What To Ask Your Wedding Photographer

Pretty much everyone we meet to shoot their wedding haven’t been married before. Planning a wedding is an extremely daunting task, and one that you probably don’t have any experience doing.

There are three things you take with you from a wedding:

1. Your Spouse. Hope you picked really carefully!

2. A beautiful dress you will probably never wear again.

3. Your pictures.

Obviously, I am a little biased, but I think the photography for a wedding is of the utmost importance and I am honored to have dozens and dozens of brides trust in me to document the most anticipated day of their lives. These are pictures that you are going to be looking at for generations. Your grandkids will want to see what Grandma and Grandpa looked like when you were young.

Here are some questions I think you should ask your photographer or consider for yourself, along with my answers to them.

Why should I hire a professional photographer? Why not let a family member do it for free?

Your wedding will be one of the most important and most memorable days of your life. After your friends and family have driven home, the cake has been eaten and the glasses have gone dry, you will have your memories and your spouse. And hopefully some beautiful pictures.

Weddings also present a number of unique challenges that you don’t find in many other realms of photography. Light. Or lack thereof. Churches and reception halls tend to be very dark. Making it more complicated, very few churches allow flash photography (in my count, none of them do.) And even if flash photography was allowed, I really wouldn’t want to distract people from the important part – you! To get great shots in these dark rooms, you need to have top of the line equipment. That includes cameras with full-frame sensors (like the Canon 5D Mark II or Nikon D3s) and lenses that let in a lot of light. You also need lenses that let in a lot of light. Your average consumer lens (that would come with your Digital Rebel kit) would let in just 1/16th as much light as a pro lens like the 35mm 1.4 lens that both Canon and Nikon make. But lenses like this are VERY expensive, and your average hobbyist probably can’t justify the expense. But with out them, capturing a wedding without flash in a dark chapel is nearly impossible.

When selecting a photographer, you are really selecting their vision. You are choosing someone who captures a day the way you want it to be seen. Some photographers are really strong in posing couples, while others are really artistic in how they capture details and others are great at capturing the candid moments. There is no right style, only what speaks most to you.

You are also investing in how well you think someone is going to capture a day based on their past record. The better and more experienced a photographer (in all phases of photography, not just weddings), the more likely they are going to be able to produce consistent results from wedding to wedding.

While no one can guarantee that they will get every single shot every time they go out, an experienced photographer with top of the line equipment is going to have a much higher probability of making the shots that matter over a hobbyist with questionable gear.

When I studied to be a photojournalist, something that was drilled into me was that the most important aspect of photojournalism is capturing the moment. In order to capture the moment, you need to be able to anticipate the moment. Being able to anticipate the moment comes with experience and being able to have your camera settings correct come only from the technical ability rising out of experience.

Here are some questions I think you should ask your photographer or consider for yourself, along with my answers to them.

What is your style?

Style is something that can be difficult to quantify, but it is difficult to know that the photographer can discuss their style and they aren’t just out at your wedding mashing buttons and hoping something good happens. If someone claims that their style is ‘photojournalism’, then you should ask them what makes them a photojournalist. Many newer photographers use the buzz word photojournalism to cop out on the fact that they have never learned how to pose people.

My style is rooted in my training as a photojournalist. I currently am a contract shooter for one of the largest media companies in the world, and you will often see me on the sidelines of NFL playoff games, NBA games in the MLB dugouts and more. My extensive training and experience shooting action at the highest levels has taught me to be able to anticipate the moment.

While also being able to anticipate the moment, I pride myself in my attention to detail and posing. I am very hands off and unobtrusive during your wedding day. I want to capture the action as it would happen if I was not there. I won’t stop tables of people or interrupt conversations to ask anyone to pose for any picture.

Most people think they don’t like posed pictures, but the real problem is so many people are so bad at posing them.

My style is to document your wedding so that your album with no words reads like a storybook and that people who have never met you can look at it and see the beauty and feel the emotion.

Do you take posed family portraits?

Absolutely. I think this is an essential part of the day and one that most families love to frame and hang in all their various houses. We generally take about a dozen posed family pictures and we can go over what you would like and wouldn’t like. Every family is different and we try to accomodate that.

Is a second shooter required? Do you offer a second shooter?

Some photographers, particularly inexperienced ones will require two shooters at every wedding. The majority, but not all, of these that require two shooters do so because they are not confident in their ability to cover the day. I have shot weddings with over 500 people by myself, but I do offer a second shooter if requested. If your wedding will have over 250 people, it may be time to start considering a second shooter.

