I’ve seen a few recent postings on local Facebook about photographers ghosting on their clients, sometimes before the wedding, sometimes after the wedding without delivering images. Every couple’s worst nightmare and a tremendous waste of money (the screenshots are real posts I’ve seen). It’s becoming clear that couples are not asking the right questions or don’t know how to vet a photographer correctly. Don’t feel bad- for most people this is the first time they have ever had to hire a photographer so there is no reason you should know the questions to ask.
I Googled “What questions to ask a wedding photographer” and while many people had a list of questions- no one actually specified what answers you need to be hearing back. It’s not helpful to ask a bunch of questions if you don’t know what is a good, or perhaps, suspicious answer.
Below is a list of questions directly from this Brides Magazine article, except I’m giving you the answers you need to be hearing! Who am I? I’m Christine and I’ve been a wedding photographer almost 10 years and I’ve photographed over 100 weddings in Maryland, D.C., Virginia and the greater East Coast. I will note that some of the most important question are the very last two sections!
- Is my wedding date available?
Self explanatory but some photographer’s will offer an associate photographer if the owner is already booked for another wedding. An associate is hired by the owner and trained to shoot under that brand’s style. The owner then edits those images and delivers them to you. Many photographers will offer a slight discount on associate photographers.
- Will you be the one shooting my wedding? If not, can I meet the photographer who will be on-site?
Unless you are knowingly hiring an associate photographer the owner should be primary photographer. If you are hiring an associate, you should be able to meet them at least over Zoom. You should ask how often that associate has worked for the owner and what the associate’s experience is.
There are some national companies that match you with a photographer. They tend to have really compelling budget price points (think 8 hour coverage starting at $1500-2000). I would be wary of these companies. Photography is a personal experience and you should really know exactly who is working your wedding, their style, and be in direct communication with them from day one so that you are given the best support and service. I would personally only work with a individually owned photography studio where the owner is the primary photographer and/or has a very small team (think 1-2 people that they talk about regularly).
- How many other weddings will you photograph that weekend?
Many photographers will often work two weddings a weekend, sometimes three (Friday, Saturday,and Sunday). Weddings are almost always weekend events so that is standard, especially during popular months like September and October. A better question to ask is “How many weddings in a year do you serve?” Most seasoned pros cap their seasons to avoid burn-out and dedicate high quality service.
- I only take a max of 15 weddings a year.
- Will you have any assistants with you on our wedding day?
No right or wrong answer- just important to know how many people you will need to feed (and yes, you should be feeding a hot meal to your photographers- they work hard for you).
- How long have you been shooting weddings? How many weddings have you photographed?
Star this question. Experience matters! A seasoned pro is going to have photographed at least 50 weddings and/or worked for at least 4 years, any less and they are still an amature or very new proffesional. Remember though, just because they’ve shot 200 weddings doesnt mean they provide the best service- they may have a lower wedding count if they are capping the number they take so they can provide that higher quality service. Look at things holistically.
- Also ask clearly- how many of those weddings were you the lead or primary photographer vs a second photographer vs shooting at a styled shoot. Running a wedding day as a lead is very different than just being a second photographer. There are a lot of websites I’ve seen that are dominated almost to exclusion by styled shoot images. Nothing against styled shoots- they help create cohesive looks for websites-my website’s home page has such images but I ALSO have many real weddings showcased.
- Do you often shoot weddings that have a similar size and style to the one we are planning?
This question won’t give you a ton of information as it’s pretty vague. Get more specific. “In our culture family formals are really important and we have over 50 combinations, how would you handle that? We are going to have 10 guests or 350 guests- does that effect anything on your end? Our venue is a dark industrial venue, what does your flash images look like?” Those questions will give you much more interesting answers.
- Can we see the full galleries of a few of your recent weddings?
The only answer should be yes and you should ask to see weddings that have similar characteristics to your wedding (Cathedral church, grand ballroom or outdoor ceremony on the beach and a tented wedding). Lighting and venue has a massive impact on photo quality. If your reception is in ballroom with no windows, it doesn’t help to only look at outdoor summer weddings. You need to see ballroom style lighting.
