Hiring a Photographer

Martha Stewart Weddings, Winter 2006

No keepsake from your wedding day will be as treasured as your photographs. You'll refer to them time and time again as the years go by, to recall everything from the most significant moments -- the kiss, the first dance -- to the smaller details (how did those centerpieces look again?), and you'll rely on them long into the future to bring the event to life for your children and grandchildren. Selecting the photographer to entrust with this responsibility is an important decision that takes time and attention. As there are no second chances, it's crucial to find a reliable professional who not only understands your vision for the day and can document it with style, but is someone with whom you can establish a good working relationship.

Whom will you trust with the important task of capturing your memories? Here's how to choose with confidence. Only understands your vision for the day and can document it with style, but is someone with whom you can establish a good working relationship.

Doing Your Research
It's best to book your photographer at least six months before the wedding. Some top photographers' calendars may even fill up twelve months or more in advance, particularly during popular months like June.

Secure a Location
Try to nail down a venue first, as the location you choose may influence the style and content of your photographs. You should also have an idea of how much you can spend (generally, photography represents about 10 percent of total wedding expenses).

Consider Style
A
lso give some careful thought to the type of photography you like. Do you prefer posed shots, or are you more interested in images that are spontaneous? Though there is a trend toward a photojournalistic style that emphasizes storytelling through candid shots, focus on the style you love -- not what's fashionable.

Jennifer Rudin Pearson and her husband, Glen, of Pasadena, California, chose a traditional style with an emphasis on black-and-white photography for their September 2005 wedding. "We wanted our pictures to have a classic quality, similar to the photos from my parents' and grandparents' weddings," Jennifer says.

Ask Around
To find photographers, ask recently married friends for their suggestions, or solicit recommendations from your wedding planner or the manager of your reception site. Also pay attention to photo credits in magazines.

Look Outside Your Area
Don't rule out a photographer who is based in another city or state. Although you're expected to pay travel costs (some ask to be reimbursed for hotel, airfare, rental car, and meals; others charge a flat fee), it may be worth it to get someone you really want. Minneapolis-based photographer Liz Banfield estimates that 90 percent of her weddings involve travel. "If the clients are in town, we meet in person, which is ideal," says Banfield. "If not, my website helps them get comfortable with my photography; then we work out the specifics by phone, mail, and fax."

Interviewing Photographers
After you've done your homework, telephone potential photographers.
During those short calls, you can find out if the ones you're interested in are available on your date and if their fees are within your budget; then you can schedule initial meetings.

Review Portfolios
Most photographers will send you a portfolio of sample images, either as prints or digital files, before your first meeting. Be sure the grouping includes pictures from recent weddings, especially ones taken at the same time of day when yours will take place, and ideally at a similar venue. It should also include a number of different shots from each of those weddings -- not just a collection of highlights from the photographer's career.

During the meeting, ask lots of questions, and find out who exactly will shoot the pictures. Some larger studios employ several photographers, and even with single-person operations it's not unusual for the photographer to have an assistant handle shots of guests so she can focus on the wedding party and family. In all cases, request to see the work of the photographer (or photographers) who will be handling your wedding.

Discuss the Fee
Some studios set an hourly or flat rate, then charge you separately for any pictures you want; others quote an all-in-one fee that includes a specified number of prints. Many photographers offer a price list that details several different packages. Make sure that you understand what's included. "It's very easy to overlook post-wedding expenses, which can be considerable," says Philippe Cheng, a photographer based in New York City. For example, some custom wedding albums can cost several thousand dollars, depending on the size and the techniques and materials used, such as hand-stitched bindings and suede or leather covers. Most important, make sure you love the photographs, and that you feel completely comfortable with the photographer. Do you feel a connection with this person? Will you want to spend an entire day together?

Understanding the Contract
The Logistics
Once you've selected a photographer, you'll typically need to put down a deposit of roughly one-third of the total fee to secure your date. The photographer will draft a contract that includes the deposit paid, the due date for the remaining payments (one is usually due the week before the wedding; the second is payable on the day of the event), plus the refund or cancellation policy. The contract will also note the logistics: the addresses of the locations to be covered, the start and end times of the wedding (and any other activities you want photographed, such as the bride and bridesmaids getting ready before the ceremony, or the rehearsal dinner the night before), any extra expenses you agree to pay (such as travel), and the number of proofs and enlargements included, if any.

Ownership of Negatives
The contract should also spell out the ownership of the negatives. Some photographers relinquish them as part of the fee; others keep them indefinitely (or for a specified period, after which they are likely forwarded to you) and make prints upon request. It may seem preferable to keep your negatives, but consider this carefully. Not only do you risk losing or damaging the originals, but you may end up with inferior prints from someone who doesn't know the negatives firsthand.

Perform a Check
Before you sign, check references and contact the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org) to find out if there have been any complaints against the photographer. This simple step could make the difference between fond memories and fraught ones. "Our photographer shone during his interview, but we neglected to do a check," says Sarah Peterson of Middleton, Wisconsin, who married her husband, David, in October 2003. "If we had, we would have found that several people had trouble getting their pictures from him. We ended up taking him to court a year later to get ours."

Choosing Your Photographs
After the wedding, your photographer will select an agreed-upon number of images to show you. Depending on what is specified in the contract, the photographer will send printed proofs, post images online at a password-protected website (making it easy for family members to order their own copies), or provide them on a CD.

Printed proofs (essentially small examples of the photographs) will take about four to six weeks. They will arrive as contact sheets or as numbered prints in a display album -- also known as a proof book, which can often be a beautiful keepsake in its own right --  so they can be easily reviewed and ordered. After you've made your selections, the actual prints will be complete and ready for delivery in another six to seven weeks.

Indeed, there's a lot to consider when selecting a wedding photographer. But taking the time to choose one carefully is an investment you'll value, not only when your pictures arrive, but every time you look at those wonderful images of the day.

About Digital Photography
While digital cameras have become popular for personal picture-taking, film-free photography has been slower to catch on among professionals. There are some aesthetic differences, and until very recently digital cameras were at a disadvantage when it came to capturing every second of the action, crucial at a wedding. While recent technology has helped close this gap -- and some photographers use digital cameras at weddings for snapshots and portraits -- most haven't given up film just yet. "At this time, I shoot only film," says San Francisco-based photographer Thayer Allyson Gowdy. "I'll probably start with digital next year, but I want to be absolutely sure of the technology first -- I wouldn't want to try it out at your wedding."

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