How many guests would there be for you to recommend having a second shooter?

It depends on the wedding, but we generally recommend to start considering one if you have 250 or more guests.

Where are you based out of?

We live in Kingwood, which is a suburb of Houston and regularly shoot in Austin, San Antonio, College Station, the DFW Metroplex and New Orleans. We are available for travel world wide. Together, Thomas and Penelope have been to over 20 countries. Last year, we shot in Italy, Greece, Croatia, Turkey, Israel, Palestine and Egypt. Our studio is near Downtown Houston.

Do you give the digital negatives?

We do not. And I would highly suspect the professionalism of anyone that would. We only include the edited images, not the negative or raw image. Our high resolution edited images are included in all our wedding packages.

Are the digital files included, or do they cost extra?

Some photographers get a lower starting price point by not including the digital files, then making you buy them later. I include low resolution and high resolution files with every wedding.

What resolution files will be on the disc?

Some will include the digital files, but will have web quality resolution. We include our files at 700 pixels on the long end for web resolution (like Facebook, emailing, personal websites) and 3600 pixels on the long end for high resolution. This is suitable for printing anything up to 11×14. If you are getting the files from someone, you should insist on getting at least 3000 pixels on the long end of each file.

What cameras and lenses do you use?

I think this is a very important aspect, because it shows how dedicated a photographer is to their craft. While the vision of a photographer is the most important thing, without the right tools, that vision is meaningless. Leonardo DiVinci didn’t fingerpaint the Mona Lisa. He had the right tools to create it and the vision and ability to execute it.

There is no excuse for your wedding photographer to not use a full frame camera. What is meant by full frame camera is that the sensor size is the same as a square of 35mm film. Cheaper cameras and consumer grade cameras generally have smaller sensors that produce inferior results.

In addition, professional quality lenses give better results than consumer lenses. They generally allow in more light, have better color and contrast represented. The average lens that comes with your consumer camera lets in 1/16th as much light as my professional 35mm 1.4L. That is the difference between getting the shot and not getting the shot in a dark church with no flash.

Their gear should fall into these categories:

Primary Camera:

Canon:

5D Mark II, 1D Mark IV, 1D X

Nikon:

D700, D3, D3s, D3x or D4

Secondary Camera:
Canon:
5D Mark II, 5D Mark I, 7D, 1D Mark III, 1D Mark IV, 1D X

Nikon:

D700, D3, D3s, D3x, D4

Some photographers like to only shoot with one camera. I prefer to shoot with two cameras. So a two camera photographer should have three cameras and a one camera photographer should have at least two, but possibly three. I’ve never heard anyone upset because they carried too many back up cameras. Better safe than sorry.

Lenses:
Every photographer needs to cover his bases on this. We generally suggest that any photographer carry at least 4 lenses and 1 marco lens. The Macro lens will probably only be used for your ring shot, but that is a pretty important shot in my opinion.

Recommended Macros: (I own the Sigma for Canon)

Canon 65mm MP-E Macro
Canon 100mm 2.8 Macro

Canon 100mm 2.8L IS Macro

Canon 180mm 3.5L Macro

Sigma 150mm 2.8 Macro

Nikon:

85mm 3.5G Micro

105 2.8 Micro (this is easily their best macro. It is a killer lens.)

200 4 Micro

 

Normal Lenses:

Photographers generally fall into two area: zoom shooters or prime shooters. Primes are generally sharper, let in more light and have better color. But your “zoom” is your feet. you have to move around to change the framing of each shot. I prefer this, as you have to be more deliberate with each shot. Also, because the lens lets in more light, it blurs the background more, so you can isolate your subject better.

Photographers that love zooms love that they can change the look without moving.

Two lenses that every photographer should have are zooms.

24-70mm 2.8 and 70-200mm 2.8 . Canon and Nikon both make it. I have both of these, but rarely use them for weddings. But if you are a prime shooter, these are the perfect backups. If you are a zoom shooter, these are probably your two main lenses.

Canon also makes a 24-105mm 4L IS, which lets in less light than the 24-70, but it is much sharper and has image stabilization. I prefer this lens because it is lighter, more accurate, has more range and is much sharper.

Most professionals also carry a wide angle lens. NIkon makes an incredible 14-24mm 2.8 and Canon makes a pretty good 16-35mm 2.8L II. I carry the 16-35, but don’t often use it. I prefer to use Canon’s excellent 14mm 2.8L II prime lens for my really wide shots.

