Choosing the Other "One"

By Judy Garrison  |  Photography courtesy of Seeing Southern Photography

On your wedding day everything can be a blur, so having the right photographer there to capture lasting memories is invaluable.

A world-class photographer stood in front of a room of aspiring photographers — me included — and shared the most important advice she had given her wedding clients over the past 20 years: “After the wedding, you have two things: a husband and photographs.”

And for that reason, your wedding photographer, like that of your spouse, is a decision which will last a lifetime.

As a wedding photographer, I never forget the importance of my role on the wedding day; it’s a relationship which begins the moment I sit down with clients and extends long after the fireworks have faded. My technical skill should be mastery, and my relationship skills, even more paramount. When albums and wall art are delivered weeks after the wedding, I imagine my couple, curling up on their sofa, lovingly flipping through the album pages to a soundtrack of ohs and ahs, recalling their best day ever. As an artist, I take pride in creating lifelong heirlooms of their story.

During a turbulent pandemic world, when so many plans have had to be postponed and rescheduled, making concrete decisions that require dolling out hefty retainers and deposits is scary. Every initial meeting in 2021, whether in-person or via ZOOM, has revealed a more diverse clientele than in years past. There are more questions, especially concerning cancellations and postponements, as well as taking more time to sign the contract and move forward. These trepidations bring both pros and cons. Couples are more cautious, and rightly so. I reach for understanding with a side of education. All photographers must have more than a camera in their bag.

Many vendors forget that, more than likely, this is the first wedding experience for most. It becomes part of my responsibility to educate my couple about the photography process and manage their expectations. And at the end, no surprises for anyone.

Once the venue is booked, the next decision should be the photographer. Those two choices will define your day, and both are in the highest demand. Dates book quickly so as soon as you are sure, schedule the photographer immediately.

Finding a photographer who is right for you takes planning and thought. Here are a few things that couples need to consider and do:

Make an overall budget. From florals to guest gifts, put it all on the table at the very beginning. What can you afford? A professional photographer will be one of the high-ticket items, so decide upon a dollar amount before you fall in love with the wrong photographer. Research those within your budget, and email potential candidates as soon as the venue and date have been confirmed. Begin the conversation asking for availability and package pricing; once received, determine if the photographer is, indeed, an ideal fit.

Find the style that moves you. Do you like fine art (creative and artistic)? Or are you more into photojournalism (unplanned and unobtrusive)? Many couples prefer traditional (blend of modern and vintage) photos, while some like editorial (think Vogue, creative, and edgy). A photographer’s style can also include moody (shooting film and digital, bolder colors) or light and airy (natural light with lower contrast and soft colors). Many photographers stick to one style; however, many allow the setting and the couple to dictate the direction of the photography. Every location can point to a specific tone or mood.

Schedule a ZOOM or meet face-to-face. Once you narrow the choices, ask for an in-person meeting or a Zoom call. Aside from being technically and professionally ideal, feeling comfortable around the photographer is a must. You will spend more time on your wedding day with your photographer than anyone else. Is there a connection, and are you comfortable around them? Are they demanding in instruction, or are they pleasant in guidance? Is their personality fun, flexible, and professional in documenting (no matter the style) your day? Honestly, do you like them?

 Ask the right questions. This is the moment for everyone to be on the same page. Ask everything that concerns you no matter how insignificant it might be. What is included in the packages? Are substitutions allowed? How are the images delivered? If it’s an online gallery, is it password protected? What kind of prints and products do you offer? How many photographers will be at the wedding? Will you have an assistant? Is travel included in your pricing? What about an engagement session? Can you build a print package of exactly what I want? When should I expect to receive my images? Do I have to order prints through you or may I print them elsewhere? Will you provide a personal print release? May I see one of your delivered wedding galleries?

Read the fine print. Read through the contract carefully. Most photographers require a non-refundable retainer; in exchange, they will reserve that date on their calendar and not sell it to another. What happens if the wedding is cancelled or postponed? When you see “non-refundable retainer,” that money is spent when you reserve the date and not refunded; however, ask if it will transfer to the new date. Discuss whether or not images can be shared on social media and if the images will be watermarked. Most importantly, understand who owns the photos.

One point of confusion for most clients is copyright. Keep in mind that photographers retain copyright as creator of the images. Clients own the photos for use as stipulated in the contract. Also, never ask for RAW or unedited files.

Time will tell. Time can’t be manufactured; you have to plan for it. And on the wedding day, when everything is a blur, having a photographer that knows exactly how much time it takes to create what you want is invaluable. Even if you have a wedding planner or a venue coordinator, working with your photographer on the timeline is imperative. Listen to them. Discussions begin months before the wedding day — shot list, family groupings, time frames — and that is the time to set the day’s schedule. My goal is to never ask my bride any questions on her wedding day; knowing her as I should, I already know the answer. A personal relationship with the clients and understanding of what they want from their wedding photography drafts every decision.

Go with the pro. Photography is not the place to slash the budget. Friends or family with nice cameras (and good intentions) can’t produce the quality of images that a professional can. Professionals are skilled at positioning during the day to capture moments that can’t be recreated. Having the (contractual) assurance that you’ll have a photographer on site removes anxiety and a greater chance that something might come up, and you’ll be left with no photographer.

​Ditch the Digitals. Not entirely, of course. Remember the last time you gathered around your computer with the family, looking at images from the last big family event? Of course not. Images that live on walls or sit on a desk become an active part of everyday life. They become a living, breathing entity — a constant reminder of family, love, and moments. A point of conversation. An album to flip through. A physical connection to an unfolding story.

​Wedding photography is a huge investment; don’t simply allow the images to exist on a USB or in a folder. USBs are lost and computers fail as will the internet. Keep in mind that your photographer is an artist and the images works of art. Give them the home they deserve. Allow the photographer to create an album of your story, so that when the family is gathered it becomes a centerpiece for generations. Then, it becomes a legacy, an heirloom, that will be passed down from generation to generation.

Choosing the right photographer for your day provides comfort and assurance that when images are delivered weeks afterwards, your expectation will transform into elation. Photography isn’t simply showing up on the wedding day with a camera in hand. It’s about constant communication, time management, orchestrated planning, complimentary posing and editing, and curating an authentic love story that will last for the ages.

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