Lately, we’ve been seeing a lot of social networking posts like this:

How much should I pay for a good wedding photographer? How many hours should I expect to be included at that price?

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this question, except that the answer may not tell you much. The thing is — every bride/couple defines “good wedding photographer” differently. There are a LOT of variables! So just getting a price for “X” hours doesn’t tell much of the story. Here are some random thoughts to consider as you search for the perfect photographer for your celebration:

  • To some, “good wedding photographer” means the lowest possible price, regardless of years of experience, style, equipment, etc. This definition can be a huge mistake!
  • Some brides want a popular well-recognized photographer. Others look for a specific approach (classic portraiture, journalistic storytelling, artsy and stylish).
  • The number of hours is a more important choice than you think — if you’re working on a budget, you have to decide whether you want a relatively cheap and inexperienced photographer for a full 6 to 8 hours, or might you be better off with a really experienced photographer for just a couple of hours or so?
  • Then there is the whole question of deliverables — do you want just a card full of raw images at the end of the night, or would prefer a carefully edited set that has been color-corrected, cropped, adjusted for brightness and contrast, etc.? Do you want an online gallery? A USB thumb drive? Simple or elaborate wedding album or book? Parents albums? Prints? What kind of usage license do you want? The answers to these questions can add thousands of dollars to what otherwise appears to be a very inexpensive package.
  • Another thing many couples don’t think through: Are you looking just for day of wedding photography, or do you want an engagement session, rehearsal dinner coverage, boudoir session? Don’t fall into the trap of selecting a low-cost package where every add-on is priced like the budget for a European nation.
  • And finally, and perhaps most importantly for the cost-conscious among us:  are you getting married in the middle of the wedding season, on a Saturday (these are the most expensive dates)? Or are you planning an off-season or maybe a Friday or Sunday wedding, for which many photographers (like us!) sometimes (but not always) offer discounts and special packages?

Portfolio Review

When looking at portfolios and galleries, be cautious of photographers who show just a few beautiful pictures – anyone can attend a few weddings and come up with some nice pictures. If a photographer has just a few photos to show you, it often means that they are new to the business and may not have much experience, or worse, may not produce very many “good” pictures in a typical wedding. To avoid this potential trap, ask the photographer to see a few complete wedding sets. This will give you a much better idea of their style and capability to consistently produce great photos in a variety of situations. And if the pictures look “too perfect” it’s worth asking if they were produced during a leisurely photo shoot with models, or if they were actually taken in the pressure-cooker of a real wedding. Also, avoid the temptation to ask a photographer who you really like to change their style to more closely fit your needs. They may or may not actually be able to do so — it’s far better to choose a photographer whose portfolio is a good match for your personal taste.

Personality and Communications

Don’t underestimate the importance of your photographer’s personality and communications skills — they’re going to be spending one of the most important days of your life with you and your guests. A great photographer will think of your needs first, help solve problems before you even know they exist, coordinate well with the other wedding vendors, and treat your guests with respect and dignity. On the other hand, some photographers think of themselves as a director, and your wedding is their photo shoot. This can produce great photos, but drive you completely crazy. When evaluating a potential photographer’s personality “fit” with your own tribe, it’s a good time to check out their reviews, and perhaps ask for a reference or two.

Pricing

Many photographers have pricing on their websites; some are willing to work with you to put together a package that meets your needs and fits within your budget; others stick to their packages and prefer not to negotiate. There’s nothing wrong with either approach — but it helps you if you know what your photographer’s approach to pricing is.

If you want to see a bunch of portfolios in a short time and get a feel for pricing, I would recommend looking at the local vendor listings on The Knot. There are hundreds of wedding photographers in the Portland area, and you can quickly get an idea of the range of what’s available, and start forming opinions about exactly what you want! My studio’s storefront there is at https://www.theknot.com/marketplace/grupp-and-rose-photography-portland-or-889329 

When Should I Book My Photographer?

This turns out to be a really important question. We suggest booking your photographer of choice as far out as possible. Consider, say your florist, limo company or caterer. Chances are, they can do several weddings on the same day. But a photographer can only be one place at a time — once they’re booked for a date, that’s the only thing they are going to shoot on that day. So the earlier you book, the wider your choices will be. Generally, the best known and most popular photographers book up first; usually a year or more out if they are well established. Less well-known but still very capable photographers tend to book six months to a year out; couples generally don’t dig down far enough to find them, until the more popular photographers are booked up for a given date.

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