For Couples: Questions for Your Photographer (and What You Don't Need to Ask) | Charlotte, North Carolina Wedding Photographer
For Couples: Questions for Your Photographer (and What You Don’t Need to Ask)
There are so, so many lists and FAQs out there about what you should be asking your photographer. The big, gigantic problem is that almost none of them are actually written by photographers, and miss a lot of glaring questions you should actually be thinking about and taking into consideration. After pouring over these various articles (and fighting back a lot of confusion over where these people come up with this stuff) I’ve put together a curated list of questions you should definitely ask, and a couple questions you don’t need to ask/don’t actually mean what you may have been told they mean.
What You Should Ask
Are you available on our date?
Most, if not all, photographers require that you have a date picked before you can book them. How awful would it be if you booked them, but then the only date your venue had available was a date that your photographer is already booked and contracted for another wedding? I always suggest picking a date and venue first; the photographer comes next.
Do we need to sign a contract? What is the retainer?
This is important for two reasons. First of all is that, most of the time, your date is not reserved until the contract is signed and the retainer is paid. I’ve had way too many photographer friends who ran into a terrible situation where a friend casually told them their date and then assumed that they had reserved it for them, only to find out with just a few months to go that the photographer had booked that day. It sounds bonkers but it happens an uncomfortable amount. So, while most photographers will tell you upfront what needs to happen for the date to be reserved, go ahead and ask just to be on the safe side. Second, you should not hire a photographer who doesn’t have a contract in place. Contracts are necessary both for your protection and theirs. They outline exactly what your expectations should be, how the day itself will go, what will be delivered to you and when, and also gives you perimeters for their services. If your photographer doesn’t have a contract in place, you do not have legal protection or an entitlement to a refund if they lose the photos, don’t show up, or otherwise behave inappropriately. Likewise, a contract protects the photographer from inappropriate behavior on the client’s part.
What should I have ready for you on the day of?
If your photographer hasn’t already gotten in touch with you about this, it might be helpful for you to reach out and ask what would make the day run smoother in terms of having details on hand. Standard photographed accessories usually include things like invitations, flowers, jewelry, the rings, shoes, and other personal details. This is a great conversation to facilitate sharing more information about you and your significant other too, to give your a photographer a feel for your priorities and personal touches that you’re adding to the day!
Read the contract!
This isn’t a question, but something you should do. If you have questions, ask them! The contract should usually include things like what will happen if the photographer falls ill/can’t make it to the wedding, a deadline that you’ll have your wedding photos by, and other important legal information.
What will the day of be like? How do you shoot?
I personally think it’s important to know if you and your photographer’s approaches to the wedding day are going to mesh. For example: the couples who tend to book me are people who want someone more journalistic, who’s documenting the day more than directing it. I tend to be very attentive and calm, and a little more hands off. Some couples may want someone more directly involved who will produce more posed, traditional photos and less candids. There isn’t a right or wrong between the two, just very different approaches that will be more cohesive with different weddings and personalities. Whichever way you go, the day will be SO much easier if you know what to expect and know it’s what you need from your photographer beforehand.
Are you comfortable shooting in low light?
I think a lot of couples assume that it’s a given that most photographers are capable of shooting in any lighting condition. This isn’t the case, unfortunately. I’ve seen so many ceremony and reception photos from very well-known, expensive and respected photographers that are too dark and grainy to even discern what’s happening, and it could have been fixed by simply using a flash and understanding how to bounce light so that it looks more natural. Now, if you’re getting married in a church that doesn’t allow any sort of additional lighting, or if you’re getting married in a warehouse or somewhere with dark walls/ceilings, your photos are going to be darker, even with flash. This isn’t on your photographer; we can only do so much with external factors like that. But if flash is allowed, there’s no reason not to use it if there isn’t a viable alternative (like natural light.) I strongly suggest asking for full galleries, specifically from indoor locations, so that you can be sure your photographer is prepared for any kind of lighting situation within reason. I’ll be going into this more in-depth in a blog post about external factors that can influence your photos.
Do you suggest we have a second shooter?
The need for a second shooter depends on a lot of factors. For myself, I only feel like I truly need one if a. there are more than 120 guests and b. if the ceremony space is very limited in size, as I prefer to be as quiet and minimal as possible during ceremonies and this is easier if there are two people who can stand in two different places/move around less. The other time it can be helpful is if the couple are getting ready in two different places. I suggest reaching out and asking if you think your case requires one before you spend extra for it.
