10 Vital Criteria To Consider When Hiring a Wedding Photographer

February 22, 2018

Today I’m going to reveal 10 photography myths that can destroy any bride’s memories. This article is dedicated to the bride who is looking to have a small family-oriented wedding without hassle – and it is written by a non-native English speaker. (So if you find any spelling mistakes, please bear in mind that the other option is to read the article in Hungarian, Romanian or French. )

As a 2016 bride, I honestly wish someone would have written an article like this before we hired our photographer. We fell in almost every single trap a young honest couple can fall in. I would love to share my experience with you; it is, ultimately, the experience that made me decide to transition from amateur photographer to professional.

There couldn’t have been anything more useful for me to know when hiring a photographer then what I am now sharing with you, so let’s get right down to it!  

(Oh, before I forget - I will need to be apologized by my fellow photographers for debunking a few myths that we as professionals have created in order to make our lives easier; if our “rules” are not for the good of our customers, my policy is to simply ignore what mostly everyone on the market does and do what I see best for my customers!)


1. A photographer is a PERSON (with a camera), not a CAMERA (with a person attached to it).
It is true that when you hire a photographer, what you ultimately pay for are the pictures. However, photography is a form of art and the first vibe that will be transmitted through the pictures will be what the photographer saw when he looked through the lenses. Pictures are NOT what cameras see, but what photographers see through them. Cameras do not take pictures. People do.
Our wedding pictures were the ultimate example of this truth. Our wedding photographer was a 28 y.o. big woman, mother of 5 (aged 14-5) and grandmother of two, married to a 73 y.o. man. (All these details came out about her later.) In comparison, I was a 32 y.o. foreign widow with a head-turning accent, tiny and without kids, published author, retired early from a successful career in Europe, beaming with life an excitement. I had found love again with this brilliant long-haired, bearded 36 y.o. American business man, and since I didn’t have the responsibility of children or grandchildren, I was excited to have a fresh start on a different continent.
During our first meeting, I had to stop twice, because the photographer was pinning me down with her looks, whilst I was very excitedly sharing my plans for the day. I had to ask her if she was all right, because her attitude was slightly unsettling. Both me and my fiancée, we thought she must feel ill. Both times she made comments about how happy I seemed to be and about how interesting my accent was. They were those kind of compliments that can be taken both complimentary or sarcastic. I decided that I would not let my bridezilla come out, and that of course, this professional has no reason to be sarcastic or cynical with her clients.
Ten months after our wedding, we were still in court, trying to retrieve our wedding pictures that we have paid for in full, in advance. I have never, up to that point in my life, received more ridiculing emails from anyone as I did from her, when asking where our pictures were. She had broken all the contractual provisions and, as it turned out later, she was a serial scammer – we were merely one of the five couples she had scammed that year alone.
Looking back now, as a photographer, I realize that her attitude towards us as a couple and towards me as a woman came across in every single picture. All photographs are taken from the most unflattering angles; we have received over 60% of our best pictures in black-white, when there was nothing mentioned in the contract about black-white pictures, and the average percentage of her black-white pictures to all her other customers is 25%. The rest, 40% of our pictures, have been severely butchered in Photoshop so that my groom has a hunchback and I look 50 pounds heavier. All this retaliation on her behalf was due to us – politely – asking where were our pictures, after we have been contacted by another one of her clients who was already tired of chasing down this phantom-photographer.

You see, when we finally got in court and got our pictures, I need to admit they were salvageable. As someone who has worked in image editing software since age 15, I have been able to reverse-edit the pictures back to a point where we are happy with them. But what we got in those 10 months of trials, attorneys – and even threats including firearms from her! - were not the pictures. We got a taste of her character.

