You are newly engaged, and you have just embarked on an exciting new journey. Wedding planning may seem a daunting task, but it is undoubtedly a unique and rewarding experience in a person’s life. Ultimately the time to decide who you will trust to capture and preserve your memories has come. But how do you choose your wedding photographer? The below guide aims to provide you with real-life advice, based on my experience as a wedding photographer for more than two decades, which I hope you will find helpful during your wedding planning journey. So, without further ado, let’s see where you should start.
Define the Photography Style that Fits your Personality
Social media and the internet in general, have changed weddings together with all other aspects of life. This information overload is wonderful, but also overwhelming at the same time. Google, Instagram, and Pinterest are all different mediums to find the work of wedding photographers. During your online search, you may have encountered terms such as photojournalism, “fine art wedding photography,” “dark and moody” wedding photos, or a “vintage film look,“, which has emerged in the last few years, as “adventurous elopements” became a trend. So, how do you choose which wedding photography style is the best for you?
Below you will find some historical info on photojournalism and “fine art wedding photography,” which have been the most popular wedding photography styles of the last three decades. This was actually part of a speech I gave to fellow wedding photographers during the latest wedding photography conference I attended. I thought that some couples might also find it interesting to read, so you can find it below:
WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY GENRES & STYLES
Some Historical Info
Before the 1990s, wedding photography did not have the best reputation, as it was mainly posed and static without expressing any creativity on the photographer’s part whatsoever. Fashion and portrait photographers such as Richard Avedon, Steven Meisel, Mario Testino, and Patrick Demarchelier as well as photojournalists, such as Sebastião Salgado, James Nachtwey and Steve McCurry, were on the spotlight. And for a good reason. But the landscape was completely transformed when photojournalism entered wedding photography, starting from the 1990s.
Candid imagery and the documentation of a wedding with as limited intervention from the photographer as possible were key concepts in this “fly on the wall” approach. Creativity flourished as traditional posing rules, and lighting techniques were adapted or ignored. The status of wedding photography was upgraded, and the pay was improved as well. Not surprisingly, when rates started to increase and most importantly, with the advent of digital imaging, the number of wedding photographers soared. Highly-automated digital cameras lowered the barrier of entry, and quickly the saying “every monkey with a DSLR camera thinks he’s a Photographer” became relevant. The influx of new photographers was not bad per se. On the contrary, it brought fresh ideas and energy to the field. But in several cases, a “spray and pray” shooting technique with no sense of artistic planning led to what can be described as “snapshot photography,” a corrupted form of real photojournalism, which had nothing to do with the work of photojournalists and photography legends, such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, and Alfred Eisenstaedt.
As expected, couples started to question the value of thousands of randomly captured photos instead of a planned, cohesive collection of images with a consciously crafted style. Enter “fine art wedding photography.” Fine-art as a photography genre is essentially a medium for creative expression of an emotion, idea, or message in line with the photographer’s vision as an artist. Influenced by portrait photography and starting as a backlash against the corrupted form of photojournalism, “fine art wedding photography” aimed towards a stylized representation of a wedding day through carefully shaped imagery, favoring the use of film instead of digital cameras. As the years went by and especially during the second decade of the 2000s, this photography style has become a trendy buzzword. The imagery created by fine art wedding photographers has had specific features shared by all its practitioners. Those characteristics are wide-open apertures, shallow depth of field, backlight, and overexposure to create light and airy images in natural light with a pastel palette of colors. Aided by the heyday of wedding blogs offering wedding styling inspiration, this particular style grew, as it put a huge emphasis on portraying the styling of a wedding (florals, decor, tablescapes, etc.)
Nevertheless, “fine art wedding photography” has also received its fair amount of critique. The images follow a specific “pattern” and end up being so consistent and predictable that they lack the individual artist’s voice, as in many cases, one can’t find a single differentiating factor between different photographers. Besides, an excessive focus on shooting the decor and pretty objects on the wedding day, in hopes of publishing the wedding on a wedding blog, shifts the spotlight from the couple and the guests and the capture of candid, in-between moments. Last but not least, natural light is great for as long as it’s available, but most weddings do not end at sunset or before getting dark.
In order to define the wedding photography style that fits you, I recommend you sit with your partner and decide what you like and what you don’t like. Narrowing down the photographer options and trusting your own unique perspectives and who you are as a couple is the most crucial part. Make sure you do your research on a large screen, such as a desktop or laptop, since the bigger the size of the photos, the better you can judge them. All photos look good on mobile phones as you can’t tell if a picture is sharp or blurry, in or out of focus. Don’t just rely on an Instagram portfolio. Visit the photographers’ websites, view as many galleries as possible and also ask to view examples of full wedding galleries as delivered to couples. Use a critical eye. Do you like how the couple is portrayed? Do you imagine yourself in those photos? Can you feel the emotions and get a sense of the atmosphere of the day? Remember, your wedding photos will stay with you forever, and for that reason, you have to select a photographer who can document the day the way you want to remember it.
