I was chatting with a colleague a while back about her upcoming wedding; I was already booked with another gig by the time she set her date so she was on the search for a wedding photographer. She was asking me what I should ask the photographers and I responded by asking her what she had researched (honestly, I was curious!). She immediately pulled out her iPhone and went to her wedding app and started listing off the questions that it was telling her to ask; things like “What type of camera do you use? What type of lighting do you use? Describe your style…” – before she could continue on any further I had to put a stop to it!
These questioned were so… nonsensical! Does the bride (or groom) really know how the model or brand of camera impacts the final results? Does the bride (or groom) really understand the pros and cons to various lighting approaches?
To the wedding industry in general: Why on earth do you write article after article guiding brides and grooms to ask questions that they don’t have the background knowledge to fully understand? You’re just wasting everyone’s time!
Calm blue ocean… calm blue ocean…
No need to worry, folks, I fully intend on helping put a stop to this madness!
I will write yet another article listing questions that you should ask your wedding photographer; however, I plan to provide background knowledge for the brides and grooms to help educate them as to what the answers of these questions mean to them. Furthermore, I will be leaving the comments section of this page open and fully intend on helping answer questions that are posted for those who need a little more elaboration on some of the answers.
Here it goes (in no particular order):
1. Is this your full-time business?
- This question can mean different things so make sure you know what it is you’re asking.
- Some photographers “specialize” in everything: weddings, families, newborns, maternity, boudoir, commercial – the list goes on! If you notice multiple services listed on your photographers website; ask them what % of their clients are wedding clients vs. portrait clients. This may give you an indication of how much time they actually spend on weddings. (ie: just because someone is a full time photographer doesn’t mean they shoot weddings full time)
- The reason this question is on so many “things you need to ask” lists is because it’s trying to help the average bride and groom weed out the part-time, semi-dedicated photographers – but in all honestly, you can tell a lot about someones level of expertise and professionalism from their website, blog, social media involvement and initial response to your inquiry.
2. What type of editing is done on the photos?
- Many clients will ask if the photos will be “edited” or “photoshopped” without realizing what their actually asking.
- Editing and enhancing are two different things. Read about the difference between editing a photo and enhancing (or photoshopping/retouching) a photo.
- Most photographers do a standard edit on all the photos – enhancing/photoshopping is typically reserved for special requests and printed media.
- Enhancing/photoshopping a photo takes anywhere between 20 minutes to several hours per photo. A photographer who tells you that they’ll smooth out your skin on every photo is either exaggerating, outright lying or working for pennies per hour while they take a year or more to do your edits. Either way – it’s a promise that is unrealistic
3. Can I see a complete wedding?
- You should actually ask to see several weddings.
- You should ask to see weddings in venues that are similar to yours (ie: dark indoor venue, farm venue, winter wedding, etc.) if possible
- Ask to see weddings of people who look like you (ie: if you’re a plus size bride or if there’s a huge height difference between the bride and the groom, etc.) You want to know that the photographer can work with any body type and any couple, not just the “model-pretty” types of couples.
4. What type of lighting do you use?
- This one drives me CRAZY!
- Is the photographer says “4 speedlights with two softboxes all controlled with eTTL capable pocket wizards” would that mean anything to you?
- The rationale behind this question is this: a great wedding photographer should be adaptable in any situation. If you get rained out and have to use a dark indoor location for photos instead of a lovely field or park, you want to know that your photographer can adapt.
- If your photographer only uses 1 flash that stays mounted to their camera, their photos may lack a certain j’e ne c’est quois.
- If your photographer is capable of using multiple flashes, you’ll get more of a ‘wow’ factor in your photographs – that is, if the know how to use them properly!
- Many photographers call themselves ‘natural light photographers‘ as a way to mask the fact that they have no idea how to use flash.
5. Do you have a physical location for your business?
- Not all photographers have a studio and there are pros and cons to that
- Renting/owning a studio space is expensive – if your photographer has a studio of some sorts, you’re pretty much guaranteed to be paying more!
- Working out of a home office does not make your photographer any less professional!
- If your photographer specializes in only weddings they have no need for a physical studio; only an office! All of their work occurs elsewhere to spending money on a studio is pointless.
