It’s currently 2016 (almost 2017!) and you’re engaged!
Wedding planning websites and blogs are within arms reach of a Google search the second you get engaged, telling you all the things you need to be doing in order for your big day to be everything you ever imagined it. From handy DIYs on making your own centerpieces in 3 easy steps to the endless must-have photo lists, these sites act as your one-stop planning resource. Frequently they are littered with photography advice, some of which are fantastic resources, some of them not so much.
My favorite is the generic photography consultation checklist that lists out all the questions you should be asking prospective wedding photographers. All too frequently these lists are comprised solely of basic level 1 questions that can be easily sorted and compared on a spreadsheet. These are great for quick-glance or filtering, but often fail to really shed context to the things that matter most to you. The following 5 questions will provide more depth and understanding on the photographers you meet or talk with before finalizing your wedding photography decision!
How would you describe how you shoot a wedding day? What is your preferred workflow?
This varies greatly from asking a photographer to describe their work or style. Asking the latter will almost always result in a photographer coining their work as “photo journalistic.” The common oversight is that very, very, very (I can’t stress “very” enough) few photographers are truly photo journalistic wedding photographers. PJ photography involves little to no posing and a strictly documentary approach to the wedding day. While that sounds fantastic on paper to the couple who is looking for documentary-style coverage, you will likely want some guidance at times throughout the day (specifically with regards to portraits and posing) since A.) most likely you aren’t used to being professionally photographed, B.) you may not have gone through the wedding photography process before and C.) that’s what you’re paying a professional for!
As an alternative, ask them for their standard workflow on a wedding day. Some photographers require a rigidity to their workflow on a wedding day to achieve their finished product that may not gel with how you prefer to go about your day. You may find that a more flexible photographer is a more appropriate fit. A photographer that requires an hour of bride & groom portraits post-wedding may find themselves in for a bit of a shock when there’s only 10 minutes left before you need to head to your reception, and thus unable to provide what drew you to their portfolio in the first place. Have a prospective photographer answer that question, from getting ready through exit, and see if that falls in line with how you envision your wedding day coverage.
What is the most stressful component for you on a typical wedding day?
In over 300 in-person consultations I’ve had a handful of couples ask what they can do to make the day go as smooth as possible for me, which is incredibly considerate. One thing I haven’t had asked, however, is what the most stressful part of the day is for me, generally speaking. Assuming a photographer is being honest with you this should allow you and your photographer to put together a great plan for mitigating any situations that may hinder a seamless flow on the wedding day if they don’t already have processes in place to avoid the stress. Pro activity goes a long way in wedding planning.
For me the most stressful component of photographing a wedding day are the family portraits. Fortunately I noticed this years ago and became proactive in asking for family formal shot lists ahead of time. While Aunt Emma and Uncle Joe may be outside smoking when they are needed for family pictures, at least we have a list of must-haves from the bride and groom and there is an attempt to get these photos before the reception begins.
What is your philosophy on how you run your business?
Naturally my consultations tend to gravitate towards answering this question, but I’ve noticed that it’s something I generally bring up on my own rather than it coming as a question. You will be working with a dozen or so different vendors and likely will be narrowing down from a pool of many more dozen. We’re all small business owners in one form or another, so it’s important to find out what philosophy prospective vendors have built their businesses on.
My philosophy is and has been simple for a long time: Make things as easy as possible for my clients and in turn things will be easy for me. This is why you can find full pricing information and FAQ available on my main website, as well as a few other things here and there that make the photography aspect of the wedding planning process as easy as possible. Couples don’t have endless amounts of time to seek out answers to the questions they have, and far too many vendors make it an obstacle for couples to get the information they need.
Where do you feel it’s necessary to provide direction on a wedding day?
While this may get answered in the first question, you will definitely want to make sure that it gets answered at some point during the consultation. Each couple is different with regards to their direction requirements, so finding a photographer that is comfortable providing that is key! Certain photographers may feel more comfortable taking the reigns throughout the entire day and shuffle you from Point A to Point B while keeping you to your schedule, while on the other end of the spectrum some photographers may not provide any direction at all and prefer the be a fly on the wall and allow the day to unfold as it does naturally.
A photographer’s answer to this question is a function of how they document or photograph a wedding, so it’s important to make sure that you are comfortable both with how they photograph a wedding and how/when they generally provide direction. If you’re uncomfortable in front of a camera or don’t like having photos taken it may privy to find a photographer who is comfortable providing plenty of feedback throughout the day to make sure the parts that do require posing are as fluid as possible for you.
If you could describe your ideal customer, what would that look like to you?
This the most overlooked questions I could think of. In all honesty, if you only chose one question from the entire list here to ask, this would be the most important for a successful relationship with your photographer. Couples search high and low for their ideal photographer for their big day, and rightfully so! This is the person they are hiring to document one of the most memorable days of their lives, and arguably the most important one in their relationship up to that point. With that in mind, similarly to how not every photographer is a proper fit for a couple not every couple is a great fit for a photographer.
There are three possible outcomes here:
1.) You realize you’re NOT that client and that it may be in your best interest to find a photographer who may be more suitable.
2.) You realize YOLO and hope things work out for the sake of having the photographer you want.
3.) You realize you ARE that client and everyone lives happily ever after!
If you’re dead-set on having a specific photographer I would charge you to ask them this question. The worst thing that could happen is you realize that you may have to continue your search a bit longer, but in the long-run you will be much better off (trust me!). The last thing you will want is an unhappy photographer in charge of documenting your wedding day.
While these 5 questions certainly are not a definitive list, they should help make it easier to narrow down and simplify your photographer search. As a supplement to many of the other lists readily available online I am confident that you will find the photographer who is the perfect fit to document your wedding day. Who knows, you may even find one more suited to what you are looking for based off the answers to these questions :p