When you’re searching for a wedding photographer, especially a wedding photographer in Toronto, you need to be able to ask them some questions to separate who is actually really amazing at their job and who is just really good at marketing. Let’s face it – weddings are a non-repeatable moment and you need to be able to sort through all the marketing and sales BS and figure out of that person or company is a good fit for you. There’s a bit of a problem with this though – if you’re just blatantly following existing online ‘questions to ask your wedding photographer’ guides without taking the time to understand the meaning or implications of what the answers mean, then you’re really only going through the motions and not being effective during your interview. This article will talk about the most relevant and important questions to ask your wedding photographer and why those questions are important and what the answers mean.
Your homework BEFORE knowing what questions to ask your wedding photographer
Before you start writing down all the questions you should ask, you need to start by doing your homework. A lot of the questions that get listed in online guides are – well – kinda dumb and just there for a quick way to put content onto a blog. Most photographers put a lot of information on their websites and you need to take the time and look through all their resources as a part of your pre-interview prep. If you don’t do this and just ask random questions during the interview and the photographer knows that the answers to most of these are already in the plethora of existing information, you may inadvertently be giving them the impression that you don’t actually care about many effort and you may not pass their vibe check.
Here’s the things you shouldn’t ask:
- Can I see your portfolio? Yeah – you can, it’s called a website! Aside from showing you some full wedding galleries, a photographers portfolio IS their website
- How long have you been shooting weddings? This should be on their website and if it isn’t, they’re obviously trying to hide something. That’s a red flag. Also, it doesn’t matter how long someone has been in the industry, what matters is how many weddings they’ve shot.
- Do you often shoot larger/smaller weddings like mine? You can tell from their portfolio and blog what they prioritize shooting. If you’re having a big 250+ person wedding and that photographer is only showing microweddings or intimate weddings, you already have your answer. Even if they do shoot them, they don’t want to tell the world that they do because they don’t fit the ‘esthetic’ they’re trying to promote. If you or your wedding isn’t represented on the website then find someone who will represent you.
- Do you specialize in indoor or outdoor events, or both? This is a completely useless question to ask your wedding photographer because you’ll be able to tell based on what it is they show on their website! If they’re posting 90% outdoor weddings, that’s what they feel most comfortable with in terms of approach and esthetic. If they tell you otherwise, you need to be concerns about why they’re telling you something that they’re not publicly showing on their site.
- How would you describe your style? The style of the photos – the way they look – is visible to you, the viewer. Just look at their photos – are they bright? Dark? True to colour? Faded? You can see this yourself. Just like asking a photographer if they specialize in indoor vs outdoor, we need to normalize not asking questions that we can clearly see the answer to. If you want to ask the photographer about their approach (do they pose, guide, just keep things candid, etc.) then phrase it accordingly.
- Do you shoot digital? Film? Both? They should be very evident on their website; digital is the standard these days and some photographers proudly offer film and promote it online. If they don’t talk about film on their website, you have your answer.
- Do you also do videography? Again, this will be on their website. Nobody hides an entire form of service from the world and only tells people about it during consults.
- May I have a list of references? No – this is what online reviews are for. If they don’t have any, that’s a red flag.
Top 17 Questions to Ask your Wedding Photographer
#1 Q: Will you be the one shooting my wedding?
A: One of the most important questions to ask your wedding photographer if you’re talking to a business that has associate photographers or a team of photographers but what’s even more important is that once you confirm who will be shooting your wedding, you ensure that the portfolio and full galleries you’re looking at are ones that that individual captured. Unfortunately a lot of big studios pull the ‘bait and switch’ move – they show you portfolio images from the owner or more experienced team members, but offer new talent to you (especially if you’re trying to work within a budget).
#2 Q: What is the role of your second shooter.
A: A lot of photographers include a second shooter in their packages but that person isn’t really a true second shooter; they’re a hybrid 2nd shooter and assistant. This means that they won’t have a camera in their hands all the time and instead they may be helping out with lighting gear, reflectors, family photo groupings or gear. There’s a huge difference between an assistant and a 2nd shooter and one of the biggest (in my opinion) slimey things photographers do is advertise “second photographers” that are actually hybrid between 2nd shooters and assistants. A true second photographer should not be an assistant. They should have a camera in their hands at all times – that’s what you’re paying them to do!
#3 Q: Tell me about your second shooters experience.
A: The other super slimey thing a lot of photographers do is hire extremely new talent as second photographers and then only include a super small percent of their images in the final gallery (because the quality isn’t great) and then have the audacity to let the 2nd shooter use your wedding images in their portfolio to grow their business. This dynamic is not well balanced for the client. You should be looking for a second photographer who has several years of experience and who will not be using images for a separate company; this will ensure that there’s no conflict of interest and that the second photographer is truly there to work for you (and not just to get portfolio material).