The truth is, whatever we do – eat, drink, work, take pictures or naps – our character oozes out. Our character percolates everything we do – including wedding photography. The character of the photographer is far more important than the lenses and the years of experience. And sadly, character is what people don’t talk about when they sell their services as a photographer. This brings us to point 2…
 

2. Online reviews are NOT enough. Talk to former customers.
Online reviews on websites like Thumbtack, The Wedding Wire, The Knot, etc., are great. But they are not enough. In our case, the photographer posted about 7 pictures from our wedding two days from the event on her Facebook business page and asked us to leave a review on her social media and on Thumbtack. We were excited at first, so obviously, our reviews have been positive.
After she breached the contract with us, vanished and we were contacted by one of her other scammed customers, we left a negative review on Square (which is the card processing system she used to have us pay her). We then learned that all negative reviews on Square are visible ONLY to the service provider, not to other customers. The purpose is to give the seller the opportunity to sort out the issues in private. Of course, that assumes that the seller actually wants to sort out the issue… which has not been the case at all with our photographer.
We have reached out to Square, Thumbtack, all networks that she had used to get our contract. We contacted our bank as well, but due to paying with a debit card, we were not able to recover the money. All these networking systems are filtered and tuned in a way that encourages the selling of a product – not necessarily the quality of it. All liability is left to the buyer – and obviously, in our case, we and all the other scammed couples who were buyers have been played into leaving positive reviews and afterwards blocked from social media or filtered by the filters set in place by these websites that are in the business of selling services.
The truth about all these came out only after we spoke with previous customers. Reviews are not enough. As business owners ourselves, we have experienced retaliatory reviews that have been false. As customers, we have been the victims of this scammer who had numerous false positive reviews. Speaking with multiple previous customers is the only safety net. It is sad, but true: people lie, especially when it comes to money.    
It might require a bit of work to track down previous customers, but the truth is, a photographer of good character (oh, no! that little word again!) and good work ethics will make things easy for you. My website contains names and dates of customers – all with approval – and they are easy to find via my Facebook page. I actually do want potential customers to get in touch with my previous customers. The only reasons why we made so many efforts to contact 20 previous customers of our wedding photographer was the fact that she blackmailed us that we will never see our wedding pictures if we contact her previous customers. And then, she had her attorney – at least, that is who he says he was… - write us a letterhead letter demanding us not to contact her previous customers. Both me and my - now – husband conduct our own businesses, and we are making efforts in engaging our previous customers to be available for new customers questions and inquiries. Making efforts to stop your customers from digging in your past business conduct is a massive red flag, violently flashed in front of your eyes. Pay attention to it!
 

3. YOU and you alone are the one who decides how much you pay. But you cannot decide how much a photographer charges for his / her services. 
Although it is helpful to have a plan, check your wedding budget frequently and stay on top of it - make no mistake, the author is a person who meticulously checks her balance every day! – the danger in comparing price tags only is that one might lose sight of one important detail: quality.
All photographers are not equal, all photographers do not charge equally. There are photographers who are small-wedding oriented and there are others who are glam-wedding photographers.
Then, there are brides who “ask for it” by coming up front with the budget they are willing to spend: ask how much it costs, rather than offering a particular budget. By doing so, you protect yourself from purchasing a service that the photographer is willing to sell for 50% less than you are willing to offer. When you speak the price that you have in mind, which might be well over the price the photographer was going to ask, you are setting yourself for a higher bill. When hiring a photographer – or any vendor – you need to be the one asking the questions, they need to be the ones speaking numbers. An experienced professional photographer knows how much his time is worth and how long it will take him to serve you.
As a side note, the quality of work that you will get for a $500 gig is not the same as for a $12,000 package but at the same time, the solution for staying within the budget is NOT to try to bring the $12,000 package to $500. In business, it is not necessarily that someone wins and someone loses – in fact, a successful transaction is the one in which both parties feel they made the better deal. Know your budget, let the photographers ask what they feel appropriate for their work, and make a dignifying decision: take it or leave it, according to your budget, your expectations and your needs.
Know at the same time that a higher price tag does not necessarily mean a better character of the photographer – and as I said at the beginning, the character will definitely make a difference in the entire process. There isn’t enough money in this world to turn an ill-tempered person into a sweet company, so do not assume that price is a good character indicator. But you will find people of good character charging very different amounts, and the difference in this case will be made by their artistic eye, style and experience.
 

