Well, like most engaged couples who are planning their wedding, you're going to want to find your perfect venue and secure it so you have a formal wedding date to work with. Once you've done that, it's time to find a Wedding Photographer. Lucky for you, there is a plethora of services out there for couples to utilize that help put a wide range of wedding vendors in a single location, both virtually (online) and literally (think local Bridal Shows) so that you can easily view their portfolios, pricing, products, and get a general feel for who they are without a commitment.
Some great sites for researching vendors include:
and there's always a Google keyword search!
Whatever method you choose, PLEASE narrow down your choices and research them before you contact them.
Why? Because I can't tell you how often I get random emails and text messages from a prospective client saying "please tell me more" or "I'd like to know more about pricing." That is so vague, I have no idea where to even begin because I have no clue what it is about me, my business, or pricing you'd like to know. Not to mention, I know that all of this can be found readily on my website so that tells me they haven't looked at my website so they probably don't even know what kind of work I do. This is not the time to be lazy with your research. This is an important investment and just as you want to invest your money in the right photographer, as a photographer, I want to invest my time in the right couple. So whatever you do, please make sure you aren't asking vague questions in your first contact that are easily answerable on their website.
Additionally, doing your research before opening up contact helps you better prepare yourself and narrows down how many emails and phone calls you're going to have to make which can save you valuable time in the long run. Treat it like you're window shopping so you can study and compare features and then narrow down to what you want, and then go into the store when you're actually ready to buy. This way you can avoid getting trapped into buying or committing to something you don't actually want or can't afford just because you weren't prepared and you got caught up in the moment. So do yourself a favor and hold off on contacting anyone until you've gone through the following steps...
Before you even begin to look for a wedding photographer, you need to know how much you feel comfortable spending on a photographer. For most people, wedding photography is an investment and can take up a significant portion of their wedding budget - as much as 12% [for both photographic and videography services], according to the WeddingWire Budget Guide 2017. But you may find yourself spending more, or less, depending on your individual needs and wants.
I suggest finding out your total wedding budget and then configuring two separate budgets for your photography and videography services since not all companies provide both services and this helps give you a clearer idea of how much you're able to spend for each. I also recommend you leave yourself a little cushion to negotiate with, in case you find the photographer of your dreams but they're slightly above your comfortable budget or you want to add services to a photographer's package. So have an ideal budget that you're comfortable with, and then a max budget that you don't go over.
Please Note: If you are a low budget bride and are willing to take a risk, then I suggest checking some of your local colleges and photography clubs to see if anyone is willing to do your wedding for a lower price to help their portfolio. While this carries its own risks (and your photographer is usually not licensed, insured, or experienced) you could also get lucky and find someone naturally talented. It's a gamble but I understand not everyone has a large budget available. Even if you go with a relative no-namer/unknown, the following tips may still be of use to you.
It's time to sit down and figure out what you're actually looking for - what you need, verses what you want. I'd like for you to take out a piece of paper and write down a few things for me. This will help you figure out what kind of coverage and products you'd like to be covered by your eventual photographer.
1. How long will you need coverage for? The average wedding is 8 hours from the getting ready to the send-off. Overestimate how much time you will need. It's better to plan to use them for 8 hours and only use 6 than it is to say you need 6 hours and you actually need 8. Please don't assume that your photographer will stay longer for free.
2. Do you need additional services beyond just wedding photography? Do you want an engagement session? A bridal shoot? A bridal boudoir shoot?
3. What kind of editing will you want done? Photography portfolios are typically a collection of a photographers best works. Those images you see are often edited. Don't assume that your photographer includes this editing automatically in every package, it's often a representation of what you could get but could cost extra. So figure out what kind of editing you are going to want done.
4. What kind of products do you want? Do you want albums? Do you want physical prints? Do you want digital prints with a reprint release so you can self print? Do you want an online gallery? Figure out what you want to be included in your budget.
5. If you're getting digital images, how will you want your digital images delivered? Do you want a physical DVD or flash drive of your images or are you okay with downloading your images directly from your photographer to your computer?
Now on a separate piece of paper, write a line down the middle and on one side, write NEEDS and on the other, WANTS. From each question above, write down what is an actual need, and what is an actual want. Do you need 6 hours but would like 8? Write "6 hours of coverage" under NEEDS and "8 hours of coverage" under WANTS. Do you need an Engagement Session or is it something you want, but could live without? Write it under the appropriate category. Do this for each item and anything else you can think of that may be a need or a want.
This will help you later when it comes time to look at pricing and potential negotiations.
So you've got a budget and an idea of what kind of options you want, now what? Well, now you need to determine what kind of photography style you want your Wedding Day images to look like? Do you like bold colors and dramatic light? Do you like the soft and light look of film style? Do you like the somewhat brooding look that's very trendy right now? Whatever it is you like, try to keep that in mind when you begin reviewing photographers' portfolios. Stick to photographers with portfolio images that embody the style you like and write down their contact information and website addresses for further research. Please be realistic, though. If you want natural light photography but are having a nighttime wedding or indoor reception, you may have a problem.
Side note: As for Lifestyle photography, let's assume for all intents and purposes that weddings are a Lifestyle event. The vast majority of images will be purely candid with a few posed images thrown in for good measure.
So you've got your list of photographers you've written down after viewing their portfolio and you've got your list of things you want to look for in their packages (NEEDS vs WANTS), so now it's time to look at pricing!
I suggest a notepad or notebook for this part. Give yourself plenty of writing room for note-taking. On every-other-page or so, write the name of a photographer/company at the top, along with their contact info so it's easy to locate.
Now, go to each photographer's website and check to see if they have their pricing/packages listed. Figure out the photographers who have packages that fall within your budget AND cover your list of needs (bonus if they cover your wants, too!!!). Strike photographers off the list who are way beyond your budget. If you have a photographer you like but they're just a little above your budget, you can choose to keep them on the list to contact in case they are willing to negotiate their package with you. This is where the NEEDS vs WANTS tally comes in super handy. I'll talk more about that later in a future blog post on Your Consultation.
Now you should have a narrowed down selection of photographers who have both a style you like and are within your budget range and cover the services you need. IF YOU FIND YOURSELF WITHOUT ANY CHOICES, it is time to determine if you may be unrealistic with your expectations vs your budget. You can't expect a $10,000 wedding photographer and all that includes, on a $1,000 photography budget. You will need to be realistic with yourself and either lower your expectations to fit into your current budget; or raise your budget to fit your expectations better.
Congrats, you've done your homework and now you're ready to start contacting those photographers on your list!