How To Choose A Wedding Photographer

How To Choose A Wedding Photographer  
It doesn’t matter if you’re in Florida or California – no matter where you go there are good photographers available for your wedding day!  Ultimately, choosing one is all a matter of personal taste and your budget, though this guide is intended to help you find the best qualified match for someone who can shoot your event and create high quality pictures that will stand the test of time.  

Anyone can take photos in this day of cheap automatic digital cameras, but it takes a true artist to create timeless classic images that are enduring and captivating.  Producing these kinds of images isn’t just pressing a button – it is a craft that requires not only technical skills, but is as intricate as any other art form.  The photographic artist puts concepts, materials and development together to create something unique and expressive.  This is the difference between a professional photographer and the inexperienced.

Things to look for
When viewing the photographer’s portfolio in person or online, there are some basic fundamentals to look for in their photography.  So you can be familiar with what to look for, the following are some of the general points to consider.
Composition –  
One of the considerable things that makes the difference in quality is the “photographer’s eye”.  Professionals can see a vision of what to capture, and are able to create what they see – and fit it perfectly within the frame.   The inexperienced will just try to fit everything/everyone all in one shot or do all kinds of random stuff in hope that quantity overshadows quality.  Beware someone who claims they only shoot “photojournalist” style – what it may actually mean is that they don’t know how to compose images and may likely shoot like a machine gun and have all kinds of different odd angles and zoom because they can’t envision how to compose an actual cohesive image!  The photojournalist style is OK in limited quantities – but doesn’t take a lot of talent or creativity.  Also keep in mind this “style” is a passing trend so it will be very dated in just a few years.  A pro photographer can compose an image and frame it perfectly to tell a story.  
Example 1a
A “photojournalist” style at that identical moment in time would not see or capture it the same way at all and might look quite awkward.
Example 1b

Exposure –  
There’s a fine line between getting a good amount of light onto a subject and overexposing or underexposing them.  A white wedding dress that is so overexposed it looks like a blank sheet of white paper (example 1b) is poorly done – this image also fails by underexposing dark areas at the same time where detail is completely lost.  The professionals know how to balance the exposures for both the light and the dark to make them work together harmoniously (example 1a) showing both fine details and subtle undertones.
Color –  
There are many technical tools available to serious professionals to ensure color accuracy for their images both in print and digital form.  I always use a fair amount of resources to keep things “tuned up”, however there are a large number of people who do not even know about it, care, or bother.  Typically online especially, you’ll see pics that are unnatural looking – way over saturated, too red, yellow or other kinds of variations far beyond the human skin tone.  Ultimately, images of people should look natural unless the goal is a special effect (to be used very sparingly).  Hold your hand up next to that over saturated skin tone you’ve spotted online.  Imagine what it would be like if your skin really WAS that color!  Now ask yourself – Is that how I want to look in my wedding album?  Of course the easy fix for bad color by novices, is to make it sepia tone, or black and white – like (example 1b)!  (The average computer at home may not be set up for color accuracy when surfing websites, so keep this in mind as well.)
Focus –  
There are techniques and tools that pros know and use to ensure crisp and clean images for their clients every time, so it won’t be very often that they miss a shot.  The inexperienced aren’t so skilled and can often be the inverse of this – only catching a few shots that are actually in focus.  
Despite the technology of “auto-focus”, it also requires a great amount of skill to be able to frame, focus, and steady a shot, not move, and keep on going quickly to the next.  At weddings the pros will be moving REALLY fast!  To check for focus and clarity online, try to zoom into the faces of people and see if they hold up upon closer examination.  In person, looking at prints, it’s handy to have a “Loupe” so you can see if the details are sharp.

A Loupe

Cheap photo labs can also diminish the clearness of photographs with inferior materials, sloppy work and “mass produced” handling.  

Prints –
One thing inexperienced people do is send prints out to get done by discount merchants or warehouse stores to save time and/or money.  A professional will always be very picky about using a high grade professional lab, as the end result is a reflection on their competency and their business.  The disparity in quality between the two is absolutely astounding.  I like to show my clients one printed image from my preferred lab, and one from Sam’s Club – just to tell the story for itself.  It makes a difference!  Since I live and shoot in West Virginia and the Ohio Valley area, I choose to use an out of state lab to do all my client’s prints – it delivers the quality I expect and ensures they are getting something that’s going to hold up over time.  Make sure you plan your wedding album images with someone who really knows about this stuff.  Getting cheap on the bride and groom’s prints is kind of like putting $49 tires on a Lamborghini.  

