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Your 5 Part Checklist Before Hiring A Wedding Photographer

Updated: Feb 4, 2019

Coxhall Gardens Wedding 2018
(C) Miss Cara Photography 2019

If you caught my prior post detailing the five things you should know before hiring a photographer, welcome back! If you have yet to read that post, start there as this post is intended to supplement my earlier blog.

I've been photographing weddings for more than ten years. On top of that, I've been down the aisle myself. There are PLENTY of golden nuggets that someone like you (presumably a bride or someone who is researching for one) should know before hiring a wedding photographer.

For starters, if you were my client we'd meet for coffee and talk about your wedding vision. Your timeline, family photo checklist, and first look preferences would be woven into our game plan and I'd be equipped to show up to your venue, hair salon, or house on the day of your wedding and simply begin.

Since it may not be me intently listening to your love story, wedding dreams, and bridesmaid dress options that photograph best at that coffee shop, let's get you prepared for the conversation you should have with your prospective photographer.

Do your research

You have the internet at your fingertips. Be sure to research those referrals your friends gave you and see which photographers align with your vision, budget, and style.

Coxhall Gardens Bride 2018
(C) Miss Cara Photography 2019

A photographer's social media feeds and website are very telling as to their level of comfort. If they don't post black and white images (but you love black and white!) or they seem to show lots of families and not weddings (but they can still shoot a wedding, right?*) be sure that they align with your non-negotiables.

*not necessarily

What are non-negotiables? For me they were:

"I want these images to be rich and vibrant in color with symmetrical composition."
"I want the photographer to do well in natural light settings and some indoor church settings. However, staged church photos, albeit seemingly necessary, are not of high value to me."
"Photos of raw, real moments are most important to me."
"I need a photographer who can be in charge of the photos and our timeline (with my help planning logistics) so I can enjoy my day."
"My budget is "X." I am not meeting with anyone outside of that budget and asking them to lower their prices or alter their offering because I respect their value."

Define that one thing

Wasn't it Billy Crystal (Mitch Robbins) in City Slickers (1991) who was told by Jack Palance (Curly) to find that "one thing" while he was in a cattle drive across the southwest United States?

Here's a refresher if I'm showing my age:

The same goes for you, Ms. Engaged. Map your budget and find that one thing that's worth all the money it costs because the intrinsic value is high for you.

I ordered my wedding dress online for $100 (no, I'm not kidding) and allocated the bulk of our budget to the honeymoon. For me, that one thing was travel. This meant that most of the accessories, decor, and even bouquets were handmade so that I could afford the few vendors I knew I wanted to hire; photographer included!

Hire a photographer, not a magician

If your photographer is late to your consultation meeting, can't keep a phone date, or often forgets details, keep in mind that this is the person who will be manning a timeline on your wedding day. Although your photographer isn't a wedding planner (these are very different roles), they are a champion of keeping your wedding day on schedule.

Let's first talk about the difference between what you should expect from your photographer versus an event planner.

A photographer is:

  • responsible for collaborating with you on wedding day shot lists (including family photos);

  • in charge of making sure your photos are taken in a timely manner out of respect for you and your guests;

  • a trusted resource you can use for advice if a challenge arises.

An event planner is:

  • hired to coordinate vendors, venue staff, logistics, flow, and deliveries on the day of your wedding;

  • responsible for communicating with each of these parties to be sure things are getting done behind the scenes and any snafus are avoided;

  • a trusted resource you can ask for help if a challenge arises.

Both are incredibly knowledgable but serve very different purposes. It is most common to see a photographer taking on event planner duties than it is for an event planner to pick up a camera. Unfortunately you usually aren't paying your photographer to also be your event planner, so keep that in mind as you ask them for favors as it could pull their creative mind away from taking photos and subsequently stretch them too thin.

Now let's touch on hiring a single shooter versus adding a secondary shooter.

Both of these options are satisfactory. It really comes down to whether or not you want more candid photos or value a very efficient photo timeline as these are the two value-adds of having a secondary shooter in my personal opinion.

Some facts:

  • A second shooter isn't always taking photos. Sometimes they're assisting the primary photographer so they can get the best shot. Think arranging those being photographed, holding equipment, testing equipment, changing batteries, etc.

  • A primary and secondary shooter can divide and conquer to satisfy a shorter timeline or tighter budget. You only have the budget for eight hours of photography? Great! Hire that second shooter and rest assure that the work can be completed in that time.

  • A second shooter is not the tradeoff of hiring an event planner.

  • A second shooter isn't going to have the same relationship with you as your primary photographer. However, we are often who we associate ourselves with, so it's quite likely that they'll still meld well.

Make a plan for the unexpected

Your photographer is going to be an extension of your bridal party. They're hired to do what they do well and you want them to be prepared to do their best work. On the day of your wedding, put someone else in charge of communicating with the photographer for logistics. For example, when the photographer arrives to the hotel and there's been a room change for the bride and bridesmaids, who can be texted or called?

This also means leveraging other resources to handle small fires as they arise. If your photographer is tracking down the mother of the groom, trying to coordinate the parking placement of the limo, or ironing a bridesmaid dress, they aren't taking photos at the same time.

Remember, the more you share with your photographer before your wedding, the more swiftly they can move, make decisions, and plan for photos.

Grace not perfection

Coxhall Gardens Wedding, Carmel Indiana 2018
Coxhall Gardens Wedding 2018 (C) Miss Cara Photography

In the wise words of Emily Ley, an American author (Grace Not Perfection) and businesswoman (owner of Simplified Planner), raised in Pensacola, FL,

"I will hold myself to a standard of grace, not perfection."

Let's take Emily's lead. Your wedding will (hopefully) be everything you imagine. It's not wrong for us to prepare, hope (which comes from quality planning), and pray that our once-in-a-lifetime nuptials will be nothing short of perfection.

That being said, life happens. Embrace grace and make the best of whatever surprise situation may unfold. Hire a photographer who can do the same by creatively handling tough situations and guiding you back to what matters most - you're getting married!


Continue exploring additional posts on this topic such as five things you should know before hiring a photographer,

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