4. All guests should NOT put their cameras down – contrary to popular belief.
One of the photography myths that caused our deepest regrets after our wedding was asking the guests not to take pictures. Per our photographer’s requests (which escalated to hysterical demands during reception), we did ask everyone to keep their cameras away. Our photographer was so passionate about not allowing anyone else to take pictures that she physically assaulted and verbally abused one of our main guests because he dared to try and take one picture.
On the other hand, like all photographers do, she did have a provision in the contract for data loss: she was not to be held liable in the unfortunate case that she loses all her data. Obviously, due to her ongoing “scamming programme”, she had to invent different lies for people, as excuses for not giving them back their pictures. One of the couples learned that the mail carrier lost their pictures. Three times. Another couple learned that the photographer lost the memory card. Another couple learned that her computer broke down. Basically, she did have a provision in her contract for every single couple that she had scammed that year.

Now, of course, this case was an extreme example of a vendor abusing a contract; most photographers don’t go around scamming people and lying that their photos have been lost. However, this only proves how sensitive data is.

As a professional photographer, I have never had any issues with guests taking pictures. All guests do not need to put down their cameras so that I can capture that special moment – I truly believe a professional photographer should be able to capture these moments without feeling like friends and family should not take pictures.  Besides, I have never had a guest saying NO when asked to take a step on a side. Guests do want the photographer to be successful in taking the best shots of the bride and groom, and - unless they are at the wedding to cause issues (in which case the bride and the groom probably need to sort more pressing issues than the photographer’s blockage!) - they will be happy to work with the photographer. Even more, they will be aware of the photographer’s moves and will notice each other if one of them is in the way.

But granted, this is a hot topic. The two most common reasons brides are reluctant when I tell them they actually don’t need to ask everyone to put their cameras down (as the market has trained them, for some reason), are:

1. What’s the point in hiring a professional like yourself if I am relying on my guest’s pictures?
Not relying on guest pictures more than on the hired photographer’s pictures should be understood by default. At no point have I ever encouraged brides to allow guests to take pictures because I was relying on my camera to fail or because I didn’t want to do my job or because I was planning on losing data. But as a bride myself, especially having gone what I went through, I can assure you that when my mother in law told me that she has some pictures from the wedding (taken in spite of our photographer’s “cameras down” request) and I opened the files from her, I started crying. Those were the only pictures from our wedding that we had by that point. The cakes that we served at the gorgeous cake bar that I have personally put together for our international guests, they have all been baked by me and my mother in law. I am more of a thinker than an emotional person. Yet, seeing pictures with our cake bar brought me to tears. I thought all hopes of seeing the final look of our cake bar were lost due to the scam that we were victims of – yet, there I was, having pictures of the cake bar.
As I have mentioned earlier, we did get the official wedding pictures eventually - after pursuing the photographer 10 months in courts; and we did get some pretty good pictures of our cake bar. The pictures sent to us by my mother in law are not professional and not the sharpest, but they still are the sweetest to me, because they hit the spot in that sad time when I was grieving the loss of our official pictures. Quite frankly, so were the pictures that our other guests have taken. They reveal the hearts of the ones who took the pictures and knew us, the bride and groom. The photographer did her job, and the images were good (she is not the best photographer out there, she is the photographer that we were able to afford). But our other guests took pictures with love – and the vibe of that love for us shines through the pictures. And I love that!
The truth is, professional photos cannot successfully replace friends or family taken pictures, and friends / family taken pictures cannot replace professional photos. That is why I never ask my brides to ask their guests to put the cameras down.

2. I don’t want everyone to post pictures of my wedding on Facebook before I get the chance to post them.
I am sorry, but this will happen anyway. Regardless how many times guests are asked not to post pictures on media, there will always be one who hasn’t heard the request or doesn’t know or had forgotten not to post pictures before the bride and groom.
 