When you’re thinking about questions to ask your wedding photographer, think about what your thoughts and feelings are on having second shooters and whether their experience as well as ability to use your images for a different business is something you’re okay with.
#4 Q: How many weddings have you shot?
This is the much better way to ask ‘how long have you been in the industry’ because years don’t actually matter – weddings matter. You can be in the industry for 10 years and only shoot 4 weddings a year (40 weddings total) or you can be in the industry for 4 years and shoot 20 weddings each year (80 weddings total) and have way more experience. For reference, most full-time photographers shoot 20-35 weddings a year.
Of all the questions to ask your wedding photographer, this one is going to be the most telling in terms of experience. If your photographer says they’ve been in business 9 years, but then tells you they’ve photographed “over 50 weddings” you need to do the math…. if most photographers shoot 20-35 weddings a year, then 9 years in the business should be 180-315 weddings…. if the numbers don’t add up, there’s something going on.
#5 Q: Can we see a full wedding gallery?
Alternative: Can we see SEVERAL full galleries?
A: It’s not enough to just see 1 single wedding gallery; this gives you nothing to compare to. Ask to see several galleries and make sure that the images are consistent in quality throughout each wedding. Bonus points if those weddings show diversity in the couples – that way your photographer can also show you that they can work with different people and you’re not just seeing a gallery of slim, beautiful, cis-het couples.
#6 Q: Have you ever shot at our venue before
Alternative: Have you photographed at venues similar to mine before?
Unless you want a cookie-cutter style photographer, it really doesn’t matter whether or not they’ve been to your exact venue before or not. I don’t know why this question keeps coming up again and again on lists about questions to ask your wedding photographer because it means nothing. What matters is it they’ve been somewhere similar. For example, if you’re having a Steamwhistle Brewery wedding – which is a super dark and moody place – you’ll want to ask to see other dark and moody venues like Hart House at U of T since this will show you that your photographer knows how to use flash and artificial lighting to create beautiful ambiance.
#7 Q: What about a backup plan if you are unable to shoot my wedding for some reason?
Super important question – especially when you think about weddings during COVID and the risk of vendors getting ill and needing a substitute plan, this question is more important than ever before. While everyone’s contingency plan is going to be a little bit different, the important elements to note are this:
- You want a photographer who is well established in the community (ie: been around for a while and has a lot of friends). This means they have a large network to reach out to in case of emergency.
- You want someone who prioritizes communication with you; this includes letting you know ASAP if a problem may arise, lets you know all the possibilities on how to move forward, and provides you information about who will be showing up in their place.
- You want someone whose goal is to get someone at your wedding and then the original photographer will still process the images and edit afterwards.
#8 Q: If my event lasts longer than expected, will you stay? When do you start charging overtime?
Most photographers have a ~15 minute grace period where they’ll stay without a fee; but beyond that, it’s very normal for overtime fees to apply. When you ask this question to your photographer, make sure you compare it to what the contract says. A lot of photographers may make it seem like they have no problem staying longer and ‘depending on the situation’ can wave fees, but if your legal contract states otherwise then you’ll be expected to pay. Don’t let the promise of potential free overtime lure you into a sales pitch.
#9 Q: How many pictures will we get
This isn’t an easy one to answer because everyone is different; but if you want to ask your photographer that question you first need to ask yourself something: do you prefer quantity or quality? It’s really easy to sell yourself as a ‘great value photographer’ when you tell people they’ve been getting 1,500+ images from their wedding day…. but if 25 of those images are just their shoes captured in different ways, is that really adding to the wedding day story? Or is it just there to increase image count?
The average photographer will probably quote between 50-85 photos per hour and this number is vague for a reason: weddings are all very different and some just have a lot more action than others. Have a peek at several full day galleries and ask yourself if the images are repetitive (in which case the larger image count doesn’t really mean anything if they aren’t contributing to the story) or if it’s a really good variety of well flowing, curated images (in which case the quality matters more than the quantity).
#10 Q: What gear do you use?
Alternative: Do you have backup gear and how much?
It really doesn’t matter what gear a photographer uses; whether it’s Canon, Nikon, Sony or who knows what else the cool hipsters are using these days. What matters is that:
- They are using cameras with 2 memory card slots in them so they can make active backups as they’re shooting the day
- They have backup camera bodies, lenses and flashes that are equivalent in quality to their primary gear
- They regularly get their gear cleaned and serviced
- They regularly calibrate their lenses for optimal sharpness and precision
# 11 Q: How do you help keep my images safe; tell me about your redundancy plans
Similar to the 2 memory card slots used in cameras, photographers should be happy to tell you about how they keep your images safe after the wedding including when they format the cards, how they store your images (onsite, offsite) and how many hardrives are used for storage. If they can’t walk you through a specific procedure they take, they’re probably winging it and don’t necessarily have safety as a first priority and to me, that’s a red flag.
