In the world of photography, consider this the year 2011 A.D.—After Digital. In the past decade, digital cameras have changed everything, especially wedding photography.
“Basically, the competition in the market has increased a lot,” says Aaron Haslinger of Aaron Haslinger Photography. “With the advent of digital, photography is more accessible to a greater range of people. Now they have tools that create great photos.”
In some respects, the competition is a good thing, he concedes. “At first, it can be nerve-racking knowing so many new people are coming into your competitive career,” he says. “But it pushes how good the photos are.” And, of course, it is also true that not everyone with an expensive camera is a professional.
Haslinger posts letters from past clients on his website. But more often than not, he says, couples check out photographers through websites that allow clients to submit reviews. By the time the couple meets with a photographer, they’ve already checked him or her out.
“That’s what most brides and grooms are doing,” Haslinger says. “Usually when they meet, they don’t ask for further references.”
The online reviews can give couples a sense of whether the photographer is reliable. It sounds like a no-brainer. But old pros know the horror stories.
“I get three to five calls a year where it’s the week before the wedding and the couples say their photographer disappeared,” says Jay Perskie, owner of Perskie Photographics and Design. “Sometimes I’m able to help [take the job] and sometimes I’m not.”
Venues often recommend specific photographers. “We don’t pay them [the location] a dime for that,” Perskie says. “They do that because they like the way we work. We don’t take over the wedding. We allow couples to enjoy the day.”
If a photographer works alone, ask about the backup plan. Most professionals have working relationships with other photographers who can fill in for them. Also, how long have they been in business? Do they have two full sets of equipment? Are they insured?
Some photographers say personal rapport is irrelevant; others disagree.
“The wedding day is an important day,” Haslinger points out. “The photographer is the vendor who is with you the entire day. They are responsible for capturing that and giving it back to you later.”
Couples often ask if they need a second photographer. But sometimes, that means they give a camera to a relative. “That’s really not a second photographer,” Perskie says. “I would say in 40 percent of weddings, people get a second photographer.”
But it isn’t always necessary. “A good second photographer has a particular set of duties that are different from the lead photographer,” Perskie explains. “It needs to be clearly defined.”
For instance, the second photographer could take candid shots or work strictly in photojournalism. Instead of taking group photographs, the photojournalist follows the couple throughout the day, capturing candid moments between the bride and bridesmaids, the groom and his entourage, and the parents.
Many photographers prefer to mix photojournalism with other styles. And there’s a hybrid of traditional shots and photojournalism known as fashion photography—staged motion.
Finally, there are formal shots, and most couples cringe when these are mentioned. A wedding is an opportunity to get group photographs of a family, including elderly relatives. The problem is that formal shots sometimes take too long. “The couple is afraid you’re going to take up their whole wedding,” Perskie says. “On the other hand, we know what people buy.”
When all is said and done, couples do want group photos in their album. Good photographers can organize formal shots so that the wedding party can quickly move on to the reception, he says.
Years ago, the couple drove to the photographer’s studio for a formal portrait before the wedding. These days, it’s more common to see couples posing for engagement shots alongside the bay or on the beach. It’s also rare for brides to ask for a posed portrait.
“Way back, the bridal portrait was more popular. Portraits in general were more popular. You would go to a studio and have your portrait taken,” Haslinger says. But this generation prefers candid portraits. “People like to see themselves in some sort of natural environment. If it is a photo of them with their friends and they’re laughing, they’ll like it better.”
Even in this age of digital photography, photographers recommend getting an album. “Otherwise the photographs end up in a drawer,” Perskie says.
Some photographers offer various packages that include albums. Sometimes, the longer they stay at the reception, the higher the price. And sometimes, it’s the size of the wedding that drives price. Also ask how long it will be before the photos will be ready and what the entire package includes. And many couples want a disc of all of their pictures.
Photographer Eric Hartlieb and his wife paid the bills for their own wedding. And the experience still colors the way he views his business as a wedding photographer and videographer. His business, A Treasured Wedding, displays prices online. “We’re sensitive to what we charge our clients,” he says. “We make it efficient on our side.”
Most photographers recommend budgeting $2,000 to $5,000, depending on the size of the wedding. It’s a big-ticket item, but it is the only lasting evidence of the big day.
Hail, the DVD
Long ago, the wedding video was a sleeper, a straightforward beginning-to-end account of The Big Day guaranteed to cure insomnia. After a month, it was collecting dust. But DVDs have made the experience more palatable. The couple can easily skip the sermon and watch the vows or the toasts or the cake-cutting. Even so, many couples regard a video as optional, particularly if they are on a budget. But videos capture the way people move and dance, the sound of their voices and laughter.
Some videographers are more creative than others, and just as couples ask to see a photographer’s album, they should watch a sample DVD. Most videographers do more than stand behind the camera.
“We do music overlays,” says Hartlieb. “We get growing-up photos and dating photos and tell the love story.”
The finished product often has the look of a documentary. Filmed ahead of time, the interviews with the couple can be used during the rehearsal dinner and reception.
Ask about the equipment. “Do you use wireless microphones? If you don’t use wireless mikes, you get background noise—wind blowing, people talking,” says Hartlieb. “A wireless mike is clear. It’s a night-and-day difference.”
Videographers also should have backup equipment.
Not everything in the wedding and reception will go into the video. But if the couple wants something specific—the toasts, for instance—they should make sure the videographer knows. There should also be an understanding of how long the DVD will be.
Some videographers work for as little as $900 to $1,200. Depending on how elaborate a production, the cost can be $5,000 and up.