Pro Gear –
You may hear in some places that a “good” photographer can create a fantastic image with even just a disposable camera.  While that may be true to a limited extent, pros don’t carry big heavy expensive cameras and lenses for the extra calisthenics – good gear makes all the difference in the world!  Watch out for “wannabe” photographers that typically have a cheap DSLR from the BigBox store and use the “kit” lens that came with it.  This type of equipment is marginal at best and only exacerbates their lack of skills.  Granted, all the expensive camera equipment in the world can’t make a bad photographer a good one – but in the hands of someone who knows what they are doing, high end lenses can skyrocket the quality level from acceptable, to stunning!  Camera resolution matters too – especially if the couple or parents want an oversized enlargement.  

Post Processing –  
In high end digital photography, an expert skill level in the digital darkroom is mandatory to put out a full wedding’s worth of images.  The images from a pro are probably pretty nice to begin with, but the difference between nice and WOW is all done in Post Production.  Here, the artist treats each image by hand individually to bring it the “magic” and add their own style and creativity.  Having done high end beauty retouching, fashion and commercial work I can personally testify that sometimes even just a single image can take days to finish!  Of course if you have a wedding shoot of 1000 or more images to go through, the photographer won’t spend that kind of time – but if they know their stuff they can do brilliant finish work – be patient though – it does take time for greatness!  The other side of the coin on post processing that isn’t so good is – everybody is doing it!  Your Aunt Mildred can do something very fancy to her cell phone pics with any one of 1000 different photo special effects apps too – so why not hire her to shoot your wedding?   Canned effects like the fake sun in (example 1b) or other things to look new, fun, crazy, different, unique etc. – this is what a lot of the “photojournalistic” wedding photographers do – the only thing is – they forgot the photography in there somewhere.   Watch out for it.  If all they can show you are shots with goofy angles and effects – don’t walk – RUN away.

Selling “All Sizzle And No Steak” –  
So – A great image doesn’t need special effects.  But if you are shopping online for a wedding photographer, sometimes you will find you’re not just being sold on heavy handed/tasteless post processing, but also poor composition, bad exposures, unnatural color and marginal focus, cheap prints all put together in some grunge filled, over saturated “eye candy” gallery probably on a website you ran across searching for the perfect photographer for your special day.  A lot of them use cheap “flashy” website templates that are slow and clunky and sometimes even pop up/out to hog your entire screen using “Adobe Flash”, (which can bring your computer to a grinding halt).  Not to say that they are automatically bad photographers, but it’s poor manners and bad business to put your clients through an experience like that.  Its also tasteless and makes one wonder if that’s the kind of photos they would do for the bride and groom too?  If they were considerate, they would value the viewer’s experience more.  It’s just not professional, in this professional’s opinion.  Rather than going all out for every bell and whistle one can dump onto a website, why not present something clean, clear and easily viewed?  

Price Structures – 
There is a real wedding photography school out there, actually being TAUGHT in seminars across the country, that tells photographers to charge MORE and compete LESS.  True!   I just shook my head when I heard about that.  What nonsense.  In my local business around the Kanawha Valley in WV,  I feel like I can provide photography services to just about anyone, and can work within just about any budget if it’s reasonable.  Yes, I can do a full tilt wedding engagement family extravaganza with full bound leather albums for each family ranging from $4000 and up – but we can also work with someone who might only have $500.  They won’t get the same level of time, products and services that the “royal wedding” gets, but they will get the same quality images (in digital with limited prints).  What to be very careful of are the “A La Carte” photographers who have itemized prices for everything under the sun – so you end up paying much more than you were expecting for the so-called “extras”.  What to look for –  a set package of things to be delivered from your wedding photographer.  Prints, albums, and beyond.  Just make sure you can get it clearly in writing before signing any kind of contract.  Final word on prices – just because they charge 3x as much as someone else doesn’t always mean they are 3x better.  Sometimes it’s just smoke and mirrors.  

The one line advice from this all?  Go with someone who can get clean natural looking images and is sincere about doing exceptional work and not just “selling” you something.  You will thank yourself with each and every anniversary you have, while turning the pages of your exquisite, timeless wedding album!

Karen Engel
Owner, Karen Engel Photography

Karen Engel is a professional family and wedding photographer in the Charleston – Huntington WV area, with additional expertise in commercial, fashion and modeling.  


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