6. Do you have a contract?
- If your vendor doesn’t have a contract – RUN!
- This goes not only for photographers but for any vendor!!
- If you photographer says they’ll cut you a “deal” as long as there’s no papertrail – RUN!
- No contract = bad news bears!
7. What’s your turnaround time?
- Turnaround time will always vary from photographer to photographer
- Don’t stress too much about comparing turnaround time for photographers if you don’t know whether or not you’re comparing apples to apples (ie: don’t compare a photographer who does their own editing to a photographer who outsources their editing)
- Turnaround time will also vary based on seasonal workload (ie: couples who get married in the winter will typically get their products faster than those getting married in the later summer/early fall) and this is totally normal.
- Your photographer may be able to give you a rough estimate of what they expect turnaround time to be; however, a specific amount of time of rarely – if ever – written into a contract and this, too, is normal.
8. How many weddings have you shot?
- There is no magic number that makes a photographer worthy of your business! Every photographer operates differently.
- Some photographers only shoot a maximum of 15 weddings per year as they do all their own editing while others will shoot 40 or more yet pay someone else to do their editing. Again, apples and oranges – two different business models cannot be compared.
- … but if you must ask this, you should always follow this up with “as the primary photographer”.
- Shooting as the primary photographer is very different than shooting as a second photographer and the numbers should not be combined lest it give a false impression of their history.
- Instead of asking the photographer about the number of weddings they’ve shot, engage them in a conversation and get them to tell you what their previous season was like; where did they shoot and what challenges arose from those locations, what types of clients did they work with (shy, plus-size, height-differences, etc.), what type of continuing education or workshops they attend, etc. This will help give you an idea of how well rounded they are as an artist and a businessperson.
9. Do you scout the locations and/or recommend locations to us?
- Some photographers refuse to recommend locations while others practically insist on choosing locations for their clients wedding photos.
- Not every photographer will scout every location since great photographers can adapt to any situation at any time!
- After a while, every church starts to look the same – every park starts to look the same, etc. A great photographer can adapt in any situation at any given time.
- For every hour of work your photographer puts into the job (shooting, editing, meetings, scouting, etc.) there is an associated cost. Some photographers insist on “scouting” locations for several hours as a way to justify higher prices since more of their time is being spent “prepping” for your day. (It’s up to you to decide how you feel about this.)
10. Can I see your portfolio?
- I’m shocked that this question is included on so many ‘things to ask your photographer’ lists!
- Perhaps this is a question from the olden, non-internet, days! These days, practically every half-decent photographer has a website or blog as a viewing platform for their portfolio.
- As the client, however, do your homework! Go through a photographers website, blog, facebook page, etc. and get a thorough look at their online portfolio.
- Due to turnaround times with printed materials, online portfolios are often the most up to date!
- Don’t disregard their facebook page – Facebook is a popular platform for ‘sneak peek’ photos and is typically the place where the most recent work is featured (sometimes within only a day of the image being taken!)
- A tip for the clients: if both the bride and groom are attending the interview with the photographer, both should look at their portfolio before hand (even if one party isn’t keen on it!) As a photographer, being interviewed by a person who hasn’t taken the time to even look at your portfolio is mind-blowingly frustrating.
11. How soon will I see my photos?
- Some photographers will do a ‘sneak peek’ of one or more photos shortly after the wedding but more and more often now photographers do not as their preference is to properly backup the photos before doing anything else with them. Skipping right ahead to editing of cherry picked photos may be appealing as a client, but as a professional our focus needs to first and foremost be on the safety of the images.
- Overall turnaround time will vary based on photographer and seasonal workload
- Turnaround times are rarely, if ever, written into a contract. At best you’ll be given a rough estimate. This is normal.
12. What are your credentials? Can I see a resume?
- A diploma isn’t everything when it comes to photography
- You can have a photographer who started out as an intern/second shooter whose work is beyond fantastic and you can have another photographer who has a diploma in photographer but only produces so-so photographs
- Your photographer can provide you with recent reviews; however, asking for a resume is a little bit of overkill
13. Why are you a photographer?
- Asking this question will get you a lot of “I just love love and I love photographing love!” types of answers and waste precious minutes of your wedding planning time!
