There is a wealth of information out there on how to choose a wedding photographer and certainly a whole lot more "fluff" than I'd like to see, so I thought I would take the opportunity to distill down, from years of experience, the critical aspects of choosing a photographer.
You've probably heard the saying that in twenty years, all that remains are the photos, so the photographer (and videographer) should obviously occupy a prominent position of importance as you plan out your day.
So where do we start?
1. What is your budget?
Ew....money...what a touchy subject. It's probably the least palatable subject, but ironically, the most important. I'm sure if you are reading this article, you've probably begun research on photography and more than likely, almost fainted at the sticker shock of some photographer's prices.
What's too high? What's too low? Well, according to a huge survey of 6,000 couples on one of the largest industry wedding planning sites, WeddingWire, the average costs for a wedding day were:
AVERAGES FOR ENTIRE USA
Average number of wedding guests: 120
Average spend on engagement ring: $4,758
Average wedding ceremony/reception cost: $28,958
Average spend on honeymoon: $3,882
Average spend by vendor category:
Rehearsal Dinner: $1,935
This can cost MORE or LESS depending on what state you living in, and where you want to get married. Philadelphia is the 5th most expensive city to get married in, with average wedding costs being $34,982.
That being said, the average, or 50th percentile, of all wedding photography packages in Philadelphia, PA 19111 cost $3392.
Where did I get that figure? Check out www.costofwedding.com for a unique calculator that compares where you are getting married to the prevailing prices of goods and services in that area. This will help give you realistic data as you make your wedding planning decisions.
Here at J&J Studios we have different packages for different price points and we will work with you to find the most appropriate package for your price point. Be prepared to talk about things you most DEFINITELY need and things you could "do without" as we try to make your wedding package both uniquely yours, and within your budget.
2. What style of photos do you most desire?
There are 4 main types of wedding photos.
Photojournalism is basically coverage of the event as it happens. Minimal emphasis on posing, portraiture, or really anything other than unobtrusive coverage of an event that is unposed and natural. J&J Studios is primarily a photojournalistic and lifestyle wedding photography company.
Lifestyle photography is an extension of photojournalism with a more artistic slant to it. Couples are given basic posing instruction, for example, "Hey, look out this window." Then the photographer sits back and captures that moment without interrupting the general flow of the day. J&J Studios is primarily a photojournalistic and lifestyle wedding photography company.
Fine Art / Epic
Choosing the right style photographer is a daunting task. Our advice is to go through a photographers portfolio and see if you enjoy the overwhelming majority of images. If you do, chances are you have selected a photographer and style that meshes well with your own. This is the single most important advice when selecting a wedding photographer as most photographers are a combination of different styles.
3. How experienced is my photographer?
A good barometer of experience is the presence of your photographer on multiple sites-- for example, The Knot, Wedding Wire, Yelp, Facebook, Instagram. Look at just not the sites but the quality of the content, the number of reviews, and consistency of bookings (dates).
A telltale sign of a new photographer would be a random craigslist posting and a limited internet presence (no website).
Ask for references from happy clients. Any photographer worth his weight will be able to provide at least 10 happy couples to talk to about their experience. Note that increased experience usually brings an increase in price. While experience isn't necessarily the judgement of all talent, an experienced photographer will most likely be able to handle almost any unexpected situation or turn of events (and trust me there are usually many) on your BIG DAY with aplomb and proficiency to make the most of any situation.
4. Do we mesh well?
Set up a meeting with your photographer. At J&J Studios we can meet at our studio or more frequently a convenient coffee shop near your home. During our initial consultations, we provide further information about our products and services, brochures, slideshows of our portfolio, and answer any questions you have about your big day. We go over our contract with you, payment options and any lingering questions you have.
Despite the barrage of details, the most important part of the meeting is for you to determine if we mesh well. During your big day, your photographer spends more time with you than ANY BODY ELSE--even your own mother. We arrive early in the morning and leave late at night--after pretty much all the guests are gone. We will be by your side or in close proximity throughout the entire day. This is your chance to see if we will make a good fit.
5. What happens if you are sick? Your camera breaks? A tree falls on your car? You drop a light stand on my guest?
In our over 100+ weddings, we have never been sick on a wedding day. For maybe 2 or 3 weddings, one of us has had a cold, but nothing that would prohibit us from shooting. However, should meningitis strike or a debilitating event, we have at our disposal a list of 10 quality subcontractors capable of shooting high quality work that will be summoned, if needed, to take your wedding photos.
We also use the highest quality Nikon and Sony professional equipment. We come prepared with speedlights, studio strobes, light stands, extra batteries, and back up cameras should our primary bodies become damaged or malfunction. Make sure to ask your photographer about their equipment, if they have backups, and also, are they insured?
