What questions to ask a photographer before the wedding

Discussion in 'Wedding and Event' started by paul_noble, Nov 19, 2010.

  1. My son is getting married next September. Obviously, a photographer will be needed. I read pnet regularly, and I occasionally read threads in the Wedding and Social Event category, when they show up on the "Most active" list on the home page.
    Often, the threads involve a photographer having a dispute with a client or a client having a dispute/misunderstanding with the photographer. Very often, it seems that the dispute is the result of one side or the other making unwarranted assumptions or having unrealistic expectations.
    With that in mind, I thought I would come to the working professionals, who shoot weddings for a living. In order to, hopefully, prevent such misunderstandings in his wedding, what are the issues/questions that should be addressed and resolved before the contract is signed? I have already told my son to make sure that the photographer can attend at least part of the rehearsal, to get the lay of the land, and to speak to the priest, to find out any do's/don'ts at the church, such as not being allowed to use flash during the ceremony.
    There are some obvious questions, like "How much will the photog charge?", "How long will he/she be at the wedding/reception?", "How many/what kind of pictures to expect?", "Timelines for payment and delivery?", "Is a CD/DVD of photos provided?"
    From the point of view of a professional wedding photographer, what are the issues that you want to be clear with the client about, before the wedding?
    Paul Noble
  2. Some things I like to talk to my clients about, aside from those usual questions, might be these questions:
    1) What time the photographer would be planning to arrive at the venue (do they plan to get there on time, or early?)
    2) Whether the photographer had either shot at the venue before or were planning to scout it beforehand (Lord, I hope so).
    3) Does the photographer use flash, what their thoughts are on the matter, when it's necessary. I'd want someone who knew how to use their flash if need be. A lot of the "guy/gal with camera" types don't pass this test.
    4) I'd ask how much time the photographer plans to spend with the couple between the ceremony & reception, and does he/she usually keep to their time budget. Will you need to re-stage anything given church restrictions? If so, will there be time for that? It's important to plan this time.
    5) Delivery, delivery, delivery. Will the photographer deliver by X day, or what? Will he/she sit down with you to decide on a wedding album, if that's what the B&G want? Is that an extra cost?
    6) What amount of editing does the photographer do as a standard for these photos? Is it 3 hours or is it 40? Will they routinely remove pimples or will they do only color balance & cropping? At what point do we start getting into "above & beyond" our original contract on editing? Some people expect you to remove 10 years from Aunt Martha's face - others want everything in sepia tone. It's good to discuss this.
    7) Copyright. Will my photos be on the photographer's web site for advertising? What if client doesn't want that? And if the client gets a DVD, will he also have the right to print at will? (I photograph a lot of young people and parents are concerned about their kids' privacy, so I make sure we talk about this.)
    8) What if the photographer gets sick? Will there be someone able to cover it?
    9) After the photographer has spoken to my event planner and the officiant at the church, will there be a follow-up communication with me to be certain that expectations are properly managed? Will the photographer be sending me any follow up to indicate that he understands what I want? Was he/she taking any notes when I was talking? Has he/she let me know when I can expect to hear from him/her next?
    I am not a seasoned pro, mind you. I have done some shoots as a primary and some others as a second shooter, typically weekend kind of work as a supplementary income. My mantra is that you can never over-prepare, but I notice some other people don't think that way. You might get better responses from other posters, but hopefully this is helpful to you.
    Congratulations to you on your son's wedding!
  3. In addition to the questions Jennifer posted I'd add....
    1) How many weddings have you done in total? How many per year? and are there other events / weddings / etc... that may impact your ability to deliver finished photos on time?
    2) What kind of backup do you have for equipment? Do you have insurance in case of loss / damage to images? What about if your equipment hits someone at the wedding or reception?
    3) Are you comfortable shooting available light (the opposite of Jennifer's question #3) - If a photographer doesn't have good lenses or know how to use light the answer will be "No". Or should be "No".
    4) What style do you shoot in? (Traditional, PJ, hybrid, etc...)
    5) Are you okay with relatives with cameras taking photos?
    6) This one is a standard interview question - Tell me about a time that you failed to meet customer expectations. What did you do to make it up? What could you have done differently to avoid the problem?
    7) What happens if we are running late and your time runs out? (meaning you hit the end of the contracted # of hours, but we haven't cut the cake, had 1st dance or anything yet)
  4. Photographers that are busy often have jobs on Friday nights and many rehearsals are on Friday nights. Especially Sept. can be a busy month. Your mileage may vary on what you feel is an important point.
