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  • Manon Douard

Searching for (and finding) your wedding photographer

Hello there,

After eighteen versions of this article, I'm (finally) tackling the little guide to help you find your wedding photographer!

The problem with the wedding photography industry is that it can be difficult to find your way around, as the sector is so competitive and particular. There are constantly new entrants to this highly sought-after field of professional retraining, fierce competition, no barrier to entry, so a wide variety of backgrounds and skill levels, a complete blurring of the lines when it comes to rates, where just about everything exists, and a host of more or less constructive preconceived ideas we are constantly fighting (for example about the 'right price' for a wedding photographer).

It's hard to make sense of it all! In this article, I'm going to approach the question from a chronological point of view: where do I think you should start when looking for a wedding photographer ?

First of all: the budget

une table de mariage dressée devant la façade d'une masseria italienne

Wedding photography comes in all shapes and sizes, and it would be impossible to give you a 'fair price' for this service, because I sincerely believe that there is no such thing as a 'fair price'.

There can only be a right price for you, depending on a number of factors: the location of your wedding, the duration of the service, your expectations, and of course your overall budget.

Based on training courses I've taken, discussions with wedding planners and with my former brides and grooms, the photo budget represents between 8 and 10% of the wedding budget.

Nota : I'm a French photographer, therefore this article is mainly accurate when it comes to French events organised in France. Traditions and priorities differ greatly from a country to the other, therefore those numbers might not be right for you, except if you're considering a Destination Wedding in France with local vendors!

You'll have an overall budget in mind when you start planning your wedding - and while it's not necessarily completely set, you'll at least be able to tell whether you're looking at a budget closer to 20,000 euros or 50,000 euros. Based on this overall budget, determine an initial budget to allocate to photography. If you want to revise it later, depending on the service providers you meet, that's up to you, of course! But it's important to make an initial selection, or you risk drowning in the diversity of photographers on the market!

What's the risk of going into a pre-selection process with no budget in mind?

You're going to experience the disillusionment that awaits all bridal couples: wedding services are expensive, probably more than what you expected. That's because we're overwhelmed with dreamy images of perfect weddings which makes us believe those happen often when really luxury weddings concern a very small number of events. Identifying your budget envelope will save you a long wandering through specialized directories or forums, where everyone will give you arbitrary arguments to tell you that such and such a rate is the right one, or that above such and such an amount, "it's stealing".

portrait d'une mariée tenant un bouquet de fleurs blanches

I'm the first to fight against the mindset of seeing everything through a financial prism, because wedding photography is a craft, and you can't analyze a craft solely through the prism of the amount of its raw material and remuneration. It's as absurd as criticizing a painter for selling an overpriced painting because "the price of the canvas and the brushes don't add up to 1,000 dollars".

That said, it's best to have an idea of the budget you can devote to your photo shoot before you start looking for service providers. The risk? Creating a Pinterest moodboard of all the photos you've been dreaming of - and which, a priori, come from big-budget weddings, selecting top-flight service providers potentially outside your budget, and then going through a phase of great frustration when you realize that you can't afford the photographers you've been dreaming of.

It's a bit like me only wandering into luxury boutiques when my budget for buying a coat (I love coats) is 100 euros. There's nothing wrong with a budget of 100 euros, but I'm likely to be systematically disappointed by what I see for that budget if I've spent weeks scouring the windows of Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent. If I have a budget of 1,000 euros, I don't have the same room for maneuver. Of course, there are photographers to suit every budget, but having an idea of the budget in question gives you an initial idea of the direction to take in your search.

Start, therefore, by identifying a budget envelope. There's nothing to stop you from increasing it if you wish and if you think it's relevant, but this will enable you to make an initial selection of service providers. It will also allow you to increase your budget in a reasoned way if you decide to do so, without feeling pressurized by professionals and having analyzed your reasons for doing so.

Second point to consider: image aesthetics

This is the crux of the matter when it comes to photo services: images. There are several points to consider here:

When it comes to weddings, we're constantly oscillating between two approaches: reportage and posing. To put it more simply, we alternate between moments when we don't intervene at all in the action, merely documenting it, and moments when we intervene in the action to advise the subjects or direct the scene. The degree to which the photographer intervenes during the wedding day depends on each photographer, its vision and the look he's trying to create with his work.

portrait en noir et blanc d'une mariée qui sourit pendant ses préparatifs de mariage

It's worth noting that many future brides and grooms have a decidedly negative view of posed photography. In many people's minds, the result will be systematically artificial and unflattering. At the opposite end of the spectrum, images considered spontaneous are lauded. Bear in mind that the overwhelming majority of 'candid photos' you see all over the internet are 'falsely spontaneous' images, meaning that while cultivating an atmosphere of lightness, the photographer helps and accompanies the couple by suggesting postures to shape the final image. We all need a little help when it comes to something as complex as wedding photography! I don't know a photographer who doesn't guide and advise his or her bride and groom during their couple session.

