My nephew recently got married and I got a bad feeling about the photography from family snapshots that showed the photographer in the background. The equipment I saw concerned me and their engagement photos lacked anything resembling imagination.
Recently we got to see some of the actual pictures at a family event. For a second I thought it was a proof book, but those were the actual delivered pictures. I had to leave the room to keep from saying anything. The pictures were beyond merely bad, they were hideous and the photographer showed a peculiar fondness for the Topaz Photoshop plugin and I confirmed that if you’re a poor photographer, Topaz will not fix what’s wrong.
I felt bad for not being able to make it. Even in the role of “Uncle Bob” I might have been able to get some decent shots. Few photographers could have done any worse. Yet when I looked at the photographer’s web site I saw a portfolio that any photographer would envy. It was gorgeous. So what happened? And, more importantly, how do you keep that kind of “bait and switch” from happening to you?
Don’t Be Fooled By a Web Site
Anyone can put together a decent web site, the photos don’t even have to be theirs. Any photographer in the business long enough will have actual photo books you can sit down and page through.
You may not be able to completely trust photos in any medium, but you can ask to see proofs from recent weddings, particularly if you’re trying to arrange a wedding out of town.
Also keep in mind that sometimes web sites are actually produced by a front company that does nothing but refer jobs to vendors in particular areas.
Read That Contract And Check References!
Don’t sign anything until you know exactly what you’re getting and the terms and conditions attached to it. Understand exactly what’s included for the price and the itemized costs.
Read that contract carefully and don’t be afraid to make changes. If any photographer tries to tell you the terms are non-negotiable, leave. Everything is negotiable.
In most countries and jurisdictions in the US, if you make margin notes on a contract, the hand written notes take precedence over the typed copy, but don’t count on that. Don’t be afraid to X through anything you don’t like.
A reference check is a no-brainer. Pick one or two brides from the portfolio pictures and call them directly.
Don’t Allow Substitutions
One of the clauses to look for is the one that allows the photographer to send someone else. Now, you don’t want your photographer showing up sick or not having a substitute lined up if they end up under a bus. What you can do then is modify the language to say that in the event of serious illness or injury, the photographer can select from an approved list of alternates. That means screening the portfolios of each of the alternates and being able to live with the substitute but it will prevent a complete stranger from showing up on your wedding day.
Think Carefully About Exclusive Agreements
One of the bigger trends in wedding photography today is having two photographers. It costs more, but the peace of mind is priceless.
This is one point that will chaff many professional photographers, most of whom try to slip in language that says they’ll be the only pro working the gig. Many will pass on jobs where they have to work with another photographer, so you might have to keep looking until you get the people you want.
It is a pain to work around another photographer and it adds time to the job, so you can decide on how important this is, but having two photographers helps insure at least one of them will be competent.
Understand Your Image Rights
Make sure that as part of the deliverables you get full resolution images and that you have the rights to republish and reprint them. If you’re going to be a bridezilla about anything, make it on this point. Make sure your wedding photos are your images and that you can have them printed anywhere you want.
The most common reason photographers give about not releasing print rights is that they want to control the print quality, which is 90 percent horse manure. The real reason is they want to keep the rights is to make you go to a web storefront on a site like Zenfolio that returns a portion of the print cost to the photographer. That residual income is a big part of their salary, so don’t be surprised if you get a fight on this point.
With all of these issues, understand that some photographers may pass on the job. You can either hold out or negotiate a compromise to get the photographer you want. But if you do compromise or give in, at least you do so knowingly and it doesn’t come as a rude surprise 72 hours after you sign the contracts.
Notice the dress shot in this video that the dress is on a cheap plastic hangar? That’s why I always carry a spare decorative hangar for the dress shots!