Can I see a full wedding?
I touched upon this briefly above, but there is nothing wrong with asking to see a full gallery, or multiple (which I suggest.) We always post our best work on social media and our portfolio, and it’s important to see how your photographer handles candids, family photos, and difficult lighting situations (such as indoor or direct sun.)
Do you have backup equipment?
One of the scariest parts of this job is that you can be the most professional, experienced, prepared photographer in the world, and equipment will still decide to just fail. Technology quitting for no apparent reason isn’t a sign of a good or bad photographer; what DOES reflect on your photographer is if they have backup equipment at the ready in case this happens. The photographer not having a backup camera could be the difference between you having photos of your wedding or not.
How much time do you need for family photos, couple’s photos and bridal party photos?
This is a really important conversation to have with your photographer before you start building the timeline, because so much of it depends on locations, the amount of people involved, and whether or not you’re doing a first look. Planners are very helpful to this process as well, but photographers can give you a clear window into the specifics of coordinating these photos.
What time do you need to eat?
Eating for photographers is usually required; six to ten hours is a long time on your feet, and it helps maintain photo quality to make sure we’re energized and have some time to rest for a few minutes before jumping back in the fray! I always recommend having your photographers eat at the same time as you, so that way they’re done at the same time and won’t miss anything.
Do you need a shot list?
Photographers vary on shot lists. Some love them, some don’t. Personally, I suggest shot lists specifically for things that we wouldn’t know about otherwise. For example, we don’t usually need a shot list for things like first kiss or first dance; those should be a given. What I love having a shot list for though is things like that necklace your grandmother gave you that you’re wearing, or the special cufflinks, or a choreographed dance that you’re doing with one of your parents. Those are the things that make your day uniquely yours, and should be celebrated! Shot lists for family photos (i.e. family groupings) are also extremely helpful.
What happens if we decide we need you for longer than the amount of time we originally picked?
This is SO important and I’ve gotten a lot of feedback from couples wishing they had added more time but didn’t think about it until they felt it was too late. It might not be! Ask ahead of time so that you know what to do and what the perimeters are if you start getting worried about not having enough hours, or if you feel like the timeline is going to change.
Questions You (Likely) Don’t Need to Ask
Can we have the RAWs?
I’m honestly not sure where the pervasiveness of this question came from, because there is very rarely a situation in which you would ever need the RAWs. RAW photos are not the finished product; they’re a collection of a bunch of loose and uncompressed data, incredibly flat-looking and bland. They’re also useless unless you have software that can open them to edit them; there are only a handful of programs designed to do that, and they’re expensive. Half of what you’re hiring a wedding photographer for is what they do with that data; how they manage the colors, how they correct the lighting and contrast, and how they bring out the best of each individual photo. The RAWs are the tip of the ice berg of what you’re hiring a wedding photographer for, and there is almost never a benefit to having them, nor is it industry standard for a photographer to give them to a client.
Can our parents/planner sign the contract?
No. For your protection and the protection of the photographer, I never recommend this. A photographer’s contract will have very specific legal language about your working relationship, and that language refers specifically to the couple who are getting married. If somebody other than those parties signs the contract, it throws a lot of the language into question, and gives legal authority to someone other than you.
Can we have the copyright to our images?
A lot of photographers get really upset about this question, but I think it’s a valid one if you’re not familiar with copyright law; if they’re photos of your wedding, why shouldn’t they be YOUR photos?
However, most people who ask are actually confusing copyright with printing rights. Printing rights are full rights to your photos for personal use, and most (not all) photographers include these in your packages. Printing rights means you can use them for anything from albums, printing them out, sharing them on social media, etc. What you can’t do is sell the image or edit it in any way from the original provided to you, such as using Photoshop to manipulate the image. The only time you’ll need the copyright is if you want to drastically alter the image yourself or sell it. This is why most photographers either charge extra for or straight up don’t offer copyright purchase; by signing it over, the photographer is forfeiting all ability to use the photo in their portfolio, use it for advertising or otherwise claim the photo at all, which can lose us money and bookings. Printing rights are a happy medium where you don’t need any permission from the photographer to use the photos for yourself and the photographer can still use them as valuable portfolio material, which is how we make our bookings.