- Have you ever shot a wedding at our ceremony and reception venues? If not, do you plan to check the venues out in advance?
I’ve answer this question in great detail here. In short, a specific venue doesn’t matter so much as similar lighting conditions as I answered in the question above. Many photographers will either visit the venue ahead of your wedding or arrive early on their own time to walk the grounds before your coverage starts. Both are fine.
- Have you ever worked with our planner? Videographer? Florist? DJ?
Similar to the question above, having worked with a specific person matters less than knowing how to work as a team in general. Instead ask “How do you like to work with planners? Videographers? Florists? DJs? You’re looking for a collaborative, team approach.
- How would you describe your photography style? What would you compare your work to?
This is only important if you understand what style YOU gravitate towards. I’ve seen so many stories in photography groups where a client gets back a true-to-life edited image and then asks for it to be re-edited with a moodier hipster style or vice versa. Take a long look at the images you see on their website and Instagram. Note how bright or dark the images are. Is the bride’s white dress actually white or is the white a little yellow (warm) or blue (cool)? Or is everything tinted an orange/brown? Are skin tones accurate? Do YOU like their style- that is how that photographer artistically see’s the world so be sure it speaks to you. You also want to be sure to see consistency in their work. Compare their instagram side by side with a few photographers to help train your eye to see style and see what you gravitate towards.
- How would you describe your working style? Do you prefer to blend into the background to capture candid moments, or do you like to be more visible and take charge to choreograph images?
Another question to star! What this is asking is if your photographer will actively manage the day (cleaning up and moving furniture in the getting ready suite to place you in just the right light and directing you on how to stand) or if they have a photo-journalistic style (where they won’t move objects or you, and just capture exactly as the day unfolds with minimal to no directing). Again, there is no wrong answer but listen carefully and look at their images to decide if you like the result.
- Personally I am the former- I actively manage the day, set you in exactly the right spot (that I cleaned) and then let the moments unfold in front of me.
- Do you shoot digitally? With film? Or both?
No right or wrong, just different styles. Film scans are expensive though so expect to see an added cost of a few hundred to a thousand dollars if they shoot film. On average a film camera costs $4-10 per click. That adds up very fast.
Pricing and Packages
- What is included in your standard package? What add-ons do the more expensive packages include?
A base package should have all the hours needed to cover your day (typically 8 hours) along with edited images. From there you can expect to see second photographers added (always good to have), albums, extra hours above standard coverage, engagement sessions, and rehearsal dinner. When comparing photographers, make sure you are noting exactly what you are comparing. A $4000 package that includes 6 hours and one photographer might actually wind up costing the same as a $6000 photographer who includes 8 hours, a second photographer and an album.
- My base collection includes 8 hours of coverage, myself and a second photographer, an engagement session, and a client planning on-line lounge to help with planning as well as all the edited images. Not saying that is the “only right way”- thats just our base collection.
- It’s best to get 3 quotes to help triangulate price. One will be higher, one will be the middle and one will be the lowest. It gives you a good way to judge price, value, skill, and your preferences accurately. If you see someone wildly lower, you should be asking why, not just assuming you found a great deal.
- Can I customize a package to fit my needs?
No right or wrong answer- just be prepared that most photographers won’t reduce their base coverage but will always create you a custom proposal if you have a specific wishlist or specific products you know you want.
- Do you include engagement photos in your packages? What about pre-wedding events like rehearsal dinners?
Many photographers will include engagement photos- I personally do because I feel strongly about meeting in person and getting my couples really comfortable in front of the camera. Some don’t though so be prepared for that added cost. Most would charge extra for other events like the rehearsal dinner or build that into a custom package. Also, you might get an associate for the rehearsal if your photographer does have a wedding the day before yours. That is normal.
- How many hours are included in each package? How much do extra hours cost?
Very similar answer to the questions above so a better question is “what events on my wedding day are covered by your standard package?” The reason I only offer 8 hours as a minimum is because 90% of the weddings we cover need 8 hour to feel unrushed. That other 10% need 10 or more hours. You don’t want to assume 6 hours will cover getting ready through dancing. It likely won’t. Also ask about adding hours day of if something changes or runs long.
