12 things wedding photographers want to tell you, but can't

July 22 | Guest post by Mike Allebach  
Photos by: Mike Allebach

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Wedding photographer secrets as seen on Offbeat Bride
All photos and tips that'll make you jump for joy are from Mike Allebach.
Most wedding magazines will give you a list of questions to ask a wedding photographer. Stuff like: "Can you describe your style? What equipment do you shoot with?"

Let's be real: Those questions are boring. And you probably don't actually care about the answers anyway.

So I surveyed some brides and photography-friends, and put together a list of all those questions you really want to ask, and all those things we really want you to know.

12 questions to ask a photographer

1. How do I pick a good photographer when there are hundreds listed in my area?

First, look for a forum or blog that appeals to your style. Obviously, if you're an Offbeat Bride, you're in the right place — I receive my best clients through the Offbeat Bride Vendor Guide. The photographers listed are both gay-friendly and accustomed to photographing offbeat weddings.

Once you've got a few favorite photographers, narrow it down to a handful of favorites, and set up a time to meet them. Make sure you're meeting with the person who will be wielding the camera at your wedding, not a sales consultant or studio owner. You have to, like, trust and get along with your photographer — that way you can leave the magic of photo making in the photographer's hands. Not only should you like their images, you should also like them! You'll be spending many hours with them during your wedding day.

2. How many photos do I get?

The wedding photographers I surveyed typically deliver 50-100 photos for every hour of coverage they provide. Four hundred photos may seem like a lot, but your wedding photographer is preserving all those little details and the moments you missed while you were mingling.

Wedding photographer secrets as seen on Offbeat Bride

3. I love those photos with the blurry backgrounds. How do you get that look?

You're talking about shallow depth of field. Photographers get that look by using professional lenses that are able to focus tightly on the subject.

4. I found one photographer whose images look soft and pastel, one whose images look clean, and one whose images look like they were shot on old film. What's the deal?

Every photographer has a different way of editing their images using computer software (the high-tech version of a darkroom). This is called "Post-Processing." Most photographers do some basic lighting and color adjustments, but you can also use editing software to create a unique look. Three popular styles right now are:

  • Clean: lightly processed to appear natural
  • Matte: a low-contrast look with muted pastel colors, similar to vintage film
  • High Contrast: a vibrant look with rich colors that pop

It doesn't matter which style you go with, as long as you love it!

Wedding photographer secrets as seen on Offbeat Bride

5. Why is wedding photography so freakin' expensive?

This is the question I see most from brides on the interwebs. Wedding photography seems like easy money — work for one day and rake in the cash, right? But most full-time wedding photographers I know carry over $15,000 worth of wedding gear and often work 60-hour weeks. (Remember those 800 images from question #2? It takes several full days just to edit those.)

Add insurance, taxes, software, advertising, albums, repair, shipping, and studio expenses, and many photographers end up making less than minimum wage for the first few years of their career.

Wedding photographer secrets as seen on Offbeat Bride

6. How can I make sure I look good in my photos?

Relax. Trust your wedding photographer.

If you're relaxed, it'll come through in your photos.

Leave some breathing room in your schedule so you don't feel rushed — I recommend a minimum 30 minutes for family and wedding party photos, and an hour for the couple portraits.

Oh, and get plenty of sleep and drink lots of water the night before.

Take it easy at the rehearsal dinner. Wedding-day hangovers are not fun.

7. I keep hearing about "shoot and burn" photography. Sounds painful. What is it?

Actually, yeah, it can be kind of painful. "Shoot and burn" is slang for photographing a wedding and burning it straight to CD without post-processing. It's usually super cheap — for a reason. Bad lighting isn't corrected, distracting elements aren't removed (hello, Speedo-clad photobomber!), and zits remain proudly on display.

Digital files may be important to you, but find a full-service photographer who will edit the images and print reference proofs before handing over the digis.

