Do a quick Google search and you will find dozens of articles on “how to shop for a wedding photographer.” What they all have in common is a firm belief that you should hire someone who is a professional and that you shouldn’t worry about cost. That is because most articles on how to search for wedding photographers are written by wedding photographers!

Although, I am also a wedding photographer, I am also a full-time journalist who writes (among other topics) on business. So let me set you straight on the rest of the story. You have read all the WHY you need to hire a professional, let me give you the practical step-by-step on HOW to hire one.

The first problem in searching for a photographer is that you are rarely going to need this service. Unlike a good auto mechanic, you will not be calling your wedding photographer for a tune up every six month, or asking them to renew your inspection sticker. Wedding photographers are hired more along the lines of a roofer. Once you have had your roof replaced, you hope that you will never have to call them again.

If you have ever had to hire a roofer, you realize that it is a daunting task. Why? Because you have very little to go on to intelligently evaluate which roofer is the one that will do the best job for the right price.

What a minute—did I say right price? Aren’t I always reading that I shouldn’t take price into consideration?

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Nearly every photographer, or anyone who sells service, is going to do what they can to “up sell” their products to earn more money. Photography is no exception. Shooting a wedding is hard work, and as much as I work every muscle in my body to carry gear and quickly capture great moments, there are endless hours before and after a wedding that are spent in paperwork, editing, ordering products and making sure my clients are happy. So nothing makes me happier as a photographer to know that I am getting as much income as I can for the services I provide.

Unfortunately, in today’s market, many clients don’t need, or can’t afford to spend the money on, the “platinum package.”Knowing what you want and how much you can afford are important consideration when hiring a photographer.

So, what should you consider when shopping for the right photographer for you?

       Professional expertise. With the advent of digital photography, the market has been saturated with hobbyists who want to turn their love of photography into a career. Unfortunately, even the worst photographer in the world can shoot a thousand photos on their digital camera and build a wonderful twenty-shot portfolio.

Look for photographers who have professional training in photography or have trained under a professional photographer!

Ask to see a proof book of entire weddings and see the good with the bad.

Ask about an experience where something went horribly wrong and how they solved the problem to create a fantastic image.

Ask for professional references from other photographers, not just clients.

     Portfolio. Don’t trust a portfolio as an indicator of a photographer’s skill. Again, if you shoot long enough, you are bound to find a few gems in the bunch.

Make sure that the portfolio they show you in person aren’t just the same images you saw on the website.

Make sure you look online and see if the photos are the photographers

MOST IMPORTANT. Make sure that the photos are recent. Photographers should have an updated portfolio showing their recent ability.

What is the photographers experience in photography and in digital photography? There are many semi-professional photographers that take nice photos, but do not really understand their gear, or how to create an image. They photograph thousands of photos and take up valuable time looking at their monitors trying to figure out how to make a good image DURING your wedding.

->Business Sense. The wedding photography business is 40% photography and 60% business. A man with a camera is not a company. Check them out.

Ask to see their contract. Contracts are important. They provide a written agreement of expectations and responsibilities for both parties. No contract, no go!

Inquire if the photographer has a network of other photographers that will shoot if something horrible happens to them. You don’t want to be short a photographer on your wedding day, and it shows the photographer is respected amongst his peers.

Ask about time tables. A professional photographer should be able to accurately tell you when you can expect to see your photos and album.

Look at their products. Taking great pictures is nice, but ultimately useless if the photos were printed on a home printer and shipped to you in a box.

Clearly defined payment. There should never be a hidden fee. An honest businessman does what he agrees to at the price agreed on.

Beware the “car salesman.” If a photographer is haggling price to “close the deal” that day, then walk away.

Ensure they keep files of the images!

<!–[if !supportLists]–>4)<!–[endif]–>Personality. When the caterer, DJ, priest, and wedding planner go home, you are still going to be dealing with your photographer. He is the one vendor that you will live with for decades.

Does the photographer seem sincerely interested in the success of your wedding or just getting your business?

Can you see calling this photographer up one year, two years, or three years from now and expect that they are going to give you the same attention they did on your wedding day?

Do you have a connection with your photographer for a long-term relationship?

Do you feel that your photographer will add to the value of the wedding day experience or will they be “pushy,” “controlling,” “self-centered” in their work? Some photographers really do believe that you have paid them and so they are authorized to dictate how the wedding events will run.

Does the photographer pull out clauses in their contracts demanding meals, or “exclusive photographer” clauses? This is your party, and your guests should be allowed to take pictures and no one should be making demands who you feed.

Do you think that the photographer will interact well with the wedding guests? The wedding photographer is someone who will be dealing with people, and you need to know that they will act appropriately.

      Price. Now this is the sticky one. The business of photography has changed dramatically with the invention of digital camera. In the old days, the owner of the negative could dictate price because there was no way to print or scan the images yourself. Today that is not the case. It was also more difficult to find a photographer without the internet.

Check online and look at what the average wedding costs are in your area. In Pittsburgh, the average wedding cost $25,000 in 2007. The average cost for a mid-market professional photographer should be 10-15% of the overall expense. So you should expect to pay $2,500-3,500 for a good wedding photographer.

The true value of a professional photographer is in his ability to capture the right moment at the right time. The value is no longer in their exclusive ownership of the images to dictate cost. Be sure to ask the photographer the costs of prints and get it in writing.You should never be commissioning someone to photograph your wedding and then have to extra for their “artistic ability” on the printing as well. If they charge a lot of the photography, the prints should be a reasonable price.

Be sure to ask about back door fees. Are there costs for touch ups in the prints? Are the prints all made print ready as part of the original fee? Are there extra charges like taxes and travel? Some photographers will “slip in” fees later to earn a few extra bucks.

Any photographer that tells you that price shouldn’t matter is suspect in my book. Ask them what products in their life they have never considered the price for?

All photographers do not offer the ability to purchase the digital files of the wedding. I think this is silly, but I don’t run their businesses. Image ownership is fantastic. Make sure if you purchase the images what the agreement is for the photographer replacing lost disks and how long they will store the images on their database.

You don’t need to hire the most expensive photographer in town to get a good photographer, or even a great one. However, don’t let price fool you into thinking that a photographer is good. Do your research and trust your gut. Do NOT be afraid to ask questions or offend a photographer in an interview. Wedding photographers are expensive and good wedding photographers are hard to find.

When you have found a good choice of photographers that you feel comfortable with, make sure that you do not make this choice alone. Ask your friends and family what they think. Of course, they will not have a clue what the personality of the photographer is like, or if all the right questions were asked; however, they will be a good sounding board. Are you finding that you keep commenting on a particular photographer? Do you continually bring up reservations or raves? After awhile, it will become pretty clear that you have a preference and that is the photographer for you.

It is important that you hire a photographer you believe in. Your attitude about your photographer will spill over into your impressions of your wedding photos. Remember, your images will have an emotional attachment– and that connection should always be made with a positive frame of mind. The last thing you want to be thinking while you look at your album is “oh, and this is when that photographer really ticked me off!”

Photographers should be an asset to a wedding. A professional that not only knows how to take great images, but knows how to take them at the right moment. They should not be obtrusive, and they should add to the joy of the day. When the photographer leaves, you should be thanking them for making the day special.

Some of the best moments are when a guest tells me how great I was at a wedding, and they never saw a picture. They just know that I gave 100% of my heart to the day.

On a final note, be wary of thinking that the photographer that showed up first in the Google search is the best photographer. Having a high-ranking website has absolutely no connection to the quality of the photographer but only to the photographer’s skills with a website. Search through a few pages and take a good look at what is out there.