Lets face it, your photographer is probably one of the highest costs of your big day. I’m not going to get into why we cost what we do (I may cover that in another post, but spoiler alert, its because we put a lot more than just a days work into each wedding), what I want to do, is to arm you with some tools to help when you are looking at your wedding photographer. No matter whether a couple hires me or not, I really do want them to not get burned by hiring a dodgy “fauxtographer”.
So, lets run through a list of questions, why I would ask it, and what answers you should look for.
Do you have Public Liability Insurance, and how much do you carry?
Okay, so this one is first because it is an absolute MUST HAVE! I cannot stress than enough. If someone gets injured due to the photographers equipment or actions, or property is damaged because of them, you should not have to pay for it. They are responsible. You don’t want a legal wrangle between you, the venue, and the photographer over who pays the bill. They should have Public Liability Insurance. In fact, many venues require it before a photographer can set foot on the grounds. They will want to see their certificate of compliance/ policy document. Many will get away with carrying $10million, but quite a few venues require $20million. And, quite frankly, insurance is cheap… a few hundred dollars each year will do it… if they are running a legitimate business, and truly respect their clients and other venues, they will have it.
Is your equipment professional grade?
Why does this matter? You may have even heard comments about gear not being important, that the photographer takes the photo, not the camera (and yes, an amazing photographer can create amazing images with sub-par gear, but thats not the point)… Well, its simple. Pro grade gear is more reliable and more capable in harsh conditions. A professional camera will have slots for 2 memory cards, so that the photographer can create a backup of each photo as they shoot. They will be weather sealed with weather sealed lenses, so that they won’t stop working if they get wet… rain, hail or dust storm, they will keep clicking. They cope with varying conditions better, the focus tracks better etc etc.. Pro grade gear doesn’t make the photos better, it just reduces the chance of a failure, or of conditions stopping the photographer from working.
Do you have back up equipment on hand for the day?
This needs to be a YES. A definitive YES. We have a saying. One is none, two is one, and three is two. What that means is that in the unlikely event of an equipment failure, if they only have one camera, you are all in trouble. If they have two, well, then they might find themselves needing that second one, and three? well that just makes me sleep better at night. Have I needed backup equipment? Yes. Picture this- Bride and brides father approach the aisle. I am shooting flat out as they approach. Camera dies. Turns into an expensive brick. Zero time to fiddle, I just literally drop it and keep shooting with my second camera (like dropped, in the gravel, onto the ground. I really did not care in that moment, all that mattered was the bride walking down the aisle. Now that was at about the halfway point of the day.. I like to have two cameras on hand with different lenses to give a good mix of images, so as soon as I got a moment, I threw the camera in my bag and pulled out body number 3… the rest of the day went fine, the images were all fine, the camera just had a heating issue. If I’d only had one camera? nightmare! If I’d only had two? Well, that would be a day full of fear…
How do you archive your images, and how long do you store them for?
So this question has a couple of parts. Firstly, a good policy is that a photographer should not reuse the cards they shot your wedding on until they have delivered your final photos. So that should mean that to start with we have two copies of your photos (remember the two card slots)..so photo copy count sits at 2. Next, when they import the photos into their computer for editing, they should import a working copy, and do an auto back up copy… so 2 more copies (Photo count 4). Next, they should also be running an offsite backup. So that makes 5… then, once they have delivered your copy (6) they may choose to remove the copy from their working drive… some may delete it (back to 5) others may just move it to an archive drive (so 6 again. Lastly, they will reformat the memory cards, erasing the original 2 copies.. so now we have 4 copies. You have 1, they have 3. We call this the 3-2-1 rule of Digital Asset Management. 3 copies, 2 physical locations, 1 off-site. plus you have at least one copy now. As for how long they should store them? I keep my archived copy indefinitely, hard drives are cheap, so even if something goes wrong, I should have at least one secure copy in 10+ years.
Do you have a contract/ service agreement?