- Do you offer a photo booth?
I’d guess most don’t- DJs are more likely to have photo booth add ons.
- Do you offer retouching, color adjustment, or other corrective services? Are those included or an additional charge?
A great question. I’d assume the industry standard is basic editing on every image. This would be adjusting the brightness of the image, the color to match their editing style, cropping and maybe some basic touch-ups like a random zit or removing a cup in grass. You should expect to pay extra for more complex editing like removing people or objects, removing large sweat stains or removing braces. Just like “standard/base packages” every photographer offers something different here.
- Do you charge a travel fee? For what distance? What does that cover?
Super important- star this question as well. This will vary based on each photographer but should be disclosed early and clearly noted on your contact and invoice.
- For my business I include 60 miles for the wedding day and 60 miles for the engagement session (which covers a round trip to Baltimore and DC and gets us at least half of the way to western Maryland, the PA line, the DL line and into Northern VA. Every mile over 60 is .58 per mile (or whatever the standard government milage is). Hotels are only needed when I can’t arrive home by midnight, so typically thats weddings over 2 hours away). I review all of this during our discovery calls and I can estimate all of this based on just a few pieces of information during that call.
Prints and Albums
- Can we order prints or albums directly from you?
Established professionals often have higher quality print and album shops they can order from that are not available to consumers. It’s a sign they are more established if they have robust offerings. Also ordering from your photographer is a fantastic way to continue to support small business!
- What type of album do you offer? Do you provide assistance selecting images and designing the album?
They should be able to give you a comprehensive answer to this question but it will vary.
- Are albums or prints included in your packages? How many pages or prints are included, and what is the turnaround time?
If they are not included in a package and you know you want one ask what the cost of a standard album is and if you did add it at booking if there is any financial benefits to doing so. Many offer a modest discount if you purchase an album as part of a package compared to after the wedding. Again, you’re looking for comprehensive answers.
- How long after the wedding will we receive the images? How will they be delivered?
This is one of THE most important answers. The industry average is 4-12 weeks. Some photographers can deliver in a week, some high volume photographers might have that 12 week (even 16 week) window to give themselves some room. THIS MUST be written into your contract. Most photoghers deliver via online galleries that only stay active for a few months. Be prepared to store at least 20-40 GB of data, duplicated in 2-3 locations (hard-drive, usb and an cloud storage).
- Will we have the rights to the images?
This is the most misunderstood question. You should have rights to print and share your images freely (some photographers may ask that you tag all your images on social media with a credit tag- that is both ok for them to ask and a great way to support them). However the industry standard (and default US law) is that the photographer, as the creator of the image is the one who holds and retains copyright. That means they legally “own” the image. Functionally that means very little to the average consumer because the average consumer only wants to print or share their images and enjoy them (which is what the “print release” grants you the right to do). Occasionally some photographers require you print through them. That was very standard 10-20 years ago, less common today but not unheard of. The matter of copyright is most important around the issue of selling images of your wedding. It also helps the photographer ensure other vendors are not selling or using their images without entering into an agreement with the photographer. This does actually protect you as well. In your contract you will most likely sign a model release which is what allows the photographer to share images of your wedding on their website but it does NOT grant any other vendors that right so if another vendor is trying to say (or have you sign a document saying) that you must share the images you can send them to your photographer because they are the only ones who “own” the image. A photographer should be able to explain exactly this to you but the answer of “no, I the photographer retain copyright” is the industry standard.
- Bonus: If you have any concerns about privacy, you want to ask about limiting the model release- which is a legal agreement where YOU allow the photographer to use images of you (“your likeness”) online. It’s often part of your contract. You do NOT need to own the copyright to ensure your privacy. Most photographers respect this decision however some may charge a fee for not being able to share the images. This is because not sharing images can make it challenging for them to attract new work- after all, that’s probably how you found them to begin with. Nothing wrong with that, just another way to do business.
- Will we receive the negatives and/or high resolution digital images? Is there a fee for that?
Another misunderstood question- and this question is actually asking two VERY different things. Let’s break it down.
