The key to finding the best wedding photographer is to form a sort of funnel in your search process: you start with a large number of candidates, and through several steps you eliminate most of them, eventually finding the best wedding photographer for you.
Before you do too much research, set your wedding date! Photographers are either available or not available, so there’s no point in doing too much research if you don’t have your wedding date booked yet. You wouldn’t want to fall in love with a particular wedding photographer’s style, only to find he or she is booked when you finally set your date.
First make a list of as many wedding photographers as you can in your particular area. Make a list of fifty, one hundred, however many you can stand! Visit each wedding photographer’s website. The first step is to eliminate anyone whose first few images aren’t spectacular. Let’s face it, if the first images aren’t good, then the photographer probably isn’t very good (or doesn’t know a good image from a bad one). You want a good photographer who knows how to edit his or her own work. Don’t spend a lot of time looking at galleries, just go with the first impressions for now.
Next comes pricing. Some wedding photographers display their pricing online, some don’t, and some say “starting at” some base price. Keep or remove from your list the ones with pricing online, depending on whether you can afford them or not. Then go back through the list of the ones you can afford, and look further at their galleries. Is their work consistent? Are there more than a few ‘clunkers’ in their images? If so, you probably want to eliminate that photographer and move on. Any photographer can get a few lucky images, but you don’t want to rely on luck for your wedding. Make sure your photographer is consistently good enough that the galleries all contain high quality images.
At this point you can also eliminate any photographer’s style that doesn’t speak to you. Perhaps a particular photographer likes a lot of special effects and Photoshop, while you prefer a more organic, natural style (or vice versa). It’s ok to dump someone who doesn’t see the world like you do.
Now go back through the photographers who either don’t list prices online, or have a “starting at” that isn’t completely out of your range. You’re going to have to contact each one of them, so you might as well do some elimination first. Do the same process as above: look at their galleries, and remove anyone who either lacks consistency or has a style that doesn’t match yours.
By the way, it’s ok to not know what your style is! You will often determine your photographic style by what it isn’t. You see something, you go “eeuuuuw! yuck!”, and you are closer to defining what you like.
Ok now comes the hard part: contacting them all! Each one will have a different way of making contact. Some will have plain email addresses, but many will have forms to fill out, with a few (or many) questions about your wedding day. That’s ok though, because for the most part they are asking important information. The most important question will be your wedding date, because if they’re booked, the conversation is over. And from your perspective, the next question is how much. So ask them! Then eliminate any you can’t afford.
Also at this point you should contact the wedding photographers with pricing listed online, who you’ve kept on your list. You need to find out if they’re available for your wedding date. Might as well do it all at once!
But what if you fall in love with a photographer’s work, but you can’t afford that person? It’s time to take a good hard look at your budget, how much you love this particular photographer, and how much you value your wedding photography in general. These are different for every couple, so only you can say if it makes sense to increase your budget, by perhaps reducing the budget of something else (catering, flowers etc). Photography is not important to some, and extremely important to others. If you find a photographer who makes you say to yourself “this is the one. I won’t be happy if I go somewhere else.” Then it’s time to get the spreadsheets out and work the numbers some more.
Ok so now you’ve got the list down to maybe 5-10 photographers. Read their “about me” pages. Do they sound like people you’d like to hang out with? Do they sound professional? There’s no scientific way to approach this, but you should eliminate any that seem flaky or unprofessional in some way. “Fun” is good, but feel confident they are also responsible.
And now it’s time to meet. If you’re local, set up meetings with them at a local coffee house, or at their studio if they have one. If you’re booking long-distance, set up a phone meeting or even a Skype/FaceTime meeting. There’s nothing like hearing how someone talks, how they answer questions, and how they carry themselves. It tells you a lot about who they are, and how well they will connect with you on your wedding day.
And if you still haven’t found “the one”, you can always flip a coin with the remaining photographers on your list. 🙂 But if you’ve spent this much time narrowing your selection, there’s a good chance you will have found the perfect fit.
P.S. You’ll notice I didn’t once say in this blog post that I’m the best photographer for you. I might not be! I don’t pretend to be the right fit for everyone’s style or budget. But if I am, I hope to hear from you soon! And if you appreciated this post and found it helpful, please leave a comment below.