5. Friends and family pictures are NOT meant to replace a professional photographer’s pictures.
As mentioned at point 4, professional photos cannot successfully replace friends or family taken pictures, and friends / family taken pictures cannot replace professional photos.
Talented friends and talented family members will most likely not have the gear – nor the experience – to capture the key moments of the wedding and the atmosphere. A great number of these key moments are happening so fast, that you need experience to be able to foresee him and be ready. You need to be constantly on the go mode and intuitively, to follow the couple during the reception when a lot of cute gestures happen between the two love birds. Without a good number of weddings under the belt, one cannot capture these moments.
 

6. Screenshots from videos are NOT just as good.
No, they are not. This point can be easily proven – leaving aside all the technicalities of the image capturing and the geeky photographer insight – please try this experiment before deciding to go with this option: screenshot frames of a YouTube video. Hands down, screenshots will never be anywhere near as good as photographs.
 

7. Retouching does NOT mean editing.
The professional lingo might be slightly misleading at times. Retouching does not mean editing. Retouching a photo means playing with the overall chromatics and quality of the image itself; editing means playing with the content of the image. When retouching a picture, the areas that will be addressed are: the skin color, the sky and the dress color, the temperature of the colors and the overall atmosphere, sharpness, contrasts, etc. When editing a picture, in addition to all these, the content – like weight, wrinkles, closed or red eyes, make-up and messy / windy hair - will be addressed. If you are photogenic and have no camera shyness, you do not necessarily need editing; when you do have insecurities, retouching might not be enough and editing might be mandatory.
 

8. Packages do NOT necessarily prove professionalism.
A lot of information does not show professionalism. The role of the photography packages is to make sure there are boundaries set in place and that the photographer does not slave over the files for months. The downside is that most weddings do require a custom job hence, a custom price.
This is the main reason why I do not sell packages. There are many perks that I can offer if I charge a flat rate / hour, which allow brides to customize their budget and the content of their albums in a manner that photography packages don’t.
In general, a package contains:
1. a set number of hours and a set price for the event;
2. a number of maximum pictures;
3. extra charges (like the one explained at point 9).
As a photographer who was a bride recently, here are my objections:
1. I was not able to predict how long my wedding was going to be. I am East European, with double citizenship in East Europe and a U.K. driving license because I lived and made friends in the UK for a number of years. My family has moved to the US for a long number of years, but they were not all in one state. My husband in partially Native, partially American. We had a very mixed, very diverse crowd of people as our guests, international and far travelers, locals and online watchers.
Sometimes, people cannot predict how long their weddings will be – ours ended 3 hours early, because our guests were dead tired – and so were we. The budget, though, had been set, and we weren’t granted a discount post-factum. As a photographer, I can see how this is vendor friendly, but as a customer, I was not happy at all.
2. Setting a maximum number of pictures still baffles me, even as a professional. I understand that everyone likes to make the most with the least, but if I already am at the event and I am already taking pictures, will I ever hold back from taking pictures of the bride’s 5 y.o. sister kissing her tiny Chihuahua that she dressed in a doll gown just because in the package it is not mentioned that I will take candid portraits of the guests, because they are part of a different package? Of course I won’t lose that great shot! As a photographer with a passion for details and revealing the atmosphere of the event rather than following strict package rules, I have the freedom to express my capacity to capture those moments that will bring you smiles. That is my role – that should be any photographer’s role! So quite frankly, I don’t know how many pictures my customers will get – but they usually end up with 50-70 good pictures/hour. And yes, I do share all of them, because I am happy with the initial deal and I do not feel the need to charge them extra money for extra pictures (see point 9).
3. Extra charges for extra images are just as justifiable from a work point of view like an Amazon 2 year warranty: that is, not at all!
Packages are simply designed as a marketing tool – they are not beneficial to the bride and the groom, but to the photographer only. And again, my definition of a good deal is when both I and my customers leave the meeting knowing that we made a successful transaction. Both parties should win during a transaction – and it actually is possible to make this happen.
 

