Your delicious wedding buffet will be devoured, your flowers will wilt, and your gown might yellow with time. Fortunately for nostalgic brides, wedding photographs are designed to last a lifetime -- or even longer -- if they're preserved properly.
Resist the urge to hire the first shutterbug you meet, and don't fret that all the good photographers we be snatched up if you don't act quickly. Instead, take some time to review various photographers' portfolios and pose some questions that will shed light on their methods, products and customer service habits. A little extra work on the front end will help you establish a productive, referral-worthy relationship instead of an ugly lawsuit or worse -- unflattering pictures.
Continue reading to learn more about what you should ask this exceptionally important wedding vendor.
Can I See Your Portfolio?
You wouldn't hire a baker without trying a sample (or 12) of her cakes, would you? This might seem obvious, but many brides take it for granted that a photographer with an established business must ooze talent. Sometimes, that's not the case.
Most upstanding photographers publish digital portfolios online, which will help you weed out the less-than-stellar candidates. After you've chosen a selection of potential photogs, set up interviews to see the prints in person. Be sure to take into consideration the diversity of their shots, their use of lighting and how comfortable the photos' subjects appear. A truly talented photographer can get even the stiffest brides to loosen up for the camera.
How Long Have You Been in Business?
If there ever was a time to pick a veteran over an up-and-comer, this is it. When it comes to photography, experience is usually proportional to the quality of the product. A bright-eyed young photographer simply won't have the know-how or instincts to turn out the best photos possible for your wedding album. Consider selecting a more seasoned, if slightly more expensive, professional to get the results you crave. Hold on to the card for that refreshing new talent, however. Maybe you can hire her in the future for a session that can be redone if you're not happy with the results, like a family portrait.
How Soon Will I See My Photos?
The Digital Age has made us into very impatient people. Factor in a bride who wants her photos yesterday, and you've got the potential for a major post-wedding meltdown.
While you're interviewing photographers, find out when you can expect to see your proofs. Most pros will post them on a password-protected Web site within a month or so of the wedding. If a quick turnaround is very important to you, get the photographer's commitment in writing, and remind him of your agreed time frame immediately following the wedding.
What Products Do You Offer?
I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that you're not interested in purchasing a set of 20 coffee mugs emblazoned with your bridal portrait. Still, it's vital to examine your personal photography needs compared with your vendor's capabilities. For example, don't select someone who can't produce photograph thank-you cards, if that personal touch is something you have your heart set on. Most photographers are happy to work with your individual requests, ranging from mounted portraits to traditional albums, but it never hurts to see their product list and pricing ahead of time in case you want to buy something not included in your wedding package.
How Do You Strive to Provide Excellent Customer Service?
OK, so this question isn't specific to photographers. In fact, it can be applied to pretty much any business-related situation throughout your life. Anyone who hems and haws about giving out her cell phone number or e-mail address, or who makes light of other clients' "silly emergencies" might not take your concerns seriously, either.
Ask your photog candidate how long you can expect to wait for a reply to your questions. If you're a typical bride, anything longer than one business day just isn't going to appeal to your organizational sensibilities. Whatever you do, honor your instincts and run for the hills if she strikes you the wrong way at your initial meeting. First impressions tend to be pretty accurate, so if you find her to be annoying, elusive or noncommittal, chances are good that the same qualities will trouble you throughout your working relationship.
How Would You Handle …?
The last thing you want on your picture-perfect wedding day is for your high-priced photographer to handle a crisis with anything other than finesse and professionalism. It never hurts to float a few hypothetical situations by potential photographers to see how they would soothe a troublesome situation. For example, does he have a plan in place for handling an equipment malfunction? How would he soothe a nervous flower girl during pre-wedding photos or improvise with indoor photography if inclement weather makes outside shots impossible?
Any seasoned photographer will have an idea of how he would react in such a situation, as well as a few real-life examples to share.