#12 Q: Can we give you a shot list?
Alternative: There are some key images I’m really hoping to achieve, how can we work together to make sure that happens?
One of the more controversial questions to ask your wedding photographer – almost no photographers out there want to reproduce your Pinterest board but we are always happy to make sure that those key combinations of people you love are captured in your photos. The phrasing on this question is nuanced, but you want to make sure you’re asking in a way where you’re indicating to the photographer that it’s key moments you want to capture and not other photos you want to simply reproduce. How awkward would it be if your photographer says “okay, so now everyone has to jump on the bed and pretend to have fun so I can take a fake candid, it’s on my list!”
#13 Q: Is this your full-time business
Alternative: Tell me about your backup plans for illness, gear failure, insurances and commitment for growth as an artist and business.
Fifteen years ago, things were a bit different but now, every millennial and genZ has at least one other side hustle and for a lot of people, wedding photography is only a part of their diverse income. Asking something whether they’re full time or not is absolutely no indication as to how committed to they are. I know some ‘full time’ wedding photographers who are actually kinda sketchy about running their business and have repeated issues with unsatisfied clients and I know some part-time photographers who are ridiculously dedicated to their craft and run one hell of an awesome business. So here’s what you need to ask…
First, ask about contingency plans for illness, backup gear and image safety. We already touched on these in questions #7, #10 and #11. You also need to ask if they have liability insurance, how much it’s for ($5 million is the standard required by most venues) and how quickly it takes for them to be able to provide you or your venue proof of their liability insurance. Finally, you need to ask them what they do for continued education both as an artist and as a business person. They should be committed to regular workshops or mentoring. All this in indicative of their level of commitment to their craft and to their clients.
#14 Q: Will you photoshop me?
Alternative: What does ‘fully edited’ mean, and does this include skin softening and body manipulation?
Everyone has a different idea of what ‘edited’ means, so when a photographer says you’ll receive ‘edited photos’, you need to ask them to specify what their editing process involves. The whole point of thinking about questions to ask your wedding photographer is to ensure you’re communicating about things that require expansion and elaboration – and this is most certainly one of them!
Most wedding photographer include standard editing like cropping, exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows, toning, sharpening and maybe some light skin smoothing. It’s typically extra if you want your photographer to do magazine style retouching (ie: make you look as flawless as a magazine cover), remove objects from the backgrounds or manipulate your body. Bonus: the contract should also indicate what ‘editing’ means so there’s no misunderstanding.
#15 Q: Do you edit the photos or does someone else
Some people have a post production team that is exclusive to them and helps with editing. There’s nothing wrong with this – they are dedicated individuals that work exclusively for a company and within a certain style. Where outsourced editing can be a bit problematic is if your photographer is using a generic editing company. From my own experience trying out different editing options, I’ve found that unless you have an exclusive editor, quality will vary. If your photographer does outsource their editing, ask them “Do you use the same person consistently for your editing or just the same company?” and depending on their answer, you can decide what you think is best for you.
The more unique a photographers style and esthetic, the more important it is that the editing is done by a consistent team whether that’s the photographer or someone the photographed trained.
#16 Q: What is the booking process like; do I need to sign a contract today?
First of all, if they tell you you don’t need a contract, run. Just turn and run. Assuming they have a contract, make sure you know when to expect that contract and more importantly, what will happen if they get another inquiry for the date while you’re going over the contract. On average photographers can put a soft hold on a date (or give you priority picking) for 3-5 days after a consult, but after that they either need a signed contract or you risk losing your date. For this reason, it’s wise to ensure you’re only interviewing photographers when you know you’re ready to make a decision.
#17 Q: How will you be dressed?
Alternative: My venue does require a specific dress code, is that something you’re comfortable with?
The only time a vendor should have to wear something particular is if the guests also have a dress code (whether it’s a formal black tie event or existing dress code within a venue space). Some folks wear khakis, some wear leggings, some wear rompers and others wear dresses – just to name a few options. We all choose to wear what we feel represents us as individuals and a brand and also what is comfortable and reasonable for our job. If you’re worried that a photographer may show up in a dirty t-shirt and jeans, you may not be picking the right photographer for you.
Questions to ask your wedding photographer: The Take Home Message
I hope this has shed some light regarding questions to ask your wedding photographer and what the answers really mean! There are a lot of existing lists out there that are super random and don’t educate you as to why you should be asking them. There’s also a lot of questions on those lists that really just aren’t appropriate to ask. Do your homework before booking a consult with your photographer and do some self reflection on your priorities and preferences. Only once you’ve done that should you start creating your list of questions.Don’t get me wrong – questions are not a bad thing! Communication is key to forming amazing relationships with your wedding vendors but it’s equally as important to be asking the right questions and understanding the impact of the answer.