- If a photographer secretly hates their job, their answers during the interview as well as level of enthusiam, creativity and professionalism will let that be known loud and clear!
- If a photographer loves their job, you’ll truly be able to tell after interviewing them!
14. Will you be the one photographing the wedding?
- A very important question!
- Many larger studios have multiple photographers that work for them
- Always make sure you interview with the person who is shooting your wedding AND make sure that it’s their portfolio you’re viewing.
- Often times with larger, multi-photographer studios, it’s difficult for a client to initially tell whose photographs their looking at in the portfolio. (You don’t want to run the risk of falling in love with Photographer ‘A’s work but Photography ‘B’ is the only one available for your date.)
15. Will you have an assistant with you?
- Some photographers always have an assistant with them to help carry heavy and cumbersome gear
- Other photographers have chosen to purchase more portable gear and thus, don’t need an assistant
- Assistants were more prevalent in the days of film and more complex meter readings; the assistant would go around and take various meter readings for the photographer to help speed the day along. With dSLR cameras, none of this is necessary anymore
- Don’t confuse the word ‘assistant’ with the word ‘2nd shooter’ – always get your photographer to clarify, in writing, what the definition of the 2nd person involved is (see below).
16. What’s the difference between an assistant and a 2nd shooter?
- An assistant is someone whose presence is meant to benefit the photographer, NOT the bride and grooms. An assistant is there to do the “monkey work” for the photographer; carrying bags, setting up lights, holding reflectors, etc. An assistant does not take extra pictures. An assistant doesn’t have to have any photography knowledge – it can be a friend, spouse or sibling of the primary photographer who wants to earn a couple of bucks for a few hours of work.
- A second shooter is someone whose presence is meant to benefit the bride and groom! The second shooter is a trained professional who has not only top of the line gear but also backup gear and their sole purpose is to capture additional moments for the bride and groom. The second shooter, should they not be hired by you for the day, would probably be out photographing their own wedding and therefore, charge a certain amount for their service (typically $300 or more)
- Some photographers will give their assistants a camera and say “go nuts, have fun” and you may get given the results – but there’s a good chance that these people aren’t trained photographers and cannot be relied upon to get great shots
- If you have a second person shooting at your wedding, you have the right to know who they are, how long they’ve been working with the primary photographer and what you can expect from them during the day (ie: view a portfolio)
- If you are paying for a second shooter, you should not be spotting them carrying gear for the primary photographer!
- If you’re told you’ll get a second shooter for free, be skeptical! You’re probably getting a very, very “new” professional or co-op student.
17. What will you wear on my wedding day?
- Most photographers wear darker colours (so not to stand out); a shirt and slacks of some sort.
- Don’t expect your photographer to wear a three piece suit or a slinky dress with heels: we are working all day and must keep a balance between proper attire and functionality
18. Do you have backup equipment?
- If the answer isn’t “absolutely!” – RUN!
- Your photographer should have multiples of everything: not just the camera body itself
- Although different types of flashes/lenses, etc, may be beyond the common knowledge of most brides and grooms, remember that your photographer should have: at least 2 camera bodies, backup lenses, backup flashes, twice as many memory cards as they think they need, more batteries than they can shake a stick at and not only one but TWO separate external hardrives on which to backup your files post-wedding
19. What kind of camera do you use? (Follow up to that: What kind of backup equipment do you have?)
- Again, this is a question that makes my brain explode a little every time I hear it! Why does it matter to the bride and groom what type of camera I have? Are they refusing to work with someone who has a Canon 5D MkII and will only work with someone who has the MkIII? Are they Nikon people and therefore will only choose a photographer who shoots Nikon? Sigh.
- Okay, so I can see the reasoning in this question… but it’s the execution of the question combined with the background knowledge of the clients that makes of breaks the answer.
- For example, if a client who has no background in photography whatsoever asks “What type of camera do you use” and I reply “A Canon 5D MkIII” – I’ve given them an answer to a question that means absolutely nothing to them.
