Between choosing caterers, wedding florists, wedding venues, and wedding invitations, there are a lot of moving parts involved in wedding planning. But choosing a wedding photographer is among one of the most important tasks. The photos taken on your special day will last through your lifetime and hopefully beyond, but to capture those special moments means having the right wedding photographer there to document it all.
To help you pick the right professional for your big day, we spoke to two wedding photographers to get their perspective on the role that they play in a couple's big day, to advise on some of the biggest mistakes couples make when hiring them, to share what a typical wedding is like for them, plus to offer some insider tips to help make your search for one go as smoothly as possible.
Photography is a lot more complex than people realize, and wedding photographers have been honing their craft for years. Still, people often underestimate the job that wedding photographers have and the large role they play in a wedding. Here’s what each photographer had to say about people's biggest misconceptions about them.
Amy Zumwalt, who has been a professional wedding photographer for 12 years as owner of The Lost Hemlock, says one of the biggest issues she faces is that people think photographers and videographers only work on the day of the wedding. “I think that a lot of people probably assume that the majority of work is done on the wedding day. Most people likely don't realize how many hours of editing go into every wedding,” she says.
Alicia Yarrish, the lead photographer of Alicia Yarrish Photographer, also notes that people don’t understand the various roles that a local wedding photographer plays in getting the right shot. A wedding photographer may have the right equipment, but he or she needs to have a good eye, too. “The biggest is thinking that our cameras take good photos and taking photos is our ‘only’ job. In reality, cameras are just tools,” she says.
Yarrish, a 10-year photography veteran, also says photographers need to be master communicators. “We need to read couples and families' level of comfort or stress throughout the wedding in order to cater our services to them to have a great day. We need to be excellent marketers to stay booked and in business. And possibly most importantly, we have to stay logistically-minded and respectful on wedding days—all while also being creative.”
When documenting a wedding, photographers have to both be seen and also blend into the background. There are many ways to go about this, and depending on who you hire and his or her training, this will also be part of the way he or she captures your wedding.
For Zumwalt, being able to tell a couple's story through the images she is capturing is extremely important. And a big part of her job is being able to anticipate things as they happen, but also allowing things to progress naturally.
“I always make sure that my couples have an accurate idea of my approach to weddings before they book. Photographers vary quite a bit in regards to their philosophy, approach, and photography style, so I think it's crucial to be sure my couples understand as much as possible about the way that I work, so they know if we are a good fit,” says Zumwalt.
“The most obvious role I play in every wedding I shoot is to tell an artful and authentic story. But I think it's extremely important that I am able to do that while intentionally allowing things to unfold as naturally as possible. If there's one thing that 12 years of experience has made me really good at, it's knowing how to get all those amazing images without interrupting, over-directing, or essentially intruding on what should be someone else's most memorable day,” she adds.
Zumwalt notes that one of her biggest professional pet peeves is when a photographer or videographer choreographs a scene. “I've watched way too many weddings turn into what felt like a movie set. As professionals, we all want the best lighting, angles, and all the moments, but it's important to know how to anticipate what's coming and be ready for it, so that you can get those shots, and let the couple experience the natural emotional process of their wedding day,” explains Zumwalt.
Usually, a typical day for Yarrish depends on the kind of wedding her clients are having. “This varies from couple to couple, depending on if there are multiple locations and the drive time. However, in general, I'm always with the couple separately during getting ready time, there to photograph their ceremony and then reception. When we photograph a bridal party and bride and groom, portraits always vary.”
When it comes to hiring a photographer, there are inevitably some mistakes that couples make. Here are some of the most common missteps:
Zumwalt has been in countless situations with couples whose wedding budget only allowed for either a photographer or a videographer. Additionally, this has also led to some couples being indecisive about what they really want. She suggests making the most of your budget, figuring out which of the two options is more important to you and your partner, and letting that drive your final decision.
“It pains me when a couple skimps on photography and videography, because they really only have the budget for one or the other. If you have a great photographer whose work you absolutely love, you won’t feel like you missed out by not having a videographer. But if you spring for both services by compromising on quality and experience, you'll end up with sub-par photography and videography.
I think the smartest way to make the most of your budget is to figure out which of the two is more important to you, and then hire the one that you absolutely love. Then, when all is said and done, no matter what else happens, you'll have the absolute best documentation of your day,” says Zumwalt.
