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lowbone 06-08-2016 04:36 PM

How do you pick a wedding photographer?
My son is getting married in a few months and will be looking for a wedding photographer. I have read many nightmare scenarios for both the photographer and the client. I am trying to find out everything that would be involved with a good shoot so that both the client and the photographer wind up happy. How would he find a good experienced wedding photographer and what should be discussed and or put in writing so that there are no unmet expectations on both sides. I photograph wildlife mainly so this is completely new to me.

Mark McCall 06-10-2016 02:56 AM

Re: How do you pick a wedding photographer?
There are several things to consider.

First off, if the wedding is only a few months away, I'd say your almost a year behind schedule. Wedding photographers, the really good ones, book aprox a year in a advance. More if it's a summertime wedding. Crossing my fingers you are able to find a knowledgeable and talented photographer at this late date.

Do not use price only when doing your photographer comparisons.
I've been in this business for 20 years in July. I've seen alot. I've testified as an industry expert at the court hearings of two photographers sued by their clients. (Both lost their cases).
There's a tendency for photographers to charge far and above their talent level. So cost is not a good barometer of the photographers talent.

Most important, look for a photographer who is a member of PPA, Professional Photographers of America. PPA Members are required to carry the indemnification Insurance offered by the association in the event anything goes wrong.

I'd avoid "natural light" photographers or the words "documentary" in their business description.
Translate "natural light" as "I don't know how to use flash".
Translate "documentary" as "I don't know posing, lighting, or know how to plan ahead so I just let my subjects do whatever they want, I'll photograph it."

I'd also pay attention to statistics. An overwhelming majority of photographers who have suffered litigation at the hands of their client were young, female, in business less than 4 years, photography not a primary source of income.
That IS NOT saying a young female photographer can't do a fine job.
What it says about the industry is that inexperience is the biggest culprit in litigation.
The longer they've been in business, the better.
Look for a positive rating at the BBB.

I'd watch for the Certified Logo. Again, this can be misleading as I know many fine photographers who are not Certified. Use your best judgement.

If they want to meet you at Starbucks, it's a red flag. This tells me they aren't reinvesting any of what they make into a studio or even a good place to work from at home.

Good luck in your search!

lowbone 06-10-2016 07:11 AM

Re: How do you pick a wedding photographer?
Thank you Mark, excellent advice.

Mr. Pickles 06-10-2016 08:56 AM

Re: How do you pick a wedding photographer?
Very excellent advice.

photodynamics 06-10-2016 10:11 AM

Re: How do you pick a wedding photographer?
Consider what Mark wrote as GOSPEL!

I have been in the wedding photography business for nearly 20 years and my 'boss" and senior partner in our studio has been at it for over 50 years. I guess you can say we have "seen it all" and a lot of unmitigated disasters.

It is true enough that PROFESSIONAL wedding photography is not for the rookie, faint of heart or the newcomer to the industry. I know many great masters of photography, in other fields of specialization, who are immensely talented but would not take on wedding assignments. Many fine photographers are not physically or emotionally equipped to expertly handle every aspect of wedding coverage- it's extremely demanding and things can easily go out of control if the photographer is not ready to "roll with the punches", switch gears and employ a wide range of "people skills". Timing and always being at the right places at the right times requires a great deal of training, practice and experience.

Another variable factor is your geographic location. In cities where there is lots of competition in the "wedding industry", there is more likely to be generally higher standards- it like a natural order of things in the "animal kingdom"- it's the survival of the fittest! Incompetent operators can not survive in business in very competitive environments where a quality of service and artistry are important issues among consumers.

As Mark aptly alluded to, various professional affiliations and certification are important aspects of professionalism. There are, however, no mandatory professional licensing orf affiliations for photographers in any North American jurisdiction that I am aware of- other than a general business permit or taxation license. Affiliation, masterships,and certifications are all voluntary on the part of each individual photographer but the are good indications that those affiliated photographers are interested in photographic education, continual improvement, and higher standards. Certain titles indicate high standards and levels of documented achievement.

