If there is one question that every photographer hates it’s “Have you worked at my venue before?”. Why? Because it does not matter! I’m here to dispel the myth that “My photographer has worked there before so they know the good spots”; it is almost completely false. I will also tell you what you should ask instead, to better understand if any photographer is the right fit for your wedding.
Your Photographer’s Unique Style
All photographers would see the space the same way so it’s better to pick someone who has worked at the venue before.
This one is often overlooked and possibly the most important reason it doesn’t matter if your photographer has worked your venue before! Each photographer has a unique, artistic way of seeing a venue, the events of your day, and the larger story of your wedding day. The way one photographer would capture the day is radically different than the way another would capture it. I seek out clean backgrounds, with beautiful light. I avoid busy backgrounds and heavy contrasted shadows, or use specific techniques to minimize them. I like a balance of scene setting images (with the venue), with intimate portraits of just you two, and big scenic portraits that are designed for full spreads in your album. I know other photographers who would seek out the exact opposite to satisfy their artistic style. Just because one photographer has worked at a venue doesn’t mean they are the right stylistic fit for your day. You should really note what type of work speaks to you and you enjoy so that you can ask the following questions…
What to ask instead:
“What are the characteristics of your style? When looking at our venue what would you highlight or minimize? What about our venue do you feel most inspired by?” or “We really like THIS type of image. Does this work with your artistic point-of-view?”
A photographer who has worked a specific venue knows “all the good spots” to photograph at.
Over 80% of the weddings I photograph in a year are at new-to-me venues. This is fantastic for me and my couples because it means I am coming into a space with fresh eyes and fresh energy. I’m looking at a venue not as a check-list of “go-to spots” but as an element of your unique day. I’m not dragging you to a spot because “it’s the spot for photos”- I’m being mindful to tell the story of your specific day. This is especially important with venues that have really unique and different location options. If you are using the waterfront ceremony location, I’m not going to drag you to the woods because “I know there is a good photo spot there”. Your wedding story is about being on the water so we are going to use that location to deliver a consistent narrative.
What you should ask:
“How do you find beautiful locations at venues? Are there any spots that excite you about this venue? Our favorite location is X or we saw THIS image at our venue and would like something similar, how could we work this location into our timeline?”
Light and Time of Year
All “the good spots” to photograph at are available all the time- that’s why it’s helpful to have someone who has worked there before.
The light and the time of year of your wedding has a massive impact on locations for images. Even venues I have photographed at before can act like (and have to be treated like they are) brand new venues because of the season and time of day. A stunning cherry tree in spring is a “must use” spot but in the winter, when it’s bare and just brown, it might become a “skip”. Likewise time of day matters a lot. Open fields and open water really demand softer light so we don’t loose detail in the background (think of how reflective water is around high noon vs how blue it is in the late afternoon/early evening). Sometimes the timeline of the day won’t allow for us to get to that spot at that ideal time where another spot is just perfect at that moment. Sunset in January is 5:20pm where in August it’s 8:40pm- your timeline really has an impact on which locations at a venue, at that moment, are ideal- and that has to be analyzed each and every minute of the day- having been there before doesn’t give a significant edge to anyone. Knowing how to read light and make decisions is so much more important.
What to ask instead:
“Our wedding is June 28th and we are thinking about a 4pm ceremony time. We love the stone columns in front of the venue and the mirrored room. How do we need to arrange our day to have the best images at those locations?”
They have worked this venue before so they can easily adapt to a rain plan.
This goes hand-in-hand with the former point because weather effects light- dramatically. Let’s say you love the photos of the outdoor ceremony over-looking the winery. It won’t matter if someone has shot a million weddings at that spot- because if it rains, a photographer has to adapt to a new environment. This is where it’s so critical to ask your photographer about their flash work and their ability to pivot while facing less than ideal lighting conditions. You would be surprised at how many wedding photographers do not have a solid flash skill set and cannot create consistent indoor images that look cohesive with their natural light work. Even scarier is the number of photographers who don’t know flash at all.
What to ask instead:
“How do you adapt when weather changes our outdoor Plan A to an indoor Plan B? What does your indoor flash work look like and can we see a few examples of different flash scenarios?” If your photographer can’t answer these questions with confidence, it could be a sign that their flash skills are not well developed.
What does matter when looking for a photographer?
If experience at a specific venue isn’t a good way to judge a photographer than what is?
You want a photographer who is seasoned in their craft- someone who has been photographing weddings for a few years. Someone who can pivot quickly and problem solve long before there is an actual problem. Someone with a defined and consistent style who has good reviews and happy clients. You want someone who is a master of light and can create beautiful work anywhere, no matter what the wedding day throws at them. Someone with back-up systems and back-up plans. And of course, you want someone you connect with, who will make your day fun and put you at ease.
The small kernel of truth
You may have heard that every lie has a kernel of truth and this topic is no different. There are some benefits to a photographer working a venue before but most of those benefits are for the photographer, not the couple.
- I don’t have to arrive as early or tour the venue. For new venues I make an effort to take a tour before your wedding and arrive one to two hours early to walk the space on your day and really give myself extra time to explore. If I have worked the venue before, I only need to be there 30 minutes early to do a quick light check (because of weather and time of year, as mentioned above). This is all before your official coverage starts so it only effects me.
- Vendor relationships. It’s nice to see and work with familiar faces. There are venues I work at two-three times a year. It is nice to see those same faces and reconnect. And sometimes be given the extra grilled cheese bites that were served as the late night snack (thanks Mark!).
- Easier set-up. Again, this an efficiency on my end. For venues I work at frequently, I know exactly where to place my reception flashes and where I’m going to do the detail photos. It shaves a few minutes off of my prep-time and is part of why I don’t need as much time ahead of the start of coverage. With new venues, I give myself a little extra prep-time ahead of your photography coverage to test the light and angles a bit more.
Fun fact: All the photos on this page were taken at venues I had never worked at before. Could you tell?