with several and look at their portfolio. But too many times they are not informed enough to make an educated decision. Here are a few questions to ask a potential photographer before signing a contract:
1. How many years have you been photographing weddings?
Why is this important? After all every photographer has to start somewhere and shoot their first wedding at some point to build a portfolio. It's actually simple, the more weddings a photographer has done will be reflected in their ability to capture all the key moments that any couple would expect. The quality of the images will also much better than a shutter bug in terms of lighting, color, clarity, posing and framing.
2. How many weddings have you photographed?
This is answered in question one. If a person has only taken photos at a couple of weddings they have not experienced all that can happen and will not be prepared to react to changing situations. It is critical to be aware of everything that is going on around you to make sure you don't miss that all important shot or omit subjects that are important to the couple. You have to realize that a wedding is not just about the bride and groom but also about their family and friends. Wedding photographs should tell a story, not just be images of the event.
3. Do you carry backup equipment?
This one is overlooked by most couples. Why carry extra equipment? One camera, lens and flash is all I need right? Wrong! Every professional worth their salt carries at least TWO of everything. That means a significant financial investment on their part. Here is a list of what I carry at every wedding:
(2) Nikon bodies
17-70mm macro zoom lens
24-120 VR zoom lens
50mm 1.4 lens
(6) camera batteries fully charged
(8) memory cards
(3) extra sets of flash batteries with rapid charger
Why carry some much equipment? Simple, when something goes wrong (and it will) you will be ready to grab your backup gear and keep shooting without missing any shots. Photographers that carry only one camera or lens or flash are asking for trouble. There is no do over for important shots. You can't stop the ceremony just because your flash stopped firing or the shutter locked up in the camera.
4. Do you have insurance?
Most photographers will have insurance for their equipment in case of damage or theft (it does happen. I read a story about a photographer at a wedding that had his camera bag stolen from the church while he was shooting formals. Thousands of dollars in gear gone in an instant). Many will also have liability insurance in case something goes wrong with the photos or if a person is injured because they tripped over a tripod.
5. How long will it take for us to receive our photos?
Believe it or not this is rarely asked of me. I am always upfront about delivery, finished prints ready within 3 weeks of their wedding depending on how they chose to receive them. Again I've heard countless stories of couples waiting months for their photos.
6. Do you make your own prints or have them processed at a professional lab?
Big difference here. There are many good printers that can produce good quality prints but not in comparison to a lab dedicated to making exceptional prints. Professional labs take the time to analyze every image and make slight adjustments before making the final print. I have never given a couple prints that I made myself. Every print no matter what size is sent to my partner lab to process. I take great pride in my work and I expect only the best prints for my couples, they will appreciate it in the long run.
7. Do you require a signed contract and deposit to book?
Yes. No contract is a big no-no. It protects both the clients and photographer, spelling out exactly what the couple should expect and where and when the photographer is expected to arrive on their day. Another example I can site is a couple who had a verbal agreement with a photographer and less then a month before were notified that he had another engagement and could not photograph their wedding. I got the call with less than 3 weeks notice to bail them out but unfortunately for them I was already booked. The result was having a friend take photos that came out quite poor. Always insist on a contract and if the photographer does not offer one my advice is to walk away, you will avoid a potential disaster. The deposit ensures that the photographer will have income to rely on and shows their commitment to your wedding.
A few other tips to make sure you are dealing with a true professional, ask to view their website, look at images from several weddings not just one. Look at their albums and note the quality. Ask for a referral from a couple they have photographed. Be wary of anyone who directs you to their myspace or facebook page, in most cases this indicates an amateur who is not correctly equipped or experienced to photograph a wedding. A serious professional will have a nicely designed website to showcase their portfolio.
As always a referral from a friend or venue is a good place to start. Interview several potential photographers before making a decision. Personality is as important as the quality of their work.
And don't get stressed over selecting a photographer. With a little preparation you will make the right choice and end up with beautiful everlasting images to cherish for a lifetime.
David Wornham Photography is based in Athol, MA and services most of central/southern New England with over 22 years of experience in wedding photography. Visit my website www.davidwornham.com to view my portfolio.