Oh, yes. We are going to talk about the dreaded M word. There's no turning back and I promise that although this will be lengthy, it will have a lot of information you need to know.
There. I said it. It's out there. Breathe. Money is a really stressful part of planning a wedding. How do I know? Because my husband and I paid for the majority of our wedding ourselves. And I totally understand why brides freak when they hear the price of wedding photography. Some photographers pull a random number out of thin air, slap it on a website, and expect you to write the check. Honestly, that's even what I used to do when I first started. Now I use a formula that includes the amount I pay into my business, taxes, advertising, and post production. I then recalculate using the formula once per year and adjust my prices accordingly.
Now, photography is important to most brides. Not all, but most. It is the only service that you get to enjoy after the wedding day. It is the only representation of all the rest of the money that was spent. It is also the only service that increases in value as time goes on. Yes, that is a true statement. Why? Well, for example, Matt and I were married on September 18, 2010. Unfortunately, the following year my aunt was diagnosed with terminal cancer and passed away last December. I can honestly say that I would pay more today than I did two years ago for those "silly shots" I have of her on the dance floor. They are that special to me.
That all being said, there are some brides who flat out just don't have the money. They've hunted through the couch cushions, broken their childhood piggy bank, and they just don't have the money to hire me. For brides in this situation, I really do understand and I really do want you to have the absolute best photography you can afford. I don't want you going into debt or having long, drawn-out fights with that wonderful man you're marrying because you wrote me a check. Here's what I suggest:
1.) Don't totally rule out hiring an awesome professional photographer. There are a ton of them out there and there are a lot who are willing to give you a discount or let you have a payment plan. Do you have a really cool theme that would make your wedding a great addition to their portfolio? Is your fiance in the military? Are you getting married on an off month (Jan-Feb) or on a day that isn't a Saturday? Do you want 4 hours or less of coverage so that a professional photographer is covering the important portion of the day? If so, ASK. Find out if they are willing to be a little more flexible with their pricing. Now. Important side note: be honest about what you can afford. It isn't really fair if you drive a desperate photographer down to $1,000 only for them to show up to your lavish $50,000 wedding. Give them your bottom line and see what they say.
2.) Look for a photographer who is newer at wedding photography. You do get what you pay for in photography, but that doesn't have to mean that you don't get beautiful images. It just means you won't have the same assurance that you will get beautiful images that you would if you were working with a professional photographer who has a track record in the industry. Reach out to local arts schools like the Creative Circus or SCAD. Contact a professional portrait photographer whose work you love and see if they are trying to break into the wedding industry, and if they'd shoot your wedding at a discount. Talk to your friends and find out if they know of an up-and-coming photographer who hasn't quite filled up their calendar. The only thing I would caution you about is this: Be SUPER careful about hiring someone who has never shot a wedding before. Weddings are incredibly fast paced even for professional photographers. You have little to no time to get in position, frame your shot, check your exposure, focus, etc. and take the picture before that moment is gone. Not to mention, you as the consumer really need to see exactly what level of product you're going to end up with. If you are considering someone who hasn't shot their first wedding yet (which-again-I do NOT recommend) see if they'd be willing to come out and shoot an event you're having (engagement party, shower, etc.) It won't be the same thing, but it will at least give you a better understanding about what their candid photography looks like.
3.) SIGN A CONTRACT!!!!!! Brace yourselves. I am stepping up on my soapbox with my megaphone for this one. I do not care what your reasoning is, there is absolutely NO REASON not to have a contract. Seriously. None. Zilch. "He's my uncle." Sign a contract. "She's my best friend." Sign a contract. "They are doing it for free." Sign a contract. "She didn't give me one." Then grab that McDonald's napkin in your car, write down what is being exchanged and SIGN A CONTRACT. Ok. I'm done yelling. But seriously, this is how serious this step is. One of my best friends (whose wedding I was in, and therefore couldn't shoot) didn't sign a contract. *Insert facepalm here.* She won a photography "competition" this particular photographer was running and was getting her wedding shot for free. Well, the photographer showed up with a terrible attitude, half-heartedly shot the wedding, put up 12 beautiful photos on Facebook for all of her followers to see and then handed the my friend a CD of 400 non-edited, horrible photos that took three months longer than she originally verbally stated to get. Yeah. Shots of the back of people's heads. Shots of the floor. Now I realize when you hire someone to document one of the most special days of your life, you'd think they'd have more integrity than to screw you over. On your wedding day. Unfortunately, there are many photographers who see brides as a walking paycheck and they really don't care if you don't have the pictures you wanted.