  5. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    Your analysis:
    “Often, the threads [which populate the “most active” list] involve a photographer having a dispute with a client or a client having a dispute/misunderstanding with the photographer. Very often, it seems that the dispute is the result of one side or the other making unwarranted assumptions or having unrealistic expectations.”​
    is accurate. I think many people have lots of opinions after the event and that a lot of the good advice on those threads has a common theme of good communications PRIOR. But that also involves TIME before hand and it seems that you are encouraging your Son to dedicate appropriate time and effort to engage a suitable Photographer.
    I think that much of the answer to your question lays in the rapport built before the event, rather than wanting the Photographer to adhere to specifics, as you might want to outline.
    Do not misunderstand my comment: I understand you are asking for a check list so you have a procedure – and I think that is good.
    The point I am making is: within that check list, it would not be good if you are necessarily prescriptive either by accident or design.
    For example, I don’t think it is necessarily a good thing to: “have already told my son to make sure that the photographer can attend at least part of the rehearsal, to get the lay of the land”
    Most Weddings have a similar format – and in many cases attending the Rehearsal, for a seasoned Pro, would be un-necessary.
    If you (your Son) wants some Photography AT the rehearsal then that is a different matter.
    For example: if I were asked to attend the Rehearsal, I would ask back if you wanted photos?
    If you didn’t, then I would ask details about the Wedding and ascertain if there was anything unusual or out of the ordinary; if not, I would explain that there is really no need for me to attend the Rehearsal but if you wanted that I would.
    But I would add, that if I did attend, and I would explain that the time to do so, is without my usual coverage and therefore would be charged and also that you might as well have the Rehearsal photographed – as my time is time and I might as well bring skill, also.
    As to the question of meeting the Priest etc – I think you might find there are four groups of Photographers on that measure – one group will make it their business to meet the clergy (maybe on the day) and / or telephone them before hand; another group instinctively follows the rules on the day; a third group makes it clear that it is the B&G responsibility to choose a Church / venue which allows the Photography they require . . . and there is the fourth group which never thinks about it.
    So again I suggest rather than being prescriptive I suggest your Son gathers information and gets an overall feel for the experience and capacity of the Photographer – and IF a good feeling is established then I think he should begin asking direct “what if this or what if that” type questions.
    BUT before any of that happens I think it is crucial that your Son and his Fiancée establish that they (She) appreciates the Photographer’s work – and to that end they should have a look at a FEW Weddings, if possible, the previews of the whole wedding and not finished albums.
    IMO the very best way to establish rapport, is for them to have an Engagement Session with the Photographer.
    I think that if rapport is established any and all direct questions will be easily accommodated and there will be little likelihood of confusion, assumption or unrealistic expectations – so even though it might take a little longer I suggest the couple hunt around and interview a few photographers and look at their work and then, with the Photographers they feel comfortable with and whose work they like – ask them the list of questions; Jennifer has provided a good start to that list – but – you must be prepared, for example, in answer to question 4 – I would answer something like: “I usually shoot a formal set en route to the Reception– that will take about 20 minutes – so whilst I can stick to that Shooting Plan – has that extra time been accommodated in your Hire Car Booking and to fit in with the Reception Line, we must leave the Church at 5:00pm – so if the Ceremony ends at 4:30pm we must make sure that all the Bridal Party is aware we must leave at 5:00pm."
    What I am getting at is there is a big pendulum and on one side there is Prescription and a Timeline and on the other side there is Free Flowing and capture the moments as they unfold.
    I am a Photographer that is comfortable with the pendulum swinging toward Prescription and Timeline because I have in the main covered a lot of “Formal” Weddings: but if I were presented with a list of prescriptive and definitive questions and a timeline to suit (which has been the case) I would not flinch or fail to answer – but I would be quite firm in my resolve that there is also a responsibility on the Wedding Party to conform to the timeline and other requirements, also.
    To the KEY POINTS as to what I wanted to be clear about with the B&G before the Wedding:
    • They are confident that the type of Photography as evidenced in my wedding albums was the type of Photography they wanted.
    • They understood that I usually control the situation for the Formals.
    • They understood that I worked largely on rapport and understanding the people and to that end I would like them to have a Planning Meeting and an Engagement Session.
    • They understood that I was not booked until the deposit ( or “retainer”) was received and the contract signed.
    • Etc . . .
    I think it is very important that the Couple feel comfortable with their Photographer, that they meet the Photographer in person . . . I think that if (for example) they do not want what I was offering based upon the above - they should not book me – irrespective of whether I answered all their questions adequately.
