Selecting the Right Wedding Photographer for Your Big Day

Michigan Wedding Photographer Kellie Saunders gives her advice
Sep 30, 2014

Tips for finding the right wedding photographer written by Kellie Saunders, one of Metro-Detroit Michigan's top professional wedding photographers. May be reprinted with permission.

Getting married is a big deal and finding the right wedding photographer is just as big of a deal. You will never regret hiring the right person to photograph your wedding, even if you have to spend a little more than you planned. Here’s my advice on how to pick a wedding photographer.

These days anyone can walk into their local warehouse shopping club, buy what they “think” is a professional camera and call themselves a wedding photographer. In my area alone there are well over a five hundred wedding photographers in Detroit that I know of personally. Wow - that's a lot of people to pick from. It is very confusing! Picking a professional wedding photographer in Michigan is not easy and selecting a professional wedding photographer in Detroit that stands out is even harder. It doesn’t matter if you are looking for a wedding photographer in Michigan or somewhere else – these tips are useful for brides everywhere.

So – do you want some insider tips? Grab a cup of coffee, glass of wine, bag of popcorn or whatever you need and read on.

The first step is to narrow down your selections. You've probably googled, asked friends, searched the Knot and Wedding Wire, maybe even Junebug or Style Me Pretty. Hopefully you checked websites, blogs, reviews and facebook pages. Who stands out to you? Write them down - narrow that broad list down to just a few. Once you think you’ve narrowed your search down to a few lucky candidates -here’s my advice.

Portfolio, portfolio, portfolio

First, you have to like the images they produce. When you look at their website are there a variety of weddings shot over many years to show that they have been in business for awhile? If so – this is a good sign. When you look at their photos can you imagine your own wedding being captured photographically in the same style? If so – this is another good sign. What you want to watch out for – in my opinion is an amateur trying to pass themselves off as a professional. How can you tell? Well – it can be very difficult to the untrained eye, especially if you don't know much about photography. You should look for images that are clean, crisp, timeless and consistent. If there are images that greatly differ stylistically from one to the other this may be a red flag that this photographer’s portfolio isn’t legit – meaning they could have copied images from another photographers website and be passing off someone else’s work as their own. It happens A LOT – and while I'm not trying to scare you here - I do want you to look out for it. A seasoned educated professional will have consistent, clean, crisp images they can showcase. When you go from one wedding to another, you can tell that the same photographer captured all of the images.

Let’s talk price – shall we?

It’s important to set a reasonable photography budget before you start shopping. A budget of $1,500 is not reasonable if you expect to receive an engagement session, an album, 10 hours of coverage and digital files. If you find someone offering all of that for such a small rate, I suggest they may be out of business before your wedding. I would be very careful before booking and make sure they are a legitimate business and are insured. I would hate to see you place a deposit down on someone who will not be there on your wedding day. I would lose money and go out of business very, very fast if I sold collections like that. With that said – you can still find a photographer in your budget – but be reasonable about the level of service and products you expect for your specific budget.

How to set a reasonable budget

First is market. Where do you live? A wedding photographer in New York will probably cost much more than a wedding photographer in Ohio. My area is Detroit and on average an educated, seasoned and respected professional wedding photographer in the Detroit area will start around around $3,000. Some a tad lower, some a tad higher – but you get my drift. If you are in New York it’s safe to say your starting rate will be higher.

Why does it cost so much? Well, let me give you the simple short answer - because you are hiring a professional. The cost of professional grade equipment, lenses, business insurance and such - well - it means our pricing must support those things in order to sustain our business. Professional grade lenses allow us to make pictures that are creative, artistic and beautiful. Professional cameras mean that we can shoot on two cards at the same time protecting our clients against data damage. Insurance protects both our clients and ourselves. Education means that our style is constantly evolving and we are keeping up with trends and current techniques. You do get what you pay for - this is very true. You don't have to spend tens of thousands of dollars - no, but you should expect to pay for a true professional to help you keep safe the memories from your wedding day. This will be all you have left after everything is said and done. So - make sure you hire the right person.

Inspector Gadget…Investigate them!

So you’ve narrowed it down to your favorite three photographers. Now it’s time to do a little investigating. I know it sounds scary, but I don’t ever want to see a bride taken advantage of by anyone sly or sleazy. Say what??

Now, running a business is a big deal and I’m sorry – but there are too many amateurs pretending to be professionals and ruining wedding photos. I want you to investigate your potential photographer. I want you to feel good about who you hire and have no remorse. I’ve had in the past two years four brides hire me because their original photographer either went out of business before their wedding, gave them horrible customer service or produced really bad engagement photos that did not look like the photos on the photographers website. I’m telling you the absolute truth. One client recently hired me after finding out her original photographer had renamed his business a few times to try to stay in business because of the bad reviews he received under his “old names”.

The Internet is your best friend. Google your candidates, check them out for complaints with the BBB, make sure they are running a legal business by checking with the state or county they operate in. Ask your other vendors if they know the photographer you are considering. A professional who cares about their reputation and respects their industry will be respected in the community they live and work in.

*** A word of warning here about reviews. If you find negative reviews on a photographer you are considering I want you to read it thoroughly. Does it sound legit? Did the photographer respond to the complaint in a professional way? What type of complaint is it? If the complaint is because the photographer didn’t get enough photos in the rain – well that might not be a legitimate complaint. If you see multiple complaints about the same thing – then you need to ask the photographer about it. They should have a solid answer that doesn’t sound like a bunch of fluff. How someone handles complaints is almost more important than someone who claims to have never received one. If you have a complaint you want to know that it will be responded to in a timely and professional manner.***

Interview them on the phone

Pick up the phone and call them up. I know it’s old fashioned these days with email and texting, but your time is valuable. There’s no need to waste time with an hour long in person visit before having a quick ten minute phone conversation. You can learn a lot about a person and their business in ten minutes. Ask them about their style, how long they’ve been in business, what is their ideal client. Ask them what they love about photographing weddings. You will be surprised at what you hear.

Meet them in person

After you’ve had your phone conversation make an appointment and meet them in person. Be prepared to spend about 40 minutes with them and think of questions to ask in advance. There are tons of questions on the internet (most of which are silly) that you can take to ask your potential photographer – but if you’ve done your research, investigated them and have a reasonable budget in mind – the meeting is the easy part. How do you feel with them? Sometimes people click and sometimes it’s just a dud. If you feel a connection, tell them. If you want to book, then do it.

 Want to Know the Top Eleven Questions to Ask when Meeting a Wedding Photographer? Read my article HERE.