Here's what needs to be detailed in the contract: the location of the event, the specific hours the photographer will be shooting, whether or not they will be editing the pictures, who owns the rights and where you can have the images posted/printed, WHEN you will get your images, if there is a penalty if the images are late, what happens if the photographer has an emergency and can't come, and any additional services the photographer will be providing (engagement session, second shooter, etc.) This protects you and it will go a long way to ensure you receive your final images in a timely manner. And feel free to write in, or scratch out anything you don't feel comfortable with and have the photographer initial the change.
4.) Choose a photographer you enjoy being around. One of the things I find I have to educate my brides on is the fact that your photographer will be with you your entire wedding day. Until the reception, you will be with us more than you'll be with anyone else including your fiance. Make sure you sit down and have a real conversation with whomever you're considering. Weddings are amazing, but the emotions and tensions are high and you need a photographer who will help enhance the experience you have, not detract from it. I have been at a wedding where the father of the bride called the morning of to say he wasn't coming because he didn't realize the step-father was the one walking his daughter down the aisle. I have been at a wedding where the groom didn't show up until 30 minutes after the ceremony started and no one knew where he was. I have been at a wedding where the mother of the bride and the bride got into a shouting match in the hotel hallway. No matter what drama the wedding day brings, I'm still there to do my job, which involves witnessing all of that. I will give a hug when needed, make a joke to laugh something small off, or give the bride space-just like a friend would. Conclusion: free photography from your foul-mouthed, beyond-annoying, inappropriate-comment-making Uncle Bobby will have a negative impact on your wedding day and it won't be worth the free photography. Truth.
5.) Educate yourself. If you are considering what we in the industry call a "budget photographer", make sure you do your homework. It's amazing to me how many brides don't look up reviews. This is definitely a step I wouldn't skip. Oh, and "reviews" or "sweet things'' people have said about them they have posted on their own website don't count (not saying they aren't true, just saying you should do a little more digging than that.) I once worked with a photographer (who works a LOT and is still actively shooting today) who was terrible. He left weddings early, booked the bride by throwing something in (unlimited coverage, Blue-Ray DVD, etc.) then would up-sell her on that same service down the road and charge her for it, called a bride fat on her wedding day, you name it. Well, as you can imagine, he got some really AWFUL reviews. However, once one popped up, he simply made 10 new accounts that were rave reviews so that that really bad one would bump to the next page. If you paid attention, you could see that they were all written on the same day and had the same style of writing and emoticons, but most brides didn't notice that. He did this on the knot, wedding wire, google, etc. Actually read the reviews. And if there is ever a photographer that has really high scores across the board except for a handful who have given incredibly low scores, I would avoid them like the plague. There shouldn't be that big a discrepancy between what the brides experience. I also highly recommend asking your photographer to put you in contact with a few of their clients so that you can actually talk to someone about their experience. Any photographer who has shot even one wedding should have the ability to pass along their contact info.
6.) Ask questions. You know what they say about when you assume something...if you don't understand something, ask. There really is no question that is too stupid. You need to feel comfortable with the decision you're making and the only thing that will bring you that comfort is information. What happens if there's an equipment failure? Do they own back-up equipment or would they be willing to rent it? What if you don't like the pictures? Are they willing to do re-edits? Is there a limit to the amount of re-edits they'll do? Why is Justin Beiber a world-famous icon? Hey. I didn't say they could answer all of them. Whatever you don't understand, just make sure that it's clarified before you finalize any decisions.
Whew. If you're still here, HIGH FIVE! You made it!
Also, if you have any additional questions, please feel free to message/email me (firstname.lastname@example.org). I promise not to give you a hard time about the fact that you didn't just get a second mortgage on your house to hire me. No. Joking aside, I really would be happy to help answer any questions you have.