Another important common sense "shopping tip" is to seek out referrals and recommendations from friends, relatives and folks who were very pleased and satisfied with their wedding photographer. Good photographers come to depend on referral business for a steady flow of clientele. I can attest to that- 80% of our wedding business is attributed to client referrals and only 15% is the result of other advertising and promotional ventures.

The consummate wedding photographer should have skill sets in classical portraiture, fine lighting techniques, and photojournalistic savvy as well. People skills, gentle directorial manners, and a compatible personality are other important traits to look for.

Use your eyes- look at the portfolio and converse and build a good relationship with your potential wedding photographer. Listen carefully to his or her professional advice and make sure you are all on the "same page" as far as style, cooperation, working methods, scheduling and careful planning. Cooperation is a very important part of the photographer/client relationship. It is, unfortunately enough, true that there have been many lawsuits brought on due to incompetent photographers but sometimes less that optimum results can be caused by clients who actually tend to sabotage the heroic efforts of their own wedding photographer- it happens. This is why careful planning is of the utmost importance.

Well- I don't like to sound like the "voice of doom" or discouragement and I am sure you will find a great wedding photographer now that you are equipped with the right information. Congratulations on the upcoming great family event and all the best of luck and success with the wedding plans!


Mark McCall 06-10-2016 12:41 PM

Re: How do you pick a wedding photographer?
I am not against newer photographers in this business. America is the land of opportunity. What gets lost is that newer, less experienced photographers don't realize they are playing with fire when shooting a wedding.
Nothing can be more harrowing that an emotional bride when she's upset about the most important day of her life. Attorneys scoop these clients up every day.

I don't know why it is, but there's a definite "anti-education" movement in this industry.
Most of the photographers nowadays never shot a roll of film and enjoyed the wider exposure latitude, or even understand what latitude is.
"I can see the photo, so I'm good".

Young photographers do not feel the need for basic photographic education.
They'll depend on the fact that they can see the image on the back of their camera instead. This doesn't take into account the fragility of digital capture and the inherent limitations of the format. Not counting their own lack of experience in lighting.

I'm reminded of a young guy on this very site, about 10 years ago, who boasted he could repair ANY photograph using Photoshop. After a little back and forth, he was unable to repair an image posted that was a few stops overexposed.

Related story:
My studio does video production as well as photography.
Summer of '14 we were contracted to produce a wedding video for a client getting married lakeside, at a beautiful venue.
Years prior, I stopped asking photographers for images to decor the case that houses the DVD because 1. Quality was never as good as I would have liked. 2. Took them FOREVER to get me anything. So...I started taking a still camera to our video shoots to capture our own.
I take the couple out to the water, do some amazing images for the DVD case.
All the while, the hired gun watched us working through the window.
When I was done, I went inside.
Not to be outdone, The couple was asked by their photographer to stay behind so they could get their own twilight shots.

Mom comes into the studio to pick up her videos.
She asked about the availability of the lakeside shots we did. (We typically do not offer this for sale unless we're the hired photographer as well. Don't wanna step on toes).
She was so distraught over the quality of what the photographer produced that she was willing to pay whatever we charged for those images.
In this case, I sold Mom the photos without the consent of the other photographer.
Reminds me of a saying...."If you think hiring a Professional is expensive, try hiring an amateur".

Mr. Pickles 06-10-2016 02:41 PM

Re: How do you pick a wedding photographer?
If you never shot a wedding, don't. If you want to, do it as a second shooter... a lot... first. And if the first shooter has a camera and lens and a bag big enough for just those, or no bad at all, go find a new first shooter

photodynamics 06-11-2016 03:27 PM

Re: How do you pick a wedding photographer?
Just to give folks an idea of how I was "broken in" to the wedding photography business- here's my story:

As a young graduate of a 2-year technical college program in Montreal, I knew my photographic basics but had very little experience in the field. I was very interested in portraiture and wedding photography, however, at the college, there was not that much emphasis on fine portraiture, lighting and almost no specific classes in wedding photography. I even detected the vibe that many of the teachers, who were more involved in commercial and fashion photography, sort of looked down their noses, so to speak, at wedding photography.