Here we come to the composition and development of the photos. I'm going to leave the composition part aside, because I wouldn't know where to begin to explain everything I encompass behind this term - even in my head it's a chaotic concept, and I change my mind very regularly - but the retouching part is simpler to define. Basically, it refers to the photographer's rendering of colors and contrasts during post-production.

This retouching will give your images a hue and atmosphere. Every photographer has his or her own vision and approach to photo retouching, and as I explained in another article (not yet translated, sorry), it's not a good idea to hire a service provider whom you then intend to ask to adapt his or her retouching. It's important that you're convinced by a photographer's work as a whole, from shooting to post-production.

The content of the photo report

Your wedding photographer will be with you for most of the day. How long do you want him to be by your side? What kind of images do you expect him to produce?

In weddings (and that's what I'm passionate about, by the way), you have to do it all: indoor or outdoor photos, diffused or diffused light, portraits, detail photos, images of the venue, reportage or posing, photos of decoration, culinary photos, night and evening photos, etc.

photo en clair-obscur du voile en perle d'une mariée qui tombe sur son épaule

It's up to you to define your photo priorities:

  • Do you want the dinner the night before to be included in the reportage ? What about the brunch ? Both?

  • Do you want portraits of your closed ones ?

  • Would you go for a variety of couple photos, or even several couple sessions planned for the day (if you want to change outfits, if you want to do some outside and some inside, etc.) ?

  • Do you expect numerous images of the decor and venue (this is understandable if you're working with a wedding planner, or if you've given a lot of thought to the atmosphere and scenography of your wedding) ?

  • Are you more a reportage or an editorial person ?

The conclusions you draw from this second reflection may (or may not!) lead you to revise your budget. The more numerous and/or higher your expectations, the bigger the budget you're likely to have to devote to the service, as you'll need to call on many different skills to meet the specifications you've imagined. The advantage of defining your expectations and thinking about them in advance is that you'll quickly realize, by talking to the photographers in your selection, whether your expectations are in line with what they're offering. If you don't find what you're looking for, it may be a sign that you need to revise your budget upwards, or go back to the searching step.

Third point: make a pre-selection of several wedding photographers

You fell in love with someone's work? If you're absolutely certain that this is your final choice, I understand that you may be tempted not to follow up on other discussions you may have planned with other professionals. However, I suggest that you keep the other appointments. It's important to compare approaches and points of view, and not just to compare rates and images.

Each professional has his own vision of the profession, his own way of working, and his own priorities. Does they prefer portraits or detail shots? Do they train regularly, and if so, how? What are the most important points for them when approaching a wedding? What is the process with each couple? How many discussions take place before the wedding, and how does one ensure that the bride and groom's requirements are met? These are all fundamental elements when choosing a wedding photographer.

Talking face-to-face, and ideally by video rather than by phone, also helps you to get to know each other better, and to gauge the trust and character of the professional you're talking to. While you're obviously choosing a photographer primarily for the quality of his or her work, don't forget that your photographer will be with you for hours on the D-Day. You need to be absolutely sure you'll feel comfortable around this person during the entire day. A provider making an amazing work but that you want to slap after 20 minutes of conversation may not be the right choice for you!

Request to see real wedding galleries before engaging with a wedding photographer

If there's one piece of advice you should take away from this article, that is the one.

Always ask the photographers you're considering working with to send you complete wedding galleries.

Social networks are our showcase: we display our favorite photos, taken from dozens of different reports accumulated over the years. This is not necessarily representative of what we create on a full day, either in terms of atmosphere or technical mastery. Wedding photography involves mastering a wide variety of lighting and decor environments. An Instagram showcase doesn't always do justice to this diversity, and allow us to post only what we feel comfortable showing. You need to have a clear vision of what every moment will look like and that's impossible without a full gallery.

Portrait d'une mariée assise sur un canapé devant une peinture représentant des déesses grecques

In addition to the fact that the photos posted on our networks or websites don't all come from the same wedding, they sometimes don't come from weddings at all. Many photographers produce what are known in the trade as "styled shoots", i.e. shoots that bring together several wedding professionals to showcase their work. The shooting conditions are not at all the same than on. areal wedding day. The scenography is generally more ambitious than what you'd find on a real wedding, the models are professional or semi-professional (so they're used to posing), the lighting is mastered because the location is chosen for its aesthetics, and so on. In short, working on a styled shoot and working on a wedding are not the same thing (this one deserves an entire article).

Ideally, ask the photographer to send you a gallery that's consistent with your budget and wedding venue. I doubt it would be useful to you to receive a gallery of a Wintery Destination Wedding if you're getting married back home in the summer!

