This post is personal to me because I take what I do very personal. I had several friends with children who got married this year and around Christmas time, I ran into two of those dear friends. I had not done their weddings which happens for various reasons, either unavailability, my not knowing the bride who often chooses the photographer, cost, or maybe I'm not person for them and that's okay! I do not expect to do every wedding for everyone I know but I do expect and hope the best for them from whom they choose.
Both of my friends' stories were eerily similar and both heartbreaking. Both Moms had dreams of their child's wedding only to come away with moments not captured on film. Both Moms planned to enjoy the day with their children but both Moms had to serve roles and work in getting the photographers to capture certain things, to ask them to do this or that, to be here or there, and still there were things missed or not done well. One Mom said there were details from the day she heard about from several people after the wedding but she never got to see them and there were no photos. One Mom saw the photographer capturing certain details or certain people but those images weren't in the final product and no one knows what happened to them. One of the Moms said a photographer showed up almost two hours earlier than planned and some of the family members weren't there for photos and didn't get in any family shots. The list goes on.
You know, as horrific as it would be, if someone screws up your senior photos or even your newborn or family portraits, they could possibly be redone as there are small windows of time. But if someone screws up your wedding images, well, I don't have to say it. I already knew this, as you do, but to relive it through the eyes and hearts of these two mothers and friends was a heartfelt reminder.
When I hear a couple say, "We've got a friend/relative, or friend of a friend, who's going to shoot the wedding for us as a gift or really cheap," I always pause, pray and sigh. I've heard more sad stories this year than ever about this very thing, so many regrets, but with the age of digital, it's happening more and more. People think those with "fancy" cameras should be able to do the job.
I know weddings can be unbelievably expensive and Lord knows, I wonder how I'm going to pay for my own daughters' weddings, but I do know one thing without question. We'll hire an amazing photographer, even if I have to bake the cake and grow the flowers, because I know of all the vendors, that will be the one whose product will outlive all of us. Inexperienced or hobbyist photographers may save you money and can sometimes get a few great shots but it takes experience, talent, and professionalism to know how to foresee and capture the shots that will take your breath away, to show you images when it's all over that you never got to see. As we married people know, the day is a blur, so sometimes the photographs tell your story better than you remember it!
Quality is obviously critical; does your photographer consistently produce quality images? Ask to see them. You should love them when you do! In addition to quality, the right photographer needs the experience and personality to almost take on a Director's role during the day as some couples can't afford an event planner (which I highly recommend). Does your photographer know how to do this? I often find myself needing to tell the wedding party where to be when, helping the couple with such things as heading down the aisle, how to cut the cake, where/how/when to do the garter and bouquet, planning their exit, and so on, and I love it all! I very often have couples and parents thank me for doing this! The right photographer just has to be prepared and able to step into this role or it will fall on someone else and sadly, it's usually the mother of the bride or groom.
Very importantly, you should click with your photographer and become friends; does your photographer "set right" with you, do you feel at ease with them? Your photographer should ask what you want from your big day and not just show up. The right photographer will provide you with options and flexible packages that fit your needs and not the generic bride. You are not generic! Your photographer should make sure you look amazing all day if possible and yet be discrete and blended into the background; ask them about how they work, ask them for references. Your photographer should have the gear needed to do the job and do it right, they should commonly have second shooters (I don't know how people do it without one), and they should have a backup plan in the event of an emergency like sickness, death in the family, and so on. Ask them about their second shooters, about their backup plan!
And last but NOT least, after your wedding, the right and experienced photographer will be hard at work on your images, organizing and editing your images to make them look phenomenal (and know how to do that!), backing them up so they're not lost, and then presenting them to you in a timely manner... oh my gosh, did I say timely manner? Yes! Ask when you'll get your images! That's all I'm going to say about that except it breaks my heart and shocks me to hear couples waiting months for their images.... why?!
I am not perfect but you all know that. I learn something new at every wedding I do. I still get butterflies before each one and worry my second shooters to death:) but I never want to feel that I know it all and I won't. Most importantly, I know without a doubt I am not the photographer for everyone whether it be because of price or style or just me and I'm okay with that! But for those of you choosing your photographer, no matter what it's for, I just implore you to analyze carefully where you will invest your money and choose wisely. Don't just price-shop....quality-shop, experience-shop. I've not talked a lot about the price but as cliche as it is, you do get what you pay for. Remind yourself that long after the other things from your day are gone, some of which are gone before the end of the day, the photographs will be held in your hands and the hands of your children and grandchildren for generations to come, and moments not captured can't be recaptured.
I'll end on this (aren't you glad:). This week, I talked to a new client who told me that when she got married 10 years ago, they based their entire wedding day around the availability of this particular photographer they wanted. They saved and paid that photographer a pretty penny for their wedding even 10 years ago but she said it was the most important thing about their day and they chose to invest the biggest part of their budget into their pictures. They've never, ever regretted it. Don't open a door for regrets that can be avoided.