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How Early Do You Need to Book a Wedding Photographer?

We’re walking you through when to book a wedding photographer, and more importantly, what you need to know before you book.

By The Zola Team

couple embracing
Photo by Justine Bursoni

There are a few wedding vendors that are notorious for getting booked well in advance, and the photographer is high on that list. But don’t click away to secure one just yet. Here, we’ll walk you through exactly when to book a professional photographer for your wedding, plus explain what you need to know before you book.

When to Book a Wedding Photographer

A professional wedding photographer should be one of the first vendors you choose, but wedding planning is not the time to be hasty. Even if you’ve saved a dozen of your favorite pro photographers, don’t sign on the dotted line until you…

Have a General Timeline and Location for Your Wedding

First things first: Talk over the timeline of your engagement with your fiancé. Do you want to walk down the aisle right away or have a more drawn out engagement that doesn’t feel rushed? Consider the season, month, and where you envision it taking place. Then, talk to mom and dad, or whoever falls under the VIP category at your wedding. These are the folks you can’t say “I Do” without, and the ones you really hope can make it. If they have any major conflicts, you’ll want to know about them before setting a wedding date.

Know Your Budget

Ah, yes, the dreaded wedding budget conversation. It may not be fun, but it is extremely important. You can’t decide on a premier venue if you don’t have the finances to do so—even if it is for the sake of your dream day. Figure out who is paying—and how much they are contributing—before you make any big moves.

Have Booked Essential Vendors

Once the budget’s on lock and you have a big picture of the when and where of your wedding, you can start shopping around for your vendors. Unless you’ve had your heart set on a professional photographer from the second you snagged a beau, there are a couple of vendors you should reach out to first.

Venue: This probably doesn’t come as a surprise, but selecting your wedding venue should be at the top of your to-do list for your big day. Whether you've booked a wedding venue in Las Vegas or Phoenix, your venue has complete and total control over your wedding date, so you really can’t make any other decisions until it’s set. In some cases, venues also require you to work with vendors on their preferred wedding vendor list, which would be a big bummer if you already booked your professionals.

Of course, you can start reaching out to potential photographers before solidifying your venue to get their availability for the months or year when you hope to get married. But resist officially booking them until you’ve found a venue that aligns with their availability.

Wedding Planner: If you plan to hire a full-service wedding planner, it’s wise to book them before you make many big decisions. A wedding planner is an expert in the industry and can help narrow down your hunt by suggesting photographers that suit your personal style and budget. He or she may even be able to secure a discounted rate or special services if they have worked together before.

How Early Do You Need to Book a Wedding Photographer? Photo Credit // Elizabeth Craig Photography

But Make Sure to Book Your Photographer Before…

You Send Out Save-the-Dates

Now that you have your venue for your big day, chances are you’ve locked in your wedding date. But don’t get mail-happy with your save the date cards just yet. If you book your photographer before sending save-the-dates, you can schedule an engagement shoot with them. You can then use those photos for a beautiful save-the-date card, as well as your wedding website and guest book.

Engagement sessions are also a great way to get to know your photographer and get comfortable in front of the camera. Two things you’ll be extremely thankful for on your actual wedding day.

How Far in Advance to Book a Wedding Photographer

As we mentioned earlier, photographers book up quickly. If you have your eye on a pro who is in high-demand ( ie. their work graces the pages of Martha Stewart Weddings or they have hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram), be prepared to book well in advance. We’re talking at least a year. If you don’t have that kind of time, it never hurts to ask about availability, but don’t get your hopes set on any one photographer.

Thankfully, there are a plethora of options out there to choose from, so you won’t go without a photographer—even if your engagement is on the shorter end. If you can, try to book your photographer at least nine months out, or as soon as you can (read: have a confirmed wedding date).

What to Do Before You Book

Now that you’re well-versed in when to book your photographer for a wedding, there are a few other things to do before making it final.

Do Your Research

Make a list of photographers whose style you love. Then, research their websites to get a better idea of their packages, pricing, and personality. If you think they could be a good fit for you, your budget, and your location, inquire as to their availability.

How Early Do You Need to Book a Wedding Photographer? Photo Credit // Nana Annan Photography

Meet Face to Face

You want to feel comfortable on your wedding day, and your photographer can make or break both how you feel and look in front of the camera. With that in mind, it’s important to make sure you connect with them—something you can only learn by meeting face to face or via video chat.

Set up a meeting to get to know him or her before you book. You will be spending a lot of time with your photographer on your wedding day, so if your personalities mesh, the entire experience will be more enjoyable, and the photos will probably be better to boot.

Look at Entire Galleries

We hope we don’t have to say it, but Instagram is a highlight reel. If you fell in love with your photographer’s profile, that’s great. But you should know that Instagram is where they showcase the very best of their work and highlights from each wedding, which are usually only a few photos from each.

If they don’t showcase full portfolios on their wedding website, ask to see them. Look at the portraits, the details, the candid photos they capture—everything—to make sure you love the entire scope of their work, not just the dreamy sunset shots.

The photos are an important part of any wedding, so selecting a photographer shouldn’t come lightly. Finding your perfect wedding photographer can take time, but if you do your research, and book them at the right time, you can confidently plan the rest of your wedding knowing it will be captured beautifully. Explore Zola's vendor directory to connect with professional wedding photographers from Austin, TX to San Diego, CA and everything in between.

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