In a world where there seems to be a photographer on every corner, how do you filter out the reliable from the not-so-reliable?
Here's a quick list of things to look for when hiring a photographer:
1. Does their style compliment your own? First of all, and this should be a given, but look at their portfolio. Each photographer is going to have a different 'brand' or a routine approach to their photos. Some will have a more vintage feel, some are more classic, some are more modern and the list goes on. 90% of the complaints that I've heard regarding wedding photos could have been avoided if the person who was in charge of hiring the photographer would have spent a little time looking through galleries.
2. Do they fit within your budget? I'm going to approach this subject lightly because, although budget is important, keep priorities in mind as well. Don't forget that you also get what you pay for. If photos are important to you, I would recommend against budgeting $500 for your photographer. Most photographers that I would recommend in my area are going to cost, on the cheaper end, $2,000 at least. If that's too high, some photographers will do their best to work with you (substituting/dropping products from packages or decreasing coverage time). I remember being told once that as soon as the word "wedding" is brought up, prices skyrocket. This simply isn't true, not from my experience anyway. Photographers are not just there taking pictures, they are wearing many hats at a wedding. Again, though, you get what you pay for.
3. Are they local? This goes along with the previous note as distance can add to your cost to hire them. Longer distances often require mileage fees and a hotel stay that will be added to your bill. If you like them enough, it's a small price to pay for your perfect photos; but if you're on a budget, don't forget to figure that in to your costs.
4. How well does their personality match with yours? Are you a detailed planner who appreciates someone that will take charge, making sure everyone and everything is right on time, no excuses? Or would you rather have someone who has a schedule for the day but appreciates that sometimes 'moments' can't always be scheduled and will act accordingly based on the circumstances? If you want to be able to go-with-the-flow on your wedding day, you are probably not going to want a 'take charge' photographer. Likewise, if you are a 'take charge' type of person, you are not going to want someone who has a tendency to be a little more 'go with the flow'. These are all things that you can figure out at a wedding consultation (something all photographers should require before booking). If a photographer will not meet with you before booking you - do not book with them.
5. Do they have experience? If you covered #1, you should be able to figure this one out pretty easily. However, on thing to think about, is your wedding a conventional wedding? Indoor/outdoor, religious/non-religious, etc. These will always make a difference in how a wedding will be photographed and should be mentioned at your initial consultation before hiring anyone. In a lot of cases, it won't be a deal breaker, but it is always better to be upfront from the beginning...just in case. With that said, please respect a photographer's discretion. If they don't feel like they would be able to take care of you as well as another photographer might, they might suggest that you speak to another photographer before making a decision. This is completely routine and suggested with your best interest in mind. We want to ensure you get everything you want and a good photographer is humble enough to admit when he/she is not a good fit. Unless they are rude about it, it should not be looked at as discrimination - it's good ethics.
6. Are they a friend? This is a tough subject as well as most people, whether it be because they genuinely want a close friend to be their photographer or because they feel obligated to ask their friend over a stranger (out of fear or hurting said friend's feelings), keep in mind that you are essentially placing your friendship down as collateral by hiring them as your photographer. If the photos turn out great and everyone is happy, overall - GREAT! But the chances are higher that the weight of responsibility/expectation triples when you're working for your friend. If there is anything that leaves you unsatisfied, or if your friend feels as though you
aren't living up to a standard she, internally, had set for you, it can cause some unnecessary problems. Figure out the worst possible scenario and then decide if it's worth it. Not all "friendtographers" end badly - so it's completely up to you. I just want to make sure you've considered all possibilities.
7. Ask around. I have a cousin who just got married within the last couple of years who ended up with very few of the photos she paid for because he was a poor business man, didn't take care of his clients and ultimately went bankrupt and fell off the grid. There were warning signs before her wedding but she wasn't aware of them until after signing the contract. If there is a pattern of poor reviews - don't blow them off. Obviously one photographer can't please everybody - that's why I stress researching your photographer so strongly. But if you're seeing numerous complaints about turn around time or quality, just be cautious.
I'll note that a lot of blogs will often recommend checking out their equipment or proof of degree or whether or not they're certified through specific associations, etc. Although these are all good things to mention, I know numerous photographers who don't have hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment, who haven't received a photography degree and who haven't gone to the extent of being certified who are still amazing photographers. I have also known photographers who do have a lot of equipment, who have received a photography degree and are certified but I, personally, don't like they're 'style' and would probably never hire them for myself. I think a photographer's work speaks for itself and, honestly, unless you're a photography enthusiast, you're not going to know what's "top of the line" equipment and what would be considered "beginner" equipment anyway - so don't worry about it.
If you have any further questions, or feel I've missed some points, feel free to list them in the comments below.