Questions to ask your photographer. Post by Anna.
Lately we’ve been doing a lot of consults with great couples as our 2015 calendar begins to fill (yay!), and yesterday I was thinking about how it felt to be on the other side of those conversations back when we were planning our own wedding. These days we love doing consults, it’s always so great to meet new couples and see their excitement as they embark on their wedding planning journey together, to hear their story, and to feel that connection with them that lets us know we would be a wonderful fit as their photographers. But it hasn’t always been this way. At some point (back in the day after our first year of business) Rick and I realized that we had turned a major corner to where we finally felt super comfortable doing them. I remember those early days all too well – when we would get sweaty palms, accidentally talk over brides, spill our coffee, fumble with paperwork, contradict each other, and clear our throats a million times because we were nervous – back when we kind of felt like two people who were just playing the part of photographers. Back when we didn’t know what to ask, what to say, whether or not we should make jokes, or how to end the conversation…we were a mess! Thankfully, I think our awkwardness during those early days must have been a little endearing, and we’re so humbled by and thankful for the couples who entrusted us as new photographers. As newbies, we always felt like our side of the conversation was the tougher half, but as we’ve gained experience doing consultations that feeling has shifted. Now we feel like we can be totally ourselves, we feel confident in guiding the conversation naturally to cover important points, and we feel secure in the fact that if we’re a great fit for a couple the consult will go wonderfully.
So let’s take a look back – yikes! Back in the day, we used to sit down, introduce ourselves, and then give potential clients a chance to start asking us their questions right off the bat. And wow, that was not very cool for either side! It was a little awkward, uncomfortable, they often didn’t know what to ask, and it felt more like a formal job interview rather than a chance for us to all sit down and really get to know each other and make a connection. So now, we’ve learned to lead the conversation in a natural way, to really take the time to listen to the couple and get to know them. To hear their love story. To share ours. To talk about things we have in common. To laugh. And to insert all of the important parts of what we do and how we do it into the conversation in a natural way that just flows. And, at the end of the meeting, if it feels like we all just sat down over a drink with old friends then we know that we’re a great fit to work together. Because on your wedding day, you’re going to spend more time with us than with anyone else, even each other. You’ve got to feel comfortable with us, trust us, and want to spend the day with us – because, the truth is, when we enjoy each other’s company we’re going to make some beautiful photographs together. There are a million photographers out there to choose from, and most of them take really great photos…so it’s all about finding the photographer that you connect with and will feel comfortable with. So these days, at the end of the meeting, 99% of the time when we ask “Do you have any questions for us?” the answer is “No.” Or the answer is “How do we move forward with booking?” And that’s because we make a deliberate effort to answer all of their potential questions (even the ones they didn’t know they had!) during our informal conversation.
Whew! All of that being said, when I think back to the days of the tough interview-style consults, I remember that most couples would come armed with the same list that they must have gotten off of a google search of “Questions to Ask Your Photographer.” And to be honest, many of the questions were kind of weird and dated. And I totally get it, because when you’re not a photographer and don’t know much about the technical aspects of the job, it hard to know what you should be asking. So, we’ve put together a list of 8 great questions to ask your photographer (and 1 important one to ask yourself!)…from a photographer’s perspective! Of course, there are always the general questions that you might want to ask, such as “What’s your style?” or “How long have you been shooting weddings”, but these are some more specific questions to as your photographer that we feel are super important!
1 – Do you have business liability insurance? This is just the basics of owning a business, and you want to make sure that your photographer has insurance coverage just in case something happens. We’ve been surprised over the years that we have only been asked this question one time in a consult! This also helps confirm that they have a legit business, because these days it’s so easy for just about anyone to buy a camera, throw up a website, and start charging for photography.
2 – Do you have backup gear? There are no second chances or re-dos of a wedding day, so if a camera gets dropped or has a malfunction, you need to have the peace of mind that it will be seamless to you. And don’t just limit this question to their cameras, make sure you ask about “gear” in general – because you want to know that they have backup lenses, flashes, light stands, batteries, flash triggers…anything and everything that they use to take great photos. We’ve got backups, and we’ve got backups for our backups. We’ve only had one wedding where we needed to switch to a backup camera, so it’s not a common problem, but it’s something that every photographer should be prepared for! And while we’re talking for a moment about cameras, it’s our opinion that a great camera does not make a great photographer, and a lower-end camera does not make a bad photographer. So – if you love someone’s work it honestly doesn’t really matter what gear they shoot with, as long as they are equipped to handle any situation! And speaking of handling any situation….
