How to Choose The Right Wedding Photographer

By Ariel Okin | Photography by

John Dolan

John Dolan Crop

These photos are among some of the most sentimental and cherished images a couple will ever have; black and white bridal portraits of grandmothers or great-great grandparents become family heirlooms passed down from generation to generation. Here, we talked to some of our favorite wedding photographers about what you need to factor in when trying to identify who your perfect partner is behind the lens.

It’s All About the Chemistry.

Falling down the Instagram rabbit hole is a common pre-nuptial habit—two hours later, and you’re 59 weeks deep into a sun-drenched, parasol filled wedding in Napa. But while these images might strike your fancy, don’t judge a photographer by the number of social media followers they have: a face-to-face (or Skype session) with your photog-to-be is the first necessary step to ensuring you’ve found “the one.”

Your photographer is going to witness some of the most intimate moments of your life; first looks, a sentimental exchange with mom or dad, or shedding a few tears while reading a note from your husband or wife the morning of the wedding are all emotionally charged situations and you want someone you’re at ease with there to capture them. “A wedding is an intimate and important event and it’s really crucial that you feel comfortable with the people who will be in close proximity to you on the day,” says husband and wife photography duo Amy + Stuart. “Regardless of how good someone’s photography is, you don’t want someone whose vibe will detract from your special day—if you feel at ease with your photographer, you will be more comfortable and natural in front of the lens, which will result in better images.”

“There are so many photographers out there with similar styles,” says New York and San Francisco-based Allan Zepeda. “But, I believe a big part of selecting one should be based on chemistry. It’s very important to establish this personal connection so there’s a real level of comfort on the big day.”

International photographer John Dolan really breaks it down, saying you have to ask yourself one simple question: “Do you want to have this person as a guest at your wedding? Don’t let someone sell you on their work. There is a right photographer for each wedding. If one shooter is not the one, keep looking. Decide who fits your personality, and let the photographer worry about the camera.”

And while it can be easy to feel like you must use who all of your friends are using, keep in mind that there are talented photographers at all price points, so be mindful of your budget. Your sister or best friend may love a photographer, but their images might not ultimately move you or they might be out of your price range. If you are patient and thoughtful in your search, you will find a photographer whose speak to you, that you feel comfortable with, and who is also in your budget.“Take a deep breath and remember, finding the right photographer is a little like finding the love of your life, you only need one,” says California-based Elizabeth Messina.

Picture It.

While you might gravitate toward certain images in your Instagram and Pinterest feeds, when it comes to your own big day, you have to ask yourself—do I fit in here? If you can envision yourself in the photos of your chosen photographer, then that’s a good sign it’s going to be a great match.

“You want to be able to see yourselves in the types of poses, candids, and formals the photographer showcases on their website, blog, or Instagram,” says New England-based Erin McGinn. “Is it a stunning bridal portrait or a more intimate couples’ pose? Do you envision your bridal party laughing together or are you looking for something more serious? Most of the images should make you think, ‘Hey, that’s us!’—don’t worry about whether or not they’ve shot at your exact venue or even in the same town (photographers are all inspired by fresh new places), but more about the overall essence of their imagery.”

Some couples find it hard to land on the technical photographic terms they need to use when it comes to describing what they’re looking for—so simplify and try to figure out what you do and don’t like about an image. “Do their photos make you happy?” asks Dolan. Take note of your gut reactions when looking at each image.

And be sure to ask for links to entire albums from weddings. Looking at all aspects of their wedding day coverage, from creative portraits of the bride and groom to candid photography, formal group portraits, dancing and party coverage, decor, and details can help you get a fuller picture of their entire portfolio. “Wedding photographers have to wear many hats on the day, so if you are expecting comprehensive coverage, make sure you look at examples of all aspects of their work,” says Amy + Stuart.

If you’re still not sure, consider adding on an engagement package as a trial of sorts. “An engagement portrait is wonderful additional to any package—it’s a great way to connect with your photographer and get some beautiful pre-wedding pictures, but also helps give you an idea of your chosen shooter’s flow and rhythm, and ultimately, this can help you feel more comfortable on your wedding day,” says Messina.

Form Follows Function.

In the world of photography, there are aesthetic differences between photos shot on film and ones shot digitally, and candid shots versus ones that are posed. Educating yourself a bit about what each style looks like, and what images you gravitate toward, can help ensure you’re thrilled with the results in the long run.

“I believe film creates a special mood and glow in photographs that you may not be able to capture digitally. It is timeless! In terms of posing, I prefer when couples just continue to enjoy their day and ignore the camera. A photographer is able to tell a story and capture more emotion when the wedding seems relaxed and unposed,” Zepeda says. “The way a photographer captures not only the intimate moments but also the way he or she uses light, the environment and perspective,” says Zepeda, are all important factors to consider.

Access to full albums from real weddings is truly key. “When everything lines up perfectly, almost anyone can make a good image. Ask your photographer about how many weddings they’ve covered and to see more complete examples of their work in similar locations and shooting conditions instead of just a few ‘greatest hits’ images,” suggest Amy + Stuart.

Generally choosing your photographer follows choosing the venue and the date—therefore you can ask yourself; does this person specialize in the type of photography that gels with my wedding? “And, your photographer should be well versed in many different types of shots (portraits, candids, details, establishing shots, etc). No two weddings are alike,” says Messina.

“I’m a natural light photographer primarily, and while I use flash for indoor/evening imagery, my specialty is working with couples who choose to get married outdoors or in bright and airy locations,” explains McGinn. If your wedding will all be outdoors during the day, you’re likely going to want to choose a different wedding photographer than if you’re only taking photos after sunset in a hotel in the middle of February. Plenty of photographers are excited about lighting equipment and embrace ballrooms and after-dark details, so just be sure your day is something that jives with their style and their processing. “If you want a soft, romantic type of look to your images, don’t waste time inquiring with photographers who only show dark and moody,” adds McGinn.“If you want vibrant digital color, don’t schedule a chat with someone who works mostly in black and white.”

And don’t forget to find out a little bit about their history—experience counts when it comes to shooting weddings. Don’t hesitate to inquire about how many weddings they shoot in a year. “If it’s more than twenty, be cautious about burnout,” warns Dolan.

Time Will Tell.

Lastly, it’s important to try to aim for a sense of timelessness in your wedding images. For inspiration, sift through some of history’s most iconic wedding images (like photos of royal weddings) or page through coffee table books like Vogue Weddings: Brides, Dresses, Designers as a way to figure out what you gravitate toward the most. At the end of the day, you want your wedding photos to tell a story in a way that reflects who you and your partner are, both as a couple and as individuals.

“A wedding is a celebration of love, a moment in time that is gone in the blink of an eye,” says Messina.“It’s wonderful to have a photographer whose work you feel really good about, so that you can focus on your love, your family, and your friends. The images from your wedding day will only become more precious as the years go by and you share them with family for generations to come. So choose wisely and then let it go. Be present and breathe deeply, kiss, laugh, and soak up every moment of your wedding day!”