A Detailed Guide to Choosing
your Wedding Photographer
How to find a photographer who's style you love, fits your budget, and provides great customer service
STEP 1: FINDING A STYLE & PHOTOGRAPHER YOU LOVE
Finding a style of photographer you love can be hard work. It seems so obvious to us photographers, who spend our entire professional careers engrossed in the photo world, what the styles are and the distinctions between them.
But if you're not fully involved in the photography world then it can be frustrating trying to pick something that works for you.
Do you want a documentary style? Traditional? Fine art? Is there a price difference? What if your planner has a recommendation? What if your first, second, and third choices are all already booked for your date?
If this all seems overwhelming, you're not alone. So how do you find a style you love?
Start with thinking about how you want your big day to be illustrated. Us photographers' job is to create an artistic interpretation of your wedding, and each one will do it differently, so knowing the right way to ask for what you want is important.
Is your wedding going to be a loose, fun, care-free gathering of friends? You'll probably want to go with a documentary-style photographer over a more traditional one, then.
Have you always dreamed of having a wedding right out of a bridal magazine? An editorial or fine art photographer might be just what you're looking for.
Having an outdoorsy, non-traditional ceremony in the wilderness? The warm, bohemian style is very popular for elopements.
And remember, shooting style is different from color editing. A great way to start browsing photographers is to search for your preferred color palette + the style of photos they take + your city.
Want a gallery bursting with color and candids in the Bay Area? Try, "colorful documentary wedding photographers in San Francisco." Want a dramatic, modern look to make you feel like you and your fiancé are professional models in New York? Try, "NYC dark and moody editorial wedding photographers". Keywords are powerful here, and believe me when I tell you us photographers know how to nail our keywords.
Another great tool is to hop on over to the "images" tab in Google search so you can browse photos. Most will lead to the photographers' website.
STEP 2: BUILDING A RELATIONSHIP
Once you find a photographer who's work you love, the next step is to reach out. Most photographer's have inquiry forms on their website with some introductory questions.
What you'll really want to pay attention to here is the level of customer service. Did your photographer respond quickly, or did it take them three business day to email you back? Is your photographer polite and professional in their email response, or is their response short and curt? Were they able to provide you with a follow-up, such as booking guides or scheduling a zoom meeting or phone call? How are their customer reviews (not just the ones on their website)?
You'll want to steer clear of photographers who can't provide a basic level of customer service, regardless of budget. But, if you reach out and find that they're responsive and professional, that's the start of something great!
I really recommend getting on a phone or video call with your photographer. I personally schedule a zoom meeting with all of my potential clients, as this is the quickest way to find out if we're a good match. You need to remember, of all your vendors, your photographer is going to be the most ever-present on your wedding day, so you really need to make sure you mesh well together and that they have a professional attitude.
A personal anecdote here: I would describe myself as a fine art documentary photographer, and my professional personality is relaxed and goofy. What this means is that I personally don't over-manage my scenes, and 80% of the time I prefer to capture moments as they happen without interference to present a realistic, candid gallery, which my ideal clients love.
However, I do get inquiries from couples who want a photographer who curates their photos down to the letter. Both of these are valid approaches, but I can't tell these things through a simple inquiry form. A zoom meeting and a conversation about expectations and personal philosophy are the only way to understand what clients are looking for, and if I'm a good fit for them. And if I'm not, no worries! I'm happy to refer clients looking for a different kind of personality in their photographer to any of my more traditional-style colleagues.
This is why it's so important to start building this relationship early: people really underestimate just how much time your photographer spends with you on your wedding day. You need to make sure you know exactly who's showing up.
A great question to ask your photographer when you send your first inquiry: What are their inspirations as a photographer? I love when clients ask me questions like this. My style is personally inspired by street photography, photojournalism, and film.
STEP 3: INVESTMENT
The big question: how much does your photographer cost? There's nothing worse than finding a photographer you absolutely love, only to find out they are way out of your budget. So it's good to manage investment expectations when looking for a photographer.
Newer photographers in their first couple of years charge under $2,000 for a full wedding day. There are some undoubtedly talented newbies entering the industry every year, but on average, lower-budget photographers are still going to be working out all the kinks of their business. If you're truly tight on your photographer budget, working with the newer folks in the industry can still get you a great photo gallery, but you may have a harder time finding someone with a cohesive style you enjoy, or who can provide consistent customer service.
Mid-range photographers charge anywhere between $2,000-4,000 for a full wedding day. These are mostly photographers who've been in business for a couple of years and have a solid, cohesive style and know the ins and out of weddings. This is the largest and most visible group by far and you can find some truly fantastic photographers in this range. For many of us, this is where we first started going full-time with photography, so you can expect a higher focus on customer service.