- Negatives/Digital Negatives- The industry standard is no. What this question is asking is if you will receive the RAW images. RAW is a type of file (.raw) and its the file professional cameras make unlike a cellphone camera which makes a (.jpg) file. Most computers and phone’s cannot open this file extension and it’s an unedited, often intentionally under-exposed incomplete image. It MUST be taken into photo editing software and worked on to create the final image. Think of it like a raw steak from the butchers. Yes, it’s a steak (or image) but until it’s been cooked by a chef (or edited by a photographer) it’s an entirely incomplete. 99% of photographer will not release these RAW files – they are not the product- they are an ingredient and as such not reflective of their work, yet. Also, they are big files, often double the size of the final jpgs. IF they will release the RAWs its often for a very large amount of money.
- High Resolution Digital Images – these are the final jpgs (.jpg). And the answer here is more commonly yes, that is included as that is the final product. Some photographs break down their rates into “Session fees” which is the cost for them to come and physically photograph you, as is seperate from “the images” which they may charge a rate per image. That is much more common in portrait work than wedding work but it’s worth confirming.
- The final product is “high resolution (.jpg) or images”. Those files will be around 4,000-6,000 pixels (on the long edge of the image), 300 DPI, and around 12-20 MB each. DPI should not vary but pixel size and MB will range for every single image based on the camera, editing methods and cropping. As technology advances pixel size may increase and MB sizes could go up or down. This is just a range. If you see 72 DPI or most images being 1500-2000 pixels (on the long edge) than that is likely not a high resolution image but a web-resolution.
- Will the images be accessible online? For how long?
No right answer, but again, be prepared to download and store duplicates of your images in 3-4 places.
- You should also ask how long a photographer guarantees by contract that they will keep a copy of your images. For my business, its one year. After that we no longer guarantee we will keep a copy (by contract). I will likely keep a copy for as long as I am in business but for obvious reasons we can’t contractually promise that beyond a year. Also ask if you came back 3 years later (and they did still have your images) if there is a fee to un-archive them. Often there is because it can be a very labor intensive process to get GBs worth of data out of long storage, which is often on a cloud based system.
This might be the most important section but Brides Magazine put it at the end and I’m following their order but these are THE MOST IMPORTANT questions.
- When will we receive the contract?
Often this is right after you confirm that you want to book with them and have agreed on coverage amount. Your contract will specify your package, what is included, monies due, as well as policies and other obligations. Read through it carefully and ask questions. Your photographer should be able to speak confidently and understandably about their contract and you MUST understand what you are signing. Many of the following questions are spelled out in the contract.
- How much of a deposit do you require? When is it due?
Note- most photographers require a retainer. Legally that is different than a deposit. A deposit is money paid down for a product (kind of like lay-away). Retainers are monies paid to a person to reserve their time for your job or event. So if you cancel, they are entitled to keep your retainer because you broke the agreement that stated you were going to have a job for them on X date for X amount of money- this is to protect them and give them confidence in turning down other work on your day. Retainers are almost always a percentage of the cost of your package and due at signing and almost always non-refundable. You are not a client until you have signed and paid a retainer.
- For us, our retainer is 25% of the total cost of the wedding collection and is non-refundable.
- Do you accept payments in installations?
Many would have the full cost spread out over a time leading up to the wedding. Most are open to further breaking that up if requested. We do understand your paying a lot people often on similar schedules. Industry standard is to be paid in full 2 weeks before the wedding.
- Our standard installment is 25% retainer due at signing, 25% half-way between signing and the wedding and the final 50% due two weeks before the wedding. We do break this up more upon request as long as those benchmarks are still met.
- What is your refund or cancellation policy?
Since Covid everyone knows to ask this but industry standard is that the retainer is always non-refundable (see above). Each photographer then sets their own rules as to cancellations. It’s important you fully understand their policy and agree with it before signing. If it is a 0% refund if you cancel, then that is the policy. What you are looking for is someone who can explain this policy clearly and simply to you.
- Do you have liability insurance? Does it cover your assistants, as well?
Highlight this one! This is one of the fastest ways to tell an amature from a pro, along with the next few questions. All professionals carry insurance, most up to at least a million dollars. Most venues require your photographer provide proof of insurance and name the venue on the policy. This is non-negotiable- they must have insurance.
