By PEGGY TURBETT
Why would anyone hire a wedding photographer in 2023?
For the base price of most experienced professionals, you can get a high-tech, photo/video-capable cell phone. It’s likely most of your guests already have the latest iPhone, Google Pixel, or Samsung Galaxy and would be happy to practice the updated zoom and low-light functions on your wedding.
A smartphone camera, however, can be like a new-model four-wheel drive in a Cleveland winter. It handles great when the conditions are perfect and can plow through an avalanche of digital images. But all that technology is no match for a slick a patch of ice, unless a seasoned operator knows how to maneuver with split-second skill.
Or make that skills, plural. Each wedding I’ve documented in the past four decades – from New York City to Cleveland, Salt Lake City to Dublin, Ireland – has been a live exam of photographic expertise, drawing on skills in portraiture, culinary arts, even sports photography. (Cue the reception when a bride chased her groom for a get-even cake smashing.) Even the most genteel ceremony demands controlled exposures in uneven lighting and precision timing to capture the expected kisses and the spontaneous dance moves.
Another advantage over friends and family with smartphones: getting images from both sides of the aisle. No one wants a wedding album of just college besties, or minus the new spouse’s family if cousin Vinnie only photographed the people he recognized.
Even with a dedicated wedding photographer, couples face a dizzying array of options when it comes to preserving memories of the special day. The number of weddings I documented as a general assignment freelancer pales compared to those photographed by such master specialists as nationally renown Denis Reggie, Cleveland’s own Scott Shaw or the team at New Image in Chagrin Falls.
Yet each wedding project taught me questions to ask and points to consider for ensuring dignified coverage and truly lovely images. The questions often helped couples solidify their own plans. So I’ve shared them in my college-level visual communication courses to help students understand what photographers and couples should weigh when documenting a wedding.
When, Where and How Big
First, of course, is confirming the date and locale. The bridal party size, the guest count and whether events will be in one or multiple venues are factors that will determine if this is single-photographer job, if an assistant is needed or, being realistic, if the couple should be referred to a larger professional team. An overwhelmed photographer does no one any good.
Will the wedding be held indoors or out? If it is outdoors, is there a sheltered backup? I remember well that state park lawn with the gorgeous floral archway just as the bride had always dreamed. Then 30 minutes before the ceremony, the heavenly angels opened up the spigots, and guests arrived drenched. Luckily, the lodge was ready for the reception. But the last-minute move meant switching the cameras from daylight to challenging indoor settings.
If the ceremony is indoors, particularly in a religious setting, what are the regulations regarding photography? It’s important to call the venue office directly because the house rules can differ from what the couple wants. Several times I’ve been restricted to a balcony with no flash allowed. Knowing in advance meant I was ready with a long lens and tripod.
On the other hand, if the photographer is allowed to add lighting, will the couple be distracted by a continuous beam or having a flash go off during the exchange of vows? It’s sometimes a thin line between getting crisp images and preserving the dignity and comfort of the couple. Always err on the side of dignity and comfort.
Scheduling the big day
A vital step is plotting the sequence of wedding events well in advance. At a minimum there will be an exchange of vows and the first married kiss. Usually there will be toasts and cake cutting and portraits. Often there will be dancing and bouquet tossing, and maybe a sparkler exit. And so the schedule builds out…
Each of those elements is an important photo opportunity. The photographer has to be geared up and in place for everyone and anticipating the next move to get the best images. Knowing which traditions will be included, which won’t, and any new developments helps the photographer capture the vital images and pivot to the unexpected moments.
This segment can be the most fun, least favorite, absolutely essential, minimally important, sleekly organized, totally chaotic, utterly beautiful, or…( we won’t go there!)
One goal is to work portraits into the schedule so that they do not hinder the flow of the celebration. Key is setting realistic expectations for location(s), number of groupings and the time allotted. Portraits take time: for gathering, lighting, posing, adjusting and having at least a little fun. They shouldn’t be rushed – or drag on.
To smooth the process, I’ll ask the couple a few weeks before the last-minute chaos for their “must-have” list of family and friends. Some can be photographed candidly during the reception. For those on the formal list, an efficient sequence starts with the largest groups, elderly relatives, and small children, then working towards the wedding party and ultimately the couple.
I suggest wrangling an invite to the rehearsal dinner. In the more casual setting, the photographer can meet and observe members of both families, close friends and the presider, which makes catching them and their interactions easier at the wedding. Bring copies of the formal portrait order to the dinner so those on the list know in advance to be at the portrait location and not hanging out at the bar or buffet table.
Pricing Wedding Photography
This section could be an article on its own titled “Wedding Fee Free-for-all.” Most photo packages, though, are anything but free, and if they are, well, you often get what you pay for. I just googled “Wedding Photography Cost Ohio” and came up with ranges from $975 to $10,000. Is that for the day? Per hour? Minus or plus digital files, prints or albums? It depends…. And there’s the frustration.
One is too many inexperienced camera-holders thinking weddings are an easy way to make big bucks. More than a couple couples have horror stories about lousy pictures, NO pictures and/or boorish professional photographers. So is a package price or even a base price of $2,000 to $4,000 unrealistic?
Dedicated wedding photographers invest time, energy, expertise and artistry to capture unique moments. That involves hours of planning and possible venue visits before the event. On the wedding day, the photographer, laden with a hefty investment in gear, arrives before the dress and the guests. Then hours are spent discreetly crouching, climbing and stretching from odd vantages to frame the best images. And that’s all before the dancing lasts into the night.
However long the actual photography lasts, double or quadruple those hours for editing and toning the hundreds or thousands of digital images, particularly if the reception walls are mango and the album is ordered in color.
So I can’t really cite a specific price on how much wedding photography should cost. (Sorry!) Just consider your budget and figure out how much longer than the cake or the flowers you want to enjoy your wedding photographs.
P.S. I once entered a reception tent, heavy cameras in hand and dripping with exhaustion from a long day of portraits and ceremony. “Why do you do this,” one of the guests asked. “Because I just got this,” I beamed, as a spontaneous portrait of the stunning bride appeared on the digital screen.
What to look for when looking for a Wedding Photographer
A wedding is too important to take a chance, whether you hire a professional team or accept a friend/relative’s offer to photograph the celebration as a gift. Here are six points to consider when viewing a wedding photographer’s portfolio, either online or in studio:
1. Make sure the portfolio shows samples of wedding photography, not sports, landscapes or flowers.
2. If you are working with a commercial studio with multiple photographers, ask for samples from the photographer who will be covering your wedding, and certainly not from a generic catalog.
3. The portfolio images must be technically proficient, with intentional sharp focus, purposeful composition and full-range exposure. Look at the clothes: Can you see detail in every part of the white wedding gown as well as in the dark lapel lines of the tuxedos? Do the skin tones look natural? Are any of the images unpleasantly blurry?
4. The image content should be cleanly composed without distracting background or foreground items, i.e. no half-consumed beers by the wedding cake, guests mingling behind formal portrait groupings, or restroom signage.
5. Look for key events. Did the photographer capture the exchange of vows? The first married kiss? The cake cutting? The first dance? Photographs from these moments should be obvious, but you want to be sure the photographer can handle action well as staged portraiture.
6. Look for candid moments. Did the photographer capture spontaneous toasts, unexpected party antics, intimate conversations and roaring laughter among family and friends? These are the images that make the wedding portfolio unique to your day.