- If you insist on asking this question, here’s what you need to know: Gear, as well as talent and post-processing skills, contributes to the overall end result. Although some people can get away with taking stunning pictures with cheap, flimsy entry-level SLR cameras, it may be because they took that stunning photo in the optimal condition and, let’s face it, wedding days vary like crazy and there’s no guarantee that you’ll have ‘optimal conditions’ for photos. A photographer is only as good as their gear, their raw talent and their post-processing skills combined. Take one thing out of that equation, and the end result will be off-balanced.
- Your photographer should have professional level gear if they want to contribute to the best possible end result
- Their backup gear should also be of professional quality
- If backup gear is not professional quality then, if they end up having to use it on your wedding day, your photos won’t look like what you expected them to and you probably won’t be happy with the end result
20. If my wedding day runs late, will you stay longer? And how much will that cost me?
- Don’t let them beat around the bush – get a clear answer
- The contract should also state that ‘overtime’ is defined as and what the cost of it is
- If your photographer does charge overtime, make sure you know when you have to pay them the overtime and have cash/cheque available on the wedding day if need be
- Some photographers claim “full day” packages but, in the fine-print, describe full day as meaning up until 9/10pm. That’s not really a ‘full’ day, is it? Always read your fine print and know exactly what you’re getting.
- Some photographers, like myself, offer event-based packages instead. Event based packages mean that your photographer will stay to cover the events that are listed (ie: ceremony, formals, cocktail hour, dinner, etc.) and stay until what you expect to be covered is covered – no added overtime fees even if the day runs horribly late
21. What happens if you’re sick?
- Your photographer should have some type of backup plan; whether it’s a network between fellow photographers or, in the case of a multi-photographer studio, another photographer from the same company
- Even if your photographer has a large networks of colleagues; however, there’s still the risk that none of them will be available on your wedding day as they all run businesses of their own
- Ethically, if a photographer cannot attend your wedding due to an unavoidable accident or emergency, they should be providing you with a full refund
- A clause regarding ‘cancellation by the photographer’ should be included in the contract indicating any possible refunds as well as the amount refunded
- Don’t let yourself get strung out about this: yes, it would really suck if your photographer got into a car accident on their way to your wedding and was a no-show; however, the chances of them getting into an accident or being ill are the same chances as you or your fiance being in the same position. Your decorator runs the same risk, as does any of the vendors involves in your wedding. At the end of the day, a true professional won’t even “skip” an event because they have the sniffles – they take their cold medicine and keep on truckin’ but genuine and unavoidable emergencies can happen and are dealt with in the most professional and reasonable way possible.
22. How far in advance do I need to book with you?
- Although a photographer may offer to temporarily ‘hold’ a date for you or claim to notify you if someone else tries to take your date, you need to remember that they are running a business and it would be foolish if they turned down a client who showed up at their door with the deposit in hand
- This means that you should take the ‘sure I’ll hold the date for you’ statement with a grain of salt – book your photographer ASAP!
23. How would you describe your style?
- Don’t ask this question… you know what their style is – you’ve seen their portfolio!
- Instead, ask them to describe their working style
- You should want to know how a photographer handles the wedding day; are they super quiet or unnecessarily loud? Do they move around a lot or do they tend to stay stationary? Do they guide you throughout the day or never make a peep? Are they not afraid to get on the dancefloor to get great party candids or do they prefer to shoot from afar?
24. What do you think destinguishes your work from other photoraphers?
- Everything. Everything distinguishes one photographer from another.
- The vast majority of wedding photographers are independetly owned small businesses
- Every small business runs different
- Every photographer (aka artist)’s style varies
- Not all photographers offer the same packages or products
- As the client, you’re the one who is supposed to gain knowledge from the interview to help you determine how the various photographers you’ve interviewed differ from each other.
25. Can I give you a list of specific shots we would like?
- Phrase this question carefully, folks! When hiring a professional photographer, they know what to photographer on the wedding day: rings, shoes, bouquets, accessories, candids, dance shots, etc.
- If you have very specific shots in mind (ie: things you may have seen on Pinterest, etc.) you can ask your photographer if they can do their best to reproduce those photos but keep in mind that the end results will not be identical to what you showed them as they didn’t take the original photo and can only do their best to reproduce what you show them
- If you are providing some very specific must-have shots, keep them to a minimum. Respect your photographers artistry and originality – if you provide them 20, 30, 40-example shots to recreate, they may very well tell you to simply hire the photographer that took those shots since you seem to like them more (harsh but true, folks!)
