by Rob Kaufman
Selecting the right photographer for your wedding is undoubtedly one of the most important decisions you will make. After all, when the flowers, the dinner, the cake and the bridesmaids’ dresses are all just fond memories, the photography you commission will still be a tangible asset that you can share and enjoy.
The process of finding your photographer can be a little daunting; there are many shooters out there at all levels of skill with all sorts of different styles. Unlike shopping for most other things, there is no real consistency as far as pricing is concerned. And to top it off, nearly every photographer has their own assortment of products and services they offer. But with a little homework and a little legwork, hiring a photographer for your wedding day will be an experience you’ll enjoy.
Finding Mr. or Mrs. Right
So what can you do to ensure you find the right photographer? First, let’s define what this term means. As you’ll see by reviewing their work, wedding photographers (the good ones anyway) have a distinct style. Some are more traditional in their approach and create a body of work that is very formal, full of straight-on poses and reminiscent of the images you’ve seen in your parents’ wedding album. Other shooters focus on capturing the candid and spontaneous moments that embody the spirit of the day. Some use elaborate lighting setups to create editorial or magazine-like appeal. Others may rarely use artificial lighting and rely instead on ambient light to create mood.
So who is “right” for you? It really all depends on what style catches your eye. By reviewing websites and actual portfolios, you’ll soon be able to narrow your list of potential photographers to the two or three that have a body of work that appeals to you. And be sure to ask to see examples of entire weddings, not just selected shots that have made it into a portfolio. This will really give you a sense for a photographer’s style.
Be a Smart Shopper
The old adage, “you get what you pay for” is especially true with photography. The Hilton Head area is blessed with many talented and highly professional wedding photographers. But it’s also home to many photographers who offer cut-rate prices far below what the market tends to bear. Often, the photographers working at low price levels are either new to the game and don’t have the experience needed to truly capture a wedding, or they do not respect their own work enough to price it appropriately. On the other end of the spectrum, you may also find there are photographers who seem to charge far more than photographers who showcase similar work.
You’ll find that prices on Hilton Head are all over the place, but in general, basic fees can start around $2,500 and run up to quadruple that depending on how elaborate the package. Don’t forget to negotiate. Most photographers are more than willing to customize a package to try and work within your budget, particularly if you are planning a wedding that is a non-Saturday affair.
Placing a value on a photographer’s work is very subjective, but you need to think in terms of investing in your future. Remember, you are commissioning an artist who will help to create images that will last a lifetime.
What’s In It for Me?
Much like wedding photography pricing, packages and services are all over the board. Some photographers offer traditional packages that start at a basic service level (including the photography time, an album of select images and a certain number of prints) and run up to elaborate packages that include photography, bridal portraits, rehearsal dinners, albums and prints. Other photographers’ fees may include only the photography time and all other options, such as reprints, bridal portraits and albums are offered on an ala carte basis.
In the era of digital photography and inexpensive home printers, many photographers have found that it’s convenient to offer a DVD with hi-resolution images that the bride and groom are licensed to reprint for personal use.
Which type of services you should choose really depends on how hands-on you want to be with your photos. Do you want to make your own prints, post your own website and assemble your own scrapbook or album? Or would you rather let the photographer handle these tasks? Whatever collection of services you decide upon, make sure it is very clear up front what you are and aren’t allowed to do with the photos and/or DVD a photographer provides. Unless specified to the contrary, the copyright for the photos always remains the property of the photographer.
Meet and Greet
Personality compatibility between photographer and subject plays a major role in the success of great wedding photography If possible try to meet face to face with the photographers you are considering. Be conscious about how you feel about being around this person. After all, you are allowing somebody to be an intimate part of one of the most important days of your life. A beautiful portfolio doesn’t mean anything if you don’t “click” with your photographer. Your comfort level will have a direct impact on the quality of the photos you will receive. Another important consideration is checking references. Just as you would if you were hiring somebody to work for your company, be sure to ask for a referral list. This list should include not only recent brides and grooms with which the photographer has worked, but other wedding vendors as well. Event planners and catering managers are a great resource and will often be happy to offer their opinions on the photographer’s with whom they’ve worked.
Whatever you do, get to work right away. Good photographers are usually booked well into the next year. Armed with this new knowledge it will be a snap to find a photographer with a style you like, a fee that works with your budget and a personality that will help to create the images of a lifetime.
Rob Kaufman is the owner of Hilton Head-based Kaufman Photography, providing wedding and commercial photography to clients around the country. His work can be seen at www.kaufmanphotography.com.