Because photography is such an essential part of the wedding, and also a large part of the stress in initial planning, I wanted offer a quick rundown of my method for comparing apples to apples in the photography world.
I’m not going to cover artistic styles in this post. It’s of first importance to choose a photographer with whom you feel a connection, and one with whom you’ll be comfortable under their gaze the entire wedding day. But let’s assume you’ve found several photographers whose shooting style, artistic eye, and personality you really like. Now it’s time to select.
In my opinion, there are three “must-haves” to a photography package:
1. Coverage time and personnel.
Most photographers offer packages ranging from six hours to unlimited time. Some will add or include the rehearsal dinner and other events surrounding the wedding. You need to look at your schedule of the day to decide what exactly you want the photographer to cover. I find that a minimum of eight hours works for many of our clients, and allows them to have the photographer from the end of getting ready time through to the toasts, cake cutting, and the first part of dancing. However, if you want more getting ready coverage, have multiple events such as related ceremonies or rituals (such as a morning Chinese tea ceremony before a afternoon Western wedding), or want to have formal photos taken at several locations, eight hours may not be enough. Definitely look closely at your needs and timeline.
Photographers also offer additional photography staff ("second shooters"). This is different from a photographer's assistant, who carries and sets up equipment for the photographer, takes lightmeter readings, and performs other tasks, but who may not actually be taking photos. Do ask what the role of any additional staff will be. For many of our clients with elaborate events or multiple locations, a second shooter is essential in order to get the detail shots, as well as alternate angles and takes on the key moments.
2. Access to the high resolution digital files.
This is an ongoing debate in the photography world. I have heard both sides and respect a photographer’s right to control his or her creative product. However, as a coordinator, my first concern is for the client’s rights, and I prefer to see a package that includes the files, or the opportunity to purchase them within six months to a year, mainly because photographers, just like anyone else, can move away. If they are the sole holders of the files, and you can't get a hold of them, you have no backup of your wedding photos. I tend to be leery of contracts that do not permit the purchase of the digital files. Melissa Jill, a photographer based in Arizona, has a great article about this on her blog here.
3. Hard products – the wedding album, smaller “parent” albums, fine art prints, favors, proofs, wallet cards
The wedding album is so important. You do not want to experience all the excitement of the wedding day but have nothing in your hands to show for it. Resist the temptation to say, “Oh, let’s just get the negatives/digital files and we’ll make our own album or buy a wedding album later.”
I have a confession to make: When I had my own wedding and was on a budget (90 guests/$9K in 2000), we worked out a deal with our photographer that included proofs and negatives, but no album. I figured I would just save up money after the wedding to order one “someday”. Then there was a cross-country move, a house purchase, two business launches (mine and my husband's), then a baby, and nine years after our wedding, I’m sorry to say I still don’t have a wedding album. (Anyone want to pore over some medium-format film negatives and make one for me? ☺ ) Looking back, there are plenty of areas we could have cut back our budget in order to make room for a wedding album.
Regarding making your own album, I think many people underestimate the time and skill it will take to undertake a project like this. I considered this option as well, a couple of years after my wedding when I realized I still hadn’t made an album happen. I was overwhelmed once I found out what the time and effort investment would be, so I set the project aside.
While products exist online for printing of simple coffee table books, many of these do not offer archival-quality materials that the wedding album warrants. Those who are designers might be able to handle a project of this magnitude, but most people aren’t. In addition, the layout and graphic design of the album tell an artistic story of your wedding day – wouldn’t it be better if the artist who created the images with you had a hand in making sure your story is told?
So again, I firmly believe that a wedding photography package should include a wedding album, not because of any alliance to the “Wedding Industrial Complex” but simply from my own experience, both personal and professional, with the realities involved.
In addition to the album, there are many extras: Proof books, wallet cards and favors, engagement sessions, engagement guest books, wedding portraits, online slideshows, online ordering. All have their attractions: try to imagine how you will use your wedding photos in everyday life to figure out which ones matter most. Engagement sessions are useful because you get to practice being together in front of your photographer to find out what that feels like. I had a client who skipped the proof book (printout of all shots taken) in favor of a large portrait they wanted for their family room. She felt that she would be fine reviewing her proofs online and didn't need a hard copy of each photograph.
Once you have your photographer choices lined up, you can lay out these three main items side by side to compare what’s being offered.
My final thought: A great product package is worthless if the style and personality of the photographer doesn’t work for you. FIRST find photographers whose style you love, and whose personality you are comfortable with, and then work out these details. DON’T shop “package first”. Most likely, the photographer you click with will be happy to create a suite of offerings that work for you.
It’s tough to put a price on art, to quantify it in the context of a wedding, and compare photography offerings side by side. Somehow, we do have to cut through the confusion and come up with what works. What do you think? Please comment! Photographers: I especially invite your feedback on the above points, and input as to how brides and grooms can best make this important decision.