 

Additionally, everyone needs to use backups. Most prime shooters will use those two main zooms as their backups.

There are three styles of lenses for prime shooters.

1. Wide – anything less than 50mm

2. Normal – 50mm

3. Telephoto – anything more than 50mm

Some will carry all three, and most probably carry just two. I like to carry a wide and a telephoto. I own both the 24mm 1.4L II and the 35mm 1.4L as well as the 85mm 1.2L II and the 135mm 2.0L for telephoto. You will most often see me shooting with an 85mm 1.2L before the wedding with a few shots with my 35mm 1.4 and then switch to a 135mm 2.0L and 24mm 1.4L II for the ceremony. That is just my style. Ben Chrisman, one of my favorite photographers, uses a 35mm 1.4L and an 85mm 1.2L II for his entire weddings.

List of great prime lenses (your professional photographer will have two of these):

Canon:

24mm 1.4L II, 24mm 1.4L, 35mm 1.4L, 50mm 1.2L, 85mm 1.2L I or II, 85mm 1.8, 135mm 2.0L, 200mm 2.8L

Nikon:
24mm 1.4G, 35mm 1.4G, 50mm 1.4G , 85mm 1.4G, 105mm 2D, 135mm 2D, 180mm 2.8D

The specialty lenses [Not having these is not necessarily a bad thing]:

Some photographer use Tilt Shift lenses to make special effects. I have a 45mm tilt shift, but rarely use it. Also, some photographers will use a fisheye to get that special effect. I have never had one and I don’t really care for the look of distorted people and things, as I try to keep everything natural.

Also, not many wedding photographers have this, because you can’t financially justify it for strictly wedding photography, but I own a 400mm 2.8L IS and a 300mm 2.8L IS. These are great for getting the shot from far away and it is what I use to shoot NCAA and NFL football.

My complete gear list:
Cameras:

Canon 5D Mark II, Canon 1D Mark III, Canon 7D

Prime lenses:

14mm 2.8L II, 24mm 1.4L II, 35mm 1.4L, 35mm 2.0, 45mm Tilt Shift, 85mm 1.2L II, 85mm 1.8, 135mm 2.0L, 150mm 2.8 Macro, 300mm 2.8L IS, 400mm 2.8L IS, 400mm 5.6L

Zoom lenses:

16-35mm 2.8L II, 17-40mm 4L,  24-70mm 2.8L, 24-105mm 2.8L IS, 70-200mm 2.8L IS

Flashes:

Canon 580 EX II (four copies)

Lumopro LP160 (cheap, but good flashes for remote use)

Elinchrom Ranger Quadra RX with A Head

Elinchrom Ranger with S Head (2  flashes and 2 battery packs)

Elinchrom DLite 400 (three copies)

 

Again, I went for a little overkill, but I firmly believe that gear will break at the most inopportune moment, and it is my job as a professional to make sure that even if I have multiple gear failures, I still have enough gear to cover the wedding as though nothing happened. I would never trust my wedding pictures to someone who doesn’t have professional quality gear and necessary backups. That is asking for trouble and shows they don’t care enough to prepare for the worst.

 

How much memory do you bring?

Find out how many gigs of memory cards they use. We carry:

2- 8 GIG Cards

20- 16 GIG Cards

2 32-GIG Cards

Will I fill all those up? Never at a wedding. But backups. I don’t like to put too many pics on each card, because what if it fails? That is enough to shoot about 13,000 images in RAW at 22 megapixels. I tend to be a heavy shooter, but I won’t use that many.

Do you shoot RAW or JPEG?

RAW captures more information and allows you more leeway in editing. I don’t know any pros that don’t shoot RAW. RAW can only be read by certain programs like the most up to date copy of Photoshop, so pictures will be converted to JPEG in the editing process so you can use them.

 

How many MegaPixels is your camera?

My primary camera is 22 Megapixels and has a full frame sensor. It is generally considered one of the finest 35mm portrait cameras ever made. Megapixels don’t matter near as much as marketers will tell you. Nikon’s D3s is an incredible camera that has great specs, and it is 12 megapixels.

 

What flashes do you use? Do you prefer on camera or off camera?
I prefer off camera flash, but am accustomed to using on camera flash when absolutely necessary. I have multiple Canon 580 EX II flashes. I generally set up multiple off camera lights to get the great dancing reception pictures I am known for.