- Do you carry backup equipment?
Another non-negotiable. A professional photographer photographs on a “primary camera body” and often has a second one as a back-up. On the wedding day, many pros actually wear both on their person at all times. Or at least have their back-up in their bag. They should also have multiple flashes and lenses. If one breaks, they have multiples to pick from. They should also have cameras that record duplicate images onto two different cards. This means that every image already has a back-up the second they click the shutter. Sometimes there are data failures- it happens and there is often no warning or way to prevent it. It’s our job to give ourselves as many back-ups and redundancies as possible.
- What is the backup plan if you are unable to shoot my wedding for an unexpected reason?
Non-negotiable. Any pro should be able to explain clearly what their back-up plan is for various issues.
- We have a plan if I find out months in advance I can’t photograph an event (like I broke my leg a month out). I have a plan if I got sick the week of. I have plans if I got in a car accident on the way to the event or if I sick during the event. I even have plans for if I’m in the hospital for weeks following your wedding so that your images are still delivered while I’m in a coma. I’m not kidding. All of these procedures are written down in detail to be executed by my husband and my assistant.
- How will you and your assistants be dressed?
I admit it never occured to me that this would be an issue until I heard of horror stories of photographers in neon or jeans (specific requests from couples not withstanding- some weddings have asked for us to be in bight colors, which we honor). A professional often tries to blend in with guests but their own style and brand may dictate this. Let your photographer know if there is a dress code, especially as it pertains to religious institutions.
- I tend to favor skirts (with shorts under them) in a dark color like dark green with a black top for the warmer months. Linen dresses if it’s a semi-formal summer wedding. In the winter I tend to wear dark suede pants and a grey or black sweater. For black or white tie weddings we’ll step it up further to always blend in. Always non-slip sneakers or boots so I can walk backward safely and get into tall grass if we are outside.
- Can we request a list of specific shots we would like?
This will vary wildly- again you’re looking for comprehensive responses. An professional should be automatically providing “Individuals portraits of the bride and groom. Portraits of the two of them together, formal portraits of the bride with bridesmaids (and groom with groomsmen), along with an individual of the bride with each of her attendants and the groom individually with his guys. The full wedding party. There should be coverage of each “moment” such as mom zipping the dress, dad helping the groom with his suit, them walking down the aisle. Formal portraits of the bride and groom with their family (this is the only section that does have a shot list”. All of this is standard. You should not have to tell your photographer to do any of this or write it down. What we do need to know is if the girls want to pop champagne before they get dressed or the guys want cool pool table shots. Or that you want a few portraits in front of the venue or at this beautiful willow tree that is hidden in the back property. Unique things that are above the standard work flow I just spoke about.
- For my business, I ask people not to provide “shot lists”- I have a lot of that in my head and part of my natural workflow and I’ll guide couples though what my standard list is and see if that was what they had in mind. I do like to hear couples tell me their favorite locations at their venue and they are welcome to share 2-3 must have portraits ideas for the two of them. Not their whole Pinterest board of every image they ever loved…2-3. That allows me to be inspired by their day, their venue, their moments, and adapt to the light we are experiencing that moment. I do send a worksheet for family formals- that is a list of every person in every combination that they want and we do work off that list with great detail.
- Will you be posting about our wedding on your website and social media? Will you be submitting our photos to magazines or blogs?
There is no right or wrong here. Some photographers send every single wedding to publication. Some never do. Some do on occasion. What you should know is that publishers tend to favor very high-end weddings (think at least $100,000 budgets, designer gowns) or very specific or unique weddings executed with refinement (think, 20 people at a gorgeous location with stunning table designs, floral, and a private sail boat for portraits). Your photographer often will try to find the right publishing home for your wedding but not every wedding is chosen- that has nothing to do with the value of your day. It often has to do with their publishing calendar and if they already have a D.C. Ballroom wedding etc. If you really want your wedding published or really don’t, just let your photographer know.
