Questions To Ask Your Wedding Photographer
Want to know the best questions to ask wedding photographers that will ensure you get the answers you really need to make an informed decision about who to choose to capture the your wedding day?
Steve Gerrard is one of the best wedding photographers around. Based in Montreal but originally from the UK, he has photographed over 400 weddings around the globe and has a whole list of wedding clients who have gone on to become good friends. A few of his UK couples have already been to visit Steve and his family since they moved to Montreal three years ago. When you go on to be real friends with your wedding photographer you know you chose wisely. So let’s chat to Steve to hear what he sees as the real questions couples need to ask before they choose their wedding photographer….
MTL Wedding Blog: Hi Steve, can you tell us, in your experience, what questions couples should be asking potential wedding photographers to make sure they find the right photographer for them?
Steve: First of all I’d say to invest some time researching photographers, not just in your area but further afield. These days wedding photographers are far more willing to travel. So just because a photographer you absolutely love may be in a different country from your wedding, doesn’t mean they’re not available. I’m now based in Canada but still shoot weddings in the UK all the time. And this year I’ve also been to Italy, Mexico, Las Vegas and Bangkok.
Experienced wedding photographers all have their own style. Some are super-creative whereas others maybe far more traditional. There are some really quirky wedding photographers around, and many that will take a purely documentary approach to your wedding. Think about what kind of images you’d like to have from your wedding and find a photographer whose portfolio reflects that the best. It’s only then that you need to begin to ask questions to ensure you have the same vision for the final photos.
MTL Wedding Blog: So once a couple has their shortlist of potential photographers for the wedding, what’s the first questions they should ask?
Steve Gerrard: I think the first question should be “How would you describe your approach to photographing a wedding?”
This gives the photographer the opportunity to clarify how they like to work on the wedding day. They may be the kind of person who likes a clear timeline and a shot list from the couple. They may expect a certain amount of time allocated for photography and you need to know if that’s something you’re happy to agree on.
Personally, I like to have a certain amount of time where I can escape with the couple to make some amazing portraits on the wedding day but my priority is always to capture the story of the wedding and to avoid taking the bride & groom away from their guests for any longer than is necessary. For me it’s not a photo shoot, it’s a day where the couple and all their favourite people come together to celebrate and have a great time. I like to document that in a creative way more than spending too much time doing group shots or portraits.
Another question we get asked a lot is “What kind of camera equipment do you use?” I think a much better question is “What kind of photos do you aim to create at a wedding?”
Most people are not professional photographers, so me telling them my favourite lens is a 35mm 1.4 and I usually shoot in Manual mode on my 5DMk3 is not really helping them establish why my photography will be better suited to them than the next photographer. Finding out what kind of images a photographer aims to create during a wedding will tell you far more about their approach and the kind of photos you’ll end up with after your own wedding.
There are photographers whose portfolio is filled with amazing portraits of couples in gorgeous locations but they don’t show the story of the wedding day. There are others whose portraits seem like they’ve been captured without the couple even knowing. Sometimes that’s even true. And many photographers these days are fantastic at showing a series of photographs that give a sense of how it was to be at the event.
For myself, I like to deliver a set of images that will transport the bride & groom back to their wedding whenever they look at them. I want them to remember how they felt and to relive the day through the images whenever they want to. But I still love to capture some amazing portraits that couples will frame on their walls. So for me it’s finding a good balance that suits the couple.
“Have you ever shot at our wedding venue?” is another question couples are often told to ask wedding photographers. For me a much better question would be “What kind of wedding venues do you enjoy photographing at?”
Many couples think that photographers who have shot at their venue before will know all the good spots for photos and be able to do a better job on the day. I disagree.
It’s rare that a venue is so huge that I can’t easily scout it out on the wedding day, or possibly before. And personally, I hate the idea that I’m going to shoot the same kinds of photos I took at a previous wedding. I much prefer to be inspired in the moment and to concentrate on what makes a wedding unique. That’s why I actually much prefer photographing weddings at venues I’ve never been to before.