And please, don't let the digitals rot on your hard drive. As a photographer, I want you to proudly display your wedding photos. It makes me sad when I think of all the photos that never get printed. Don't hide your wedding photos! I tell my clients to hang up a large print or two — when you're having a crappy day, it's great to look up in your living room and see a photo of an awesome day.

Wedding photographer secrets as seen on Offbeat Bride

8. Should we do a "first look"? And, um, what the hell is a "first look"?

The first look is a chance for wedding couples to see each other privately before the ceremony. Two-thirds of my clients currently opt to do a first look. It's a great chance to get the wedding jitters out and spend a few minutes alone together. I find that first look photos tend to be some of my favorites. It's a real moment with real emotions.

Honestly, it's also a great way to avoid stress on your wedding day. (Some of my couples even choose to get ready together!) And many of my couples get to enjoy their whole cocktail hour because they got all of the photos out of the way before the wedding.

Wedding photographer secrets as seen on Offbeat Bride

9. Do I really need a second photographer?

No one needs a second photographer, but they can provide you with more images and a different perspective. Many of the top photographers only work with assistants who carry gear and help with professional lighting. The best thing is to ask your wedding photographer to see how they prefer to work. You can get good results either way.

10. How far in advance should I book a wedding photographer?

Many in-demand wedding photographers book weddings at over a year out. As it gets closer to your wedding date, it will be harder to book your first-choice photographer.

If your favorite photographer is unavailable on your date, don't panic. Ask them for recommendations — they may know someone with a similar style and a lighter schedule.

11. You can Photoshop that, right?

It depends. As a photographer, I want to get everything as perfect as possible in camera. Posing, location scouting, and camera settings can "fix" most things before I even click the shutter. If your uncle photobombs you, I'm going to retake the photo — it's much easier to get the photo right than to fix it with Photoshop. Many photographers charge for extensive editing in Photoshop, because it can be very time-consuming.

12. Should I tip my photographer?

I get asked this a lot. There was a great article about tipping on Offbeat Bride. For photographers, "Tips are never expected but are always appreciated."

Hopefully this clears up some burning questions about wedding photography — and makes it a little bit easier to find the perfect photographer for your wedding day.

Hey photographers, what did we forget to include? Now's the time to divulge all!

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  1. Question: What to do if I really dislike my wedding photos? I've stepped away from them for a few months and come back and I still hate them. I've shown them to family and friends and they all think they aren't very good either…I hired a professional photographer (who is a friend from high school and from his other work I've seen I thought he takes beautiful photos) and second shooter (who was a friend of his and does commercial shoots). Out of 800 photos I only like about 10. It infuriates me that I paid so much money and got mediocre to bad photos that aren't even edited. It's awkward because he is an old friend, granted one I don't see much anymore but still. We also paid to fly him into town and put him up in a hotel for 3 days! I know that I more than likely can't get any money back but should I say something for peace of mind or let it go? Please help! Argh!

    1 agrees
    • I'm not sure if you'll ever see my comment here, but as a photog – i would want to hear the feedback and clearly communicate your thoughts on the results. If they are not edited – perhaps they could make it right by making the PICS right? I guess depending on how serious they are (bad) – either by quality? or posing? It breaks my heart to read this and saw it on the other post too. 🙁 Let me know if there is anything I could do on a few of them? Otherwise, I would totall speak up about it. You don't get to have a do-over of your day! All the best.

      2 agree
    • I'm primarily a commercial and landscape photographer, but do weddings on request. If your images are unedited, there may be some hope…
      Not much can be done about bad posing or lighting, but advanced Photoshop (and other software) techniques may help, especially if the original images are available in a RAW or .tif format. I'm considered very experienced in post-processing procedures and would be glad to help, if I can. No charge of any kind.
      I hate to see this happen. If you're willing I'm at wayne(underscore)emeryATmsn(dot).com

      3 agree
  2. Great article. I've been shooting weddings for over 10 years and agree with all your points.

