Choosing the right person requires some sleuthing -- this isn't the time to close your eyes and point to a name. After all, "you'll spend more time with her than anyone else on your wedding day," says Liz Banfield, a photographer in Minneapolis. Before signing a contract, consider the following:
Prior to meeting anyone face to face, head to the Web. "If you don't like someone's site, move on," Banfield says. Then, once you discover a pro whose aesthetic syncs with yours, ask to view a wedding she shot from start to finish. Rather than flipping through the highlights from different fetes, this is the best way to gauge her work.
Experience is Crucial
Has she shot a wedding like yours? If her portfolio features only sunny outdoor celebrations, for example, she may not be a good fit for your indoor reception in January, says Thayer Allyson Gowdy, a San Francisco-based photographer. For a list of important questions to ask potential photographers, download our free worksheet.
Not All Packages Are Created Equal
Some cover everything including albums, prints, and a video; others are a la carte. Ask how long the photographer will spend with you (seven to nine hours is ideal, says Donna Newman, a photographer in Miami) and whether there will be a second shooter, as you'll get more detail shots this way.
A Test Run Is Key
"I always encourage an engagement shoot," says Jose Villa, a photographer in Solvang, California (see his wedding) and coauthor of "Fine Art Wedding Photography." It's an opportunity to work out any kinks as well as an ice-breaker -- helpful when your pro is watching you dress on the big day!
It's All About Timing
You'll want to know when you can expect to receive everything from prints (average wait: three months) to your album (up to a year). And since some photographers limit the number of years they keep photos, "see if they offer a CD of all the images," says Johnny Miller, a photographer in New York City who also shoots for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia.
Request an Upgrade
If your package includes a CD of images, they're likely going to be low-resolution. For a small additional fee, your photographer can give you a retouched, high-resolution file that you can send to family or use for holiday cards, says Newman.
Book a photographer after you secure your venue, or about nine months before the big day (make that at least a year if your shutterbug is in high demand).
Trends Worth Trying
Photo fads come and go (fish-eye lens, anyone?), but these two have staying power.
Editorial-Style Shoots: A more artistic take on traditional wedding photography, it requires your photographer to capture portraits and candids, plus styled still-life shots (your bouquet next to your grandma's handkerchief, for example) set up with good lighting and clean backdrops. The result? Magazine-worthy shots, hence the word editorial.
Old-School Film: Digital cameras have all but erased our memories of film, but the ethereal, grainy look of the old style is unparalleled. "The colors are soft, and the negatives can be scanned so you can share them online," says Villa. Note: The extra work makes film pricier than digital and turnaround time longer. So you may opt to use just a few rolls for key shots.