How do you light the family portraits at the altar?
We use an Elinchrom Ranger Quadra. This is a professional light that you may see used in a studio or by National Geographic photographer Joe McNally. I bought the same light at his suggestion and it was one of the best things I have ever done for my business. The light it puts out is amazing.

My church said they are pretty restrictive. Can you get around that?
Nope. I won’t. I refuse to break any of the church rules, because I believe in respecting the sanctity of the ceremony by the rules of whoever is officiating. However, because I am an actual working photojournalist, I have some tools that most wedding photographers won’t have.

Like what? I have the Canon 400mm 2.8L IS lens, which is THE preferred lens for shooting field sports like football. It is a mammoth lens (weighs about 20lbs without a camera attached) but is long enough and lets in enough light so that I can get a nice, tight shot of you and your spouse from the back of any church. Not many wedding photographers have this because it is something you would rarely use, but all good football photographers have one because it is essential.

Can we give you a shot list to work from on the day of the wedding?
Nope. I don’t work for a shot list because it would impede my ability to capture the day as it happens. If there are some things that are very special and unique to you, please let me know well in advance. And we will sit down with you to make a list of the formal portraits that you want of the family members and wedding party.

What will you wear to our wedding?
I believe in looking professional, so I generally wear slacks, a button up dress shirt and a vest. If you have a special request of something to wear, please let us know, but remember that I refuse to dress up with clown paint. That was a weird wedding.

What type of insurance do you carry?

This is extremely important. All photographers should carry LIABILITY and ERRORS AND OMISSIONS coverage as well as loss/theft for their gear. If they do not carry Liability and E&O, run away.

We carry our insurance through Tom C. Pickard Insurance. Hill & Usher is the other big company that specializes in photography insurance.

How much is sales tax?

Always ask. If a photographer doesn’t charge sales tax, they aren’t running a legal business. They should be reported to the authorities and you should assume that they won’t be in business very long. I live in Houston and have no choice but to add 8.25%. Well, I do have a choice. I could break the law, but my lenses aren’t long enough to shoot your wedding from jail. If a photographer doesn’t charge sales tax or is willing to waive sales tax, RUN. They probably won’t be in business long and your money could very well disappear between now and your wedding date.

How long have you been taking pictures PROFESSIONALLY (pics of sunsets, flowers and pets when you were a kid don’t count.)

I shot for the Texas A&M newspaper, The Battalion, from 1999-2003. I began shooting professionally in 2005 for Houston Community Newspapers. Since 2005, my work has been featured on the covers on 2 books, in the National Holocaust Museum, in solo art gallery exhibitions, as commissioned artwork in offices and homes, in newspapers such as the USA Today, Houston Chronicle, Dallas Morning-News, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, the Wall Street Journal, Baltimore Sun, and Washington Post, in magazines such as Sports Illustrated, Texas Monthly, Forbes, Fortune, and ESPN the Magazine and countless other places.

How many weddings have you shot?

This changes pretty much every week, but I have shot several dozen at the time of writing this FAQ.

How did you get into wedding photography professionally?

Figure out if they really like it, or if they are shooting weddings so they can finance the things they really like to shoot. I would say the majority of wedding photographers I know don’t really like it. They just like accounting/engineering/whatever less.)

I shot a couple weddings as favors long ago and decided it wasn’t for me. Then some friends that are photographers needed a second shooter, and I agreed to help them out. I realized that I really enjoyed shooting weddings. It is an opportunity for me to combine both my technical side and my creative side. Weddings really energize me because it really gives me a chance to get out and do something fun, happy and exciting all at once.

What is your favorite and least favorite thing about shooting weddings?
I really love LOVE. I love getting to witness how different people express it and the chance to capture the raw emotions from a wedding.
My least favorite thing is easily when I am taking formal pictures at the altar and everyone else insists on shooting their point and shoot over my shoulder. Please tell them to not do that, because there will ALWAYS be a couple people looking away from the picture, ruining your nice professional picture because Aunt Susie insisted on taking a terrible picture. I just hate having a shot my bride expects to be ruined by something completely out of my control. BTW, my mom did this at my own wedding. It always happens.

Are you a full-time photographer? What is your primary source of income?

This is important to ask because it shows where their priorities are. If they have a day job or are supported by a spouse that has a well paying job, your wedding may not mean that much to them. However, if you are a full time photographer, every wedding and every referral means a great deal.

Photography has been my only source of income for almost half a decade and is the only source of income from our family (if you don’t count my wife’s occasional classical singing gigs.)

Do you have a physical location other than your home?

