This is part three of my series on how to choose your wedding photographer. Here’s part one.
In so many jobs nothing beats experience for knowing that someone can do what you need them to. I don’t employ anyone but I still get CVs sent in and it’s interesting to read them. You’ve got a degree in photography? Neat – I haven’t. But why haven’t you sent a link to any photos? Maybe you haven’t shot any weddings yet, but you can still take two of your mates to the park for a portrait session for nothing. Having some good previous work to show plus being a decent person gets you most of the way there.
Experience is valuable because wedding photography is a very varied job. All kinds of unexpected things can happen while you’re trying to get the shots and still be creative. Having been there, seen it and done it proves you can handle the work and produce wonderful photographs day in, day out.
Experience gives a photographer confidence, which is really important. Photographing a wedding is a big responsibility and the first few times I was understandably nervous. But with each wedding and each year that passed I soon realised I was completely capable of doing this and was able to relax much more. This allows me to capture weddings in a very natural way without having to boss people about too much. I can let things unfold, knowing we’re getting beautiful photographs along the way.
So go ahead and ask how long a photographer’s been doing this and how many weddings they’ve photographed. It’s a diminishing returns thing – five weddings is hugely more beneficial than one, but three hundred and fifty is not all that much more than three hundred.
A photographer’s portfolio is great for getting a quick idea of their style and the best shots they can achieve. But if you’re serious about booking them you need to see real weddings from start to finish, and plenty of them. Not just lovely weather in a gorgeous venue, but also weddings where it rained, weddings in winter when it gets dark at 3pm, churches, barns, castles. As much experience as you can see. And again – whole weddings, not greatest hits. Are they good from the bridal preparations right through to the first dance?
If they have work to show from your choice of venue of course that’s nice to see. But don’t require it. Venues come and go over the years and no one’s worked at all of them. Many have a similar flavour, and it’s definitely not essential to have worked there before. If I haven’t been before I’ll always go for a recce with the couple while we talk details. But if you ask, I can certainly show you a wedding from a barn, a beach, a city centre hotel, etc.
One thing I’d warn you to look out for is portfolios that contain models, staged shoots, or photographs taken on a workshop/course under the direction of a tutor (who obviously won’t be there to help at your wedding). These are easy to spot if you know what to look for: Brides and grooms together not wearing wedding rings. Grooms who appear to have married several different brides (male models harder to come by than female), weddings that have no guests, very strong makeup (most brides want to look natural), very avante garde wedding dresses, brides who are very good at posing, and people doing really cool things that don’t normally happen at a real wedding. Like standing on an old train platform with a leather suitcase in the cloud of a steam train.
Now look, I’m not being a snob. Everyone has to start somewhere and it’s totally, totally ok to choose someone with less experience if you feel for all the other reasons that you can trust them. But you should know what you’re getting, and it will play a role in what you think of the price they are asking.
A little experience is not hard for a new photographer to get – just find some friends to pose in their own wedding clothes, or buy a dress on ebay and borrow a nice location. If you were looking to build a career but hadn’t even done that much I’d be concerned.
This was part three of five on how to choose your wedding photographer. Next up is the good stuff – technical.