Again, a must. This will also lead you into the next question. Firstly, you need a contract to protect you both. It is a written agreement, detailing expectations on both sides. It should cover what times, how long coverage is, delivery schedule, what happens if a guest interferes with them and blocks a shot, what happens if you guys need to reschedule, and also, cover my pet peeve… photographer cancellation. Take a moment and think… how many times have you seen a bride post online “help!! our photographer has cancelled and our wedding is in 3 weeks?” this shouyld’t happen, but , in the world of part time photographers who really are just looking to subsidise a hobby, it does. I have stepped in several times when I have seen this happen, and often found myself shooting basically fro free, because Photographer A has decided that they want to grab that last minute deal for a Phuket getaway, and have left the couple stranded, and not even refunded the $$$…. That seriously gets me angry… and I can list at least 3 times I have helped someone out for almost that exact reason… Quite simply, a professional would never do that. Now… what happens if your genuinely professional photographer breaks a leg the week before your wedding? Well, a decent contract will put the responsibility for finding a replacement on them. No matter the cost. For me, I have a list of photographers I would call, and connect my couple with. Then they choose who they want, and I would pay all the costs, then deal with all the post and albums etc myself. It should never be the couples problem. The next question is also connected to contracts.
Who owns copyright to the images taken?
Short answer? You. The client. Under Australian copyright law, in the case of a “Private Domestic Commission” (includes Weddings and family portraits), the first owner of the copyright (owner of the images ) is the client.. Now in all other case here in Australia, the photographer owns copyright, and in most of the world they do for weddings too, but not here. You own it. What does this mean? Okay, so basically every click of that shutter from the start to the finish is yours… that blurry shot, that over exposed shot, that photo of the photographers shoes because they bumped the shutter… all yours. But, do you want them? No. You definitely don’t want every shot. Now, some photographers may have a clause saying “The photographer retains copyright”.. this is meaningless.. they cannot retain that which they didn’t own. What is reasonable is that they have a clause saying “The client authorises the photographer to make determinations about the images and deliver the images that they deem satisfactory”. Also without authorisation, we can’t even fix a slightly dark photo, so you need a clause giving them permission to edit, make corrections and retouch images as deemed necessary” Should you just trust them to do this? Well yes. You chose them because you like their work, so give them the authority to deliver their best.
Do you offer Albums? Where do you source them?
You want full service. Seriously trust me. You want a photographer that can source archival quality albums.. If you want a cheap phonebook, you can do that yourself at Harvey Norman, but be aware, it will look rubbish in 10 years. They should have access to a good album company. Pro-tip: Most real album companies vet their clients, so if they have not been able to get on the books with a good company, it means they aren’t really up to scratch. I’m planning a whole post just on albums.. the good, the bad and the ugly…
Do you offer prints? Where do you source them?
They should do this…and again, I dont mean that they know the way to Harvey Norman or K-mart to get prints done on the kiosks.. Thats fine for happy snaps destined for the fridge door, not for Wedding photos destined for the wall or your desk at work.. you want prints from a Professional Lab. Again, a reputable photographer will have someone for this. Yep.. there is another post coming about this.
Do you offer an online gallery that we can share or order prints directly from?
Necessary? No. Handy? Yes. I like this for my clients so that they can pass it onto family to view their photos no matter how far away they are, and so mum and dad can help themselves and get prints directly from my lab without having to hassle anyone.
What if the weather isn’t good? How do you work in low light? What if a huge curveball throws the day into chaos? These things happen. Professional photographers will have plan A,B,C, D and Z… They will have plans for shooting in the rain. They will know how to get the job done if it gets windy. They will have lights at the ready in case the venue is a black hole.. Ask for examples of problems they have encountered and how they solved them. Ask to see some resulting images? I’ll be honest, some of my favourite images have come from me being forced to adapt and change my plan of attack. Adapt and overcome.
What is your general philosophy for your work?
Do they see themselves as purely there to capture your day as an observer? Are they an artist? Do they like to work creatively or prefer to shoot to a list, given a specific style to emulate? For me, this is my answer. I strive to both capture the day faithfully and honestly through a documentary style approach, but also to create artistic images to punctuate the day, as well as something iconic to help capture the emotion and uniqueness of the day. I cannot copy another work, I need freedom to explore the day with my own eyes and rtell the story with my own photographic voice, so that the uniqueness of the day is captured, and the story in not the same as any other.
Okay, so that was a huge post, but I really wanted to put this out there. This is by no means a definitive list, but these points are valid, and every photographer should be able to answer them without hesitating. Whatever way you go, who ever you choose, I sincerely hope they fulfil their duty to give you the absolute best work that they possibly can.