When I applied for my first job at the studio I was accepted as a wedding photographer's assistant and my official title was "Photographer in Training"! I was required to attend at 12 DIFFERENT weddings, strictly as an observer and the guy who moves around bulky and heavy equipment. I got to see the routine at small, larger and very elaborate weddings at a wide variety of indoor and outdoor locations. I learned about the traditions, customs, and procedures at weddings of many diverse faiths, ethnicities, cultures and orientations. Most importantly, I learned how my boss and his senior staff photographers and assistants conducted themselves in a professional, compassionate, friendly and especially "nimble" and gentle manner while getting things done efficiently and smoothly without dominating the entire affair. I learned how to navigate my way around churches, synagogues, and catering establishments and enlist the cooperation of the clergy and the all the other various vendors and service people. I learned to treat the brides as if the were my own sisters or daughters- like family! If the bride loves you, even the most challenging jobs become "a piece of cake"- wedding cake!

I received lots of coaching in portrait lighting which enabled me to work as a "light man" at the weddings. I would man the "slave" light, an electronic flash unit mounted in a monopod and supply the off camera lighting for all of the candid shots. I also set up and placed lights, mounted on light stands, around the perimeter of large ballrooms to enable multiple lighting effects.

Next was a month of courses, paid for by the studio, at the Winona School of Professional Photography including a week with Joseph Zeltzman. I was given the opportunity to attend every seminar, print judging, workshop and master class along with the boss and the senior shooters.

I attended a number of classes given my Monte Zucker which were extremely detailed and very inspiring! Monte was the GREATEST!

I started shooting as a second candid photographer with my own light man. The I was allowed to be the primary shooter at small segments of smaller weddings. I would shoot all the preliminary things at the bride's home. On the next job, I would cover the formals and the ceremony and then the reception.

On my fist few SOLO jobs, one of the senior photographers came along as my "assistant"- we used to call them "ghost" photographers because they were undercover trainers. Once the boss and the more experienced guys agreed that I knew what I was doing, I became a regular staff photographer. The entire process took a little over 2 years. During this training period, I worked in the darkroom, the color lab and the finishing and framing areas of the studio. As a darkroom technician, I learned quite allot about the importance of consistent quality shooting in terms of even exposure control, clean composition in proportion to album formats and many other aspects of providing good clean negatives and later on digital files, to make for fast and easy post production.

I am now a partner in the studio and am running the wedding and event part of the business. I still train my new shooters in the same manner that I was trained. As Mark alluded to, there is a sub-culture of younger photographers who tend to bypass the need for real education, intense training, and on the job experience. There are quite a number of them in my city- the come and go- few sustain a business for very long. Many of the younger set think we are "old school" and old fashioned, however, the bookings are good and the referrals and recommendations continue to comprise most of our new business.


Desmond 06-14-2016 02:22 AM

Re: How do you pick a wedding photographer?

Originally Posted by Mark McCall (Post 2295661)
There are several things to consider. ......
Good luck in your search!

Hey Mark, I thought your advice was pretty good so copied and pasted some of it on a facebook group I manage for local wedding photographers.... :p
What an uproar it caused! With all the ranting and raving that was going on I came very close to saying "Well if the shoe fits......" but eventually just deleted it.
There are a lot of amateurs out there who aren't professional enough to even discuss something like this maturely let alone photograph a wedding :)

Mark McCall 06-14-2016 10:03 AM

Re: How do you pick a wedding photographer?

Originally Posted by Desmond (Post 2296498)
Hey Mark, I thought your advice was pretty good so copied and pasted some of it on a facebook group I manage for local wedding photographers.... :p
What an uproar it caused! With all the ranting and raving that was going on I came very close to saying "Well if the shoe fits......" but eventually just deleted it.
There are a lot of amateurs out there who aren't professional enough to even discuss something like this maturely let alone photograph a wedding :)

The night I got my Photographic Craftsman Degree in New Orleans (sometime around 2001), I recognized Monte Zucker sitting behind me.
I turned to shake his hand, tell him what a big fan I was. His words still hold true today.
"It's a great thing you've done, young man. The only people who feel education isn't important are the people who don't have it".

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