Questions to Ask Your Photographer
Ok, there is no shortage of articles out there on “15,001 questions you HAVE to ask your wedding photographer before booking”! Just do a quick search, and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Wait, actually, don’t. 😉 From Brides magazine to Shutterfly, everyone seems to have their own, arbitrary input on this topic. But really, who is coming up with these questions and are they what you actually need to be asking?
That’s not to say there aren’t some good suggestions on those lists – there are! But there are also a few nutty ones too. Why waste precious minutes going over details that ultimately won’t make a difference or benefit you in the end? Your time is valuable, especially when you’re in the middle of trying to find the perfect photographer while you’re juggling the rest of your wedding planning.
The following 15 questions are the ones I’ve found to be the most significant when speaking with a potential wedding photographer you’re considering. We’ll start with new variations of the *cough*pointless*cough* questions popular wedding blogs tell you to ask, followed by five questions you really do need to ask. Finally, the last section goes over fabulous REAL questions I’ve been asked by REAL couples! These aren’t necessary by any means, but if you want to really strike a chord with your photographer – try one or two of these babies out!
Ask This, Not That!
1. Instead of: Have you shot at my venue before?
Ask this! Are you experienced with working in a variety of settings and lighting conditions?
Y’all. We need to talk about this! What is far more important than whether or not your photographer has worked at your wedding venue before, is whether they are prepared to take on any type of situation your day throws at them. They need to be skilled with all types of lighting (both natural and artificial/flash) and know their equipment inside and out. A true professional photographer can walk into any situation and control the outcome.
Having photographed and assisted on over 150 weddings since 2009, I’ve worked at a wide variety of venues across Virginia, Washington D.C., Maryland, West Virginia, and North Carolina. Beaches, grand ballrooms, old barns, wineries, conservatories – I can’t claim to have seen it all, but I have definitely seen a lot! Photographers are (or should be) used to successfully working in new, unfamiliar locations and overcoming challenges on a regular basis. In fact, I actually enjoy going to new venues even more than returning to ones I’ve worked at before! New places help inspire creativity and fresh perspectives. The bottom line here is that you fully trust and are confident in your photographer’s skill and experience.
2. Instead of: What equipment do you use?
Ask this! What makes your style unique?
An important part of being a photographer is knowing which equipment suits us best and will allow us to not only work efficiently but also achieve the specific results and aesthetics we desire. I know photographers who use Canon, Nikon, Sony, all digital, mostly film, so on and so forth – there are a lot of options out there! In the end, Canon vs. Nikon truly does. not. matter. Both systems have their own pros and cons, and both deliver beautiful, professional results if used correctly.
If you’re a photography enthusiast, by all means feel free to talk shop with your photographer! Many photographers enjoy discussing and debating which equipment they love and why. However, if you’re unfamiliar with the technicalities of camera equipment, your time is better spent asking about your photographer’s style and approach. Are their pictures bright and lively or more on the dramatic side? Are they formally posed or free and candid? What makes them stand out from others in their field? You want to be sure you jive with the way your photographer works on the day of, as well as the style of the final gallery you’ll receive.
3. Instead of: Will I own the copyright to my photos?
Ask this! Will I be able to print and share my photos?
There’s a common misunderstanding about copyright vs. printing rights, but the explanation is (thankfully) pretty simple! Whereas copyright is the photographer’s legal ownership of the photographs, printing rights allow you, the client, freedom to make your own prints and share the pictures with your friends and family online! Think of it this way: Pixar created the movie Toy Story. If you buy a DVD of Toy Story, you can watch it as many times as you’d like and invite your friends over for a movie night together! If you have a digital version of the movie, you could even keep it on all your different devices. However, because you do not own the copyright of Toy Story, you cannot burn DVDs to sell online, or submit it to a movie contest as your own production.
Photographers rarely hand over the copyright of the images they produce, and if they do it’s for a premium price. However, many photographers do provide a “Print Release” for their clients, granting them the permission to print and/or share the photos from their session or wedding. Every photographer is different, so just make sure you’re clear on how exactly you will and will not be allowed to use the images!
4. Instead of: Do you have a list of references I can call?
Ask this! Do you have reviews or client testimonials I can read?
Some blogs will tell you that your photographer “should not hesitate” to let you contact past clients as references – I respectfully disagree. My clients’ privacy and comfort is so important to me, and this is exactly what my WeddingWire, The Knot, Google, and Facebook reviews are for! If past clients love (or are displeased) with their experience, their reviews will reflect this. If the photographer you’re considering doesn’t have any reviews, try asking if they have any testimonials their clients have personally emailed to them.
5. Instead of: Can we give you a shot list?
Ask this! How will we create our shot list together?
From personal experience, I can tell you most “shot lists” I have received from past clients were copied from Pinterest or Google searches for “wedding photography shot list”. These lists typically include everything from “groom with groomsmen” to “dad walking bride down the aisle”. Now, listen carefully, I have a secret for you: these are standard shots professionals get at every wedding!! 😉 Shocking, right?