If you feel uncomfortable asking for access to a complete gallery, if you find it intrusive or inappropriate, let me reassure you: I don't know of any photographer who has ever refused to send a complete gallery (or even several) to couples who requested it. And if a service provider refuses, I personally see it as a huge red flag, and you can serenely end the discussions without any regrets.

A photographer who refuses to pass on a gallery (from the dozens of weddings he's done) is a photographer who has something to hide (or who has an excellent explanation to give you, in which case he will).

Fourth point: read the reviews

Always remember to take a look at the service providers' reviews. You'll find them on their websites, but we all tend (myself included) to publish the nicest reviews on our sites. So don't forget to check the provider's Google page to see how many reviews there are, whether they're recent or not, and whether they're substantiated or not.

A review in a few words may not be that of a former customer. It may come from a colleague of the service provider, or from people around him who want to give him a helping hand. This is usually well-intentioned, but it can be misleading for future brides and grooms. After all, being a super-funny person - which I am - doesn't necessarily make you a good photographer - even if I'm lucky enough to be one. Funny and talented? Lucky me.

(I don't have that many jokes I get to keep when I translate my article in English, so even though that one is clearly not my best one, I'll keep it.)

Negative review

It's every service provider's worst fear: receiving a terrible review on their Google page from a disgruntled customer. As a groom or bride-to-be, how should you react?

If you come across a very negative review of a professional, don't panic just yet.

An excellent service provider can get into a conflict with a client because he made a mistake (we're human, it happens) or because he came across a client who is making an emotional transfer to his wedding and doesn't realize that his level of demands will inevitably lead to disappointment though the professionals he works with are not to blame for it. Fortunately, most of the time this can be resolved through discussion. Unfortunately, sometimes, because the service provider is afraid or doesn't know how to react (especially if he's just started his business), or because the customer is so disappointed and angry that discussion is impossible, things get out of hand and reflect badly on the professional's public image.

une mariée rit assise près de ses témoins pendant ses préparatifs de mariage

It can go very far indeed: a bride who decides to lodge a complaint against a service provider because the flowers were light blue and not blue-grey (true story); a couple who send their guests to write a bunch of negative reviews on a wedding venue's Google page because the police came to inform them that they were not allowed to move the sound system outside 'because it's a wedding' and a wedding is not supposed to turn into a Coachella festival at 3am in the middle of the town (another true story).

Most mistakes made by wedding service providers are made by semi-pros or family friends who don't (yet) have the experience and professionalism to deal with the conflicts and difficulties of the job: a DJ who plays songs that the bride and groom didn't ask, and who leaves the room angrily when they kindly point this out to him (true story from one of my weddings). The world of weddings is so competitive that you'll rarely see people who've been established for several years making huge blunders (even if, once again, we're humans), and in the event of a big blunder, a seasoned professional will be open to dialogue and capable of taking responsibility.

In the event of a negative review, I suggest you dig a little deeper, talk to the service provider if you're really worried, and compare negative and positive reviews. If you only find one negative review and an army of positive ones, or if the negative reviews all refer to the same event or were posted at the same time by profiles that only wrote one review, chances are it's a "mass move" that doesn't necessarily represent the work of the professional.

détail des fleurs mauves d'un bouquet de mariée

For professionals who work alone most of the time and on a limited number of events per year, the power of a dissatisfied customer to cause trouble is immense, and sometimes the degree of dissatisfaction is disproportionate to the seriousness of the initial incident, because we work in the wedding world and the emotional investment of the bride and groom is sometimes very high. Not all negative reviews are irrelevant, but not all are objective. Personally, I tend to think that an amicable solution and discussion, or even legal action if there really is no other solution, is always preferable to a public lynching. A service provider who was taken to court by a number of disgruntled brides and grooms because he did a poor job would quickly close up store, I think.

In short, negative reviews aren't necessarily a sign that a professional's work is catastrophic. That being said, it's your wedding, and you're obviously free not to go any further with someone if you feel stressed out by a story of the kind! You deserve to work with people you can trust, and suppliers can only work in good conditions for brides and grooms who trust them.

Make your choice!

Once you've gone through these various stages, you'll normally have a short-list of several service providers with whom you've exchanged ideas. At this stage, you should be able to pick out one (or more, which would be ideal!) with whom you feel confident and who meets your expectations and criteria. If not, go back to the first steps and continue your search! If there's one job where you need to move forward with confidence, it's wedding photography!

That's all for today! If you have any questions or comments, whether you agree, disagree or somewhat agree, you can write to me or leave a comment (just writing those words makes me feel so old, back to the glorious days of the old internet). On my website, you'll find my portfolio and the link to my contact form if you'd like to get in touch and tell me about your wedding plans!

That's my second article in 15 days, so I'll see you soon and really mean it, for once!


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