Finding the right wedding photographer
Photograph by Carrie Patterson

We were married on a beautiful day in September ten years ago. I walked down the aisle of the Chapel of the Transfiguration, my father on one arm, my friends and family lining the wooden pews. It was picture-perfect, as any wedding in the Tetons can be given the amazing natural backdrops.

I loved my dress, thought Brad looked handsome despite needing a haircut, and was happy to see all my friends and family. The whirlwind of anticipation and excitement perfectly melded on that fall afternoon. I remember taking a huge deep breath, and then it was over.

Like many of us, I spent a good deal of time reviewing that day—the good stuff, the stressful stuff, the unexpected stuff that is the icing on the cake (most of the time). I will be completely honest with you: if I could do it all over again, I would hire a professional photographer who is not a family friend. There. I said it.

We hired a friend who is a professional photographer. He was invited to the wedding anyway, but we paid him a few bucks to snap a few pictures of the ceremony and reception. He brought a date and hung with his friends. I never talked to him before the wedding to map out a plan. I just thought, Surely the photos will be great; he knows what to do.

While I have a nice set of photos, I look back on these pictures and think, Drat, I wish I had been more thoughtful about how I recorded this day. I wish I had been more involved with preserving these memories. If I were to do it all over again, this is what I would do:

Understanding why photography is important
I know this seems like I’m putting a huge emphasis on the wedding photographer (full disclosure: I’m married to one), but in the long run—and I mean the loooong run—photography becomes not just a fun way to remember the details of the day but a way of preserving history. I know you are not thinking about this now as you choose your cake flavor and floral theme, but your grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and generations down the line will look at these images with wonder, delight, and a sense of historical pride.

Before you call up your best friend who has a “really good” camera and ask him or her to shoot your evening candlelit wedding, consider that a professional wedding photographer is just as important as every other detail that will go into your planning. Trust me: you will want a stunning photo of your cake to reflect upon and remember how tasty it was.

Finding your style
I remember dress shopping and having that overwhelming sense of choice. There were so many styles, cuts, and shades of white, ivory, and off-white. Let’s not even talk about veils. After visiting several dress shops in one day, I was finally introduced to a salesperson who was genuinely interested in my sense of style, the feel of the wedding, the venue, and even the groom. It was with this salesperson that I was able to find the dress that fit all of our wedding characteristics—outdoorsy, casual, and classic. (Have I mentioned that I loved that dress?)

With respect to wedding photography, not all photographers are created equally. Some offer edgy, artsy photography; some are highly stylized; and others can provide a documentary approach to your big day. You can start to get a sense of what to expect from a photographer by looking at his or her previous work. (They should have a portfolio available for you to view online.)

Think about what you want from your photography—are you looking for knock-it-out-of-the-park portraits of you and the groom? Or, do you want more of a documentary style that will “tell the story of your day”? Answering these questions will help you find a photographer with the skills to fit your style.

Interviewing the prospects
Just like in any part of your planning process, a phone call or face-to-face meeting can reveal a lot about a potential vendor—his or her customer service skills, personality, and professional demeanor. All of this can be assessed with a quick chat by phone or meet-and-greet at a studio.

Ask your candidates about prewedding planning. Will the photographer help you navigate the wedding-day schedule as you get closer to the date?
(Remember: a photographer has more control over your schedule than you may realize—if photography is running long, then so will your cocktail “hour.”)

Also, consider whether the photographer seems genuinely interested in what you are planning. Can he or she offer suggestions to help guide you through the planning? Will the photographer provide a checklist of wedding events you definitely want included in your photo album like the first look, cake cutting, and first dance (just to name a few)?

Nuts and bolts
General expectations for photo packages, albums, photo use, and copyrights should be agreed upon well before your wedding day. But don’t worry! Your potential hire will have these details spelled out in a contract for you to sign. Your wedding photographer should be able to clarify these points (in plainspeak) with you over the phone, in person, or in an email. You’ll want to understand what you’re paying for while also understanding why Aunt May can’t take all of your professional images from an online gallery to Walgreens to make triple prints.
In addition, ask your photographer how long it will take to turn around your images; you’ll be eager to start flipping through your memories.

As you review your notes from interviewing the prospective photographers, you will find that pricing varies—a lot. While a less-expensive photographer doesn’t mean a less-skilled photographer, you will want to understand what you are receiving for the price you are paying.
Remember: your wedding photography is an investment. Consider what value you are placing on recording a very important day in your life story. °

Having worked as a publisher, editor, and most passionately as a journalist, Jeannette Boner continues to carve out a sweet little life tucked into the Tetons. Life has its regrets, and while Jeannette doesn’t lament much in this life, she recommends hiring a professional photographer for your upcoming wedding. Trust her. She speaks from experience.

Bradly J. Boner
Katy Gray
Ashley Wilkerson
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