Sometimes having too many options can be a bad thing. This can lead you down too many different paths and can also muddy the waters, which makes you less clear on the kind of style and photographs you are looking to achieve for your big day. Yarrish suggests trying to keep things simple.
“I recommend couples not make the decision harder than it needs to be. Overall, you need to be able to look at a gallery from a photographer and vibe with it. But, most importantly, you need to choose a wedding photographer that you mesh with personality wise,” she says.
While there is a lot of behind-the-scenes work that goes into producing beautiful wedding photographs, and a big part of this happens when they are edited, not everything can be photoshopped. It is a great tool of the trade that can help remove blemishes, make images sharper, and also take out other details you might not want, but it can't magically make other things appear. Photoshop can be used to help enhance images, but it can't create things out of thin air.
When it comes to your wedding day, photographers are usually one of the first people to get there and one of the last to leave. They want to be there to capture every moment. There are usually multiple locations they are shooting in too. Here is a breakdown of what a normal wedding day shoot is like for a photographer.
When it comes to photographing a wedding, Zumwalt usually finds herself in one of two positions––either she is with a couple that eloped and wants to document their big day, or it takes on a more traditional wedding photoshoot. For the former, this tends to be a lot more low-key and intimate. “I shoot a lot of Oregon coast elopements and really small, intimate outdoor weddings.
So for those couples, we usually begin in the morning with a cup of coffee and excited hugs before the couple breaks off into separate locations to write their vows. I stand in the shadows and document these very special and emotional moments before the hair and makeup begins. After the couple is dressed and ready, we usually meet for a first look. I like to give them lots of time to connect and make memories before they say their goodbyes and head back to prepare for the ceremony,” says Zumwalt.
From there, she goes on to take photos of family and friends who were included in the day, as well as taking time to shoot the couple one on one in an outdoor scene that takes advantage of the cliffs, waves, or forests around them. After, they usually head off back to meet a small group of guests for dinner, toasts, or cake cutting, which usually wraps up the day, and she will follow them there to capture more of their special day. “Then I head home and cry a little thinking about how lucky I am to do what I do,” Zumwalt adds.
In your search for a photographer, there are a few things that you can do to ensure that you are getting exactly the photos you want. Here’s what the pros say are most important:
While you may be drawing from various visual resources, being able to clearly articulate what you’re after is important. That way everyone is on the same page and you know what you can expect on your big day.
Always keep the photographer's style in mind and compare it to your wedding day. “If a couple is planning a wedding in a dark church and then a dark reception hall and hires a photographer that delivers bright and classic photos, they need to understand [that] their photos will look different than what I normally deliver. And that can cause unrealistic expectations,” says Yarrish.
Seeing an edited wedding album in person is important. This will really give you a sense of what the photographer's work is like and how it translates from seeing it on a computer or phone screen to in-person. This will also give you a chance to speak to them in person and also see how you get along.
Hiring someone to photograph your wedding ceremony is an important job, and because they will see you in very intimate and personal situations, feeling comfortable with them is key. Having that face-to-face consultation will also give you a better sense of how they work and, most importantly, how they will work with you.
While it's important to stay within your budget, picking someone on price alone is never a good strategy either. There are other factors that need to go into that decision, such as the work itself, who the photographer is, the style of images you're after, and your relationship to them. Of course, you want to get the best quality for your price point, but sometimes cutting corners means that you won't get what you were expecting.
“Most importantly, you need to choose a wedding photographer that you mesh [with] personality-wise. Because if you like them as a person, you'll trust them and have a blast on your wedding day. And that ultimately results in the best photos,” says Yarrish.
One of the best ways to get a recommendation for a photographer (and also other wedding vendors) is by word of mouth. If you get a suggestion from a friend or family member who has worked with a photographer before and you like his or her images, going with that person can help make things a lot simpler and straightforward in your search.
“Ask your wedding planner and friends, search Google, search Instagram... then narrow down the style you want and reach out to photographers within your budget. Then, choose whoever you click with. Don't make it stressful for yourself,” says Yarrish.
Here are some of the photographers most memorable wedding experiences:
Wedding photographs and engagement photos will last a lifetime, so hiring a talented professional that you feel comfortable around is key. You want photos that make you feel special and really capture the magic of your wedding day, so put in the time to find the right person for the job.
At Zola, we’ve worked with 1 million couples and have talked to tons of vendors to develop smarter, more efficient ways for you to find and connect with each other. From photographers to videographers and venues, get all your questions about wedding vendors answered with our expert wedding advice!