J&J Studios is licensed and insured carrying $2,000,000 commercial liability and negligence insurance in the event of any incident. This covers things like bodily injury or property damage while we are on the premises conducting business activities. Some studios are not insured--so be sure to ask this important question.
6. Who is our photographer?
Some studios try to maximize profits by having a staff of contract photographers and then book as many weddings as they can. Thus, the gorgeous portfolio pictures you saw on the website will perhaps be taken by someone totally different than the actual photographer shows who shows up.
Make sure if you use a photo studio with "associate" or "contract" photographers that you ask to see a selection of his/her personal work, and not just the best of the best images on the main website.
Here at J&J Studios, we are a husband and wife team of photographers so you will get us each and every time. We may bring associate photographers with us depending on your package selection or additional services (videography, aerial cinematography). However, we will always be the primary photographers at your event.
7. Do you double book?
Make sure to ask this important question. Some studios will book more than 1 wedding on a certain day. For example, they will book a morning wedding from 10-3, then an afternoon wedding from 4-10.
Here at J&J Studios, we never double book a day. Once your date has been reserved, we will not book any other couples on that day. We have found through experience that the unexpected always happens and weddings tend to always run late. That being said, if your photographer has another booking he or she may have to decide to stay late and finish your wedding or cut your wedding short and make his/her way over to the next wedding.
Double booking is not necessarily bad--there is credence to the old saying make money while the sun is shinning. However, here at J&J Studios, we just don't feel it fits with our style of photography and our focus on quality over quantity.
8. Have you done a wedding at this venue or a similar venue?
Chances are, if your wedding is in Philadelphia, we have likely shot a wedding there already on a previous occasion. If your photographer has shot there before, this gives him/her a distinct advantage by knowing the lighting, the best/unique ankles for portraits, an accurate assessment of the grounds and surroundings for bridal portraits, and finally a knowledge of key property or venue features that a less familiar or novice photographer might not have.
However, Philadelphia is the 5th biggest city in the United States, so there will certainly be many venues we have not done. We always make a point to scout any new venue at least a week or two before the wedding so we can learn the ins and outs of a new venue.
If your photographer has not done a wedding at that venue, ask to see examples of work at a similar venue. For example, we have done weddings at Trump National Gold Club, a prominent Pine Hill, NJ country club. However we have not worked at some of the other country clubs in the area. In this case, we may show clients images from the Trump club to show an example of a nearby, comparable country club.
Make sure to ask to see an entire wedding collection--not just the highlights of the day. This will allow you to make an accurate assessment of what your wedding images will potentially look like from that day since we will be showing you images from that venue or a similar venue to yours.
9. Do you customize your packages?
Here at J&J Studios, if you can't find a package tailored to your needs, we can custom build a package to meet your needs. This helps if there are specific things you really want--maybe an album, but want to cut corners on some prints to bring your package to a reasonable budget.
We will work with you at your initial consultation to find out what's most important and how we can save you money if budget is the main concern.
In selecting a photographer, make sure to ask what their policies on customization are. Some will go out of the way to customize a package, others will not!
10. How far out do we need to book you?
Here at J&J Studios, we do a rolling booking policy. If you are interested in a date, we will "pencil" you in for that date. You can decide later whether or not to book. If another customer comes along who is interested in that date, we will call you and ask you to complete your booking with a 50% deposit or flexible payment plan. Your date is reserved once a 50% deposit is secured, or you have enrolled in a payment plan (automatic debit offered for packages over $3,000 for 12 monthly payments, 3.99% finance fee).
Typically, popular wedding dates (Saturdays) from the months between July and October (wedding peak season) book out approximately a year in advance. Non peak dates (weekdays, winter weddings) can usually be booked a few months in advance.
11. Do you charge a travel fee?
No...and yes. For weddings within an hour driving radius of Philadelphia, there is no travel fee. Destination, out of state, or out of country weddings require flight, hotel, rental car fee to be paid by client. For weddings in Northern New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Maryland etc, the client pays the standard IRS rate of $0.54 a mile beyond the 1 hour radius of Philadelphia.
12. What if my wedding runs late?
At J&J Studios, for our Fireworks and Epic Wedding Package, you receive unlimited all day coverage. For other packages, additional coverage is assessed at $299/hr/photographer in 1 hour increments. Additional coverage time is not prorated.
Ask your photographer these questions so you have a good idea of what coverage time will cost in the event that your wedding runs late.
13. What is your refund/cancellation policy?
Most photographers have some sort of refund/cancellation policy. At J&J Studios, your deposit is non-refundable. If you have paid in full for your wedding, your refund will be 50% of your total balance paid. If you cancel your wedding, your refund will be 50% of your total balance paid.
Some photographers do not offer refunds at all so make sure to ask potential photographers this question.