One thing you may need to ask is if they are willing to travel to photograph your wedding. But maybe ask “Are you happy to travel to our wedding, and what other costs would be involved?”
Most photographers are more than happy to travel but most will charge extra to cover travel expenses, accommodation and extra time. Some will even ask that you cover the cost of their meals on all the days they’re away. I mostly shoot weddings in Montreal and the UK. For most of those I won’t charge extra for travel but may ask for one or two nights accommodation for locations where I need to drive long distances. For all other destination weddings I charge for all travel expenses (that may include car hire or taxis) plus three nights accommodation. I always arrive at least a couple of days before the wedding and will usually fly home the day after unless the couple book me to shoot extra days.
Most photographers will have information on their website to let you know how many hours coverage is included but make sure you check “How many hours coverage is included and what happens if things are running late on the day?”
Weddings rarely run on time in my opinion. And I always joke that the ones that don’t run on time tend to be the best weddings! So what happens if you’ve paid for your photographer to be there until 8pm but, when that time rolls around, you have yet to do your first dance, cut the cake or even have the final speeches? Do you really want to have a conversation on the evening of your wedding about whether you can afford to pay for extra hours of photography or not? As a wedding photographer, that’s not a discussion I’d be at all comfortable with.
Personally I like to cover weddings in their entirety and so I don’t limit coverage on the day. If you book me I’m there for the duration, capturing all the craziness of the party. Often I’m one of the last people to leave! But I totally understand that some photographers don’t feel the need to get too many photos of people on the dance-floor and would prefer to head home to their family.
One question that is important and I do recommend asking is “What happens if you are unable to photograph the wedding due to illness?”
A good photographer will always have a backup plan. I’ve shot hundreds of weddings and have never missed one yet due to illness, but nobody can guarantee they won’t be sick or break a leg the day before a wedding. With social media it’s now easier than ever to find a suitable replacement photographer at short notice if circumstances mean you really can’t do the job. As photographers we tend to help each other out rather than treating each other as the enemy. I know that a quick post in a Facebook group or on Twitter would result in a great photographer being willing to cover.
Speaking of backups, I’d also recommend checking “What backup equipment do you you take to a wedding?”
I recently heard about a wedding photographer posting on social media from the back of a church wedding because she only had one camera and it had started malfunctioning! She had no second camera and no backup gear! ALL professional wedding photographers should have at least two cameras, preferably more, as well as an assortment of lenses suitable to capture the wedding in the best way possible. This also means that if one camera or one lens fails to work, you have other options and nobody needs to know there’s a problem. And you won’t miss anything important that can never be repeated!
“How many photos will we get?” is a popular question but this is certainly an example of where less can definitely be more. I’d say to maybe ask “How many photos would you expect to deliver and will they all be edited similar to those in your portfolio?”
Do you really need 15 photos of you and your Dad? Or just two or three great ones? Do you need all the photos where you blinked or don’t look as good as you might hope?! Probably not. Allow the photographer to do what they do best and select the very best images that capture your story and show how amazing you looked on your wedding day.
But it is important to know that all the photos will be up to the standard you hoped for and match those you’ve seen on the photographer’s website. You want hundreds of beautifully captured images, edited in a way that brings them to life and works as a complete set. You don’t just want the photos that the photographer wants to feature on their blog to be the only ones that they edited properly.
One thing that changes the price point of wedding photography is “shoot and burn” photographers compared with those that provide you with fully edited images. If they are a shoot and burn photographer, they will shoot your wedding, download the images on a USB, and hand you that USB with images untouched by them. For me, the finished images should be as amazing as possible. The editing stage is a big part of what you’re actually paying for, not just the photography on the day.
After all this, it’s often your gut instinct that will make your final decision for you. Good wedding photographers will leave you excitedly wanting to share all the photos with your friends and family and mean you recommend them to anyone you hear is getting married. And maybe you’ll make a new friend in the process.
Thanks a lot to Steve for his insight. We hope this post will help you find the perfect photographer and guarantee a set of wedding photos you’ll love forever.
All photos by Steve Gerrard Photography