After so many years working in the wedding industry, I have slowly come to realize that for you, the new brides to be, it can truly be an intimidating, unruly beast to decide how, when, where, and who to book as vendors for your wedding. Over the next few weeks it is my hope to break this down into chunks and blog in depth about the process and what a new bride to be should really expect and look for.
This will not be one of those magazine articles that are titled and written with what everyone dreams to be true…”How to find a caterer for only $5.00 a head?” Sometimes those wedding magazine/ website article are helpful, but most of the time they tend to lead you in a crazy circle of asking questions about things you are not even sure about just because this well known publisher said you needed to know…..but with out explaining why. The truth is, as great as wedding magazines and their accompanying blogs can be, many of the people who write those articles have never worked in depth in the industry.
That is not to make light of their experiences or the stories they have heard and use as examples to produce the articles……those articles are supposed to sell their product, magazines, to brides who are looking for help, are desperate for help, and feel like they are drowning in choices. Still there is a perspective that comes from having been there, 8 to 10 hours, 30 to 40 or even up to 60 weddings a year depending on the vendor. That’s what you call “in the trenches” and as wedding industry vendors we see it all. We can tell you what venue director will cut your cake and put the piece on your plate and then tell you to pretend to cut….the big gaping hole she just left in your cake. Let me tell you……looks fab in photographs. Okay, yes, that was a touch of sarcasm since I tend to think my couples are intelligent enough to cut their own wedding cake with a little direction.
I shared that story to make a point though, the vendors who are there for the bulk of your day, they are the ones who can really help guide your day, or make it even harder to enjoy. And because of so many articles promising this and that from magazines just trying to, well, sell magazines, the wedding industry as a whole has a huge hole in the middle of it……you, as a bride to be, are forced to depend on articles that change every year to flow with what seems to be the wants of that seasons brides, for any education on planning your wedding. What is lacking is just good educational and honest informative ways for soon to be brides to get real help.
I am hoping these next few weeks to bridge that gap. So tonight I will begin with what I know best…..
How to chose a Wedding Photographer.
Choosing a photographer can be handled in one of two ways for most brides. Mostly business and more personal.
Business Style – An all business bride to be is a bride who fully expects to get elegant classy traditional portraits from said photographer and not have much interaction, they match your budget, their photographs are clear, they are available, you don’t mind a lot of posed perfect traditional photographs. You are not looking for lots of emails, text, or calls. You don’t mind paying your retainer and possible never speaking to your photographer again until it’s time to book your Engagement session or until the week prior to your wedding. I would say about 30% of brides fall into this category. For the brides in this category, the selection of photographer is not always so hard, it is usually easy. You are looking for the best package that matches your style/wedding and the desire you have for products. There are always a few standard traditional photographers in every market and they book up every season. It’s their nitch and they are amazing at it.
Personal Style– This bride to be wants more. You are not just looking for amazing photographs, you also want a photographer who will be comfortable to be around. You want to feel like they are part of your group of friends while they follow so closely the events of your wedding day and the sessions, such as engagements, leading up to it. For you customer service matters, you want that bedside manner that lets you know everything will be okay. You are looking for a photographer who will do what ever is needed because they care…..really care for their clients. They will sew on buttons, fix zippers, cut cake for guest, redo bouquets, grab a center piece and wrap a ribbon around it in 6.3 seconds because the DJ called for the toss and you just realized you didn’t get a throw bouquet. You need class A service, creativity, passion, and to be honest, friendship. You need some one whose heart is invested. These photographers are the ones you choose based more on connection, than on budget. These are also the photographers who usually are more creative with their photography. They are pushing the envelope every chance they get to mix it up and create something better than they did before. With them you will get traditional but also editorial creative photographs.
Once you decide which group you fall into, there are a few simple rules and explanations that will help you wade through the inquiring process a little easier.
- When inquiring give the photographer as much information as you can. If you have your date, venue, estimated number of guest, size of wedding party, etc, let the photographer know. I can hear you now…but why Suzy, why does any of that matter? Simple, the size of the wedding, wedding party, number of guest, makes a difference, the photographer needs to be sure they are prepared to handle your wedding and number of guest. Giving them as much information as possible helps.
- If you are only inquiring for pricing because you are looking for the best deal, say so. There is nothing wrong with just being upfront and honest, and as photographers, we appreciate it.
- When should you book a photographer? This will honestly depend on both your desire in what kind of experience you want and your budget. If you are the bride who wants a personal touch and there is a photographer whom you love, book early. Booking 2 years out for a venue that is in high demand is a normal thing, yet other wedding vendors, according to those list, should be booked only 8 to 6 months out. Unfortunately this leads to you having to settle for someone other than the one you had your heart set on in the beginning. I have clients who book me first, and then set their wedding date based on my availability and the open dates the venue has that matches mine. It really depends on your priorities. I do honestly feel that if photography rates on the higher end for you as a soon to be bride, then book the photographer around the same time you book your venue.