Again, a photographer that is truly invested in the business will probably have a studio.
Our studio is in the Warehouse District near downtown Houston.

How many weddings did you shoot last year?

Really good idea to know how many weddings they booked last year. We shot 26 weddings last year.

How many weddings do you have booked this year?

This constantly changed, but we have booked up faster this year than last. This will also show how in demand a photographer will be.

Do you limit the number of weddings you will book each year? If so, what is your limit?

We do limit the number of weddings we will book so that each client can get great service and we don’t dig ourselves too deep. We limit this to 25 weddings.

What happens if you can’t shoot my wedding because you are sick?
I have never missed a wedding due to illness, but if that occasion did come up, I would call on one of my great friends to cover it for me and I would do the same for them.

Where or under who did you study photography or wedding photography?

Extremely important to know their educational background AND to know how they are continuing their education. Do they really love photography or just want to make some quick cash? It will show in their work.

I studied photojournalism from Howard Eilers at Texas A&M in undergrad. I went to a workshop by Joe McNally in New York City to learn how to use studio and on location artificial light to create amazing images. I was mentored by Joe Cogliandro in wedding photography (who is an amazing wedding and boudoir photographer – you should book him.) I have taken photoshop and retouching classes from Pratik Naik of Solstice Retouch, Scott Kelby and Matt Kozlowski. I am absolutely fanatical about always getting better, and continue my education constantly.

Can I see two full weddings that you have shot?

Sure. You can see every picture from every wedding. Contact me and I will let you know what the most recent ones are or the ones at the same venue as you have.

Mac or PC?
We have three MacBook Pros (one 17″ and two 15″) and one 27″ iMac. We use Lightroom and Photoshop CS5 to edit. We aren’t total Apple lemmings, though. We do own Android phones. And Thomas is way more geeky than Penelope.

Digital or Film?
Digital, though I do have a handful of old film cameras I play with from time to time. None of them will show up at your wedding.

How many pictures will you usually deliver?
It varies strongly on the event, but we tend to deliver 1500-2500 for most of our weddings.

What if my house burns down/hurricane hits and I lose my pictures?
We keep our photos backed up on a server in California as well as on hard drives in a safe deposit box. We will hook you up.

What do I need to do to book the date?
We require a 35% deposit. Pretty typically, you will see anywhere from 25% to 50% or a flat fee of $750-$1000. We also require you to sign a contract. If someone wants everything now or doesn’t have you sign a contract, be scared.

Do you discount for Friday or Sunday weddings?
It is the same amount of work no matter what day I shoot it. We don’t discount for Friday or Sunday.

We are getting married on XXX, XX, 201X. Can you hold that date for us?

Nope.

How about just for me?

Well, ok.

Really?

No. Not really.

Why not?

Because you haven’t given me a signed contract with a deposit.

How come?

Because if I hold a date for Couple 1 without a contract and Couple 2 asks to book it, I would have to say no. Then if Couple 1 decides they really want to elope and don’t need that date, I just turned away couple 2. Then I would cry.

How soon before our wedding should I book you?

As soon as you can. Our dates fill up quickly and we only take a limited amount of weddings every year.

If we cancel, can we have our money back?

No. Because I held the date for you, it is unlikely that I will be able to book that date with someone else. All monies paid are non-refundable and are considered liquidated damages for breaking the contract.

What if you die?

Then I won’t shoot your wedding. Either your money will be refunded and you will be referred to someone else, or a very capable photographer will take my place and do a fantastic job. I haven’t died yet, so I like my odds of not dying in the next year or two.

Who will be shooting my wedding?

Thomas. Only Thomas. Unless he dies (see above – he doesn’t plan on dying.)

How will you interact with us on our wedding date?

I tend to prefer to be the fly on the wall. I don’t want to create situations – I just want to capture what naturally happens on your wedding date. I am a photojournalist at heart and want to document your wedding as naturally as possible. Unobtrusively.

What are your travel fees to ____?
Depends where you are going. We do travel and do not have travel fees for your wedding day from Galveston to College Station. Somewhere else? Shoot us an email.
How long after our wedding can we expect to see the images? How will you deliver them to us?
We will have them online 6-8 weeks after the wedding. Sometimes sooner, never later. We deliver the disc with your wedding album after that or if you didn’t get an album, just set up a time to meet us at our studio.

Can I have a reference list?
Absolutely.

 

Check out my wedding work on my website: Thomas & Penelope or my Facebook Fan Page

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