Can I Check Your References?
Run, don't walk, if a photographer declines to provide you with references. If she does give you a list of names and numbers, do your due diligence and talk to these former clients before signing on the dotted line. Previous brides can dish on the things they loved, hated or felt ambivalent about in regard to their vendor.
Since most of the contacts she provides you with will be satisfied customers, make an effort to ask around among your friends and family, and check to see if anyone has reviewed her services online. Good news travels fast, but bad news is even speedier, so anyone with a tale of woe and disappointment is usually going to be willing to dish details.
Are You Going to Rip Me Off?
Maybe you won't ask the candidate this one, but you should definitely keep your con-man radar on high alert during the interview. If he seems shady and noncommittal in any way, be sure to bid him adieu and hire a more reliable photog.
Sometimes, you can do everything right and still get swindled. Lydia in Fort Worth, Texas, learned that the hard way when her photographer, who took beautiful bridal and wedding photos, disappeared without a trace before any of her prints or other products were delivered.
"For a while, the proofs were online, and some people even ordered some off of his Web site," Lydia says. The photographer had an excellent reputation, she explains, and he sent her a digital wedding album proof. "When we started trying to set up a time to get the album and image CDs from him is when communication started falling apart."
Lydia found other brides dissatisfied by the photographer's service. They soon discovered that his home had been foreclosed on and that the bank in possession of the property had confiscated some wedding-related items left behind. Fortunately, Lydia was one of the lucky few who managed to locate her images among the leftovers.
"It was amazing," Lydia said of the fact that the CDs were completely finished and labeled. "All he had to do was give them to us, but he just never did, probably because he didn't have the money to produce the album."
Obviously, hers is an extreme example of what happens when a good photographer takes a turn for the dark side, but it's a cautionary tale worth hearing, nonetheless.
What Are Your Credentials?
Although not required, it's generally wise to select a photographer with one or more professional affiliations and some sort of credential (like a college degree or certification) under his belt. Active membership in certain professional organizations, like Wedding & Portrait Photographers International, is a good sign that your photographer is fully invested in his chosen career and is on a continuous path to professional and artistic development.
Why Are You a Photographer?
Hint: If his response is "The pay is good, and the brides are smokin' hot," he might be lacking the passion for his craft that you certainly want reflected in your wedding photographs. Otherwise, the answer doesn't really matter, as long as you get the succinct impression that he enjoys his work, particularly interacting with other people and providing a top-quality finished product.
These questions might seem over-the-top to some brides, but when you're 90 years old and looking back on your wedding album with tears of joy in your eyes, you'll be thankful that you made the extra effort to hire just the right professional for the job.
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- Chertoff, Anne. "How to Choose a Great Wedding Photographer." Brides. (March 8, 2011). http://www.brides.com/wedding-ideas/wedding-photos-videos/2009/06/how-to-choose-a-great-wedding-photographer
- Lydia in Fort Worth, Texas. E-mail interview conducted by Alia Hoyt. March 7, 2011.
- "Selecting a Photographer." Wedding Channel. (March 8, 2011). http://weddings.weddingchannel.com/wedding-planning-ideas/wedding-photography-tips/articles/selecting-a-photographer.aspx
- Stiverson, Miles. "Wedding Photography and Videography: Your Top Questions Answered." (March 8, 2011). http://wedding.theknot.com/wedding-planning/wedding-photography-videography/articles/top-wedding-photo-and-video-questions-answered.aspx
- The Editors at Modern Bride Magazine. "Essential Questions for Your Photographer." Brides. (March 8, 2011). http://www.brides.com/wedding-ideas/wedding-photos-videos/2006/12/essential-questions-for-your-photographer
- The Editors at Modern Bride Magazine. "Hiring the Perfect Photographer." Brides. (March 8, 2011). http://www.brides.com/wedding-ideas/wedding-photos-videos/2006/12/hiring-the-perfect-photographer