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

Guest post by Mike Allebach
 | Photography by Mike Allebach
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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Comments on 12 things wedding photographers want to tell you, but can’t

  1. Great article – you did forget to mention though that wedding photographers work is also seasonal (although is expanding) and they give up many of their weekends. There is also work in keeping your website updated time and expense and skills related to that, admin – i.e. answering enquiries, managing bookings, meeting with bride and grooms, keeping up to date with locations (making sure they are building a new toilet block at your favourite park and its hindered by construction). Keeping up date with new software, industry trends, accredited etc is also a part of it… I am sure I could think of more 🙂

  2. Hello I see that question and i to dont know how as a photographer get that pastel colour look, i use a 40D Canon , i offen wonder if its the camera that gives that pastel look?
    would love your help . Rowan Newman from New Zealand

    Matte: a low-contrast look with muted pastel colors, similar to vintage film

    • Most photographers use Lightroom by Adobe or Photoshop by Adobe and custom design presets that give them the look they want. You can buy premade presets/actions with a quick google search of “buy LR presets” or “buy PS actions”. Everything I do is my customized versions of presets.

    • I have my camera set to neutral so the photos come out untouched or changed by the camera. I do any changes in lightroom. I would advise against using effect settings in camera as a beginner and shoot RAW (or equivalent) and neutral.

  3. For what it’s worth – I had a husband/wife photographer for our wedding & they were awesome. The wife was the second shooter & she got photos that were some of my favs that would have been missed otherwise… the husband was able to focus on the processional or the other items at the front while the wife was getting special shots toward the back or other angles of the ceremony… she snuck one shot through the windows at the back of the church – my dad & I were sitting together, waiting for the processional to go through & for it to be our turn… and we were both looking the same direction & smiling/laughing… it was a perfect profile shot of BOTH of us… better than any photo I have of my dad. 🙂 But, we also got a good deal on the whole thing. The second shooter is not always a scam/swindle. 🙂 Just wanted to let you know there are some great reasons out there. 🙂

    • I totally agree with this! While the primary photographer was getting the more standard photos of us coming down the aisle and reading vows, our second shooter was taking reaction shots from our friends and family. There are some truly brilliant photos that make me tear up every time I look at them because I don’t have a single moment that I can recall looking out and seeing people faces. Totally worth every penny for our fairly large celebration.

      • Really depends Larissa. Many photographers start out as second shooters (that’s what I did) so you often find they are working for nothing (students) or they are a husband/wife team so split the money evenly. In which case you shouldn’t expect to pay extra for them. However, some second shooters are photographers in their own right (I often get asked to be a second shooter to support the main photographer at friends weddings) in which case you would expect to pay more. I am personally a single shooter so I cannot give you my prices. But I don’t think it would be really unreasonable to expect to pay an extra 50-75% on top of the single shooter price.

  4. Great article, we had the best photographer, We looked high and low for one, as it was a joke on some area’s, but we found the perfect one, He and his wife were amazing to work with treated the guests wonderful, lined up the normal pics that you have to have because ” Mom said so moments” but then allowed guests to take one after he did, We rave about our photographer, Ben Michalski, loved him. We had a really off beat wedding if that is what it would be called, from guests dancing on tables, as the bride had a few to many drinks,

  5. I think it’s important to ask about the way the photographer works and the process that goes into getting their pictures. At my friend’s wedding last month, the photographer was pretty obnoxious. He was stopping us every five seconds as she was getting ready to look at him for a picture. He repositioned us a lot and said “do it again”. He physically positioned all of us as if we were dolls. He even grabbed my friend by her cheeks, like you would a child, to position her face for a shot. He was very talkative and much too close throughout the day which was a kind of annoying. I assume that not every photographer works this way, but for my wedding, I want to know before I hire someone what I can expect. My friend said she loved his photos and thought he was really nice when they met, but she had no idea he was going to work like that. He told her he’s a photojournalist and would take a lot of candids, but that’s not what happened. Are there questions I can ask to avoid a photographer like this guy for my wedding?

    • I’m so sorry this was how the photographer treated the wedding couple. I don’t touch my couples except for a giant hug at the end of the day.

      As for questions, I would ask “Do you ever touch your clients?”

      • It honestly depends. I find sometimes it helps to physically guide the person (or people!) to where you need them to be. However, I’ve also pinned on boutineers, bustled dresses, fixed hair and smoothed clothes. I think it depends on your client and how you’re touching them. ALWAYS ALWAYS be gentle and respectful!!!

      • I have a strict “no touch” policy with clients, especially with children (I have a child protection policy). If I cannot describe how I want them to pose, I will demonstrate myself. LAST resort is touching but I always ask “do you mind if I…?” Unfortunately I haven’t had the same amount of respect back sometimes, being a woman I often get drunk uncles hitting on me and several times my bum has been pinched! I always ask brides if there’s anyone who gets embarrassing when drunk so I know to avoid them!