- Ask questions, but not that list from the magazine. I mean do you actually know what a “raw” file is? It is a digital negative. Unless you have a professional editing program, you can not even open it. It is not printable until processed down to a JPEG, so why do they recommend you ask for the “raw files” to begin with. A raw file also can be up to 45mb, compared to the average JPEG that is 3mb or less. So we are talking mega hard drive space there. So the truth is, you don’t actually want the “raw files” unless you to are a photographer, yet there it is on the list of “questions to ask”. As a bride to be, ask questions that matter, like, if I am not sure where I want to do my Engagement session will you help me pick a location? What’s your advice on First Looks? Do you carry back-up gear? Does your camera have a back-up card? Ask questions about things you don’t understand or know, or focus on the things that concern you most. You are not a number on a page, a statistic that creates a “guideline” on a blog or in a magazine, no, you my dear, are you, unique and important, so approach the questions you ask in the same way, make them your own.
- Once you inquire, keep up with who you receive responses from, and when you do book a photographer, be kind enough to let the other photographers know you have chosen someone else. It is just such a huge kindness to any vendor who has taken time out of their schedule to communicate with you, answer questions, etc. Think of how you feel in a situation where you are applying for a job. Say you went in for an interview, they seemed to love you, and then bam…….silence. You invested your time to go for the interview and it would be kind if they let you know the position was filled or if it is taking a little longer than expected to make a final decision.
- If you inquire for pricing months prior to booking, expect that the price can and will change. Photographers do not always keep the same price for the whole year. Many factors change the price. If they upgrade equipment and are now able to give you even higher quality photographs, that new equipment cost a chunk of money, so prices increase. If they take several course or classes to better learn how to shoot weddings and they find that they are rising above the level they once were at, the price will follow. Remember you are not just paying for someone who clicks a shutter. You are paying for their skill at making the simplest of decor look amazing, the rowdiest wedding party look calm and collected, to wrangle a family portrait of 50 people without losing their cool, and to smile even when they know your cake just fell apart and everyone is in a mad dash to fix it before you find out. You are paying for the planning prior to sessions and wedding days, and the editing after, it is so much more than just a few photographs snapped quickly the day of your wedding. The price will always reflect the photographers experience and abilities.
- Realize that years from now, those photographs will be what brings your memories back into sharp focus. They will be what you share with the next generations of your family. If you want a portrait 70 years from now, to capture a little girls eye and her ask her mom, “Who is that beautiful bride?, then you want a photographer with passion to ensure you get timeless keepsakes. Make sure they are as passionate about your wedding as you are. No matter what the style, classic or more contemporary, they can be passionate about their work and you. Not everyone does it for the passion, like every job, some do it for the money. Be careful in wading through who is who.
- Yes, turn around time for complete wedding galleries can take anywhere from 4 weeks to 10 weeks depending on the photographer. It will always depend on how busy they are, but most photographers do list it in the collection and contract. If you need a photograph earlier for Thank you cards, you can always ask for the photographer to email you one. Hopefully if they are not in the middle of an insanely busy season they can get that to you within a few days.
- Remember that all of your wedding vendors do have normal lives. Please don’t text them at 11PM and try not to call or text them on the weekend, they are most likely shooting another clients wedding and can’t get back to you…which leads to them forgetting you called or text because they get busy, which can lead to frustration. On the weekend, always email, and expect it will be Monday when you get a response. And even if you can clearly see they are having a fun weekend via Snapchat or Instagram story, remember you don’t work 24/7, and your vendors deserve a weekend off occasionally also. As a bride, sometimes it does feel like everything is so immediately important that you want the answer right now, and sometimes you may think…it would only take a second to answer me!!! But the truth is, on any given day, by 5pm, most wedding vendors have already answered numerous emails, phone calls, and text. For example I had a day this past year where I was answering emails for an hour and in that hour answered 11 phone calls and 22 text messages. The thing is, all the questions where nothing serious, but when you have 25-40 clients a year, and you are also booking and working with 25-40 clients for the next year, plus you have your previous years clients finishing up orders, and then other non-wedding clients, it gets hectic fast, so time off is a must. Turning your phone on silent for a day and waiting to answer emails sometimes it’s required to keep the peace inside you in such a fast paced industry. So try to be kind to your vendors and they will be kind in return.
Now lets talk about what is in a package or collection. Most photographers have preset collections based off what most brides book with them, the other option is usually an Ala Carte pricing structure. Either way you are looking for a few important parts first,
- Hours of coverage included? Travel? (For states such as Louisiana, many photographers travel the whole state shooting weddings. For states so spread out, this is normal, so if you are not sure where the photographer is located, ask about travel fees. Although most photographers just add it in to the collection price if they know the location of your wedding.)
- Digital files or prints only? If digital files are included, does it include a print release? Are the files high resolution or limited to a certain print size, such as a 4×6?
- One photographer or two?
- Engagement Session? Bridal Session? Do these sessions include just prints or digital files? Print release?
- Wedding album?
- Prints? or a print credit?
These are what we call the core coverage options that most photographers include in some form in a least one of their preset collections or offer under their Ala Carte “build your own collection” option. There are usually more add on options and some photographers may have larger collections that include canvas prints, guest sign-in albums, parent albums, prints in every size imaginable, and upgraded wedding albums. Once you decide what your core coverage needs are, then you can move on in selecting the right collection for you. Also if there is a photographer you absolutely love but the preset collections just are not perfect for you, don’t be scared to ask if you can perhaps have a customized collection designed based on your desired coverage options. If they say no, then they are probably not the photographer you want to work with anyway!!!
I hope this helps and if you have any other questions, feel free to comment below or shoot me an email. Even if I am not the photographer for you, I don’t mind helping you find the right one!!!