- Your photographer should be willing to help you put a list of family shot together
- Family photos on a wedding day, if well organized, can be painless and even fun! Poorly organized family pictures; however, can make the day run long and zap the energy out of the day.
26. Have you ever shot at (my location) before?
- A great photographer as the appropriate gear and skills to shoot at any location at any time! I cannot stress that enough!
- As a photographer, I find I’m actually more inspired and more creative when I get to shoot in a location that I’ve never been to before
- If you’re concerned about your photographer not knowing the location, you can ask them to scout it with you before hand – they may be willing to do this (even if they don’t feel like they need to)
- Some couples insist that they hire a photographer who has been to their venue before; if you are one of those couples – make this a question that you ask the photographer before your in-person consult. There’s no need to waste both their time and yours at an in-person meeting if this is one of your non-negotiable factors.
27. Will you give me the raw files?
- Raw files are rarely, if ever, for sale.
- Photographers sell complete products, not ingredients.
- Most photographers agree that when a client asks this question, the interview is over. Why? Because asking this question gives the photographer the impression that you’ve got control issues, a “gimme gimme” attitude and an underappreciation for their artistry and professional products.
28. What is the cancellation policy?
- A proper contract should outline a thorough cancellation policy
- Included should be clauses about: the photographer cancelling, the couple cancelling before any services are delivered and the couple cancelling after some services have been delivered
- The clauses should also include what type of monetary compensation or payments are due to either party in the event of cancellation by the other
29. When are the payments due?
- Payment due-dates should always be written in the contract. This protects you!
- While it’s common practice to ask for full payment before the wedding date, some photographers ask for a final payment post wedding. Both practices are accepted as normal in the wedding industry
- Don’t try to negotiate payment dates as it makes it appear that you may not have the funds which may cause the photographer to not want to take you on as a client
- If you are in need of a payment plan, however, you can always discuss this with your photographer and special arrangements may be made (ie: you’re worried about paying the remaining balance on the wedding day and would rather pay a portion every month between now and the wedding day)
30. How many pictures do you take?
- It’s understandable for clients to ask this question; however, take the answer with a grain of salt as a photographer can never truly estimate how many photos they are going to take
- The amount of photos taken on a wedding day can vary tremendously based on the amount of action at the wedding, the length of time available for formal photos as well as the length of coverage.
- Always remember: quality over quantity! Would you rather have 600 amazing photos or 2,000 “so-so” photos?
31. I don’t want to have my photos on the internet – I don’t want to sign the model release form. Is this allowed?
- There are times when a photographer meets a client who is incredibly low-key and is highly uncomfortable with having their photos in a portfolio or published online in the form of blogs, FB posts, etc.
- By asking to wave the model release form, you’re basically asking the photographer to have control over their portfolio. Waiving a model release form can have a large effect on how the photographer not only operates their business but also networks with other vendors.
- A photographer gets their next job based on their portfolio – by limiting their portfolio they are putting their chance of receiving future business at risk.
- Some photographers may decide to wave the model release form for a fee. This fee is in place to compensate for the disruption this waiver will cause in their business operations.
- Some photographers may refuse to wave the model release, regardless of additional fees.
- Every photographer is different; however, the majority of them will not wave a model release form in it’s entirely. Always discuss this issue thoroughly with your photographer and be willing to compromise.
32. Are all the photos in your portfolio from real weddings?
- There is a huge difference between real weddings and styled shoots
- Sometimes photographers will hire a model, dressed as a bride, and photograph them for portfolio purposes. Sometimes there’s a groom, too.
- Sometimes brides and grooms choose to take their photos a week or two before (or after) the actual wedding. Again, in this situation, an immense amount of time is spent on the shoot and the result cannot be compared to a real wedding since a normal wedding day timeline limits the amount of time a bride and groom have for photos.
- Styled shoots take an immense amount of time and, due to the models experience and skills, the results cannot be compared to a real wedding (since most real-life couples do not have modeling experience!)
- Before you fall in love with a photographers work, always ask if the photos were taken on the actual wedding day, or if they were taken before or after. Also, ask if the people in the photos are real brides and grooms or models.