3 – Are you comfortable shooting in dark situations? If you sense hesitation or nervousness when you ask this question, you might want to probe a bit and even ask to see a few examples. Because unless it’s a total daytime wedding outdoors your photographer is going to face low light situations on your wedding day, specifically during your reception that evening, and possibly during other parts of the day…and as a non-photographer it’s probably not something you’ve really worried about or even considered. To shoot successfully in a dark room, your photographer is going to need the right professional gear and lighting equipment and the know-how to set it up quickly and get great results. And while we’re definitely not against hiring new photographers to shoot your wedding, low-light situations are one of the things that newer photographers struggle with the most when they’re still learning – so you want to make sure that your photographer is prepared to handle any lighting situation. If they tell you that they have a flash they will put on their camera when it gets dark, for example, you might want to dig a little deeper and ask if they use any external (or “off camera”) lighting, which provides much more flattering light than a flash directly on the camera.
Here’s a little example of what we’re talking about. This ring shot was taken in a pitch black wine cellar on a barrel in a corner using an off-camera flash and a reflector. There was literally no natural light to be found!
4 – What happens if you can’t make our wedding? This is a biggie! And it’s something that we always talk about during consults, and that we tell our couples to ask their other vendors as well. What if your photographer gets sick, or something else happens that prevents them from being able to shoot your wedding? You should feel comfortable that they’ve got a backup plan firmly in place, and that if something happens that’s out of their control it will be completely seamless to you!
5 – How soon will we get our photos after the wedding? You would be really surprised at horror stories that we’ve heard about photographers taking up to 6 months to deliver wedding photos to their clients. So make sure that you’re comfortable with their answer, whatever it may be. In our case, our contract states 4 weeks, but we always do our best deliver within 2 weeks. And that’s no easy task, because it takes a lot of time to sort through all of the photos and get the editing done!
6 – Are there any restrictions on what we can do with our digital files? This is a great question to ask, because different photographers have different policies. Some photographers don’t offer any digital files, some charge an extra fee for access, and some give them to you with a full release, so make sure you’re comfortable with your photographer’s arrangement and that it’s spelled out in the contract! Copyright laws can be very confusing, especially when it comes to digital images! When a photographer takes a photo, they automatically own the copyright to that image – it belongs to them 100%! So, most photographers will provide a “print release” or a “personal use copyright release” with your digital files. This means that technically the photographer still owns the copyright to the images (so they can post them on their blog/website/FB/etc), but you also get your digital files and can print them and share them yourselves.
7 – Do you shoot by yourself? These days, many photographers include second shooters in their coverage or offer them as an add-on option. And we’re not saying that one photographer can’t cover a wedding day, but it goes without saying that it is so helpful to have a second set of eyes. Two photographers can capture more moments than one! In our case we always shoot together, and as a husband/wife team we’re super confident in each other’s abilities because we know each other so well and we’re to the point where we can communicate silently from across a room. So if your photographer is providing a second shooter it might also be a good idea to ask who that second photographer is and if they’ve shot with them before. And if they haven’t shot with them before it’s totally ok, as long as they are confident in that second photographer’s abilities…although in our case we find that it is awesome to shoot consistently with the same person – because we know we make a great team.
(Thanks to Bella Vita Creative for this behind the scenes shot!)
8 – Do you do a lot of posing? This might seem like a strange question, but it says a lot about a photographer’s style. Some photographers really love to get in there and pose their couples throughout the wedding day, or try to create moments just for photos (such as zipping up the dress twice or asking you to look at the camera as your mom clasps your necklace) – so if that’s the style that you’re looking for it’s important to find a photographer who matches that style! In our case, we make sure to let our clients know that we prefer to capture things naturally as they happen throughout the day, and that we will never ask them to recreate something or interrupt an emotional moment and ask them to look at our cameras. However, don’t be fooled – because gorgeous photos that may look natural are actually often posed (at least a little bit!), so we let them know that we’ll give them a some direction to ensure that they look their best in their photos, or might ask them to move over by a window so that we can capture them in beautiful light. Unless you’re truly a model, it’s so hard not to feel uncomfortable or self-conscious when there’s a huge camera in your face, so it’s important that your photographer understands posing and knows how to make you feel and look beautiful and comfortable. By asking this simple question you can get a feel for your potential photographer’s style.
(Thanks to Jeanne Phinney Photography for this behind the scenes shot!)
And finally, a question to ask yourself!
A consultation with a vendor is basically like a first date, and it’s usually pretty easy to tell within the first few minutes if they’re a good fit for you or not. So once you’ve had the chance to speak with them, do a gut check and just ask yourself if they feel like the right fit for you and your wedding. Trust your instincts, especially when it comes to photography! You’re going to be spending one of the most important days of your life with your photographer, and you’re probably investing a good chunk of your budget in them. You should love them and their work! Remember…after the wedding, when the cake has been cut, the dancing is over, and the dress is packed away, your memories and your photographs are all that you’ll have!
With Love, R+A