  3. That's one thing I'm not worried about–our photographer is a very good friend who has been doing this professionally (and for fun) for years in the cosplay scene. Even though there's a 40% chance of rain this weekend, I know he will still make these pictures look good–and this is his gift to us!

    I'm just feeling super blessed right now. 5 days to go.

    Incidentally, I'm still newbish to this site–why can't I figure out where to sign in?

  4. Really a great article. You write with a flair. It reads well. Is informative. Photos you put in are great. Loved it. You inspire me to blog more frequently. Thank you.

  5. thank you for posting, definitely reposting. one day i might make a blog post too, but you make it too easy to just repost it. everyone is thinking it but don't know how to say it or time to post it. mahalos!

  6. I'm a pro photographer, I "SHOOT & BURN" for all my clients. HOWEVER, I edit, color correct, crop , & defuse photobombs! I deliver in 48 hrs. In this era of digi photo many of my clients want insto images to post ala social media or post to the family members that could not make the event. I give Hi-res print ready files & low res files web ready. So for all you engageies out there be sure to ask the photog you have in mind their definition of "SHOOT & BURN".

    3 agree
    • Good point.
      Some couples have a very limited budget, others not so much. Even when I am asked to only provide digital images on DVD, I, too, make sure there are high res files suitable for enlargement to 16×20 and low res files suitable for the web. Some simply prefer to choose final prints/albums later, as their budget only goes so far. Some have the resources and budget to spend many thousands for multiple albums, large dispaly canvases and even pay to fly me to the location.

      ALL of these poeple will be having a very important day, regardless of budget, and my obligation remains the same; to mke images with emotional impact. Even when a client can only budget for digital files, I still give them some bery nice prints of the most important images as a surprise gift. Why not, I'm excited about the work, too!

      1 agrees
      • I'm actually looking for a newer photographer who shoots and burns, as I am on a budget, don't mind giving a newer photog a chance, and have done paid shoots myself and can post process if needed. Where do such photographers look for gigs or post their info? Google seems to only pull up the super established pros.
        Thanks!

  7. I'm a pro wedding photog & I've heard people say " Why is wedding photography so freakin expensive?" Beyond the cost of equipment, back up equipment, insurance, assistants, travel, commissions paid out to those who got you the gig, 7-8 hours post shoot production, is the one thing most all engageies over look……….the fact that your photographer has one take, one shot ,one chance to get this right, no second takes. And, we have all types of bombs going off around us. Weather Conditions for which we have no control over. Late make up professionals, Late Limos…….limos breaking down, flowers missing, Location permits the best man forgot, Religious rules, ball breaking Maitre d's, family members in your way taking photos while you are trying to get that one special shot. Then there's my favorite, Uncle Joe who has a garage sale camera & wants to pick your brains & teach him what you do for a living while you're doing it! SO the reason wedding photography is so freakin expensive is because a true pro can get past all of that, shoot 800-1000 shots with 5 bad ones in a 10-12 hour time span & still freeze time in ONE TAKE & make it mean something.

    8 agree
  8. A "FIRST LOOK" is key to a stress free wedding. With proper planning you can have all the important photos done in a timely fashion, prior to your ceremony. A "FIRST LOOK" will also enable you to enjoy the cocktail hour & every minute of your party without being pulled out for important photos. All photos after the ceremony will be party pix!

    2 agree
  9. One note on #9 that might be worth adding:

    A second photographer can be great for the ceremony and reception, when you and your guests aren't supposed to be focusing on them. It doubles the coverage and, as others have noted, provides some backup in case of equipment failure. However, be very careful with a second photographer at the posed photos of the wedding party and family. Our photographer was amazing, overall, and so was her assistant. That said, you can see in several of those posed shots that it wasn't always clear which camera to look at. Half the group is looking at the camera, while the other half is looking off camera.

    1 agrees
  10. Excellent post Mike, thanks a lot. These are the questions that the savvy brides and grooms are asking. 'Most' people will get married once so will not know much about wedding photographers or photography. More education is always helpful to ensure they get the photography they will love and have no regrets.