What is my opinion on the subject matter? I’m a firm believer that wedding photography should transcend any trends and be timeless. The style of your wedding photos is not something you want to have a limited shelf life, and it is important to make an informed decision. “Timeless” is not actually a style, and it’s a word that appears on many wedding photographers’ websites, including mine. But what are actually the timeless qualities in wedding photos? In my opinion:
• a seamless blend of more than one photography genres (a storytelling approach, which captures the essence and the emotions of the day, as well as an editorial approach with artistically directed portraits, since the goal is to portray the couple as their most beautiful selves)
• natural colors with minimal manipulation to only enhance and not alter them (the”vintage film look” may be trendy now, but will those brownish colors and orangey skin tones stand the test of time? I sincerely doubt it)
• thorough coverage of the day with the couple and their guests as the protagonists (of course the decor and the overall styling of a wedding are important and should be included in the gallery that will be delivered to the couple, but if, for example, there is 1 hour for the bride’s preparation photos, it is not wise to dedicate 40 minutes to shoot the shoes, the dress or the stationary flat lays)
I recommend that your photographer is very experienced in shooting weddings, as there is no room for mistakes due to inexperience or lack of organization. Good wedding photographers know how to combine the different photography genres, which are essential in wedding photography and are effective under the stress of time pressure. Whenever I saw weddings captured by purely fashion photographers, who are used to shoot in controlled environments with a whole crew in assistance, I was not overly impressed. Furthermore, when the photographer is experienced, they know when and how to anticipate important moments and efficiently manage large groups. At the same time, they have the self-confidence to deal with any unpredictable situation and make the couple feel at ease. And trust me, several unpredictable situations happen in live events, such as weddings.
Is the Photographic Medium (Film or Digital) Important?
If I had to summarize my opinion in a sentence, I would say that yes, the photographic medium is important when selecting a wedding photographer, because it influences their photography style and delivered images. However, I would like to further elaborate on the subject as well as discuss my personal choice between the two mediums.
I started shooting film in the 1980s as a child and have been shooting film throughout the 1990s. Nothing was more exciting to me than developing my film rolls in my darkroom and experimenting with the different chemicals. My B&W prints with selenium toning are still my favorites, and one can see them hanging in my office. That being said, I now shoot exclusively digital in all my professional work. This is a conscious decision, after having worked with both mediums for many years. The basic reasons why I don’t choose film can be summarized below:
• Limitations and lack of flexibility – Shooting 16 frames per film roll with medium format cameras, which is what most film wedding photographers use, means that the shooting style needs to be adapted and become more static and slow. Important moments during a wedding day may be lost during the change of film rolls, while shooting a limited number of images means that there are fewer opportunities to choose the best expressions in candid photos of people talking, laughing, etc. Besides, film is not flexible when light conditions change dramatically.
• The risks of something going wrong are too many – Film roll failure, for example. Failures may occur in digital cameras as well, but there are more safeguards, such as shooting in two memory cards. Film rolls, which are mailed to the film lab, may be lost on the way, or there may be a failure on the part of the lab due to human error; the problem is that there are no backups in case something like this happens.
• Lower resolution (smaller printable size) and lower quality files delivered from the scanned film rolls
• Easier to get blurry photos in motion with medium format film cameras without extremely good technical skills
• More difficult to retouch when and if needed
I do believe that modern digital cameras are more versatile, and one can achieve almost any look they want during post-processing. It is also my personal opinion that the film revival of the previous decade stems from a vintage nostalgia as well as a conscious marketing strategy from film photographers to differentiate themselves.
I shoot film casually for personal projects, only when I want to process it in a darkroom for my own pleasure, as a hobby. I would never shoot film (not now that I have the option of digital) in live events such as weddings that moments happen only once. I have invested, and I will keep investing every year in the latest cameras and the very best prime lenses, and I will not use the gear I was using 20 years ago for my couples.
What about Pricing Considerations?
The way I view wedding photography is not as a commoditized service. Commoditization occurs when there is no significant difference between a product or service, and the only distinguishing factor, based on which people make buying decisions, is the price. Gas, for example, can be bought at any gas station, based on where it is offered at a lower price because the product is commoditized. Photography is first and foremost an art and should be valued as such.
Nevertheless, I certainly do not recommend paying much more than you can afford or maxing out your credit cards while you plan your wedding, as this will lead to disappointment and remorse when the wedding will be over. My suggestion is to think about the overall wedding budget and what part of it you would like to allocate to wedding photography. If your wedding photos are important to you, you may want to consider spending more on your photographer and cutting down on something else. This should be a conscious decision after discussing it with your partner.
I found a Photographer I Like, what Should I Do Next?
I highly recommend taking the time to contact the photographer you like directly. Direct communication is always faster, more effective, and it is highly unlikely that there will be any misunderstandings. Messages sent on social media, such as Instagram or Facebook, are certainly convenient, but it is easy to be lost within a large inbox, which does not only include professional inquiries, resulting in delays in replies. My office team and I encourage all couples to contact us by filling in the contact form on this website, which is also a questionnaire that enables us to receive useful information about a wedding event. Especially for destination weddings, that information is essential in order to create a custom offer based on the event needs.
After you exchange emails and check the photographer’s agreement and its terms and before you officially book them, I recommend you schedule an interview. Meeting the photographer in person, most often via a video call, is very important for both the photographer and the couple in order to establish a connection and understand if they are a good fit for each other. Especially for the photographer, whose work is profoundly creative, good chemistry with his couple is absolutely crucial.
I hope the above has been helpful. In the meantime, we will be more than happy to receive any questions you may have. Planning your wedding is a very exciting period in your life. Make sure you enjoy it to the fullest!