Picking Your California Wedding Photographer

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Wedding pictures are cherished keepsakes, passed down through generations, and the only celebration of the thousands of dollars and hours paid to plan one of the most crucial days of your life. Besides the choice of a spouse, the option of the wedding photographer is the most vital wedding-related selection you will make, and is not to be taken lightly. Understanding these tips can let you opt for the best photographer to record your Big Day.

Think what style of wedding photography you choose.

Are you searching for a traditional approach with mostly posed images? Or do you go for numbers of candid shots in which the subject may not even know he or she is being photographed? Do you like the glamour approach of fashion photography? Would you favor a photographer who combines all of these styles (a freestyle or eclectic wedding photographer)?

Choose the level of service you want from your wedding photographer.

Maybe you only need photographs of your ceremony so having just 1-3 hours of photography may sufficient for you. Other couples may go for a complete package that may include pre-wedding engagement sessions, rehearsal dinner photographs, bridal portraits, and newlywed photos.

Decide on how many photos you would like from your wedding celebration(s).

Some photographers may provide you under 100 images to remember your wedding day. Higher-end photographers typically record thousands of images (generally from 1,000 to 3,000) for you to keep forever.

Identify how much time and expertise required to process your images yourself.

Lots of brides who decide on photographers that only give them a disc of their images (no album, prints or other items) find that they lack the knowledge, time, or software to create their own albums, and properly edit the photos (crop, color correct, etc.). Frequently, years later, these couples just have a stack of dusty, cheaply processed proof photos or photos on a disc that are not being lovingly presented as a reminder of the wedding day.

Decide on your Budget.

Photographer fees, prints, albums, etc. typically come to approximately 12% of the entire wedding budget. This will enable you to promptly discard candidates which you cannot afford.

Figure out how you will use your pictures.

Do you plan to purchase an album only for yourself, or also pictures for your walls, prints to give to family and friends, or even put the images on stationery, invitations, calendars, mugs, T-shirts, and magnets?

Figure out what form of your pictures you will want from your photographer.

If you do not want an entire album, just purchasing the prints is sometimes economical. If you expect to need a large number of prints, it may be better (and faster) to purchase the negatives from your photographer and have the copies made privately, at your leisure. If you plan to use the images in various creative ways, or want to post them to a website or include them in a screen saver, you will probably want to receive the digital photo files directly from your photographer via the Internet or on a CD-ROM.

Research photographers.

Ask your friends, ask at bridal shops and with the management of the ceremony and reception sites you have chosen. Browse bridal websites for information and links to photographers that work in your area.

Make a checklist of photographers which seem to match your criteria for price and available format.

Build a short list of photographers that fit in your budget and offer the products and services you want.
Research each of the photographers on your list:

This will qualify them before you get too excited about a certain photographer. If you simply must have a specific photographer, you may want to start with this step and then look to firm up your dates around the photographer’s available dates. There is more to choosing the right photographer than just taking good photos.

Get rid of from your list any photographers that are not available, have less-than-stellar records, weak recommendations, or a style that you dislike.

Make your short list even shorter. Try to narrow it down to just a few to opt for. Use things like price, what they involve in their shoot price and what their past clients have to say to eliminate some and rank the others.

Start the negotiations.

Now that you are all set to make an informed decision, take your final list of a few photographers and call each of them. Ask them about liability insurance (if they don’t have any, remove them immediately), ask them about any specials that they have and ask them if they are willing to do anything to help you make a final decision. Ask them if they charge sales tax and if so, on what products or services.

Keep in mind that you are a consumer and that you are attempting to choose between service providers. If you want something, now is the time to ask for it. If you want someone to match another’s price or service, there is no harm in asking … the worse thing they can do is say no.

Make your final meetings.

Now that you have the “final” short list, go to these meetings with your spouse-to-be if possible. Examine samples of their work, get a brochure with details about wedding packages, ask for a copy of their standard shot list (if they use a shot list which most experienced wedding photographers do not as they have well-memorized all the shots they need to get), and ask questions. Know how polite they are. Ask yourself, “Is this someone I will wish to be around when I am stressed, exhausted, dehydrated, overheated, and ready to faint in those uncomfortable shoes?”
Make sure you understand who owns your photography once the wedding is over. Some photographers retain ownership and that means that if you ever want a photo, you must buy prints from them. This can be ok, but keep in mind that the photographer may not be there for your 50th anniversary.

Think properly about each of the photographers, their contract, and what they have offered to you.

Make a decision and book.

Ask the photographer to pencil you in while you sign the contract and set up the deposit. Everything that needs to be done to book your date can happen in that one day. Photographers are on a first come first serve basis and the best ones are hard to get. Don’t miss out because you were slow to get a contract back if you do find availability.

Do not pay 100% ahead of time. It is bad business and a respectable photographer won’t ask you to do it. Make financial arrangements and verify that all of the details are correct on the signed contract and that the photographer has the date correct in their system.

Confirm, confirm, confirm.

This is the golden rule of wedding planning. Remember: your wedding is more vital to you and your spouse-to-be than to anyone else. As such, you must confirm appointments, plans, reservations, etc., several times– Once at contract signing, a second time 3-6 months before the event, and again 1-2 weeks before, at which time last minute details, changes, and requests could be worked out.

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