This is part 4 of 5. If you haven’t seen it yet, start here at part 1.
Now for the good stuff! Assuming you’re not a photographer yourself you might not know what to ask. You might think you won’t understand the answers anyway and you don’t want to look stupid. Drop that thought right now! Doesn’t even matter if you don’t understand anything technical – you can still judge for yourself how confidently a photographer answers your questions.
Ask them about the kind of cameras they use. The main two options these days are digital SLRs, which are larger black cameras with more knobs and buttons, slightly superior image quality and faster. Then there are the smaller mirrorless or CSC cameras. These are quieter, more discrete and have an image quality comparable to digital SLRs except perhaps in the darkest conditions. They cost just as much as each other. It’s mostly a matter of preference for a photographer. Personally I don’t mind the extra weight of the DSLR, I find them faster to use and I appreciate the best image quality I can get.
Good lenses are just as important and can cost more than the camera itself. We’re looking for professional lenses with a fast maximum aperture like f2.8. That means it can gather more light in dark conditions, involves a lot more heavy glass and costs a fortune. Zoom lenses or primes (which are fixed and don’t zoom, so you need a few of them to swap between) is another personal preference. I have both and while I sometimes like to use prime lenses for light weight and creative reasons, whenever a wedding is fast paced or it’s raining (don’t want to change lenses often in the rain because they get wet) I go for the zooms. Catching the moment is more important than being arty.
Using flash well is an important skill. Sometimes there’s not enough light so you need to use flash but keep it natural. Sometimes the light is coming from the wrong place or is too strong so you need to balance it with something. And sometimes the light is just boring and you can make it more interesting by bringing some of your own. Sticking a flash gun on top of the camera is a quick way to solve a problem, but beware of the deer-in-the-headlights look with the flash pointed straight at someone and a tell-tale hard shadow to one side on the wall. Ask a photographer if they ever do any “off camera flash” and if they have some cool examples to show you. Don’t insist on it – give a good photographer creative freedom to take whatever gorgeous shots they can for you. But it’s great if you can see they have the ability when it’s needed to use flash to make creative night time shots, light up the dance floor naturally or take group photos indoors if it rains.
Backups are an absolute must for a professional. Ask a photographer how they keep the files safe. Most professional cameras now shoot to two memory cards at once so one can be kept separate as backup. Once the photos are back in the office you want rotating off-site backups so the original and backups are never again in the same place at once.
One decision photographers face is whether to shoot JPGs or RAW files. Here’s all you need to know. JPGs are finished images ready for you to print, put on Facebook or do anything else with. RAW files are like negatives. They’re not finished yet. A lot of software decisions about processing them have been left until the editing stage. This lets a photographer choose some settings more carefully without being under the time pressure of the wedding. But it’s an extra step that takes a lot of time and RAW files are so much bigger and slower to work with. Now there’s nothing wrong with JPGs if you get all your settings right as you shoot. And in some kinds of shoots like fashion you can do that more easily. Weddings however are fast paced and it can be very helpful to put the white balance on auto and choose it later.
I have a strong preference for RAW because you can still get your settings right as you shoot and leave yourself less work to do in editing, but you’ve got the option for safety if you need it. The files are bulkier, but I can handle that with more hard drives and a decent mac.
Whilst looking at the portfolio (particularly in print not on screen) look for sharp photos. Occasionally we’ll get a stunning candid moment that’s only 90% sharp but is so beautiful we’ll include it anyway. But in the portfolio everything you see ought to be nice and sharp. Look for straight horizons, accurate colours and not too much grainy noise (blotchy looking stuff in the shadowy parts of images taken in the dark). Image quality is a chain that’s only as strong as the weakest link. Shooting, editing and printing. I don’t want to choose between artistry and technical quality. I want both!
The final part of this series will be about personality.