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Questions and Answers on Wedding Photographer Selection

What distinguishes a professional photographer from an amateur or weekend photographer? Why should I hire a professional?

A professional photographer is prepared for virtually anything that could go wrong and will have a backup plan. The professional knows that this is a once in a lifetime event and can't be rescheduled. Professionals know the importance of being prompt and will often arrive at events early just to be safe. A professional uses professional equipment that is designed to be reliable and dependable and just to be safe, the pro will also bring backups for all key items (e.g. extra camera, flash, lenses). Having attended many weddings, an experienced wedding photographer will be at ease at your wedding. Professionals understand the importance of archival printing and use labs that print to high standards of quality. And, a professional is used to working with individuals, couples, and groups to make the formal photography go smoothly.

How should one choose a wedding photographer?
Most professional photographers have a website making it easy to get an idea of the style and quality of their work. Visit a variety of sites, using the opportunity to both make a list of photographer's whose work you like as well as getting a sense of the differences in style between photographers. I recommend contacting photographers whose work you like first by phone so that you can ask some questions and see how comfortable you are with them in your intial conversation. After speaking on the phone if you are comfortable with this photographer make an appointment with them to meet in person in their studio where you can see samples of their printed work. When looking through sample albums pay attention to your emotional response to the photography and to the communication skills of the photographer. Look for high technical quality too. When you find a photographer you would like to have photograph your wedding, it's time to discuss prices, packages, and other details.

What is the first question I should ask the photographer?
Once you have established that the photographer is available for your date and location, you will want to ask, "If we select your studio, will you be the photographer covering our wedding?" Some studios have several photographers and you may be speaking to a salesperson, or simply one of many photographers. The sample albums may have been done by photographers who do not even work for the studio anymore. If this is the case, you should make arrangements to meet with and see the work of the particular photographer who will be doing your wedding. The name of the photographer who you have chosen to work with should have there name listed as the photographer for your wedding on your signed contract.

What about price?
While price is of course a consideration, the quality of the images and your satisfaction with how your special day is captured will be what you are left with for a lifetime. After you have looked through a photographer's portfolio and viewe the breadth of their work, you will know if this photographer has the technique, style and spirit to be the eyes through which you and future generations will see your wedding day. Look for an established and reliable photographer whose work moves you. If you find a photographer who makes you happy, you never will regret your investment, whatever the dollar cost.

So, how much does wedding photography cost?
I've seen prices ranging from $500 as much as $50,000 for a wedding! Prices below $1000 are generally offered by students and amateur photographers. These are people who may photograph occasional weddings but depend on another job to pay their bills.They won't have the eye and experience of a full-time professional nor will they have the same quality of equipment, backups in case something goes wrong nor are they likely to have references. Limiting yourself to experienced, professionals, you can expect to invest a minimum of $1,500 for a small wedding on a weekday or Sunday, and $2,500 and up for Saturdays. Also, for additional copies, an 8x10 reprint will cost $20 to $50 each. Expect better photographers to charge the higher rates. If you are looking for a bargain and shop via phone for pricing, you may be insuring that you will be happy with the price, but are far less likely to be happy with the value you receive for what you spend.

We're having a small wedding, with a very limited budget, what can we do?
One of the best ways to reduce costs for a wedding is to be flexible on dates. Pick a time of the year that is off season for most professionals, which in the Bay Area is roughly November through March. Sundays, and weekdays are often more negotiable than Saturdays which is the day that photographers book the largest number of there weddings.

Another way to save money is a cash and carry package. This is a package that includes the photographer's time on your wedding day and a full set of images provided on CD/DVD or Film. The downside to this option is that professional quality prints purchases from a custom lab will tend to cost as much or more then they would from the photographer. The upside is that you have the images, can print inexpensive copies and can still select a few professional enlargements. You can make a simple album yourself or purchase one from the photographer later when you are better able to afford. This choice is far superior to compromising on the quality of the photography -- as you will never be able to make up for photos that were missed or poorly exposed/focused by an amateur photographer.

What about Proofs, Negatives, and Digital files?
Proofs may be electronic (CD, DVD, or on-line), or printed one or more on a page. Because of the proliferation of scanners and copy stations, printed proofs have become an invitation for illegal copying. Most photographers will give you proofs in a form that makes ordering easy and copying difficult.

Who chooses the pictures that go in the album?
After looking at all the proofs, the bride and groom usually decide what goes in the album. The photographer may let you specify the sequence and size of the pictures, so that the album really shows the wedding the way you want to see it, with important images enlarged, and related candids grouped together.

What about black and white photography?
Some clients have a preference for or against black and white photography and sepia is still an option though less popular than it once was. Not all black and white is really black and white. Many photographers who are still shooting film use a special film that records black and white (really black and orange) using color dyes. This option is less expensive and easier to have printed but the results are of poorer quality. Similarly digital images can be printed with a black and white look on color paper (this is the most common way it is printed) or can be printed on true black and white paper which gives a true black color. I can show you the difference if you come into my studio.

Some images are greatly enhanced by being printed in b&w as the color is only serving as a distraction. Imagine for example and image of the bride and groom dressed in black and white with a brightly colored dress right behind them. If the bride and groom are the subject of the photo the color is distracting and it may work far better in black and white. I recently photographed a brightly colored wedding in Mexico -- because the colored decoration and colored clothes are such a big part of the Mexican tradition the vast majority of these photos work best in color.

Should we do the formals before or after the ceremony?
Some couples think it is bad luck to see each other before the ceremony. If following this tradition is important to you, all of the photos of the bride and groom together will be done afterwards, but solo shots can be done before. However, getting all the formals done at the beginning has several advantages: Flowers, clothing and make-up are fresh, and you can carefully budget time for formals. (And, if your ceremony ends after dark, the only time for natural light pictures of the two of you will be before the ceremony!) Couples who feel formal photos are important will set aside one or two hours for formals, which finish up about half an hour before the ceremony begins. If you do formals immediately after the ceremony, guests have to wait before they can greet you, and members of the bridal party will have pose for pictures rather than mingle.

Some photographers ask that no one else take pictures during the formal photography. Is that reasonable?
Yes. If the photographer is trying to work quickly through a series of formal pictures, a snap-shooter might slow the process. A problem arises when there are several cameras aimed at a formal group - the subjects will be looking at different lenses. The diverted attention will ruin the professional's picture. There are many other reasons why a professional might ask others to refrain from picture taking during formals. On the other hand, many guests find snapping a few pictures a pleasant part of attending weddings, so it should not be a big deal for your professional to be relaxed and let people snap away when formals are over. Ideally, guests should show respect for the bridal party and photographer and put down their cameras during the formal photos.

I want to make copies of my photos. Does my photographer really own the copyright of his/her pictures?
Yes and yes. According to federal law, images produced by a professional photographer are copyrighted the moment they are created. Federal law prohibits copying or reproducing copyrighted material without permission from the owner of the copyright, i.e., the photographer. If you copy or scan your photos, the photographer should be paid just as if you were buying reprints. If you or your videographer transfer the proofs to videotape, the photographer should be paid just as if you were buying reprints. If you don't feel comfortable paying for these copies, find a photographer whose work is so good that you are glad to pay. When I really appreciate something I purchase, like a fabulous meal, an antique, a good pair of shoes, or even medical care, I do not mind paying a premium for getting the highest quality. Look for the photographer who will provide you the satisfaction of paying for job well done