    • I think if you had asked an obvious direct question to that photographer, there’s a chance he could fudge the answer, especially when it borders on a topic like touching.

      So I think you have to ask subtle questions. Like, you’re looking through his albums and point to some portraits and ask, “That’s beautiful! How do you get people to pose like that?” [He answers] “But what do you do when they don’t get into the pose you want?” And see if he happens to mention how he sometimes has to physically put his hands on them. Then just encourage him to go on.

  6. This is a great article, and I think these questions are fantastic.

    As a wedding photographer, one thing that couples might want to let the photographer know about is any potential social issues. If certain people can’t be photographed together, or cannot have their photo taken, for whatever reason, let us know. We are on your side!

    Also, if you are camera shy, let us know! It really helps to know when a person is nervous about being on camera. There are lots of things a photographer can do to make you feel more comfortable.

    • Omg! I never thought of this until it happened to me in some extended family portraits. I took a photo of a divorced couple with their grown children (that they wanted) but the step parents hadn’t been invited to the event. When I posted them on FB apparently one of the step parents went livid. Although they signed an agreement to let me post them I still felt bad about it and from now on always include the question “Are there any family dynamics I should know about prior to the event? Divorces, disabilities, etc.”

  7. Thanks for the great article! I would love some advice as a bride-to-be, from photographers and offbeat readers at large.
    Whenever I attend weddings I am annoyed by the photographers getting in the way, being a distraction, and generally being the ones running the show without thought beyond their photos. I get that folks want great pictures, but it just frustrates me trying to find a solution for my own wedding where I won’t get annoyed. What can I do to keep myself sane but still have my groom and family happy with pictures? How can I make the downtime while everyone is waiting for us fun and entertaining? Thanks folks!

    • If u get married in a woodsy area,photographers can kinda hide. I went to wedding where u didn’t see photogs much cuz they were shooting from behind bushes, lilacs etc. they alsi wore all black. You can ask the photographer what they wear too.

      • I’ve seen photographers push brides and grooms too much. What I tell brides & grooms is you have the obligation to communicate with me. I am very good at reading body language, but not perfect.

        To combat this feeling, I try and let couples spend time with each other in a photogenic location, that way I can stand back and take natural photos of them being them.

        Every photographer is different. My two suggestions are be clear in your communication (if things need to speed up or be done let your photographer know) and choose a spot that is photogenic for photos. This way your photograph can stand back and get natural unobtrusive photos.

        I promise every bride I will be an addition to your day. I won’t push you on your wedding day to get perfect photos, I want you to have a good time. If you are up for lots of photos, we’ll do them. If you want a good deal of cocktail hour, we’ll get there for that.

        Scheduling a first look, helps with all of these expectations.

    • Aurora, this is exactly what the photographer was doing at my friend’s wedding, but you said it better than I did. It was like he was running the show and only cared about getting his pictures. My friend kept getting annoyed, especially when she was getting ready, because he kept making us stop to pose for pictures when all she wanted to do was finish getting ready. He made us late for the ceremony because of it and that made everything else late. It seems like he was working against the wedding planner too because I remember a couple of times being told by her to do one thing and then he would tell us to do the opposite. Who are you supposed to listen to at that point? It was very confusing for all of us in the bridal party. By the end of the night, my friend was totally fed up with him. I really want to avoid this aggravation on my wedding day. Is there a way to wrangle in this type of photographer? Obviously we should talk about it at the appointment, but are there questions we can to ask to find out if we’re hiring one of these photographers?

      • Always ask for recent references and call them. You can find out a lot from past brides. Ask if the photographer was more of photojournalistic or if they were doing a lot of posing. Find out how their guest felt about them.

        Once you get the references, check the photographers facebook & blog to see if they shot within the last year to 18 months. If at least 1 or 2 of them are not within that time frame, it would give me reason to wonder why they are not using more current wedding couples in their references.

  8. This is a great post and very insightful for brides and its useful to keep these points in mind when booking a photographer

  9. Great article!

    On the point of second shooters, I would advise brides to find out what sort of experience the second has. Husband and wife teams often make the best type of dual-shooter situation. I shoot alone most of the time because I find most photographers who are worth their salt are a) already shooting a gig on a prime Saturday date or b) are going to cost the couple quite a bit extra. I know a lot of photographers sell a second shooter option and bring in people who are completely inexperienced. I would rather shoot alone than have a hack there shadowing me. Also, two photographers will be more of a presence and can lend a paparazzi-type feel to an event, especially smaller, more intimate affairs. The obtrusiveness of the situation is something to consider!

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