Sunday, June 8, 2008

Selecting Your Destination Wedding Photographer

Selecting your destination wedding photographer is one of the most important decisions you can make. There’s no “do overs” on your wedding photos. And, unlike catering, there’s less margin for error. So, you really only have one shot of getting it right.

Adding to the complexity, chances are very good that you won’t find the resident talent that you are looking for in the wedding destination of your choice. We’ve blogged on this before in Covering The Basics – Photographer, but you should count on hiring and bringing your own photographer with you.

Today on WeddingBee, Joe Milton of the International Society of Professional Wedding Photographers has an interesting posting on Top Five Questions to Ask Your Photographer. Now, one thing we’ve learned is that there are more “wedding photography associations” than you can shake a stick at. Some reputable, some not – so do your homework.

But Joe Milton poses some very good questions (these are his questions, but our commentary):
  1. Can I read through the contract? – If not, run far and fast. The contract should be clear and articulate what is expected of both parties…including deadlines! Photographers are notorious for getting you to sign the contract and then take FOREVER to deliver the goods.

  2. Can I see some sample albums of complete weddings? If not, run far and fast. Every photographer can get a good picture or two, but you want to see the whole process. Any good photographer should be able to show you lots of quality work.

  3. How much experience do you have? The more weddings they’ve done, but the better they will probably be. This is crucial in destination weddings as many “native” photographers are just Sunday afternoon amateurs. You want a pro.

  4. How much direction or posing do you do during the day? Some photographers are photojournalist only. Some only do posed shots. For us, we liked the mix. Of our favorites, they were “posed.” Or rather, our photographer gave direction (walk up this staircase, walk down the beach this way) and then she captured the moment. Those were our favorites. But some of the most meaningful “moments” were the candids (the bride’s grandmother walking her down the aisle because she is now paralyzed).

  5. Do you have insurance? Any decent photographer will, so this is not the definitive question that many might think.

This is a good list. But after reading it, the questions seem very elementary. They will only help you rule “bad apples” and will do nothing to help you select from a small pool of 3-5 truly professional photographers. To this rather basic list, we have added our own list of “must ask” questions:

  • Can I speak with a couple who’s wedding you have shot in the last six months? – If a photographer is unable or unwilling to provide a list of references for you to check out, this is a problem. It also surprised us that this should be “in the bag” for the photographer. Yet, we had photographers provide us with references that were negative, so it’s worth going through the process.

  • How much experience do you have with the location/venue/type that I having? - No wedding photographer will have done exactly what you are doing, but have they done something similar? If they haven’t done a Jewish ceremony or a beach wedding, it might be a problem for you.

  • What is your typical method? – In our professional capacity, we both hire a lot of vendors. We are a big fan of asking very broad, open-ended questions like this. It gets the photographer talking about his/her work broadly. The good ones should be able to string together a story that makes sense. Those new to the business or who are “weekend warriors” will stumble on this kind of broad, open-ended question.

  • Do you bring an assistant? – This is useful to know. Will they be doing all the work themselves, or farming it out? If bringing an assistant, try to get a clear picture on what that person’s role may be. And remember, this will also increase your cost factors.

  • How many different cameras do you bring? – In other words, will they be switching back and forth and might miss the moment. Or, will they have back-up with them in case something goes wrong? It’s important.

  • Film vs digital? – In this age of digital everything, there are some photographers that sill do film (believe it or not). So ask.

  • How long before we see proofs? – This is self explanatory.

  • How long before we get our actual album? – Also self explanatory.

  • Who covers your expenses? – This is a point of negotiation. Ideally, it’s better for both you and photographer if you cover the expenses. It’s better for the photographer because they are not out of pocket on anything. It’s better for you because the photographer will probably charge a mark-up fee (some percentage of the actual cost; so a $700 airline ticket to the Bahamas marked up 15% will actually cost you $805).

  • What is your mark-up fee (both for out of pocket travel and also for stock/equipment)? – The photographer should be absolutely honest about this up front. In our experience, too many photographers use this as a “back end” profit center and you have no idea how bad you will get hit until the final bill arrives.

Finally, it’s not a question, but it’s worth stating: actually meet with your photographer once or twice before the wedding. It sounds obvious, but many couples have been known to hire a photographer sight unseen because they found them on some website and their work looked good. This is especially common where destination wedding photographers can live all over the country and fly into the wedding. Try to find a way to meet first and take a temperature check.
Photo credit: Julia Newman


Eric Hegwer said...

These are some great questions. As a traveling wedding photographer, I'd like to add one more: Will the photographer be taking a vacation on your dime? Often times destination wedding photographers pad the time around your wedding a few extra extra days and take a little vacation - with you paying for their airfare.
I personally think this is not cool.

If you want great wedding photos, just talk with your photographer - after a few interviews, I'm sure you will find someone with the style and personality you love.

Ultimate Destination Weddings said...

Eric, Thanks for the comment. This is a good and worthwhile question.

Although, I have to be honest, I don't have a problem with that. I travel to Europe frequently for work and typically pad my time before or after to see some sights. It's on my nickle and on my own time. If the photographer I'm hiring for my wedding does the same thing, no problem from me (as long as he/she are not taking advantage of it).

When we hired our destination wedding photographer, we discussed this. She asked us if we were agreeable to it and we were. She arrived 2 or 3 days before the our wedding for a little vacation. Because she flew on a Tuesday (instead of Friday), it actually saved us a little money on the flight (which we paid for and it was a cost we would have had to pay whether she vacationed or not). We only paid her expenses during the time she was actually working for us. The rest of the time was on her own money. I think it worked out fantastically well for both of us.

To be fair, I think we actually got the better deal. Because while she was "vacationing," she was mentally scouting locations to shoot. So when we actually met with her, she had it all lined up. It made our time all the more productive and worthwhile. Plus, we were on property early too, if she happened to see us out and about, she'd snap off a picture or two.

However, I can see your point. Another photographer may have been different and taken advantage of the situation. As you suggest, best to ask the questions and then meet with them to determine it is the right fit.

Jo said...

I actually think it is important for the photographer to be there a few days earlier- whether to relax or not. In some cases, they need to get adjusted to the time difference. In some cases, just recover from a long days' travel. But most importantly, there is a buffer in case a flight is canceled.

We also travel a lot for weddings. And we often work with brides we have not met in person. The key is long phone conversations and lots of emails. This helps us get to know each other. We feel this is priceless for our work and it puts our brides at ease. We much prefer to meet our couples in person, but when it isn't possible, the modern world fortunately provides many opportunities to communicate. :)

Which brings me to my final point, your questions are great. And most any decent photographer wouldn't have a problem answering them. So after you have figured all that out, the most important thing is intangible. Do you click with your photographers? Do you like being around them? Would you want them at your wedding?

I hope this helps a bit.