So does this mean you can’t tell your photographer that you and your college friends have a specific pose you do every time you get together, and you’d like to get a special picture of that at your wedding? Of course not! I send out a detailed Pre-Wedding Questionnaire two months before each wedding that the couple fills out. It asks what meaningful details will be at your wedding, if there will be any special traditions or moments you’re especially excited for, if there are particular people you want to be sure to get a picture with, and more! Using this, we create a shot list that is unique to YOU and YOUR needs! Again, every photographer is different, so make sure you ask what their process is regarding this aspect of working together.
The Important Questions
1. How much experience do you have photographing weddings?
This just speaks for itself! Weddings are a complex, once-in-a-lifetime event. The more real wedding experience your vendors have, the better! Does your photographer know how to keep things on time throughout the day? Can they wrangle 20 individuals for a large, extended family group shot? Are they prepared to handle rain? Like I said up above, it is so important that you be able to fully trust that your photographer can handle whatever challenges the day throws at them. If you are considering using someone new to the industry, be aware that there are some risks involved and proceed carefully.
2. Do you have backup equipment?
While it’s not necessarily important what kind of professional equipment your photographer uses, it IS important that they have backups in case something fails unexpectedly. They’ll need more than one camera body, a few lenses, plenty of memory cards, and extra batteries. If they only have one camera body and the shutter breaks all of the sudden (it happens!), he or she wouldn’t be able to finish photographing the wedding without a backup camera body. Backups are a big deal, so be sure to ask about this.
3. Can I see a full gallery?
With respect to their clients’ privacy, experienced photographers should be able to provide a couple of full galleries without any reservation. These are important for you, as a potential client, to take a look at so you can see an example of what kind of final product you’d be receiving! Keep in mind that every wedding is SO different and no two galleries are the same, but this should still give you a good idea of what to expect.
4. What happens if you get sick or can’t make it to our wedding?
Wedding photographers are human beings, not robots. We have immune systems, and sometimes they fail! As Chris Traeger from Parks and Recreation would say, “The microchip has been compromised!” 🙂 Anybody? Anybody? Ok, moving on…
Fingers crossed this doesn’t happen, but if it does – your photographer should have an emergency plan in case something unavoidable comes up and they can no longer photograph your wedding. Personally, I only hire professional second shooters whom I trust to be able to take over as lead, AND I have access to multiple networks of other professional wedding photographers I can reach out to in case of emergency. Ask your photographer how they would handle this type of situation!
5. Do you have insurance?
Insurance is an important, behind-the-scenes detail that doesn’t get talked about very much. Some venues require vendors provide proof of insurance for their own purposes, but it’s important for reasons beyond just this. Professional photographers should be a state-registered business with equipment and liability insurance, for their protection as well as your own.
My Personal Favorites!
1. What do you like to photograph for fun? What fuels your creativity?
Obviously, every individual will have a different answer! I was honestly taken aback when one of my grooms asked this during our first meeting together, but it’s SUCH a fun question! Your photographer is more than a vending machine for wedding pictures, they are an artist. Ask them what they’re passionate about and get to know them a little better!
2. What do you love about photographing weddings?
This is another great question to get to know your photographer more personally! From styling the details at the beginning of the day to photographing Golden Hour portraits at sunset, there are so many unique moments throughout every wedding day. Hearing what your photographer’s favorite part is will give you a little window into their personality and priorities!
3. Can you help us with our timeline?
I LOVE this question because I LOVE helping with timelines! A well-crafted timeline is the foundation for any successful event. This is most likely the first wedding you’ve ever planned; there are a lot of details to consider and I know it can be overwhelming at times. What are the benefits of doing a First Look? When exactly should the toasts happen? I can answer these questions and more to help you create the perfect timeline for your day!
4. How can we make things go as smoothly as possible on our wedding day?
Related to the last question, there are always a few things that, if taken care of ahead of time, will help make things super easy on your wedding day. This is one of those things that every photographer will have a different answer for, but I guarantee you they’ll have suggestions!
5. Would you like chicken, beef, or fish for dinner? 😉
Ok, let’s be honest. I love food in general. But… do you know when I REALLY love food? When I get a chance to sit down and eat a hot meal after working on my feet for 6+ hours!! Seemingly simple yet so important, this is the perfect way to refuel my team’s energy for the rest of the night. And let me tell you, when couples are so thoughtful as to email me ahead of time to ask what our meal preferences are off their menu, I just about melt into a puddle of happiness. Bless you, you wonderful, amazing, exemplary examples of human beings!
— Your turn! —
Which is your favorite? Did I miss any? What questions do YOU think are most important to cover with a potential photographer during your first meeting? Comment below! I’d love to hear your thoughts!