    2 agree
  11. We were literally JUST interviewed by a potential client and left with a bad taste in our mouths! Why? None of those questions put her mind at ease and made her feel confident that she'd get beautiful photography on her wedding day! This is so helpful!

  12. So, we're always seeing pages saying to get examples of their work… But what if you're plus sized and beautiful and the photographer's website that you fell in love with doesn't have one bride over a size 10 in the gallery? Does that mean they don't photograph thick people well or they don't like to do it? What gives, photographers, on ignoring 50% of the American population (based on polls)? I just want to see wonderful, stunning thick ladies and dudes rocking their wedding days. Why are they so scarce? We get married too!

    2 agree
      • Thanks Ariel! That really was a spot-on post! Hopefully, more photographers will move toward diversity! I'm a small budget bride but I plan to splurge on a great photographer (when I find one that fits our moderately offbeat needs and who can still capture me as a smoking hot plus sized bride). If any other Tribe members are reading this and you know some cool photographers in the Deep South (Mississippi, preferably), let me know. I've already considered out of state photographers as an option.

    • Raspberry Mama!

      GREAT question! Most professional photographers (I are one) create portfolios or web sites that show what many will consider to be "beautiful" people. The result is that those of us who are a little (or a lot) thin, heavy, short, tall, whatever get left out. It's a sad but accurate reflection of what SOME in society consider "beautiful".
      I've found it very useful to use ordinary folks of all dimensions, colors and orientations in my portfolios and PROUDLY. It's life, it's real and it's what MOST of my potential clients look like. And I'm overweight, too! It is MY job to make people look as becoming as possible.

      A BIG part of meeting with the photographer for the first time is to see how you "fit" psychologically. I used to think that ALL people are beautiful inside, but I've found that isn't necessarily so. Just as all brides want to avoid a photographer who is going to be commandeering and unnecessarily intrusive, I wish to avoid those who constantly make impossible demands, like wanting beautiful soft-light portraits but don't want to be bothered to be posed in good light in any way, shape or form. Or insist on not moving out of harsh sunlight, but want a nice pastel, back-lit look with out-of-focus foliage in the background. Unreasonable expectations lead to me ending the interview, courteously, and letting the bride find a different victim. This is hard work that has demanded many years of skill development, but does not give us the ability to perform miracles. My goal is to make people happy, but some folks are just not happy to begin with. Don't need it.

      IMO, it's about story-telling, starting with an "engagement" session in beautiful surroundings of the couple's choice. It's my job to find or create the best lighting and GUIDE people into appropriate poses. It CAN be fun, and the best shots often come in between the poses (shhh, that's a secret!). This session gives the couple and the photographer a chance to get to know each other and lets the couple see how the photographer works with them. If they're not happy, they can terminate the relationship there. Hint: Schedule your "engagement" session at least 6 weeks before your wedding.
      The "First Look" is usually met with resistance by couples (and parents!), but it certainly has advantages and helps to preserve the dignity and coherence of the actual wedding day. It also insures we get beautiful images of both bride and groom without the stress of worrying about guests being held up, etc. Once we have those images "in the bag", we can spend our time doing journalistic work on the big day with the bride and groom relaxing about having great shots already done. No need to be intrusive at all.

      The only thing else constructive I might throw in to this MOST excellent blog is to re-iterate that someone MUST control the guests getting in the way of the professional. There's only ONE chance for some of these shots and there is nothing more infuriating than having well intentioned guests crowding in front of you for recessional shots or the first dance. I've addressed in my contract that if that occurs I won't be responsible for the album lacking that shot. Thankfully, some DJ's will make an announcement asking for guests to hold back a little, I'm very grateful for that.

      2 agree
      • Thanks for responding! Photographers like you are sooooo hard to find. You'd think living in the fattest state in the American union, there'd be more Mississippi photographers willing to have plus sized brides on their sites!

