Selecting Your Wedding Photographer | Tips for Wedding Planning

He asked, you said yes with tears in your eyes, and you’re in full-on wedding planning mode. It’s a stressful, exciting time, and everyone has great advice. Your best friend wants you to use her wedding planner, and your cousin tells you she has the perfect makeup girl for you. The best referrals come from friends, but the best advice comes from the wedding professionals. Where do you even start? Well, let’s start here. Let’s talk a little about wedding photography.

A simple Google search will result in loads of wedding advice about planning, budgeting, and hiring wedding professionals for your big day. While some of this advice is valid, a lot of online wedding information be misleading or skewed. If you're looking for a complete resource on all things wedding-related, I highly recommend the Every Last Detail blog. Lauren Grove does an incredible job of covering wedding logistics and providing accurate information and heartfelt advice.

I’ve documented over 100 weddings during my time in the industry, and I’d love to share some insight on the topic of wedding photography. I wasn't a wedding photographer when I got married, so I  want to share my experience as a bride, including what I learned and the things I wish I had known or done differently.

Now that I’m on the other side of the wedding process, I see things very differently. And not in an I-know-better kind of way. But I know what it’s like to be a bride, and I have a lot of experience in the industry.  And you know what no one tells you? No one tells you that by the time you’re back from your honeymoon, and the bright- yellow Kitchenaid is sitting proudly on your kitchen, you’re going to miss wedding planning. And even worse, you’re going to wish that you had done a few things differently.

If I were to redo our wedding today, I would change one major thing: I would have put more thought and heart into choosing a wedding photographer. And I would have spent the extra money to hire the person that I really wanted.

I planned our wedding before Pinterest or the big wedding blogs existed. Photography and a really great  DJ were the two things that were most important to me. Though I wasn't a photographer yet, I was an avid "picture taker" and knew I wanted to preserve our wedding memories. I also knew a good DJ or Band can make or break your reception.  I wanted to dance all night to great music at our reception.

Several weeks after our wedding day, we received what anyone would view  as "good pictures," but I felt disappointed.  My own experience as a bride and my time  on the other side of that camera have helped me to learn what I should have done differently and things I should have considered when we hired our wedding photographer. So let’s chat about a few things.

Keep your wallet in mind, but go with your gut.

My first piece of advice: Hire a photographer whose work you can see yourself in, and one whose photographs stir your emotions.

I spent hours researching photographers. I found a few I really loved, but they were typically out of our budget or located far from where we were getting married. My husband and I paid for the wedding ourselves, so our budget was tight . We decided to go with someone we knew who was just starting out in the industry. We figured we would save cash while supporting this person who was new to photography.

  • Lesson Learned: Looking back, I wish I would have splurged and hired the photographer whose work I continued to go back to. The photographer whose work moved me. I'm confident that I would love my own wedding pictures even more.

It’s not just your photos that matter--

Your wedding day experience is key.

Over the years I've thought long and hard about why my wedding pictures weren't something I've been eager to share or look back through and enjoy. I really believe that the experience I had leading up to the wedding (and most importantly on the actual day!) plays into how I feel about the pictures that we have.

The experience I had with the photographer on the day of our wedding was less than ideal. I had to step in and give directions and ideas for the photos. I'd see the assistant observing and holding her camera, rather than documenting. I was stepping in and playing the role of producer and wasn’t able to sit back and enjoy the day as the bride. There were a few times when I looked around wondering where the photographers had gone. I later learned that they were attempting to fix a bouquet mishap, rather than letting someone else handle that while they shot the wedding.

  • Lesson Learned: Rather than seeing the sweet moments, laughter, and smiles, I look at some of the photos and and remember my frustrations, what didn't happen, and the stresses of that day.

Your groom isn’t the only one who you should trust! ;)

My own experience as a bride plays a huge role in why I feel that it's so important for me to not only connect with my couples, but to build a relationship with them and earn their trust. I want to answer questions before they're asked and give more details and resources than they expect or ask for. I make sure that I do this every step of the way, starting with the very first correspondence!

Your experience before and after the wedding will be directly tied to the way you feel about your wedding pictures. If you feel awkward or uncomfortable when taking a photo, chances are that's what you'll remember when you view that picture. You want to be sure that you have someone behind the camera that you feel comfortable with. Yes, most people don’t enjoy having their pictures taken (especially your future husband!), but that doesn't mean that it has to be awkward or unfun.

Lesson learned: Choose a photographer that you can be comfortable with. You want a one who knows what she is doing with that giant piece of metal and glass in her hand, sure, but you also want one that will make you feel at ease throughout the day.

Yeah, price is important,

but decisions made on price alone could be even more costly.

If you are the type that grabs your phone the second you see a moment that just has to be captured, or if you always like to have a camera handy, then you run the risk of being even more disappointed by skimping on wedding photography. I know it's not easy. Weddings are EXPENSIVE. But if you find value in photographing the everyday moments and memories, just think about how much more you'll cherish the memories and photos of your wedding day. I wish someone would have told me this and encouraged me to save in other areas of our budget in order to hire my top-choice photographer.

Not all photographers are equal. Everyone has different styles, equipment, and business operating costs. Experience is a major factor for the investment you'll make. Clearly someone more experienced and able to deliver high quality photographs will come with a higher cost. The saying, "You get what you pay for" couldn't be more true for wedding photographers.

But it’s not as simple as comparing photo packages that two photographers are offering.  At first glance, two packages could include albums and other similar items, but they could be vastly different in terms of quality. Yes, digital images seem important, and some may say that's all that really matters. But ask those people how often they go back and look through their digital images. They have them on a disc or USB somewhere and there's peace of mind that someday they'll do something with them. Digitals are great, but there's a risk that you may not ever get around to taking the time to print your wedding photos or order a  finished product from the professional. After the dog and cat, the first thing people go back for or try to "save" in an emergency or natural disaster isn't a computer, TV, or even their family heirlooms. They’re going for their pictures. The memories that are forever preserved on paper.

  • Lesson learned: Spend a little extra time moving things around in your budget, and get creative! If the photos are important to you, spend less on other things. Do you have to have fancy programs printed for your ceremony? Will your guests be okay without a favor to take home? Are the drinks still going to taste great without custom napkins to absorb  condensation? Ask yourself these questions and you’ll probably find that you can make it work.
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Every  wedding is unique and each couple will have their own set of priorities. Photography isn't #1 for everyone, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. But for those of you who spend your free time stalking blogs looking at pictures, pinning your favorite photos on Pinterest, and love sharing your latest snapshots on Instagram, don’t forget: You only get once chance to capture your wedding day memories and the story of how you came to be Mr. and Mrs. Make it count.