  6. An experienced pro has no need to scout the location or attend the rehearsal as WW points out above. Attending the rehearsal is fine if, you want photos of the event and you want to pay for the extra coverage.
    The two biggest things to look for ahead of time is the contingency plans in the event the photographer can not cover on the day of, (some of the larger studios will have a clause that they can send a substitute at the last minute at their discretion....this can mean that a very good photographer could be pulled to cover another event that is bigger or has a more expensive package and substitute a 2nd stringer). The other concern is to see a large body of work of previous full weddings to get a representative idea of what your coverage will look like. New inexperienced photographers may offer to work for less money and promise you the world but unless they have a few full seasons under their belt they will still be learning the ropes. Newcomers will dispute this but "experience matters".
    It's also wise to look for an easy-going relaxed personality and someone who is more concerned about how the B/G and the family want the day covered rather than harping about their particular "style" of coverage.
  7. I would pretty much concur with David Schilling's comment.
    My own recommendation to friends etc. is to look for someone they feel most comfortable with as this translates in the images on the day. THEN check out their work/rates/consistency/backup plan etc.
  8. Every thing I have read above is correct and I have come to highly respect the professionalism of the responders that have already posted. However, a good sit down with the bride, groom, and mothers and fathers was extremely important to me if it were possible. This is where trust is developed and more importantly the ability to communicate with one another. I found if they liked me and understood I was there to serve them and that we could communicate during the wedding we got good expressions and a lively album. I also established my wedding business rather rapidly because I delivered proofs very quickly mostly within a week and this was film. My competition didn't and I picked up a lot of business because of their slow delivery. A good contract is very important but it must clearly reflect a meeting of the minds of both parties before the ceremony. What is on paper has to be clearly understood between all parties by together going over the provisions of the document. "Under promise and over deliver" is the best strategy. As stated above many problems can be avoided by keeping customer expectations within reasonable bounds. I had a studio where I negotiated with my customers and regardless of the size of the wedding I offered a free sitting at contract signing or at engagement just so we could take some time to communicate with each other and establish a level of comfort before the wedding. When a bride at the wedding would holler at me with a smile and say something like "Dick get over here and get this picture of my aunt" I knew we were getting along. Being fatherly I got along with my brides. That really helps in making good pictures when everyone is relaxed. One other thing is that I always understood that I was there to document the wedding not stage manage the activities. I stayed in the background and took a lot of pictures. I did newspaper work where there is no script. What happens is what is docmented not the other way around. It is very good to establish and document the time needed for formals if they are required between the wedding and reception but the rest of the wedding should IMO run free form according to a comfortable schedule developed by the parties without the photographer interfering unless it means losing the customers required pictures or some earlier shots were missed. A strict schedule can restrain the spontaneous photo documentation that brings the ceremony to life. I urge some care in this regard. I tried to stay the hell out of the way. It was their show not mine. I have done some tightly controlled weddings where the spontenaety was lost because of over management events by the coordinator of whoever was running the wedding. Not all weddings wind up free and easy and spontaneous. Family issues get in the way, a small minority of photographers get in the way and family tensions get in the way but in my experience most of them are a delight. I have photographed a couple that were pretty tense. BTW if your photographer is going to be there for eight hours keep her or his blood sugar up and feed them.
  9. You should be able to request references (from past wedding clients....) Happy old customers usually equate to a decent wedding journey with a photographer.
  10. Thanks, everybody. It all looks like good advice.
    The wedding will be on a Saturday, and the rehearsal will be on Thursday (can't interfere with Bingo), so even if a photog had another gig on Friday, he/she should be able to attend.
    I guess that I'm not adamant that the photog attend the rehearsal. Its just that some of the horror stories I've read here have been the result of the photog not knowing what was and was not allowed in the church. Would it be fair to just bring up this subject, and ask how he/she wants to handle it? While my son and his fiancee could ask the priest and relay the info to the photog, there's always a danger of miscommunication when you add additional people into the communications path. I just want to make sure that there are no surprises that cause problems on the wedding day.
    I suppose, if the photog has worked at that church before, then they will already know what they can and can't do.
    Thanks again,
    Paul NOble
  11. get references, google the name, check with the BBB.
  12. Paul, the horror stories that you've heard are from inexperienced and ill-prepared photographers. A real pro will always meet with the officiant just prior to the ceremony to do a final double check on what is and is not allowed. Even if the photographer has shot at the church before it doesn't mean that the rules haven't recently changed or the officiant may be a visitor or have his own rules or wishes of the moment. Any last minute change will not throw off a pro who is prepared for whatever contingency might occur......