        1 agrees
    • Funny that you wrote this. We just booked our photographer (Dennis Pike, an OffBeat Vendor) and we had asked him to show us 2 full deliveries shot with only him and no 2nd shooter. We didn't give any other criteria.

      One of them, surely enough, was an incredibly gorgeous wedding with a bride who would probably be considered "thick" and was also petite and wearing the funkiest, most different ensemble I've seen. And we loved that! The fact that he didn't immediately think to send us your standard catering hall/model-thin bride/12-person bridal party (not that I don't love all of those things too) photoshoot said a lot about what he finds important in a wedding. And in this case, it was a couple that was clearly so in love, surrounded by their most important people, and having an awesome party!

  13. Weddings are still acknowledged formal events and this sort of wedding photography has stood the test of time. With watchful lighting and master posturing conventional wedding photography makes a flawless record of your family assembling. An exceptional photographic artist will have the capacity to work rapidly and have the ability to comfort individuals to guarantee the posturing doesn't look uncomfortable.

    1 agrees
  14. Yes, "how many photos do I get?" I average 80 per hour and if the client seems disappointed at that number, I point out that's a photo every 45 seconds. If you need more coverage than that, you want unedited raw video, not photographs. 😉

    4 agree
  15. Wow. Some really great comments. Learned a lot. I usually post process photos even if the client is on a limited budget. And I include at least an 8×8 wedding album in all my packages.

  16. I've seen the most beautiful locations shot by horrible photographers. The pictures look like crap. I've seen the most plain and unphotogenic locations shot by amazing photographers and the results…. amazing images.

    3 agree
  17. As a wedding photographer I couldn't agree more with the all the things you wrote. I couldn't say it better, so thank you for that! 🙂

  18. Number 3 is is both right and wrong. Yes shallow depth if feild is obtained by using profesional equipment, but not tightly focusing. It easier whith a lens with a long focal length, but is controled with your F-stop and shutter speed.

    2 agree
  19. Fantastic article! I always post your articles for my couples to read. My only input is on the first glance photos, I find very often that the couple may be too nervous to be relaxed. They eliminate the nerves of seeing each other..but usully the nerves stem from having a large party go off without flaw or going down the aisle with 200 people staring at you. I find they tend to be way more relaxed and romantic after the hard part of the ceremony is over. But I always talk with my couple and let them choose what works best for them.

  20. Rmemeber, as a wedding photographer, if I hire a second photographer I have to pay them plus insure them with liability. All those cost have to be reflected in what I charge you.

  21. Great article & comments. As a bride, I'd like to add some tips I wish I had known prior to my wedding.
    1)Have a back up indoor location in mind to take your pictures on your wedding day. Mother Nature does not always cooperate. (It rained on my wedding day and we settled for pics inside the church).
    2) ask what happens in case of last minute staffing issues. I got a phone call from the photo studio owner the night before my wedding that due to illness, one of his staff could not make it to a destination wedding, so he had to fill in…hence leaving me with Joe Blow to fill in in his absence. The guy was visibly unhappy to be there and did the bare minimum of creative unposed shots, which I did not find out about until after the fact.
    3) Find out ahead of time if the photo location requires a permit. If so, discuss if you or photographer will obtain the permit. As you can probably guess…my cranky photog substitute called me the morning OF the wedding asking if I had the permit. I said "What permit?!" So even if it had been a sunny day, we still would've been unable to use the beautiful university grounds for pics because the studio owner either never got the permit or never informed me to get it.
    I will definitely share this article. I wish I had seen it before I chose my photo studio. Thanks for the great tips!

  22. Great piece well written but I especially like the idea of the "First Look" shots. I do hope that trend can make it over to the UK soon.

  23. The other thing I'd like to add the cake & the dress don't last long as the dress is worn for 1day and the cake is eaten.
    Expect to spend £1300 minimum on your photographer.
    Feed them and supply them with a list of what photos you want a go to person to round up people and if their is family politics make the photographer aware of it so they can avoid foot in mouth moments and angry guests.