9. Additional pictures should NOT come with additional costs.
There are a number of services which people pay for that make no sense; for instance the Amazon 2 or 3 year product warranty; the first class plane tickets for short flights. These are not services that are worth the money; and here’s why: for the photographer to show you the extra pictures, he needs to edit the files and prepare them just like the files that he sends out. Once the pictures are edited and the work has been done (and yes, the editing or retouching may take a serious amount of time), the only thing the photographer gambles on is your desire to have more pictures from your wedding. Regardless if you choose to purchase them or not, the photographer has already invested the time and energy in producing those pictures and has worked on them. My questions is, then, why not just give out the pictures to the clients? Why try to make a few extra bucks instead trying to go the extra mile in satisfying a customer? It’s not like it’s a secret that anyone would rather have more pictures from their wedding than less!
Once the pictures are edited and ready to be sent, the work is already done. Nobody has to win anything if the bride and groom do not purchase the extra pictures – in fact, everyone has to loose. But why should this situation be used to make a few extra bucks instead asking for a fair price upfront and just handing out the entire collection, without holding anything back, and produce as much joy as possible?
I did not understand this method of pinching a few extra pennies from the bride and the groom when I was a bride, I still don’t get it as a photographer. Hence, my company does not practice the “extra photos at extra charges” non-sense.

From an artistic point of view, the complete documentation of a wedding should be one great artwork; holding back frames will alter the integrity of the composition – so it is not only financially that this practice does not make sense, but it is also artistically that it produces a work that lacks integrity. I would find it difficult to be proud of producing a collection that lacks artistic integrity.

Our healthy alternative to charging a fair price and protecting the interests of our brides as well is implementing a flat-rate charge.

1. RATE: We charge a FLAT RATE of $200 / hour, charged every 30 minutes. That way, the groom and bride have complete control over their budget.

2. NUMBER OF PICTURES: WE SET NO LIMIT. That way, there are no hidden or extra costs for anyone. Our clients usually end up having 70 pictures/hour. They do get ALL the pictures we take at no additional charge.

3. DELIVERY: maximum 30 days from the event. Delivery is via an online gallery; the customers can download high-resolution files. That way, they can access their pictures from anywhere and nothing gets lost in the mail.

4. REFUND POLICY: If you are not happy with our work, we offer a 100% profit refund, guaranteed. That way, our customers can be sure that we will do our best in providing best quality pictures for them.

5. PRINTS AND ALBUMS: We can provide high end albums/prints. Our price offer does NOT cover these, because we want our customers to have total freedom in customizing their own albums. The price of the albums depends on the number of pages, size, cover fabric, etc. We do work with our customers step by step. (Flat rate applies.)

In addition, we always offer a FREE session to interested couples, regardless if they choose or not to work with me in the future. All pictures provided will be edited; my work comes with print release. All payment is 50% in advance (when booking), 50% on the day of the event. All cancellations must be done 30 days before the event. In case the cancellation is later than 30 days before the event, the down-payment will not be refunded.

This is our alternative to extra charges – pretty convenient and friendly for the bride and groom, don’t you think?
 

10. Full payment in advance is NOT the only option.
A true professional and a person of good character will always look out for the customer’s interest and put themselves in the customer’s place. After me and my husband had been the victims of the wedding photographer scam, we decided that we will never ever again pay for anything full amount in advance. Partial payments are as equally good and most photographers are happy to work payment plans.
The most common payment form is 50% when booking and 50% on the day of the event – but if you feel more comfortable to have a payment plan, any photographer who would like to work with you should have no objection. Of course, payment flexibility depends from studio to studio and from photographer to photographer, but regardless, full payment in advance should not be the only payment option they are willing to consider. If that is the case, I would strongly recommend doing a bit of research for other vendors who are more sensible and have a better understanding of quality customer service.

Well, these were my 10 tips that hopefully will make your choice easier when it comes to booking a wedding photographer. Feel free to comment and don’t forget to share this article if you have found it useful at all!

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