Established photographers with a unique, in-demand style are going to charge between $4,000-8,000 for a full day. These are folks who've been full time for years, know their niche, and are very good at what they do. You should expect a seasoned professional with great industry knowledge, top-notch customer service, and unbeatable value for a specific, honed style.
High-end luxury photographers are going to cost over $8,000 and up to the highest possible prices. These are legacy professionals who are well-known in the industry and have likely been in it for around a decade or more. They have a well-respected or flat-out famous brand, luxury clients putting on huge production weddings, and enormous portfolios.
These are all ballpark prices: you're going to find photographers charging more of less than this in each niche, and they may or may not be able to demand their price tags, but what it really comes down to is how much you love their work and are willing to invest and how much you trust that photographer to produce a quality gallery of your wedding day.
A final note on photography collectives: collectives are fantastic, and can often offer photography services at very competitive prices. But, be aware that collectives send associate photographers to shoot your wedding, and you often are not receiving the person who built the brand. Practices range from company to company, and I've seen and worked with great collectives and... not so great collectives. If you're looking for solid, easy photography services booked at competitive prices, collectives can be great for you, just make sure you find one that provides great customer services and is up front about their use of associates and their level of experience.
STEP 4: BOOKING
Once you've found a photographer who's style you love, has great customer services, and is within your budget, all that's left is to book.
Booking early can make sure your photographer is available for your date, but if you're like me and are more of a last-minute type planner, you may find that the more popular photographers are booked. If this happens, ask them for recommendations! We love recommending our professional friends to clients, whether that be because we're booked for your date, out of budget, or just not a good fit. Any photographer worth their salt is going to be able to send you recommendations. We often work with other photographers in our genre, so there's a good chance we can find you someone with a similar style.
However, if you manage to snag a good one, then you can start with the booking process. Each photographer has a different booking process, but most of the time you'll be sent a contract and an invoice, and your date is officially booked with the payment of a deposit. This is an important note: make sure your photographer sends you a contract. Contracts protect both the photographer and the client. Everybody but the newest of photographers should have a contract to send.
Make sure you read the contract, and contact your photographer with any questions.
After booking, link your photographer up with your other vendors, especially your wedding planner, if you have one.
BONUS STEP: ENGAGEMENT SESSIONS
I highly recommend booking an engagement session with your photographer, for five big reasons.
1. If you're not used to being in front of a camera, an engagement session is a great place to practice. I can't tell you how many couples reach out to me saying, "we're awkward in front of the camera." I love getting to coach my couples during an engagement shoot, because then they're confident and relaxed for their wedding day.
2. You can get to know your photographer and how they operate when they're shooting. This is a great opportunity not only to meet your photographer face to face, but to see their professional personality and if it's a good fit for you and your fiancé. Engagement photos can be a great "trial run" for a photographer.
3. You get high quality print material for your wedding. This can be for invites, prints, thank you cards, or gifts. If you're gonna print out an 18x24 print to display at the venue entrance, it really helps if it isn't an iPhone photo (and that's coming from someone who loves iPhone photos).
4. Most photographers include them at a discount when you book a wedding. Engagement shoots can run anywhere between a couple hundred dollars to $1,000+ depending on the experience of your photographer, so checking to see if your photographer offers engagements at a discount when booked with a wedding package can be a great way to save some money. However, don't be scared to schedule an engagement shoot a-la-carte to see if you like a photographer and their photos.
5. They're a lot of fun. Engagements are a blast, and there's so much less pressure than on your wedding day. Choose a fun location, have a good time, get to know your photographer, and know you're going to be getting some great photos out of it.
THAT'S ALL THERE IS TO IT!
Finding a photographer takes work, but putting in the effort is so worth it. Too many newlyweds have been burned because they didn't know all the ins and outs of the photography world and ended up going with a photographer who didn't match their vision, so hopefully these tips will help you find a trustworthy photographer you love.
Congratulations, and best of luck!
About Aryk Copley Photography
Welcome! I'm a wedding and portrait photographer and educator based in the San Francisco Bay Area, CA. My style is fine art, candid, and documentarian. I draw inspiration from the long history of fine art wedding photography, street photography, and photojournalism.
In addition to photographing weddings, I also work as an accredited photojournalist, focusing on disasters, conflict, and protests.
I'm a huge believer in loving what you do and producing meaningful work on both large and small scales. If you'd like to check out my work or contact me, click the link below!