    Also pay timely and don't expect your photographer to mind read tell them what you want and inform them if your having a coloured dress etc as if you have a red venue & dress we need to compensate for it so you look amazing.

    Also don't expect David Bailey or Lisa Devlin for £400 you do to a great degree get what you pay for so be aware that a £18-25000 wedding spending £400 on your photos could lead to tears

    2 agree
  24. YES!!! This article is fantastic! The whole universe should read it. Thank you for it!

  25. Oh, thank you. wonderfully said! I actually may have commented on this before but 'found' it again and just had to say if I did not- awesomeness~

  26. Yes! 100% yes!
    Loved reading this and shared instantly. I've been thinking about a FAQ or tips for getting the best out of your wedding photography for a while now so it's great to hear all your research in this area.
    Only one thing to add in regard to the high expense associated with wedding photography: Physical exhaustion! Whilst my clients rarely comment on my prices they do often acknowledge how physically hard I have worked after an 8/9 hour day, often running, always on my feet, climbing ladders/trees/outbuildings for group shots and crawling about in the floor for that gorgeous angle that I just have to have! I'm a lone shooter so there is defiantly more pressure to get everything but by the end of the day both I and my clients always feel I earned the money.

    1 agrees
  27. I love this! You have a lot of fabulous points that I kept in mind when looking for my photographer, but I just wasn’t willing to compromise on quality or coverage. Instead I looked outside my geographical box. Photographers charge different amounts depending on where they are located. Good photogs in my area are upwards of $6,000 for full day coverage. I looked a few states away and found a photographer that started at less than half that price. I was able to fly her up to me and cover her travel costs PLUS get amazing photos for the lower end of my budget. The other thing I compromised on was no album. With all the great companies out there I was able to design a gorgeous high quality album myself with ease.

    Thanks for another great post!

    1 agrees
      • Well, it's been a few years, but I created/ordered mine from adoramapix.com. It was a hard cover book (not leather, as leather isn't really our thing when it comes to photos). Including tax and what not (but before calculating a site promotion running at the time), it was just over $100 for a 10×10 album with 50 pages. I still flip through my album from time to time, and it has held up very well.

  28. Ask if they shoot raw. While I want to get everything right when I take the shot, I still shoot raw so I have as much detail and can fix white balance issues much more easily or make those fixes possible post shoot.

    It's a case of – why wouldn't you? And suggests a photographer who isn't planning to do post work – why would you lose information and work on a JPEG, only to open that JPEG work on it and then decompress it again and lose more information.

  29. I reallyIke the advice you had to offer in this article. I wanted to add a small note. My friend made sure that she had an extra meal for the photographer and I thought that was a wonderful thing to do. I never would have thought to do that.

  30. There are truly a lot of questions that we need to ask a wedding photographer before actually hiring one. Planning on what questions to ask is very important to be able to save time. The best wedding photographer in Toronto I know always makes it a point that he allows all his clients to ask pertinent questions and make suggestions about what their preferences are with regards to their wedding photos. A professional photo grapher should always be honest about his opinion. One of the most common questions that is really difficult to answer is why wedding photography services are too extravagant; well the wedding photographer should be able to market his talentrs and his professional portfolio to convince his clients that he truly deserves to be paid such professional fee. http://www.focusproduction.ca

  31. Excellent article. I like the style and the sense of humor to convey the points. I like wedding photographer myself sometimes feel that many togs throw terminology and confuse the clients. The regular bride doesn't have a clue about "depth of field" and "golden hour". I like you explained the points in plain language and the way everyday person can understand. Keep up the good work.

  32. It's always difficult to convey exactly what you're able to deliver as a photographer in a first meeting with a prospective couple, but these points are all really helpful, and can help diffuse some of the jargon around what we do. I'll try and incorporate answers to these questions in future consultations 🙂

  33. Thanks for another informative blog. The place else could I get that kind of information written in such a perfect means? I've a project that I'm simply now working on, and I've been on the glance out for such info.

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