  13. Its just that some of the horror stories I've read here have been the result of the photog not knowing what was and was not allowed in the church.​
    That's the symptom, not the cause.
    The only horror stories you hear are from people who hired cheap, inexperienced photographers, or from enthusiasts who wanted to dabble with shooting weddings, didn't know what to expect, and got out of their depth very quickly. Assuming you hire neither type, then insisting on someone attending a rehearsal does nothing useful except perhaps pad that person's pocket.
    For the same reason, there's little point in insisting someone scouts locations in advance. These seem like good ideas (and perhaps are good ideas) for people learning the ropes, but experienced photographers get everything they need just by arriving early.
    Personal fit is probably the most important ingredient to look for. There's nothing worse than spending all day being photographed by someone you don't really like. If you love their work, and are very comfortable with them on a personal level, then you've covered the most important stuff.
    One last thing.... if you do love their work, then trust them to do their thing and resist the urge to manage them. If you've hired them for their eye then let them use it.
  14. @Neil, I think you are right that arriving early counts as scouting if you know you have everything you need with you. I am not experienced enough to feel comfortable with that (yet) so I scout ahead of time. I use that time to find out when the groundskeepers turn on the sprinklers, whether the lawn I want to shoot on will be soaking wet on the day of the ceremony, how fast those late afternoon shadows turn into blackness, that kind of thing. While it does err on the side of ridiculous caution sometimes, I admit, it has also saved me a lot of trouble.
    @Paul, the officiant and sometimes even the family can be the cause of change in rules of a venue. I shoot at one particular Jewish temple rather often and the level of conservatism of the family can influence when it is okay for me to begin and who I am allowed to shoot on the Sabbath. I think it's good to check.
  15. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    . . . on this point about scouting the location . . .
    Rather than quantifying it by a number of years or a number of wedding shoots as “experience”, I believe it is more about making an experienced judgement call specific to the circumstances the Photographer is likely to encounter.
    For example, here: http://www.photo.net/photo/9205014&size=lg was where the Reception was to be. Th,e Church was Ceremony was 1½ hrs drive and it was a 6:00pm Formal Wedding – so if all things went to clockwork we would arrive at the venue at about 8:00pm – Dinner was seating at 8:30pm – VERY TIGHT.
    At the planning meeting, the B&G and I talked about this schedule – they required “simple Formal Shots” I planned to shoot those outside the Church; I arranged for the Wedding Party to exit the Church via the Rectory Doors and the Ushers would direct the Guests to exit via the Main Front Doors.
    But stuff happens and I wanted a back-up plan. I had never shot the Reception Venue before, but I knew it as I had driven past it many times. So one Sunday about three months before the Wedding, I called in to have a look.

    The point is – I would always have the gear and the know how to pull those handful of “Formal Shots” at the Reception if necessary - but what I didn’t want was to have to do it on the hop if we all arrived late due to a traffic jam – and as I knew I would have to pull the shots inside I wanted to arrive knowing the very best spots to do that – if necessary.
    I think it is more about having enough experience (and perhaps humility) to know when to say “I might not know the answer – so I had better check and find out”
  16. WW, sage advice as always. Paul, as has been said, the majority of it is very dependent on the rapport of the hired gun :) with the couple. this extends to whether his or her style resonates with the couple. Many couples tend to think it's about what equipment is used. Whereas this is an important consideration, it is far from being the critical one.
    <p>Many so-called "wedding pros" (especially with the proliferation of cheap(er) dSLRs) have the latest and greatest but don't *really* know how to use their tools. The pro should however have backup. I once shot a wedding where the videographer had fancy equipment but "forgot" his spare battery and (even worse) his power cable for his in-camera battery. He ended up having to almost beg me to take some footage of the cake cutting as his battery had run out by then and my dSLR happens to shoot video as well. Only because the groom was a very good friend of mine, I agreed to do it. Of course I sold him the footage for more than the cost of a couple of video cam batteries... :)
  17. Planning the day is crucial. One of the most important things to cover is who/what you'd like photographed and how much time the photographer needs. It's your responsibility to have the appropriate people in position (with flowers) on time. All too often people are disappointed when requested photographs are missing and all too often it's not the photographer's fault. If the photographer requests 45 minutes and you're 20 minutes late, he/she can only do so much. In this scenario the quantity and/or quality of the photographs may suffer.
    Hire and trust a true professional and work together to obtain the desired results....-TED :)

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