Knowing what to ask is important but knowing what you SHOULD hear back is equally important. A lot of the photography world is fairly individualized so use my responses as a guide. Most importantly watch how your vendor answers questions. Are they confident in their response, checking to make sure you understand? Or do they seem uncomfortable or like they are trying to change the subject? All of these are clues to gage their professionalism. No one question is make or break but should layer upon the next to help you assess their skill, professionalism, and trustworthiness. Trust your gut above all else.
However I did notice a few questions not on Brides Magazine’s list that I would definitely ask a photographer.
- If there is limited light, can you use flash? Can we see examples of flash used for portraits, getting ready, and receptions?
I can’t tell you how many times in photo groups I have seen panicked photographers asking for tips (the day before the wedding) because the forecast calls for rain and all portraits will be indoors. Or the reception space has no windows or the getting ready suite has very little natural light and they don’t know what to do. And no, it’s not just new photographers. There are a lot of photographers who only know how to shoot with natural light (light from the sky) and don’t know how to use flash well and blend it to look like natural light or use it for creative portraiture. Ask to see examples of their flash work for getting ready, portraits, ceremony and/or reception. If they say “I’m only a natural light photographer” that is code for “I don’t have a back-up plan if there is no natural light”. Once you see these images, ask yourself “If it rained and was super grey, and I only had photos lit but flash, would I be happy?”
- Can I see reviews? Can I speak to a former couple?
You should be able to easily find reviews on Google, The Knot, Wedding Wire, and/or Facebook. (Those links go to my reviews). They should be mostly positive. If there is an negative review, how did they respond to that client? You can ask them about that situation and they should be able to explain it clearly, without angry emotions. Everyone has to tell a client “no I cannot issue a refund per our policy and contract” at least once and sometimes people do post negative reviews to try and pressure small business to cave. (You would never though, because you read the contract fully!) I’ve never had anyone in 9 years ask to speak to a former couple but I know many I could reach out to and ask if they would speak to someone new. It’s all about how people respond to these questions. A business with happy clients is proud to have others speak praise.
- Are they active on social media and their blog? Is their website current?
Ok, not so much a question, as an observation. Active healthy business are, well, active! You’ll see new content from them on those platforms. It means they are being run actively, by someone who is excited to share their client’s amazing day and are proud of their work. On social media, are their clients responding positively? All good signs. Now, it’s not necessarily a red flag if someone is quiet on one of these channels, especially during the busy season but you should see some signs of life. Red flags are Instagrams that have been silent for a year. Or blogs that are inactive for 2 years. You want to know your photographer is easy to reach in many places (but try and keep business stuff on email. Instagram is great for just connecting though!).
In Maryland, the average price of a brand-new, just starting photographer (for 8 hours of coverage) is about $1000-2000. An amature might be around $2,000-3,000. A professional who is developing consistency and establishing themselves in the market might be $3,000-4,000. A professional who is skilled, experienced, and consistent is $4,000-5,000. A professional who is executing a high level of service and moving into the higher-end of the market and producing truly beautiful images that are noticeably higher in quality may start around $5,000-6,000. A professional who is serving the high end market could be $6,000-8,000. A professional who is working exclusively for the high end market starts at $10,000 and goes up. Now, all of this is a range so use these numbers just as a guide or benchmark. This is why it’s so important to speak to at least 3-4 vendors in each category (photographers, florists, DJs etc) so you can compare one to the next and really dial in on what is cost going to be for your specific wedding needs. You may quickly find that the really low priced vendor couldn’t answer a lot of the questions above and it’s safer to go with someone more experienced. I am biased but photos are rarely something people regret investing in- unless they didn’t invest enough.
One final note- every professional is on a journey. I too was once just starting and an amature. To be sure, I’ve made mistakes, learned, grew, and got better. The screenshots from photographers asking for help is actually a good thing- those are people dedicated to getting better but it’s a reminder that it is your job to vet them properly by asking questions and really studying multiple full galleries to be sure your seeing consistency (regardless of their price point). The website and Instagram feed are always the best of the best of the best images. You want the most qualified, consistent professional that works for your budget.
Have any questions? Or photographers, anything to add? Drop questions or comments below!
List of questions are directly from Brides Magazine.