14. Do we need to give you a shot list?
Some photographers love to have shot lists, others do not. Here at J&J Studios, we want you to give us a group portrait list and identify any specific shots you want. However, we've done enough weddings at this point that we will generally capture all the key moments, details, etc without prompting.
For example, if during your initial introduction at the reception you have cued a rose petal cannon to fire rose petals into the air as you enter, we want to know before hand.
However, standard introductions will not require any direction from you.
15. What makes you unique?
According to WeddingWire, there are 100,000 professional wedding photographers in the United States. What makes you unique?
Here at J&J Studios, we have always been true to our unique mission of: "Providing exceptional quality, fast turn around, and unparalleled customer service."
We edit and color correct each and every image we return to you. Some photographers shoot images and deliver them straight out of camera. Your colors are NOT guaranteed to be correct, the brides dress might not be perfectly white, the photos shot in a tungsten lit reception hall might all be orange. Not so at J&J Studios. We guarantee correct color rendering and white balance for every single image.
Fast Turn Around
We provide our 1 month turn around guarantee. Some photographers take months and months to return your pictures. At a recent wedding of a close family member, her photographer took 4 months to give back the photos. This is completely unacceptable. The bride wanted to be able to display her images proudly and she couldn't do so until months after the wedding.
At J&J Studios, we guarantee your photos will be done within 1 month. Often, we send a few preview photos to you the SAME DAY as your wedding. Our typical turn around is 3-4 weeks for a full set of wedding photos. If your photos aren't done in 1 month, you get your money back.
Unparalleled Customer Service
Unique to J&J Studios, we have a 24 hour return message policy. If your email or call is not returned within 24 hours, you receive a 10% discount on your package.
16. What do you do with my images after the wedding?
We may submit your images for publication (with your permission of course). We also might use them in our promotional or marketing materials. They will often appear with a congratulatory phrase on our social media pages (Facebook, Instagram). With every wedding, we guarantee a 1 year encrypted cloud back up of your images in the event of loss or damage to your originals.
In other words, if your computer crashes, you get a computer virus or worse your laptop is stolen (heaven forbid). We save all your images for 1 year after your wedding. After 1 year, we'll send you a friendly reminder to back up your images to at least 2 places (USB Drive, DVD, portable hard drive) before we delete your images off our file servers.
Ask your perspective photographer what happens to your images after the wedding and if they have any back up systems in place for your image archiving.
17. How many pictures will we get back?
On the day of your wedding, we may take anywhere from 3000 to 5000 images at a typical wedding. Those images are then sorted, categorized, repeats are deleted, all the images with weird facial expressions, eyes closed, or unflattering poses are culled from the pack.
The remaining images are edited to perfection. On a typical wedding, you can expect approximately 50-100 finished images per hour of wedding coverage. So, for a 4 hour wedding, I'd expect between 200-400 finished images.
Check and see if your photographer specifies a guaranteed number of images. Here at J&J Studios, we have guaranteed number of images for set wedding packages but almost always exceed expectation.
18. Do you have professional certifications or extra training in photography?
This is a good way to see if your photographer keeps current in the field of photography. Here at J&J Studios, we are members of the prestigious Professional Photographers of America (PPA), are certified in Adobe Photoshop, hold commercial pilot licenses (Part 107: sUAS Licensed) for our aerial drone cinnematography, and attend continuing education classes all over the United States and multiple conventions and photographic expos including Wedding & Portrait Photographers International (WPPI) and Imaging USA.
19. After the wedding do you edit the images?
Yes! In fact, this is why wedding photography is so damn expensive. A lot of people think it must be easy to make $2,000 or $3,000 for a day of "easy" work taking pictures. This is far from the truth. At J&J Studios, we give each and every image a thorough image edit. We correct the lighting, color, white balance, the cropping, toning, vibrance, contrast and saturation of every image.
Beware of wedding photographers offering to photograph your wedding for a few hundred dollars. They are cheaper for a reason. Typically, it's because they "shoot and burn" their images. What's this mean? They typically shoot images in Jpeg (low quality) format and burn the images immediately to a USB or DVD and give them to the client. The images are SOC (straight out of camera).
Unique to J&J Studios, during your initial consultation we ask about your style of post processing and allow clients to pick their favorite style(s) so that we can post process most of their images favoring a specific style.
20. When will you give me my pictures?
Due to the time required to sort, edit, and post-process the pictures, at J&J Studios, our typical wedding turn around time is 3-4 weeks. We guarantee your finished set of all wedding images within 1 calendar month of your wedding.
For engagement shoots, it is 1-2 weeks. You receive the full resolution images along with a Release of Rights letter entitling you to make prints as you wish. You can also buy professional prints from your private online wedding gallery.